Soul music, p.17
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       Soul Music, p.17

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 17

 

  Thats right, said Glod. The boy with the guitar.

  Eeek. The Librarian did a back somersault. Oookoook-ooka-ooka-OOOka-OOK!

  I can see youre in the swing of it already, said Glod. Susan saddled the horse and mounted up. Beyond Deaths garden were fields of corn, their golden sheen the only colour in the landscape. Death might not have been any good at grass (black) and apple trees (gloss black on black), but all the depth of colour he hadnt put elsewhere hed put in the fields. They rippled as if in the wind, except that there wasnt any wind. Susan couldnt imagine why hed done it. There was a path, though. It led across the fields for half a mile or so, then disappeared abruptly. It looked as though somebody walked out here occasionally and just stood, looking around. Binky followed the path and stopped at the end. Then he turned, managing not to disturb a single ear. I dont know how you do this, Susan whispered, but you must be able to do it, and you know where I want to go. The horse appeared to nod. Albert had said that Binky was a genuine flesh-and-blood horse, but maybe you couldnt be ridden by Death for hundreds of years without learning something. He looked as though hed been pretty bright to start with. Binky began to trot, and then canter, and then gallop. And then the sky flickered, just once. Susan had expected more than that. Flashing stars, some sort of explosion of rainbow colours

  . . . not just a flicker. It seemed a rather dismissive way of travelling nearly seventeen years. The cornfields had gone, but the garden was pretty much the same. There was the strange topiary and the pond with the skeletal fish. There were, pushing jolly wheelbarrows and carrying tiny scythes, what might have been garden gnomes in a mortal garden but here were cheery little skeletons in black robes. Things tended not to change. The stables were a little different, though. Binky was in them, for a start. He whinnied quietly as Susan led him into an empty stall next to himself. Im sure you two know each other, she said. Shed never expected it to work, but it had to, didnt it? Time was something that happened to other people, wasnt it? She slipped into the house. NO. I CANNOT BE BIDDEN. I CANNOT BE FORCED. I WILL ONLY DO THAT WHICH I KNOW TO BE RIGHT . . . Susan crept along behind the shelves of lifetimers. No-one noticed her. When you are watching Death fight, you dont notice shadows in the background. Theyd never told her about this. Parents never do. Your father could be Deaths apprentice and your mother Deaths adopted daughter, but thats just fine detail when they become Parents. Parents were never young. They were merely waiting to become Parents. Susan reached the end of the shelves. Death was standing over her father . . . she corrected herself, the boy who would be her father. Three red marks burned on his cheek where Death had struck him. Susan raised a hand to the pale marks on her own face. But thats not how heredity works. At least . . . the normal kind . . . Her mother . . . the girl who would become her mother . . . was pressed against a pillar. She had actually improved with age, Susan thought. Her dress sense certainly had. And she mentally shook herself. Fashion comments? Now? Death stood over Mort, sword in one hand and Morts own lifetimer in the other. YOU DONT KNOW HOW SORRY THIS MAKES ME, he said. I might, said Mort. Death looked up, and looked straight at Susan. His eye sockets flared blue for a moment. Susan tried to press herself into the shadows. He looked back down at Mort for a moment, and then at Ysabell, and then back at Susan, and then back down at Mort. And laughed. And turned the hourglass over. And snapped his fingers. Mort vanished, with a small pop of imploding air. So did Ysabell and the others. It was, suddenly, very quiet. Death put the hourglass down, very carefully, on the table and looked at the ceiling for a while. Then he said: ALBERT? Albert appeared from behind a pillar. WOULD YOU BE SO GOOD AS TO MAKE ME A CUP OF TEA, PLEASE. Yes, Master. Hehe, you sorted him out right enough- THANK YOU. Albert scurried off in the direction of the kitchen. Once again there was the closest thing there could ever be to silence in the room of lifetimers. YOUD BETTER COME OUT. Susan did so, and stood before the Ultimate Reality.

  Death was seven feet tall. He looked taller. Susan had vague memories of a figure carrying her on its shoulders through the huge dark rooms, but in memory it had been a human figure - bony, but human in a way she was certain of but couldnt quite define. This wasnt human. It was tall, and haughty, and terrible. He might unbend enough to bend the Rules, Susan thought, but that doesnt make him human. This is the keeper of the gate of the world. Immortal, by definition. The end of everything. He is my grandfather. Will be, anyway. Is. Was. But . . . there was the thing in the apple tree. Her mind kept swinging back to that. You looked up at the figure, and thought about the tree. It was almost impossible to keep both images in one mind. WELL, WELL, WELL. YOU HAVE A LOT OF YOUR MOTHER ABOUT YOU, said Death. AND YOUR FATHER. How did you know who I am? said Susan. I HAVE A UNIQUE MEMORY. How can you remember me? I havent even been conceived yet! I DID SAY UNIQUE. YOUR NAME IS- Susan, but . . . SUSAN? said Death bitterly. THEY REALLY WANTED TO MAKE SURE, DIDNT THEY? He sat down in his chair, steepled his fingers and looked at Susan over the top of them. She looked back, matching stare for stare. TELL ME, said Death, after a while, WAS I . . . WILL I BE . . . AM I A GOOD GRANDFATHER? Susan bit her lip thoughtfully. If I tell you, wont that be a paradox? NOT FOR US. Well . . . youve got bony knees. Death stared at her. BONY KNEES? Sorry. YOU CAME HERE TO TELL ME THAT? Youve gone missing back . . . there. Im having to do the Duty. Albert is very worried. I came here to . . . find things out. I didnt know my father worked for you. HE WAS VERY BAD AT IT. What have you done with him? THEYRE SAFE FOR NOW. IM GLAD ITS OVER. HAVING PEOPLE AROUND WAS BEGINNING TO AFFECT MY JUDGEMENT. AH, ALBERT . . . Albert had appeared on the edge of the carpet, bearing a tea-tray. ANOTHER CUP, IF YOU WOULD BE SO GOOD. Albert looked around, and totally failed to see Susan. If you could be invisible to Miss Butts, everyone else was easy. If you say so, Master. SO, said Death, when Albert had shuffled away, I HAVE GONE MISSING. AND YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE INHERITED THE FAMILY BUSINESS. YOU? I didnt want to! The horse and the rat just turned up! RAT? Er . . . I think thats something thats going to happen. OH, YES. I REMEMBER. HMM. A HUMAN DOING MY JOB? TECHNICALLY POSSIBLE, OF COURSE, BUT WHY?

  I think Albert knows something, but he changes the subject. Albert reappeared, carrying another cup and saucer. He plonked it down pointedly on Deaths desk, with the air of one who is being put upon. Thatll be all, will it, Master? he said. THANK YOU, ALBERT. YES. Albert left again, more slowly than normal. He kept looking over his shoulder. He doesnt change, does he? said Susan. Of course, thats the point about this place- WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CATS? Sorry? CATS. DO YOU LIKE EM? Theyre . . . Susan hesitated, all right. But a cats just a cat. CHOCOLATE, said Death. DO YOU LIKE CHOCOLATE? I think its possible to have too much, said Susan. YOU CERTAINLY DONT TAKE AFTER YSABELL. Susan nodded. Her mothers favourite dish had been Genocide by Chocolate. AND YOUR MEMORY? YOU HAVE A GOOD MEMORY? Oh, yes. I . . . remember things. About how to be Death. About how its all supposed to work. Look, just then you said you remembered about the rat, and it hasnt even happ- Death stood up and strode across to the model of the Discworld. MORPHIC RESONANCE, he said, not looking at Susan. DAMN. PEOPLE DONT BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND IT. SOUL HARMONICS. ITS RESPONSIBLE FOR SO MANY THINGS. Susan pulled out Imps lifetimer. Blue smoke was still pouring through the pinch. Can you help me with this? she said. Death spun around. I SHOULD NEVER HAVE ADOPTED YOUR MOTHER. Why did you? Death shrugged. WHATS THAT YOUVE GOT THERE? He took Buddys lifetimer from her and held it up. AH. INTERESTING. Do you know what it means, Grandad? IVE NOT COME ACROSS IT BEFORE, BUT I SUPPOSE ITS POSSIBLE. IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES. IT MEANS . . . SOMEHOW . . . THAT HE HAS RHYTHM IN HIS SOUL . . . GRANDAD? Oh, no. That cant be right. Thats just a figure of speech. And whats wrong with grandad? GRANDFATHER I CAN LIVE WITH. GRANDAD? ONE STEP AWAY FROM GRAMPS, IN MY OPINION. ANYWAY, I THOUGHT YOU BELIEVED IN LOGIC. CALLING SOMETHING A FIGURE OF SPEECH DOESNT MEAN ITS NOT TRUE. Death waved the hourglass vaguely. FOR EXAMPLE, he said, MANY THINGS ARE BETTER THAN A POKE IN THE EYE WITH A BLUNT STICK. IVE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THE PHRASE. SURELY A SHARP STICK WOULD BE E
VEN WORSE- Death stopped. IM DOING IT AGAIN! WHY SHOULD I CARE WHAT THE WRETCHED PHRASE MEANS? OR WHAT YOU CALL ME? UNIMPORTANT! GETTING ENTANGLED WITH HUMANS CLOUDS THE THINKING. TAKE IT FROM ME. DONT GET INVOLVED. But I am a human. I DIDNT SAY IT WAS GOING TO BE EASY, DID I? DONT THINK ABOUT IT. DONT

  FEEL. Youre an expert, are you? said Susan hotly. I MAY HAVE ALLOWED MYSELF SOME FLICKER OF EMOTION IN THE RECENT PAST, said Death, BUT I CAN GIVE IT UP ANY TIME I LIKE. He held up the hourglass again. ITS AN INTERESTING FACT THAT MUSIC, BEING OF ITS NATURE IMMORTAL, CAN SOMETIMES PROLONG THE LIFE OF THOSE INTIMATELY ASSOCIATED WITH IT, he said. IVE NOTICED THAT FAMOUS COMPOSERS IN PARTICULAR HANG ON FOR A LONG TIME. DEAF AS POSTS, MOST OF THEM, WHEN I COME CALLING. I EXPECT SOME GOD SOMEWHERE FINDS THAT VERY AMUSING. Death contrived to look disdainful. ITS THEIR KIND OF JOKE. [16] He set the glass down and twanged it with a bony digit. It went whauuummmmeeee-chida-chida-chida. HE HAS NO LIFE. HE HAS MUSIC. Musics taken him over? YOU COULD PUT IT LIKE THAT. Making his life longer? LIFE IS EXTENSIBLE. IT HAPPENS OCCASIONALLY AMONG HUMANS. NOT OFTEN. USUALLY TRAGICALLY, IN A THEATRICAL KIND OF WAY. BUT THIS ISNT ANOTHER HUMAN. THIS IS MUSIC. He played something, on some sort of stringed instrument like a guitar- Death turned. INDEED? WELL, WELL, WELL . . . Is that important? IT IS . . . INTERESTING. Is it something I should know? IT IS NOTHING IMPORTANT. A PIECE OF MYTHOLOGICAL DEBRIS. MATTERS WILL RESOLVE THEMSELVES, YOU MAY DEPEND UPON IT. What do you mean, resolve themselves? HE WILL PROBABLY BE DEAD IN A MATTER OF DAYS. Susan stared at the lifetimer. But thats dreadful! ARE YOU ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH THE YOUNG MAN? What? No! Ive only ever seen him once! YOUR EYES DIDNT MEET ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM OR ANYTHING OF THAT NATURE? No! Of course not. WHY SHOULD YOU CARE, THEN? Because he matt- because hes a human being, thats why, said Susan, surprised at herself. I dont see why people should be messed around like that, she added lamely. Thats all. Oh, I dont know. He leaned down again until his skull was on a level with her face. BUT MOST PEOPLE ARE RATHER STUPID AND WASTE THEIR LIVES. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THAT? HAVE YOU NOT LOOKED DOWN FROM THE HORSE AT A CITY AND THOUGHT HOW MUCH IT RESEMBLED AN ANT HEAP, FULL OF BLIND CREATURES WHO THINK THEIR MUNDANE LITTLE WORLD IS REAL? YOU SEE THE LIGHTED WINDOWS AND WHAT YOU WANT TO THINK IS THAT THERE MAY BE MANY INTERESTING STORIES BEHIND THEM, BUT WHAT YOU KNOW IS THAT REALLY THERE ARE JUST DULL, DULL SOULS,

  MERE CONSUMERS OF FOOD, WHO THINK THEIR INSTINCTS ARE EMOTIONS AND THEIR TINY LIVES OF MORE ACCOUNT THAN A WHISPER OF WIND. The blue glow was bottomless. It seemed to be sucking her own thoughts out of her mind. No, whispered Susan, no, Ive never thought like that. Death stood up abruptly and turned away. YOU MAY FIND THAT IT HELPS, he said. But its all just chaos, said Susan. Theres no sense to the way people die. Theres no justice! HAH. You take a hand, she persisted. You just saved my father. I WAS FOOLISH. TO CHANGE THE FATE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL IS TO CHANGE THE WORLD. I REMEMBER THAT. SO SHOULD YOU. Death still hadnt turned to face her. I dont see why we shouldnt change things if it makes the world better, said Susan. HAH. Are you too scared to change the world? Death turned. The very sight of his expression made Susan back away. He advanced slowly towards her. His voice, when it came, was a hiss. YOU SAY THAT TO ME? YOU STAND THERE IN YOUR PRETTY DRESS AND SAY THAT TO ME? YOU? YOU PRATTLE ON ABOUT CHANGING THE WORLD? COULD YOU FIND THE COURAGE TO ACCEPT IT? TO KNOW WHAT MUST BE DONE AND DO IT, WHATEVER THE COST? IS THERE ONE HUMAN ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD WHO KNOWS WHAT DUTY MEANS? His hands opened and shut convulsively. I SAID YOU MUST REMEMBER . . . FOR US, TIME IS ONLY A PLACE. ITS ALL SPREAD OUT. THERE IS WHAT IS, AND WHAT WILL BE. IF YOU CHANGE THAT, YOU CARRY THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CHANGE. AND THAT IS TOO HEAVY TO BEAR. Thats just an excuse! Susan glared at the tall figure. Then she turned and marched out of the room. SUSAN? She stopped halfway across the floor, but didnt turn around. Yes? REALLY . . . BONY KNEES? Yes! It was probably the first piano case thatd ever been made, and made out of a carpet at that. Cliff swung it easily on to his shoulder and picked up his sack of rocks in the other hand. Is it heavy? said Buddy. Cliff held the piano up on one hand and weighed it reflectively. A bit, he said. The floorboards creaked underneath him. Do you think we shouldve took all dem bits out?

 
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