Soul music, p.28
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       Soul Music, p.28

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 28

 

  Are you the Watch? Glod bowed. No, maam. Were musicians.

  Thats supposed to make me feel better, is it? What instrument are you talking about?

  A kind of guitar. The old woman put her head on one side. Her eyes narrowed. I wont take it back, you know, she said. It was sold fair n square. Good working condition, too.

  We just want to know where you got it from.

  Never got it from nowhere, said the old lady. Its always been here. Dont blow that! Glod nearly dropped the flute hed nervously picked up from the debris. . . . or well be knee deep in rats, said the old lady. She turned back to Cliff. Its always been here, she repeated. Its got a one chalked on it, said Glod. Its always been here, said the woman. Ever since Ive had the shop.

  Who brought it in?

  How should I know? I never asks them their name. People dont like that. They just gets the number. Glod looked at the flute. There was a yellowing tag attached to it, on which the number 431 had been scrawled. He stared along the shelves behind the makeshift counter. There was a pink conch shell. That had a number on it, too. He moistened his lips and reached out. . . If you blow that, youd just better have a sacrificial virgin and a big cauldron of breadfruit and turtle meat standing by, said the old lady. There was a trumpet next to it. It looked amazingly untarnished. And this one? he said. Itll make the world end and the sky fall on me if I give it a tootle, will it?

  Interesting you should say that, said the old lady. Glod lowered his hand, and then something else caught his eye. Good grief, he said, is that still here? Id forgotten about that . . .

  What is it? said Cliff, and then looked where Glod was pointing. That?

  Weve got some money. Why not?

  Yeah. It might help. But you know what Buddy said. Wed never be able to find-

  Its a big city. If you cant find it in Ankh-Morpork, you cant find it anywhere. Glod picked up half a drumstick and looked thoughtfully at a gong half buried in a pile of musicstands. I shouldnt, said the old lady. Not if you dont want seven hundred and seventy-seven skeletal warriors springing out of the earth. Glod pointed.

  Well take this.

  Two dollars.

  Hey, why should, we pay anything? Its not as though its yours-

  Pay up, said Cliff with a sigh. Dont negotiate. Glod handed over the money with bad grace, snatched the bag the old lady gave him, and strutted out of the shop. Fascinating stock you have here, said Cliff, staring at the gong. The old lady shrugged. My friends a bit annoyed because he thought you one of dose mysterious shops you hear about in folk tales, Cliff went on. You know, here today and gone tomorrow. He was looking for you on der other side of der road, haha!

  Sounds daft to me, said the old lady, in a voice to discourage any further unseemly levity. Cliff glanced at the gong again, shrugged, and followed Glod. The woman waited until their footsteps had died away in the fog. Then she opened the door and peered up and down the street. Apparently satisfied by its abundance of emptiness, she went back to her counter and reached for a curious lever underneath. Her eyes glowed green for a moment. Forget my own head next, she said, and pulled. There was a grinding of hidden machinery. The shop vanished. A moment later, it reappeared on the other side of the road. Buddy lay looking at the ceiling. How did food taste? It was hard to remember. Hed eaten meals over the last few days, he must have done, but he couldnt remember the taste. He couldnt remember much of anything, except the playing. Glod and rest of them sounded as if they were talking through a thick gauze. Asphalt had wandered off somewhere. He swung himself off the hard bed and padded over to the window. The Shades of Ankh-Morpork were just visible in the grey, cheap-rate light before dawn. A breeze blew in through the open window. When he turned around, there was a young woman standing in the middle of the floor. She put her finger to her lips. Dont go shouting to the little troll, she said. Hes downstairs having some supper. Anyway, he wouldnt be able to see me.

  Are you my muse? Susan frowned. I think I know what you mean, she said. Ive seen pictures. There were eight of them, led by . . . um . . . Cantaloupe. Theyre supposed to protect people. The Ephebians believe they inspire musicians and artists, but of course they dont exi- She paused, and made a conscientious correction. At least, Ive never met them. My names Susan. Im here because . . . Her voice trailed away. Cantaloupe? said Buddy. Im pretty sure it wasnt Cantaloupe.

  Whatever.

  How did you get in here?

  Im . . . Look, sit down. Right. Well . . . you know how some things . . . like the Muses, as you said . . . people think that some things are represented by people? A look of temporary understanding informed Buddys perplexed features. Like the Hogfather representing the spirit of the midwinter festival? he said. Right. Well . . . Im sort of in that business, said Susan. It doesnt exactly matter what I do.

  You mean youre not human?

  Oh, yes. But Im . . . doing a job. I suppose thinking of me as a Muse is probably as good as anything. And Im here to warn you.

  A Muse for Music With Rocks In?

  Not really, but listen . . . hey, are you all right?

  Dont know.

  You looked all washed-out. Listen. The music is dangerous- Buddy shrugged. Oh, you mean the Guild of Musicians. Mr Dibbler says not to worry about that. Were leaving the city for- Susan stamped forward and picked up the guitar. I mean this! The strings moved and whined under her hand. Dont touch that!

  Its taken you over, said Susan, throwing it on to the bed. Buddy grabbed it and played a chord. I know what youre going to say, he said. Everyone says it. The other two think its evil. But its not!

  It might not be evil, but its not right! Not here, not now.

  Yes, but I can handle it.

  You cant handle it. It handles you.

  Anyway, who are you to tell me all this? I dont have to take lessons from a tooth fairy!

  Listen, itll kill you! Im sure of it!

  So Im supposed to stop playing, then? Susan hesitated. Well, not exactly . . . because then-

  Well, I dont have to listen to mysterious occult women! You probably dont even exist! So you can just fly back to your magic castle, OK? Susan was temporarily speechless. She was reconciled to the irredeemable dumbness of most of mankind, particularly the section of it that stood upright and shaved in the mornings, but she was also affronted. No-one had ever talked to Death like this. At least, not for long. All right, she said, reaching out and touching his arm. But youll see me again, and . . . and you wont like it much! Because, let me tell you, I happen to be- Her expression changed. She felt the sensation of falling backwards while standing still; the room drifted past her and away into darkness, pinwheeling around Buddys horrified face. The darkness exploded, and there was light. Dribbly candle light. Buddy waved his hand through the empty space where Susan had been. Are you still here? Where did you go? Who are you? Cliff looked around. Thought I heard something, he muttered. Here, you do know, dont you, dat some of dose instruments werent just ordin-

  I know, said Glod. I wish Id had a go on the rat pipe. Im hungry again.

  I mean they were mythi-

  Yes.

  So how come dey end up in a second-hand music shop?

  Aint you ever hocked your stones?

  Oh, sure, said Cliff. Everyone does, some time or other, you know that. Sometimes its all youve got if you want to see another meal.

  There you are, then. You said it. Its something every working musicians going to do, sooner or later.

  Yeah, but the thing that Buddy . . . I mean, its got the number one on it . . .

  Yes. Glod peered up at a street-sign. “Cunning Artificers”, he said. Here we are. Look, half the workshops are still open even at this time of night. He shifted the sack. Something cracked inside it. You knock that side, Ill knock this.

  Yeah, all right . . . but, I mean, number one. Even the conch shell was number fifty-two. Who used to own the guitar?

  Dont know, said Glod, knocking on the first do
or, but I hope they never come back for it.

  And that, said Ridcully, is the Rite of AshkEnte. Quite easily done. You have to use a fresh egg, though. Susan blinked. There was a circle drawn on the floor. Strange unearthly shapes surrounded it, although when she adjusted her mind set she realized that these were perfectly ordinary students. Who are you? she said. Whats this place? Let me go this instant! She strode across the circle and rebounded from an invisible wall. The students were staring at her in the manner of those who have heard of the species female but have never expected to get this close to one. I demand that you let me go! She glared at Ridcully. Arent you the wizard I saw last night?

  Thats right, said Ridcully, and this is the Rite of AshkEnte. It calls Death into the circle and he - or as it may be, in this case, she - cant leave until we say so. Theres a lot of stuff in this book here spelled with funny long esses and it goes on about abjuring and conjuration, but its all show, really. Once youre in, youre in. I must say your predecessor - hah, bit of a pun there - was a lot more gracious about it. Susan glared. The circle played tricks with her ideas of space. It seemed most unfair. Why have you summoned me, then? she said. Thats better. Thats more according to the script, said Ridcully. We are allowed to ask you questions, you see. And you have to answer them. Truthfully.

  Well?

  Would you like to sit down? A glass of something?

  No.

  Just as you like. This new music . . . tell us about it.

  You summoned Death to ask that?

  Im not sure who weve summoned, said Ridcully. It is really alive?

  I . . . think so.

  Does it live anywhere?

  It seems to have lived in one instrument but I think its moving around now. Can I go?

  No. Can it be killed?

  I dont know.

  Should it be here?

  What?

  Should it be here? Ridcully repeated patiently. Is it something thats supposed to be happening? Susan suddenly felt important. Wizards were rumoured to be wise - in fact, thats where the word came from. [23] But they were asking her things. They were listening to her. Pride sparkled in her eyes. I . . . dont think so. Its turned up here by some kind of accident. This isnt the right world for it. Ridcully looked smug. Thats what I thought. This isnt right, I said. Its making people try and be things they arent. How can we stop it?

  I dont think you can. Its not susceptible to magic.

  Right. Musics not. Any music. But something must be able to make it stop. Show her your

  box, Ponder.

  Er . . . yes. Here. He lifted the lid. Music, slightly tinny but still recognizable, drifted out into the room. Sounds like a spider trapped in a matchbox, dont it? said Ridcully. You cant reproduce music like that on a piece of wire in a box, said Susan. Its against nature. Ponder looked relieved. Thats what I said, he said. But it does it anyway. It wants to. Susan stared at the box. She began to smile. There was no humour in it. Its unsettling people, said Ridcully. And . . . look at this. He pulled a roll of paper out of his robe and unfolded it. Caught some lad trying to paste this on to our gates. Blooming cheek! So I took it off him and told him to hop it, which was, Ridcully looked smugly at his fingertips, quite appropriate as it turned out. Its going on about some festival of Music With Rocks In. Itll all end with monsters from another dimension breaking through, you can rely on that. Thats the sort of thing that happens a lot in these parts.

 
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