Soul music, p.41
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       Soul Music, p.41

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 41

 

  Dont even think about it.

  Theres no pockets in a shroud, Glod.

  You got the wrong tailor, then. In the end Buddy grabbed a spare leg and hauled. One at a time, clambering over one another, the Band eased themselves back on to the road. And turned to look at Susan. White horse, said Asphalt. Black cloak. Scythe. Um.

  You can see her too? said Buddy. I hope were not going to wish we couldnt, said Cliff. Susan held up a lifetimer and peered at it critically. I suppose its too late to cut some sort of deal? said Glod. Im just looking to see if youre dead or not, said Susan. I think Im alive, said Glod. Hold on to that thought. They turned at a creaking sound. The cart slid forward and dropped into the gorge. There was a crash as it hit an outcrop halfway to the bottom, and then a more distant thud as it smashed into the rocks. There was a whoomph and orange flames blossomed as the oil in the lamps exploded. Out of the debris, trailing flame, rolled a burning wheel. We would have been in dat, said Cliff.

  You think maybe were better off now? said Glod. Yep, said Cliff. "Cos were not dyin in the wreckage of a burning cart.

  Yes, but she looks a bit . . . occult.

  Fine by me. Ill take occult over deep-fried any day. Behind them, Buddy turned to Susan. I . . . think Ive worked it out, she said. The music . . . twisted up history, I think. Its not supposed to be in our history. Can you remember where you got it from? Buddy just stared. When youve been saved from certain death by an attractive girl on a white horse, you dont expect a shopping quiz. A shop in Ankh-Morpork, said Cliff. I A mysterious old shop?

  Mysterious as anything. There-

  Did you go back? Was it still there? Was it in the same place?

  Yes, said Cliff. No, said Glod. Lots of interesting merchandise that you wanted to pick up and learn more about?

  Yes! said Glod and Cliff together. Oh; said Susan, that kind of shop.

  I knew it didnt belong here, said Glod. Didnt I say it didnt belong here? I said it didnt belong here. I said it was eldritch.

  I thought that meant oblong, said Asphalt. Cliff held out his hand. Its stopped snowing, he said. I dropped the thing into the gorge, said Buddy. I . . . didnt need it any more. It must have smashed.

  No, said Susan, its not as-

  The clouds . . . now they look eldritch, said Glod, looking up. What? Oblong? said Asphalt. They all felt it. . . a sensation that the walls had been removed from around the world. The air buzzed. Whats this now? said Asphalt, as they instinctively huddled together. You ought to know, said Glod. I thought youd been everywhere and seen everything? White light crackled in the air. And then the air became light, white as moonlight but as strong as sunlight. There was also a sound, like the roar of millions of voices. It said: Let me show you who I am. I am the music. Satchelmouth lit the coach-lamps. Hurry up, man! shouted Clete. We want to catch them, you know! Hat. Hat. Hat.

  I dont see that it matters much if they get away, Satchelmouth grumbled, climbing onto the coach as Clete lashed the horses into motion. I mean, theyre away. Thats all that matters, isnt it?

  No! You saw them. Theyre the . . . the soul of all this trouble, said Clete. We cant let this sort of thing go on! Satchelmouth glanced sideways. The thought was flooding into his mind, and not for the first time, that Mr Clete was not playing with a full orchestra, that he was one of those people who built their own hot madness out of sane and chilly parts. Satchelmouth was by no means averse to the finger foxtrot and the skull fandango, but hed never murdered anyone, at least on purpose. Satchelmouth had been made aware that he had a soul and, though it had a few holes in it and was a little ragged around the edges, he cherished the hope that some day the

  god Reg would find him a place in a celestial combo. You didnt get the best gigs if you were a murderer. You probably had to play the viola. How about if we leave it right now? he said. They wont be back-

  Shut up!

  But theres no point- The horses reared. The coach rocked. Something went past in a blur and vanished in the darkness, leaving a line of blue flames that flickered for a little while, then went out. Death was aware that at some point he would have to stop. But it was creeping up on him that, in whatever dark vocabulary the ghost machine had been envisaged, the words slow down were as inconceivable as drive safely. It was not in its very nature to reduce speed in any circumstances other than the dramatically calamitous at the end of the third verse. That was the trouble with Music With Rocks In. It liked to do things its own way. Very slowly, still spinning, the front wheel rose off the ground. Absolute darkness filled the universe. A voice spake: Is that you, Cliff?

  Yup.

  OK. Is this me: Glod?

  Yup. Sounds like you.

  Asphalt?

  Sme.

  Buddy?

  Glod?

  And . . . er . . . the lady in black?

  Yes?

  Do you know where we are, miss? There was no ground under them. But Susan didnt feel that she was floating. She was simply standing. The fact that it was on nothing was a minor point. She wasnt falling because there was nowhere to fall to, or from. Shed never been interested in geography. But she had a very strong feeling that this place was not locatable on any atlas. I dont know where our bodies are, she said, carefully. Oh, good, said the voice of Glod. Really? Im here, but we dont know where my body is? How about my money? There was the sound of faint footsteps far away in the darkness. They approached, slowly and deliberately. And stopped. A voice said: One. One. One, two. One, two. Then the footsteps went back into the distance. After a while, another voice said: One, two, three, four- And the universe came into being. It was wrong to call it a big bang. That would just be noise, and all that noise could create is more noise and a cosmos full of random particles. Matter exploded into being, apparently as chaos, but in fact as a chord. The ultimate power chord. Everything, all together, streaming out in one huge rush that contained within itself, like reverse fossils, everything that it was going to be. And, zigzagging through the expanding cloud, alive, that first wild live music. This had shape. It had spin. It had rhythm. It had a beat, and you could dance to it. Everything did. A voice right inside Susans head said: And I will never die. She said, aloud: Theres a bit of you in everything that lives.

  Yes. I am the heart beat. The back beat. She still couldnt see the others. The light was streaming past her. But he threw away the guitar. I wanted him to live for me. You wanted him to die for you! In the wreckage of the cart! What is the difference? He would be dead anyway. But to die in music . . . People will always remember the songs he never had the chance to sing. And they will be the greatest songs of all. Live your life in a moment. And then live for ever. Dont fade away. Send us back! You never left. She blinked. They were still on the road. The air flickered and crackled, and was full of wet snow. She looked around into Buddys horrified face. Weve got to get away- He held up a hand. It was transparent. Cliff had almost vanished. Glod was trying to grip the handle of the money bag, but his fingers were slipping through it. His face was full of the terror of death or, possibly, of poverty. Susan shouted: He threw you away! Thats not fair! A piercing blue light was heading up the road. No cart could move that fast. There was a roar like the scream of a camel who has just seen two bricks. The light reached the bend, skidded, hit a rock and leapt into space over the gorge. There was just time for a hollow voice to say OH B- . . . before it hit the far wall in one great, spreading circle of flame. Bones bounced and rolled down to the river-bed, and were still. Susan spun around, scythe ready to swing. But the music was in the air. It had no soul to aim for. You could say to the universe, this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isnt it? Sorry. You could save people. You could get there in the nick of time. And something could snap its fingers and say, no, it has to be this way. Let me tell you how it has to be. This is how the legend has to go. She reached out and tried to take Buddys hand. She could feel it, but only as a coldness. Can you hear me? she shouted, above the triumphant c
hords. He nodded. Its . . . its like a legend! It has to happen! And I cant stop it - how can I kill something like music? She ran to the edge of the gorge. The cart was well on fire. They wouldnt appear in it. They would have been in it. I cant stop it! Its not fair! She pounded at the air with her fists. Grandfather! Blue flames flickered fitfully on the rocks of the dry river-bed. A small fingerbone rolled across the stones until it came up against another, slightly larger bone. A third bone tumbled off a rock and joined them. In the semi-darkness there was a rattling among the stones and a handful of little white shapes bounced and tumbled between the rocks until a hand, indexfinger reaching for the sky, rose

  into the night. Then there was a series of deeper, more hollow noises as longer, larger things skipped end on end through the gloom. I was going to make it better! shouted Susan. Whats the good of being Death if you have to obey idiot rules all the time? BRING THEM BACK. As Susan turned, a toe-bone hopped across the mud and scuttled into place somewhere under Deaths robe. He strode forward, snatched the scythe from Susan and, in one movement, whirled it over his head and brought it down on the stone. The blade shattered. He reached down and picked up a fragment. It glittered in his fingers like a tiny star of blue ice. IT WAS NOT A REQUEST. When the music spoke, the falling snow danced. You cant kill me. Death reached into his robe, and brought out the guitar. Bits of it had broken off, but this didnt matter; the shape flickered in the air. The strings glowed. Death took a stance that Crash would have died to achieve, and raised one hand. In his fingers the sliver glinted. If light could have made a noise, it would have flashed ting. He wanted to be the greatest musician in the world. There has to be a law. Destiny runs its course. For once, Death appeared not to smile. He brought his hand down on the strings. There was no sound. There was, instead, a cessation of sound, the end of a noise which Susan realized shed been hearing all along. All the time. All her life. A kind of sound you never notice until it stops . . . The strings were still. There are millions of chords. There are millions of numbers. And everyone forgets the one that is a zero. But without the zero, numbers are just arithmetic. Without the empty chord, music is just noise. Death played the empty chord. The beat slowed. And began to weaken. The universe spun on, every atom of it. But soon the whirling would end and the dancers would look around and wonder what to do next. Its not time for THAT! Play something else! I CANNOT. Death nodded towards Buddy. BUT HE CAN. He threw the guitar towards Buddy. It passed right through him. Susan ran and snatched it up, holding it out. Youve got to take it! Youve got to play! Youve got to start the music again! She strummed frantically at the strings. Buddy winced. Please! she shouted. Dont fade away! The music screamed in her head. Buddy managed to grasp the guitar, but stood looking at it as if hed never seen it before. Whatll happen if he doesnt play it? said Glod. Youll all die in the wreckage! AND THEN, said Death, THE MUSIC WILL DIE. AND THE DANCE WILL END. THE WHOLE DANCE. The ghostly dwarf gave a cough. Were getting paid for this number, right? he said.

  YOULL GET THE UNIVERSE. And free beer? Buddy held the guitar to him. His eyes met Susans. He raised his hand, and played. The single chord rang out across the gorge, and echoed back with strange harmonics. THANK YOU, said Death. He stepped forward and took the guitar. He moved suddenly, and smashed the thing against a rock. The strings parted, and something accelerated away, towards the snow and the stars. Death looked at the wreckage with some satisfaction. NOW THATS MUSIC WITH ROCKS IN. He snapped his fingers. The moon rose over Ankh-Morpork. The park was deserted. The silver light flowed over the wreckage of the stage, and the mud and halfconsumed sausages that marked the spot where the audience had been. Here and there it glinted off broken sound traps. After a while some of the mud sat up and spat out some more mud. Crash? Jimbo? Scum? it said. Is that you, Noddy? said a sad shape hanging from one of the stages few remaining beams. The mud pulled some more mud out of its ears. Right! Wheres Scum?

 
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