Soul music, p.42
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       Soul Music, p.42

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 42


  I think they threw him into the lake.

  Is Crash alive? There was a groan from under a heap of wreckage. Pity, said Noddy, with feeling. A figure emerged out of the shadows, squelching. Crash half crawled, half fell out of the rubble. Youfe got to admit, he mumbled, because at some stage in the performance a guitar had hit him in the teeth, that waf Music Wif Rocks In . . .

  All right, said Jimbo, and slithered off his beam. But next time, thanks all the same, Id rather try sex n drugs.

  My dad said hed kill me if I took drugs, said Noddy. This is your brain on drugs . . . said Jimbo. No, this is your brain, Scum, on this lump here.

  Oh, cheers. Thanks.

  A painkillerd be favourite right now, said Jimbo. A little closer to the lake a heap of sacking slid sideways. Archchancellor?

  Yes, Mr Stibbons?

  I think someone trod on my hat.

  So what?

  Its still on my head. Ridcully sat up, easing the ache in his bones. Come on, lad, he said. Lets go home. Im not sure Im that interested in music any more. Its a world of hertz. A coach rattled along the winding mountain road. Mr Clete was standing on the box, whipping the horses. Satchelmouth got unsteadily to his feet. The cliff edge was so close he could see right down into the darkness. Ive had just about altogether too much of this by half, he shouted, and tried to snatch at the whip. Stop that! Well never catch up with them! shouted Clete. So what? Who cares? I liked their music!

  Clete turned. His expression was terrible. Traitor! The butt-end of the whip caught Satchelmouth in the stomach. He staggered back, clutched at the edge of the coach, and dropped. His outflung arm caught hold of what felt like a thin branch in the darkness. He swung wildly over the drop until his boots got a purchase on the rock, and his other hand gripped a broken fence-post. He was just in time to see the cart rumble straight on. The road, on the other hand, curved sharply. Satchelmouth shut his eyes and held on tight until the last scream and crackle and splinter had died away. When he opened them, it was just in time to see a burning wheel bounce down the canyon. Blimey, he said, it was lucky there . . . was . . . some . . . thing . . . His gaze went up. And up. YES. IT WAS, WASNT IT? Mr Clete sat up in the ruins of the cart. It was clearly very much on fire. He was lucky, he told himself, to have survived that. A black-robed figure walked through the flames. Mr Clete looked at it. Hed never believed in this sort of thing. He never believed in anything. But if he had believed, he would have believed in someone . . . bigger. He looked down at what hed thought was his body, and realized that he could see through it, and that it was fading away. Oh, dear, he said. Hat. Hat. Hat. The figure grinned, and swung its tiny scythe. SNH, SNH, SNH. Much later on, people went down into the canyon and sorted out the remains of Mr Clete from the remains of everything else. There wasnt very much. There were some suggestions that he was some musician . . . some musician had fled the city or something . . . hadnt he? Or was that something else? Anyway, he was dead now. Wasnt he? No-one took any notice of the other things. Stuff tended to congregate in the dry river-bed. There was a horses skull, and some feathers and beads. And a few pieces of guitar, smashed open like an eggshell. Although it would be hard to say what had flown. Susan opened her eyes. She felt wind on her face. There were arms on either side of her. They were supporting her while, at the same time, grasping the reins of a white horse. She leaned forward. Clouds were scudding by, far below. All right, she said. And now what happens? Death was silent for a moment. HISTORY TENDS TO SWING BACK INTO LINE. THEY ARE ALWAYS PATCHING IT UP. THERE ARE ALWAYS SOME MINOR LOOSE ENDS . . . I DARE SAY SOME PEOPLE WILL HAVE SOME CONFUSED MEMORIES ABOUT A CONCERT OF SORTS IN THE PARK. BUT WHAT OF IT? THEY WILL REMEMBER THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. But they did happen! AS WELL. Susan stared down at the dark landscape. Here and there were the lights of homesteads and small villages, where people were getting on with their lives without thought of what was passing by, high over their heads. She envied them. So, she said, just for an example, you understand . . . what would happen to the Band?

  OH, THEY MIGHT BE ANYWHERE. Death glanced at the back of Susans head. TAKE THE BOY, FOR EXAMPLE. PERHAPS HE LEFT THE BIG CITY. PERHAPS HE WENT SOMEWHERE ELSE. GOT A JOB JUST TO MAKE ENDS MEET. BIDED HIS TIME. DID IT HIS WAY. But he was due in the Drum that night! NOT IF HE DIDNT GO THERE. Can you do that? His life was due to end! You said you cant give life! NOT ME. YOU MIGHT. What do you mean? LIFE CAN BE SHARED. But hes . . . gone. Its not as though Im ever likely to see him again. YOU KNOW YOU WILL. How do you know that? YOUVE ALWAYS KNOWN. YOU REMEMBER EVERYTHING. SO DO I. BUT YOU ARE HUMAN AND YOUR MIND REBELS FOR YOUR OWN SAKE. SOMETHING GOES ACROSS, THOUGH. DREAMS, PERHAPS. PREMONITIONS. FEELINGS. SOME SHADOWS ARE SO LONG THEY ARRIVE BEFORE THE LIGHT. I dont think I understood any of that. WELL, IT HAS BEEN A LONG DAY. More clouds passed underneath. Grandfather? YES. Youre back? IT SEEMS SO. BUSY, BUSY, BUSY. So I can stop? I dont think I was very good at it. YES. But . . . youve just broken a lot of laws . . . PERHAPS THEYRE SOMETIMES ONLY GUIDELINES. But my parents still died. I COULDNT HAVE GIVEN THEM MORE LIFE. I COULD ONLY HAVE GIVEN THEM IMMORTALITY. THEY DIDNT THINK IT WAS WORTH THE PRICE. I . . . think I know what they mean. YOURE WELCOME TO COME AND VISIT, OF COURSE. Thank you. YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE A HOME THERE. IF YOU WANT IT. Really? I SHALL KEEP YOUR ROOM EXACTLY AS YOU LEFT IT. Thank you. A MESS. Sorry. I CAN HARDLY SEE THE FLOOR. YOU COULD HAVE TIDIED IT UP A BIT. Sorry. The lights of Quirm glittered below. Binky touched down smoothly. Susan looked around at the dark school buildings. So Ive . . . also . . . been here all the time? she said. YES. THE HISTORY OF THE LAST FEW DAYS HAS BEEN . . . DIFFERENT. YOU DID QUITE WELL IN YOUR EXAMS. Did I? Who sat them? YOU DID. Oh. Susan shrugged. What grade did I get in Logic?

  YOU GOT AN A. Oh, come on. I always get A-plus! YOU SHOULD HAVE REVISED MORE. Death swung up into the saddle. Just a minute, said Susan, quickly. She knew she had to say it. YES? What happened to . . . you know . . . changing the fate of one individual means changing the world? SOMETIMES THE WORLD NEEDS CHANGING. Oh. Er. Grandfather? YES? Er . . . the swing . . . said Susan. The one down in the orchard. I mean . . . It was pretty good. A good swing. REALLY? I was just too young to appreciate it. YOU REALLY LIKED IT? It had . . . style. I shouldnt think anyone else ever had one like it. THANK YOU. But . . . all this doesnt alter anything, you know. The world is still full of stupid people. They dont use their brains. They dont seem to want to think straight. UNLIKE YOU? At least I make an effort. For example . . . if Ive been here for the last few days, whos in my bed now? I THINK YOU JUST WENT OUT FOR A MOONLIGHT STROLL. Oh. Thats all right, then. Death coughed. I SUPPOSE . . . ? Sorry? I KNOW ITS RIDICULOUS, REALLY . . . What is? I SUPPOSE . . . YOU HAVENT GOT A KISS FOR YOUR OLD GRANDAD? Susan stared at him. The blue glow in Deaths eyes gradually faded, and as the light died it sucked at her gaze so that it was dragged into the eye sockets and the darkness beyond . . . . . . which went on and on, for ever. There was no word for it. Even eternity was a human idea. Giving it a name gave it a length; admittedly, a very long one. But this darkness was what was left when eternity had given up. It was where Death lived. Alone. She reached up and pulled his head down and kissed the top of his skull. It was smooth and ivory white, like a billiard ball. She turned and stared at the shadowy buildings in an attempt to hide her embarrassment. I just hope I remembered to leave a window open. Oh, well, nothing for it. She had to know, even if she felt angry with herself for asking. Look, the . . . er, the people I met . . . do you know if I ever see- When she turned back, there was nothing there. There were only a couple of hoofprints, fading on the cobbles. There was no open window. She went around to the door and climbed the stairs in the darkness. Susan! Susan felt herself fading protectively, out of habit. She stopped it. There was no need for that. There had never been a need for that.

  A figure stood at the end of the passage, in a circle of lamplight. Yes, Miss Butts? The headmistress peered at her, as if waiting for her to do something. Are you all right, Miss Butts? The te
acher rallied. Do you know its gone midnight? For shame! And youre out of bed! And that is certainly not the school uniform! Susan looked down. It was always hard to get every little detail right. She was still wearing the black dress with the lace. Yes, she said, thats right. She gave Miss Butts a bright friendly smile. Well, there are school rules, you know, said Miss Butts, but her tone was hesitant. Susan patted her on the arm. I think theyre probably more like guidelines, dont you? Eulalie? Miss Buttss mouth opened and shut. And Susan realized that the woman was actually quite short. She had a tall bearing and a tall voice and a tall manner, and was tall in every respect except height. Amazingly, shed apparently been able to keep this a secret from people. But Id better be off to bed, said Susan, her mind dancing on adrenalin. And you, too. Its far too late to be wandering around draughty corridors at your age, dont you think? Last day tomorrow, too. You dont want to look tired when the parents arrive.

  Er . . . Yes. Yes. Thank you, Susan. Susan gave the forlorn teacher another warm smile and headed for the dormitory, where she undressed in the dark and got between the sheets. The room was silent except for the sound of nine girls breathing quietly and the rhythmic muffled avalanche that was Princess Jade asleep. And, after a while, the sound of someone sobbing and trying not to be heard. It went on for a long time. There was a lot of catching up to do. Far above the world, Death nodded. You could choose immortality, or you could choose humanity. You had to do it for yourself. It was the last day of the term, and therefore chaotic. Some girls were leaving early, there was a stream of parents of various races, and there was no question of there being any teaching. It was generally accepted all round that the rules were relaxed. Susan, Gloria and Princess Jade wandered down to the floral clock. It was a quarter to Daisy. Susan felt empty, but also stretched like a string. She was surprised sparks werent coming from her fingertips. Gloria had bought a bag of fried fish from the shop in Three Roses. The smell of hot vinegar and solid cholesterol rose from the paper, without the taint of fried rot that normally gave the shops produce its familiar edge. My father says Ive got to go home and marry some troll, said Jade. Hey, if theres any good fish bones in there Ill have them.

  Have you met him? said Susan. No. But my father says hes got a great big mountain.

  I wouldnt put up with that, if I was you, said Gloria, through a mouthful of fish. This is the Century of the Fruitbat, after all. Id put my foot down right now and say no. Eh, Susan?

  What? said Susan, whod been thinking of something else; then, when everything had been repeated, she said, No. Id see what he was like first. Perhaps hes quite nice. And then the mountain is a bonus.

  Yes. Thats logical. Didnt your dad send you a picture? said Gloria. Oh, yes, said Jade. Well. . . ?

  Um . . . it had some nice crevasses, said Jade thoughtfully. And a glacier that my father says is permanent even at midsummer. Gloria nodded approvingly. He sounds a nice boy.

  But Ive always liked Crag from the next valley. Father hates him. But hes working very hard and saving up and hes nearly got enough for his own bridge. Gloria sighed. Sometimes its hard to be a woman, she said. She nudged Susan. Want some fish?

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