Soul music, p.9
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       Soul Music, p.9

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 9


  She spun around. The Death of Rats was on the shelf behind her. It raised an admonitory finger. All right, said Susan. She put the glass back in its place. SQUEAK. No. I havent finished looking. Susan set off for the door, with the rat skittering across the floor after her. The third room turned out to be . . . . . . the bathroom. Susan hesitated. You expected hourglasses in this place. You expected the skull-and-bones motif. But you didnt expect the very large white porcelain tub, on its own raised podium like a throne, with giant brass taps and - in faded blue letters just over the thing that held the plug chain - the words: C. H. Lavatory & Son, Mollymog St, Ankh-Morpork. You didnt expect the rubber duck. It was yellow. You didnt expect the soap. It was suitably bonewhite, but looked as if it had never been used. Beside it was a bar of orange soap which certainly had been used - it was hardly more than a sliver. It smelled a lot like the vicious stuff used at school. The bath, though big, was a human thing. There was brown-lined crazing around the plug- hole and a stain where the tap had dripped. But almost everything else had been designed by the person who hadnt understood deskishness, and now hadnt understood ablutionology either. They had created a towel rail an entire athletics team could have used for training. The black towels on it were fused to it and were quite hard. Whoever actually used the bathroom probably dried themselves on the white-and-blue, very worn towel with the initials Y M R-C- I-G-B-S A, A-M on it. There was even a lavatory, another fine example of C. H. Lavatorys porcelainic art, with an embossed frieze of green and blue flowers on the cistern. And again, like the bath and the soap, it suggested that this room had been built by someone . . . and then someone else had come along afterwards to add small details. Someone with a better knowledge of plumbing, for a start. And someone else who understood, really understood, that towels should be soft and capable of drying people, and soap should be capable of bubbles. You didnt expect any of it until you saw it. And then it was like seeing it again. The bald towel dropped off the rail and skipped across the floor, until it fell away to reveal the Death of Rats. SQUEAK? Oh, all right, said Susan. Where do you want me to go now? The rat scurried to the open door and disappeared into the hall. Susan followed it to yet another door. She turned yet another handle. Another room within a room lay beyond. There was a tiny area of lighted tiling in the darkness, containing the distant vision of a table, a few chairs, a kitchen dresser- -and someone. A hunched figure was sitting at the table. As Susan cautiously approached she heard the rattle of cutlery on a plate. An old man was eating his supper, very noisily. In between forkfuls, he was talking to himself with his mouth full. It was a kind of auto bad manners. Snot my fault! [spray] I was against it from the start but, oh no, he has to go and [recover piece of ballistic sausage from table] start gettin involved, I told him, isnot as if youre not involved [stab unidentified fried object], oh no, thats not his way [spray, jab fork at the air], once you get involved like that, I said, howre you getting out, tell me that [make temporary egg-and-ketchup sandwich] but, oh no- Susan walked around the patch of carpet. The man took no notice. The Death of Rats shinned up the table leg and landed on a slice of fried bread.

  Oh. Its you. SQUEAK. The old man looked around. Where? Where? Susan stepped onto the carpet. The man stood up so quickly that his chair fell over. Who the hells are you?

  Could you stop pointing that sharp bacon at me?

  I asked you a question, young woman!

  Im Susan. This didnt sound enough. Duchess of Sto Helit, she added. The mans wrinkled face wrinkled still further as he strove to comprehend this. Then he turned away and threw his hands up in the air. Oh, yes! he bawled, to the room in general. That just puts the entire tin lid on it, that does! He waved a finger at the Death of Rats, who leaned backwards. You cheating little rodent! Oh, yes! I smell a rat here! SQUEAK? The shaking finger stopped suddenly. The man spun around. How did you manage to walk through the wall?

  Im sorry? said Susan, backing away. I didnt know there was one.

  What dyou call this, then, Klatchian mist? The man slapped the air. The hippo of memory wallowed . . . . . . Albert . . . said Susan, right? Albert thumped his forehead with the palm of his hand. Worse and worse! Whatve you been telling her?

  He didnt tell me anything except SQUEAK and I dont know what that means, said Susan. But . . . look, theres no wall here, theres just . . . Albert wrenched open a drawer. Observe, he said sharply. Hammer, right? Nail, right? Watch. He hammered the nail into the air about five feet up at the edge of the tiled area. It hung there. Wall, said Albert. Susan reached out gingerly and touched the nail. It had a sticky feel, a little like static electricity. Well, it doesnt feel like a wall to me, she managed. SQUEAK. Albert dropped the hammer on the table. He wasnt a small man, Susan realized. He was quite tall, but he walked with the kind of lopsided stoop normally associated with laboratory assistants of an Igor turn of mind. I give in, he said, wagging his finger at Susan again. I told him no goodd come of it. He started meddlin, and next thing a mere chit of a girl- whered you go? Susan walked over to the table while Albert waved his arms in the air, trying to find her. There was a cheeseboard on the table, and a snuff box. And a string of sausages. No fresh vegetables at all. Miss Butts advocated avoiding fried foods and eating plenty of vegetables for what she referred to as Daily Health. She put a lot of troubles down to an absence of Daily Health. Albert looked like the embodiment of them all as he scuttled around the kitchen, grabbing at the air. She sat in the chair as he danced past. Albert stopped moving, and put his hand over one eye. Then he turned, very carefully. The one visible eye was screwed up in a frantic effort of concentration. He squinted at the chair, his eye watering with effort. Thats pretty good, he said, quietly. All right. Youre here. The rat and the horse brought

  you. Damn fool things. They think its the right thing to do.

  What right thing to do? said Susan. And Im not a . . . what you said. Albert stared at her. The Master could do that, he said at last. Its part of the job. I spect you found you could do it a long time ago, eh? Not be noticed when you didnt want to be? SQUEAK, said the Death of Rats. What? said Albert. SQUEAK. He says to tell you, said Albert wearily, that a chit of a girl means a small girl. He thinks you may have misheard me. Susan hunched up in the chair. Albert pulled up another one and sat down. How old are you?


  Oh, my. Albert rolled his eyes. How long have you been sixteen?

  Since I was fifteen, of course. Are you stupid?

  My, my, how the time does pass, said Albert. Do you know why youre here?

  No . . . but, Susan hesitated, but its got something to do with . . . its something like . . . Im seeing things that people dont see, and Ive met someone whos just a story, and I know Ive been here before . . . and all these skulls and bones on things . . . Alberts rangy, vulture-like shape loomed over her. Would you like a cocoa? he said. It was a lot different from the cocoa at the school, which was like hot brown water. Alberts cocoa had fat floating in it; if you turned the mug upside down, it would be a little while before anything fell out. Your mum and dad, said Albert, when she had a chocolate moustache that was far too young for her, did they ever . . . explain anything to you?

  Miss Delcross did that in Biology, said Susan. She got it wrong, she added. I mean about your grandfather, said Albert. I remember things, said Susan, but I cant remember them until Ive seen them. Like the bathroom. Like you.

  Your mum and dad thought it best if you forgot, said Albert. Hah! Its in the bone! They was afraid it was going to happen and it has! Youve inherited.

  Oh, I know about that, too, said Susan. Its all about mice and beans and things. Albert gave her a blank look. Look, Ill try to put it tactful, he said. Susan gave him a polite look. Your grandfather is Death, said Albert. You know? The skeleton in the black robe? You rode in on his horse and this is his house. Only hes . . . gone away. To think things over, or something. What I reckons happening is youre being sucked in. Its in the bone. Youre old enough now. Theres a
hole and it thinks youre the right shape. I dont like it any more than you do.

  Death, said Susan, flatly. Well, I cant say I didnt have suspicions. Like the Hogfather and the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy?

  Yes. SQUEAK. You expect me to believe that, do you? said Susan, trying to summon up her most withering scorn. Albert glared back like someone whod done all his withering a long time ago. Its no skin off my nose what you believe, madam, he said. You really mean the tall figure with the scythe and everything?


  Look, Albert, said Susan, in the voice one uses to the simpleminded, even if there was a “Death” like that, and frankly its quite ridiculous to go anthropomorphizing a simple natural function, no-one can inherit anything from it. I know about heredity. Its all about having red hair and things. You get it from other people. You dont get it from . . . myths and legends. Um. The Death of Rats had gravitated to the cheeseboard, where he was using his scythe to hack off a lump. Albert sat back. I remember when you got brought here, he said. Hed kept on asking, you see. He was curious. He likes kids. Sees a lot of them really, but . . . not to get to know, if you see what I mean. Your mum and dad didnt want to, but they gave in and brought you all here for tea one day just to keep him quiet. They didnt like to do it because they thought youd be scared and scream the place down. But you . . . you didnt scream. You laughed. Frightened the life out of your dad, that did. They brought you a couple more times when he asked, but then they got scared about what might happen and your dad put his foot down and that was the end of it. He was about the only one who could argue with the Master, your dad. Youd have been about four then, I think. Susan raised her hand thoughtfully and touched the pale lines on her cheek. The Master said they were raising you according to, Albert sneered, modern methods. Logic. And thinking old stuff is silly. I dunno . . . I suppose they wanted to keep you away from . . . ideas like this . . .

  I was given a ride on the horse, said Susan, not listening to him. I had a bath in the big bathroom.

  Soap all over the place, said Albert. His face contorted into something approaching a smile. I could hear the Master laughing from here. And he made you a swing, too. Tried to, anyway. No magic or anything. With his actual hands. Susan sat while memories woke and yawned and unfolded in her head. I remember about that bathroom now, she said. Its all coming back to me.

  Nah, it never went away. It just got papered over.

  He was no good at plumbing. What does Y M R-C-I-G-B-S A, AM mean?

  Young Mens Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-BelShamharoth Association, Ankh- Morpork, said Albert. Its where I stay if I have to go back down for anything. Soap and suchlike.

  But youre not . . . a young man, said Susan, unable to prevent herself. No-one argues, he snapped. And Susan thought that was probably true. There was some kind of wiry strength in Albert, as if his whole body was a knuckle. He can make just about anything, she said, half to herself, but some things he just doesnt understand, and one of thems plumbing.

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