Mort, p.24
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       Mort, p.24

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 24

  M okay, said Mort, walking heavily up the steps and into the scratching shadows of the library.

  Youre not. You could do with a good nights sleep, my lad.

  Mt, murmured Mort.

  He felt Ysabell slip his arm over her shoulder. The walls were moving gently, even the sound of his own voice was coming from a long way off, and he dimly felt how nice it would be to stretch out on a nice stone slab and sleep forever.

  Deathd be back soon, he told himself, feeling his unprotesting body being helped along the corridors. There was nothing for it, hed have to tell Death. He wasnt such a bad old stick. Death would help; all he needed to do was explain things. And then he could stop all this worrying and go to slee. . . .

  And what was your previous position?

  I BEG YOUR PARDON?

  What did you do for a living? said the thin young man behind the desk.

  The figure opposite him shifted uneasily.

  I USHERED SOULS INTO THE NEXT WORLD. I WAS THE GRAVE OF ALL HOPE. I WAS THE ULTIMATE REALITY. I WAS THE ASSASSIN AGAINST WHOM NO LOCK WOULD HOLD.

  Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?

  Death thought about it.

  I SUPPOSE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF EXPERTISE WITH AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS? he ventured after a while.

  The young man shook his head firmly.

  NO?

  This is a city, Mr — he glanced down, and once again felt a faint unease that he couldnt quite put his finger on – Mr – Mr – Mr, and were a bit short of fields.

  He laid down his pen and gave the kind of smile that suggested hed learned it from a book.

  Ankh-Morpork wasnt advanced enough to possess an employment exchange. People took jobs because their fathers made room for them, or because their natural talent found an opening, or by word-of-mouth. But there was a call for servants and menial workers, and with the commercial sections of the city beginning to boom the thin young man – a Mr Liona Keeble – had invented the profession of job broker and was, right at this moment, finding it difficult.

  My dear Mr — he glanced down – Mr, we get many people coming into the city from outside because, alas, they believe life is richer here. Excuse me for saying so, but you seem to me to be a gentleman down on his luck. I would have thought you would have preferred something rather more refined than — he glanced down again, and frowned – “something nice working with cats or flowers”.

  IM SORRY. I FELT IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE.

  Can you play a musical instrument ?

  NO.

  Can you do carpentry?

  I DO NOT KNOW, I HAVE NEVER TRIED. Death tared at his feet. He was beginning to feel deeply embarrassed.

  Keeble shuffled the paper on his desk, and sighed.

  I CAN WALK THROUGH WALLS, Death volunteered, aware that the conversation had reached an impasse.

  Keeble looked up brightly. Id like to see that, he said. That could be quite a qualification.

  RIGHT.

  Death pushed his chair back and stalked confidently towards the nearest wall.

  OUCH.

  Keeble watched expectantly. Go on, then, he said.

  UM. THIS IS AN ORDINARY WALL, IS IT?

  I assume so. Im not an expert.

  IT SEEMS TO BE PRESENTING ME WITH SOME DIFFICULTY.

  So it would appear.

  WHAT DO YOU CALL THE FEELING OF BEING VERY SMALL AND HOT?

  Keeble twiddled his pencil.

  Pygmy?

  BEGINS WITH AN M.

  Embarrassing?

  Yes, said Death, I MEAN YES.

  It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever, he said. Have you thought of going into teaching?

  Deaths face was a mask of terror. Well, it was always a mask of terror, but this time he meant it to be.

  You see, said Keeble kindly, putting down his pen and steepling his hands together, its very seldom I ever have to find a new career for an – what was it again?

  ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION.

  Oh, yes. What is that, exactly?

  Death had had enough.

  THIS, he said.

  For a moment, just for a moment, Mr Keeble saw him clearly. His face went nearly as pale as Deaths own. His hands jerked convulsively. His heart gave a stutter.

  Death watched him with mild interest, then drew an hourglass from the depths of his robe and held it up to the light and examined it critically.

  SETTLE DOWN, he said, YOUVE GOT A GOOD FEW YEARS YET.

  Bbbbbbb —

  I COULD TELL YOU HOW MANY IF YOU LIKE.

  Keeble, fighting to breathe, managed to shake his head.

  DO YOU WANT ME TO GET YOU A GLASS OF WATER, THEN?

  nnN – nnN.

  The shop bell jangled. Keebles eyes rolled. Death decided that he owed the man something. He shouldnt be allowed to lose custom, which was clearly something humans valued dearly.

  He pushed aside the bead curtain and stalked into the outer shop, where a small fat woman, looking rather like an angry cottage loaf, was hammering on the counter with a haddock.

  Its about that cooks job up at the University, she said. You told me it was a good position and its a disgrace up there, the tricks them students play, and I demand – I want you to – Im not.

  Her voice trailed off.

  Ere, she said, but you could tell her heart wasnt in it, youre not Keeble, are you?

  Death stared at her. Hed never before experienced an unsatisfied customer. He was at a loss. Finally he gave up.

  BEGONE, YOU BLACK AND MIDNIGHT HAG, he said.

  The cooks small eyes narrowed.

  Oo are you calling a midnight bag? she said accusingly, and hit the counter with the fish again. Look at this, she said. Last night it was my bedwarmer, in the morning its a fish. I ask you.

  MAY ALL THE DEMONS OF HELL REND YOUR LIVING SPIRIT IF YOU DONT GET OUT OF THE SHOP THIS MINUTE, Death tried.

  I dont know about that, but what about my bedwarmer? Its no place for a respectable woman up there, they tried to —

  IF YOU WOULD CARE TO GO AWAY, said Death desperately, I WILL GIVE YOU SOME MONEY.

  How much? said the cook, with a speed that would have outdistanced a striking rattlesnake and given lightning a nasty shock.

  Death pulled out his coin bag and tipped a heap of verdigrised and darkened coins on the counter. She regarded them with deep suspicion.

  NOW LEAVE UPON THE INSTANT, said Death, and added, BEFORE THE SEARING WINDS OF INFINITY SCORCH THY WORTHLESS CARCASS.

  My husband will be told about this, said the cook darkly, as she left the shop. It seemed to Death that no threat of his could possibly be as dire.

  He stalked back through the curtains. Keeble, still slumped in his chair, gave a kind of strangled gurgle.

  It was true! he said. I thought you were a nightmare!

  I COULD TAKE OFFENCE AT THAT, said Death.

  You really are Death? said Keeble.

  YES.

  Why didnt you say?

  PEOPLE USUALLY PREFER ME NOT TO.

  Keeble scrabbled among his papers, giggling hysterically.

  You want to do something else? he said. Tooth fairy? Water sprite? Sandman?

  DO NOT BE FOOLISH. I SIMPLY – FEEL I WANT A CHANGE.

  Keebles frantic rustling at last turned up the paper hed been searching for. He gave a maniacal laugh and thrust it into Deaths hands.

  Death read it.

  THIS is A JOB? PEOPLE ARE PAID TO DO THIS?

  Yes, yes, go and see him, youre just the right type. Only dont tell him I sent you.

  Binky moved at a hard gallop across the night, the Disc unrolling far below his hooves. Now Mort found that the sword could reach out further than he had thought, it could reach the stars themselves, and he swung it across the deeps of space and into the heart of a yellow dwarf which went nova most satisfactorily. He stood in the saddle and whirled the blade around his
head, laughing as the blue flame fanned across the sky leaving a trail of darkness and embers.

  And didnt stop. Mort struggled as the sword cut through the horizon, grinding down the mountains, drying up the seas, turning green forests into punk and ashes. He heard voices behind him, and the brief screams of friends and relatives as he turned desperately. Dust storms whirled from the dead earth as he fought to release his own grip, but the sword burned icy cold in his hand, dragging him on in a dance that would not end until there was nothing left alive.

  And that time came, and Mort stood alone except for Death, who said, A fine job, boy.

  And Mort said, MORT.

  Mort! Mort! Wake up!

  Mort surfaced slowly, like a corpse in a pond. He fought against it, clinging to his pillow and the horrors of sleep, but someone was tugging urgently at his ear.

  Mmmph? he said.

  Mort!

  Wsst?

  Mort, its father!

  He opened his eyes and stared up blankly into Ysabells face. Then the events of the previous night hit him like a sock full of damp sand.

  Mort swung his legs out of bed, still wreathed in the remains of his dream.

  Yeah, okay, he said. I go and see him directly.

  Hes not here! Alberts going crazy! Ysabell stood by the bed, tugging a handkerchief between her hands. Mort, do you think something bad has happened to him?

  He gave her a blank look. Dont be bloody stupid, he said, hes Death. He scratched his skin. He felt hot and dry and itchy.

  But hes never been away this long! Not even when there was that big plague in Pseudopolis! I mean, he has to be here in the mornings to do the books and work out the nodes and —

  Mort grabbed her arms. All right, all right, he said, as soothingly as he could manage. Im sure everythings okay. Just settle down, Ill go and check . . . why have you got your eyes shut?

  Mort, please put some clothes on, said Ysabell in a tight little voice.

  Mort looked down.

  Sorry, he said meekly, I didnt realise . . . Who put me to bed?

  I did, she said. But I looked the other way.

  Mort dragged on his breeches, shrugged into his shirt and hurried out towards Deaths study with Ysabell on his heels. Albert was in there, jumping from foot to foot like a duck on a griddle. When Mort came in the look on the old mans face could almost have been gratitude.

  Mort saw with amazement that there were tears in his eyes.

  His chair hasnt been sat in, Albert whined.

  Sorry, but is that important? said Mort. My grandad didnt used to come home for days if hed had a good sale at the market.

  But hes always here, said Albert. Every morning, as long as Ive known him, sitting here at his desk a-working on the nodes. Its his job. He wouldnt miss it.

  I expect the nodes can look after themselves for a day or two, said Mort.

  The drop in temperature told him he was wrong. He looked at their faces.

  They cant? he said.

  Both heads shook.

  If the nodes arent worked out properly all the Balance is destroyed, said Ysabell. Anything could happen.

  Didnt he explain? said Albert.

  Not really. Ive really only done the practical side. He said hed tell me about the theoretical stuff later, said Mort. Ysabell burst into tears.

  Albert took Morts arm and, with considerable dramatic waggling of his eyebrows, indicated that they should have a little talk in the corner. Mort trailed after him reluctantly.

  The old man rummaged in his pockets and at last produced a battered paper bag.

  Peppermint? he enquired.

  Mort shook his head.

  He never tell you about the nodes? said Albert.

  Mort shook his head again. Albert gave his peppermint a suck; it sounded like the plughole in the bath of God.

  How old are you, lad?

  Mort. Im sixteen.

  Theres some things a lad ought to be tole before hes sixteen, said Albert, looking over his shoulder at Ysabell, who was sobbing in Deaths chair.

 
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