A hat full of sky, p.30
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.30

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 30

 

  Aye, an so I willnae dishonour them by lettin yer step across Deaths threshold alone, said Rob Anybody firmly. So, thought Tiffany as she stared through the doorway, this is what we do. We live on the edges. We help those who cant find the way . . . She took a deep breath and stepped across. Nothing much changed. The sand felt gritty underfoot and crunched when she walked over it, as she expected, but when it was kicked up it fell back as slowly as thistledown, and she hadnt expected that. The air wasnt cold, but it was thin and prickly to breathe. The door shut softly behind her. Thank you, said the voices of the hiver. What do we do now? Tiffany looked around her, and up at the stars. They werent ones that she recognized. You die, I think, she said. But there is no me to die, said the voices of the hiver. There is only us. Tiffany took a deep breath. This was about words, and she knew about words. Here is a story to believe, she said. Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When were frightened the hair on our skins stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We are history! Everything weve ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are. Would you like the rest of the story?

  Tell us, said the hiver. Im made up of the memories of my parents and grandparents, all my ancestors. Theyre in the way I look, in the colour of my hair. And Im made up of everyone Ive ever met whos changed the way I think. So who is “me”? The piece that just told us that story, said the hiver. The piece thats truly you. Well . . . yes. But you must have that too. You know you say youre “us” - who is it saying it? Who is saying youre not you? Youre not different from us. Were just much, much better at forgetting. And we know when not to listen to the monkey. You ve just puzzled us, said the hiver. The old bit of our brains that wants to be head monkey, and attacks when its surprised, said Tiffany. It reacts. It doesnt think. Being human is knowing when not to be the monkey or the lizard or any of the other old echoes. But when you take people over, you silence the human part. You listen to the monkey. The monkey doesnt know what it needs, only what it wants. No, you are not an “us”. You are an “I”. I, me, said the hiver. I. Who am I? Do you want a name? That helps. Yes. A name . . . Ive always liked Arthur, as a name. Arthur, said the hiver. I like Arthur, too. And if I am, I can stop. What happens next? The creatures you . . . took over, didnt they die? Yes, said the Arthur. But we - but I didnt see what happened. They just stopped being here. Tiffany looked around at the endless sand. She couldnt see anybody, but there was something out there that suggested movement. It was the occasional change in the light, perhaps, as if she was catching glimpses of something she was not supposed to see. I think, she said, that you have to cross the desert. Whats on the other side? said Arthur. Tiffany hesitated. Some people think you go to a better world, she said. Some people think you come back to this one in a different body. And some think theres just nothing. They think you just stop. And what do you think? Arthur asked. I think that there are no words to describe it, said Tiffany. Is that true? said Arthur. I think thats why you have to cross the desert, said Tiffany. To find out. I will look forward to it. Thank you. Goodbye . . . Arthur. She felt the hiver fall away. There wasnt much sign of it - a movement of a few sand grains, a sizzle in the air - but it slid away slowly across the black sand. An bad cess an good riddance ta ye! Rob Anybody shouted after it. No, said Tiffany. Dont say that.

  Aye, but it killed folk to stay alive.

  It didnt want to. It didnt know how people work.

  That was a fine load of o blethers ye gave it, at any rate, said Rob admiringly. Not

  even a gonnagle could make up a load o blethers like that. Tiffany wondered if it had been. Once, when the wandering teachers had come to the village, she had paid half a dozen eggs for a mornings education on ***Wonders of the Univers!!*** That was expensive, for education, but it had been thoroughly worth it. The teacher had been a little bit crazy, even for a teacher, but what hed said had seemed to make absolute sense. One of the most amazing things about the universe, he had said, was that, sooner or later, everything is made of everything else, although itll probably take millions and millions of years for this to happen. The other children had giggled or argued, but Tiffany knew that what had once been tiny living creatures was now the chalk of the hills. Everything went round, even stars. That had been a very good morning, especially since shed been refunded half an egg for pointing out that Universe had been spelled wrong. Was it true? Maybe that didnt matter. Maybe it just had to be true enough for Arthur. Her eyes, the inner eyes that opened twice, were beginning to close. She could feel the power draining away. You couldnt stay in that state for long. You became so aware of the universe that you stopped being aware of you. How clever of humans to have learned how to close their minds. Was there anything so amazing in the universe as boredom? She sat down, just for a moment, and picked up a handful of the sand. It rose above her hand, twisting like smoke, reflecting the starlight, then settled back as if it had all the time in the world. She had never felt this tired. She still heard the inner voices. The hiver had left memories behind, just a few. She could remember when there had been no stars and when there had been no such thing as yesterday. She knew what was beyond the sky and beneath the grass. But she couldnt remember when she had last slept, properly slept, in a bed. Being unconscious didnt count. She closed her eyes, and closed her eyes again- Someone kicked her hard on the foot. Dinnae gae to sleep! Rob Anybody shouted. Not here! Ye cannae gae to sleep here] Rise an shine! Still feeling muzzy, Tiffany pushed herself back onto her feet, through gentle swirls of rising dust, and turned to the dark door. It wasnt there. There were her footprints in the sand, but they went only a few feet and, anyway, were slowly disappearing. There was nothing around her but dead desert, for ever. She turned back to look towards the distant mountains, but her view was blocked by a tall figure, all in black, holding a scythe. It hadnt been there before. GOOD AFTERNOON, said Death.

  Chapter 12 Egress Tiffany stared up into a black hood. There was a skull in it, but the eye sockets glowed blue. At least bones had never frightened Tiffany. They were only chalk that had walked around. Are you-? she began, but Rob Anybody gave a yell and leaped straight for the hood. There was a thud. Death took a step backwards and raised a skeletal hand to his cowl. He pulled out Rob Anybody by his hair and held him at arms length while the Nac Mac Feegle cursed and kicked. is THIS YOURS? Death asked Tiffany. The voice was heavy and all around her, like thunder. No. Er . . . hes his. I WAS NOT EXPECTING A NAC MAC FEEGLE TODAY, Said Death, OTHERWISE I WOULD HAVE WORN PROTECTIVE CLOTHING, HA HA. They do fight a lot, Tiffany admitted. You are Death, arent you? I know this might sound a silly question. YOU ARE NOT AFRAID? Not yet. But, er . . . which way to the egress, please? There was a pause. Then Death said, in a puzzled voice: ISNT THAT A FEMALE EAGLE? No, said Tiffany. Everyone thinks that. Actually, its the way out. The exit. Death pointed, with the hand that still held the incandescently angry Rob Anybody. THAT WAY. YOU HAVE TO WALK THE DESERT. All the way to the mountains? YES. BUT ONLY THE DEAD CAN TAKE THAT WAY. Yeve got ta let me go sooner or later, ye big natomy! yelled Rob Anybody. And then yere gonna get sich a kickin!

  There was a door here! said Tiffany. AH YES, said Death, BUT THERE ARE RULES, THAT WAS A WAY IN, YOU SEE. Whats the difference? A FAIRLY IMPORTANT ONE, IM SORRY TO SAY. YOU WILL HAVE TO SEE YOURSELVES OUT. DO NOT FALL ASLEEP HERE. SLEEP HERE NEVER ENDS. Death vanished. Rob Anybody dropped to the sand and came up ready to fight, but they were alone. Yell have to make a door oot, he said. I dont know how! Rob, I told you not to come with me. Cant you get out?

  Aye. Probably. But Ive got to see ye safe. The kelda put a geas on me. I must save the hag o the hills.

  Jeannie told you that?

  Aye. She was verra definite, said Rob Anybody.
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  Tiffany slumped down onto the sand again. It fountained up around her. Ill never get out, she said. How to get in, yes, that wasnt hard . . . She looked around. They werent obvious, but there were occasional changes in the light, and little puffs of dust. People she couldnt see were walking past her. People were crossing the desert. Dead people, going to find out what was beyond the mountains . . . Im eleven, she thought. People will be upset. She thought about the farm, and how her mother and father would react. But there wouldnt be a body, would there? So people would hope and hope that shed come back and was just . . . missing, like old Mrs Happens in the village, who lit a candle in the window every night for her son whod been lost at sea thirty years ago. She wondered if Rob could send a message, but what could she say? Im not dead, Im just stuck? I should have thought of other people, she said aloud. Aye, weel, ye did, said Rob, sitting down by her foot. Yon Arthur went off happy, and ye saved other folk fra being killed. Ye did what ye had to do. Yes, thought Tiffany. Thats what we have to do. And theres no one to protect you, because you re the one whos supposed to do that sort of thing. But her Second Thoughts said: Im glad I did it. Id do it again. I stopped the hiver killing anyone else, even though we led it right into the Trials. And that thought was followed by a space. There should have been another thought, but she was too tired to have it. It had been important. Thank you for coming, Rob, she said. But when . . . you can leave, you must go straight back to Jeannie, understand? And tell her Im grateful she sent you. Say I wish wed had a chance to get to know one another better.

  Oh, aye. Ive sent the lads back anyway. Hamish is waitin for me. At which point the door appeared, and opened. Granny Weatherwax stepped through and beckoned urgently. Some people dont have the sense they were born with! Come on, right now! she commanded. Behind her, the door started to swing shut, but she swung round savagely and rammed her boot against the jamb, shouting, Oh, no you dont, you sly devil!

  But . . . I thought there were rules! said Tiffany, getting up and hurrying forward, all tiredness suddenly gone. Even a tired body wants to survive. Oh? Really? said Granny. Did you sign anything? Did you take any kind of oath? No? Then they werent your rules! Quickly, now! And you, Mr Anyone! Rob Anybody jumped onto her boot just before she pulled it away. The door shut with another click, disappeared and left them in . . . dead light, it seemed, a space of grey air. Wont take long, said Granny Weatherwax. It doesnt usually. Its the world getting back into line. Oh, dont look like that. You showed it the Way, right? Out of pity. Well, I know this path already. Youll tread it again, no doubt, for some other poor soul, open the door for them as cant find it. But we dont talk about it, understand?

  Miss Level never-

  We dont talk about it, I said, said Granny Weatherwax. Do you know what a part of being a witch is? Its making the choices that have to be made. The hard choices. But you did . . . quite well. Theres no shame in pity. She brushed some grass seed off her dress. I hope Mrs Ogg has arrived, she said. I need her recipe for apple chutney. Oh . . . when we arrive you might feel a bit dizzy. Id better warn you.

 
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