Terry walked down the country lane. The slight damp on the grass was drying in the early summer sunshine, scattered bird song issued almost constantly from a nearby copse, and in the distance a pleasant village nestled in a valley.
“Glorious day, isn’t it ?” Terry remarked to his companion.
“YES,” came the reply. It seemed an amiable enough reply but there was something, something about the tone, that Terry felt was disconcerting.
Terry also began to struggle with what his editors might have highlighted as a continuity error. Obviously a long walk in the country was just the thing he needed. But recently – well things had been rather confused. Lots of time spent in bed and feeling rather poorly. So the long walk in the country was obviously a very good idea. There were nagging concerns however – mainly that he had no idea where he was or how he had gotten here. Of course with the illness these things had occurred before. He decided to press on for a while and hope that things would become clearer.
“I don’t think there’ll be any more rain today,” Terry added.
There was a slight pause before his companion replied “NO”.
There was a brief moment whilst Terry tried to reconcile an awful lot of things that recently would have seemed very irreconcilable indeed. Then he turned to his companion. Long black cowl. What could have been rationalised as a stout walking stick were it not for the long curved blade at its top. Bony fingers. In fact bones for fingers. A skull head. Livid blue eyes.
“It’s YOU”, Terry said, the combination of shock, fear, wonderment, and sheer surprise being evoked by a rather unimpressive strangled squeak.
The figure paused before replying, apparently weighing the profound philosophical significance of the remark. “YES” he affirmed eventually.
“But YOU’RE YOU !” This time Terry had to acknowledge that there was more than a trace of hysterical shriek to his voice.
This time the pause conveyed the unmistakable implication that his companion had decided he was retarded, mad, or a combination of the two “YES.”
“So I’m dead ?” Terry asked.
“YES” His companion seemed far happier to be dealing with such irrefutable matters of fact rather than philosophical nuances.
“And you’re Death ?”
“And you exactly resemble the character I created in my novels ?”
Death considered the precise implications of the word “exactly” before favouring a broad brush approach. “YES”
The answer arrived before Terry had even properly formulated the question “Because everyone sees what they expect to see”.
As he walked along, dead, in the company of a character from his own novels Terry’s main thought was that Professor Richard Dawkins was going to throw the most almighty fit when he found out. In fact when he found out the shock would probably … well actually whatever else the shock might do to Professor Dawkins killing him would probably no longer be an option.
“So have things changed because of my novels ?”
“YES”. The tone of restrained annoyance was unambiguous.
“BEFORE YOUR … WORKS PEOPLE DIDN’T ASK ME FOR AUTOGRAPHS”, Death explained in the tone of someone who had a rather important but significantly under resourced job to do and who was not enjoying the alteration in status from iconic figure of doom to that of minor celebrity.
“You give autographs ?”
“NO”. Death stated. A long career of unvarnished dealings in truth forced him to add reluctantly “USUALLY NEITHER OF US HAS A PEN TO HAND”.
Terry allowed a respectful lull in the conversation before continuing.
“So where am I going now ?” Terry asked.
“TO THE VILLAGE,” replied Death.
“And what happens then ?” Heaven, hell, heaven, hell….
“YOU’RE PART OF A SYMPOSIUM ON “WHITHER THE NOVEL” WITH GERMAINE GREER, MARTIN AMIS, SALMAN RUSHDIE, AND JOHNNY VEGAS”.
“Oh, bollocks !” Purgatory.
“And then ?”
“I THINK THAT YOUR AGENT HAS BOOKED YOU IN FOR QUITE A FEW FESTIVALS AND CONFERENCES ALREADY”
“How long have I been here then ?” Terry asked.
Death raised an old fashioned hourglass and stared at it carefully “ABOUT HALF AN HOUR”.
“Half an hour. How did my agent manage to get me a booking for tonight when I’ve only been dead for half an hour ?” Terry’s agent’s assiduousness in assuring that no opportunity for their mutual enrichment was ever overlooked was even more impressive than Terry had previously thought possible.
“I THINK THAT HE WORKS BOTH SIDES OF THE RIVER” Death explained. In the circumstances that wasn’t surprising.
“And why did I get to do a symposium on “Wither the Novel” ?”
“STEPHEN KING CANCELLED”. Terry’s heart sank.
His companion attempted to cheer him up. “THE FOOD AT THE INN IS SUPPOSED TO BE RATHER GOOD AND THE BEER INCLUDES TWO AWARD WINNING ALES FROM THE ADJACENT MICRO BREWERY”.
Terry brightened a little. Overall things could have been worse.
“I hadn’t heard about all my fellow speakers dying. Do they work both sides of the river too ?” Terry asked.
“NO. THERE WAS A MASS STAMPEDE AT HAY ON WYE WHEN JONATHAN FRANZEN WAS WRONGLY RUMOURED TO BE DOING A SECRET BOOKSIGNING. TRAGIC.”
Death considered his last comment and for the sake of accuracy modified it. “MAINLY TRAGIC”.
The two walked on towards the village. The sun brightened in the sky behind them.