Terry shook his head.
The shadow of his last word hung on his lips for a moment before fading. The room seemed much as it had before he left it, although there seemed to be a slight haze at the edges of his vision, as if fog had started rolling in through the window when he wasn’t looking.
An odd fog it must be though, to turn up so suddenly on a bright Spring day – he turned to catch it in his eye, but when he did it rolled further from the other side, wiping the last frame of the room from his sight. Even the memory was now hard to hold onto. He remembered a glass of water and a cat, and a bed. Terry’s lip curled. Memories were tricksy little bastards, and he was quickly becoming sick of their antics. Rushing to and fro, disappearing on a whim and failing to stick around when he needed them; now he had only one left, and even that was slipping.
Then there was only blackness. Then soft grey sand between his toes, and a sense of being outside. A cold wind rushed around him, but the chill didn’t quite reach – rather like the difference between hearing someone speak to you and hearing a voice on the other end of a telephone.
SPEAKING OF VOICES, spoke a voice.
Terry turned his head. What he saw startled him at first, until memories from life started to wash back in. A tall figure, hooded in black, leaning on a scythe. The scythe was taller than he was, with a blade that glinted sharply in the moonlight and a handle of knotted dark wood. Terry glanced upwards. There didn’t seem to be a moon in the sky, which made him wonder what business anything had glinting in moonlight which had no reason to be there.
GHOST MOONBEAMS, said the figure, THOSE WHICH HAVE BEEN CONSUMED COME HERE TO SHINE ON THE DEAD.
“I’m dead then,” said Terry, “well. That adds up, I suppose.” His body felt detached from his mind. Every thought seemed not to fit.
YES. IT DOES.
“I have trouble remembering things sometimes,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else, “but now I feel like I can’t remember anything at all.”
THAT CAN HAPPEN. MANY PEOPLE LOSE THEIR LIVES ONCE THEY DIE.
“Can I get mine back?”
IT MAY COME BACK TO YOU, IN TIME. IN PIECES, LIKE THE SAYING.
YOU KNOW. ‘REST IN PIECES’. LIKE ON GRAVESTONES.
“Oh, right. That makes sense.” Terry wasn’t sure it did, actually, but he couldn’t for the death of him remember what the saying might actually be.
I CAN LOOK FOR IT FOR YOU, IF YOU LIKE.
“Would you? That would be very helpful, actually. Thank you.”
JUST A MOMENT. The figure reached into air with a hand that vanished up to the wrist. After a moment, it reappeared clutching a notepad. The fingers flicked through it for a few moments, then stopped. OH.
“Don’t tell me,” Terry held up a hand, “it’s not my time?”
Terry generally didn’t use clichés, but would quite gladly hear this one.
IT IS MOST DEFINITELY YOUR TIME. YOU WOULD NOT GO ANY EARLIER.
“Ah.” Terry remembered something. “Yes. I did. That sounds like me.”
YOU ARE MISTER PRATCHETT.
“Oh, yes.” The name sounded right. “That’s me. I think I go by Terry.”
I – MY NAME IS DEATH.
Terry smiled. “That’s a nice name. I thought it might be something like that.”
HA HA. YES. THANK YOU.
Death shuffled their feet and twirled their scythe. It hissed as it cut through reality. They seemed to be wrestling with a tough decision.
“Is there a problem?” Terry asked. He’d put up with a good chunk of the spectrum of human problems in life, and didn’t like to imagine what difficulties he might be faced with in death.
NOT… NOT AS SUCH. Death held up a hand, let it hang there for a moment, then reached into the empty air once more. There was some noisy rummaging. Then they pulled out a small wooden chest, blue and rotted with age, looking like it had just been dredged up from the ocean floor. Death stuck their scythe upright in the sand and knelt down. After the sounds of innumerable locks sliding free and seals being broken, the lid of the chest creaked and sprung open. Death reached inside.
THERE IS A TASK YOU MUST COMPLETE, they said, in a deeper voice than before, AND IT IS OF THE GRAVEST IMPORTANCE.
“That follows,” said Terry, “I was a knight, you know. I bet I did lots of quests.”
GOOD. Death stood up. In their hand was a rectangular object, with a white feather lying on top. They held it out. Terry reached out to take it. There was a snap and he flinched as a lifetime of memories resurfaced. Death jolted. CAREFUL, they said, a note of panic in their voice, DON’T DROP IT.
Terry looked down and took the feather in one hand. He sighed, and his fingers automatically flipped over the hard casing. Inside were two words.
“I’ll just make it out to Mort, shall I?”