Death looked crestfallen when he walked through the wall into my living room.
“You look crestfallen.” I said. “Where’s your scythe? Have you lost it?” That would be a big problem, especially if it fell into the wrong hands. I was thinking specifically of Caligula’s hands, naturally. As wrong hands go, he has the wrongest on the planet.
“I’m worn out. And yes, my crest is well and truly fallen.” Death slumped into a chair. “Have you trained that assistant thing to make tea yet?”
I called Click and directed him to bring us tea, then returned my attention to Death. “What’s been going on?”
“Apocalypse false alarm,” he said. “Another one. Some preacher claimed the end was nigh, convinced half the planet of it and when the day came, nothing happened.”
“I heard about that. Why would you care?”
“Nobody knows the date of Apocalypse except the Boss and he won’t say. Every time you lot down here get all worked up, we have to get ready. Full battle stations and all the rest of it. Then the day comes, nothing happens and we have to put it all away again. Douse the burning lake, put the beasts back in their cages and tidy everything away. It takes ages.” Death rubbed at his neck bones.
“I don’t understand. Why doesn’t the Boss just tell you to forget it? He must know it’s a hoax, surely?”
“Oh, he’s still smarting because of a trick the red guy tried on him once. Apparently he tried to get the date by elimination. You know, get the Boss to say ‘no’ to every date and when there was one date left, that must be it. So the Boss won’t say anything about Apocalypse now. He won’t tell us it’s the wrong date until the day arrives. I also think he’s developing a nasty sense of humour.”
Click arrived with a tray of tea. I was pleased to note he had remembered the kitten blood and the stirring fingers, and had, on his own initiative, added a tray of fairy cakes. These are hard to make properly because the fairies put up quite a fight and can make a mess of the cake before it sets around them if you aren’t quick.
“So,” I said, “what about the scythe? Don’t tell me you’re having a day off?”
Death sighed, produced a short steel rod from his robes and flicked it. The rod shot out in both directions and a long blade unfolded from the top end. Click screamed and fled.
“It’s an iScythe.” Death treated the weapon to his most baleful glare. “We’re moving with the times. Orders from the Boss.” He twisted the weapon and it folded away again. “I told you he was developing a twisted sense of humour, didn’t I?”
“Looks pretty neat.” I was genuinely impressed. “Surely it’s much easier to carry around?”
“Yes, but what about tradition? What about all those paintings of me with my trusty blade in my hands? This thing isn’t exactly imposing, is it? I mean, I feel like some cheap hoodlum with a flick-knife. No, I’m still arguing for my old scythe back. It’s a matter of prestige, you know?”
I poured tea. “I see what you mean, but people will soon get used to the new blade. It works just like the old one, yes?”
Death accepted a cup and added a generous dash of kitten blood. “Oh, sure, it works. It also takes phone calls and surfs the internet and acts as a GPS locator, none of which I have any use for. I’m not Batman, you know. I don’t need a whole load of gadgets. Just my scythe and my book.” He took a sip of tea. “Even that’s a damn computer now.”
“I remember. You showed it to me before.”
“Well it’s all nonsense. These things have to charge up and while they’re charging, nobody can be reaped. It’s putting a serious dent in my reputation for punctuality and efficiency.”
I tasted my tea and winced. Not enough hemlock. I spooned in more. “Well, couldn’t you have two scythes and two books? Then you could have one set charging while you use the other.”
“Nope. Risk assessors and health and safety officers won’t allow it. A spare scythe is a security risk.”
“You have risk assessments? What risks can there be for the already dead?” I picked up a fairy cake and slapped it to stop the high-pitched screaming before biting into it.
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe the rubbish going on in the afterlife these days. We have spirits there who demand human rights, who want something called ‘benefits’ and who insist they cannot be exposed to sulphurous fumes because it offends their noses. We’ve tried pointing out that they aren’t human any more, that there are no such things as ‘benefits’ when you’re sentenced to spending eternity in a fiery pit while little demons poke pitchforks up your fundament and that if their noses are offended, we have plenty of trained staff who will happily, and repeatedly, remove it with a circular saw and staple it back on. But no, they moan and complain all the time. I long for the old days when all they did was scream in torment.” Death flicked open his scythe and reaped a cake. “Hell has gone all to Hell these days and it’s not much better upstairs.” He bit into the greying fairy figure. “Mind you, it’s quieter up there now that most new spirits are the moaning kind. Hardly anyone gets in.”
“Oh well.” I sipped at my tea. “So it’s not all bad. You do have a quiet place to hide out”
“I refuse to go in there since they banned hoods.” Death folded his iScythe away and put it back in his robes. “Anyway, thanks for the tea.” He stood and moved to the wall, paused and turned. “There’s just one more thing,” he said, then burst out laughing. “Sorry. I did that when I picked up that Falk chap. We laughed about it all the way up the pearly stairs.”
“Really?” I wouldn’t have thought anyone would have found it funny, but some people have strange tastes in humour.
“Right. Better get moving. I have a petition to raise to get my old scythe back.”
“Let me know how it turns out,” I called as he disappeared.
His head reappeared through the wall. “Oh, you’ll know,” he said. Then he was gone.
I considered his parting words. He had sounded very sure of himself. I decided it was a good time to check the nursery was secure.