ZINNONTH -- THE OFFER

by Steven Scougall


Jyrnwyn Riesall was falling to his death. He didn't want to be. He most emphatcially wanted to be in bed with the covers over his head. But no, here he was, falling from the tallest mountain on Zinnonth into the lowest valley, with his life flashing in front of his eyes.

He desperately tried to find something to grab on to that might save him, but a particular incident that happened when he was five got in his way and stopped him from seeing anything. He closed his eyes.

It wasn't much better. True, he could no longer see the distant ground that he was being drawn to but his life kept flashing in front of eyes and had gotten up to his twelfth birthday, which he never wanted to remember on account of a nasty magical accident that he'd never recovered from and had been cursed with a distortion effect on the magical field that had led him into this horrible adventure which was about to end with a quite terminal splat and there was no way he wanted to go like this and-

He shook his head, shunting off that train of thought, opened his eyes and risked a peep downwards. Around his mother tearfully sending him off to the university in Zinnonea he saw that the ground was most definitely closer. He decided to scream for a bit.

After a few seconds he decided that screaming wasn't going to get him anywhere and stopped wasting valuable energy and tried to think clearly and positively about how he was going to get out of this. Which was of course very difficult, what with him not only staring Death in the face but carefully counting belmishes in Death's skull.

He hadn't gone much further and still had no plans for survival before there was an off-key musical twang, everything stopped going upwards, there was a pop, a puff of smoke, and beside him there appeared a figure. It was all in black. It held a scythe. It was about as thin as you could ever get.

Quite obviously it was Death.

Jyrnwyn knew what to do in this situation. He screamed and screamed and screamed, and when that was done he screamed some more. The figure watched him impassively.

Eventually Jyrnwyn stopped screaming, requiring to catch breath. Temporarily unable to express his feelings audially, his body settled for wetting his underwear.

ARE YOU QUITE FINISHED? asked the figure. IT'S JUST THAT I HAVE A QUESTION TO ASK.

"Er."

I'D LIKE TO KNOW, ARE YOU INTERESTED IN DOING MY JOB?

"Huh?" was Jyrnwyn's eloquent response. Terror temporarily became extreme confusion and bafflement.

I SAID, ARE YOU INTERESTED IN DOING MY JOB? asked Death testily.

"I heard that, but, well, what do you mean?"

I'D LIKE TO RETIRE FROM BEING DEATH, BUT FIRST THE POWERS THAT BE REQUIRE ME TO FIND A REPLACEMENT.

"But you're Death! I didn't know you could retire."

WELL I CAN. AND I ASK OF YOU AGAIN, DO YOU WANT TO DO MY JOB?

"But why should I want to?"

YOU GET TO NOT DIE DOWN THERE AND STAY ALIVE. WELL, ACTUALLY, NOT QUITE ALIVE, BUT -

"You mean I'd have to become undead?"

NO, NO, NOT UNDEAD EITHER. IT'S, IT'S, UM... I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT IS EXACTLY BUT IT'S DEFINITELY SOME SORT OF EXISTENCE WHICH MANY REGARD AS MUCH BETTER THAN NON-EXISTENCE WHICH IS DEFINITELY WHAT WAITS FOR YOU DOWN THERE IN THAT VALLEY.

"Don't remind me."

SO, DO YOU WANT THE JOB?

Jyrnwyn thought for a moment. He could think of several advantages and disadvantages immediately. But it all really boiled down to one thing in the end. He'd have to try to be both human and non-human at the same time and he'd probably end living for ever, or at least until he tried to find a replacement, which was clearly long enough. He knew he wouldn't be able to do it, that he'd eventually go mad and start messing it up and eating his underpants and putting his soupon his head. So eventually he said "no."

There was another off-key musical twang, and suddenly everything was going up again and Death had gone. He looked down and judged he had only three kilometres to go. Which was a good thing, his life had finished flashing in front of his eyes and was now playing re-runs of all the really embarassing bits. He hoped it wouldn't get up to that bit with Sal when he was twelve. He never wanted to reminded of that again.

There was another strange sounding musical twang and everything stopped moving, again. Death floated beside him.

YOU REALLY REALLY SURE ABOUT THAT? YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU DON'T WANT THIS JOB INSTEAD OF BEING DEAD? IT'S NOT TOO BAD, YOU GET TO MEET LOTS OF INTERESTING PEOPLE AND SOMETIMES THERE ARE MASSIVE COMPLICATIONS IN TIME AND SPACE TO CHALLENGE YOUR INTELLECT.

Jyrnwyn look down at the ground. It looked like two and a half kilometres to go. Come on, he thought to himself, definitely no more than ten seconds for that. Just let me start falling again.

"No, I told you before, I don't want your job."

The off-key musical twang was getting quite old hat and dull now. Things were going up again. The vulture that had been patiently following him for the past fifty kilometres opened its beak in anticipation, almost as if it were salivating, and tried to drop faster so it wouldn't have to wait as long.

Only about five more seconds.

Five.

Four.

Thr-

The twang. The puff. The strange smelling smoke. Everything stopping and becoming ever so slightly gray. The same old boring thing.

YOU REALLY REALLY SURE? YOU'RE ABOUT TO DIE HERE. YOUR ENTIRE BODY IS GOING TO SMASH INTO THE GROUND AT TERMINAL VELOCITY AND SPREAD OUT OVER A WIDE AREA AND GENERALLY LOWER THE TONE OF THE ENTIRE AREA AROUND HERE. COME ON. HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF CIVIC PRIDE?

"I told you before, I said no, I don't want it."

YOU SURE?

"Yes."

YOU REALLY SURE YOU DON'T WANT IT?

"Yes!"

REALLY REALLY SURE?

"Yes! I don't want your job! Go away and let me die in peace, THEN bother me."

FINE, muttered the skeleton.

The twang sounded for what he hoped was the absolute last time.

He grinned as he fell, and felt the wind through his hair and his robes, stinging his eyes. He might be about to die but at least he was about to die. Not live forever in some sort of half life. At least he'd die hu-

There was a definitely final splat. Jyrnwyn realised he was still thinking, and seeing things, grayish though they were. Hang on, thought he, if that over there and this here are both mine then how am I seeing them from here?

SO, asked Death, leaning on his scythe. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE AFTERLIFE?

"I'm to be a ghost? What kind of gyp is this? What happened to non-existence?"

HEY, IT'S ALL IN THE FATES. SOME FATES, ANYWAY. AND BESIDES, YOU CLEARLY DON'T EXIST IN THE 'REAL' CORPOREAL SENSE ANYMORE ANYWAY SO THEREFORE THIS IS SOME SORT OF NONEXISTENCE. BYE THEN, I'VE GOT SOME MORE APPLICANTS TO SCREEN. CIAO. And Death disappeared for good.

Jyrnwyn the ghost looked around, and down at his mortal remains. Death had been right, his remains were a large bloody mess spread over a wide area. Worst was that he was standing amongst it and could see it and how it really *did* lower the tone of the entire valley. The bloodstains alone would reduce the tourist trade to half its considerable size. And him falling on the Sacred Boulder of the Inshakari tribe only made things worse.

He watched as the vulture finally reached the bottom of the valley and just managed to pull out of its long dive in a large swoop. It settled down among what had been his stomach and looked at his remains with the practiced eye of an experienced vulture.

Some black dots in the sky suggested that a few more vultures and a couple of crows were on the way. The vulture looked at them worriedly and begin to peck around Jyrnwyn's remains. While his ghost was watching.

And then, for Jyrnwyn Riesall, ex-wizard and current ghost and pissed as hell about this state of affairs, there were a great many things to say, about life, death, Death, and the afterlife. All of it was unprintable and extremely obscene. Considering that Death is a sexless skeleton, some of it was anatomically incorrect too.

(END)


Story Page back to the Short Story Page.

Zinnonth -- The Offer, 30 August 1996