Soul Music Page 2

square of carpet that surrounded Death's desk. Death gave up wondering how Albert covered the intervening space when it dawned on him that, to his servant, there was no intervening space . . . 'I've brought you some camomile tea, sir,' said Albert. HMM? 'Sir?' SORRY. I WAS THINKING. WHAT WAS IT YOU SAID? 'Camomile tea?' I THOUGHT THAT WAS A KIND OF SOAP. 'You can put it in soap or tea, sir,' said Albert. He was worried. He was always worried when Death started to think about things. It was the wrong job for thinking about things. And he thought about them in the wrong way. HOW VERY USEFUL. CLEAN INSIDE AND OUT. Death put his chin on his hands again. 'Sir?' said Albert, after a while. HMM? 'It'll get cold if you leave it.' ALBERT . . . 'Yessir?' I HAVE BEEN WONDERING . . . 'Sir?' WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT? SERIOUSLY? WHEN YOU GET RIGHT DOWN TO IT? 'Oh. Er. Couldn't really say, sir.' I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, ALBERT. YOU KNOW THAT. NOW I KNOW WHAT SHE MEANT. NOT JUST ABOUT THE KNEES. 'Who, Sir?' There was no reply. Albert looked back when he'd reached the door. Death was staring into space again. No-one could stare quite like him. Not being seen wasn't a big problem. It was the things that she kept seeing that were more of a worry. There were the dreams. They were only dreams, of course. Susan knew that modern theory said that dreams were only images thrown up while the brain was filing the day's events. She would have been more reassured if the day's events had ever included flying white horses, huge dark rooms and lots of skulls. At least they were only dreams. She'd seen other things. For example, she'd never mentioned the strange woman in the dormitory the night Rebecca Snell put a tooth under the pillow. Susan had watched her come through the open window and stand by the bed. She looked a bit like a milkmaid and not at all frightening, even though she had walked through the furniture. There had been the jingle of coins. Next morning the tooth had gone and Rebecca was richer by one 50-pence coin. Susan hated that sort of thing. She knew that mentally unstable people told children about the Tooth Fairy, but that was no reason for one to exist. It suggested woolly thinking. She disliked woolly thinking, which in any case was a major misdemeanour under the regime of Miss Butts. It was not, otherwise, a particularly bad one. Miss Eulalie Butts and her colleague, Miss Delcross, had founded the college on the astonishing idea that, since gels had nothing much to do until someone married them, they may as well occupy themselves with learning things. There were plenty of schools in the world, but they were all run either by the various churches or by the Guilds. Miss Butts objected to churches on logical grounds and deplored

the fact that the only Guilds that considered girls worth educating were the Thieves and the Seamstresses. But it was a big and dangerous world out there, and a gel could do worse than face it with a sound knowledge of geometry and astronomy under her bodice. For Miss Butts sincerely believed that there were no basic differences between boys and gels. At least, none worth talking about. None that Miss Butts would talk about, anyway. And therefore she believed in encouraging logical thought and a healthy enquiring mind among the nascent young women in her care, a course of action which is, as far as wisdom is concerned, on a par with going alligator-hunting in a cardboard boat during the sinking season. For example, when she lectured to the school, pointed chin trembling, on the perils to be found outside in the town, three hundred healthy enquiring minds decided that 1) they should be sampled at the earliest opportunity, and logical thought wondered[2] exactly how Miss Butt knew about them. And the high, spike-topped walls around the college grounds looked simple enough to anyone with a fresh mind full of trigonometry and a body honed by healthy fencing, calisthenics and cold baths. Miss Butts could make peril seem really interesting. Anyway, that was the incident of the midnight visitor. After a while, Susan considered that she must have imagined it. That was the only logical explanation. And Susan was good at those. Everyone, they say, is looking for something. Imp was looking for somewhere to go. The farm cart that had brought him the last stretch of the way was rumbling off across the fields. He looked at the signpost. One arm pointed to Quirm, the other to Ankh-Morpork. He knew just enough to know that Ankh-Morpork was a big city, but built on loam and therefore of no interest to the druids in his family. He had three Ankh-Morpork dollars and some change. It probably wasn't very much in Ankh-Morpork. He didn't know anything about Quirm, except that it was on the coast. The road to Quirm didn't look very worn, while the one to Ankh-Morpork was heavily rutted. It'd be sensible to go to Quirm to get the feel of city life. It'd be sensible to learn a bit about how city people thought before heading for Ankh-Morpork, which they said was the largest city in the world. It'd be sensible to get some kind of job in Quirm and raise a bit of extra cash. It'd be sensible to learn to walk before he started to run. Common sense told Imp all these things, so he marched off firmly towards Ankh-Morpork. As far as looks were concerned, Susan had always put people in mind of a dandelion on the point of telling the time. The college dressed its gels in a loose navy-blue woollen smock that stretched from neck to just above the ankle - practical, healthy and as attractive as a plank. The waistline was somewhere around knee level. Susan was beginning to fill it out, however, in accordance with the ancient rules hesitantly and erratically alluded to by Miss Delcross in Biology and Hygiene. Gels left her class with the vague feeling that they were supposed to marry a rabbit. (Susan had left with the feeling that the cardboard skeleton on the hook in the corner looked like someone she'd known . . .) It was her hair that made people stop and turn to watch her. It was pure white, except for a black streak. School regulations required that it be in two plait's, but it had an uncanny tendency to unravel itself and spring back into its preferred shape, like Medusa's snakes.2 And then there was the birthmark, if that's what it was. It only showed up if she blushed, when three faint pale lines appeared across her cheek and made it look exactly as though she'd been slapped. On the occasions when she was angry - and she was quite often angry, at the sheer stupidity of the world - they glowed. In theory it was, around now, Literature. Susan hated Literature. She'd much prefer to read a

good book. Currently she had Wold's Logic and Paradox open on her desk and was reading it with her chin in her hands. She listened with half an ear to what the rest of the class was doing. It was a poem about daffodils. Apparently the poet had liked them very much. Susan was quite stoical about this. It was a free country. People could like daffodils if they wanted to. They just should not, in Susan's very definite and precise opinion, be allowed to take up more than a page to say so. She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept on trying to interfere with it. Around her, the poet's vision was taken apart with inexpert tools. The kitchen was built on the same gargantuan lines as the rest of the house. An army of cooks could get lost in it. The far walls were hidden in the shadows and the stovepipe, supported at intervals by soot-covered chains and bits of greasy rope, disappeared into the gloom somewhere a quarter of a mile above the floor. At least, it did to the eye of the outsider. Albert spent his time in a small tiled patch big enough to contain the dresser, the table and the stove. And a rocking chair. 'When a man says “What's it all about then, seriously, when you get right down to it?” he's in a bad way,' he said, rolling a cigarette. 'So I don't know what it means when he says it. It's one of his fancies again.' The room's only other occupant nodded. His mouth was full. 'All that business with his daughter,' said Albert. 'I mean . . . daughter? And then he heard about apprentices. Nothing would do but he had to go and get one! Hah! Nothing but trouble, that was. And you, too, come to think of it . . . you're one of his fancies. No offence meant,' he added, aware of who he was talking to. 'You worked out all right. You do a good job.' Another nod. 'He always gets it wrong,' said Albert. 'That's the trouble. Like when he heard about Hogswatchnight? Remember that? We had to do the whole thing, the oak tree in a pot, the paper sausages, the pork dinner, him sitting there with a paper hat on saying IS THIS JOLLY? I made him a little desk ornament thing and he gave me a brick.' Albert put the cigarette to his lips. It had been expertly rolled. Only an expert could get a rollup so thin and yet so soggy. 'It was a good brick, mind. I've still got it somewhere.' SQUEAK, said the Death of Rats. 'You put your finger on it, right enough,' said Albert. 'At least, you would have done if you had a proper one. He always misses the point. You see, he can't get over things. He can't forget.' He sucked on the wretched homemade until his eyes watered. “'What's it all about, seriously, when you get right down to it?”' said Albert. 'Oh, dear.' He glanced up at the kitchen clock, out of a special human kind of habit. It had never worked since Albert had bought it. 'He's normally in by this time,' he said. 'I'd better do his tray. Can't think what's keeping him.' The holy man sat under a holy tree, legs crossed, hands on knees. He kept his eyes shut in order to focus better on the Infinite, and wore nothing but a loincloth in order to show his disdain of discly things. There was a wooden bowl in front of him. He was aware, after a while, that he was being watched. He opened one eye. There was an indistinct figure sitting a few feet away. Later on, he was sure that the figure had been of . . . someone. He couldn't quite remember the description, but the person must certainly have had one. He was about . . . this tall, and sort of . . . definitely . . . EXCUSE ME.

'Yes, my son?' His brow wrinkled. 'You are male, aren't you?' he added. YOU TOOK A LOT OF FINDING. BUT I AM GOOD AT IT. 'Yes?' I AM TOLD YOU KNOW EVERYTHING. The holy man opened the other eye. 'The secret of existence is to disdain earthly ties, shun the chimera of material worth, and seek one-ness with the Infinite,' he said. 'And keep your thieving hands off my begging bowl.' The sight of the supplicant was giving him trouble. I'VE SEEN THE INFINITE, said the stranger. IT'S NOTHING SPECIAL. The holy man glanced around. 'Don't be daft; he said. 'You can't see the Infinite. 'Cos it's infinite.' I HAVE. 'All right, what did it look like?' IT'S BLUE. The holy man shifted uneasily. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. A quick burst of the Infinite and a meaningful nudge in the direction of the begging bowl was how it was supposed to go. "S black,' he muttered. NOT, said the stranger, WHEN SEEN FROM THE OUTSIDE. THE NIGHT SKY IS BLACK. BUT THAT IS JUST SPACE. INFINITY, HOWEVER, IS BLUE. 'And I suppose you know what sound is made by one hand clapping, do you?' said the holy man nastily. YES. CL. THE OTHER HAND MAKES THE AP. 'Ah-ha, no, you're wrong there,' said the holy man, back on firmer ground. He waved a skinny hand. 'No sound, see?' THAT WASN'T A CLAP. THAT WAS JUST A WAVE. 'It was a clap. I just wasn't using both hands. What kind of blue, anyway?' YOU JUST WAVED. I DON'T CALL THAT VERY PHILOSOPHICAL. DUCK EGG. The holy man glanced down the mountain. Several people were approaching. They had flowers in their hair and were carrying what looked very much like a bowl of rice. OR POSSIBLY EAU-DE-NIL. 'Look, my son,' the holy man said hurriedly, 'what exactly is it you want? I haven't got all day.' YES, YOU HAVE. TAKE IT FROM ME. 'What do you want?' WHY DO THINGS HAVE TO BE THE WAY THEY ARE? 'Well-' YOU DON'T KNOW, DO YOU? 'Not exactly. The whole thing is meant to be a mystery, see?' The stranger stared at the holy man for some time, causing the man to feel that his head had become transparent. THEN I WILL ASK YOU A SIMPLER QUESTION. HOW DO HUMANS FORGET? 'Forget what?' FORGET ANYTHING. EVERYTHING. 'It . . . er . . . it happens automatically.' The prospective acolytes had turned the bend on the mountain path. The holy man hastily picked up his begging bowl. 'Let's say this bowl is your memory,' he said, waving it vaguely. 'It can only hold so much, see? New things come in, so old things must overflow-' NO. I REMEMBER EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. DOORKNOBS. THE PLAY OF SUNLIGHT ON HAIR. THE SOUND OF LAUGHTER. FOOTSTEPS. EVERY LITTLE

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