Death and the council official
I wasn’t asleep but it was like I was dreaming.
Here I was, once more dressed in the Robe of Mortal Doom and carrying the Sword of Destiny. I was Death once more.
The last time I’d taken over because Death himself was dying. What had happened this time? Was Death in mortal danger once more? Or had he decided to take a holiday. Was I destined to wield the Sword on countless thousands of mortals while Death suns himself on a Caribbean beach? Or worse, what if Death had retired? I would spend the rest of eternity slicing through lifelines.
Then I recognised the figure before me.
“It’s you," I said.
“Eh, what is this, some kind of joke?”
It was the mainland council official. It was my father. Death had allowed me to wield the sword one last time, because it was personal.
“It’s you isn’t it,” my father said, “that man from that island. Why are you dressed in that silly robe and trying to lift a sword that’s clearly too big for you? Is this a fancy dress prank – are you pretending to be Death.”
“Not pretending, no. It isn’t a prank, father.”
By now I was focussed enough to see the lifeline, the thin blue line that had become illuminated because it was ready to be extinguished
“Ah, so you do know. You’ve never let on. I didn’t want to let on.”
“I’ve only just found out. A friend gave me a copy of my birth certificate a few days ago. I’m amazed though, mother always hated mainlanders, how on earth do you and she ever get together?”
“You mother couldn’t pay her council tax one day and we, well, we found a way round the problem.”
“But that’s abhorrent. You forced my mother to prostitute herself just to pay your stupid tax.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t make a habit of it if that’s what you think. And, frankly, the tax was only 63 mainland pence, I’m pretty sure she could have paid it if she wanted to. It was just an excuse.”
“Well, I know your mother’s views on the mainland council. She must have had two minds about the affair. But she was lonely and I was lonely. And it was only 63 pence. Less than the price of a pint.”
“So that’s all you thought of her, cheaper than a pint.”
He stared sadly at me for a long time. “No,” he said eventually. “That’s not all I thought of her. Not at all. But she would never let me get close. She would never admit she wanted me, she always made me pay: 2p for the price of a phone call, a stamp, just token sums, just for the sake of payment.”
“So you’re telling me my mother was the cheapest prostitute the world has ever known.”
“No Jed, I’m telling you that I saw your mother regularly for two years, but that she was incapable of committing to a mainlander and we always had to play a game of pretend so that she could deny her true feelings.”
“And then you came along. Unplanned, but not exactly a miracle birth.”
“So you knew I was your child?”
“Well, I did sort of work it out, yes. Us mainlanders aren’t as stupid as you think.”
“So why didn’t you marry, or at least seek paternal access.”
“Your mother wouldn’t let me. I did propose, but your mother refused to leave the island. As for claiming my paternal rights, well, that would involve your coming to the mainland to stay with me, and your mother didn’t want that. She said the mainland corrupted people.”
“So all those years you’ve been pestering me with mad memos and insane laws, it was just an excuse for you to get in touch?”
“Mad memos?” he looked genuinely perplexed.
There was a lull in the conversation. I noticed, as an experienced Death, that his lifeline was growing intensely bright, as if demanding that I slice through it. Do lifeline’s get impatient?
“Anyway,” my father said, “you must come to my retirement celebration. I did send you an invitation.”
“Oh come on, you can’t be that busy. There’s just you and the other strange chap on the island, there’s no excuse, nothing you can’t put off. I could introduce you to people.”
“No, I mean there won’t be a celebration. You’re dead.”
“That’s why I’m here. To cut your lifeline and free up your spirit to go wherever deadened spirits go.”
“Hmm – doesn’t Death do that – skeletal figure, immortal.”
“I cover for Death sometimes. When he’s busy. Or dead. That sort of thing.”
Sometimes, it has to be said, the truth does sound unlikely.
“I see. I did wonder what you did for a living. So it’s come to this, my life taken from me by my own son.”
“Yes,” I said, tears welling up, “that’s what it’s come to.”
With no more words available to me I slashed the Sword of Destiny through the thin blue line and my father was no more.