Death and the Man Who Wasn't There
A sudden chill filled the bedroom. Those able to see in the sixth dimension would have seen a tall, dark figure materialise. It was wrapped head to toe in thick, black cloak.
“MARVIN TATTERSLOW”, Death said, for it was He.
There was silence.
Death raised his arm to his face and a bony hand clawed the hood wide enough for a bony face to become visible, should anyone dared take a peak at the face of Death. The empty eyes poured round the room, then checked the time against an egg timer – which was run empty.
“BLAST IT. HE’S NOT HERE.”
Death is never wrong. Of course, many, many people over the millennia have tried to dispute Death’s decisions, claiming that they can’t possibly be dead because they’re too young, they paid a doctor a vast sum of money to keep them alive or they prayed to their usually-reliable god asking to be kept from Death’s door.
Such disputes Death easily dismisses, his bony finger lifting to the narrow blue line of life linking the squabbler’s soul with the mortal realm, which with a quick flick of the index finger would extinguish, sending the soul soaring into the next world.
But on this occasion there was no blue line to cut. No mortal soul. No Marvin Tatterslow.
From the deep, dark depths of his cloak, the contents of which no sane eye would ever seek to discover, Death removed a clip-board, which he studied with great care.
After checking the facts Death merely shook his head in confusion.
Which is when he contacted me.
Of course, Death doesn’t have a phone, but as a being from the sixth dimension he is, effectively, in all places at the same time, and he simply rematerialized in front of me.
As Death’s PA I’m used to dealing with the sort of problems you would simply be unable to imagine, let alone solve. The scrapes he gets himself into are beyond the wit or realm of man. Even so, this was a first. Nobody had ever been absent for their own death before.
I double checked Marvin’s lifeline in the Book of Life. Death had not been wrong. He should have been in his room at the appointed time. He simply had no choice, it was his fate, his destiny, it was a fixed, unbendable point in time and space. His not being there was, quite simply, impossible.
I didn’t panic. You don’t get very far in my line of work by panicking. Death, being Death, has access to all conceivable sources of knowledge. I soon identified Marvin’s mobile phone number, but before I could begin to trace its current location Death was dialing the number on the office phone.
I dimly heard a voice on the other end of the line saying “Hello, Marvin,” before Death bellowed his message. “THIS IS DEATH. I’M PHONING TO INFORM YOU YOUR LIFE IS OVER.”
There was a click from the other end of the line and Death looked in puzzlement at the phone in his hand. “HE HUNG UP.”
“Maybe you frightened him.”
“YOU SHOULD NOT FEAR DEATH. I SIMPLY COME AT THE APPOINTED TIME TO TAKE YOUR SOUL, THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR.”
“MAYBE WE COULD TRY HIS GIRLFRIEND.”
I tried to persuade Death that it would be better to trace his girlfriend’s address and to look for him there, but once Death gets an idea in his head there’s no changing his mind. It’s the nature of his job I suppose.
“HELLO. IS THAT THE GIRLFRIEND OF MARVIN TATTERSLOW.”
There was a cautious “Yes,” from the end of the line.
“THIS IS DEATH SPEAKING. I HAVE ARRIVED TO CLAIM MARVIN’S SOUL, BUT HE IS MISSING. COULD YOU TELL HIM TO RETURN HOME IMMEDIATELY SO I CAN DO WHAT MUST BE DONE AND SEND HIM ON TO THE NEXT WORLD.”
“Er, so you’re at his house are you?”
YES. I SHALL WAIT HERE FOR HIM. TELL HIM TO HURRY, HIS SOUL MAY SUFFER IF STRETCHES IT BEYOND HIS PRE-DESTINED LIFE CYCLE.”
“Well,” the voice tried to raise a laugh, “that’s Marvin. We always said he’d be late for his own funeral.”
“NO. HE SHOULD STILL MAKE HIS FUNERAL. IT IS ONLY HIS DEATH HE IS LATE FOR.”
As I say, Death doesn’t understand humans. Informed that Death was waiting for him at home, Marvin did a runner.
Every life leaves a trail that Death can follow (though in reality it’s his PA who does the following). I managed to trace every identity and alias he used, but by the time I found him he had already adopted another identity – he was always one step ahead.
The chase went on for weeks. It was unheard of, to say the least. To outwit Death once was impossible, but Marvin fooled the laws of time, destiny and death itself.
When necessary, particularly during a plague or famine, Death is able to be in many different places simultaneously, and was thus able to keep a close watch on all of Marvin’s friends, family as well as his girlfriend, but Marvin had already worked out that he needed to cut himself off from his old life and had gone to such place as neither man nor god could guess.
The number of Deaths keeping watch for Marvin multiplied, until there was one in every street in the world. There was, literally, no place to hide. But still he hid.
Then one day, while Death was taking the soul of an elderly bishop, he was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder. He turned round quickly, to see a tall, dark figure, clad in a thick, black cloak and carrying a clip-board.
The figure spoke.
“DEATH,” he said, reading from the clip-board, “IT IS YOUR TIME. THE MORTAL REALM HAS DONE WITH YOU. I AM YOUR REPLACEMENT. IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO GO.”
There was a pause that seemed to last as long as time itself.
“I KNOW YOU,” Death replied eventually, “YOU ARE NOT DEATH. YOU ARE MARVIN TATTERSLOW, I CAN SEE YOUR LIFELINE SHINING BENEATH YOUR CLOAK. IT IS YOU WHOSE TIME HAS COME.”
But the humour of the moment caught up with Him, and Death convulsed into fits of laughter, the like of which have never been heard before or since. “THAT WAS SOME JOKE YOU PLAYED,” he eventually managed to say, between gulps of laughter, “YOU ARE SOME MORTAL MARVIN, THOUGH MORTAL YOU ARE.”
Marvin replied in his normal voice. “I know. I am tired of running Mr Death. I am here to accept my fate. Though I thought I’d go out in style.”
“SOME STYLE. SOME STYLE. HMMM, LET ME SEE. ACCORDING TO MY RECORDS YOU ARE ALREADY LONG-SINCE DEAD. IT WILL DO NO ADDITIONAL HARM FOR ME TO SIMPLY CHANGE YOUR TIMELINE. I WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER FIVE YEARS AND ONE DAY OF LIFE MARVIN. BUT NEXT TIME, JUST BE THERE WHEN I ARRIVE AND NO MORE TRICKS.”
And so it was that Marvin’s prank brought him five precious years of life he wasn’t due. Of course, this was twenty years ago now, and Marvin is now long since dead, but every time Death goes to collect the soul of another man called Marvin Tatterslow I joke and say “I hope he’s there this time,” and I can be guaranteed that Death will burst into laughter one more time.
In all the many, many years I have known Death it is the only thing that has ever made him laugh.