Death spilled his tea all over himself. Fortunately for him, he's Death so it all just evaporated away as soon as it touched him. It was a terrible waste of tea, all the same.
It was my fault. I mentioned that Alienskin had died and he was overcome with excitement. An entire magazine staff to reap, he thought, and was most disappointed when I explained that it was the magazine itself, not the staff, that had died. Just as well, since I was one of them.
To take his mind off his empty soul bag, I showed him the very last issue. He seemed to be enjoying it until he came to Sergeant Shelsky's article, at which point he became somewhat agitated.
"Green clouds of stinking fumes, indeed!" Death rattled his ribs in rage. "Not a proper scythe? I'll have you know this is finest Toledo steel fitted to the best mahogany handle on the planet." He shook his scythe at the screen.
For a moment, the cost of a replacement passed through my mind but thankfully, he refrained from piercing the Internet. I did wonder what might happen if Death's scythe went through the screen. Would it pop simultaneously out of every active screen and reap millions at once? I thought it best not to ask. He doesn't need ideas like that in his head.
"Spreading plague? Spreading plague? Not my job." Death scratched the back of his eye-socket with his fingerbones. "You know what this means, don't you?"
I sniffed. "A bad day for the Sergeant?"
"No. Well, not yet. No, it means that disgusting little wretch Pestilence has been dressing up as me and showing himself to people. He knows we're not supposed to do that. I'll bet he's been trying to get me into trouble. Oh, he's going to get the sharp end of a scythe right up his tailpipe when I next see him." Death shot me a sidelong look. "Of course, I'll disinfect it thoroughly afterwards. Don't want to give anyone blood poisoning, you know."
"I hardly think that will be a great concern to your customers," I said.
Death tilted his head back. "I am a professional, Dume. Not some hack-em and bag-em amateur from the fiery place. I take great pride in a clean job."
"Of course. I suppose the same can't be said of Pestilence then?"
"He takes pride in being as vile and filthy as inhumanly possible. I'm really not looking forward to the Apocalypse, you know. I'll have to hang around with that filthy little vermin and with the fat drooling slob Famine as well. At least I can get along with War. We're in the same line of work although he does get carried away at times."
I refilled Death's tea. "I always thought you'd look rather grand on that pale horse."
"Horses!" Death sipped his tea, which evaporated as soon as it passed his teeth. "Can't stand them. I've tried suggesting we move with the times and get a nice Bentley or Rolls-Royce hearse, but no. It's in the Book and it has to be just as it says in the Book. Can't it be translated as 'horsepower', I asked, but no. Horse it has to be. Well, it's not for some time yet. Maybe I can persuade someone in the office to think again."
I hoped to glean more information from him but he had returned his interest to Alienskin and was reading Lady Blade's article on fantasy worlds. I assume he was reading and not just looking at the picture but he took rather a long time over the first few paragraphs.
He read my own offering, then took his time going through all the stories. By the time he had finished, Caligula had woken up and was demanding to be fed.
"I'll have to see to him," I said. "It's my turn. Senga is still in plaster after the last feeding time."
"Yes, yes, well I'd better be going. I have people to meet for the first and last time." Death stood and leaned his scythe on his shoulder. "Interesting magazine. Pity it's the last one." He moved towards the wall.
My curiosity demanded one last question. "So, it wasn't true about the vile-smelling green vapours then?" I was sure it wouldn't be. Death is fastidious about his personal hygiene and gets through a lot of bone-polish.
Death paused, took a wire brush from the folds of his robe and cleared his throat.
"It's not true now. That little problem cleared up centuries ago. I no longer eat curry."
With that, he faded into the wall. Seconds later, the wall shook. I thought it might be Death returning but it was only Caligula howling for his dinner.
Oh well, the mundane parts of parenthood have to be attended to. I think there's a spare leg in the fridge. That should keep him quiet for an hour or two.
Then maybe I can read that last issue myself.