OK - so I can't start this post without a big THANK YOU to everyone who left messages of support after my last post. I'm sorry for not responding individually, but I would particularly like to thank Argent for being a good friend and Lydia who was kind enough to care about someone she has never met.
The good news is that Willow seems to be coping well so far - she was very anxious the first few days and we are still trying to work out exactly when and how much to feed her, but she is getting all the fuss and attention I can give.
So - moving on now and on top of the continuingly baffling and often contradictory news from my new bosses (honestly - the goalpoasts are moving faster than a fighter plane) I got an email from the competition I entered shortly before Christmas to say that my short story "Kobiyashi Maru" had been rejected from their anthology. To be honest I wasn't too bothered, as I was somewhat underwhelmed by the last publication.
And this does mean that I am now able to bring this short story direct to yourselves on this blog.
For anyone who isn't a rabid Sci-Fi fan 'Kobiyashi Maru' is a deliberate reference. I suggest you look it up on Wikipedia (where worryingly there are more pages on Luke Skywalker than there are on Albert Einstein)
And finally before the story: followers of the adventures of Margaret Mills (Maggie) and Spud on my recent Wordzzle will be glad to know that I am currently trying to re-write it as a radio script. I will keep you informed of my progress or otherwise.
Death looked up from the board and, despite lacking the required facial musculature to do so, managed to look like someone who could now only see the state of Bloody Annoyed in the rear-view mirror having passed it at some speed just a few minutes earlier.
‘I BEG YOUR PARDON?’ Death asked.
Keema the Dwarf looked up with an apparently innocent look of joy on his face, ‘Horsey to King Prawn: Snap!”
Death looked down at the chess board and desperately tried to work out what, if any, of the previous statement applied to the game in hand. So far Keema was winning by the age-old tradition of playing so badly that all of Death’s clever tactics were of no use to him. The only thing that Death couldn’t work out was whether it was deliberate or not.
It was always the bloody same these days Death ruminated silently as he tried to assess where to move his own horsey: knight – he silently corrected. For thousands of years when people had come to challenge him it had been epic battles that had spanned the whole of space and time, swords, cutlasses, semi-automatic weapons: all had fallen to his Scythe. Then that bloody Ingmar Bergman had come along and all of a sudden it was all chess this and chess that. Nobody had any style these days; that was the problem. Still, Death conceded to himself, anything was better than the Bill & Ted incident. Losing at chess was one thing: losing at Buckaroo was quite another.
Keema yawned and stretched suddenly, ‘Methinks we need a break’ he said
‘OH YES’ Death replied, cursing himself that he had fallen into his habit of Talking In Capitals To Intimidate People, ‘I MEAN: IT’S ONLY YOUR SOUL WE’RE PLAYING FOR AFTER ALL’
Keema nodded, oblivious to the tone of voice and got up to fetch a drink. Sarcasm, like most things in a Dwarf’s life, went straight over his head.
‘I don’s suppose this place has a toilet?’ he asked
‘INDEED YES’ Death replied, ‘IT’S ONLY ONCE YOU’RE IN HELL THAT YOU FACE AN ETERNITY WITHOUT RELIEF’ He paused. When it became clear that plays on words were another thing that went over a Dwarf’s head Death sighed, ‘THIRD CORRIDOR ON THE LEFT, SECOND DOOR’. He paused again. Many people had asked him down the centuries why he, the Grim Reaper, kept a fully fitted Avacado bathroom suite complete with skeleton rubber duck, the truth being that everyone needed somewhere to read the Obituaries Gazette. Keema, being a Dwarf, merely wondered off down the corridor singing a song about gold.
Once he was alone in the corridor Keema let the simple minded expression drop from his face and unfolded the map that Prendegast had sold him. The plan was going perfectly so far and all he needed now was to follow the instructions he had been given to the letter.
Back in the games room Death looked up from the Coffee peculator and tipped his head to one side. If his suspicions were right then any second now...
Cre-ak. Snap, Snap, Snap
...the crocodiles would have had their meal for the day. Death waited. There was the sound of footsteps in the corridor. Somehow Keema had avoided the crocodiles. It didn’t matter the...
Twang twang, twang
...poison darts would get him. The sound of continued footsteps alerted Death to the fact that he had failed to take Keema’s diminutive stature into account and thus ruined the mahogany floorboards for the fifth time that week. Death reached for his Scythe and began sharpening it with a stone, his upper temple lobes furrowed in thought. There was still the Pit Of Certain Oblivion, but somehow he suspected...
Chink, chink, chink, plop!
...Keema would avoid that one too. Death sighed and stood up, aware that he would have to sort this one out for himself.
In the corridor Keema paused and looked for any sign of the ornamental skull that he had thrown into the Pit, but could see none. If Prendegast was right then the next door should lead to the Storage area.
Keema opened the door as silently as possible. The inside was little more than a corridor, laid out like a vast library with letters and names stretching as far as the eye could see.
It was a long walk before he even reached the letter K and he had to go back and collect a stepladder before he could reach up to the box containing his details. He picked it up with trembling hands and placed it on the floor, taking the lid off slowly.
Inside was just a single bullet.
Keema picked it up and fetched an eyeglass from his pocket. As he held it up to the light he could see just a single word engraved onto the surface: “KEEMA”
It was the bullet with his name on it. He had often heard it said that there was a bullet out there for everyone, only now that he owned his bullet he could never die: because he was hardly likely to shoot himself, right? He put the bullet into his shirt pocket and turned around.
Death was there behind him, seeming to have somehow grown taller in the enclosed space. Keema backed away, his expression turning to panic as Death brought the Scythe around in an arc. The blade cut through the material of the shirt pocket, catching a glancing blow on the bullet which sparked, the casing splitting as the small object hit the floor and exploded.
‘Oh Shit...’ Keema managed, falling face down on the floor.
‘INDEED’ Death replied, bringing the Scythe down one final time to cut the thread of life.
After a long moment Death sighed deeply and turned away, heading back to the kitchen where the kettle had already boiled over. ‘THAT’S THE PROBLEM,’ he said to himself, ‘PEOPLE JUST DON’T THINK THINGS THROUGH’
‘I MEAN...YOU CAN’T CHEAT DEATH NOW, CAN YOU?’