Terry and Death
written by: Luka Marjanovic
Terry Pratchett died in his sleep, naturally, at the age of sixty-six, after suffering from Alzheimer’s for eight years. This is a conversation between him and the Death he wrote, perhaps even created, before he was ushered into what his afterlife will be.
On that morning in 2015, the day of his passing, he awoke, not in his bed, but in a desert. He sat up carefully, realizing that despite sleeping directly on the dunes, his back was not aching. His black hat was next to him, the signature of his writer persona, and not on his head. He stared at it for a few seconds, before deciding not to wear it, at least not yet. Terry then looked around the desert, noticing nothing but endless sand. He stood up, shaking the grains of said sand off his coat, and took a deep breath. He was alone, but he was not frightened. Desert winds blew through what little hair he had left, and honestly, Terry welcomed the breeze. He felt rested, and for the first time since putting pen to paper, he did not feel the need to write. He was finished.
He heard the voice he had been writing for over thirty years, and it sounded exactly as he had imagined it (which meant, more specifically, that it sounded like two slabs of granite rubbed together, or perhaps the slamming of coffin lids, something along those lines), something no actor was ever able to emulate. The Grim Reaper, his Death, Discworld Death, was now standing in front of him, where nothing but dunes (no worms though, Frank Herbert’s monstrous beings did not exist wherever this place had been) existed mere moments ago. Death was dressed in his usual attire, which just meant black robes, scythe in hand. He had no face, just a skull, incapable of any expressions, yet it seemed as if Death looked at Terry with deep and heavy sadness.
Terry was seemingly unfazed by Death’s appearance, as he cheerfully said, “Usually I am not aware when I am dreaming that I am dreaming, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.”
“YOU ARE NOT DREAMING, TERRY.” Death spoke.
“Listen, I will not argue with my subconsciousness. If it says I am not dreaming, then it must be true.”
“YOU ARE AWARE OF WHAT HAPPENED?”
“I am dreaming that I have died, and my own creation is welcoming me to the afterlife. Not a particularly original dream, but I assume it had to have happened sooner or later.”
“TERRY, I WILL NOT REPEAT THIS AGAIN. YOU ARE NOT DREAMING. THIS IS NOT A DREAM. YOU HAVE DIED.”
“I don’t remember dying.”
“WELL, YOU DID SEEM TO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH REMEMBERING IN RECENT YEARS, DID YOU NOT?”
“Ouch. You weren’t that mean in my books.”
“WE ARE NOT IN YOUR BOOKS ANYMORE.”
“But we are in my dreams.”
“TERRY, I’VE WARNED YOU.”
“What are you going to do, make me wake up?”
“NOW BE HONEST WITH ME TERRY, WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE WOKEN UP AND RETURN TO YOUR EXISTENCE?”
Terry kept quiet. He couldn’t remember if he had said good night to his daughter before dozing off last night. Not that it mattered.
“GREAT, BECAUSE THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSIBLE ANYWAY.”
“Because this isn’t a dream?”
“BECAUSE THIS ISN’T A DREAM.”
“This was not one of the symptoms the doctors mentioned. Nobody said anything about dreams in which I would argue with my own characters.”
“STOP PLAYING WITH ME!”
The roar Death produced shut Terry up. He swallowed hard. He was frightened now, and not because of finding himself in a desert. He was frightened of his Death, in more ways than one. He was not used to being afraid. Neither Terry nor Death spoke for what seemed like an eternity, and it was in fact an eternity, since Terry was dead, and time did not matter anymore.
“NO HAT?” Death finally offered.
“I do not want to be the writer Terry today. I just want to be Terry, thus, no hat.”
Silence filled the desert again.
“I AM AWARE THAT YOU WANTED TO MEET ME SOONER THAN YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO.”
“They wouldn’t let me,” And for the first time since waking up in the desert, Terry lost control over his voice, and a twinge of pain could be heard in the words he spoke.
“I WOULDN’T LET YOU.”
“IT SIMPLY WAS NOT YOUR TIME YET.”
“Oh, and now it is?”
“I wasn’t able to write by myself in the end. I had to dictate the words to others. The last few books of Discworld are not as good as they could have been.”
“BUT AT LEAST THEY EXIST.”
“You say that as if it should be of some consolation to me.”
The pain in Terry’s voice was gone now, and it had been replaced by anger, almost rage. Fear disappeared as well. He was no longer standing still in the dunes, sand seeping into his shoes, he was now pacing up and down, tripping over small hills of sand, waving his hands around, and spitting with every rage-filled word that left his mouth.
“I was on a fucking streak, I was writing the best fucking books of my career, and I had so many more ideas that never got put on paper because of that idiotic disease. And then, when I was finally prepared to give up, nobody would let me.”
“IF YOU MUST BLAME SOMEONE, BLAME ME.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I do.”
“YOU BLAME A DREAM?”
“This isn’t a dream.” Terry stopped his pacing. He was tired again.
“I knew it from the moment I woke up here. There was no need in me anymore. For the first time in forever, I had no more words within me.”
“YOU DO HAVE A LOT OF ANGER WITHIN YOU.”
“That is not a revelation to me.”
“TELL ME THEN, WRITER, IF YOU’VE LEFT THE WORDS BEHIND, WHY HAS THE ANGER FOLLOWED YOU TO THIS DESERT?”
“I am no longer a writer, but I am still Terry.”
“AND ANGER IS A KEY INGREDIENT TO BEING A TERRY?”
“Always has been.”
“IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ANYMORE.”
And with those words, Death raised his right hand and pointed, with a bony finger, behind Terry. A closed black door now stood in the middle of the desert, attached to nothing and, at least at first glance, leading to nowhere. But, Terry knew where it led.
“It’s really happening, huh?” Terry whispered calmly.
“IT REALLY IS.”
“What’s behind there?”
“YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT. YOU ANSWERED THAT QUESTION NUMEROUS TIMES IN YOUR BOOKS.”
“‘Everyone has a different afterlife. Everyone has their own afterlife.’”
“Will you stay with me?”
“OH TERRY, I HAD ALWAYS BEEN THERE WITH YOU.”
“I know.” And Terry really did know. He felt Death by his side for much longer than he knew he was sick, and all he wanted since feeling Death’s presence next to him was for somebody to allow him to die. There was nothing more generous than assisted suicide, in Terry’s opinion. Why should one suffer if his loved ones could be allowed to simply kill him? It was the most sensible action in the world, the world Terry was no longer a part of, and the world that Terry was so ahead of.
“I’m glad you’re here.” Terry finally admitted. The pity he felt coming from Death’s gaze seemed to have evaporated with that admission, and everything that remained was the inevitability of the moment. Terry glanced at his hat again, lying on the sand.
“Did you like how I wrote you in my books?”
“IT WAS PERFECT.”
“Even in the last few?”
“ESPECIALLY IN THE LAST FEW.”
“Although, to be honest, you didn’t appear that much in the last few. I didn’t know where to take you after 2001, so I just kept you in the background, for a scene, here or there.”
“WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?”
“Because I knew I would be meeting you rather soon.”
“BUT NOT AS SOON AS YOU WANTED.”
Terry nodded, and kneeled down. He picked up the black hat by its rim, and gently placed it on his head. The desert winds almost blew it off for a brief moment, but Terry’s hand was faster than the zephyr.
“I’m ready.” Terry spoke, one hand on his hat, the other hand a fist in his pocket.
“NOT TO BE INSENSITIVE, BUT IT’S NOT REALLY UP TO YOU TO DECIDE WHETHER YOU’RE READY OR NOT…”
“I know, I just wanted to say something meaningful for the end.”
“PERHAPS YOU CAN WRITE IT DOWN INSTEAD.”
Terry looked at the door again, now slightly ajar. No matter how hard he tried, he could not see what stood behind. The door led to somewhere eyes were not allowed to see.
“YES. YOU ARE WEARING THE HAT NOW, AFTER ALL.”
Together, Terry and Death then walked through the door.
- Terry and Death - February 22, 2023