I have lots of words but don't know the right order for them.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Death Speaks

The first time Death spoke out loud was just before Joey died.  They’d heard fire and were running, and Joey tripped over something and the sniper’s bullet hit his back instead of his leg.  He was going to be dead, the three of them knew straight off, but Jazz stopped, and without a word they picked him up and dragged him to some kind of cover.  He wasn’t conscious, wouldn’t ever be again, not proper; but Jazz looked at him, then at Mick and Darko.  It was crazy – there’d been no time to swap news before they set out, and then not much room for conversation, but they wanted Joey to know that his family were OK.  Mick had heard about the gas explosion in Reading which had destroyed a house two down from Joey’s: they wanted to tell him his family were OK, which was crazy because he hadn’t even heard about the explosion.  Jazz wasn’t thinking straight, and as he saw this, and saw the pointlessness, Death said: What’s The Deal?

Jazz said: For each minute he gets, you get a day off my life.  He didn’t say it out loud, but Mick and Darko heard him, he could tell, though they didn’t speak.  Death didn’t speak either.  Jazz and Death shook hands, and Joey opened his eyes.  Jazz nodded to him.  ‘Mick’s got news.’  Mick came in close.  ‘Joey, there was some stupid accident back home,’ he said.  ‘Near your place.  Something blew up, but the good news – ’  Jazz nodded again.  ‘ – the good news, your folks are OK.  They’re fine.  The house is OK too …’  Joey did a kind of smile.  ‘That’s great,’ he said.  ‘I feel better now.’  Then he died.


Jazz reckoned afterwards he’d struck a good deal, because three weeks later he caught his own bullet (in the leg, hah!) and was hospitalised for ages.  So Death’s extra day didn’t look to be quite as close as it had out there.  There was stress counselling, after which the considered opinion was, better off out of the front line.  There was nothing the counsellors could put their fingers on, just hints, perhaps, just clues in the eyes, the way he seemed to be inappropriately amused by what was meant to be an innocent question, or at least to seem to him like one – this guy might not be totally stable!  Jazz had read Catch-22, and knew it wasn’t that easy; but, having done the deal, he knew he had to distance himself from this ‘war’ stuff fast and far: his new friend would be watching all the time, every inch of the way, and mercy was not part of the contract, indeed had already been cashed in.  It was, actually, quite easy.  All he had to do was remember that, to the rest of the world, any guy who appears to believe that he has conversations with Death is probably not trustworthy with a gun.  And as that was nothing but the truth, no acting was required.  In July, he was flown back home. 
In October, he was invalided out.  It was easy enough to get down the pub, even with the gammy leg.  Mick was always there, Darko less often, but when he showed he’d close the joint.  Mick called it ‘craic’, Darko ‘liming’; Jazz thought of it, if at all, as ‘having a laugh’.  Keri wasn’t that keen, him being out most nights; but when he pointed out that he’d had three years’ worth, plus being crippled, she really didn’t have a leg to stand on.  She even laughed when he made that joke, and got more matey with Cally, Mick’s wife, and a few other girls from around the area.
One night they were supping up a bit fast, to squeeze in a last quick one before the ladies’ curfew.  It was getting a bit sentimental, as usual.  Mick said ‘I reckon old Joey might’ve been the lucky one.’  Darko grabbed him by the arm.  ‘You always say that, mate.  Every fucking time.’  Mick said ‘It’s true though, isn’t it?’  Jazz was just back with the round.  He made the usual joke: ‘Calm down, lads, it’s only a war.’  They all laughed, and Mick went off for a piss. 
The strange guy in the corner, who they’d been noticing since about half-nine, went out too.  Darko was about to follow when they heard shouts, then a scream.  Oh fuck, thought Jazz, and raced for the khazi.  The weird guy was away out the back, but Mick was stooped over the stainless steel, blood dripping in.  Death stepped in the way and said to Jazz: What’s the Deal?  Jazz replied: Five more minutes?  Death smiled and disappeared.  The ambulance made it in time to get Mick comfortable.


It was a good night out, boys and girls together.  Darko, who had to be called by his real name, Colin, had met Kayleigh by chance in Aldi of all places.  They got a bit of stick.  ‘Couldn’t you at least have met in Waitrose?’ Keri enquired with a straight face.  Kayleigh said something about needing to slum it to meet proper blokes.  They were in Lahore, which didn’t sell booze, so Jazz volunteered to nip round the corner shop and pick up some more beers.  ‘Better get a taxi back,’ he heard Darko shout on his way out.

As he was paying, his phone went.  It was Keri.  ‘Can you do Heimlich, cos Colin’s choking and nobody here seems to know – ’  He dropped the beers.  ‘On my way.’  He tried to give instructions as he ran, but he could hear Darko still choking, and he could tell that Keri was panicking and nobody had a clue; and as he was running he was thinking about Death, and how promises can be made and then broken, because you don’t think about there being two sides to a promise, you just make it because that’s the only way out, so you promise anything, and then time catches up, and then –
He started across the road against the lights.  Death met him halfway.  No Hurry, said Death.  Done Deal.  My turn now.  I call in my purchased day.  Jazz turned his head and saw the lorry.  Time caught up.  He stared Death in the eye.  You’ve forgotten something, he said.  It’s a leap year.  I get an extra day. 
He leapt.


  1. Wow, brilliant concept. The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck!

  2. Very neat and gripping. I like this a lot.

  3. Wow, that was a fantastic read - full of suspense and a gripping end.

  4. Thank you all. And hello Sarah!