Disclaimer: Discworld and its characters belong to Terry Pratchett, not to me. No copyright infringement is intended or implied.
Written on request from a friend who wanted a story which featured Death, the Librarian, and the Death of Rats.
A Fate Worse Than Death
Death did make house calls. Death, in fact, was all about making house calls, but usually at his own discretion. Now he found himself standing inside another charmed circle at the Unseen University, and he was not happy. (1)
"IF THIS IS ONE OF YOUR STUPID PARTY GAMES OR YET ANOTHER JOKE ON THE BURSAR YOU ARE ALL GOING TO BE VERY, VERY SORRY."
There's nothing quite like Death himself threatening you to make you imagine all the horrible ways in which you could end up being sorry. Three middle-aged wizards in shabby robes huddled in a corner of the room. Finally the bravest one pointed to the door with a trembling finger.
"It's the Librarian! He needs you!"
"HAIRY CHAP? NOT CURRENTLY UP TO MUCH MAGIC? THAT LIBRARIAN? HE'S NOT DUE FOR QUITE A WHILE YET..."
The wizard shook his head. "No, no, no. He keeps asking for you!"
"ILL, IS HE? I'M SORRY TO HEAR THAT."
"I don't think so! But he opened the book and kept pointing to the spell and saying 'Ook!'"
"I SUPPOSE I HAD BETTER GO AND SEE WHAT THIS IS ABOUT."
Death stepped out the circle, his robe sweeping away the chalk designs. The wizards huddled further into the corner as he passed. Death strode through the grounds, asking the occasional terrified student for directions, until he found himself in the Library facing the Librarian.
"I APPEAR TO BE WALKING THE EARTH AT AN UNACCUSTOMED TIME. DO YOU CARE TO EXPLAIN?"
"Ook!" The Librarian pushed a book at Death.
He picked it up. "THE ADVENTURES OF SEAMSTRESS SAMANTHA, BY ANONYMOUS. (2) I REALLY DON'T SEE WHAT I HAVE TO DO WITH--"
"Ook!" The Librarian pointed at the edge of the book's cover, which seemed to be covered in tiny bite marks.
"BOOKWORMS?" asked Death.
The Librarian shook his head, and made a scrabbling motion with his fingers.
"A RAT. I SEE. BUT I STILL DON'T SEE WHY YOU DEMANDED THAT I COME HERE."
The Librarian pointed at Death wordlessly.
"YES I KNOW, BUT I DON'T DO EXTERMINATIONS."
"VERY WELL, I CONSTANTLY DO THEM BUT NOT DIRECTLY."
Death shook his scythe. "IT'S PURELY CEREMONIAL, YOU UNDERSTAND?"
The Librarian crossed his arms and looked belligerent. "Ook."
"I KNOW, SKIPPING THE MIDDLEMAN IS VERY TEMPTING, BUT I CAN'T HELP YOU. ANYWAY, I CONTRACT OUT FOR RATS."
"IT'S A LONG STORY. I SUPPOSE I COULD TALK TO HIM."
Death held out one bony hand and made an eerie whistling noise. A tiny skeletal figure appeared in Death's palm and looked up at him.
Death pointed to the book with the bite marks. "THE LIBRARIAN IS HAVING TROUBLE WITH ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE. ER... RODENTS."
The Death of Rats retrieved a miniscule hourglass from its robes. "SQUEAK."
"NOT HIS TIME? I SUSPECTED AS MUCH. THIS COULD BE A PROBLEM."
"YOU WANT TO GO FIND HIM? YOU'RE REALLY NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO THEM UNTIL THEY'RE NEARLY DEAD, YOU KNOW. ONLY TROUBLE COMES FROM THAT, TRUST ME."
The Death of Rats jumped off Death's hand and disappeared into the shelves.
"Ook. Ook," said the Librarian.
"I KNOW IT'S INFINITE. BUT HE WON'T GET LOST."
A few minutes later, the Death of Rats returned, looking as triumphant as a tiny rodent made only of bone can look. Behind him followed a living rat, looking as nervous as a living rat can look, which is actually quite nervous.
"Ook!" The Librarian hefted a large book, about to throw it at the rat. (4)
"IT'S NO USE IF IT ISN'T HIS TIME YOU KNOW."
The Librarian put the book down, and Death picked up the Death of Rats again.
"ARE YOU CERTAIN? MANY CREATURES WOULD CONSIDER THAT A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH."
The Death of Rats nodded. "SQUEAK. SQUEAK."
"I'M NOT SURE I UNDERSTAND HOW A LITTLE WHEEL HELPS."
The Librarian looked thoughtful. "Ook..."
The other rat looked up from the floor and squeaked petulantly.
The Librarian pointed at it. "Ook."
"YES HE IS QUITE THIN. I DON'T IMAGINE BOOKS ARE A PROPER DIET. WELL, IF YOU WANT TO TAKE MY... PROTÉGÉ'S SUGGESTION I'M SURE IT'S UP TO YOU."
The Librarian nodded and picked up the small furry creature. "Ook."
The next day a cage appeared on the Librarian's desk, with a rat in it, affectionately named Ook. Ook always ate the best cheese, and if the wizards thought a rat was an odd accessory for a library they knew better than to take it up with the Librarian.
(1) I suppose you're thinking that Death is not by nature very cheerful. But think about it this way; he's always grinning.
(2) Besides political satire and letters to the editor, the author Anonymous also does a roaring trade in books that are longer on description than plot, if you get my drift. (3)
(3) If you just asked, "Description of what, exactly?" then you didn't get my drift.
(4) It takes a great deal of provocation to make a librarian even think about throwing a book. If a librarian, or worse yet, the Librarian, ever hefts a book in your direction, run.