Down in the bowels of Ankh-Morpock, there was a girl running down a dangerous-looking side street. She looked extremely out of place at first glance. She was wearing a stridently pink dress that was flouncing doggedly as she ran. It was the sort of little girl's dress that nearly all little girls hate to wear. There was lace, and big fat ribbons, and an underskirt of stiff white scratchy material. The street she ran down was only a street in the loosest sense of the word. It might better be called a gap between buildings. The buildings gave the impression that they resented the gap, leaning toward each other like drunks after a long night.
She was a bright little thing in a dark world, and one might wonder, looking at her from a distance, why she hadn't been mugged yet. Looking closer, however, a perceptive man might see a strangely inappropriate fearlessness on the little girl's face, a causal sort of restrained energy that was more often found on the face of a bodyguard or a thug. This was a girl who fought with fists and nails and teeth, and laughing all the while. The people of Ankh-Morpock, sensing a kindred soul, let her be.
The little girl's name was Agnes, a name given her by the same people who put her in the pink dress. It may have been wishful thinking on their part, but whatever the motive it had failed to change her character. She was running away from her father, who was only in the city for the day on business. She rehearsed the lie she would tell him in her head as she ran.
I was following you and I got lost, Father. You were right there in front of me and then you were gone. I got lost. Lost, lost, lost.
She did not lie well and she assumed she would get a beating but that was hours away, and when would she ever get a chance like this again? She took a corner at top speed, realized she was facing a dead end and slipped on a wet cobblestone as she tried to stop.
It was only when she flailed and caught herself from falling that she realized she was not at all alone in that alleyway.
There was a boy lying on the cobbles, with his head caved in. He was obviously, horribly dead. There was a brick just to the side, all stained with blood. Crouched above him, leaning over him-
Agnes felt a chill run right through her with the complete finality of a tied up songbird tossed in a river. Over her head and deeply, deeply out of her element. The alley was stone silent. Death turned from his task to look at her. Behind him, a large white horse watched with red eyes.
AH, he said. HELLO.
Politeness had been drilled in with diamond drill bits. It had to be, as Agnes didn't take to it naturally.
"Hello." she said, rather tremulously. "Sir," she added, after thinking twice. Death nodded, and turned back to look at the boy. He looked rather sad for someone with an expressionless skull for a face.
It would have been an excellent time for a little girl to run screaming back to her father and live the rest of her life obedient and terrified.
Agnes, however, was a different sort of girl.
"He's dead," She said, her eyes flicking rapidly from the dead boy to Death. She'd never seen anything like that before, and was trying her hardest to burn the scene in front of her into her brain.
YES, said Death, leaning on his knees. IT'S ALL SO POINTLESS SOMETIMES.
"Have," Agnes had to clear her throat. "Have you killed him?"
NO, said Death, managing to sound somehow hurt by the idea. I DON'T KILL ANYONE.
Agnes hazarded a few steps closer. She had no idea there would be so much blood.
"You're not Death, then?" she asked doubtfully, cocking her head. Death stood in the manner of someone with rather stiff joints. As he did she realized he was holding a scythe. He leaned on it as he pushed himself up. It flashed once in the gloom, bluely.
I AM. I TAKE THE SOULS OF THE DEAD, NOT THE LIVING. Death gestured toward the boy at his feet. HIS BROTHER THREW THE BRICK. SENSELESS, REALLY.
Agnes eyed him keenly.
"Where do you take them? The souls, I mean." she began. "Sir," she hurriedly added.
WHEREVER THEY WOULD LIKE TO GO.
Agnes stopped moving forward at the outer edge of the blood pool. She looked thoughtful for a moment. Death, she decided, had something sort of...friendly about him.
"It's always nice to get a ride to the store instead of having to walk," she said, seemingly out of the blue.
OH REALLY? Death replied, sounding confused.
"Yes." Agnes said, warming up, "it's two miles and dust gets in everything if you don't wrap it right. It's nice of you to give people a ride."
OH, Death said, sounding rather pleased. WELL, THANK YOU. He paused, and continued in the sort of hopeful way that the old timers in town did when they wanted to have a conversation with somebody. MOST PEOPLE DON'T SEE IT THAT WAY.
Agnes did not, as a rule, ever stop of her own volition to talk to the old timers in town. She found it always led to a lot of blather about how life just wasn't the same and people had no respect. However, in this particular instance, she made an exception.
He just looked so friendly, like the cats in the barn coming out wanting to be petted. That this was a patently ludicrous and possibly sacrilegious thing to think about Death never entered her mind.
"You don't much like your job, do you?" Agnes said cannily, and Death looked up at her sharply.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT WORK, he said. He had blue things, in his eye sockets. Blue twinkly things, and they sort of...looked at her.
"Sure," Agnes said, scratching her nose.
IT MUST BE DONE DILLIGENTLY, Death continued.
Agnes figured that meant 'good'.
"Even if nobody likes it when you do," Agnes commented.
WELL...Death looked somewhat forlorn for a moment. CERTAINLY NO ONE EVER THANKS ME FOR IT.
Agnes thought that over, frowning, hearing her mother's strident voice in her head.
"It's not polite, not thanking someone what they had done something nice for you," Agnes said, suddenly torn. She was not a mean child, not really bad, and she did try very hard to be fair. "You come for everyone, right?"
WELL, NOT EVERY ONE, PERSONALLY. I MORE OR LESS JUST NEED TO KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING.
Agnes did not know what momentum meant and wasn't going to ask. She assumed it meant he didn't have enough room on the horse.
She walked around the pool of blood and right up to the personification of Death itself, her little black shoes clicking on the cobblestones, pink ribbons fluttering. Death watched her approach as if she reminded him of someone.
"If you do come for me, I promise to thank you for the ride," she said bravely.
Death looked taken aback.
WELL, he said. WELL. He sounded touched, and shifted a little in his robe, as if embarrassed. I'LL REMEMBER THAT, AGNES THIMBLEDOWN.
"Hey!" said Agnes, impressed. "You knew my name and I never said!"
DEATH DOES NOT NEED AN INTRODUCTION.
Agnes regarded this as a bit of a chide at not having introduced herself, and flushed. She thrust her hand out, as she'd been taught.
" Pleased to meet you anyways." she said. "Sir."
Death stared at her for a moment.
YOU ARE? He said hopefully, looking surprised.
"Well," Agnes thought quickly and had to honestly answer. "Yes, but..." she lowered her voice and looked around furtively, as if her mother were hiding behind a door nearby. "You have to shake my hand, that's what proper, like."
OH...OF COURSE. PLEASED TO MEET YOU.
Death's hand was just bones, but he didn't squeeze too hard and he didn't try and kiss the back of her hand, so she wasn't much worried about it.
Besides, he looked so pleased, just to be shaking her hand. She started thinking about cats, and hopeful little mew mews, and decided to make a big sacrifice.
Agnes withdrew her hand, grasped her skirts, and dropped a curtsie.
Her mother had never once gotten her to do it. Embarrassed and flushed, Agnes moved for escape.
"I look forward to seeing you again," she said correctly, not because she was thinking that at all but because it was what was said. Then, impolitely, she ran off, leaving Death stunned behind her.
She heard him just as she turned the corner.
REALLY? Death sounded shocked.
Smiling and carefree, Agnes ran on.