A Song for the Dead

(Death Remembers)

Music is one of the few universal truths. Everyone loves it, even plants, apparently. Some human scientists are even saying that tiny vibrations — the core of musical compositions — are the foundations for everything in the universe. Well, it's not really my place to comment on that. I do love music though — some of the human stuff is pretty catchy. Like jazz. I really dig jazz. There's something irresistible about it. I will catch myself absentmindedly tapping my foot to the beat.

Maybe I like it because I always think of the jazz funerals. Those are so great. As a rule, I never attend funerals. My job is done at that point. Funerals aren't for me. They're for the people who have been left behind. It's a human ritual, and I can only sit and twiddle my thumbs if I were to stay. There are other things, other places to be, after all. Besides, the music is pretty depressing most of the time. Either that or it's the tired, uninspired 'funeral' playlist selections (Simon & Garfunkel seems to come up a lot for some reason. I always thought those two were pretty joyful. When their appointment comes up I'll have to ask them what they think).

Not jazz funerals, though. They're vivacious and joyful. It's almost as if they're throwing me a party. You can see why I'd be tempted to stay a bit — the number of parties where I'm the guest of honor are few and far between. And the music is good, to boot. It's pure, free expression, plain and simple. Music born from oppression. Music to break through barriers. Music as it was meant to be, basically.

The rest, though, well… when you've been around for as long as I have, you hear a lot. Song after song, year after year, millennia after millennia — it's easy for things to start to blur together. I hardly pay attention after awhile. But not then. Not her song. I couldn't ignore that. I had never heard anything like it. And I haven't since.

Let me tell you, with my title and job description I get a lot of flack. I guess it's understandable. Mortals can never know what's beyond life. The unknown, the lack of control is frightening. They act out. I know this, but still. You'd think after all their time on this earth they would be less afraid of me. The happy jazz funerals are a rare exception to the rule. Most people don't want to go. Even those who submit readily — I can hear it in their voices — they're not happy. Ready, perhaps. Submissive, but not happy. I hear many emotions coming through — curiosity, acceptance, apathy, anger, gratitude even, but never happiness. Aside from a select few, it's never enough time for them, their life on earth. So they think.

Natural disasters are the worst. Besides from being insanely busy, I have to deal with the shock of finding themselves no longer alive. Crushed to death by an earthquake in the middle of the night. Lungs smothered by a gas leak during a nap. They're always disoriented, confused and demanding. Oh the pleas I've heard, the bribes I've been offered. You should have heard some of them. Dictators would have been foaming at the mouth (oddly enough, dictators never ask for their life back. They never say a word, in fact, as though they've been expecting me their whole lives).

I am not supposed to honor any of these requests, as you can imagine. The outcome would be chaotic. My brother, Dream, was captured by mortals for a time, and during his captivity lives were ruined forever and the world was upside-down. People were lost in their dreams because there was no one there to regulate them. Now imagine if I, Death, was compromised…

There are flukes every now and then. It happens, but those are very rare — once in a millennia. I do not give into resurrection requests. It's against the fundamental laws of the universe. And yet… well, like I said, I had never heard anything quite like it. I had never seen anyone like her. The sheer audacity of it… maybe that threw me off my game. Or maybe I was tricked, bewitched. She was not a mortal, but what she asked me to do — to basically change her entire nature. I don't know how she thought I could do it. I didn't even think I could do it. I wonder what you would have done different, if you were me.

Like many stories involving me and members of my family, the Endless, this happened a long, long time ago, and Dream never lets me forget it.

"Who's the sentimental sap now? You'll lose your grip on them at this rate."

Stupid little brother. He wasn't there. He didn't hear it.

In their mythology, I was known as another name. Manwë I think it was. I was around more often than they realized. Those inhabitants wanted to believe I was up in the heavens somewhere, sitting on a giant ass throne, impassive to their daily routine. Obviously, that wasn't true. I was going back and forth directing souls all over the place. Especially during the great wars. But I guess it made them more comfortable to think that I wasn't getting involved personally. Because then it would mean that someone was responsible. Someone who didn't care, or who couldn't change it.

She was one of them — the immortals called 'elves'. Children of the stars. But she was something a little more than just immortal — I sensed older power in her, that of a god's. I guess that's how she was able to find me in the first place. I didn't hear a spell, nor did I sense any trickery going on. Some mortals like to try to use grotesque rituals to try to catch me. It never works. She simply walked right up to my door and asked to see me. How she got past the watchers… I'll never know for sure.

I was dumbfounded when I saw her, partially because of the surprise, and partially because of what I saw in her eyes. I could read everything in them, as though she had opened up herself so I could see, at the risk of destroying herself. To allow an Endless to peer through you, to let us in just that much. It would obliterate most creatures. But I saw everything, even before I heard it — the immense suffering and exhaustion. Saw the fire flickering in the blackness of her pupils. She had been through hell and come out alive. And now she wanted to see me. Wanted me to see it. Tough as nails, I tell you.

"Well hello there darling — looks like you've come a long way. What can I do for ya?" I don't know if my voice sounded brisk or not. At any rate, she did not seem scared or intimidated. Nor did she look confident. She just looked like someone who had nowhere else to go.

It was funny watching her expression change as she looked me over. "I did not expect you to be like this" — that's what she seemed to want to say. Fair enough. According to her culture's legends, I should have been a grumpy old man. She stared at me, unblinking for awhile, as though waiting for me to send her back, or tell her she was foolish for coming to me. Normally, I would have, but like I said… it's not every day I get visitors like that. Then, she closed her eyes and started to sing.

Dream doesn't believe me when I try to tell him about it.

"Like nothing I've ever heard before," I'll say.

He just shakes his head and laughs. "I'm sure you've heard plenty just like it. Don't kid yourself."

I start to describe it — the way her voice started low and soft, then slowly lilted up, and there seemed to be another voice that came out of her from somewhere, harmonizing perfectly. There was a gentle ebb and flow — powerful, yet subdued. Piercing, yet soft. Then I just give up when Dream looks like he's lost interest. "You weren't there," I say, annoyed.

"Who was she, this amazing singer?"

It takes me awhile at first, but then it just jumps out at me. I don't think she told it to me, though. I think for some reason, I just knew. "Luthien. Luthien Tinuviel."

Dream pauses for a second, thinking. Then he smiles. "Ah yes. Luthien. I remember some of her dreams."

"What were they like?"

"Beautiful. She sang in them too sometimes."

I look at him, hopeful that now, he'll get it too.

"It was a marvelous voice," he offers. "But not something that would make me bend my rules." He winks at me in his disgustingly snide way. As if he knows better, the imp.

I glare at him and huff. "You weren't there. This was different."

And that's all I can ever do to make someone understand. If Dream doesn't get it, no one will. I still don't know for sure if I was tricked or if what I heard was just something one only hears once in a lifetime. She sang more than her heart out — her entire body was shaking, sacrificing all its remaining strength for the sake of the song. There was no stopping it, and I couldn't bear to turn away. She brought in notes that were old — so old that I thought they had been forgotten. It was like I was hearing the very same music that had initially sparked the universe into existence. And it was all for him — this mortal that had died and was beyond her reach. I was her last hope. Her only hope. I realized, when her song was finally ending, and her extreme exhaustion took hold, how much she was willing to risk. How much she would give up. For this human. This mortal who would not live much longer, should I grant her wish.

And so help me, I granted it. I broke the rules. I probably messed up the world for good. But I have to ask you: after hearing that — after hearing the very fiber of the universe crying out — what else could I possibly do?