Ten Minutes of Life
This story is based off a quote from The Fifth Elephant about a young girl in Dolly Sisters. I was inspired by a fanfiction by Miss Yetigoosecreature titled Unwound.
The sun was setting as Death walked through the streets in Dolly Sisters. This time his duty weighed heavily on him. Death paused in front of a house on Zephire Street. He felt miserable about the whole thing, but it was all of his own free will. He was just letting himself have emotions for a while. He could stop any time he wanted. Really.
The door opened and a little girl rushed out carrying a box.
"—back tomorrow, Ron. Mum says she's gonna get me new shoes!" she called over her shoulder and kicked the door shut with her foot. She was no older than seven and Death was waiting for her.
"HELLO, COULD I HAVE A FEW MINUTES OF YOUR TIME?"
The girl squeaked in fright and ran around him.
"Can't, I got to get home before dark or Mum'll be mad!"
"THERE IS NO NEED TO RUSH. I KNOW SHE WILL NOT BE ANGRY WITH YOU WHEN SHE SEES YOU."
The girl spun around and walked backwards stumbling a bit on the uneven cobbles.
"And how do you know? You're not my mum."
Death followed her.
"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
"YES, AND I CAN SEE THE FUTURE AND I ASSURE YOU THAT YOUR MUM WILL NOT BE MAD."
"She's not gonna die, is she?"
"NO, SHE HAS MANY YEARS AHEAD OF HER. I AM HERE FOR SOMEONE ELSE. I JUST WANT TO ASK YOU A QUESTION."
The girl smiled.
"I know everybody here. I can tell you where to go."
"THAT IS GOOD KNOWLEDGE TO HAVE. I ACTUALLY WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE THOUGH."
"Okay," said the girl. She put her box down and sat on it.
"COULD I HAVE A FEW MINUTES, PLEASE?"
"Huh? We're already talking. You don't have to ask again."
"I MEAN THAT I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE A FEW MINUTES OF YOUR LIFE IF THAT'S OKAY."
The girl looked confused. Death produced a large hourglass.
"YOU SEE, EVERYONE HAS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SAND IN THEIR LIFE TIMER. WHEN THE SAND RUNS OUT THEN THE PERSON DIES."
"Whose is that?"
"THIS ONE BELONGS TO A MAN IN STO LAT WHO I WILL BE VISITING WHEN MY WORK HERE IS FINISHED."
"He doesn't have much sand."
"INDEED. IF I WERE TO REMOVE THIS SAND RIGHT NOW THEN HE WOULD DIE ABOUT AN HOUR SOONER THAN EXPECTED."
"You can do that?"
"I DON'T KNOW. THAT IS WHY I HAVE COME TO YOU. I WOULD BE GRATEFUL IF YOU WOULD LET ME TRY TO REMOVE SOME OF YOUR MINUTES."
She looked at him suspiciously. Death grinned.
"How many minutes?" she asked slowly
The girl waved her hand dismissively.
"Ten minutes? That's nothing. What can happen in ten minutes?"
"YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED."
"Well, whatever, I'm not going to need an extra ten minutes. I'll be all kooky like Ron's granddad anyway. You're here for him aren't you?"
"YOU MEAN ITS FINE WITH YOU IF I TRY TO TAKE YOUR MINUTES?
"Go ahead. I won't need them."
"Well… how are you going to do it?"
"I…" Death tried to think of a lie. "I CAN'T DO IT WHEN YOU'RE WATCHING?"
The little girl giggled and turned her back. Death retrieved her life timer from under his robes. It was small and bright orange. The sand hissed into the lower bulb. Death examined it thoroughly.
"Is this going to take a long time? It's just that I should be almost home by now."
"YES, BUT ABOUT NOW YOU WOULD HAVE NOTICED THAT SOMETHING IS MISSING FROM YOUR BOX."
"YOU WOULD HAVE COME BACK HERE TO GET IT."
The little girl rummaged through the box and groaned.
"Rats, you're right. Wait here," she said and hurried back to the door. She hadn't gotten very far before Death stopped her so she was only gone a few minutes. "Hey thanks for saving me the trip. These old shoes hurt a lot." Death had his back to her. "Oh yeah, you can't do it with me watching," she remembered and turned around.
"UM… DO YOU KNOW HOW TO OPEN THIS THING?"
"You didn't get it open? You're Death! Don't you know everything?"
"YES BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I UNDERSTAND ALL OF IT."
"The clockmakers use screwdrivers and stuff and it twists the screws out. Maybe it's the same with hourglasses?"
Death twisted the top of the life timer. Surprisingly, it worked.
"Can I turn around now?"
"But I've got to get home."
"IF I HADN'T STOPPED YOU, THEN YOU WOULD NOT HAVE ARRIVED HERE YET."
"I'm already late!"
"YOUR RECEPTION WILL BE THE SAME."
"But it'll be dark."
"I WILL WALK WITH YOU."
"Are you ready yet?"
"GIVE ME SOME TIME."
"NO I MEAN GIVE ME YOUR MINUTES."
"I DON'T KNOW. TRY SOMETHING."
"Oh, like witch magic? I want to be a witch when I grow up. I got books even."
The girl put her hands on her head and started swaying her body and chanting. Grains of sand floated and swirled in the life timer's upper bulb. Some drifted up and out the top. Death caught them in a small brown bag and sealed the lid before any more could escape. The wind inside the glass instantly stopped. Death tucked it under his robe.
"YOU CAN STOP CHANTING NOW."
"Cor blimy, it worked? Lemmie see! Lemmie see!"
Death opened the tiny sack and showed the girl the sand he had collected.
"It's all shiny. Can i touch it?"
"I DON'T THINK THAT WOULD BE WISE."
"What are you going to do with it? Give it to someone else?"
"UNFORTUNATELY, I CANNOT GIVE LIFE FOR I HAVE NO LIFE TO GIVE."
"What? That's a dumb rule! Why did you take it if you can't use it then?"
"I HAVE TAKEN PART OF YOUR LIFE. I CANNOT USE IT ON MYSELF, BUT I CAN CREATE SOMETHING WITH IT."
"what'chu gonna make?"
"I WILL DECIDE LATER. RIGHT NOW THOUGH, YOUR MOTHER WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU. SHE WILL GIVE YOU BRIGHT ORANGE FLOWERS WHEN SHE SEES YOU."
"Really? I love flowers!"
The little girl picked up her box and dashed off down the street smiling. Death stowed the bag away and followed her silently.
Two men grabbed her and pulled her into an alleyway. She screamed, but Death knew no one would come. He knew that even though she would continue to scream, no one would come. Her cries suddenly stopped and the ghost of the little girl squirmed out of the wicked man's arms. The sparkling grains of sand in death's pocket vibrated as they tried to find the bottom of the hourglass where they knew they should be. He brought down his scythe and separated the panicking girl from her body. He picked her up and took her away so that she did not have to watch what those men were doing to her body, what she would have had to endure if the time was not safely trapped in his pocket.
She clung to Death as tightly as many would cling to life. She cried and pressed her face into Death's bony chest. She heard the sound of horse hooves and looked up into the nostrils of the most beautiful white horse that she had ever laid eyes on. Binky nuzzled her with his soft nose. Death wiped away her tears and set her on top of Binky. She wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and sobbed into his mane. Death knew that a living animal would be able to comfort her much better than bones.
As the girl cried her spirit flickered oddly. She looked like she was in pain. It was a long time before she could speak.
"You knew, didn't you?" she said
"You could have stopped them!"
"But you're death, you could have killed them!"
She touched the fabric of death's robe and looked up at him. Her spirit seemed to fade in and out of existence. Her edges blurred but she stayed unusually solid.
"Thank you… for saving me."
"I DID WHAT I COULD."
"But why me? I thought you only came for important people like kings and wizards."
"I COME TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE CAUSED GREAT CHANGES TO THE WORLD AROUND THEM."
"But I didn't do anything. I'm only seven!"
"DID YOU KNOW RON'S GRANDFATHER LOVED YOU MORE THAN HE LOVED RON?"
"But he hates me! He always shouts at me when I walk in and he calls me tubby."
"ER… PERHAPS HE HATES RON MORE THAN THAT. "
"So what if he does? He's just an old fogy."
"TELL ME, WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU SAID TO HIM?"
"I think I told him his jacket was ugly. He wears it a lot and it smells."
"HE IS PART OF AN UNLICENSED GANG OF CRIMINALS."
"No way! He's just a codger."
"THE MEN IN THE ALLEY WERE WEARING THE SAME JACKET."
"But… but, he…"
"TOMORROW YOUR BODY WILL BE FOUND AND RON'S GRANDFATHER WILL TELL THE WATCH EVERYTHING HE KNOWS ABOUT HIS GANG. THE TWO MEN WHO MURDERED YOU WILL DIE AND EVERY MEMBER WILL BE FOUND. YOU HAVE SET IN MOTION A SERIES OF EVENTS THAT WILL CHANGE THE WHOLE OF ANKH MORPORK. YOU ARE AN IMPORTANT PERSON."
"I did all that just because I hate his jacket?"
"HUMANS ARE STRANGE. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND EITHER."
"… I don't think it's fair anyway. I shouldn't have to die for people I don't even know."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN?"
"Those men only hurt me. They weren't after my family or nothing. Dad would stop them. He's tough."
"SO YOU WOULD BE FINE DYING FOR YOUR FAMILY THEN?"
"Well… I guess… It would make me feel better about dyin'."
"THEN HEAR THIS. THERE IS ANOTHER REASON I CAME TO YOU IN PERSON. YOUR INFLUENCE WILL NOT END THERE."
"But I'll take down a whole gang! What else could I have done to cause more stuff to happen?"
"BECAUSE YOU TOUCHED THE HEART OF ONE OLD MAN, YOU WILL CAUSE THE ENTIRE CITY OF ANKH MORPORK TO UNDERGO A DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION."
"WHEN A CITY AS POWERFUL AS ANKH MORPORK CHANGES IT HAS AN EFFECT ON THE WHOLE DISC. YOU ARE MORE THAN WORTHY OF MY ATTENTION."
"But how? I didn't do anything?"
"DO YOU KNOW WHO COMMANDER VIMES IS?"
"He runs the Watch. He gets angry a lot and everyone's scared of him. He got lots of money but he doesn't do anything with it. He wears old clothes and doesn't do stuff rich people do. I think he's a little crazy."
"HE WILL FIND YOUR BODY TORN APART BY THOSE MEN. THE TEN MINUTES THAT I HOLD IN MY POCKET ARE FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT AGONY AND DEPRAVITY. RIGHT NOW THEY ARE STILL BUTCHERING YOUR BODY."
The girl's eyes filled with tears. She hugged death and sobbed into his robes.
"THE MEN WILL KEEP ONE OF YOU SHOES."
"Stupid gits got the old ones." It was unsettlingly dark humor coming from one so young.
"THE COMMANDER WILL PURSUE YOUR CASE PERSONALLY. WHEN HE FINDS THE MEN, HE WILL SEE THE SHOE AND BECOME ENRAGED."
The little girl gave a wan smile.
"They deserve it."
"SAMUEL VIMES' ANGER WILL EXPLODE AS IT NEVER HAS BEFORE. HE WILL PASS HIS LIMIT AND GIVE HIMSELF UP FREELY TO BLIND RAGE AND BLOODLUST. I CANNOT PREDICT IF HE WILL KILL THEM OR NOT BUT THE EXPERIENCE WILL NEVERTHELESS FOLLOW HIM FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. YOU WILL HAVE A LASTING IMPACT ON A MAN WHO HAS EARNED MY ATTENTION MANY TIMES OVER."
"He'll remember me, but that isn't going to change anything."
"YEARS FROM NOW, COMMANDER VIMES WILL FACE A TERRIFYING ORDEAL. IF AT THAT TIME, HE DOES NOT REMEMBER YOU THEN THE ENTIRE DISC WILL SUFFER."
The little girl could not answer. She stared at him in disbelief.
"YOU ARE AN IMPORTANT PERSON. BECAUSE YOU TOUCHED THE HEART OF ONE OLD MAN, YOU HAVE GIVEN EVERYONE A CHANCE TO LIVE. YOU ARE A CATALYST."
"I still should not have had to die."
"Sam got wound up about things. Sometimes he unwound all at once. There had been that... bad business with that little girl and those men over at Dolly Sisters, and when Sam had broken in to the men's lodging he found one of them had stolen one of her shoes, and she'd heard Detritus say that if he hadn't been there, only Sam would have walked out of the room alive..." - The Fifth Elephant
"You don't understand. Her shoe. They stole her shoe, Detritus. They did that to her and stole... her shoe...like a... a trophy... She was just a little slip of a thing..."His own voice sounded unaccountably far away. He stared at the seemingly harmless lump of brown leather on the floor. She was hardly more than a baby, and they took a souvenir. Said it was theirs.
-Miss Yetigoosecreature: Unwound