This scene is almost as old as the last Death Works novel. I was planning to get into it straight away, but, as they say, there’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip (or shit happens).
This story finally resolves things, and, if everything goes to plan, the next arc of these character’s story will extend across a few interlinked novellas. What can you expect? Well, we get a bit more of Lissa’s point of view. You’ll get a broader sense of what is going on in the world beyond pomping (wait till I get to the knot workers – I’m planning on giving those folk their own stories at some stage). It’s all dark fun wrapped up in my sense of humour. I love this world, and I love playing in it. Hopefully I’ll get to play around in it for a long while yet.
My head strikes the ground, hard, and I bite my cheek; taste blood, get a lungful of water and I’m jerked backwards.
I cough. Roll over, and my knees click as I stand: bone scraping bone. There’s colour. Stabbing light, lending a hangovery intensity to my headache. And then there’s something that I realise is air. Its touch is such an unfamiliar sensation. So damn soft.
I try for breath, cough and try again. And this time my lungs billow. I can breathe. Ha!
A wave knocks me forward again onto my knees, and my fingers dig into the ground. Sand. Beach. A kid laughs somewhere, or screams (laughter and screaming, I know them both, laughter and screaming, screaming and laughter), and I cough up my guts, which amounts to not much more than a thin trickle of grey spit.
I squint, now on all fours, and try to take everything in. There’s too much.
Too much light. Motion. The world’s grown big again.
Gulls wheel in the sky. Beautiful, but the daylight burns. I drop my gaze from the sky to the shore.
One parent drags a curious child away from me, the kid’s heels leaving long trails in the sand. And then the kid spits at me. You’d think something monstrous had risen from the waves – and maybe it has. I snap my eyes shut. All I can smell is the sea. My lips sting, they have cracks the size of canyons; I could slide my tongue into them, if I could move my tongue properly. I taste salt, and bile. Water strikes my shoulders, pushes me forward yet again. Last time, it dragged me away, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t change its mind.
I have to keep moving or the sea will yank me back. And I don’t want that. Not with everything in front of me.
I heave myself to my feet, open my eyes again and shade them with my wrinkled hands. Half the beach watches me like I’m some sort of cautionary tale. No one offers to help.
Why would they?
My coat, the one that once belonged to my father, is heavy against my shoulders: stiff as lead. Dad had passed the coat on to me as a boy, and how I had yearned to grow into it. I was all grown up and working as a Pomp before it really fit, and even then it never fit me well. The last time I’d worn this coat I was so much more. I was the Orcus Entire: the Hungry Death incarnate. I’d wielded the stone scythe Mog. Something I’m sure my father would never have suspected (nor dared hope) I’d achieve. Yeah, I’d not really shown much desire for an executive position at Mortmax Industries; actually I’d barely shown a desire to put in more than the minimal amount of work there. Nor would he have even begun to imagine that I’d use Mog to sever the head of his best friend, Morrigan – a man who had become a god.
I’d been on a beach then too. And afterwards I’d leant on that scythe, weary from battle, and realised that I’d won. We’d won: my Pomps and me. We’d defeated our ancient enemy, the Stirrers, and their dark god. I’d felt pretty good about it all. Hey, I’d just averted a Global Apocalypse. But it didn’t last.
When you’re Death you know nothing lasts. But I never expected to lose everything so damn quickly. That was then.
Where the hell am I? Actually, I’m not in Hell at all, unless they’ve spruced the place up an awful lot. Hell’s all red skies, a giant Moreton Bay fig and the spirits of the dead glowing blue and forlorn.
This beach isn’t the beach of that last battle. No, that was on the Gold Coast. Different time, different light. And I’d been dragged from that victory to the deep dark Hell of the Death of the Water. We’d made a deal, to save the world, and he’d been unbending in his part of it. Mog, my powers, my life: all of it gone. And the world moved on.
Of course she’s not here.
She wouldn’t be. She thinks I’m dead. I thought I was dead. And yet I’m standing here. Get Out of Hell Free. Except no one gets out of hell free.
I’d learnt that the hard way when I’d performed an Orpheus Manoeuvre, with the help of Charon, and brought Lissa back from the dead. It was almost our first date. Lissa had returned the favour. I’m sure no one has done that to me this time. My memories were of death, but nothing after. And now, this too-bright beach, I focus on my boots, the leather as cracked as my lips, but at least they don’t sear my eyes.
I stumble towards the shore, a few more shuffles, and pause. I get the feeling if I take another step, I’ll cross some threshold. The world seems to stop. Holds its breath with me. The water’s white around my boots.
‘Mr de Selby?’
I look up. A guy in a cheap grey suit, lips a thin slash across his face. Nose broken more than once. He’s dry, a metre from the foamy dregs of the waves, holding a towel over one arm. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be dry, and clean, and not crusted in salt.
‘Yes, yes.’ The words come thickly from a mouth still remembering how to shape them.
‘If you could just take a couple of steps forward, sir. Out of the water. I can’t help you, unless you get out of the water. I’ve no jurisdiction there.’
He frowns. ‘The water, Mr de Selby.’
He’s right. I can’t stay here forever, and I’m not going back.
I take a few unsteady steps towards him. The waves suck at my boots.
There are too many gaps in my mind. Holes you could drive a ute through, while it’s doing donuts, wheels throwing up stinking smoke and further obscuring everything.
Then I’m out of the water, onto wet sand. A wave hisses away behind me. I half imagine I hear it call my name.
‘Close enough,’ the man says, yanking the coat from me; it drops to the beach with a slap, and I feel about ten kilos lighter. He drapes the towel over my shoulders. The humanity of that movement, the touch of another hand, makes me cry: a single sob that threatens to build to a weeping.
Until he presses the gun into my spine.