Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Death Likes Jazz

It's amazing what you can find if you dig. I've been going through my old memory sticks recently, so old that this is almost personal archeology for me. There's a whole jar of sticks on my desk and I have no idea what's on any of them. I think that whenever I go through a new writing phase, I buy a new memory stick - it's the only thing that explains the quantity! They've got all sorts of finished and half-finished stories on them, so I was looking for the first bit of flash fiction I ever wrote, called "The Conductor". I didn't find that, but I did find "Death Likes Jazz", something I wrote in late 2012 and the last funny thing I wrote before I took a massive, lengthy and unproductive detour into HP Lovecraft mimicry.

This one, thankfully, has no elderly professors, fainting or cleansing bolts of lighting.

Death Likes Jazz"

Deep within Death’s kingdom, past the tar pits but not as far as the bottomless chasm, there lays the gutted remnants of a building. When the wind is in the right direction, you can hear the faint sounds of jazz music echoing through the empty wreckage.

I’ll never understand what possessed my brother to develop an interest in jazz music. He’s certainly not renowned for his interest in the arts. Chess, definitely. Death has always had a very keen interest in chess. Many people, especially grand masters, play him but none of them ever win. Despite his professionalism, he’s very proud of that. Sometimes he invites me over to his house so that we can drink beer and throw the bottles into the endless abyss, but he always contrives a reason to show me the chess set in his study.

I don’t particularly enjoy going there. It’s a large and gloomy space, charged with a constant sensation of unfulfilled potential, but the most disturbing thing is the obsessive cleanliness of his desk.

My desk is awful in comparison – piled high with papers and old coffee mugs overflowing with mould. My wife scolds me incessantly until I remind her how busy I am. Death, on the other hand, is very good at moving things into the “OUT” tray. He also doesn’t have a nagging wife.

His chess set disturbs me as well. The board is constructed from white squares of dinosaur bones and black squares carved from the carapaces of an extinct beetle species from the Alpha Centauri star system. The actual pieces are poor quality, badly machined plastic and were bought from the last Woolworths store in their last ever closing down sale. He says that extinct things amuse him.

We’d been sitting at the gorge one afternoon in peaceful silence, when he’d turned to me and said,

“Life, I’m going to open up a jazz bar.”

I just raised an eyebrow at that. He looked very serious, but then he always looked very serious. He’s famous for it.

“I like music and it’d be nice to have more visitors. It gets lonely out here some days.”

I thought it was a bad idea but, as I wanted to spare his feelings, I didn’t tell him that as we finished the last of his booze. We chatted about this and that – about rising birth rates and airborne Ebola viruses – until I left him: a white-faced, sunken-cheeked man with black-rimmed eyes, lost in thought at the edge of an eternal drop.

I came to the opening night. Death had converted one of the outbuildings on his palatial estate into a smart-looking establishment. I gave my hat and coat over to the shade lurking at the cloakroom and was rewarded with a respectful, “Good evening, Mr. Life.”

The club room itself was a masterpiece of elegant decoration. The bar was twenty feet long and carved from a single piece of highly polished mahogany. My brother stood behind it, dressed in a well-tailored black suit and bright red tie, rubbing at the surface with a pristine cloth. The tables set up around the central spot-lit stage were totally empty.

“This place is dead. If you’ll excuse the pun,” I joked. My brother didn’t even smile.

Swallowing my mirth, I sat down at one of the tables close to the stage and waited patiently for the music to start. After an hour, I was on my fourth drink and Death’s bar was still empty. Eventually, he swallowed his pride and came out from behind the bar to sit with me.

“I invited water nymphs and lesser gods and every ghoul in the book,” he said sadly, gazing into and through his drink. I clapped him on the back cheerfully.

“Maybe tomorrow,” I said and snapped my fingers at the stage.

Four obviously dead jazz musicians shambled onto the stage and began to play. The music was expertly played but it did nothing to raise Death’s spirits.

“I won’t let them die properly,” he explained miserably, barely looking at them.

I came the next night and the next. No-one else ever came, but the undead musicians were always forced to lurch onto the stage and play their jazz routine to his empty bar every night. Death looked more and more despondent with each performance and spent each night getting drunk.

Fortified by a brother's love, I stuck with it until the first ten thousand years passed. After that, I stopped going. I’d come to the conclusion that I was just prolonging my brother’s misery.

In the end, the bar burnt down, collapsing into a devastated, cinder-choked shell. Death maintains that it was faulty wiring in the lights. I suspect that one of the musicians was driven mad by two hundred thousand renditions of “What a Wonderful World” and tried to take their own life.

Unfortunately in Death’s kingdom, nothing can ever truly die. I just hope that they’re not still down there. I’m not a big fan of jazz.

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