What do you need?’ This was business and Eileen knew she’d get no peace until a plan had been put together and Death’s price ascertained. While Eileen had in the four years since she’d been given the phone settled on a price structure for her role in sourcing favours from Death, Death’s had been varied, inexpensive and often bizarre. A cone of onion ice cream. Have an Archbishop voice the speaking clock. Knit a sheaf for her scythe. That last proved impossible to fulfil. Because of the sharpness of the blade, as soon as it was slipped on the whole thing fell apart.
Death was usually quite understanding. AS LONG AS YOU’VE TRIED, she would intone. Intoning, she explained, was the default setting for a grim reaper. She could vary the accent, even the language at a pinch (I DON’T REALLY WORK IN ITALIAN, EVERYONE THINKS I’M SOME SORT OF OPERAGRAM). In fact, despite the frankly terrifying appearance, Eileen thought Death was really quite considerate. Callous, yes and entirely happy to carry out mini genocides on request. But as Eileen explained to her neighbour Gerald, we all have our little quirks, but overall she’s a good listener.
‘It’s them things, out there.’ Lorraine’s finger shook as she pointed out to sea, before sweeping in an arc. ‘They’re multiplying.’ She swallowed and leant in a little too close for Eileen’s comfort. ‘We thought, at first, they were listening stations for them Eurocrats, spying on us, ready to implant us with them nanobums…’
‘Bots.’ Eileen was nothing if not au courant with modern technology.
‘Them too. But then we got out, didn’t we and still there are more and more. Only last week we counted 89. Today it’s 104. Margate’s the same, and Ramsgate. We’re being encircled. They must be breeding.’
Eileen adjusted her hosiery and frowned.Lorraine was self evidently a loony. ‘You think they’re alive?’
Lorraine looked furious. ‘I’m not stupid. Of course they’re alive. How else do they grow and multiply. And if they’re alive they can die, right. We thought, you know, your fella could maybe do something. Cut them down.’
Eileen put down Nokia. Death pulled her black cloak over her knees. She’d confided in Eileen, early on in their relationship, that she hated her knees. ‘THEY CLACK, LIKE NOVELTY MARACAS WHEN I RUN AFTER A RELUCTANT NEARLY DECEASED. IT’S RATHER EMBARRASSING.’
Eileen had tried to reason with Lorraine but it was no good. And Lorraine was a formidable woman who had maintained spotless counterpanes across many summer seasons of wet sandy children and dripping fish and chip suppers and was not to be trifled with. ‘If you don’t ask your fella,’ Eileen tried to explain the current gender that Death was presenting, but it seemed to be beyond Lorraine’s compass, ‘I’ll be forced to tell people what you do.’
Which normally meant nothing as there was no proof and a high degree of scepticism amongst the relevant authorities as to Death’s existence, at least as any form of corporeal entity, but Lorraine had managed to capture an image of Eileen and the mysteriously-enormous cloaked figure as she struck with her scythe. It wasn’t a risk worth taking.
Death tapped the butt of her scythe on the promenade and looked out to sea. ‘IT’S A STRANGE ONE, EILEEN, I’LL GRANT YOU THAT. ALIVE YOU SAY?’
‘They’re convinced. And they do seem to proliferate over night. When I arrived, Thursday there were about 120. This morning when I pulled back the curtains, it was nearer 150 and they’ve nearly encircled the whole of Viking Bay. It can’t be British workman building them, can it?
‘A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD SAY THAT’S A GOOD THING.’
‘It’s a bit sinister, though, isn’t it?’
‘Erm, before we go any further, what’s your price? Sorry, quid pro quo?’ Death hated being thought of as mercenary.
‘FOR THIS ONE.? IT’S A FREEBIE. I WANT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS. I FEAR THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES IS LURKING NEARBY.’
Eileen and Death fixed on a time. There was a lull in corporeal terminations about 7 on a Saturday during Strictly as the elderly and infirm hung on for a last glimpse of Anton before giving up the ghost. A small party set sail from the jetty to witness this unusual harvest. The atmosphere was excitable, anticipatory. Lorraine stood in the prow, channelling her inner merperson as she stared ahead. The skies were clear and the fields of wind turbines glimmering in the moonlight, blades turning slowly. As they approached and cut the engine the whomp whomp of the turbines created a somewhat sinister back drop to proceedings.
‘When…’ Lorraine had turned to check with Eileen when she was aware of another passenger next to her, a tall, cloaked figure who’d not been on board when they left the jetty.
‘A COUPLE OF MINUTES. CHILLY ISNT IT?’
‘HMM.’ Death pulled open her cloak and extracted from the Stygian interior a large golden hourglass. Everyone watched as the final grains slipped into the base and she put it away. ‘WELL, I CANT JUST CHAT, WORK TO DO.’ Without sound she stepped off the deck and strode across the roiling seas. As she did so the water stilled around her, her feet, such as one could see of them barley making a ripple. Having reached the nearest turbine, she tuned back to the boat, a scythe having appeared in her hand. ‘RIGHT HO. YOU STILL WANT ME TO…’
‘Yes, everyone, bar Eileen cried.
‘WE CAN STOP IF…’
Death shrugged, shouldered the scythe and faced the Forest of turbines. ‘HI HO HI HO, ITS COOKING BY GAS FOR YOU,’ she intoned, somewhat sadly and swung the blade.
There was a swish, a clunk, a grinding sound of metal being ripped apart and… a plop as the head of the turbine fell into the sea.
Everyone waited but that seemed to be that. Death turned and moved off to the next turbine, singing as she went. On board the citizens of Broadstairs hugged each other, Lorraine especially.
Only Eileen continued to stare out to sea. The mayor began an off the cuff prepared oration about the benefits to tourism and artists painting the seascape but stopped when Eileen coughed.
‘I think you might want to see this.’
The passengers turned to stare at where she pointed. In the distance, Death’s tall if somewhat stooped figure continued her work while next to the boar, just where the first head and sunk, the water had begun to boil and froth. In moments five small turbine heads appeared, hanging off a supersized stalk. Even as they climbed above the sea, the the heads began to grow.
The silence was profound and finally broken by Roger the cabin boy. ‘It’s like they’ve seeded themselves.’
Beyond the first sign of regrowing more multiheaded turbines were sprouting from the sea. Everyone was transfixed and didn’t notice that Death had slipped back on board.
‘THATS A BIT OF A TURN UP.’
Eileen nodded. ‘You’d better go. I’m not sure either of us will be very popular right now.’
‘LETS PUT IT THIS WAY. ILL SEE YOU AGAIN IN ABOUT TWENTY MINUTES… IN MY OFFICIAL CAPACITY.’
‘I’m going to die?’
‘YEP. FRAID SO. AND THE PHONE?’
‘I could keep it?’
‘IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT, DOES IT?’
‘I suppose not. How, erm, do I die?’
Death turned away. As she did so she waved a hand dismissively. ‘YOU REALLY DONT WANT TO KNOW.’