I wrote this probably fifteen or so years ago for a Highlander fanfic mailing list I was on at the time. It crosses over with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and mostly references the book “Reaper Man”. Death, on the Discworld, is a rather pleasant fellow (for a seven-foot-tall skeleton clothed in a robe of infinite blackness and armed with scythe sharp enough to separate body from soul). He often tried to understand mortals, and in “Reaper Man”, paid for this by getting fired. Forced to live as a mortal, he assumed the identity of “Bill Door”, and found work as a farm laborer — since, after all, he was quite an expert with the scythe. In the process, he learned that the mortals he had reaped were as individual as sheaves of wheat — distinct and wonderful, but deceptively same to the reaper man. It’s a wonderful book, one of my favorites of the entire Discworld series. Anyway, I wondered what would happen if he ever met Joe Dawson….
Death is But a Door . . . Bill Door
Just a short encounter in Joe’s Place
The lunchtime crowd was slim at Joe’s Place today. It was a gray, miserable day, and not many people felt like stopping in for a quick one on a day like this. It was so quiet, in fact, that Joe had been able to catch a good fifteen minutes of blues improv on his guitar. Half an hour later, he was very tempted to go back to the low stage and play for the six customers that sat at the tables, eating their sandwiches and discussing the weather. Mainly whether the weather would change.
“Whether the weather….” muttered Joe. He chuckled. It could make a good lyric. To keep the line from disappearing, he quickly jotted it on a cocktail napkin as the latest guest breezed in the door.
It was a tall man with a very forgettable face who walked up to the bar. There was something odd about the man, but Joe dismissed the fact. He wasn’t sure why, but it just didn’t seem important.
“What can I get ya?” he asked.
The stranger stopped at the bar and appeared to ponder for a moment. I THINK SOME APPLE BRANDY WOULD DO NICELY.
There was something very odd about the man’s voice as well. Almost as if he’d said the words without actually speaking them. As though the words had gone from the man’s mouth to Joe’s brain without passing through the intervening space. “How does Calvados sound?”
OH YES, PLEASE, said the stranger.
Joe fetched down a brandy snifter and poured a generous portion of the brandy. On a day like this, he could afford to pour a little more. “Here you are.”
A moment later, and the glass had less liquid in it. Joe could’ve sworn the man had never touched the glass, but then, he must have. Mustn’t he?
“So, you new in town?”
Joe’s ears perked up a little. Maybe this was an Immortal. “Are you here on business, or on pleasure?”
“Working vacation, huh?”
I AM ALWAYS WORKING.
Joe shook his head sympathetically. “I’ve been there. Ever think about asking your boss for the week off?”
The finality with which the stranger answered startled Joe. “Why not?”
Amusement. I DO NOT THINK THEY WOULD APPRECIATE IT.
“Who do you work for?” Hurriedly, Joe added, “if you don’t mind my asking.”
CALL THEM AUDITORS.
“IRS? Hey, then you’re a government employee! You’re entitled to every government holiday!” Joe was smiling at the man he hardly knew.
NO. NOT TAX AUDITORS.
BUT JUST AS INEVITABLE.
“Uh huh.” The conversation was losing Joe, he could feel it.
IF NOT MORE.
The rest of the brandy had disappeared. Joe refilled it. The man tried to stop him, but Joe shook his head. “On the house.” He looked the man in the eye, then away suddenly. Something didn’t seem right when he did that. Something about the man’s hollow, empty gaze alarmed Joe, chilled him right down to the bone. “Name’s Dawson. Joe Dawson.” And he thrust his hand out to the stranger.
The stranger seemed momentarily perplexed, then replied. BILL. BILL DOOR. He reached out and grasped Joe’s hand briefly. A shudder went down his spine; there was something really very wrong here, and Joe couldn’t for the life of him put his finger on it. Bill Door…. He couldn’t think of a single Immortal by that name. And yet, this man simply had to be an Immortal. There was no once else who behaved like that. Joe was sure of it. He never misread a face. Well, almost never. And there was something distinctly odd about this face.
“So….where are you from?” If he struck up a conversation with the mysterious stranger, he might be able to nab some information on just who he was.
Okay. Try a different tack. “You been to Seacouver before?”
I DO NOT USUALLY COME HERE. I…I THINK I BECAME LOST AS I RODE UP THE HUB.
“The hub?” Downtown, perhaps?
YES. I WANTED TO GO SOMEPLACE DIFFERENT FOR A CHANGE. BINKY BROUGHT ME HERE.
“Binky?” Joe tried hard to keep the incredulity out of his voice. It was a ludicrous name, but he didn’t want to offend Bill Door.
MY HORSE. I THINK HE IS DEVELOPING MYOPIA.
“Ah.” Joe shook his head. This wasn’t getting anywhere.
He looked at the stranger’s glass. It was still half-full, and the stranger seemed in no hurry to finish it.
WHAT IS THAT?
Bill Door was pointing at the stage. Joe frowned, confused. “A stage?” he replied, hesitantly.
NOT THE STAGE. THE OBJECT LEANING AGAINST IT. WITH STRINGS ON.
“Ah. My guitar.” He enunciated the word clearly, glad to have found something that interested this strange customer. “You’ve never seen a guitar before?”
NO. BUT THERE IS SOMETHING SIMILAR BACK HOME. YOU MAKE MUSIC WITH IT?
“Absolutely. If you’d come half an hour ago, you could’ve heard.”
“Why what?” Joe shrugged. “I was just playing to keep my fingers in practice. And my brain. Y’see….”
NO. The finality in the strange voice stopped Joe cold. He even forgot what he was going to say. It hardly mattered. I MEANT, WHY DO YOU PLAY AT ALL?
Bill was looking at Joe with a pleading expression. Or some kind of expression, anyway. Joe shook it off. “I play…. Well, I play because there’s something that needs to be said. Something that you just can’t say with only words. Something….too big, or too painful. Something special that you don’t know how to say, don’t care if anyone hears, but somehow you need to say it. You need to say it with your heart. That’s what music’s all about, and especially what the blues are about.”
Bill nodded sagely. I BELIEVE I UNDERSTAND. BECAUSE SIXPENCE IS SIXPENCE, AND WHEAT IS NOT JUST WHEAT.
Joe stared at the man and then laughed. “If you understand that, my friend, then you understand a lot more than I do.” It was nonsense, but if it meant something to this Bill Door, then that was fine by Joe. “Everyone needs their own philosophy.”
Bill’s glass was empty again. Joe moved to refill it, but the stranger stopped him. NO. I HAVE HAD QUITE ENOUGH, THANK YOU. IT IS EXCELLENT BRANDY.
The exact change to pay for the two drinks was already on the counter.
“Hey, I said the second one was on the house!”
But when he looked up, the stranger was gone.
He was still staring at the change on the counter when Duncan MacLeod walked up. “Hey, Dawson,” said the Highlander. His face fell when he saw the haunted look in Joe’s eyes. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”
Joe thought about this. “You know something, Mac? I think I did.” He nodded, looking down at the curiously corroded old quarters the stranger had left and then back up again. “I think I did.”