Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 53
Stories
Not on the Gallows
by Harry Turtledove
The Fairy Godfather
by Tim McDaniel
Carry On, Torus
by Gregor Hartmann
Turncrowe
by Michael Meyerhofer
It Becomes You
by Laura-Marie Steele
Why Death is Silent
by William Fischer
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
The Toll
by Chuck Wendig

Why Death is Silent
    by William Fischer


  Listen to the audio version


Ages and ages ago--before man's first fire, before the dinosaurs rechristened themselves birds, before the galaxies began spinning into spirals--there was a lot of hustle and bustle as everyone got ready for the Creation. Physics hurried to write up his laws, the elements fought one another over the number of electrons each would get, and the good Lord rubbed His temples in frustration as he heard an argument between Life and Death.

The dispute concerned how much power these two would have to play against one another in their eternal give-and-take. Said Death: "It's a simple matter. All living things come to me, at the end of it; all living things I lead away from this plane. I must have the greater power, to better claim each life!"

"Yes," answered Life, "but for each being that you take, I spawn fifty more, and ever shall, 'til the Cosmos changes. I must have the greater power, to create more beautiful and wonderful life!"

The fight went on in this vein for some time, the poor Lord doing His best to force a compromise. After many eons and no progress, He threw his hands up and declared: "Enough! Both of you shall claim your power from the gifts I set before you now," and six bags appeared before Life and Death. "If you two are going to play give-and-take for all Time, you may as well get into the habit; divvy up the spoils yourselves. But each of you must have at least some of each gift."

"But how shall we divide them?" asked Life.

"Settle it yourselves!" the Lord barked, and withdrew to help Light adjust her speed.

Life and Death turned to the six bags before them. The gifts that they had to divide were: Sight, Feeling, Hearing, Stamina, Display, and Music. Each bag was filled to the top, but there was still only so much of each that could be doled out.

"Look," said Life, "this has gone on long enough. Why don't we make an even split of them all?"

"Absolutely not!" cried greedy Death. Knowing that he must share some of each gift, he was that much more determined to get as much of the lot as he could. "We'll settle this over a game. I'll get the chess board."

"I'll not play chess with you! I heard about your game with Physics! We'll play marbles."

"You know that game better than I do! Why not cards?" Death fancied himself an ace player, having never lost once in his then-short existence. Life was no stranger to cards herself, and even carried a deck on her person. The two settled down at a table, emptied the bags, split the contents of each in half to bet with, and began to play.

The stakes of the first round of betting was Sight. With the lion's share of Sight, thought Life, I can give all living things the chance to behold the full spectrum of light, to cast their gaze for miles upon miles, and to have eyes that would never grow weak.

If I claim the greater lot of Sight, thought Death, my gaze shall penetrate any surface to find any living thing, no matter how distant or well-hidden, so that I may claim their soul when the time comes.

It was really no contest, the first round. When Death got his cards, he found himself with a royal flush. Hah! he laughed to himself, and he pushed the stakes up and up until he and Life had wagered all the Sight they could spare. Death won, of course. Life was left a pittance of Sight to carefully ration out to species according to their complexity. Death, on the other hand, boasted the keenest eyes that have ever been or ever will be, and that is why he never fails to spy anyone when their time comes. You are no exception.

The stakes of the second round was Feeling. Thought Life: I must do better this time. With the lion's share of Feeling, I can let all living things have the finest sense of touch, to appreciate all sensations and recognise all dangerous feelings.

I've gotten off to a good start, thought Death. I must keep it up. If I claim the greater lot of Feeling, I will feel the chill of blood turning cold from miles off, and so know when to seek a soul out.

Luck was on Death's side yet again. How fitting! A straight flush! And with a nasty grin, he forced the wagers up again, and he won the second round. Life was left a pittance of Feeling to ration out to species according to their complexity. Death, on the other hand, could and can feel the chilling of a body--any body--that is nearing its end. Yours is no exception.

The stakes of the third round was Hearing. For Life, the lion's share of Hearing meant letting every living thing hear sounds at any frequency. Nothing would be too high or low, soft or loud, for any sort of ear. For Death, the greater lot of Hearing meant that he could hear heartbeats slowing down and the firing sparks of brains begin to fizzle as a body began to decay.

Another good hand for Death, another set of wagers forced up high, and Death won the third round. Life had another pittance to ration out, and Death had the greatest hearing in the Universe. That is why he can pick up every sound of a body--any body--and know when it is failing. Yours is no exception.

The stakes of the fourth round was Stamina. For Life, the lion's share of Stamina meant making all living things virtually immortal. They would still be subject to injury and illness, and they could slay one another, but so long as they stayed healthy and whole, living things would never die. For Death, the greater lot of Stamina meant that he would never tire and never fail to claim his prey.

There are many who would argue that this was the most important of all the six rounds; it certainly seemed to offer the rawest power to the winner. Death, you can be sure, looked at this as the chief prize, and of all the rounds played that day, this one saw him at his most nervous. "Not a cold deck," he muttered to himself, "but this hand is no prize either."

But if luck was failing Death, it had certainly not befriended Life; her hand was in the worst shape it could be. Death won the fourth round after all. Life had so little Stamina left that she could give hardly any species a lifespan of more than a few years. But Death now had an unfailing constitution. No matter how long it takes or how hard he must work, he will claim his prize. You are no exception.

The stakes of the fifth round was Display. For both Life and Death, a near-full allotment of Display meant colour, shape, and variety. Life could fill the living world with countless forms, innumerable hues, and sizes of all sorts. Death could use Display to turn himself into a shape-shifter, capable of becoming whatever would impress and terrify a given soul the most.

Death was in high spirits after winning the fourth round. I've more than half the winnings now, he thought, and I've made out good where it matters the most. And it looks like I'll clean up again--a much stronger hand this time! He drove the wagers up once more.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" asked Life with a smile. And when the cards were played, Death's hand was good, but Life's was better, and so she won the fifth round. The results are plain to see before you. Death, with his pittance of Display, could only think to make two shapes for himself, a white light or a black void. These forms he can show only to the eyes of the dying. No one knows his true form, and no one can see him coming. You are no exception.

The stakes of the final round was Music. Life desperately wanted the lion's share of Music. With it, thought she, I may fill the living world with sound. True, my losses earlier limit what I may have each individual species hear, but I could still give each Music enough for their kind, and added all up, this would be very beautiful indeed. For Death, the greater lot of Music meant being able to greet any victim with great pomp, with a roar and a thunder crash and all manner of frightful sounds, when he came forth to take a soul.

Now, by the reckoning of many, Death had done very well in the game so far, and had really no business getting upset. But it is a curious trait of the avaricious that the small losses are the most upsetting. Black and white! What forms are those for a being like me? What good are my Sight and Stamina and all the rest without a great and terrible visage? Well, she won't cheat me of a horrible call!

His hand was less than stellar, but Death was so angry and determined that he drove the stakes up and up, until he and Life were betting all the Music they had. Whoever won this round would have total control of this gift.

"The Lord forbid this, Death," warned Life.

"Fie on your caution! The bets are what they are--I'll take the consequences!"

"May you find mercy," Life sighed, and she put her cards out. She had the stronger cards; she won the final round, decisively. The results are plain to hear all around you. Death was left a mute; no one can hear him approach. You are no exception.

There are those--and their numbers are not insignificant--who feel that Display and Music were poor consolation prizes after Life had lost where, they say, it had mattered most. And really, being unseen and silent only served to enhance Death's mystique. But for Death, the rage at losing, even a little, has kept him to this day from enjoying the terror this mystique brought. And when you look around and listen to the splendour Life has filled the world with, and think of how empty Death seems, you can see why he's still upset.

Of course, this does mean that we've never known where Death takes us, or what becomes of us when our bodies fail. You will have men tell you that he leads us to paradise or inferno, and you will have others tell you that he leads us to Oblivion. But until the Cosmos changes, or unless our science breaks Death's muteness, his silence will forever leave our final destination a mystery, one that no man can solve. You are no exception.


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