I reappear two instants later at the gated entrance to a garden. I've no idea what happens in those two instants between ceasing to be in one place and starting to be in another, but it's always the same length of time. It's not that I don't remember, it's that nothing happens to me then to remember. My favourite theory was put forward by a handsome young philosopher in a Bierkeller in Munich; he suggested that it took exactly that long for me to infuse everything in the world and then suffuse back into myself. I hope he's right.
The garden is hedged around with high hawthorn, growing thickly and vibrantly, and the gate is a transparently crystalline form of iron. There is a buzz of bees and other insects from within, and a faint warmth seeps out from beyond the gate; the sun in shining within the garden. I relax, lay a hand on the gate to open it, and follow the gate inwards into the garden.
Like Death, I subcontract a number of my functions, just to be able to concentrate on doing things properly. If I told you how many living things there are in this world you'd lose track of what I was saying before I reached the end of the number. Gathered together in the garden are a few of my subcontractors -- Gaia is meditating in the centre, and Bacchus, life and soul of the party, is lounging beneath a tree. He is coaxing it to bear fruit, and the sharp scent of ripe citrus floats lightly on the air.
"Only oranges, my love," he murmurs, one sylph-like hand stretched up to a branch. The tree seems undecided about whether to appease him.
He looks up at me, a guilty shadow on his face, and half smiles, half winces.
"I think I have a hangover," he says.
"I've had an offer from Death," I say after an awkward pause. "She'd like to call the whole thing off."
Gaia opens an eye; she's sitting cross-legged in mid-air communing with herself.
"You're not the only one," says Bacchus. "Plague, Pestilence, Famine and Disease have all been making the same offer to us. There's probably more, but no-one else has been back for a while."
"So she's serious then." I suppose I knew she was by the way she left the bar, but it was easier to believe it was an elaborate joke.
"Did you accept?" Gaia's voice is deep, far too deep for the woman she seems to be, and the ground underfoot trembles slightly as she speaks.
"No," I say.
"That's good. I think... I think some of the others may have done though."
That makes me pause. What would a world be like where some aspects of life and death have called a truce?