23rd December

Jack and Death

One day in town Jack becomes aware of a sinister figure lurking nearby, a tall, gaunt fellow in a grey hood and cloak. He gets it into his head that this is Death trying to sneak up on him.

So Jack slips into a close, and when the hooded figure comes by he grabs him and puts a pocketknife to his throat.

‘Whit for are ye followin me?’ he says. ‘I’ve a mind tae slit yer thrapple here and noo.’

‘I’m not following you,’ says Death. ‘We just happen to be going in the same direction.’

‘Well, I’ve caught ye noo,’ says Jack, ‘so tell me why I shouldna finish ye aff. The world wid be a better place withoot ye.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong, Jack,’ Death says. ‘Even if you could kill me, you’d cause more problems than you’d solve. Let me show you something.’

Further down the close is a window. They look in. An old man is lying in bed twisted in pain, with a tearful old woman nursing him as best she can.

‘That’s where I’m due next,’ Death says. ‘If you stop me, his pain will go on and so will her distress. That’s not right, is it?’

So Jack lets Death go in, and soon the old man is lying at peace and the woman is drying her eyes and sending up prayers of gratitude to God.

Death returns to Jack’s side. ‘She’s thanking the wrong person,’ he says, ‘but she’s glad I came.’

‘All right,’ Jack says, ‘I’ll let ye go if ye promise tae leave me alane till I’m as auld as that auld man.’

‘I can’t promise that,’ Death says. ‘You might step in front of a horse or be struck down with an incurable disease this very night. You must take your chances like everybody else.’

‘But noo I ken whit ye look like, when I see ye comin I’ll fecht ye,’ Jack says.

‘Jack,’ says Death, ‘if you see me coming you’ll know it’s time to go. And if you don’t, which is more likely, you’ll just think I’m the other fellow.’

‘God, ye mean?’ says Jack.

‘No, son, not God,’ says Death. ‘Life.’

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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