Rumor traveled to the Ramtops on the back of an old wooden wagon that creaked and groaned whenever one of its wheels bumped a small rock, or a patch of grass, or a dangerous clump of air.
Neither the driver of the cab nor its two passengers were aware of this symphony of creaks. Gerald Riggs, slumped in the back between a sack of grain and a pile of last year's almanacs, was tapping out a beat on his knees, in time to the sound of the latest hit single by the Stoprocks. His sister, Josephine Riggs, jiggled her foot against a watermelon that had rolled off its crate, her hands flailing about in the air in a rather precise imitation of the opening riff of "Baby, You Can Drive My Cart". [Faint bit of the beginning of the Beatles' "Drive My Car", fade-in, fade-out.]
The wagon's driver, their uncle Ralph, nodded his head to the rhythm of the rolling wagon, humming along to a song about cowboys. He wasn't sure what exactly a cowboy was or why a boy, presumably part-cow, would spend so much time pining for a horse, but it was a soothing melody and felt quite fitting for their journey westward.
Each of the three passengers was carrying a small pocket-sized satchel about their persons. A pair of thin, thread-like tubes emerged from each satchel and disappeared into the ears of its owner. This was most likely the reason that none of them heard the warning cries [cries!] of the approaching – and tragically out of control – coach, that hurtled into them from the side and drove them off a cliff.
One of the pockets flew out of the wagon upon impact, and was now nestled in a dried up, gnarled branch on the edge of the precipice. A small logo emblazoned on its side gleamed in the sunlight.
HMM, said Death, when he spotted it on his way down to survey the scene. SOMEONE HAS TAKEN A BITE OUT OF THE APPLE AGAIN. [Death voice]
* [scene break sound effect - standard ringtone]
[really soft bird chirp, so soft that you can't be sure you heard it at all.]
"Did you hear something?"
Granny's voice cut through the cottage, which had previously housed only the sounds of three creaking rocking chairs and the soft clicks and rustles of wool weaving itself around needles. It was not that Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg knitted, per se, but there were certain appearances one wanted to uphold. When people saw little old ladies knitting they felt reassured by the universe, and much more inclined to forget that one time Mr. Johnson had left Weatherwax cottage hopping like a rabbit.
Magrat, of course, was knitting with a purpose. She had a baby, after all. It was not quite clear what her child was supposed to do with a babygro that had enough holes for eight limbs, but Nanny Ogg did not press the issue. Nanny was of the firm opinion that one should knit and let knit.
[soft tweet again]
"There it is again," said Granny. [quick, almost snappish, like she's trying to prove a point.]
Nanny Ogg exchanged a look with Magrat. "I didn't hear anything," she said.
Magrat shrugged. "Neither did I," she said. [not indifferent – a little bit unsure, she's not totally shooting Granny down or anything]
This did not, of course, prove anything, least of all to Granny Weatherwax herself, who was as confident in her sense of hearing as she was in her knowledge of home remedies and the value of knitting for one's reputation. In Nanny's own opinion, it was a toss up between which was sharper, Granny's hearing or her paranoia. Either could have explained the mysterious sound currently under debate.
Granny looked around the room suspiciously. "It was like – it sounded like [tries to mimic sound – "Oooh! Oooh!"]!"
Magrat blushed. Nanny suspected this was because the sounds were not unlike the ones the Queen had been known to make in the fluttery throes of passion, which Nanny knew not only because their Henry had the occasional weekend shift right outside the royal bedchambers, but also because Magrat was rather predictable. Nanny smirked at Magrat, who blushed deeper and turned her full attention to her spider-baby-dress.
"I certainly heard nothing of the sort," she muttered. [embarrassed and a little indignant maybe.]
"Well I expect your hearing isn't at its best, living with an infant what you are," said Granny magnanimously.
Magrat's blush became an angrier shade of red. "You don't have much room to talk, with your batty old—"
[bird tweeting, this time definitely loud enough to be heard by all. Magrat's voice cuts off]
"Aha!" Granny folded her arms with satisfaction. "You were saying?"
"Definitely some kind of bird in the house," Nanny said. "This is why you need a cat, Esme. You'd never have to worry about bird noises if you had a Greebo." This was strictly true. It wasn't that the house would be inhabited by any fewer birds with Greebo keeping watch; it was just that the birds wouldn't be able to make any noise once he was done with them.
Magrat was frowning. "I know that sound," she said. [trying to figure it out.] "It's – I've heard it around the castle too."
"More cats," Nanny advised. "Definitely the castle needs more cats."
"No, it's— it's that particular kind of—" Magrat put down her knitting and walked to the door, opening it wide.
[more tweets; if possible, they're a little loud and then the volume lowers to low constant/sporadic tweeting that we can hear the characters talking over.]
"Oh, I thought so!" she said, stepping outside. Nanny hurried behind her. Outside, a flock of small bluebirds was flying through the air around a group of equally small children, darting in and out of cloth pockets that the children were carrying.
"What in the gods," Granny said, stepping in line beside them.
"They're iPockets," Magrat said. "Or, er. iPocks for short. That's what everyone at the castle calls them anyway."
"What do they do?" Nanny asked. [with a kind of fascinated wonder.]
"Oh, lots of stuff. They have these little imps inside, and they sing, and, and talk to you, and sometimes if you give them fruit they'll cut them up like little ninjas so you don't have to cut it up yourself."
Nanny's eyes lit up. "Oh, I want me one of those."
Granny continued to look suspicious. "What are they doing now?"
"They're. Er." Magrat gazed at the fluttering birds a little uncertainly. "I think they're just tweeting at each other."
"What'd you mean, tweeting?"
"Well, it's. Say you want to get someone's attention, right? And they're like, they're in a different room, and you don't want to shout--"
"Nothing wrong with shouting," said Granny. [grumbling] Nanny couldn't help but agree.
Magrat rolled her eyes. "Right, but if you want to at least pretend to be civilized, all right, so you – er, you… sendabirdtotweetatthem?"
"That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard," Granny said finally.
Magrat looked resigned rather than offended. "I think no one at the castle has quite gotten the hang of it yet," she admitted. "I think they're supposed to do more than tweet, but. No one really knows how to make them work."
A little bird fluttered next to Nanny's ear before whizzing back to its pocket. It was rather cute. [another tweeting sound effect somewhere around this line]
"And are these all the rage now?" she asked Magrat, just to make sure.
"Oh yes," said Margaret, sounding quite confident about this at least. "Well," she amended, "they are all the rage in the City, and they cause a lot of rage in the palace, because sometimes the tweeting gets a little loud in the middle of the night and wakes the baby up and the servants give me dark looks in the morning and it's not like it was my fault and anyway a little bit of nature is good for a growing child, but er, yes. They're quite… ragey."
Well, Nanny decided, that settled it, then. One should not go about being behind the times, especially not when one was her age and could not afford to let Time hold one over oneself.
Nanny nodded decisively. "I want one." After a moment, she added: "And I want it to hoot."
* [scene break ringtone effect]
It ended up being a very short shopping excursion, two days later, when a fresh supply of iPockets had arrived in Lancre. People tended to make way for Nanny Ogg when she was on a mission, so there was no line at all when she marched up to the merchant's booth and declared: "I would like to purchase an iCock, please."
The merchant blanched. "That's, er," he stammered. "I don't, I believe they have specialty stores for that, Ma'am."
"Oh my gods, Nanny, an iPock, she means an iPock," Magrat said [desperately], turning to the merchant and blushing furiously.
The merchant looked rather immensely relieved. "That'll be $120 dollars, but for you lovely ladies I'll make it $99.99, how about that?"
Nanny stepped aside to reveal Granny Weatherwax.
"I mean… $9.99?" said the merchant. It was more of a suggestion.
Nanny smirked. "We'll take three."
* [scene change effect!]
[3 or 4 different styles of music, like someone radio station surfing.]
"Just pick one, Nanny," Magrat said [tiredly].
"And turn the damn thing down," added Granny darkly.
[music is lowered to a very faint soundtrack level, just to give an ambiance of them strolling through the mountains.]
Magrat quietly agreed. The mountain road leading down from the coven's gathering place was not too long, but Nanny's search for the perfect soundtrack could make even the shortest trip drag on for hours – especially when combined with Granny's general scowling demeanor whenever the pocket was around.
It turned out that Granny Weatherwax did not have a knack for tech-no-go-ly, as her iPock had disappeared less than a day after its purchase under mysterious circumstances that Granny still refused to speak of. It was all very enigmatic, thought Magrat, secretly suspecting ornithicide, but Nanny shrugged it off as a minor loss. "It's not like Esme has to worry about being behind the times anyway," she reckoned. "Time's too scared to ever turn his back to her."
Nanny herself was proving to be quite the skilled iPock operator. She had made friends with all of her imps and was learning new things that they could do every day, and had even gotten them to exchange her bluebird tweeter for an owl, which, all right, Magrat really could have done without those few awkward hours of trailing after Nanny and trying to stop her from asking villagers if they wanted to play with her hooter.
"In twenty-five feet, turn right," chirped one of Nanny's imps, shaking Magrat out of her reverie.
"Thank you, dear," said Nanny politely.
"There's no right turn in twenty-five feet," Granny pointed out.
"Imp says there is," said Nanny.
"Not to my recollection."
"Your recollection, Esme, has been known to—" At the look on Granny's face, Nanny changed tracks. "Never mind that, the point is – oh, look," she said smugly. They had reached a large boulder in the middle of the road. Nanny pointedly bypassed it from the right.
Granny gritted her teeth loudly.
"Oh, don't be like that, Esme," Nanny said, as her iPock peeped, "In forty-two feet and eleven inches, keep straight." "The iPock's got loads of, whatchames, functions. You really should be more open-minded."
Magrat grimaced at that. Telling Granny Weatherwax to be open-minded was like asking a little puppy with floppy ears to be offensive. It just didn't know how.
"In point zero four seven miles, keep straight."
"For example, it can count, like, nutritional value of stuff what you eat. And it can tell you if you haven't brushed your teeth long enough in the morning. Or, er. I don't know if it should, but the imps tell me anyway."
Magrat made a note to ask Nanny more about this later. King Verence was... not always receptive to comments about his personal hygiene in the mornings.
"And of course," Nanny continued her apparent manifesto, "Navigation. Why, last night the imps led me all the way to our Jason's without getting lost even once."
"Jason is your neighbor, Gytha," Granny said, thoroughly unimpressed. "You share a fence."
"Point is," Nanny said, "They were right."
"What were you doing at Jason's, Nanny?" Magrat asked, frowning. "I thought you two had had, er, a falling out." Last she'd heard, Nanny was giving a bit of a chilly shoulder to Jason's Molly after the latter had made a concerned remark about Greebo and fleas.
"Oh that's all over," Nanny said, waving her hand. "Molly's my bookkeeper now. We were going over my finances. I've had a five-hundred and twenty-three percent increase in revenue last week."
Magrat's jaw dropped. "You what?"
Nanny smirked. "Not all of us have to marry a king to get royalties."
"What on earth are you getting royalties for?" said Granny.
"The Hedgehog Song, mostly. They can teach it to your imps for 0.99 cents at any official iPock stand."
"But you didn't write The Hedgehog Song!" said Granny.
"I did write the verse about the woodpecker," said Nanny.
Magrat shuddered at the memory of the words.
"Anyway, a very nice young man from Ankh Morpork named Mr. Stephen Works has been sending me royalty cheques, so I'm not complaining. He's also asked me to teach my imps more things. I'm thinking of selling my recipes."
"How splendid," Granny said flatly.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Magrat said, which she did, and not only because recipes might thankfully divert Nanny away from adding more verses to the Hedgehog song. "Hmm. I wonder if anyone would be interested in an astrology whatchame thing as well."
"Oooh," said Nanny, and inexplicably added, "Like."
"In ten fathoms, turn left," piped up the imp.
The road curved and wound its way into a grassy clearing. Granny's cottage stood in its center.
The imp peeked out of Nanny's pocket, peered around, squinting in the sunlight, and then folded its arms in satisfaction. "You have reached your destination."
[SCENE 5] [scene change effect]
[faint oinking sound effect]
Magrat lifted her head from her knitting, which at this point looked like a babygro having an existential crisis. "Did you hear that?"
"No," Granny said, without looking up.
Nanny gave her a strange look. "I think I did too, actually."
"Don't think you did," said Granny. [casual]
[oinking and snorting again, this time loud]
[impatiently] "Stop bothering me, Gytha, I am trying to concentrate on my scarf."
"You're knitting a tea cosy," Nanny pointed out. "And you're trying to hide something. Is there a pig outside your window?"
"No," Granny said. This was true only in the sense that the pig outside her window was not singular; there was, in fact, an entire battalion of pigs stationed around the Weatherwax residence.
"Oh, bugger it," she said, throwing down her needles. "It's a bloody war out there, bloody pigs on my bloody lawn." [her voice rises to a shout/to just general louder and angrier-ness near the end]
"Oh, Granny, what happened?" Magrat said, rushing to the window to gaze outside. Back near the woods behind Granny's cabin, a line of pigs was arranged in a low trench, all of them snorting ominously. In the distance, Magrat could see an approaching flock of birds.
"It's all that bloody tweeter's fault," Granny said, disgusted. "It wouldn't stop, it just tweeted and tweeted all day long, and I couldn't take it anymore, so I—"
"Esme," Nanny said. "What did you do?" [warningly, disappointed]
Granny straightened her spine, and said: "I chucked it out the window."
Magrat stared at her with horror.
"Unfortunately," Granny continued, "the tweeter collided with a wild boar. Specifically, with its jaws."
Nanny shook her head disapprovingly, as Magrat continued to stare. "The little baby bluebird?" [she said in a small voice]
"Has probably been digested by now," Granny replied, making Magrat whimper. "Meanwhile, every bird in the forest has decided to avenge its death, and an interspecies battle is taking place in my back yard."
Nanny was beginning to look amused. "And all this because you couldn't shut off the tweeter?"
Granny glared at Nanny, who was cradling her iPock in one hand and absently petting an imp. "Its user interface leaves something to be desired."
"Well," said Nanny. "On the bright side, at least you don't have to choose between chicken and pork for dinner."
Granny grunted in agreement, tinged with reluctance to admit that there was any bright side at all.
Magrat decided to adopt a flock of baby birds.
Outside, the pigs prepared for war.
[ominous Angry Birds ditty, bwahaha]
[SCENE 6] [and scene effect!]
Granny could feel the figure approaching behind her without turning around.
"I didn't think you'd show up," she said. "Isn't this sort of thing beneath you?"
ONLY WHEN I AM ABOVE GROUND, said Death, patting his horse's mane [Binky!snort]. Granny narrowed her eyes, gaze dropping to the horse's hooves. She was mostly certain they were actually touching the earth.
Somewhere in the meadow, a yellow bird dove to its death in an elegant arch, crashing into a hog and leading to their mutual demise. [Angry Birds sound effect]
GO AHEAD, said Death, bending down. A rat-shaped skeleton scuttled out from beneath his robes and headed towards the field, carving its way through the grass with a very small scythe.
All things died, Granny knew. Sometimes, when they died next to witches, Death liked to pay a personal visit. Granny tried not to think about it.
The Death of Rats reached the still bodies and swung his scythe soundlessly. Neither the hog nor the bird, as far as Granny could tell, was secretly a rodent.
"Since when is that his responsibility?" Granny asked.
Death shrugged. His shoulder blades rattled softly. OFTENTIMES, I LIKE TO DELEGATE. He looked strangely proud, considering that his was not the kind of face that went around wearing expressions. AFTER ALL, he said, ONE CANNOT DO EVERYTHING ALONE.
Granny frowned, crossing her arms. "Some things should be done alone. Like remembering to brush your own teeth in the morning, or choosing what to eat for yourself, or—or figuring out where you need to go by your own self."
It was just one of those things you did. If you didn't know how to get where you were going, you just picked a path and started walking, and if you got it wrong the first time, then you picked another direction and tried again, and that was how you learned the country: with your boots.
I HAVE NEVER HAD TO DO MY OWN NAVIGATING, Death admitted, gesturing at the horse, who was now grazing from the low bushes by Granny's cottage. HOWEVER, WERE THE NEED EVER TO ARISE, I AM SURE ANY OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE WOULD BE OF USE. THE NATURE OF THE JOB IS TIME SENSITIVE, YOU REALIZE.
Granny snorted with derision. "Well if you want a useless pocket imp giving you directions," she said, "you can take mine."
If Death had had eyebrows, he would have raised them. THAT IS A GENEROUS OFFERING.
Granny didn't even pause to reconsider. "Let's just say that if I don't give them to you now, you find yourself collecting these imps soon enough anyway." Granny ducked into her cabin, and reappeared a moment later, iPock in hand. "Here," she said, thrusting it into Death's spindly hand.
Death turned the pocket around curiously, peered inside for a brief moment, and then accepted with a nod, tucking it into his robe. THANK YOU, he said, sounding pleased. I HAVE HEARD ABOUT GOGGLING, AND LOOK FORWARD TO TRYING IT OUT.
Goggling, thought Granny. Another shortcut. It was like Magrat's astrology watchame imp function. She made an unpleasant face. "It ain't right," she said. "People goggling star maps and star charts and star shapes. If you want to learn about stars, look at the sky.
AH, said Death reasonably, BUT WHAT IF IT IS DAY?
Granny threw him a frosty look. "Don’t be a smartass."
Death grinned, though it was mostly by default. The Death of Rats returned, having liberated five angry spirits from their earthly existence, and climbed up to perch on Death's shoulder.
As Death mounted his horse, Granny gazed at the casualties strewn on the field. Properly refrigerated in her pantry, the leftovers could probably last till Tuesday.
[gust of wind]
By the time she brought her eyes back to Death and the horse again, they were already gone.
[SCENE 7] [scene change sound]
Binky's hooves made no sound as he galloped across the sky.
The Death of Rats offered Death an earbud, keeping the other for himself.
Death considered it for a moment, and then placed the bud somewhere in the general whereabouts of his skull. ALL RIGHT. WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
The Death of Rats whispered something to the imps. [tinny music comes on]
[after a moment] ER, said Death, managing to sound slightly pained. PERHAPS SOMETHING A LITTLE LESS EMO?
[the music stops]
The Death of Rats consulted the imps for a moment before lifting his head and nodding with a definitive squeak.
STORIES? said Death, intrigued. The Death of Rats squeaked back. I SUPPOSE... WE DO HAVE A LONG COMMUTE AHEAD OF US. VERY WELL.
Death adjusted his earbud in his—well, in the depths of his cowl, at least—and peered into the little iPocket. TELL US A STORY, he intoned.
A lone imp stuck his head outside of the pocket, took in his surroundings, cleared his throat, and began to speak:
[quick throat clearing, and then:]
"Rumor traveled to the Ramtops on the back of an old wooden wagon that creaked and groaned whenever one of its wheels bumped a small rock, or a patch of grass, or a dangerous clump of air..."