There was a bee on the mug.
Not a real bee. A sort of stylized round thing, cheerfully ribboned and capped with a squiggly “stinger” that looked more like a piece of dropped thread than a biological weapon.
Death stared at it for a long time, his mismatched purple gaze fixated on the gold and black stripes, on the dot-and-line combo that gave the bee an incongruously human expression of contentment. Coffee steamed from the mug. Dead pig filled two of the four platter sections, processed in different forms. A potato lay shredded in fine, string-like pieces, fried brown and crispy. Sticky-sweet pancakes steamed next to fried eggs, which had been laid gently atop toast as if being ushered to their final rest.
“You eat it,” said the Observer in that tone that could either be encouraging or mocking.
“Why?” said Death, and picked up a sausage. Grease oozed between his fingers and ran down his thumb.
“Because that’s what you do with food. If you don’t, I will.” The Observer stole a piece of bacon and bit into it, keeping his lips open so the crispness of slightly burnt flesh would continue to overpower the room.
“The smell clings to me,” Death observed, peering at himself.
“Eat it. It’s good for you.” The Observer poked one egg, and the yoke burst, spreading across the toast to drip onto the plate.
Death prodded the hash browns.
“Come on, man. Just one bite of each, what do you say? It’ll give you terrific insight into all those new people you’ve been puzzling over lately.”
“I do not puzzle.” Death picked up the toast, inhaling slowly and knitting his brow at the distinctly eggy scent. “I asked why they choose to shorten their days.” He took a bite. Yolk ran down his chin, dripping onto the plate. Death’s eyes widened. He finished the toast and egg.
The Observer grinned. “See? Now this,” he said, pointing.
The bacon disappeared the same way, and Death’s mismatched purple gaze bounced from one edible item to the next with far more interest than he’d shown moments ago. He bit into the sausage; grease squirted (the Observer neatly dodged) and Death almost smiled, swallowing noisily.
“See? I told you.”
“Food tastes good.” This was as much of an opinion as Death ever offered, and the Observer considered it a victory.
Death mowed through the rest of the platter. Bacon, hash browns, pancakes, egg and toast, sausage: all gone.
He finished by gulping the coffee. Bacon grease glistened on the happy bee, giving it the illusion of movement.
“Now, do you see?” said the Observer. “Do you see why they do it?”
The answer took time in coming, but everything with Death did; he moved outside of time, and could not understand haste. Talking with him required patience. “Yes,” he said.
“So I’ve answered your question?” the Observer pressed.
Another pause. “Yes.”
The Observer grinned. He waved his hand, and the platter—with all grease and associated crumbs—disappeared. The scent of bacon, of course, lingered. “I win.”
Dis stepped forward. Her visage changed from one psychopomp to another, shifting from Hindi goddess to Polynesian deity to a terrifying little Caucasian girl. “You don’t win. I’m not satisfied.”
“I have answered his question. I win.”
“I am not convinced.”
“He is. So I win.”
Death said nothing. The food was gone; the coffee, too, and he found he missed it. He rose, towering over the table and his two sometime-companions.
Dis and the Observer continued bickering. “The deal was I answer his question, and the answer is, ‘things are delicious,’” he said.
“That doesn’t account for self-preservation.”
“My dear,” said the Observer, “you really don’t have a clue how the mortal mind works.” He tapped the side of his head.
“The mug,” said Death.
They both looked at him.
Death’s words came slowly, as if each syllable demanded a high price. “I like the mug.”
The Observer produced it from thin air and handed it over. “Take it with my compliments.”
Death did. And then he disappeared.
“I hate it when he does that,” said Dis.
“He’s your brother. Don’t blame me. And I still won.”
She sighed. “Fine. You won. They consider unhealthy food worth an earlier death. Because humans are crazy.”
“No, not crazy.” The Observer produced a rose and held it to his nose, eyes closed. “They simply know how to enjoy life to its fullest—even if it means a slightly shorter span of it.”
“As if anything is wrong with taking a little pleasure along the way,” purred the Observer.
Dis gave him a look that could shrivel grapes.
They were wrong, though. Death already understood very well; he’d woven too many torn souls together to not understand how humans worked.
Humans were not crazy. Nor were they purely hedonistic. They knew they were mortal, and they experienced life in ways none among the undying Mythos could. They made bee mugs and bacon, and both brightened their existence. Such ephemeral gifts sweetened the brief embodied flicker of human life.
Humans, thought Death, were doing it right.