Retold by Sheepdog Response (with respect to Somerset Maugham and Roger Hurn)
A rich general lived in the city of Tehran. One day, the General decided to plan a celebration feast for his upcoming victory over the infidels so he sent for his most trusted aide.
“Aide,” he said, “I want you to go to the marketplace and search for food and drink that will astound and delight my guests when they come to dine with me tomorrow night following my next masterpiece. Buy only the finest items. My friends will expect nothing less than the best.”
“Don’t worry, sir,” said the aide. “You can rely on me not to let you down.”
The aide bowed and hurried off, but he wasn’t looking forward to his task. The day was hot, and he knew the marketplace would be filled with bustling crowds. He was right. People were pushing and shoving each other to get at the best bargains. The aide sighed and plunged into the seething mass of humanity.
Suddenly, he felt a hand tugging at his sleeve. He frowned and turned to see who it was. To his horror, a face he had hoped never to see stared at him. The aide gasped in fear and took to his heels.
He raced back to the General’s quarters and burst into the room where the General was preparing to depart for his upcoming mission of sowing violence and unrest in a neighboring country.
The General looked up in surprise. “You’re back soon,” he said. “I expected you to be hours yet. I hope you haven’t just bought the first things you saw.”
“I haven’t bought anything,” replied the aide.
The General frowned. “Why ever not?” he asked angrily. “You had better have a good reason for disobeying me.”
“I do, said the aide in a very shaky voice.
“Well, tell me what it is,” said the General. “And be quick about it.”
“I went to the marketplace as you ordered,” said the aide. “But when I was there someone grabbed hold of my sleeve and pulled on it.”
“Well, that was a bit rude of them I suppose,” said the General. “But surely it was no reason for you to come running home.”
“Oh yes, it was,” replied the aide, “because the creature that grabbed me was Death herself!”
“No!” gasped the General.
“Yes!” said the aide. “And Death glared at me in a most horrible way. I was terrified!”
“Of course, you were,” said the General, “you poor man.”
“I didn’t know what to do, so I ran away.”
“Quite right too,” agreed the General.
“Look,” said the aide, “I can’t stay here now. Please take me with you on your upcoming mission. It’s the perfect solution. Death will never find me there.”
“That’s a good idea,” said the General. “We are leaving shortly. You’ll be safe there, it’s miles from Tehran.”
After the mission was foiled and didn’t quite go as planned, the General decided to head back to the airport and search for another target, a softer target. While driving to meet his private jet, he spotted Death standing by herself in a shadowy corner.
He was angry with Death. He said to himself, “Death had no right to scare my most trusted aide.”
He commanded the aide to stop the car. The General marched over to Death and said in a very firm voice, “Hey, I want a word with you.”
The creature turned to the General and said in a voice as cold as the north wind in winter, “What do you want with me, mortal?”
“Well,” said the General, “I want to know why you frightened my aide this morning. You had no right to glare at him.”
“I didn’t glare at him,” replied Death, “the look I gave him was one of surprise.”
The General was puzzled. “Why were you surprised to see my aide?”
“Because,” replied Death, “I didn’t expect to see him there in the market in Tehran. You see I have an appointment with both of you tonight on this street next to the Baghdad airport!”