Dedicated in oddity to my brother and his lovely wife. Bet that wasn't on the wedding list... =]
The sound of a glass being tapped gently with a fork dissipated, the murmuring conversation of the assembled family and friends subsiding as they turned to face the head table. The Master of Ceremonies smiled benignly and began to speak.
"Thank you folks. Now, seeing we've all had a lovely lunch, it's time for the speeches. So, without further ado, pray silence and attention for the best man."
The MC swung an introductory arm towards a middle-aged man in a suit, matching that of the groom, and polite applause filled the room. Sweating profusely under the combined attention of over a hundred people, the best man stood to attention and cleared his throat as the susurration died away.
As he opened his mouth to begin, there was a muffled thud as his chair tipped over backwards to the carpeted floor, and a quiet tinkle as he knocked over his champagne flute in his hurry to right his chair.
Gentle laughter and a few raised eyebrows made him flush beet red, and he turned to face the groom, his brother, who looked vaguely amused and smiled encouragingly at him.
"Er... I... ah, um… hang on a moment." Reaching into his inside jacket pocket he pulled out his carefully prepared speech cards and promptly dropped them prompting a snort of barely contained laughter from the bride, and a resigned sigh from his brother. After a few moments frantic scrabbling, a bump on the head, and an encounter with one of his young daughters and her teddy under the table, he reassembled himself and froze with his mouth open, unable to speak.
A light flickered and clouds dimmed the sunlight from the windows. With the encroaching darkness came silence, and…
"Bravo, well done! Encore! More, more."
A tall man in a smart black suit lifted his feet from the table at the other end of the room and stood up, still applauding but ignored by those around him who seemed stunned into immobility. No, he realised, not stunned, frozen. The only people in the room who appeared able to move were himself and the strange man who was striding toward him with a broad smile on his gaunt face, his dark attire more in keeping with a funeral than a wedding.
"Oh sir, your eloquence and power of oratory is astounding; astoundingly bad of course, but astounding nonetheless. How do you do it sir? Your audience is utterly in thrall to you, it's like Shakespeare. 'Er...' Can't beat a powerful opening sir, you will go down among the great speech makers of all time. Churchill, Mandela, Malcolm X, Hitler, Homer Simpson, Bugs Bunny. Forrest Gump."
"What the f..."
"Forrest Gump sir, yes. Life is like a box of chocolates, just like speeches, although at the moment you are making an absolute fudge centre of this one."
Gary hung his head in shame, his cheeks burning with embarrassment.
"Well, fear not sir, for I am here to help you."
"Oh dear lord, we really have got a lot of work to do."
"Who the hell are you?" Finding his voice, a sudden burst of anger clawed its way into Gary's brain. "And what the hell have you done to everyone?"
"Ah, yes, right. Let me explain. I'm Death." As Gary's jaw hit the floor, the tall man in black continued. "Well, you know how it is, diversification and so on. Just like farmers can't simply herd cows now, they have to have a shop on the farm or make cheese. Well I'm the same; sort of.”
"You've diversified into wedding planning?"
"No, no, no. You're making a speech, but quite frankly you’re dying up there. Where dying is concerned, Death gets busy. I deal with a lot of comics these days too, particularly on open mic nights."
"Right," said Gary. "So you’re trying to me the anthropomorphic personification of Death is now paying me a personal visit to tell me how shite my best man speech is? Bloody hell, what was in the wine?"
"Anthropo... what? Someone's been reading too much Terry Pratchett I think sir, although I have to say I do like the way his Death speaks, sonorous and tomblike, I might have to try that sometime.
“Let's dispense with the flowery satire and cut to the chase, shall we? I'm here to help you if you want me to. You can either stand up there sweating like a great useless lump of middle-aged numpty or you can deliver a top notch speech which makes both your family and your new in-laws think you're the best thing since sliced bread. Tumbleweed time or free beers at the bar for the rest of the evening. It’s entirely your choice."