“Code” by Bruce Sterling (2001)

Bruce Sterling
20 min readSep 7, 2021


Well, that was Austin — in 2001, twenty long years ago.

This, too, shall pass.


by Bruce Sterling

Even in death, Louis’s bulk had wedged him firmly into his work chair.

Van felt swift, unthinking rage. How could Louis do this to him? Van had been working on a software patch all week, code that only Louis would appreciate.

But Louis’s bearded face had gone slack, and his waxy hide was mottled and bluish. The little office — with its scrawled whiteboards, pinned wallboards, a host of colored Post-Its — held the reek of a large dead animal. Van had entered a room with a corpse.

Van leaned across the body to the keyboard and punched up www.google.com.

<<Discover dead body proper legal procedures>>

The search engine spat up results. An exhumation carried out in Argentina by a human rights commission. A treatise on Jewish funerals. Frantic paranoia about the Global Traffic in Human Organs. Dizzy bullshit about extending the human lifespan.

Van needed immediate relevance. He surfed to www.AskJeeves.com.

<<I just found a dead body in the office. What should I do?>>

The response was broadband-swift.

“‘Where can I buy furniture for my office?” AskJeeves said, proffering a shiny blue e-commerce button.

Louis’s office door opened and Julie the receptionist stepped in with a clipboard. “Hey Louis, I need you to…” She stopped, and looked at the two of them, Van standing and fitfully typing, Louis fatally slumped. “What’s wrong?”

“Louis is dead.”

Julie raised her brows behind her rimless glasses. “No! Really?”

“Yeah. Really.”

“So what are you doing?”

“I’m ‘Asking Jeeves.’”

“Oh. Good idea.” Julie stepped closer, shutting the door. Although Van saw Julie the receptionist without fail every working day, he did not know her last name. Julie seemed to have a ready smile for him, for pretty much every male geek infesting the building, really, but Van had merely managed a polite nod, the occasional howdy hey y’all. Since Julie didn’t write code, there was no real reason for her to ever register in Van’s awareness.

“Has Vintelix ever had a workplace fatality before?” Van asked her. “You should know that, right?”

“Who, me?” said Julie, clutching the clipboard to her floppy-tied chest. She stared at the looming white cotton shoulder of Louis’s XXXL T-shirt. “I’ve never seen a dead guy before! I mean, not all close and intimate.”

“Well, we’ve got to take steps to deal with this.”

“Oh sure,” she said gamely, “I mean yeah, okay, whatever.”

However, no immediate useful tactic came to Van’s throbbing mind. He couldn’t get over the fact that it was Louis that was dead. “Louis was such a good guy,” Van offered painfully. “He got me this job.”

“Oh sure, Louis hired me too! Louis and I used to play Quest for Britannia online together. He was ‘Lord Melchior’ and I was ‘Dejah Thoris.’ Hey Van, shouldn’t we call the cops?”

Van ran a hand through his hair. “Why bother? I’d bet the cops will show up here no matter what we do.”

That was an evil thought. The two of them exchanged significant glances.

Soon the two of them were on their knees together, rummaging through Louis’s desk.

Cigar-burned and boot-battered, Louis’s desk was a relic from some long-dead Texan oil company with Texas-size notions of desktop real estate. The desk suited the spread of a longhaired 300 pound hacker. Louis got away with this eccentricity because he was Vintelix Employee #3. Besides, it was an open secret that Louis kept all his drugs inside his private desk.

In the back of the left third drawer, Van and Julie discovered a brown cardboard box, taped-over with ancient, peeling, underground cartoons. To judge by the rattling mess of pills, the dope habits of Louis’s vanished youth had long since faded to a galaxy of painkillers, blood-pressure nostrums, and heart medicine. Louis had been eating these pills with the debonaire carelessness that was his signature: a relaxed contempt for the stuffy medical authorities, or utter, pig-headed, suicidal stupidity, you could pretty well take your pick.

Van lifted the battered cardboard box, a coffin of hopes. He put it on the desktop. It radiated FATAL ERROR in its fat-old-hippie defiance.

Louis’s cardboard box also contained a folded sheet of paper. The sheet bore hundreds of tiny repeated motifs, perforated like postage stamps: little colorful dancing bears. A dozen of them had been neatly clipped from the blotter paper’s lower edge, with something like toenail scissors.

Van nodded, his heart sinking. “That must be Louis’s acid.”

“Louis did acid?

“Of course he did acid! He was a Deadhead!” Van turned on the corpse in exasperation, and realized he would never get a human response from Louis again. This time, the octopus of cold reality gripped him with crushing force. Because Louis was the boss. Louis was the stud duck. Louis was the guy in the company who got it about code, and protected the coders from the suits. They hadn’t even removed the poor guy’s body yet, and already he was leaving a great big Louis-sized hole.

Julie, nothing daunted, whipped through Louis’s wooden drawers and cubbyholes with a file-clerk’s determination, her bony elbows cranking like bike pedals. When she spoke again, she used her receptionist voice, as bright, phony and cheery as injection-molded plastic. “This is the best we can do. Let’s go now, okay? I’m getting creeped-out.”

“I’m just trying to protect the company,” Van told her. “It would look bad for the company if somebody else found a lot of acid.”

“Well, we’d better tell Darren that he’s died,” Julie said. “Because Darren gets mad in a hurry whenever he’s, like, left out of the loop.”

It made good sense to inform the CEO. Somebody had to do it, and with Louis dead, there wasn’t any higher authority. “Okay,” Van nodded. “I’ll go tell Darren. You take care of the dope.”

“Let me go tell Darren. You get rid of the dope.”

Julie wasn’t handling this logically. Frustrated in a noble ambition, Van felt a crazy urge to slug her, even though violence never solved anything around the office except in marathon Quake sessions. Keep a cool head, he thought. Just reason it out, there’s a solution here. “Are we going to stand here and argue about dope?”

Julie lifted both her hands, stepping back, face pale. “Hey, I never even touched that dope! You’re the guy holding the dope.”

“Okay, I’ve got it.” Van produced his Swiss Army knife, opened the scissors, and neatly bisected the sheet. “Now we’ll both get rid of the dope. And we’ll both tell Darren. How about that: you and me. Are you cool with that?”

Julie tucked her share of colored paper in the back of her clipboard. “I’m cool with it if you’re cool with it.”


The two of them jointly briefed the CEO. Darren quickly alerted the Vintelix security guy, an ex-cop who usually hung out in a glass guard-shack, pretending to study the video monitors. Thrilled to earn his salary for once, the security guy rumbled into action, and appropriate steps took place.

Four medics in EMS jumpsuits took Louis away forever, on a big, sturdy medical roller-cart. They were quiet and tactful about it, as if they did this sort of thing every day, as Van rather imagined that they must.

A mournful hush fell over the Vintelix offices: long before the body left the premises, every last soul in the building knew the sad news through email.

People didn’t confront sudden death every day, but there was scarcely an Austinite alive who hadn’t held drugs and stayed cool at some point. Van and Julie had broken the awful news without a hitch. Carrying huge amounts of drugs on their persons had somehow chilled them out. Seeing their stony faces and unnatural calm, Darren the Vintelix CEO compassionately insisted that Van and Julie take the rest of the day off. Maybe, Darren urged, they might contemplate taking off a whole weekend.

Cold waves of disorientation had Van queasy. But he couldn’t call the trauma a surprise. It had been obvious to him from day one that Louis was a waddling time-bomb. Van had been a fresh graduate in Computer Science when Louis had hired him. One look at his new boss in the private sector had sent Van scampering to join a gym. Guys of Louis’s generation had never gotten it about the work-hazards of using computers. They still thought that computers were cyber-magic, something like day-glo mushrooms, or maybe unicorns.

Now, three years later, Louis was freshly dead of a major coronary, while Van could bench-press 180 pounds. Congratulating himself on his mature foresight didn’t make Van feel any better about his own immediate future, though. Without Louis around to ride herd and grind code, Vintelix could easily slide straight off the edge into dot-bomb hell, and all Van’s shares would be toilet paper.

Chased from the glass-and-limestone premises where he commonly spent 80 hours a week, Van walked home alone, brooding and shaken.

Van occupied an efficiency four blocks away from the Vintelix compound. The graceless little apartment suited his purposes, since it had a broadband DSL connection and was close to the gym. Van had no pets, no chairs, and no curtains. Lacking forks and knives, he commonly ate with plastic chopsticks from the Korean grocery next door. The utter bareness of his dwelling place had never bothered Van, for frills were of no relevance to him, and he commonly ate and slept at work, anyway. Van owned only three primary possessions: a large couch, a large computer, and a large cable TV. He slept on a futon under his computer — a rather less cozy futon than the one he slept on at work.

Van came in, turned on the lights, killed a large roach, and logged on. He was too upset to do any coding work for Vintelix, so he thought he might amuse himself with his hobby, doing unpaid coding for a Linux project. First, of course, email. Van waded through the spam and found email from Julie. He discovered with vague interest that her full name was Julie Woertz. Julie’s email offered an IRC channel. He found her waiting to chat.

“People around the office say you’re cool,” Julie typed cautiously. “They say you always bring beer to office parties.”

“And???,” Van parried. He brought the beer to the company’s bashes because it was easier than making small talk. Van was Vintelix employee number 26. If he cashed out some stock, he could bring a truckload of beer.

“And, so, you don’t seem like a guy who needs to have two hundred hits of acid.”

“143,” Van corrected automatically.

“So I wanted to ask you. May I have it, please?”

Van logged into the Vintelix intranet, found the page for Julie Woertz, got her home phone number and called her up voice. This took less than 30 seconds.

“First tell me why you want it.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Well, why didn’t you just trash it in the dumpster like the rest of those pills and stuff?”

“I dunno,” Van admitted. “A hundred and forty-three doses of acid is a whole lot. It’s kind of impressive. I haven’t seen that many drugs since I was in junior high school.”

“But you do really think it’s LSD? This paper’s all yellow and old. Some website says that LSD loses its potency.”

“Could be.”

“But if it’s still okay, I got some people on eBay who sound really, really interested.”

“Julie, why do you want to sell acid on eBay? Louis never sold anybody acid. It seems kind of, I dunno. Disrespectful.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with eBay?” Julie said defensively. “People love me on eBay! I got a great eBay reputation. But, you know, if they got some acid from me and it was just no good, then that would be really humiliating.”

“Well, what’s the use of acid? I took Ecstasy a couple of times in high school. Maybe you want to dance, but you can’t do anything worthwhile.”

“Okay, fine, but it’s sure dorky to just trash this paper when my net-friends really want some. That just seems so…. lame.” She paused. “Hey wait a sec. My webcam’s on. Why don’t you use my webcam?”

Van courteously found his own webcam, blew gritty dust off the unit, untangled its cables and set it up. Then he followed her instructions and clicked on to Julie’s cam site. Soon they were gazing at blinky screen images of one another as they talked together on the phone.

Julie was wearing a sexy black wig. Small, polite and efficient, Julie had always looked to Van like a grocery clerk. In her webcam get-up, she looked like a grocery clerk in a sexy black wig.

“So, you have a lot of fans for this home webcam action?” Van speculated, studying her stained wallpaper and peeling anime posters.

“I usually forget that it’s on,” Julie admitted. “I just get used to it, since it’s so much like being a receptionist.” She smoothed her wig. “Mostly, I do a kind of role-playing game. I kind of write little fantasy skits and performances. Like a Cindy Sherman art thing. You know Cindy Sherman?”

“She’s a big weblogger, right?”

“Well, no, not really.” Julie plucked her sheet of acid paper from her purse. “So listen, Van: I had an idea. If I ate some of these to see if they still work, would you help me out? Like a quality-test. I’m thinking that I could stay on the cam here, and you could just kind of watch over me.”

“How many of those are you planning to eat?” he hedged.

“What do they call these little paper things, ‘tabs’? They look really small. I was thinking maybe just four or five. It that a big deal for you? You don’t even have to get out of your chair, okay? You can just kind of click-in on me and make sure that I’m, you know. Whatever.”

Van sensed himself sliding gently into deep water. “Why are you picking on me for this?”

“Because nobody else knows that we have a ton of acid! You don’t want me to tell anybody else, do you?”

Van gave himself a bump on the head with the flat of his hand. “Oh right! Sure. Sorry.”

“So is that cool with you? Because if it’s not cool with you, you can just say so. I’ll understand.”

“Well, I’m game.” Van glanced at his sports watch. “I’ve gotta go do a few sets at the gym around 10 pm, but that’s like three hours from now. That should be plenty of time. I’ll just put you on speakerphone now, and get in a little coding on my X-Windows while you’re doing, you know, whatever.”

“Okay! Don’t worry! It’ll be pretty boring. I mean, I’m not going to dress up and perform here, or do anything exciting.” She sighed. “Even when I do that, nobody ever logs on.”

Office doings gave them a natural topic of conversation, but Van lacked much interest in Julie’s gossip about who was up, down, and in and out among the company’s suits. Like the rest of the Vintelix coders, Van had always prided himself on the fact that he was technically indispensable.

Within an hour, Julie grew bright and elated, and began to complain and unload. She told tales against her hippie roommate. She expressed deep dissatisfaction with her used car. She hearkened back to her miserable childhood in a small West Texas town among some demented clan of Southern Baptists. Julie’s well-meaning parents had committed the grave mistake of buying her a computer because she was making straight A’s. A single day’s exposure to the Internet had revealed to Julie that her parents knew absolutely nothing about anything that mattered. Some slow but terrific family rupture had occurred. Julie had ended up in Austin, the traditional destination for any Texan who was throughly shaken loose, and not yet nailed down.

Two hours later, Julie was ranting like she’d gulped two Starbucks super-grandes. She kept losing track of the webcam, bolting and scampering out of camera range into the depths of her apartment, where she raided her closet for a tatty eBay finery of poodle skirts and feather boas.

To “keep him occupied,” as she put it, she blasted MP3 files. Like many Austinites, Julie fancied herself quite the music aficionado. Julie and her pirate net-club of World Music enthusiasts were into Congolese pygmy nose flutes and Bulgarian chorale classics. Van didn’t care much for music, especially the kind requiring anthropological liner notes. Julie’s “music collection” was a completely random jumble of global files. But as long as it sounded different from Texas radio, that seemed to be fine with her.

At 10 pm, Van went down to the gym for his customary workout, for Julie was nowhere in sight, and the death of Louis was weighing painfully on Van’s mind. The gym had become a major emotional refuge for Van, although Van was not at all a fan of lifting weights, or even a fan of gyms. Van pumped a lot of iron because this was the only activity that made him stop thinking about code. Jogging and bicycling were far too dangerous for Van: in his abstracted haze, he could very easily fly off the limestone cliffs of Austin’s hike and bike trails. But fifteen curls with a 35-lb barbell were always enough to turn his arms to smoldering rubber, and to thoroughly empty his mind.

Van did not “keep in shape.” The gym guys who were really shapely tended to be gay. Van wasn’t particularly strong, either. Genuine weightlifters, those squinty, bearded guys who were seriously strong, were about eight feet around in the belly. Van wouldn’t have minded looking sexy and picking up some women, but he simply had no time. Van was so busy coding that he didn’t have time to pick up food, much less women. He didn’t even have time to pick up his paychecks.

So the many full-length mirrors at Big Sam’s showed him a silent geek, with thick glasses, a funny-looking nose, and cheap, infrequent haircuts. Van was pretty much content to look like what he was: a man that nobody ever took any trouble over.

After an hour and a shower, Van returned home with his gym bag. He found Julie wandering up and down the streetlit pavement, clutching an unopened Diet Coke. Julie had a fixed grin and her dilated eyes were as black and shiny as the buttons on a Sony boombox.

“I lost you, I lost you,” she told him earnestly. “I got worried.”

“What are you doing here?” he said.

“I got your address from the company website and drove over.” She gestured glassily at her rusty Toyota. “But there’s something wrong with my steering wheel now. It feels kind of… melty.”

Van took the warm Coke from her hand, placed it in his gym bag, and examined her with care. She was still in her work clothes, but she had put on flipflop sandals over her stocking feet and had yanked on a pullover, backward. Van felt that he was truly seeing Julie Woertz for the very first time. She was small, frail, vulnerable, and completely stoned.

“My apartment’s kind of a mess,” he told her. “But you better come up for a while.”

“Is that cool with you?”

“Oh sure, I’m cool, we’ll just hang out,” he told her vaguely. “There’s usually something good on the Nature channel this time of night.”

He escorted Julie up the stairs and into his efficiency. “Wow,” she said, her dinner-plate eyes examining the bare, constricting walls. “This is so… snug.”

Van turned on the lights and pursued the vermin into hiding. He seated Julie carefully on the couch, which was nice, as it was the second-most expensive choice at a local chain. He placed the remote control in her hands. He then fetched his laptop and sat down companionably.

“You shouldn’t websurf when you have a guest,” Julie told him, struggling to un-fix her stony grin. “That’s against the rules.”

“What rules?”

“That book, ‘The Rules,’ by Sherrie Schneider?”

Van clicked up amazon.com.

<<The Rules : Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right by Ellen Fein, Sherrie Schneider

<<Customers who bought this book also bought:

<<The Real Rules : How to Find the Right Man for the Real You by Barbara De Angelis
<<Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know by Barbara De Angelis
<<The Rules II : More Rules to Live and Love By by Ellen Fein, Sherrie Schneider
<<The Code : Time-Tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women Without Marrying Them! by Nate Penn, Lawrence Larose>>

Van clicked twice and immediately purchased both The Rules and The Code for overnight delivery.

“Hey Julie, what was that other one you were talking about? Cindy Sherman?”

But Julie had realized that the object in her grip was a remote control, and she was eagerly channel-surfing.

“Ohmigod!” she squealed. “‘It’s The Barretts of Wimpole Street! This is like my third-favorite movie! Ohmigod it’s Norma Shearer! Look at her hair, I had a wig just like that once!”

Van did a movie search.

<<The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)>>

<<Starring: Fredric March, Norma Shearer
Director: Sidney Franklin
Synopsis: Poet Robert Browning successfully woos invalid writer Elizabeth Barrett in this glossy historical romance. Fans of old-fashioned Hollywood romance may find that handsome production values compensate for occasionally draggy story.>>

Julia was transfixed. Long, enraptured moments passed, broken only by her intakes of breath and the gentle clicking of Van’s ThinkPad. “My God,” Julie breathed at last. “I’m getting into this so much!”

With occasional glances upward, Van watched the movie enough to catch its drift. It was a period chick flick, about a sick girl stuck at home, whose situation turns around when some good-looking con-artist shows up and hands her a line of artsy bullshit.

“How about some popcorn, Julie?”

“I don’t think I’m hungry.” She began to tremble.

Van went to his futon, fetched his musty blanket and carefully wrapped her up.

“I’m afraid of dying, just like she was,” she muttered. “I just don’t want to die all alone.”

“You’re not dying. You’re very alive and safe here.”

“I saw a dead man today. If you hadn’t been there, trying to fix it, I would have just completely freaked out. I just would have started screaming. I don’t know how I would have ever stopped.”

“Nice movie, huh? Handsome production values. How about a nice cup of Korean green tea?”

She hugged the blanket closer. “I’m having a really long day,” she whispered, and began to sniffle.

He hadn’t expected to see Julie crying. The crying thing turned him completely inside out. It hit him like a match on oil-soaked rags.

The darkest level of his psyche burst into sullen blue flames. Those tears meant she was helpless. Just like the handsome actor on the screen, he could hand this trapped, drug-addled girl any line he pleased, and she would have no choice but to nod and blink and hope for the best, and then he could do absolutely anything he wanted to her.

The crazy feeling subsided, as quick, sudden and evil as a smash of glass and a midnight car alarm, but then there it was: she had come into focus for him. There was a woman in his life.

He sat down, picked up her hand, and patted it.


When they returned to work next morning, late, together, in her car, and with Julie still in yesterday’s clothes, there could only be one logical conclusion. It was true that they had been sleeping together, since Van had bagged a couple of hours upright on the couch. Julie hadn’t managed much sleeping. She claimed that she just felt “clear” and “kind of peaceful.” Once in her work station, she slipped right back into the routine. Although when word got out in email, absolutely everybody knew.

Darren called Van in for a conference. Darren was tall and handsome and probably gay, and got a lot of play in the Austin tech press. He was on the road all the time, selling the Vintelix vision to the distant venture-gods of Redmond and Silicon Valley. Darren was in a pinch because of Louis’s sudden demise. The loss of a key programmer made it harder to meet shareholder expectations, keep up market momentum and manage that special Vintelix buzz. So despite the fact that he was only 26, Van found himself with most of Louis’s code work, and a raise in salary.

Then came the obligatory “sandwich treatment,” with hints that he should dress more appropriately for his exalted managerial station. Inappropriate relationships with female Vintelix personnel were of particular concern to Darren. Van departed with a final lacquer of praise: a boost in stock options and a new and even more meaningless title.

Van spent the night going over Louis’s code. The spaghetti-ware was even worse than he’d imagined. Louis had always treated the Vintelix code like his own baby: in a way, the code was Louis’s own baby. It was the only baby Louis had ever had.

By 1 am Van had arrived a game plan: outsource everything in sight. Louis had always hired people on instinct, but Louis was the kind of guy who would hire people he played Dungeons and Dragons with. Coders who really got it were worth twelve of anybody else. So even if they were upset by a re-org, all the hardcore guys would come around when they saw some real progress made. In sum, there was probably nothing wrong with Vintelix that a total and silent hacker revolution couldn’t somehow cure behind the scenes.

Van was hauled from his bed at 8 am to accept an express delivery of books. The Rules and The Code had arrived. While he moved out of his cubicle into an office suitable to a “Senior Technology Coordinator,” Van examined The Code. Unfortunately, this primer on exploiting women was merely a series of lame gags with no actual data or algorithms on exploiting women.

The Rules, by contrast, was a work of deadly seriousness. It was about life-and-death emotional survival tactics for the planet’s majority gender. The Rules was bitter, life-and-death, stripped of all sentimentality. It was about surviving, and protecting children, among a race of large, brutal, half-blind creatures who would exploit you without conscience and could easily beat you to a pulp. Most everything in The Rules made plenty of sense to Van. The thing was more than a self-help book: basically, it was an operating system. The work fired his imagination and re-set his agenda.

Van went home from work early — at a mere 7 pm — and picked up the phone. Then he put the phone back down, and logged on to Julie’s webcam instead. Much as he had expected, Julie had thoughtlessly left the camera plugged in. She was carefully painting her toenails, reading a woman’s magazine, and almost literally hovering over her phone.

Van captured and froze a webcam frame and blew it up for closer study. Julie’s magazine was Cosmopolitan. The magazine featured a shapely young blonde in a blue reptile bikini top. The cover text, though blurry on the screen, was still legible. Make Him All Yours: Play Cosmo’s Fantasy Game with Him Tonight And Win His Undying Love. Man-Melting Massage. 97 Sexy Date Looks. The Confessions Issue!

Van dialled Julie’s number. He saw the phone ring. She scrambled for it in a fury, upsetting her nail polish, her face alight with desperate hope.

“Hello, this is Van.”

“Hello Van,” she said with polite indifference. “What’s up?”

The previously-unseen hippie roommate rushed into Julie’s room. Julie emitted a silent scream of triumph, waving her fingers frantically. The roommate, enraptured, leapt up and down in sympathetic glee.

Van examined his stack of notes and cleared his throat. “Julie, listen. I need to ask a favor of you. I’m sure that you value your time and have a very crowded and fulfilling social life. However, I’d be truly grateful if you would join me tonight… to shop for clothes.

“What did you just say?”

Had he overdone it? She seemed stunned.

“Julie, I need a new wardrobe. I just got a promotion. I feel uneasy about my new role, and I depend on your judgement and emotional support. I’m sure your unique insights will help me fit in among the top echelon of the company.”

“You’re not mad at me for freaking out on acid in your living room? Oh my God, I wish I’d never done that to you. I felt so embarrassed, I just could have died.”

Van thumbed rapidly through his briefing cards. Here it was: the Self-Esteem Crisis. “Okay, maybe that was a little indiscreet of you. But frankly, I found it provocative and exciting. It was a bold move from a woman who knows what she wants from life.” Van leaned back. “So, Patagonia closes at nine, right? Can you come and pick me up in your car? And bring us something to eat.”

“Okay, sure, right! My God, Van, we’d better hurry.”

“You’re saving my life here, Julie. You’re a treasure.” As he hung up, a net search hit paydirt in the browser window. It was some English-major site, dating back to the early 1990s, when the web had still been full of academics. Public domain stuff, old poetry.

This Browning woman didn’t seem to have much going on: a lot of thees and thous. Van spooled down the screen until something in the spinning text caught his eye.

<< A shadow across me. Straightway I was ‘ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair:
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, —
‘Guess now who holds thee? ‘ — ‘ Death,’ I said. But, there,
The silver answer rang, — ‘ Not Death, but Love.’ >>

He hit it with a bookmark. Plenty of time to decode that one later.