As you may or may not know, an upcoming episode of Supernatural will be entitled “Appointment in Samarra”. Since most of Supernatural’s episode titles generally allude to something - usually a song title, sometimes a movie or book - I decided to find out what this one meant. What I found was a very interesting short story, and since I liked it, I want to share it with you all. There are several versions to this story, but all have the same key elements, and simply changes names and cities.
Here is the earliest version that I could find (that does not mean it is the original, just the oldest that I found):
"The disciple of a Sufi of Baghdad was sitting in the corner of an inn one day when he heard two figures talking. From what they said he realized that one of them was the Angel of Death. "I have several calls to make in this city during the next three weeks," the Angel was saying to his companion. Terrified, the disciple concealed himself until the two had left. Then applying his intelligence to the problem of how to cheat a possible call from death, he decided that if he kept away from Baghdad he should not be touched. From this reasoning it was but a short step to hiring the fastest horse available and spurring it night and day towards the distant town of Samarkand. Meanwhile Death met the Sufi teacher and they talked about various people. "And where is your disciple so-and-so?" asked Death. "He should be somewhere in this city, spending his time in contemplation, perhaps in a caravanserai," said the teacher. "surprising," said the Angel; "because he is on my list. Yes, here it is: I have to collect him in four weeks' time at Samarkand, of all places."
From: 'Tales of the Dervishes' by Idries Shah
As you probably noticed, that particular version calls it Samarkand, instead of Samarra. It is also different from some of the newer versions in other ways as well.
Here is the same story, retold by W. Somerset Maugham (Death is the narrator):
“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.
Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?
That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
So for those of you who know what the episode of Supernatural will be about, I’m sure you can see why they named it after this, and for those of you who haven’t, I don’t think this really spoils anything, as the episode does not have too much in common with the story, only a slight parallel.
I always did enjoy stories with a touch of irony. Hope you guys enjoyed this short story as much as I did!