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As a teenager, Mort had a personality and temperament that made him rather unsuited to the family farming business. Mort's father, named Lezek, felt that Mort thought too much, which prevented him from achieving anything practical. Thus, Lezek took him to a local hiring fair, hoping that Mort would land an apprenticeship with some tradesman; not only would this provide a job for his son, but it would also make his son's propensity towards thinking someone else's problem.
At the job fair, Mort at first has no luck attracting the interest of an employer. Then, just before the stroke of midnight, a man concealed in a black cloak arrives on a white horse. He says he is looking for a young man to assist him in his work and selects Mort for the job. The man turns out to be Death, and Mort is given an apprenticeship in ushering souls into the next world (though his father thinks he's been apprenticed to an undertaker).