Thomas Aldrich was not nearly as verbose as his father had been when it came to the reapers.
Invariably, when I stopped in the studio, there were more portraits upon the reaper wall. Some years more than others.
In November of 1888, Thomas took me aside and asked me to sit awhile after he had closed his shop. I agreed, and soon we were seated at the same table where we had read of the fires in 1871. Sixteen years had aged the man, and he had several children of his own. While he did not drink as heavily as his father had, Thomas still drank.
We sweetened our coffees with brandy, and I waited for him to speak.
After nearly half an hour, he brought my attention to the image of a pretty girl, and he told me that she had been in early in October.
“What did she say?” I asked him.
Thomas hesitated, added another dose of brandy to his nearly finished coffee, and then he answered me.
“She said she was traveling to a place called Mud Run station in Pennsylvania.”
The name tugged at my memory. “I think I’ve heard the name. Recently, too.”
Thomas nodded and let out a pained laugh. “Aye, I’m sure you did, Duncan. She told me to keep an eye on the papers, just as all her damned siblings had before her.”
“What did the papers say?”
Thomas finished his coffee, and for the first time, I noticed the dark circles beneath his eyes.
“The papers said there was a train collision there,” Thomas said. He looked wearily at me. “One train, ‘telescoped’ into another.”
I winced at the word. I’d seen such crashes before, hideous sights where engines and cars were buried in the train ahead of them.
“Sixty-four dead, Duncan.” Thomas’ voice was little more than a whisper. “Sixty-four.”
His eyes drifted to the image of the reaper. “How could a small child do that?”
“Because she’s not a child, Thomas,” I told him, finishing my own coffee. “She is a servant of Death.”
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