Reapers’ Portraits: December 1907


Meredith Aldrich was in perpetual mourning.

She wore black at all times. She never answered any questions as to her reasons why, and polite company soon avoided any contact with her.

I have never been considered polite company, so our relationship never changed. At one point, however, she noticed I didn’t age. At least not in any way she could discern. On the first of December 1907, she even went so far as to inquire as to whether or not I was a reaper.

“I am many things, Meredith, but a reaper is most certainly not one of them,” I assured her.

“He is himself, Meredith Aldrich. Nothing more and nothing less.”

The voice came from a wizened old man who had entered the studio without either of us noticing.

He stood patiently by the door, his hat in hand, and he smiled politely at us. The reaper apologized for the intrusion and asked if he might have his portrait taken for the wall.

Meredith, who did not look well, got shakily to her feet and went into the studio proper.

The reaper turned to me and smiled. “You will speak with her nephew, Charles Aldrich. He has shown some aptitude for photography.”

My mouth went dry, and I refrained from asking my question.

The reaper knew it anyway. “Soon, Duncan. On the ninth of this month, to be exact. It will be here in the studio. Make sure you are with her. You will be a comfort.”

Meredith entered the room a moment later and escorted the reaper away. They both returned several minutes after, and he waited patiently as she retrieved the ledger. The pencil shook in her hand.

“Monongah, West Virginia,” the reaper said gently. “December the sixth. It will be worse than they can ever know.”

As he left, Meredith suffered a coughing fit, and when she drew her hand away, there was blood upon her kerchief. When she saw it, she glanced at me and smiled with relief.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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