Victor Aldrich had been photographing reapers for 25 years when he stumbled onto my porch on May 28, 1875. I was recently returned from an excursion into the Hollow, and to say I was tired would have been an understatement. Nonetheless, I let him in and brought him into the parlor. He was exceptionally pallid, his eyes wild, his hair a mess and his clothes disheveled.
When I asked him what was wrong, he handed me the morning’s paper. I sat down and read of a church fire in Holyoke, Massachusetts and the deaths of 78 people.
“Why me?” he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.
I set the paper down beside me. “I have no answer for that. I doubt anyone does, other than the reapers themselves.”
He shuddered and looked away. “I am no Papist, Duncan, but no one deserved to die the way they did.”
“Few people deserve any death they receive,” I told him softly. “Remember that, my friend.”
He nodded. “She told me that was going to pray with a congregation, and that before they died, they would suffer what they imagined Hell to be.”
“I suppose she was fairly on the mark there.”
Victor winced. “There is something else, she said.”
“She’ll be back tonight.”
I eyed him warily. “For whom?”
He didn’t answer.
“Thomas will take over the business when I pass away,” Victor whispered. “They know this. It is my time, she said.”
“I cannot do anything to stop death, Victor.”
My friend smiled at me. “I have not come here to ask you that.”
“I have come to ask you not to try.”
That, unfortunately, I could do.