The drumming woke me up.
Horatio came into the bedroom, dressed despite the early hour. His somber expression spoke volumes, and without a word, I pulled on my clothes.
The drumming never ceased.
When I reached the first floor, I made my way towards the front, but Horatio stopped me with a shake of his head.
“He’s ‘round the back, Duncan,” the monkey explained, and so we went to the kitchen instead.
With the morning sun cresting the horizon and sending long, stabbing rays of light across the snow, I saw him.
He couldn’t have been more than ten, perhaps younger.
The boy played a steady beat on his drum that was both familiar in its martial air and unknown with the rhythm he kept. His clothes, too, were recognizable, but there was naught when it came to insignia. Even the color was curious. Neither blue nor gray nor chestnut brown.
It simply was.
When the boy saw us, he lowered his arms, nodded and spoke, “It is time.”
“For what?” I asked.
“I am not addressing you, Duncan Blood,” the boy said, and his eyes flashed. My blood ran cold, and my heartbeat quickened.
“I did not know you,” I replied and offered a bow in apology.
Death chuckled and gave a quick rat-a-tat on the drum’s taut skin. “No apology is necessary.”
“Will you come in for coffee?” I asked. “Perhaps something a bit stronger?”
“Perhaps when it is time to reap you, Duncan Blood,” Death responded. “But for now, I come only to escort Horatio home.”
I glanced down at the monkey, and Horatio nodded.
“I died some time ago,” Horatio stated. “I have been running a bit wild since.”
Death struck his drum again, and the monkey sighed.
“I will see you again, Duncan,” Horatio observed and flashed me a smile.
The monkey left the kitchen, crossed the yard and scrambled up onto Death’s shoulder. In a moment, I was alone.
I closed the door, went into the parlor, and found little joy in the whiskey waiting for me.