Reapers’ Portraits: March 1925

She was waiting for me on my porch, and she surprised the hell out of me, which is no mean feat. I was about to ask the child what her name was when she smiled at me and I knew she didn’t have one.

“Are you here for me?” I asked her.

The child shook her head. “I want to speak to you. Walk with me to Charles.”

I took my pipe and my coat, and I walked with the reaper.

“Things are moving faster now,” she informed me. “There will be more of us. Many more. And you will have your work set before you as well.”

“What work is that?” I inquired.

She smiled. “The kind of work you’re good at Duncan Blood. The kind of work you’ve been doing since you killed your first man.”

I nodded and lit my pipe. “Will there be many?”

“That depends on who’s doing the counting.”

“Who is?”

She laughed. “We are. Yes, Duncan Blood, there will be many.”

I lit my pipe, and we continued for a distance in silence.

Finally, she asked, “Does this bother you?”

“No. Not when it needs doing. Which I suppose is the next question. Does it need doing?”

“It always needs doing,” she intoned somberly. “It is what my kind is about, Duncan Blood. It is what you are made to do. Why do you think your family is so long-lived? You prepare the souls for us to reap.”

“Do I perform my job well, Reaper?”

The child looked up at me and smiled.

“You are the finest your line has ever produced.”

I left her at Charles’ studio, and when I stopped by a short time later and asked what information she had left, he showed me.

“March 18, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: January 1922

I must confess, she turned my head when I saw her enter Charles’ studio. She smiled coyly, sat down, and asked me how I had enjoyed the war. The business-like manner in which she posed the question told me she was a reaper. My response was that there were moments where it was thrilling, but for the most part, killing is a chore.

I had spent the majority of a decade away from Cross, and I had decided it was time for me to check on Charles. He was thinner and prone to nervous outbursts. His walls were covered with the portraits of reapers.

He cowered at the sight of the reaper and crept into his studio to prepare his material. She shook her head sadly when he had gone.

“He asks too many questions,” she told me. “And he has received too many honest answers. He is damaged. Will you help continue the family’s work?”

I nodded.

She smiled at me. “You’re a devil of a man, Duncan Blood. I was there, you know.”


“Aprémont,” she winked. “Did you think their hearts would not be missed?”

“I didn’t think of it one way or another,” I answered. “I was angry.”

“So were the Germans.”

“Not angry enough,” I told her.

The reaper laughed, leaned forward, and gave me a gentle kiss. “For luck.”

Charles ushered her into the studio before I could ask why, and soon she was gone, waving gayly to me as she went. Charles sagged into his seat, took out a new ledger, and jotted down the information she had given him.

“January 28, Knickerbocker Theatre, Washington, District of Columbia.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: April 1912

In March of 1912, I was with Charles, helping him to compile the ledger into a more readable work when a man arrived. He walked in, nodded to the two of us, and entered the studio without a word. Charles and the stranger were gone for only a short time when they returned. Charles’ face was off-color, and he appeared nervous as he hurriedly turned the ledger to the next entry page.

The gentleman leaned over and wrote his information down.

“April 14, 1912, 11:40 PM, North Atlantic.”

With this done, he straightened up and put his hat back on his head. He smiled at both of us and then addressed me.

“Duncan, I trust we will see you in Belgium.” Then, before I could respond, he tipped his hat to Charles, winked, and in a dramatic whisper added, “You, Mr. Aldrich, are going to be quite busy over the next few years.”

Whistling La Marseillaise, he left the studio.

That reaper’s nonchalance would haunt me for decades.

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Reapers’ Portraits: March 1911

I noticed the dog before I noticed the reaper, which, I suppose, says a great deal about me.

The reaper was dressed in the garb of a Red Cross worker, which was possibly why I didn’t pay her much heed at first. Only when I saw her turn toward Aldrich’s studio did I realize who she probably was.

I entered the building a moment after she did, and I listened as Charles attempted to argue with her regarding the animal. The shepherd, being a good dog, merely sat and waited for the man to finish arguing with his mistress. When Charles finally paused for breath, the reaper smiled and spoke a line I have heard many times in the past.

“I wish for my portrait to hang on the wall with my siblings.”

The color drained from Charles’ face, and he stuttered over his apologies, assuring the reaper she could bring the dog with her.

I had seen a few reapers clad in uniforms in the past, but they were generally for the military. The fact that this particular reaper wore the Red Cross uniform piqued my curiosity, but I held my tongue. She would tell me if she wanted me to know.

Charles hustled back out a few minutes later and fawned over the reaper as he escorted her and the dog into the studio. They were in for a short time, and when they came out, Charles couldn’t speak. Finally, he managed to clear his throat, and in a hoarse voice he asked me to take down the information in the ledger. Before I could agree, he rushed out of the room, vomiting.

I took out the ledger, and the reaper smiled at me.

“March 25th,” she said. “Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.”

I thanked her, jotted the information down, and asked, “What bothered him so?”

“He asked to know what I would do, and I told him I would kill by fire.” She shrugged. “Then the little fool asked what it was like, and I let him smell it.”

I nodded.

The smell of burning flesh is not easily forgotten.

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Reapers’ Portraits: March 1908

Charles Aldrich was an interesting young man. He looked upon photography as a way to record history, and he was constantly experimenting with various methods and cameras. Portraits were how he earned his living, and he was curious as to the unnamed images which crowded fully one entire wall of the studio’s back room.

In January of 1908, I showed him the ledger and explained the significance of it, pointing out those reapers I remembered, and the events to which they belonged. At first, Charles didn’t believe me. Then, on a whim, he decided to check the veracity of my stories and the dates in the ledger. By March, he was a firm believer.

Each new customer who entered, he told me, gave his heart a jolt. He was waiting for the first reaper. Excitedly, I might add. The historian in him was fairly chomping at the bit.

I was in the studio, helping to clarify details regarding one of the reapers when a small boy entered the shop. When Charles saw the child was without an adult, he was about to dismiss him out of hand when Charles saw something in the boy’s eyes.

I saw it too.

Charles stood up, offered a short bow, and asked if the reaper wanted his portrait taken. The reaper nodded and stated that was exactly what he had come to Cross for.

When they finished, Charles took up his pencil and asked if he might add the reaper’s information to the ledger.

“Yes. I’m going to Cleveland, Ohio,” the reaper stated. “March the fourth.”

After Charles finished putting the information in, the reaper smiled at us both, winked, and whispered, “I’m going to school.”

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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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Reapers’ Portraits: April 1906

I was returning home when I saw the coach. It was a sleek affair of enameled black wood inlaid with mother of pearl and gold. Deep red curtains hung in the windows, and a team of six black stallions drew her along. A single driver sat atop the coach, a Chinese man who wore the long queue of the Mandarin subject.

I turned my own horse around and followed the coach back into town, and I was not surprised to see it pull up in front of Meredith Aldrich’s studio. The driver helped the passenger out of the coach and into the building, and I entered after them a moment later.

A tall and stately man stood in the elegant robes of a courtier, smiling and chatting pleasantly with Meredith. Her face was pale and strained, dark circles beneath her eyes. The stranger saw me enter and bowed to me. I returned the gesture and listened as the man informed Meredith of his status as a reaper. He requested that his portrait be done and done quickly.

“I have,” he informed us, “little time to return to Boston for the long train ride.”

Meredith did as he asked, and neither I nor the reaper spoke as we waited for her to finish. There was something about this representative of death which did not invite conversation.

After several minutes, Meredith escorted him into the studio, and in a matter of moments, it seemed, she was done. When they returned to the small room, and Meredith took out the ledger, the reaper did something most unusual. He asked for the pencil, and when he had it, he wrote in the ledger himself.

“April 18th, 5:12 A.M., San Francisco, California.”

He bowed to us both, and without a word, he and his driver left the studio.

“I don’t want to know,” Meredith whispered, and she put the ledger away.

On April 18th we knew, whether we wanted to or not.

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