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Reapers’ Portraits: April 1963

I managed to successfully avoid any direct involvement with Wayne Aldrich for seven years. Consequently, I didn’t see any reapers until April of ’63.

I was at the Cross train station, having picked up a package that had been sent via rail to me when I saw the reaper standing on the platform. Cross is a progressive town and has always been so. The civil rights movement was not necessary. There was no segregation in Cross, a state of affairs the town had worked long and hard to maintain in the face of some of the country’s more virulent policies.

The young black reaper smiled at me, waved, and crossed the platform to me. He offered me his hand, and I shook it, wondering why the reaper looked familiar. He winked as if understanding my puzzlement.

“We had a fair time, you and I, before the Revolution,” he informed me.

“Ah. One of the raids into Canada?”

He nodded. “I’ve come for my portrait, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.”

I told him I had. We left the station together and slowly made our way to the studio.

“I’ll be putting out to sea shortly,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. The reaper frowned and shook his head. “Deaths come in many ways, but this will be new to me.”

“Unpleasant?”

“Different, and, yes, I suspect it will be unpleasant.” He offered me an apologetic smile. “I’m not quite certain what will happen. How fast or slow it will be. It is a difficult thing to judge. I have spoken with some of my brethren, but they cannot offer me and assistance. They say there are too many variables, from the strength of the boat to the strength of the man.”

We reached the studio a moment later, and I asked the reaper, “When?”

“Three days. On the tenth.” He offered me his hand again. “Be well, Duncan. It is always a pleasure.”

I watched the reaper enter the studio and turned away, wondering what horror lay ahead.

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Reapers’ Portraits: March 1956

Wayne Aldrich was more than deficient. He was an abomination. The man reveled in death. It was not a natural part of life, nor the next step in a person’s journey. For him, it was entertainment. The few times I interacted with him prior to the start of the fighting in Korea nearly ended with me teaching him about violence.

I ended up traveling to Korea, and I spent three years there fighting alongside the Marines at Chosin, then ranging with some of the UK’s Royal Marines, and finally with the fledgling Republic of Korea’s Marine Corps. I saw hard fighting with each, and I was pleased when I returned to Cross and the warmth of my own home.

A few times in ’54 and ’55, I stopped in to see Wayne, but fortunately he was out on those occasions. In March of ’56, however, he was there, as was a reaper.

She was a pretty young girl, appearing to be in her middle or late teens. I watched, sickened, as Wayne attempted to seduce her. There was an almost feverish glint to the man’s eyes as he sought information about death. She deftly deflected his questions, and when he finally finished with her portrait, she greeted me by name, which took him aback. The reaper bade him bring out the ledger, and he obeyed, glaring at me as he did so.

When he set the book down in front of her, she opened it up to the appropriate page and leaned forward to write down her information. She finished, set the pen down and smiled at me warmly, and without affection at Wayne.

“March 18, gentlemen, there’s a nor’ easter coming.” She nodded to me, winked, and added, “Stay inside and warm.”

We watched her go, and as I turned to speak to Wayne, I found him scowling at me. I pushed my coat open and showed the fool one of my Colts. His eyes widened.

“Mind your manners, boy,” I told him. “Or they’ll be coming early to find your replacement.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: April 1947

I’m not a fan of poachers. For three days, I tracked a man hunting on the edges of Gods’ Hollow.

On the morning of the fourth day, I caught up with him. He was eating a breakfast of goat, taken from my land when I stepped into his camp with my Colts drawn. Even under the barrels of my guns, he tried to talk and slide his hand toward the shotgun at his side.

I put two rounds into his belly and sat back to eat breakfast while he died. I was surprised a short time later when a priest strode out of the forest and directly to the man. It took me a moment to realize what the priest was, and when that moment passed, he had already collected the poacher’s soul.

“Will you walk with me?” the reaper asked.

I nodded, ate the last bite, and put out the campfire. I left the body where it lay and walked out of the woods with the reaper. Like most of his kind, he remained quiet as we traveled, and it wasn’t until we reached Main Street that he broke his silence.

“I’m going to Texas City, Texas,” the reaper stated. “But before I go, there’s one last person I’m to collect here in Cross.”

I waited, and the reaper smiled at me.

“Not you, Duncan Blood.”

“No, I didn’t think it was.”

The reaper’s smile broke into a grin. “Of course, how foolish of me. You have been around too long to not know. I will collect her gently. She has suffered, far more than most know.”

“Who will run the studio?” I asked.

“A fair question.” We lapsed into silence again for a short time. “We have our eye on a young nephew. He is an Aldrich, and he is not as gentle as the others. He is, in fact, deficient in some ways.”

“Ah.”

We reached the studio, and the reaper stopped me outside. “Go and be well. I wish to do this alone. It is the last gentle death I will give. In Texas, the deaths will be bad.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: April 1940

Her vitality was gone.

Erica Aldrich moved through the motions of life, failing to find joy in photography. She had taken in a pair of nephews, both of whom were highly motivated and thrilled to travel and take photographs as well as remain in the studio at times to work with paying clients.

She never allowed them to take the portraits of reapers.

In April, a man carrying a saxophone arrived at the studio, and despite the protests of her nephews, Erica sent them away. I bumped into both of them on Main Street, and it was how I learned that there was a musician in the studio.

By the time I reached the studio, I could hear the man playing.

The music was powerful and beautiful, tearing the breath from my lungs and depriving me of thought for a moment. When I shook it off and entered the building, I found Erica asleep at the table and the musician writing in the ledger.

He smiled at me, nodded by way of greeting, and finished his entry. Straightening up, he motioned towards Erica.

“She needed the rest. Poor thing hasn’t slept well in years, not since ’37.” He pushed a stray strand of hair gently behind her ear. Looking to me, he asked, “You’ll sit with her?”

“I will.”

“Good.” The reaper sighed. “I’m for Mississippi. Natchez, to be precise.”

“Bad?”

He looked at me with a sad smile. “You know a fire in a dance hall to be good?”

I shook my head.

“Me neither. See you in France, Duncan.”

I took off my coat and draped it over the sleeping woman’s shoulders and closed the ledger as the reaper left the studio. I sat in silence for a long time, wondering how many would die in Mississippi.

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Reapers’ Portraits: September 1938

More reapers came to Ms. Aldrich, and none of them eased her mind. I watched her grow more and more depressed as they came, and try as I might, there was nothing I could do to help her. She and her family had been taxed with this burden, and it was theirs alone to shoulder.

I spent as much time as I could at the studio, assisting with the reapers if they arrived when I was there.

September came, and I found myself busy about the farm. I was in the orchard when I saw him. He stood quietly by the foot of my ladder, waiting for me to descend. It irked me some to know that none of my ‘help’ on the farm would inform me when the reapers arrived.

When I stood beside him, he offered me a small smile by way of apology and then started walking for town. I had little choice but to keep up.

We walked in silence, and the silence was disturbing. The reaper walked with his head up and his eyes forward, moving unerringly toward Ms. Aldrich.

When we arrived at her studio, she was outside of it, enjoying a cigarette. She waved to me, and I replied in kind, and the smile on her face for me vanished when she saw my companion.

The visit was short, and it was not until the reaper had finished his entry in the ledger that he spoke.

“Lock your doors on the night of twentieth and take yourself to Duncan’s, Erica.”

He said no more to us, and only after the door closed behind him, did we look at what he had written.

“September 21st, New England.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: March 1937

I didn’t know Erica Aldrich well, and that was through no fault of hers. I had been particularly enmeshed in stupidity at the Cross Branch of Miskatonic University for several years, plus there had been quite a bit of unpleasantness in Gods’ Hollow as well.

When I managed to go to the studio in early 1937, I was pleased with Ms. Aldrich. She was a far more capable businessman than her uncle had been, and she truly was passionate about photography. The reapers still visited her, but she treated them as a necessary evil. She kept the ledger, and she put their images upon the wall, but she paid little mind to what they meant to the world.

Ms. Aldrich was far more interested in films. She had taken portraits of Jean Harlow, Theda Bara, and Louise Brooks, as well as many others.

I made it a point to stop in on a regular basis. I enjoyed the young woman’s company and the strong coffee she made.

In March, I was listening to how she had managed to take a picture of Louise Brooks when a reaper entered the studio. Whether Ms. Aldrich realized what the woman was I’m not quite sure, but she got to her feet and welcomed the reaper warmly. I drank my coffee and listened to them talk as Ms. Aldrich took the portrait.

It was only after they came back into the small parlor that Ms. Aldrich seemed to realize who she was speaking to.

“Please,” the reaper said, “continue. I enjoyed the early films as well.”

Ms. Aldrich offered up a tight smile as she took her ledger out and placed it on the table. The reaper leaned over and wrote while Ms. Aldrich spoke of Jean Harlow.

The reaper put the pencil down and nodded. “Yes. She was a wonderful actress. I felt quite badly about having to take her so young.”

As the reaper left, we looked down at the information, and for the first time, she seemed to understand exactly what it meant.

“March 18, 3:05 PM, New London, Texas.”

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Reapers’ Portraits: September 1928

I found Patrolman Ron Davis trying to roust the old man from the train station, and one look in the man’s eyes told me that Ron was treading on thin ice. Fortunately, I was able to convince Ron to leave the stranger alone, and he did so.
The old reaper grinned at me and used his cane to get to his feet.
“I wouldn’t have killed him.”
I raised an eyebrow, and the reaper chuckled. “Nay, I wouldn’t have. I’m not the one who’ll collect him.”
We walked toward Aldrich’s, which is where I assumed he meant to go.
“You know,” the reaper said, “Charles has a niece. Her name is Erica. She’s rather interested in photography, much like her uncle was at her age.”
“Is it his time?” I asked.
“Nearly.”
We left it at that until we reached the Charles’ studio. Once there, we paused outside the door, and the reaper looked at me. “September 17.”
“What will you do then?” I asked.
“I’ll be visiting Florida,” he informed me. “I’m afraid I’ve a few to collect there.”
I nodded and opened the door for him. We passed over the threshold and into the waiting area. Charles saw us, offered a weak smile, and escorted the reaper into the back. They returned a short while later, and Charles’ hands shook violently as he produced the ledger. As he set it down on the table and took out a pen, the reaper leaned forward, put his hand gently on Charles’ elbow, and whispered.
Charles Aldrich’s eyes rolled up to reveal their whites, and he went limp before he crashed to the floor. The reaper gave me a deep bow and left the studio with Charles’ soul in tow.
With a sigh, I bent over the ledger and jotted down what the reaper had told me.
#horror #CrossMassachusetts #monsters #supernatural #skulls #death #fear #evil #horrorobsessed #scary #ghosts #DuncanBlood #ghoststories #paranormal #reaper