Yeah, I know it’s traditional and all, but I really dislike the title, ‘Grim Reaper.’ I’m not grim and I love my job. The hours are great, you meet a terrific bunch of people and there are plenty of benefits. Not wild about the uniform, but I don’t think we’d have the same impact if we wore Hawaiian shirts and capris. It might lead to skipping and running and, let’s face it, when you carry a scythe, there are just some things you shouldn’t do.
Most people think there’s just one Grim Reaper, but that would be silly. I mean, we’re not Santa Claus, after all.
My little spot is well defined and usually pretty quiet, except come Halloween season, then everyone seems to seek me out, well, not me exactly, but my hangout. For whatever reason, the Powers That Be decided I should stalk the confines of a junkyard for ‘large unwanted items.’ Buses, sure, military equipment, welcome, washers and dryers, nope, those have to be taken somewhere else.
My crowning glory there was the front for a Devil Cat Chamber of Horrors. The brave would wander through his open mouth and discover all sorts of manufactured horrors within. It had been all fun and games until a jilted lover went on a killing spree and slaughtered not just his former fiancé, her new boyfriend, and about a half dozen innocent folks, but then himself as well.
After that, the community made the carnival owner dismantle the ride, especially after the word got around that he’d let the killer know his ex was there because he’d hope the guy would try something. There was no real proof that the owner really did that, but hell hath no wrath like a town without mercy. I found him dangling at the end of a rope and I’m not entirely sure that was of his own doing, either. I don’t think he expected the outcome, but come on, don’t play God unless you are willing to pay the price. I was happy to show him on his way.
It gave the ride some serious chops, but it was too late. It had been dismantled and sold as junk, except for the front entrance. Whether by accident or design, it remained intact and its reputation grew among the young people of the town.
Come about the middle of October, I would see a bunch of kids, usually in groups, checking out the portal, daring each other to step through it. Every once in a while I let one of the tortured souls still trapped by the thing out and it would scare the beejesus out of them… until the next year. Mostly, I didn’t want to have to reap a kid. Those are the hardest for me.
It was a quiet late October afternoon and the sun was starting to dip behind the tree line. Snow had come early, but it didn’t keep people away. There was a well-trodden path into and out of the cat mouth, but as the sun left, so did the people… well, the living ones at least. There were a couple lingering from the ride and a few more that had been killed in a bus wreck. It was parked just a few yards away. I wanted to tell my little thrill seekers that it was the bus they should check out, but people get understandably spooked when they see me.
I heard them before seeing anyone. It’s one of my ‘gifts,’ as it were. Pounding hearts, shortness of breath, all music to my (lack of) ears. I picked myself up and moved silently in that directions.
Two men were crouching behind a Mobil Gas Station sign, their faces red from the cold and exertion. One of them had a bundle in his arms and I paused, just listening. The heartbeat was weak and fluttering like a wounded bird.
“I have to stop,” one murmured, the one with the bundle.
“It’s not safe, Napoleon. THRUSH is right behind us.”
“Just let me catch my breath, Illya.” He wiped his eyes with the corner of the blanket. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
I almost laughed then. I knew these two, at least by reputation. Napoleon Solo and Kuryakin had been dancing in and out of our reach for years. Sadly, this time they seemed fine. Once again, they would escape our grasp, but that was okay. They would come to us eventually and for now, they did a good job of sending others to us. We liked to think of them as our stepbrothers in Reaping.
“Or as old as you’re going to be. We need to get to the hospital. We’re very close.”
I wish I had eyes to close and lips to frown with. It wouldn’t matter if they were across the street. From what I was hearing, it was nearly through for their little charge.
A different noise drew my attention. There were distant shouting voices and I made a snap decision. I assumed human shape and ditched the robe. Hopefully the very loud Hawaiian shirt and shorts wouldn’t throw them too much.
“Hurry, this way!” I gestured madly to them. They were both startled, but then Napoleon made a choice. They ran towards me and I pointed. There were two dilapidated buses. “The second one, not the first!”
He nodded and ran towards it. The second man, Illya, paused and looked me up and down, then, shaking his head, he followed.
There were enough footprints in the snow to cover their path and I knew the spirits hiding in the second bus would look after them. They were protectors of the innocent.
Three men ran up to me, panting, their faces red from exertion.
“Where are they?”
“Those men, the UNCLE agents.”
“Chill ax, dude. Nobody here at this time of the afternoon except me and the ghosts.” I affected a surfer bum attitude, if only to annoy them.
“Idiot.” The man lashed out and I easily avoided his punch.
“Wow, you need to relax, man.” I offered him a joint. “Here, smoke this.”
He knocked it from my hand and that’s when one of the others pulled a weapon. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, your choice. Where are they or do we start shooting?”
“Place is posted, man. Can’t shoot here.” I saw Kuryakin at the entrance of the bus. He was willing to sacrifice his life for me. That wouldn’t do. I wanted him, but not like that. “I saw a couple old dudes go in there.” I pointed to the Cat o’ Evil portal.
“Watch him.” The guy ran in that direction and through the entrance. I’m not sure what the spirits on the other side would do with him, but it wouldn’t be pretty. They didn’t like being disturbed at this point of the day. It was very close to their dying time. It makes them… niggly…
There was a scream and one of the remaining men jumped and raced after his friend, or I assumed they were. I wouldn’t be trying to rescue just anyone from them.
When he didn’t come back, the gunman looked at me. “What are you playing at?” He put the gun to my head and then smiled. “You did me a favor getting rid of them. Now, where are they?” He cocked the trigger and I pointed to the first bus.
“There! They are hiding in the first bus.”
He fired and ran towards the vehicle. He never turned around to check on me or he would have seen me still standing there, a gaping wound in my head. Kuryakin gasped and started to leave the bus, but I held up a hand to stop him. That seemed to confuse him long enough for the last remaining idiot to get to the bus.
I wouldn’t go into details about what they did to him, but suffice it to say it wasn’t pretty. That would be three new ticks in my book tonight. Excellent! I was that much closer to making my quota for the month.
Collection was easy considering what was left of them. I re-donned my robe and scythed them.
“It is you. I thought so.” I spun. It wasn’t often that a human got the drop on me. Kuryakin was standing there, his face sad.
“Yes, old friend, it is.” I didn’t bother to try and pretend. Solo joined him, still holding the bundle. It was silent now. “I’ll take her, too.”
“I don’t think she will do you much good.” Solo pulled off the blanket and revealed a life-size doll.
“Decoy. The real child is miles from here. Sorry.”
He looked as if he wasn’t sure what to do next, flee or take it like a man. Imagine how surprised he was when I started laughing, long and hard. Trust UNCLE agents to pull one over on the Grim Reaper. I’d been gotten and I loved it. So much for that reputation…