The Night I Saw The Reaper – Part 4

As I turned and faced the weather outside, it was though a vengeful God had decided to personally attack me with all the rain and wind it could muster. The force of the raindrops driven against my face made me suck in a breath in surprise at it’s fierceness. As I squinted into the storm, I could see the road that ran along outside the pub was starting to flood, a river of water cascading along it. Although it was dark and stormy, there was enough light to see by and so I started looking around trying to spot Bill. I saw across the road a large open area of grass, like a small playing field or village green. Intermittently the lightening would flash, and this would give me a clearer view of the surrounding area, and it was in one of these bright moments that I spotted him.
He was across the road from me, about ten yards into the green.
He was on his knees with his back to me. His head was down, and his shoulders slumped. Though this sight was disturbing enough, what really caused my stomach to drop as though I was in a plummeting lift was the figure that stood before him. It was exactly as Bill had described to me in the pub. Tall, nearly double Bill’s kneeling height, with a long, dark grey cloak and a hood covering his head. I could see no face, just a black void, like the darkness between worlds. The rain didn’t seem to be touching this tall figure – it was as though he was surrounded my an aura that the water couldn’t penetrate.
I received a further jolt of fear as I realized that the giant figure had his hand on the top of Bill’s head, as though blessing him. But I knew that it was no blessing being bestowed, it was something far darker and ill of intent. I cried out Bill’s name, but neither figure reacted or responded. In the relative darkness between two lightening flashes, the scene changed and as I watched I saw the tall figure was now holding a long, dark pole or stick and at the end of it was a vicious looking curved blade.
As I stared in terror through the murk, I saw the hooded figure, (who I had unconsciously decided was Death as Bill insisted), lift up his arms and swing the long pole back behind him. With almost horrific timing, a crash of lightening lit up the night just as the curved blade swept through the air toward Bill’s head. I squeezed shut my eyes and turned away – I didn’t want to see what would happen next.
After a few seconds, I risked looking back toward what I assumed would be a grizzly scene and all I could see was a slumped figure lying in the grass and mud.
My paralysis broke, and I ran out from the shelter of the pub, across the flooding road, and into the field. My shoes sank into the soaking wet ground as I hurried to the fallen figure. As I approached him, I lost my footing, and I staggered and fell to my knees a yard or so short. From what I could see, Bill’s head was still on his shoulders which I was quite surprised at (and more than a little relieved). I began to crawl toward him, wanting to check if he was as dead as I suspected and as my hand reached out to touch him I sensed a presence.
Sound began to fade, as though someone was turning down the volume on the soundtrack of the storm. I looked up, and straight into the greyness of a long, tattered robe. With a shout, I threw myself backwards so that I was laying back on my elbows and I looked up into the dark space of the hood that topped off the grey robe.
All my focus was on the black hole where a face should be. The world around me began to fade, almost like an over-exposed photograph. And although I was already chilled to the bone through a combination of the weather and my own fear, I could feel cold radiating out from the tall figure stood before me. It was as though someone had opened a doorway to the top of the highest mountain – freezing cold and a lack of oxygen struck me.
As I watched, the dark creature slowly raised an arm toward me. A finger as white and pale as a bone gnawed clean of flesh poked out from the sleeve of the robe and aimed at my face. I couldn’t help myself, I screamed. I screamed loud enough to hurt my throat. And at that moment, with a final, massive flash of lightening, everything went black.

I awoke. For a split second, I didn’t realize where I was. I was lying on my back on grass that was soaked and I was wet and freezing. There was no more rain, the storm seemed to have blown itself out and as I lay there in stunned confusion I could see stars above me. In a heart stopping rush of remembrance I scrambled to my feet and looked around. Bill’s corpse lay where it had fallen. I stared at him for a few seconds, then realized I needed to call the police. I slowly walked back across the grass, wondering how I would ever explain what had happened. I realized I had left my phone in my car, so as I crossed the road I angled toward it and felt in my pocket for the key. With a click, the doors unlocked and I pulled open the drivers door. I lowered myself gingerly into the drivers seat, keeping my legs and feet outside. I grabbed my phone from between the seats, and before dialling I looked up into the rear view mirror. My breath stopped in my throat. I looked bedraggled and muddy, but the thing that made me take in a huge breath and begin screaming was my hair. Once dark brown, it was now pure white, like fresh snow.

The Night I Saw The Reaper – Part 3

Note: I did publish this before, but the ending kinda sucked. So I’ve issued the first part as Part 3, and Part 4 will follow when the ending is better

In the silence that followed my question, a squall of wind drove a sheet of rain against the pub window. A few seconds later a rumble of thunder sounded.
Bill didn’t answer right away. Just as I was about to prompt him again, he took a breath and started speaking.
“I’ll never forget the day I saw him. It was dark, and I was walking by myself with the glow of my latest despicable deed warming me from within. The first thing I noticed was that sound had started to fade, as though invisible hands were forcing small pieces of cotton wool into my ears. The pace of my walking slowed, and I started to look round. The evening light then began to grow weaker, as though the stars and moon themselves were being turned down like a light on a dimmer switch. I stopped, and although it wasn’t cold I realized I could see my breath forming in clouds before me.
Then he appeared. It was as though he came out of nowhere, one second it was a mess of shadow and shapes and the next he stood before me. Tall. I’m no small man, but he stood at least two feet taller than me. Dressed in the long, dark grey cloak and cowl of legend, it was death himself.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was this man insane? Death? The cartoon character with the long black cloak and scythe? Please. Bill continued,

“There was a smell about him, dry and musty like the back of a cupboard that has not been opened for years. As I stared at him, trembling, it was as though he was the most real thing in the world – everything else around him was faded, like a dream. Then he spoke. Oh, sweet Jesus, he spoke to me. He told me why he was stood before me, and told me of his promise to revisit me again, tonight. His voice was like the sound of a stone coffin lid being dragged across an open crypt.”

Bill paused, and I could see in his eyes he was reliving that moment. I had my doubts about how real it actually was, but whether real or imagined, he was there again in his memory.

“I don’t know what happened, but the next thing I was aware of was walking along, everything seemingly normal. The strange thing was that whenever I started to think that I had imagined it, or it was a dream, the reality of that night would hit me all over again. It was like he didn’t want me to ever forget the night that we’ve now arrived at.”

Nature being what it is, another rumble of thunder shook the pub window at that moment, which caused me to jump a little. The storm outside had worsened, and I was glad to be in front of this fire. I wasn’t sure what to make of his story. He was so convinced of the reality of it, but it just sounded wrong. Surely this was all just a stupid malfunction in his brain that had caused him to imagine this situation? The sad thing was, he really was scared, and if he had lived the last few years of his life approaching this night with fear and trepidation… that must have been horrible.

Bill started to rise out of his chair. I looked up at him, and could see a look of resignation had calmed his face.
“It’s time lad. Thank you for listening to this old man’s rambling. It feels good to have a last bit of human contact.”

I didn’t know what to say to him – he really was convinced that he was about to go out and meet his doom!
I noticed he didn’t have a coat with him as he walked toward the pub door. If nothing else, he could catch his death out in that weather.
“Wait!” I cried, “do you want me to drop you somewhere? I’ve only had one drink and it’s horrible out there.”
As his hand touched the door handle, he turned to me with a faint smile, gently shook his head, then opened the door.
A barrage or rain flew into the pub, as though queued up outside and just waiting for the door to open. He hunched into himself, and walked outside, pulling the door closed after him. I just sat there for a second, looking at the pub door. I had no idea what to make of this strange man, but my guilt would not let me stay seated and it pulled me out of my chair to try again to get him to let me give him a lift home. I left my overnight bag next to my chair and went to the coat hook to retrieve my coat. I shrugged myself into it and fastened it to the neck. I opened the door, and pulling it closed behind me went out into the storm.

The Night I Saw The Reaper – Part 2

The first taste of sweet, musky whiskey burned the back of my throat as I took a sip. The heat that spread out through my chest was matched by that slowly climbing up my legs from the fire.
After voicing a very satisfied sigh of appreciation for the peaty taste of the malt, I turned to my companion in the opposite chair.
“You know, if there’s anything finer than a good glass of whiskey after a journey like that, I’ve yet to find it. Have you come far?”
The old man turned to me slowly and it took a second or two for his eyes to focus.
“No, not far lad. I live locally. I have done these past seventy three years. I was born in the hospital in Salisbury and I’ve lived in this village ever since.”
“Wow” I replied, “that long in this one place? You must have seen a lot of changes in that time. What’s the name of this place anyway? I didn’t get to see much of it what with the storm and everything.”
“Nomansland” said the old man.
“Really? Nomansland? That’s awesome” I replied with a smile. “My name is Peter, by the way” and with that, I leaned forward and held out my hand to shake. As the old man raised his hand to grasp mine, I noticed a slight shake along his arm, as though the effort of raising it was taxing.
“Call me Bill” he said.
“Nice to meet you Bill” I responded.

We sat for a while, Bill contemplating the fire and lost in his own world. I tried to imagine the thoughts going through his mind – what images were being played on his internal cinema screen? What lost lanes of memory were his feet leading him down?
I heard a noise behind me, and turning, I saw the man and woman who were sat at the table as I arrived were leaving. I glanced toward the bar, and the barman was nowhere to be seen. Out in the back room, I assumed, or maybe gone to make sure my room was prepared. As I turned back towards the fire, the old man – Bill – started to talk.

“I’ve been a bad man you know. I’ve done some terrible, terrible things. I’ve reveled in the evil in men’s hearts, I’ve taken pleasure in destroying that which is beautiful, and I’ve never regretted a single thing. Until tonight. Tonight I wish I could go back and right those wrongs. Hell, I wish I could go back and relive my life. If I had known then, what I now know, about what waits for me out there tonight, I would have been a different man.”

I looked at him and I wasn’t too sure what to say. He had spoken quietly, and his eyes had not left the fire, so I was unsure if he was addressing me or just speaking aloud. I couldn’t help but glance at the pub door, and then turn back to him and say “What do you mean? What does wait for you?”
“My end. My doom. My death.” Bill replied.
“What? What do you mean your death?” I said.
“I’ve been told. Tonight, when I leave here, because of my past misdeeds, my life will be forfeit.”
I couldn’t quite get my head round this. Was someone going to kill him? Who’d told him this? I wanted to think of him as some sort of crank, brain muddled by too many drinks, but the way he spoke to me it was clear he was utterly convinced of what he was telling me. I tried to be bluff and dismiss his worries.
“Nonsense” I said, “who told you such a thing? Unless someone is planning on doing the job themselves, how can they know when you’re going to die?”
With those words he slowly turned his head toward me and said “He’s told me he’s coming for me. He told me himself. Thirty three years ago, when I committed what is probably the most wicked act in my wretched life, he came to me and told me that tonight would be the end of me, and he would see to it personally.”
I was getting quite freaked out now, because although the words he was saying sounded like a joke, or the build up to some punchline, I could see from the faint gleam of sweat on his brow and the minute shakes wracking his body he was genuinely scared – maybe even petrified. Despite the warmth of both the drink in my hands and the fire in front of me, I started to feel a chill, starting at my neck, covering my shoulders and slipping it’s way down my spine.
I leaned forward in my chair again, my eyes locked on his, feeling the breath in my lungs retreating as though they didn’t want me to ask the question – but ask I must. I had to know.
“Who? Who would see to it personally, Bill?”

The Night I Saw The Reaper – Part 1

Driving through the New Forest, I was thankful to be in the car as the heavens opened. It was biblical rain, turning the world outside my windscreen into the interior of a washing machine on a full rinse cycle. The windscreen wipers could barely keep up with the pounding deluge that hammered my car from above.
The New Forest is a desolate place, yet filled with the beauty of untamed nature. And although in calmer weather it would have been nice to enjoy the wide open spaces seen in the dusk light, all I wanted to do was find somewhere safe to stop and get out of this jungle-like monsoon.
As I crested the brow of a hill, I saw a glow on the left hand side of the road, and as my car swam through the standing water beginning to form on the road I saw it was a pub. Actually, it was more like an old fashioned inn with a small ‘vacancies’ sign glowing in one of the windows. I was tired from my long journey, and thought an evening in front of a fire (I was sure this place would have an open, roaring fire somewhere in there) with a stop over in one of the inn’s rooms would be just what I needed.
Pulling off the road where there was no demarcation between carriageway and pub grounds, I nosed the car up to the front of the building, and prepared to make a dash for the welcoming site of glowing windows, with the promise of good malt whisky within. Opening the car door, I was doused in cold, driven rain. I scrambled out, hunched over in my coat, and slammed the door shut. I scurried to the rear of the car to grab my overnight bag, and with a last dash I made it to the front door of the inn, where I was partially shielded from the downpour.
I pushed open the door, and straight away was hit with a blast of warm, fragrant air. I was mindful of letting in the weather so I quickly entered and pushed the door closed behind me.
As I paused and shook myself briefly, like a dog who’s just emerged from the ocean, I gazed round the room I found myself in. I saw it was quite empty save for the barman, who was now looking at me with an amused smirk playing about his mouth, a man and a woman sat at a table by the window at the front of the pub, and an old man sitting in a high backed leather armchair, close to the fire and placed at an angle.
“My, you’re a brave man to be out in weather like this” said the man behind the bar. He was a tall, well built man with a barrel chest and a big beard.
“It wasn’t out of choice, believe me!” I replied. I walked toward the bar and placed my overnight bag on the floor in front of it.
“I wonder if I could possibly have a room for the night?” I asked.
“Certainly” he replied “we don’t get much trade this time of year, and you can see why with the weather being like it is. Let me get you drink, and we’ll see about getting you signed in. What’ll it be?”
“A large whisky please” I said “no ice, no water.”
I noticed a coat hook by the door, so I eased off my damp jacket and hung it up. When I returned to the bar, my drink was there with a small registration card and a pen next to it.
“If you’d be so good as to just fill in that form, and then you’re all set” said the barman.
I filled in the necessary, and passed the card over in exchange for a large bronze door key with a plastic fob attached saying ‘3’.
“Lovely, thanks” I said. I turned from the bar and faced the room. The man and woman were deep in conversation, and the old feller was gazing deep into the fire. The smell of the coal burning on the fire, and then heat it was giving off, was too nice to resist and so I made my way over to it. Indicating the duplicate of the chair the old man was sitting in I said, “Is anyone sitting here? Do you mind if I join you?”
The old man slowly lifted his gaze from the fire, and for a split second I saw a flash of fear in his eyes, as though I had threatened him with violence, rather than just asked him if I could share the fire.
“No lad, no” he said “no one sitting there, please, join me.”
So with a sigh I lowered myself into the chair, and eased myself against the firm leather back.
“Oh that’s just what I needed” I said. The fire instantly began to chase the chill from my bones and I stretched out my legs in front of me to feel the full force of it’s warmth.