by Wicked Quill
this is a rough draft and I want to know where to improve so please critque.
| The wind howled through the trees frosty branches. Thick black bark covered the trees body like a
shield against the cold November air. It seemed to keep the life of the tree inside like a cage bearing
prisoner. Its dark roots, like desperate fingers clutched the gray dirt. Knobs of the roots popped up,
looking like a skeletons knuckles clawing its way from the grave.
A horse of black marble stood beside the tree. Most would have thought it a statue, but the wise
knew well of this beast. They knew of its legendary stature, of its effortless grace, of its pounding feet
and magnificent hooves that shone like stars in the dead of night, but most of all they knew of its rider.
A boy of sixteen stood beside the gallant creature. He stood, back leaning against the tree, arms
and legs crossed staring at the sky through the vain like branches. The horse nudged the boy slightly,
and he sighed in response. He knew the marble creature was correct, it was time to go.
“Not tonight,” he sighed. “My hearts not in it tonight. Every night another and another. I just can't. Not tonight. My hearts not in it tonight.”
The beast seemed to nod before it nipped the boys arm. The boy flicked the beast away and mounted its muscular back.
“I used to love it, you know,” he said as they walked. The boy's skin was light like frost; his face
long and angular filled with unmarked shadows. A long light scar crossed his right brow, gently grazing
over his right eye. His hair was dark blue, almost navy and his eyes were a silver gray. He wore a long
black leather cape and blew softly over his shoulders in the cold wind.
Boy and beast rode over the black hill whose grass was tipped with snow. They walked slowly
towards a small village down below.
The boy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small curved dagger. He sighed heavily.
“I just don't care anymore, you know?” He said. “The Council would tell me how great I am at what I
do, they'd encourage me, adore me, but now...Now? Now... now I just don't care.”
They came to the entrance of the village. They strolled through the stone gates and under the gaze
of the guards, for the guards could only see men, and this boy was not a man, merely the shadow of one.
He paused, and looked to his left.
Next to the village wall was a women. She must have been no older than thirty, but her tear
streaked face spoke of another tale. Torn rags adorned her weak body, and her feet were bare, covered
only by the muck of the streets. She sat, eyes closed and sunken deep into her skull holding a child in
The boy waited a moment. He strolled over to her. He put a hand to her forehead and sighed. The boy
crouched down to his knees.
Ears pricked, he waited.
Yes, one heart beated. Faint, but it beat.
Only one heart.
He looked to the child and sighed. With a small flick of his knife, a little slit appeared in the babes
throat. He sighed once more and stood. He would be reaping the mother soon.
The boy slid the knife into his pocket and continued on his way.
The marble horse followed him through the damp village streets. He could imagine what this place
would look like in the day time. People rushing from one place to another, not giving one another a
second glance. Not knowing that the person next to them will die Saturday after next from a cancer that
they have never heard of, or even knew they had.
A boy stepped out of a building. He wore a thick woolen cloak which he held tightly around himself.
Shouts came from his house, echoing behind him. Quietly he shut the door and sat on the steps, huddled
in a tight ball shutting the rest of the world out.
The shouts subsided but the boy did not leave the steps. The Reaper went towards the boy and
waited, listening for a heartbeat.
The boy pulled out a small wooden flute from his pocket. The Reapers ears twitched as the boys
lips touched his instrument. The melody in his mouth was thick and bitter. The melody in his heart was
hard, rough...empty. Like an echo. Sullen and gray, like a funeral march, his heart beat.
The Reaper climbed the steps to meet the boy. He tried to think of where to reap him, but the
Reapers heart wasn't in it that night, so he plunged it into the boys chest, the most unoriginal of places.
Whipping his dagger on the stone steps, the Reaper trudged on.
A large inn came into sight. Lights shone from it like a flame illuminates a lantern. Shouts and
crashes erupted from behind the close doors. Screams of drunk men and the giggles of young bar maids
seeped from the beneath the window panes.
The Reaper slouched and groaned. The taverns where almost always where his duties lay. Where
else to find an empty man than a place where one goes to fill himself? Where else to find one whose
alone than a place full of people?
The boy shook his head. He always detested taverns for the feeling they gave him. They were not
ones of sadness, happiness, or comfort. It wasn't one of loneliness or one of a broken heart. No, any of
those would have suited him better than the one he felt now, for now he felt nothing. Feeling nothing,
nothing at all is possibly the most dangerous thing one can feel, for what one feels is what one becomes.
The young boy opened the tavern doors silently and stepped through. Not a single head turned in
his direction, not a soul cared that he was there. Then again, the boy did not care either.
Find another soul to reap
Find another flame
Find another one to keep
A death and reaping's all the same
The boy sung beneath his breath. The tune was a sweet one, an empty one without much meaning
or much thought.
He looked to a bar brawl that was happening on the right hand corner of the room. The louder the
man the emptier he was.
A man stood at one of the wooden table. The shouts and curses coming from his mouth felt muted
to the boy ears. He waited next to him, listing for a heartbeat.
The man waved his beefy arms about, slamming his fists on the table. He was covered in tattoos
of his land. A sailor, most likely, the boy noted.
After a few moments of no heart beat the boy sighed, holding his knife close towards him. He held
it steady, ready to plunge into the man. The boy squinted his eye and three...two...one
Slam. The dagger pierced the mans skin, digging deep into his spine. Blood the color of velvet
oozed from his veins, but the man did not notice. Neither he, nor any other human in the world. Only the
boy. He and others like him, those who reaped the empty hearts.
The boy than yanked his blade from the mans beefy back and sighed. He whipped it on the taverns
rotten wooden tables then slipped it into his back pocket. The man would be dead within a fortnight.
Most would have considered the boy a murderer, for causing the death of an innocent man. But what most don't know, was that the man was already dead. The boy was only reaping an empty soul.
The wise don't know of death
And the fool not of the reaping
But those who truly see
Are those who are worth keeping
Humming, the boy stepped out of the bar to greet his patient beast. He gently patted its cold neck
and took it by its leather reins, leading it down the damp ally.
A scream of delight echoed through the streets. The Reaper crept towards the sound. He hid in the
shadows like death always does and watch the scene before him.
From behind the corner of a shop of some sort, he saw a young girl. Her hair was as red as flame.
She stood her hands clutched close to her chest, her mouth wide open at the boy by her feet. A dazzling
diamond ring in hand, he smiled up at her--the happiest man in the world.
Only one heartbeat thumped through the alleyway.
"Yes!" the girl shrieked. "Of cores, yes!" The boy stood and they embraced.
The Reaper looked at his dagger and sighed. Years ago he would have chuckled. He would have
been giddy with excitement. A young person in love? What could be a more memorable reaping? What
the Reaper could not understand now, was what it as worth remembering for.
He walked towards the girl, then with one last sigh, slashed the back of her neck, and watched the
dark blood ooze down her back and stain her fiance's knuckles and he held her close, never wanting to
let her go.
The next Wednesday was going to be an unfortunate one for the both of them.
The Reaper walked back to his horse. Then for the hundredth time that night, the Reaper sighed.
He could go back now--he only had to reap one soul a night, but the Council of Death always knew
him to be the Reaper who went above and beyond. Perhaps that was why he had dried up so fast.
Perhaps all his talent for reaping had been used up and he was now, like those who he reaped, was only
an empty shell. No, for those who he reaped had death in their horizon, where he had only centenary
more of stabbing the hearts of broken souls.
If only I could see
What the Council sees in me
Then maybe I'd know
What... what I'm doing
And why I'm doing it
He let the last note drop. He had sung that song before, yes. It was on the first night of his first
reaping. The Council had told him to reap and empty heart. He hadn't a clue what they meant or what
they wanted, he felt lost and unsure. He let out a low chuckle. Twenty years later, he felt exactly the
opposite. He was so sure of what he was doing, that he had lost sight of why he was doing it.
The boy recalled the night he died. All Reapers start off dead, they were reaped from a Reaper only
seconds before they died. Not all reaped become Reapers, only those who the Council deemed worthy and fit for the task. The boy unfortunately was one of them.
It was a dark night. The sky was a murky sort of purple and the lake a vivid gray. Midsummer, yes, only weeks after his birthday. He was sixteen as he was now, only his hair was an ash color and his blank eyes had pupiles. He sat, a small curved dagger clutched in one hand, an fruit in the other.
The knife slipped from his grasp.
As the boy recalled his memorey, he began to wonder if that slip was truly an excident.
Every night after that he had spent with his marble horse reaping empty hearts. He remembered the first reaping he did. It was of a banker, middle age, three children and a grandchild. He was bent over his papers, humming sweetly. A knife to the spine. The man died that November of the flue.
It gave him a thrill. To be useful, to be needed, to be good at something in which few excelled. He always knew where and how to find the empty hearts and quicker and better than any other. He was a
master. Perhaps it was because, after all this time, he still was an empty heart himself.
But now the thrill was gone, and with every soul he reaped, he felt a little bit emptier until now, when he felt nothing at all. Feeling nothing is a dangerous thing. It's what made hearts empty, its what made him empty.
A soft hum came from behind him. The boy turned around to see a young girl. She was somewhere between fourteen or fifteen. She was rather large for her age in all aspects of the phrase and the look in her deep green eyes were well beyond her years. She was neither short nor tall, with large bones and a heart shaped face. Her brown hair was piled on top of her head effortlessly giving her a sort of ease that was envied by many.
She came closer to the boy and he braced himself for the cold rush he would get when the living passed through him. But the girl paused inches before him and tilted her head to the window of the tavern.
“You're a Reaper,” she said, folding her larger arms across her chest.
The boy stepped back, astonished. You can see me? He wounderd, not quite believing his ears.
Humans could not talk or see or feel the presence of Reapers. The boy was not aware that humans even
knew of their existences.
“I can see those who belong to the Council of the Dead,” she said softly, as if she was afraid of
anyone overhearing her talking to nothing. But the fear she had was not one of heart, rather one of brain.
She knew she should be afraid of what one might think of her if they saw her, but truthfully she did not
care. “It's a gift passed down from my father, and from his mother and so on.”
I hardly see how seeing a Reaper can be a gift, he thought. He felt slightly flustered. His job was to
reap humans, not to talk to them.
“It's not just Reapers I see, but also ghosts and ghouls, spirits the like. My family takes care of the
matters of the un-dead when they get out of hand, which is more often than you'd think.”
“I-I-I've never heard of such a family,” the boy stumbled on his words, not used to having them be
heard. He wasn't sure if he was even saying his words correctly.
“Yes,” she nodded. “Most of you haven't. You think that you can just pop into the world of the living,
reap the hearts of hundreds each night, and none of us would notice. Well we do.”
The boy stood silently for a moment then tilted his head slightly, not quite understanding.
“You should leave this village,” the girls voice was low but stern.
The Reaper stepped back. His ears pricked for a moment, then his brow furrowed. “You don't have
The girl shifted uncomfortably, as if she knew what was coming. She bit her lower lip and glanced
towards the ground. The Reaper could hear inhale deeply.
The Reaper's eyes squinted slightly as he gave her an almost coy smile. “You have an empty
“How would you know!” The girl cut in, her voice a slightly higher pitch. The look in her eyes was
one of despair and desperation, the one of knowing what was to come.
“I've spent twenty years searching out and reaping empty hearts. I know what an empty heart
sounds like, it has no beat, no rhythm, no song. I've been standing next to you for a while now, and I don't hear a sound. But I know what an empty heart sounds like, and it does not sound like yours. Yours
does not make a sound, yet it is not empty, it's fill—but with what?”
The girl thought again, and shifted. “My fathers mother, was supposed to be a Reaper.” she spoke
bitterly and harshly. “Seconds before her death in a carriage accident, a Reaper came to her to take her
heart. But at that moment, she realized that she loved the man next to her, her life long friend and my
current grandfather. She felt the desperate need to tell him that. This made her heart--”
“Unempty,” the boy gasped. “She had an empty heart, but it was filled with a need, with love at the
moment she was--”
“About to be reaped, yes." The girl nodded. She then raised her head and looked the boy in the eye. "The Reaper and touched her heart but he could not reap it, so instead he gave her the gift of sight allowing her to see into the World of the Dead. Ever since, all the people in her line have had an empty hearts since we were never supposed to be born. But we're all filled with a need, an inner drive to do something that only we can do.”
“Clear the world of the un-dead,” the boy nodded.
“Yeps, including you. So I suggest you leave.” She demanded.
The Reaper shook his head. After all this time of Reaping, he had dried out, forgot what why
he was doing it. Who knew that the person who needed to remind him, was himself?
“You think this world belongs to the living,” he chuckled. “And it does, but you forget, part of living,
is death. This world belongs to the dead just as much as it does to the living. You want to clear the world
of the dead, then you will also clear the world of the living. I reap the hearts I reap because if I didn't, you
would have empty souls amongest you. Souls without purpose, without life, without needs, without wants.
They'd be empty. The worse thing you can do to a man is leave him empty. True, there are those who
find fulfillment in doing, like you and your family. But what about that man at the bar? You should have
heard him. Screaming, cursing, he thinks he knows who he is and what he's doing. But in reality, he's
just an empty shell, and empty heart. He has no reason to be here. If I left him unreaped, to just float
amongst the living souls... one dose not know what he would do. He'd spend the rest of his life in a
tavern, kill, murder... that's just the one. If we let hundreds of people with no purposes just float around
with nothing to do, they had no motivation, only time and no heart... would you like to live in a world like
that? We reapers, we prevent that. We dead save the living.”
“And who are you to decide who dies?” she snapped, her eyes brimming with tears. “Who are
you to kill a man because he might become and drunk and a murderer--”
“I don't kill the men I reap!” the boy shouted back, feeling himself get more irritated with each word
she spoke. He then inhaled deeply, calming himself. “They die by themselves. I just reap the empty hearts, I make sure that they'll die. How they die and when they die isn't up to me. I don't make their hearts stop beating, I just listen when they do. I am not a killer, I am Reaper. I reap the empty souls."
Silence echoed through the alleyway as the rain drops dripped down the walls. Smoke coughed through the streets. Life went on around them. In the houses of the people, in the rats of the village, in the flies of the dogs and in the lice of the skulls of the man. All of them living under the shadow of death.
The girls did not say a thing.
The boy took a few deep breaths.
Inhale, exhale, he reminded himself.
Find another soul to reap
Find another flame
Find another one to keep
To them a death and reaping's all the same
He sung to her. The girls teeth were clenched and her eyes peered at the cold November ground.
She understood what he said, every word of it. She knew all the answers to the questions she asked,
and all the defenses to the arguments she gave.
“My brother's will be so mad,” she sniffled, understanding what was about to happen.
The wise don't know of death
And the foul not of the reaping
But those who truly see
Are those that are worth keeping
The boys sung, his voice low and deep. He slowly slipped his dagger from his back pocket and reached for the girls hand, which she reluctantly gave. With a swift movement, he cut her along her dark blue vein.
She dropped against the wall, eyes welling up with tears.
“So now what?” she asked, begging herself not to cry, as the tears slipped from beneath her deep green eyes.
“Well,” the boy joined her against the damp ally wall. The sounds of the tavern could be heard from
a distance. He heard a loud crashing sound and a curse as the door opened and a few men were tossed
out of the bar. “You'll die, then you'll become a Reaper, like me, or something greater.”
“I don't want to die,” she sobbed.
“You're not going to die,” comforted the boy.
“I know!” the tears spilled down her face, she held her wrist tightly. “That's what's so horrid! I'll
never see my brothers again, or my parents, or the summer, or spring... I'll-I'll never argue with Fred or
feed the chickens or...” she gulped down her tears then stopped.
The boy toyed with his knife, watching how its color changed as the held it to the moon. "You make being alive sound like a thing to miss. You know, death isn't bad either."
The girl sniffled again. "You really don't get it," she said, her voice strained.
The boy dropped his arms between his legs. "What don't I get?" he asked, looking at the sky. So many stars, all so bright, looking down on him like eyes. When he was alive, he once thought haven was in the stars, and that when he'd die, he'd become a star, floating in the obsess, watching his children as they live out their lives. And he'd look down at them, and they up at him, and they would wonder, what did ever happen to dear old pa? Then he would chuckle, and wave, but they would never see him.
He still wondered, somewhere deep in his mind, if he would ever be a star, or if he would simply be a reaper his whole life, living out a duty he did not completely comprehend. It is said by some, that understanding death could destroy a man. The reaper wondered if not existing could really be that bad.
"Being alive," she said. "Being alive, it's like... it's like summer. Sometimes it gets too hot, and all you want is for winter to come. And at night it can be cold. There are bugs, and it's usually far too muggy... but then there are those days...where the sun is in just the right spot, and the grass is just green enough...and you lie on your blanket with him, with your apples in your basket, and you know that when you go inside you'll have to sweep the floor and you'll have to wash the dishes, and all your brothers will tease you. asking you about him, but right then, right there... and he smiles..."
The girl closed her eyes, and the boy opened his.
"Is that what it means," he asked. "To be alive? These moments, are they what make you alive?"
The girl thought. "I've always thought that being alive means that you have a choice, a soul."
"I don't have a soul," said the boy. "But I'm alive."
"No you're not," she scoffed.
"But I have choice."
She blinked. He brow scrunched slightly, and her lips pursed.
"Death," announced the Reaper. "Death is what makes us--them alive. Living under the shadow of death. All living things, old, young, foolish, wise, they all live under the shadow of death. Be that they fear it, or welcome it with open arms. You think death is the end when there is so much more beyond that--"
"What's the point of going on when your empty?" asked the girl. "I can't hear your heartbeat."
"You're not a Reaper."
"I don't need to be."
Once more the boy looked at her. What must it be like, he thought, to live in life while knowing the secret of death?
"What good is it," she asked, more vigorously, her voice louder as she gripped her wrist harder, her deep blood poring from her hands. "Life past death, if you can't feel any of it?"
"I used to feel glee," said the boy, looking at the sun as it began to rise.
"You used to?"
The boy nodded. They should leave soon. The council wanted him back by sun rise, and they were not excepting a guest.
"Death isn't life," said The Reaper harshly. "There is a reason why the living fear it. It is not what you know. We do not feel as you used to. Well, you do at first, but then you change. Slowly, you won't even know it but soon sadness will slip from your grasp and you won't pity those you reap. It is not life, you are not alive." The Reaper stood as he slipped his dagger into his back pocket. He reached down to her, lending his gloved hand. She pushed against the wall to brace her self, then gracefully took his arm as he led her to the horse.
The three of them cantered away, off the the tree where The Reaper came from. The Reaper glanced down at the village below. Two children died two night, and a few would die the next. They were all sleeping now, in their homes, living. Tomorrow The Reaper would come, and he'd reap a few more hearts. His brow furrowed.
The Reaper wondered what it would be like to feel empty.