Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2309104-THE-HARVESTER
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2309104
A man dressed as a hillbilly, carrying a scythe, harvests souls to sell to the devil
It was just under a month to Christmas 2023. Johnny Johnston was out weeding his promising crop of corn, in the Victorian countryside, just outside the town of Upton, on the Glen Hartwell to Willamby line.
Gonna be a great yield this year! he thought, using an ancient scythe to hack out the weeds. Careful not to damage his precious crop.

He bent low to grab a tough little bastard, as he called stubborn weeds that refused to be uprooted.

He pulled with all his might, saying: "Where do your roots go, you tough little bastard? All the way to China?"

Finally, Johnny, a tall, huge-gutted balding man, pulled out just over half of the weed and managed to dig out the rest with his scythe.

"Not as tough as you thought you were?" he said, drawing strange looks from his wife and daughter, over near the farmhouse.

"Now he's talking to weeds?" said Saffie, his seventeen-year-old daughter. A tall curvacious ravenette like her mother, not anorexic as most city girls are these days.

"What're you mean now?" asked her mother, Lynda - a raven-haired woman with wide hips and an enormous bust line. "He's always talked to weeds. He regards farming as a war between him and nature, rather than a union."

"Isn't it our duty to send him to a loony bin or something? If only for his own good?" asked Saffron.

Her mother laughed, then said: "At the moment he's only a danger to himself and the weeds. As long as he's not dangerous to us, live and let live, I say."

"I think Paul McCartney said it better with 'Live and Let Die!'" said Saffie.

The two women turned, laughing, as they walked back to the wooden patio, then in through the back door and into the kitchen.

"You tough little bastards!" he said, falling over backward this time as he tried to pull up a smaller, but more deeply rooted weed. "Think you can defeat me, do you?"

"Having troubles?" asked a tall, stranger, dressed in denim overalls, work boots and gloves, with an ancient, dusty Stetson on his head. Like Johnny, he was carrying a scythe. Except that the stranger's scythe had a shiny new-looking blade, and clearly a razor-sharp edge. Unlike the dull and rusty blade on Johnny's instrument.

"Any help would be appreciated," admitted Johnny climbing to his feet, then rubbing his behind clean with one hand.

Leaning forward the stranger touched the weed gently, almost delicately. It immediately withered away and died, like in stop-motion photography.

"That's some Hell of a weapon you've got there," said Johnny in awe. Unaware of just how accurate his words were.

"The name's Johnny Johnston," he said holding out his right hand: "What's your moniker?"

Shaking his hand, the stranger said: "They call me the Harvester."

"You a travelling farm hand or something?" asked Johnny, wondering if the bloke wanted a job. And whether he should offer him one since the crop would be ready to harvest soon.

"Not quite ... I harvest souls, and sell them to The Devil."

"What are you, a nut or something?" demanded Johnny, turning his back upon the Harvester,

The Harvester swung his scythe at Johnny's neck. The blade passed straight through without doing any physical damage. But when Johnny looked around, his face and eyes had withered, had drooped so that he looked like a very old man.

"As I said, I harvest souls," said the Harvester with a chuckle. Turning, he walked back the way that he had come, away from the farm, deep into the forest. Looking down at his feet, he said, "That's one I can sell you, Old Nick."

There came a rumbling, which almost sounded like a laugh, from beneath the ground.

Coming out of the farmhouse onto the patio, Saffron called out: "Mum says, you can keep waging war on the weeds, or you can come inside for lunch?"

When he ignored her and stayed staring at the ground, she sighed and thought: Deaf old bugger, he really should be put down!

Jumping down off the patio, she raced through a small trail between the corn, careful not to damage any of the precious crops.

Running up to Johnny, who was still facing away from her, staring at his feet, she tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

Johnny turned around slowly to face her, and Saffie started screaming and then fainted.

Hearing her daughter screaming, Lynda raced out of the kitchen and ran through the corn patch, less careful than her daughter had been. Seeing her daughter lying on the ground she knelt down to lift her up and gently shake her awake.

"Saffie, honey, what is it?"

"Dad! His face ... it seems to have melted!"

"What do you mean his face has melted?" asked Lynda. Then seeing a shadow cast over them, she looked up, saw her husband and his drooping face, and also started screaming.

Over at Deidre Morton's boarding house in Merridale, Mrs. M. as everyone called her, was laying out a humungous lunch for her boarders: Colin Klein, a redheaded reporter from England, hunting down Australian myths and legends -- and doing very well at it in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby region. Terri Scott, a beautiful blonde, thirty-five-year-old policewoman, just promoted to head cop in the area. Sheila Bennett, an orange-haired Goth chick, around the same age, with fifteen years in the constabulary, who was now the second in charge of the local region. Freddy Kingston, a short, fat balding retiree. Tommy Turner, a reformed alcoholic - after Deidre had confiscated his hidden stash --, a short, obese man with long blonde hair, also a retiree. Natasha Lipzing was a seventy-year-old, tall, thin, grey-haired woman, who had come to the boarding house at age thirty-five, and who had a great passion for murder mysteries and true crime magazines.

There were also two short-term guests for the summer. Millie and Michael Lovejoy. Public servants. Like Colin Klein, they were enjoying their long service leave in Mrs. M.'s boarding house in Merridale.

Mrs. Morton was famous locally for her exquisite meals and more than generous proportions.

Looking glum, Deidre said: "I'm afraid I went to the cupboard earlier and the cupboard was bare. So all I've got for today's lunch is Australian-style Chop Suey and Australian-style friend rice, plus I've cooked the remaining potatoes as homemade chips. And of course, there is toast and marmalade for anyone who might want it."

Sitting down, Deidre looked like she was going to cry at the way that she had let them all down.

"Nonsense, Mrs. M., this looks fantastic," said Terri. She filled a bowl full of the Chop Suey, then got stuck in with a spoon in one hand, and a fork in the other.

"Same here," agreed Sheila Bennett, filling a plate high with the fried rice. Like Terri, she used a spoon and a fork to eat with. "Maybe just a teensy bit more mayonnaise, though," she suggested, applying another tablespoon of homemade mayo to the rice.

Taking a taste she affirmed: "Now that is delish!"

The others filled up on fried rice, Chop Suey, or both. Or in the case of Tommy Turner, a boiled cabbage and mince meat sandwich, drinking the rest of the Chop Suey as soup.

"Why must you make everything into a sandwich?" demanded Natasha Lipzing. "Your mashed potato and gravy sandwiches were off-putting enough, without seeing you now eating a Chop Suey sandwich."

"What is wrong with a Chop Suey sandwich?" he insisted: "I like to eat my food in sandwiches!"

"Yes, I think we all know that by now," said Sheila Bennett.

"Hey, leave me to enjoy my Chop Suey sandwich in peace," insisted Tommy.

"Yes, at least he has a hearty appetite," said Deidre Morton: "I do despair sometimes about how little you three youngsters eat."

"I'm forty-eight," pointed out Colin Klein: "And Terri and Sheila ..." They both looked around, ready to glare at him, if he revealed their true ages.

"Sheila and Terri, are in their early thirties. They might be young compared to me, but none of us are teenagers."

"Thank goodness," said Natasha Lipzing: "All we would need is rowdy teenagers in the house. Teenagers are so rude these days."

"Not all of them," said Freddy Kingston, feeling the need to defend the younger generation. "I had a fall in the street a few days ago, and three teenagers, a girl, and two boys, pulled over, helped me into their car, drove me back here, and helped me inside. I offered them a reward for it, and they refused to take it, saying that they were just helping their fellow man."

"That's right," said Deidre: "I remember seeing them helping you to the front door."

"Yes, but..." began Natasha. Stopping when she realised that she was bashing her head against a brick wall.

They were still discussing the pros and cons of the younger generation, when there came a knocking on the front door.

"I'll get it," said Sheila Bennett, racing across to open the front door. She talked to two men for a while, then came back followed by Jessie Baker, a tall well-muscled local cop, with rusty red hair, and Donald Esk a giant of a man with brown hair in a mop-top cut, and a long scar on the left side of his face. Although both police sergeants, as Chief Constable of the area, like Terri, Sheila outranked them both."

"Guten Nachmittag Mein Fuhrer,' said Jessie doing a Nazi salute to Terri Scott, breaking out into goofy mode, as all the cops in the local area liked to do on occasion.

Trying without success not to laugh, Terri said: 'Guten Nachmittag' means good afternoon. We are just having lunch because it is noon."

"Since when did she become such a clever clog?" asked Don Esk.

"Since forever," said Colin Klein, defending his girlfriend. "So are you here just to irritate us? Or is there something police-related you need to tell Terri and Sheila?"

"No wonder they call him, 'The death of the Party'." said Jessie. He went on to tell them how Saffron and Lynda Johnson had found Johnny Johnston at the Johnston farm outside Upton.

"It was like his face had melted somehow?" puzzled Terri Scott.

"No," said Jesus (pronounced 'Hee-Zeus') Costello, the administrator and chief doctor at the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, half an hour later: "It would be more accurate to say that his face drooped, as if with extreme old age."

He led them over to the single bed room where Johnny Johnston lay on the bed, staring sightlessly ahead. On the other side of the bed sat Saffie and Lynda in chairs, both sobbing uncontrollably.

Not knowing what to say to wife and daughter, they crept outside into the hallway and followed Jesus to his office.

"We've run blood and urine tests, which have given us strange results, without allowing us to figure out what happened to the poor bastard!" said Jesus.

Knocking on the door, then entering, an attractive blonde, Annie the Nurse-in-Charge, handed Jesus a clipboard with papers clipped on.

"In some ways, he is healthier than anyone in this room," said Jesus: "Other than having seemingly aged forty years in as many seconds. In other ways, his stats are so strange that they're incomprehensible."

Over in Goodwin Drive, in Harpertown Bobby Montgomery was running the General Store that he had inherited from his father in 1999. He was sweeping up the floor when in walked a heavyset man, dressed like Jethro Bodine from the Beverly Hillbillies, apart from the dusty black Stetson hat that he wore. Plus a brand new-looking scythe, with a gleaming silver blade.

"Hole ... Lee?" said Bobby looking at the scythe: "That's a Hell of sweet-looking scythe you got there. I'll give you a thousand smackers for it."

"It's not for sale," said the Harvester.

"All right, fifteen hundred," said Bobby.

"Thank you, but no thank you."

"Two thousand dollars, but that has to be my final offer."

"Sorry," said the Harvester.

"Sorry to hear that," said Bobby holding out his right hand to shake: "My name is Bobby Montgomery, been running this store since my father died back in '99."

"Hello," said the Harvester shaking hands with Bobby.

"So what's your name, mister?"

"They call me the Harvester."

"Oh," said Bobby: "Well, you've turned up at the right time. Plenty of farms around here are getting ready to harvest their crops soon."

"Not that kind of harvester. I harvest souls to sell them to the Devil."

"Oh, I see," said Bobby laughing: "Well, it's nearly a month past Halloween, so you won't get much work around here. Maybe you could stand in as one of the wise men at the Glen Hartwell Christmas pageant. It's not for a few weeks yet. But they have to pay you for rehearsals, so you might have come at just the right time..."

Sick of Bobby's babbling, the Harvester swung his scythe toward his forehead. Like before, it passed straight through without cutting Bobby. But he immediately took on a slack-jawed local yokel look. His face became almost liquid as his flesh sagged down from his brows to his eyes, from his cheeks to his jowls, from his jowls to his neck, from his neck to his nipples like in the old science fiction thriller, "The Incredible Melting Man".

"Have a nice day," said the Harvester. He snickered at his own cutting wit, as he turned and walked toward the door of the store.

As he was leaving, he stepped back to let an elderly lady into the store, dipping his hat and saying: "Ma'am."

What a gentleman, they're so rare these days thought Ally Cottager. She walked up to the counter and said good morning, Mr. Montgomery...?"

He turned around, to present his 'melting' face to her and Mrs. Cottager started screaming.

Half an hour later Jessie Baker (a tall muscular redhead policeman) and Paul Bell ( a tall, lean but wiry raven-haired policeman) arrived at the general store, along with Cheryl Pritchard (a tall muscular paramedic, who constantly badly dyed her hair, this week it was dark green. Also a black paramedic, Derek Armstrong, whose hobby was weight-lifting, so that he was strong enough for most emergencies. It also explained his nickname 'Strong Arm'.

A small group of people were crowding around Ally Cottager, whom they were physically preventing from looking around at the awful mess that once had been Bobby Montgomery's face.

"What's the prob...?" asked Cheryl. She stopped and bit her left fist to stop herself from screaming at the sight of Bobby Montgomery, who still stood standing at the counter. Seemingly unaware of what was going on around him.

She half expected him to say 'd'oh' like Homer Simpson. But fortunately, he remained silent.

"I think we should take Bobby first, Cheryl, and send another ambulance for Ally," said Derek.

Struggling to get the words out, Cheryl said: "I agree."

Bringing in the stretcher bed, they walked around the counter, with the onlookers helpfully moving aside. Then taking Bobby by the shoulders, they led him with no difficulty, since he followed them unquestioningly, to the stretcher.

When he was on it, they wheeled him out of his store, put him into the rear of the ambulance, and took off for the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital.

"Will you stay with Ally, while I go notify Terri?" asked Jessie Baker.

"Sure thing, mate," said Paul Bell.

Arriving at the police station in Mitchell Street, Glen Hartwell, Jessie Baker told Terri Scott, Sheila Bennett, and Colin Baker, about Bobby Montgomery.

His face was melted like Johnny Johnston's?" confirmed Terri.

"Aha," agreed Jessie: "He had a moronic look on his face, despite having a 135 IQ."

"How moronic?" asked Terri.

"Moronic enough to make Donald Trump look normal by comparison!"

"My God, that's bad," said Colin Klein.

At the Glen Hartwell Hospital, they found that Johnny Johnston and Bobby Montgomery had been placed together in a two-bed room. Around them stood Jesus Costello, Annie the Nurse-in-Charge, and Elvis Green the coroner (so nicknamed because of his long sideburns and devotion to Elvis Presley.

Also in the room were Cheryl Pritchard, Derek Armstrong, and the hospital pastor Leon Springer.

"Leon, Strong Arm, Chezza, Jesus, Elvis," said Terri by way of greeting.

"Hey, don't I rate a mention," teased Annie.

"Sorry, hello, Annie."

"It's too late I'm hurt," she said with a broad grin.

"So what's the diagnosis, Jesus?" asked Sheila Bennett.

"I believe it is some kind of peculiar genetic imbalance, that we can't define yet," said the head surgeon of the hospital. "Leon, on the other hand, has his own theory."

"I believe that they have had their souls stolen," said Leon. A tall, muscular man, who as a nondenominational priest dressed in plain clothing.

"Well considering the whacky backy cases that Colin has brought our way over the last month or so, I won't rule anything out," said Terri, snickering at her boyfriend's expense.

"How dare you," said the redheaded reporter: "Guess who's getting her bottom spanked later?"

"Ooh, can I watch?" asked Sheila.

"No!" said Terri and Colin as one.

"Should you perform the last rights on them?" asked Annie.

"As a Nondenom I don't do the last rights," said Leon.

"So if you're right, Leon. What can we do to get their souls back for them?" asked Terri.

"It depends on whether Satan has them yet. If he has, then, short of actually going to Hell, there's no way to get them back. If, however, someone else has them, planning to sell them to Satan, you need to track that someone down and somehow force him, her, or it to release them."

"Yes, I noticed your use of the word, 'somehow'," said Colin Klein. Putting to words the thoughts of everyone else.

"Ah, now there I can't help you," said Leon: "Other than praying for your success in returning their souls."

"Well, at least then we have a prayer," said Terri, only half joking.

"I hope so," said Leon Springer, as Terri, Sheila, Jessie, and Colin walked back out into the corridor. "I certainly hope so."

They went around with Annie to interview Ally Cottager and were surprised to find that she had seen a man who was possibly responsible for the two soul thefts as they were starting to call the perpetrator.

"So he was dressed like a chubby Jethro Bodine?" asked Terri Scott.

"Accept for the dirty-looking black Stetson hat that he wore," said Alley: "Oh, and the shiny new looking scythe that he carried."

Terri and the others exchanged puzzled looks. To Annie, Terri asked: "Johnny and Bobby weren't cut at all were they?"

"No," said Annie: "No wounds of any kind. Just their flesh hanging down as though they had suddenly aged fifty or sixty years."

"That's what I thought," said Terri, puzzled.

Margot and Robbie O'Keefe were driving their blue and white Kombi Van down Mickelson's Road, a dirt path on the way to Briarwood, via Upton. In the back of the Kombi Van was their six-year-old daughter, a cute little brunette named Marguerita.

Ahead of them on the road, they saw a hitchhiker, a middle-aged man dressed like a cliché of an American cotton farmer, with a Stetson hat and a long, shiny-bladed Scythe.

As Robbie started to slow down, Margot demanded: "What are you doing?"

"Giving him a lift."

"But he's got a skife," said Margot getting the pronunciation wrong.

"It's pronounced 'sigh-ff'," corrected Robbie.

As the van stopped near the Harvester, Margot said: "All right, then I'll get into the back with Marguerita, and you can risk your life with a sigh-ff-wielding maniac."

"His scythe won't fit into the cabin," protested Robbie.

They were still arguing when it started to pour with rain.

"Well, that solves it," said Robbie getting out of the cabin: "We can't leave him standing in the rain."

He walked around to slide open the door to the rear of the Kombi and said: "Hi, I'm Robbie O'Keefe."

"Just call me the Harvester," he said as he climbed into the back of the van.

"Is that your job?" asked Robbie.

"Sure is," said the Harvester as Robbie raced around to the right-hand side of the van to get in out of the rain.

To pretty Marguerita the Harvester asked: "What's your name, little girl?"

"Marguerita," she said: "But I'm not supposed to talk to strange men."

"Well, they certainly don't come any stranger than me," he said honestly.

Marguerita laughed then said: "What's your name?"

"They call me the Harvester."

"What's a harvester?" she asked.

"Most harvesters cut down wheat, barley, corn, or other crops for a living. I harvest souls, which I sell to the Devil."

The girl stared for a moment then laughed, saying: "Ha-ha, you're funny."

"Would you like me to show you?" he asked.

"Okay," she said.

Holding up his scythe, he said: "Hold out your right hand."

Crossing her arms with her hands hidden under her armpits, she said: "You're not gonna cut me with that thing!"

"No, this thing doesn't cut, it extracts."

"What's stracts?" she asked.

"Removes the essence, without cutting the physical."

"Oh," said the girl; not having a clue what he had just said.

Somewhat tentatively she held out her left hand and he passed the blade of the scythe through it, without cutting the hand at all.

"How you do dat?" she asked.

"Magic," he said, and they both laughed.

But then the hand started to grow as big as a teenager's hand, then grow to an old lady's hand, and began to wither, developing dark blue veins, and the skin started to sag off her emaciated hand.

"Hey, what happening?" asked Marguerita.

"I've taken your soul," he explained: "But don't worry, soon you won't even know what's happened to you."

As he spoke the aging and withering continued up her arm to her shoulder, along with the arm stretching up first to the size of a teenager's arm, then that of an old woman. The blue veins shot up along her arm toward the shoulder like Formula-One racing cars.

Soon her right arm and hand began aging and withering too, along with both feet and arms, until she had stretched up and withered to the size of a ninety-year-old woman. Her clothing burst off her to reveal flaccid hanging sacks as saggy breasts, and a slightly distended belly, despite the generally withered shape of her arms and hands, legs and feet, chest and vulva.

The aging continued up to her neck, which quickly developed into a turkey neck, then up to her pretty face, which soon began to wither. The flesh beginning to sag down in loose flaps of skin, like on Johnny Johnston and Bobby Montgomery.

Her beautiful raven-coloured hair turned grey and half of it fell out, leaving her with bald patches like with many old ladies. She developed an old woman's grey moustache and grey hair under her armpits.

As her eyes went glassy, the Harvester lay her gently upon the mattress that covered the floor of the van and placed a patchwork quilt across her to make her less visible to her parents.

They had travelled through the town of Upton, and were halfway to Briarwood when the Harvester knocked on the panelling between the rear and the passenger section of the Kombi Van.

"You can let me out here," he said.

"But we're kilometres from anywhere," said Robbie, getting a glare from Margot.

"That's all right, I've got an interview for a harvesting job at a station in this area.

"If you say so," said Robbie, sounding doubtful.

"Whatever you say," said Margot, sounding relieved.

"I don't like dropping him off in the middle of nowhere," said her husband.

"Why not, it's not raining anymore," said Margot: "Plus he's got a job nearby."

So, reluctantly, Robbie O'Keefe walked around to open the sliding door, and let the Harvester out.

"Your daughter is sleeping. Best not to wake her," said the Harvester as he headed off on foot into the sweet-smelling pine and eucalyptus forest between Upton and Briarwood.

"Best of luck to you," called Robbie.

"You too," called the Harvester, waving. He was tempted to harvest Robbie and Margo too. But then thought: No, better not to push my luck.

At Deidre Morton's boarding house in Rochester Road in Merridale, Mrs. Morton was dishing up her latest dinner extravaganza of roast duck with cherry sauce, complete with roast potatoes, roast pumpkin, steamed corn on the cob, steamed carrots, Brussel sprouts, peas or beans, cauliflower and sliced up red cabbage. Everyone got a choice of peas or beans, but otherwise got generous helpings of everything.

"Eat up everyone," said Deidre. More as an order, than encouragement.

"This is delicious, Mrs. M.," said Terri.

Colin Klein had never liked roast duck, which he had always found greasy and tasteless meat, but he found that the cherry sauce made a universe of difference.

"It really is," confirmed Natasha Lipzing.

"Yes indeed," said Millie Lovejoy, seconded by her husband, Michael.

"Superb," said the orange-haired Goth chick, Sheila.

"Absolutely," said Freddy Kingston.

"It's okay, I guess," said Tommy Turner, unenthusiastically. "Could do with a dab of rum maybe."

"Rum on duck in cherry sauce?" asked Natasha Lipzing, sounding horrified.

"Oh, very well," said Deidre. Getting up, she walked across to the cabinet on the left-hand side of the dining room and removed a bottle of bay rum. She half-filled a small glass with it, then locked away the bottle again.

Handing the small glass to Tommy, she said: "Knock yourself out with that."

"With that tidge of rum?" he asked.

"If you don't want it," she said reaching for the glass.

"No, no, I want it," he said. He took a small sip, then poured the rest across his duck in cherry sauce. He took a bite and said: "Ah, now it's delicious."

"I can't believe that he's actually eating it like that," said Natasha Lipzing.

"To each his own," said Deidre Morton, looking as horrified as Natasha sounded.

The O'Keefe's reached their final destination Briarwood and got out of the Kombi Van. Robbie went across to unlock the front door, of their two-storey adobe house. Margot went across to slide open the side door of the van, she turned on the overhead light, and gently removed the crocheted quilt from Marguerita and started to scream at the sight of the withered old lady who lay where her beautiful young daughter should be.

"What the...?" said Robbie. He raced back to the Kombi Van to see what the matter was.

"Honey, what...?" he asked, stopping to stare at the old lady lying slack-jawed in the back of the van.

Seeing the gold chain around her neck with a Minnie Mouse cameo on it, he said: "Oh, God! It's Marguerita! Our beautiful little Marguerita."

Then he fainted, leaving Margot to ring through to Paul Bell to report what had happened.

Trying their best not to look at Tommy Turner, they all got stuck into their own food, Finishing just in time before Andrew Braidwood (a tall, blonde man with long stringy hair) and Paul Bell came knocking at the front door.

"Drew, Paul, what can I do for you?"

"We've got another one, I'm afraid," said Drew.

"Another premature aging?" asked Terri, as Deidre returned with the two men.

"Afraid so." This time the men did not waste time with commie cuts comedy, instead he just said: "Little Marguerita O'Keefe has aged into a ninety-year-old woman."

"Oh my God!" said Deidre Morton.

"Not little Marguerita?" asked Natasha Lipzing.

Most of the others dropped their forks or stared open-mouthed at Drew Braidwood.

"The poor little thing!" said Sheila almost crying, dropping her knife and fork. The only show of weakness by the Goth chick that Colin Klein had ever seen in the five or six weeks that he had known her.

"Afraid so," said Drew, looking like he was about to start crying too.

Half an hour later the four cops, plus Colin Klein were all at the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, talking to Jesus Costello, and Topaz Moseley a beautiful platinum-blonde nurse who had just transferred from The Darnwell Community Hospital in the North Eastern suburbs of Melbourne to the countryside to be near her fiancée.

They talked in the corridor, so as not to disturb Robbie and Margot O'Keefe who were sitting by Maguerita's bedside, holding her withered hands and crying.

"It's got us all beaten," said Topaz Moseley.

"For all we can work out, Leon could be right," said Jesus: "They could have had their souls stolen. We certainly have no scientific explanation for what's happened to all three of them."

Looking into the bedroom, Sheila said: "It always seems worse when it happens to a child."

"How is Ally Cottager?" asked Terri

"The old lady who found Bobby Montgomery?" asked Topaz: "She's recovering well and will be sent home in the next day or two."

"At last some good news," said Colin Klein.

Despite not wanting to break in on their grief, they went into Marguerita's room to talk to her distressed parents.

They were too hysterical to say much that was comprehensible. Except for mentioning the Jethro Bodine wannabee with a black Stetson hat and a gleaming new scythe.

"Well, that confirms one part of the whacky backy story," said Colin Klein as they started out to their cars to head home for the night.

Early the next morning Wendell Goodwin was up milking his cows before breakfast on his cattle station outside Willamby. Bessie's teats were a bit pusy. He wiped them down and then applied ointment. Knowing that he would soon have to milk her, although the milk would have to be thrown out.

"Having trouble old timer?" asked the Harvester as he approached the farmer.

"Firstly, I'm only fifty-five, which ain't old these days," said Wendell: "Secondly, Bessie here has infected teats, so I'm putting medication on them.

"I can solve your problem," said the Harvester.

"You a vet?" asked Wendell.

"No, I guess you could call this a home remedy." He swung the scythe at Bessie and would have cutten the cow in half. Except that the blade passed straight through her.

"How the Hell did you do that?" asked the farmer standing up in amazement.

"I'm the Harvester," he explained: "My blade doesn't cut physically, it takes away souls."

"Takes away...?" asked Wendell sitting down. Then he noticed Bessie's teats had started to shrivel up, as soon did her udder and gradually the rest of her undercarriage.

Bessie began mooing in distress as she gradually aged to death, growing withered and scrawny, unlike young Marguerita she grew smaller, not larger, looking like a small heifer, when she finally died. But a heifer with loose, saggy flesh.

"Why'd you do that, you stupid bar...?" began Wendell, stopping as the Harvester swung his scythe straight through the farmer.

"What the fuck, you think you're doing," demanded Wendell, standing up to lean over the Harvester with fire in his eyes.

"Don't worry, you'll calm down soon enough," said the Harvester.

As he had predicted, Wendell Goodwin started to melt from middle age to old age. He soon was gazing sightlessly, no longer complaining about what had happened to Bessie. Or what was now happening to him?

In Wendell's case, he started to wither from the feet upwards, which meant that his legs were soon too frail to hold him and he fell down. Hitting his head on the three-legged milking stool, he instantly became a quadriplegic. Which didn't seem to bother him as he started to wither and age.

Like the others it was a slow, gradual process, starting at the feet, moving to the lower legs, then the upper legs and groin. Then to the abdomen, up to the belly button, then up to the chest, to the nipples, then to the shoulders. Going down to the upper arms, the elbows, the lower arms, then the wrists, then the hands and fingers. Finally, it went up the neck, giving him a turkey neck, until moving up to the chin, then the nose, the eyes which lost their lustre, then the brows, the forehead, and finally the scalp.

Until he looked like a clay manikin, which someone had changed their mind about and had tried to erase the image by pulling down great hanging lengths of the soft clammy clay.

"Wendell? Breakfast's ready!" called his wife Claire.

Hearing her call, the Harvester decided that it was time for him to leave and find another victim. Turning, he walked back the way that he had come. Out across the cattle station, until it blended into the forestland beyond.

At Mrs. Moron's boarding house in Rochester Road, they were all enjoying a sumptuous breakfast of waffles with whipped cream and raspberries, English Muffins, toast, and marmalade, or vegemite, cherry, or blackberry jam.

"I know it's simpler than my usual breakfasts," apologised Deidre Morton: "But I thought it might make a change from my usual grandiose repasts.

"Oo arm," said Sheila Bennett, scoffing down her fourth waffle with cream and raspberries. With two more already upon her plate.

"I second that," said Terri with a laugh. Choosing instead English muffins with margarine and blackberry jam. Also onto her fourth, with two more on her plate.

"You've turned us into voracious eaters, with your sumptuous meals, Mrs. M.," said Colin Klein.

"Yes, indeed," said Natasha Lipzing, scoffing down toast with margarine and cherry jam.

"It could use some whisky, though," said Tommy Turner.

Sighing, Deidre said: "All right, as long as you don't pour it all over your food this time."

"As long as I get a full glass this time."

Sighing again, she unlocked the alcohol cabinet, took out a smallish glass, and filled it to within a couple of millimetres of the top with Scotch whiskey. Then she handed the glass to Tommy, before carefully relocking the cabinet.

"Ah, now that hits the spot," said Tommy, taking a small sip.

They had all but finished eating anyway when Jessie Baker and Donald Esk turned up to tell them about the discovery of Wendell Goodwin and Bessie.

"Bessie?" asked Natasha Lipzing puzzled: "Is that his daughter's name."

"No, he's got sons," said Don: "It was the name of his favourite cow."

"Different pets, for different people, I guess," said Colin Klein as they got up to leave.

"He's a cattle farmer, you dill pickle," said Terri. She threw her car keys to Sheila, saying: "Here Sheils, catch."

Sheila expertly caught the keys in one hand, without even dropping her seventh and final waffle."

As they headed out, Colin said: "It'd be easier if you just let Sheils keep the keys, if she's the designated driver from now on."

"What and have her sneaking out in the middle of the night to start street racing in my Lexus?" said Terri: "I don't think so. I'm sure she's the reincarnation of Jack Brabham."

"Vroom! Vroom!" said Sheila as they headed out into Rochester Road.

At the Glen Hartwell Hospital, they found that the four victims had been moved in together in a four-bed room.

"So any idea yet, Jesus?" asked Terri, more in hope than expectation.

"Not me, but Leon has."

As he spoke the nondenominational priest walked into the room with another priest, this time draped out in traditional black robes with a reversed white colour.

"Not me, personally, said Leon, but Father Lenny has. Father Lenny is an exorcist priest of the Catholic church."

"But these people aren't possessed," said Colin Klein: "They've lost their souls."

"Still my ritual can summon up this creature so that we can turn the tables on him."

"Isn't that going to be dangerous?" asked Sheila Bennett.

"Oh my, yes," said Fr. Lenny: "That's why we're not going to do it in or anywhere near the hospital."

An hour later they were deeply in the countryside, nowhere near any town, or anywhere near any of the local farms, or Aboriginal settlements.

Father Lenny laid out his accoutrements while saying: "If there are any disbelievers, please leave before I start the ceremony."

"Father," said Terri Scott: "After the weird and supernatural stuff that has happened in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area over the last forty years or so, I doubt that there's a single disbeliever in that area. Let alone amongst us."

The others all murmured their assent.

"Very well then," said Fr. Lenny. He picked up an exorcist book and started reading from it, gradually increasing in fervour until he was almost ranting like a TV evangelist.

For a long time, nothing seemed to be happening. Then they started to see a smoky whiteness appear and the at first pale figure of the Harvester. He was sneaking up upon an elderly lady, getting ready to scythe her.

Turning the old lady saw the scythe raised toward her and screamed. At first, the Harvester smirked a shit-eater grin, then suddenly he was pulled backward as though he was attached to a giant rubber band, which had reached its limit and had started to retract, pulling the Harvester back with it.

The Harvester started to scream as he was pulled out of time and space from Harpertown, where he had been about to attack the old lady, to the forest where he suddenly appeared out of the swirling smoke to stand before the priest and the others.

The Harvester materialised, clearly shaken by what happened. He was a little wobbly, like a sailor who hasn't yet got his sea legs. Before he could recover, Father Leon raced forward, grabbed the scythe, and shattered the shiny blade against a boulder nearby.

"Nooooooooo!" shrieked the Harvester as the souls of his victims raced out of the shattered blade and roared through the forest heading toward their bodies at the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital.

"Whyyyyyyy?" asked the Harvester, as though he genuinely could not understand why anyone would want to undo what he had done.

From the ground beneath the Harvester came a deep booming voice: "You have failed me!"

"No, I did my best, it was these interfering ..."

Which was all that he got to say before a huge, red, and pustulant hand rose up from the earth, grabbed the Harvester, and dragged him physically down to the centre of the planet, screaming as he went.

"Okay, I am never going to admit to what I just saw!" said Terri Scott, to mutters of consent by all of the others.

"Good work, Lenny," said Father Leon, going over to give the Catholic priest a huge hug.

© Copyright 2023 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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