The sky was so blue it hurt. Not a cloud, not a plane, not even a bird in sight. The air was warm, the humidity low and it smelled of jasmine and coffee. Corbin Adams walked with a skip in his step and a satisfied smile on his face. He considered it a perfect day. In his opinion, one of three in his entire thirty seven years. Maybe even his best day.
He’d been on a date the previous evening, and Ellie had kissed him full on the lips. Three hours ago, she’d called and thanked him for a wonderful evening and accepted his request for a lunch date. Corbin Adams was over the moon.
He’d longed for her ever since she’d come to his office, a new client, and sat in the marginally comfortable chair on the other side of his desk. A pudgy man, he’d had a tough time with woman. As a loan officer, he had a tough time with people in general, especially in the current economic climate. Ellie’s credit was sterling, her job secure, her income impressive, her hair soft, her lips full, her eyes dreamy and she’d agreed to a second date. It didn’t matter to Corbin that she was roundish as well. Nothing mattered because they were going to have lunch. And if he didn’t screw that up, maybe dinner a second time.
It is a smashing day, the smashingest! he thought.
If only that dark figure wasn’t standing on the corner, all would’ve been perfect. It made him feel uneasy and slowly deflating, like a balloon just untied and farting around the room in giant figure eights. He shuddered.
“You’re being silly,” he said to himself.
Three blocks away, it just stood there. Thoughts crossed his mind. Could it be a walk light with a trash bag wrapped around it, or a fallen awning? He squinted, trying to pull details from the distance, and walked another fifty paces. It didn’t flinch.
Corbin stopped, steadying his view, and smoothed back his thinning hair. Farsighted, he pulled his reading glasses down to the bulge of his nose and looked over them. It caused his double chin to stand out. A mannequin perhaps? Maybe a prop for a local theater version of “A Christmas Carol.”
Not in April, he thought.
It stood on the corner where he needed to turn to get to his second date with Ellie. He wouldn’t let anything interrupt that. Nothing could interfere with one of the three best days of his life.
There was no plastic bag wrapped around a traffic signal, walk-don’t walk or otherwise. It was a humanoid form, with black cloth draped over a thin frame. The few other pedestrians paid it no mind. Had it been there and he not noticed—an odd cigar shop Indian for some strange new store?
Then it moved. It shifted its stance and held up a gloved hand. The sleeve of its cloak slid down, revealing a pair of forearm bones, no skin attached. Corbin gasped.
It’s waving at me, he thought.
Sweat beaded on his forehead. He looked around to see if there was an alien, or some other creature waving back…hoping a costume party was gathering and he was in the middle. The street was empty, save for a single car going in the opposite direction. When he turned, the figure was gone.
“Shit,” he said.
He didn’t often swear, but felt it was appropriate under the strange circumstances.
There were three blocks between him and Amato’s Deli—Ellie’s choice. Three blocks to go. He checked his watch. There was still plenty of time, fourteen minutes to be exact. He liked exact. He liked order. He liked black and white. He kept walking.
Corbin turned the corner and saw the black figure again. It was in front of the deli, two blocks away. He glanced across the street and saw the usual bustling shoppers and dwellers of town, but the sidewalk between Corbin and the thing was empty. When he looked back, the figure hadn’t moved. Its black hood fluttered in the breeze, giving a glimpse of the bony grin beneath. Corbin stopped. He could move no further.
His heart pounded, exiled from his chest, it lived in his throat.
“You don’t want me. You can’t want me,” he said, clutching at his swollen and throbbing neck.
Not on my perfect day. Not now, he thought.
Gathering himself, Corbin turned and stepped into a corner bookstore. A bell jingled announcing him and a kindly old woman stepped forward.
“Thanks for coming in,” she said.
He saw her but didn’t speak. Instead, he moved to the book stacks in the rear. There, he paced, trying to slow his pulse. The old woman stepped from behind the counter and smiled at him.
“If you need anything, just ask,” she said.
“I need a shrink,” he muttered below her radar.
There were four rows of shelves in the back of the store and Corbin fumbled from one to the next. Absently, he fingered the various book covers. The longer he paced, the sillier her felt. His face flushed.
“I’m an idiot. This is just nerves,” he said.
The bell above the front door jingled again and he froze. Fearing, for a moment, it was the black-cloaked thing, coming for him. He held his breath, and then turned to see. The old woman was inches from his face.
“You’ll not escape death in here,” she said with moist, rotten breath.
But it wasn’t her face. What he saw was hollowed-out with holes its eyes should’ve been. Corbin screamed. He stumbled out the door and down the two small steps to the sidewalk. He rushed to his right, then looked back and saw nothing. There was no one on the sidewalk and no monstrous hag with missing eyes. There was no skulking reaper.
He released the breath he’d been holding and checked himself. His shirt was untucked and there was a patch of sweat bleeding through the chest of his short-sleeve button-down.
“Calm down, Corbin,” he said and allowed himself a nervous chuckle.
Again, he noticed the blue sky, a brilliant color that reminded him of Ellie’s eyes, of his lunch date and of his perfect day. Still rattled, he looked back toward the bookstore. Nothing looked back. He checked his watch again.
“Shit,” Corbin said for the second time in one day.
Only the direst of circumstances called for two swears in the same afternoon. Had an hour really passed? Was he late for their meeting? He yanked the handle, pulling the deli door open as if he meant to take it off the hinges. Inside, he found the dining area empty and a young man behind the counter gave him a nod. Corbin sat in the last booth and watched the front door while he fumbled in his pocket for his cell phone.
He could simply explain. He could apologize for screwing things up and she would understand. Before he could dial, a shadow crawled over him and when he looked into it, he saw the boy from behind the counter.
“Can I get you somethin’?” the young man said.
Corbin looked out the window, hoping Ellie was also late and that he might see her rushing to the deli as he had.
“I was supposed to meet someone. Have you seen…”
He stopped because the boys eyes were hollow, and the skin on his face had shriveled to reveal a grinning skull. A plume of black smoke wrapped the monster in a grave hug as the boy-reaper-thing slid into the other side of the booth.
“You’re quite evasive,” it said.
Corbin couldn’t speak, he only stared. A sick feeling ate his perfect day and swallowed it whole.
“I rather enjoy a good chase,” it continued.
Corbin closed his eyes and found his voice. A single tear leaked out.
“I’m…not ready to die.”
The reaper laughed a most horrible sound. At the same time, Ellie emerged from the bathroom. Her face was wrinkled with anger as she looked around the room. She slammed the door, but it made no sound. She walked to the counter and spoke to the boy, now back at his post, but her high heels didn’t click on the tile floor, and her words were muted. Corbin looked back to the reaper. It was still chuckling.
“But you are already dead,” it said.
It was then Corbin noticed the blood smeared on his hand, the gash where his broken radius and ulna protruded. A greenish artery leaked onto the table. Then, he remembered the accident. He remembered being so giddy after Ellie’s phone call that he’d run a red light on his way to work. The mess the truck made of his tiny hybrid, of his pudgy body, was astonishing.
The reaper giggled again, like a maniac from a black and white horror film.
“I only wish to take you home,” it said.
~ Dan Dillard
© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.
28 thoughts on “Visions of the Reaper”
Excellent story! Loved the ending!!
So, I thought I had this story nailed (always a sign that I’m way off) when Corbin first saw the dark figure. I enjoyed the read up to the point where I found out I had been led around like a hooked fish because Corbin was already dead. Then I REALLY liked the story.
The unexpected is always fun for me, but when you throw in darkness, death, and visions of the Reaper, then I’m totally on board!
Glad to have led you on. I hope to toss folks into the twilight zone…especially with darkness, death and visions of the reaper.
Great story, Dan! Nicely told from start to finish! ;}
Hey Dan! I really enjoyed “Visions of the Reaper!” Kinda feel sorry for Corbin, poor bastard as he is. But isn’t that always the way? Just when you think life’s rolling good, ka-blamo!
I thought your story was narrated straightforward & with effectiveness; not overwritten, a bit tongue-in-cheek (which I always appreciate) with a great twist at its conclusion. Kudo’s to you on a story very well done!!!
Screw Corbin. He was stupid. If things seem too good to be true, they probably are. *wink wink
Well, Sir DemonAuthor, it seems that with your first ‘damned’ story you have not left us disappointed — not that I had ever thought that possible. *toothy grin*
What an engaging and thoroughly immersive Day-in-the-Life of the lovable lummox, Corbin. Your characterization of our ‘hero’ was very well-done; I think we all know a Corbin or two. And your red-herring roundabout was effective enough to make me sure I knew what I was seeing before my eyes. That is, of course, until you pulled off the proverbial blindfold! Excellent read, D.A. — D.W.
Cool. AND I’ve been knighted. I knew killing Corbin would bring good things. Thanks, DW
Grim Dan really grim. Poor Corbin never got the second best day of his life or the girl or lunch…
I think my favorite part was the way the reaper came out in each person Corbin encountered. You can’t even run when you are dead ackkk
I like grim–it feels real. But then, I like puppies too 🙂 Can we run, though? We are conceived and immediately, the timer starts… so if you could run, how fast would you have to go? Thanks Miss Moondust!
I like you, too, Dan.
Bwahaha! Awesome story, Dan! Loved the visual brushstrokes you painted and the twist at the end was sick. Poor Corbin. It just figures…the best day of your life also turns out to be your last. Thanks for sharing this superb writing and the wicked workings of your mind.!
🙂 Thanks Adriana. Wicked workings indeed. Everyone needs to stop feeling sorry for Corbin… his pain is over. We’re all still ticking.
Hello Dan, great first post! You present a straightforward narrative with a good build-up of suspension and a strong character in Corbin. I felt very sorry for his unfortunate fate; he was so looking forward to his date! As Leslie says, I love how Death assumes himself in the faces of the people around Corbin. The visuals reminded me of some scenes from the Constantine film, in which the main character glimpses demons in the faces of others. You have made your presence felt…
LOVE Constantine. I like to twist as well. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a groaner 🙂 Thanks Thomas.
Great story, Dan! I love a good twist ending, and you delivered! I was very impressed with the completeness and realism of Corbin that you established in such short time. His panic, frustration, and confusion were all palpable and enjoyable. Excellent tale!
Thanks Tyr. Poor Corbin. I was really mad at him while I wrote this. To paraphrase Pinhead, his suffering shall be legendary, even in hell. 😉
Excellent! Welcome to the damned! We’re lucky to have you.
Damned glad to be here, Hunter!
Great story, my friend! I love Reaper tales, and yours is marvelous. Just imagine being caught in limbo, waiting to be transported to your new home and not even knowing you’re dead. How cool is that? Way cool! You deserve to be one of the Damned!
I deserve to be Damned. Not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. Hoping for curse. Thanks, Blaze!
For the record, I never skulk; I stalk. I enjoyed your prose nonetheless. I love it when I win. Of course, I ALWAYS win. Until the first and last time we meet….
Thanks, Grimmy. Can I call you Grimmy? The nice thing about you, is my time is etched in some cosmic text… So until then, I feel the urge to flip you the bird. No offense. *wink wink
Oh, that’s all right. You can run… *wink wink*