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Death comes to us all,
We all fear the reapers call,
Dread and fear,
To us our lives are dear,
He will claim us when we fall.
The sky is grey. It is raining. There is a small village out in the country, it has a pub. The Farmer’s Arms, that’s its name. Inside is a man sat at the bar. The Barman is serving drinks. A mysterious stranger strides into the pub. Now he is sitting next to the first man. The Stranger has a book, there is a number on the front, it is four digits long, a year, two years ago. The men begin to talk.
“I was happy back then.” The first man offered.
“Oh, were you?” Came The Stranger’s reply.
“Yes, I had Margaret then, and Solomon. I was a Cart Wheeler.”
“Ah, the joys of family, I’ve never had them. Back when?”
“Fifteen sixty-eight, two years ago, well one and a half but it feels longer.”
“Just a beer for me please and another whiskey for my friend here my good man.”
The first man then made a grunting sound that had the qualities of a sigh and proceeded to say “Haven’t seen you around here before, you don’t know my story and you’re buying me a drink. I quite like you but I don’t know who you are or what you do.”
The Stranger paused for a second, thinking about his reply and how much he wished to reveal about himself then stated in his rather deep, almost chilling voice “I am a reaper, I bring in the harvest.”
“And your name?” The first man inquired.
“I don’t think that I’ll be around long enough for that to be important, how about telling me yours.”
“If you won’t trust me with your name because it’s not important then why should I tell you mine?”
“You would tell me your name because I may wish to speak to you again and I would need to know who to look for. Two years ago, that was a busy time for me.”
“Oh yeah, lots to farm at that point was there? Name’s William” The Stranger then looked at his new friend, just a quick turn and then turned back to his drink, he was trying to decide whether there was sarcasm in the man’s voice.
“You could say that yes but I’m more interested in your story than how well crop did in the past.”
“OK then, I will tell my story, but you keep the drinks coming and don’t get upset when I start insulting reapers.”
“I only wish to listen.” The Stranger went quiet and gave William an expectant look.
William began “So, OK, well… right then, it was a hot day, nice and warm, the sort where you just want to be outside, you know in the garden with your family. Oh yes, we had a lovely garden me and Margaret, it was only small but that was all we needed, with the greenest grass you can imagine and flowers on the borders, a picket fence surrounding obviously, I mean we didn’t want Solomon getting out, did we? Oh it wa-“ He stopped rather abruptly because of an interruption from The Stranger.
“Wait, who was Solomon? You have mentioned him more than once, but you have so far neglected to tell me anything about him.”
“Solomon was my son. The second-best thing that ever happened to me was having Solomon, he was five when it all happened. I don’t know how I managed to deal with losing them. But anyway, he was blond with neatly cut hair in a style that I believe was called a bowl cut, he wasn’t much more than two feet tall, but he was intelligent. Yes, he was and he liked poetry, he was doing it at school, well I say school but we couldn’t afford the proper scholaring that the young nobles would have so instead we sent him to talk to the Wisewoman that was part of a group of travellers that came into the village and could be paid in favours such as free goods like eggs or in my case new wheels, the woman taught the youngsters how to read and write and would give them books to read. Every day Solomon would come home and just sit down with some paper, we pinned the best ones to the cupboard in the kitchen and- “
“I understand, he was your son and you clearly loved him very much.”
“I still love him, and I go and see him sometimes, anyway can I get back to my story now?” His voice seemed to have become more melancholy when he said this.
“Tell me about Margaret first, who was she?”
“Oh, she was my wife, meeting her really was the best thing that had ever happened to me, before I was with her I was a no-good lay about with a habit of causing trouble, she was the most loving wife a man could have, even when life was hard she stood by me, but things didn’t get bad often, we made sure of that. She was big as a woman but beautiful, like something out of legends, a Valkyrie maybe. She beat me now and then and it kept me in line, shame she’s gone.”
“You may resume the telling of your story.”
“Thank you, now where was I… Oh yes, in the garden. Well other than the grass and the flowers there wasn’t much in the garden permanently, we didn’t need it, we didn’t go out often. But when we did go out we took chairs from inside, a buffet for Solomon, two big, sturdy things made from some decent oak for Margaret and me and Father’s rocker.”
“Rocker?” The Stranger’s voice had changed to a strangely high pitch as he said this, it was the first time that he was uncertain about what William had to say.
“Rocking chair.” The reply came quickly and his speech after flowed well. “Then I heard the bell ring, clever things those with their big pulley system attached to a bell in every room, you can know when you’ve got visitors when you’re in any part of your property even in the garden if you get a bell put there. I went into the house and answered the door. The house was made of grey stones, lots of different sized bricks cemented together just like this pub, also like this pub it had a wooden door and a thatched roof, the style of house was one of those single floored things, you know, what’s their name…” The pause for thought took a few seconds but while he was thinking he was making a humming sound, then he got his answer “…bungalows.”
“Why tell me about the house?”
“You probably would have asked if I hadn’t.”
“Who was at the door?” Prompting William to continue on the previous line of thought and keep the story going.
“I’m getting to that bit. So, if you’re finished interrupting I will carry on!” An angry tone entering his voice as he spoke showed how irritated he was becoming then he calmed down as quickly as he had worked himself up and in his usual calm voice he continued to speak “It was Keith-“ Then he chuckled. “-these days I can’t stand the sight of him, or the smell for that matter but he was the reaper, my best friend and now I hate him so much-“ The anger coming back with the vile tones of hate creeping in to make William sound completely evil “-those stupid arms of his moving like a pendulum from side to side with his stupid brown hair and thin cheekbones, his idiotic muscles and pointless good looks, how could he do that to me?” William’s voice was now a shriek. The Stranger responded to this change by placing his hand on William’s shoulder in an attempt to be comforting and calm the man down.
Then he spoke. “Calm down and take a drink, it’s not happening now, you’re just telling a story.”
This seemed to have worked as William then took a sip and returned to speaking normally “He had just come over to spend time with us like he always did when he had time off work, why he wasn’t at home with his wife was anybody’s guess. It was then that Margaret called me back into the garden to tell me that we didn’t have any cabbage, we were having a good roast with some veg that night you see. So, I just gave Margaret then Solomon kisses and left them, opened the front door and walked down the street, if it could be called that, it was a dirt track with houses that all looked the same lining either side. Once I had finally reached Beth’s stand – she was the local farmer’s wife and the village vegetable trader, a short dark, haired, plump woman – I checked my pockets for money then bought a cabbage from her, I tur-“ Forced to stop again the story wasn’t progressing at his desired rate.
“What did Beth say? Was she dumb, a mute?”
“It was really insignificant; I don’t think you need to know.”
“It may hold some foreshadowing detail that reveals something of the plot ahead, anything said could be important.” The Stranger was really pushing for every detail; William knew that this was going to take a long time.
“I can’t remember the exact words that she said but it was along the lines of “Hi love, you were only here yesterday, did you forget something? What do you need?” then she went on to tell me about crop disease, “You’re lucky that you came again so soon, I may be out of business soon, there is something wrong with the crops and not many have made it through winter in a good enough condition to be harvested, the wheat is fine though, and reapers will be harvesting soon.” Obviously, I responded to her questions, but most answers were few syllables long and definitely not important to you. Now where was I… ah Cooper. I turned around to go home with my cabbage and standing behind me was Cooper, the Cartwright that I worked with. He was queueing up to get his own veg and he asked me if I wanted to get a drink the following night because he didn’t have much on at work. Off I trotted back home where in the kitchen, to my annoyance I found the cabbage we had bought the day before, I knew we had got one, so I shouted “Margaret, there’s a bloody cabbage right here! Why did I have to go buy another?” She raced over from the bedroom all sweaty and panting, told me she must have missed it, “Easy mistake to make.” She said.” Another chuckle left his mouth, this one taking on the tones of hatred from when he had spoken of Keith ““Keith gone then?” I asked, “No” she said, “He’s in the bedroom, I’ve just sewn up a hole in his trousers for him.” You can guess what I was thinking but she was my wife, so I trusted her and she surely wouldn’t choose my best friend, would she? Was she trying to hurt me?” He shouted that last bit as if he was some sort of maniac who was ready to kill, he had clenched his fist and had he been holding a sharp object he would have bored a hole in the bar.
“Does this end how I think it does?” The Stranger asked in what can only be called a worried tone. He was starting to suspect that this man’s story wasn’t as pleasant as he thought it was going to be, he could also see that it would go on for a while.
“Just keep listening because this isn’t the good bit yet. She then went on to tell me that Keith had offered to take Solomon to work with him, so that he could see the harvest and because I wanted the best for my little boy I agreed to let him. What a mistake that was! I went into the garden where Solomon was still sat happily writing, this one was about a wolf and a goat, how did it go?” He said to himself under his breath. Of course, I know how it went. he thought to himself, hoping that The Stranger hadn’t noticed the pause, he couldn’t have the man thinking he wasn’t proud of his son.
“I was in a field with a wolf and a goat
The wolf ran quickly and ripped out the goat’s throat
The poor goat was dead
Now that it had no head
It wasn’t all eaten as it was bigger than a stoat
Where he had learned of such things, you know, death and violence I don’t think I shall ever know now but back to the actual story, eh. My farfer was ashleep in his rocking chair, shnoring loudly in a rhythmythmythm so shtrange fat it sheemed ash if fere was shomething wrong wif him, an old man wif a fin fashe, moshtly wrinkled and baldy, shorry bald and wrinkly.”
“Maybe it’s time to stop drinking, we might have had a bit much and it is getting late.” The bell rang for last orders. “I’ll take you home, come on, where do you live?”
“I have no home.”