The Reaper in the Tree

There may be strange details in this story. Not all of them will seem to add up and appear to be significant, but it’s all true. That sort of statement is common with these types of stories, but this time it is meant in absolute earnest.

My grandfather was a mortician and about a year after he retired he himself passed on. He and I shared the exact same name and it was slightly unsettling to hear my own name in the eulogy. To witness firsthand the lowering of a casket, revealing one’s own name on the headstone. It gave the whole event a sort of dreamlike quality. I suppose such things got me thinking of my own mortality more than a funeral normally should.

After the burial we drove passed the old funeral home. The business had been handed over to a new guy who did an alright job I guess. Grandpa looked okay. Though that wasn’t on my mind. There was a large tree in the front yard of the old funeral home. Near the peak of the tree, amongst its naked branches, was a wicked grim reaper halloween decoration. Seven feet in height its dark robes fluttered ominously in the wind like a flag of morbid purpose. Characteristically, its face wasn’t visible, but nor was its blade. It was already early November, so I guess the new undertaker was just putting off taking him down. Still though, it was a bit ghastly for a funeral home.

As we returned to grandmas house everyone was talking about how much they were going to miss grandpa. How sorry they were he was gone. “What a great guy he was.” “A real funny bloke.” “Gonna miss his smile.” Except they never called him grandpa, instead always opting to use my name. It felt like I was looking into the future, glimpsing my own passing, and it conjured up resonating images of the reaper again. Pointing at me. Staring through me behind his hood. Enveloping me in his darkness.

After an evening of uncomfortable mourning, I’d had enough. I said I needed to take a walk and clear my head. The nice thing about small towns is the absolute isolation and quiet that comes with nightfall. During my wanderings I gazed into a fenced backyard. The skull of a buffalo hung on a fencepost. I wasn’t sure if that was also a leftover halloween decoration, I wasn’t sure if it was anything. A squeaky mini windmill gave off an endless cycle of tiny screams to the garden gnomes quietly gazing at nothing.

I adjusted my coat’s collar and stepped across the street, towards my grandfather’s old place of work. I figured that sick decoration from earlier would look even better at night. I tilted my head upwards and was surprised to find nothing clutched in the leafless branches of the overgrown maple. Either he was finally taken down or its black robes cloaked the reaper in the darkness of night. I somehow felt it was the latter, as his deathly presence was actually made more real by lack of physical manifestation.

That was my whimsical thought as I walked back across the street from the funeral home when all of sudden a gust of wind kicked up the sand and I heard a loud scraping noise on the concrete behind me. Had I not been on edge from the funeral I would have figured it was the wind blowing a tree branch across the road, but as of that moment it sounded so much like a scythe being grazed upon the concrete that my legs sent me sprinting back to grandmas like prey from a predator.

When I returned I saw my grandmother and family playing pinochle. My heart was hammering a hole through my chest. They asked my why I looked so frightened. I rubbed my forehead of sweat, closed my eyes, and smiled. It was so stupid. I told them everything chuckling as I did. How the day affected my mindset, the grim reaper in the tree, and the grazing on the road. They laughed and said the day was stressful on all of us. They asked me to join them. I happily complied. I took off my jacket and put it on the chair. I was about to sit down but suddenly I paused…my uncle asked me what was wrong and my grandmother asked me why I look so pale. I couldn’t hear them. They might as well have spoken in tongues. For upon my coat, there lay a single diagonal gash upon the back!

Credit To – Johnny V

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