The Reaper



The Reaper



Merlik Kohn looked out the window, scraped at the frost with the back of her hand, and said, “The ice is on the inside. Didn’t know it did that.” Through the spot she’d cleared she regarded a man lingering on the stairs. She’d go so far as to say loitering on the stairs, actually.

Merlik’s partner, Tam LeDion, shrugged. “Gets cold here,” she said. “Seen a towel freeze and break in half because someone hung it over a railing.”

“He’s out there again,” said Merlik. “Thought it got awful slow.”

“Got it,” said Tam, and she threw a coat on and went for the door.

“What if gets aggressive again,” Merlik said. “Take your phone.”

They’d had this discussion a dozen times since the guy started showing up, saying weird things to customers. “People are leaving because of him,” said Tam.

It wasn’t an ideal beginning to their purchase of a storefront in Clairton. It was hard enough to risk the down-on-its-luck neighborhood, but when they finally started drawing a desired urban revitalization crowd he started showing up. Tam was clearly agitated, so Merlik followed along. She pulled the sleeves of her coat on as she stepped onto the stoop beside her.

“Hey!” Tam said.

He turned around, facing them. His buzzcut hair accentuated the thick lenses of his eyeglasses. His eyes looked twice their size. A heavy white jacket with a gray snowy camouflage pattern gave him a drab appearance though his speech was clear and intense. “Do not thank a veteran for their service!” he snapped. “Honorable causes draw dishonorable people. Evil is evil and good is good. Do not confuse the two, nor show gratitude without context going by face value alone.”

“That’s fine,” said Tam, plainly. “But would you move along, please? You’re scaring customers.”

The man frowned. His brows pressed together and with steady clam he said, “There’re training centers here who teach children how to execute mass shootings properly. The armed forces.”

“You clearly have a hard-on for the military and whatever your beef, don’t care,” said Tam. “But please move it away from the property.” She glanced at Merlik though the look on her face was just as confused as she felt. Suddenly, the man grunted and walked off. Tam and Merlik together went back inside.

“Went better than I thought,” Merlik said. “Nice work.”

“Just have to be direct,” Tam answered. She picked up gloves and a shovel while heading to the back door. “Going to salt.”

With a scowl, Merlik said, “He’s back.”

Tam froze. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. She rushed to the front and shouted, “Hey! Didn’t I tell you clear out?”

The man’s oversized eyes widened, and he turned and ran.

Tam stood there in thought. “Of all the weird scenes,” she muttered.

“What’s even going on here?” Merlik asked.

Tam said, “We call the police.”

“Going to be one of those days,” Merlik said.

“Pu a scare into him,” said Tam.

Merlik sighed and grew quiet.


She said, “Can we stop talking about him?”

“Sure,” said Tam. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” said Merlik. “Just don’t want to.” The stoop was now clear and little flakes of snow were falling. She opened her mouth, and even though she had asked to stop talking about the strange man, she wanted to add a thought before she forgot. For a second, it looked to Merlik as if she’d seen something odd, something indescribable. Instead, she bit her tongue as Tam passed out through the back. “Another time,” she muttered.

It would have been easy to follow Tam, but she chose not to. Instead, she went about doing what needed to be done, and as the snow began to lay white on the ground, a good feeling came over her. The weirdo hadn’t returned for an hour, so she slipped into the kitchen. There she made a cup of hot tea. Vanilla chai, four minutes. She turned the hourglass then sought something edible. Here she heard raised voices.

Her hair stood on end, and she hurried to the back door. She pulled it open to find Tam squared off with the strange man. She pointed at him, in his face. His expression told too many emotions to choose with which he might employ. “Everything okay?” she asked, startling the man yet buttressing Tam’s wrath. Tam pounded the tip of her finger into his breast. He fell back. The mix of emotions turned into one: panic. Like cornered prey, he jumped in the air, turned, and sprinted through until the snow swallowed him. Tam gave chase until Merlik cried out, “Tam! Let him go!”

Tam’s eyes lit with dark fire, and her teeth showed for a moment. Reason slowly returned to her features with the rise and fall of her breathing. “Sorry,” she said, taking up the broom from the ground. She tapped the ground with its bristlehead and snow exploded outward leaving a round clear spot on the concrete walkway.

“Thought he was gone,” Merlik said. “Sorry I left you with that.”

“Should’ve heard what that son of a bitch said,” Tam scoffed. “Doesn’t know how lucky he is that I didn’t put one in him. Or more than one. Whatever. He won’t be back any time soon at this point.”

“No?” Merlik said. In the background the hourglass began to chime.

“Told him as much,” said Tam.

“Come in and warm up,” Merlik smiled, gently. “There’s tea.”

“You made me tea?” Tam asked, softening visibly. “That’s very kind. Don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Merlik wrapped her arms around herself and looked to the sky. She said, “Temperature’s dropped significantly.”

Tam followed Merlik inside, rubbing her hands together. Blowing on them as she cupped them beneath her chin. She accepted the cup of tea and sipped, showing approval both physically and audibly. At last, she sighed and slowed the world down. Merlik made a second cup.

“What did he say that was so bad?” she asked.

Tam shook her head.

“Is he sick… do you think he’s sick?” asked Merlik. “Does he need help? If he’s homeless, out in this weather. We can’t...”

“Don’t think so,” Tam answered. “Too clean. Too groomed, you know?”

“Shit,” Merlik said, leaning towards the window facing the side alley.

“He’s back?” Tam set her cup down and started forward. She also saw the man.

“What are you going to do?” Merlik said.

Tam paused and said, “Unreasonable rage isn’t the answer. I’m okay, Mer.”

Out the door she went.

“Wait!” Merlik said, pursuing.

The door closed and a shot from a gun changed everything.



Mord McGhee


Mord McGhee's work can be read in four published novels and anywhere literary fiction is found. He is currently a board member of and an associate editor for Ariel Publishing, LLC. Upcoming are two novels which are 2022 Claymore Award Finalists, a novella 'The Stroke of Oars' and a chapbook 'Mind Poker.' On a personal note, Mord collects fossils-particularly fossilized teeth.

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