The death of Gracie Thompson was an unexpected one, her weak heart giving out as she was cleaning the dishes after dinner. Jacob and Amy were playing with dolls in front of the fire while Samson, Gracie's husband, sat in his hard-backed chair looking over the town newspaper. They'd rushed to her side in the hope of recovering her, but alas, she was dead and cooling before she even hit the floor. Samson, so struck with grief, was barely able to wrap her up in a blanket and bring her to the guest room, telling his children that in the morning he would alert the town mortician, who would come and pick her up while he was out working.
Jacob and Amy agreed to watch over their mother’s body the next morning, doing the chores around the house and farm that she usually did while Samson rode atop his horse into town to begin his day of labor.
Around two o'clock, a strange man made his presence known at the edge of the farm. He was tall, taller than most by at least two heads, and thin, with waspish fingers that curled and creaked as he moved about. He wore a pinstriped suit despite the heat, as well as a top hat. From a distance Jacob thought the man was a trick of the light; there in an instant and gone in a flash, only to reappear walking slowly down the path to the house, a single horse and buggy trailing behind him, the buggy jet black and polished to a fine sheen.
"Excuse me?" The man said, his voice light yet gravelly. "Is this the former residence of Grecia Thompson?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes sir. I'm Jacob, Jacob Thompson." The boy said, sticking his hand out to greet the stranger.
The man looked down at the offered hand in confusion before slowly raising his own, grasping the boy by the forearm with his monstrous hands and shaking his arm up and down. Jacob winced, feeling the flesh bruise from where the man had grasped him. His grip was strong!
"May I see the body of the recently deceased?" The man intoned, taking his top hat off to reveal a bald head, holding the brim of the hat in between his hands. "I've brought my hearse you see, and I need to collect the body while it is still fresh."
"Of course, Mama... Mama is just in the guest room." Jacob said, choking back the sob that threatened to spill over his lips.
The grim looking man waved his hand forward. "If you would guide me, young sir, I would be most grateful."
Jacob opened up the door to the house and slipped in, the tall man moving behind him, silent as an owl in flight. Jacob led him to the room where his mother’s body lay, standing in the doorway as the man slinked past him and over to the blanket covered body. Running his hands down her frame delicately, he peeled back the blanket to look at her pale features, her darkened eyes, and colorless lips.
"Beautiful..." Jacob heard the man mutter, causing him to raise an eyebrow. The man turned his head slightly, looking over his shoulder to eye the boy. "The body. The body is in a perfect state, unlike some of the more... unnatural deaths I have to collect from."
Jacobs’s stomach turned at the thought, and the boy moved out of the doorway and back out onto the front porch, looking at the horse drawn buggy. The horse was a thick stallion, black in color, with a studded leather harness holding it in place in front of the buggy, which looked like an overgrown pumpkin colored black, with red velvet interiors.
Hearing a sound behind him, Jacob jumped as he saw the tall man carrying his mother, swathed in a black sheet, her bare feet dangling out from the cover of the thin cloth. The man carried her like a bride over the threshold, stopping only to look down at Jacob and smile.
"Be happy my boy, your mother didn't suffer," He said his voice strangely hollow. Looking up and around for Jacobs little sister the man continued. "Though I would watch for your sister during the winters when you go playing on the ice. Some of the rivers don't fully freeze."
Not knowing what to say, Jacob merely nodded as the man made his way over to the buggy, stopping at the door. The man cleared his throat.
Jacob looked over before moving quickly to open the door for the mortician, allowing the rakish man to set his mother into a proper seated position, the sheet falling down to her shoulders, revealing her blank eyes and limp head lolling about, her bare shoulders revealing her to be nude beneath the shroud.
Moving up to the front of the buggy, the man climbed into the box seat, taking up the reigns of the black stallion before perching his hat back on his head. Looking down at the boy, the man smiled warmly (for the first time) and cleared his throat.
"Don't consider this goodbye, young Jacob. Consider this as a 'we will meet again one day'. Though I imagine that when we do meet, it will not be for you. I feel that I will be called upon for your sister, and then your father."
"Do you get called upon often?" Jacob asked, looking up at the skeletal man with a slight twinge of fright.
The man smiled his teeth pearly white and straight in neat rows. "Once by every person... some sooner rather than later. I met your mother when she was about your age in a very similar way, picking up your grandfather."
"You prepared Grandpa for burial?" Jacob asked, surprised. That must have been at least forty years ago!
The man smiled. "I never said that." And with a crack of the reigns, the stallion reared up and turned, allowing the buggy to slowly turn and make its way off of the farm, the thin man cracking the reigns every few moments to pick up speed, leaving Jacob in a cloud of dust.
Running up behind him, Amy looked at the buggy speeding away the opposite way to town before looking at her brother. "Was that the man who was to come for mommy?"
Jacob stared as the buggy became nothing but a shrinking cloud of dust on the horizon. "I sure hope so Amy, I sure hope so."