There Is a Reaper

by Charles V. De Vet

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Doctors had given him just one month to live. A month to wonder, what comes afterward? There was one way to find out--ask a dead man!

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The amber brown of the liquor disguised the poison it held, and I watched with a smile on my lips as he drank it. There was no pity in my heart for him. He was a jackal in the jungle of life, and I ... I was one of the carnivores. It is the lot of the jackals of life to be devoured by the carnivore.

Suddenly the contented look on his face froze into a startled stillness. I knew he was feeling the first savage twinge of the agony that was to come. He turned his head and looked at me, and I saw suddenly that he knew what I had done.

“You murderer!” he cursed me, and then his body arched in the middle and his voice choked off deep in his throat.

For a short minute he sat, tense, his body stiffened by the agony that rode it--unable to move a muscle. I watched the torment in his eyes build up to a crescendo of pain, until the suffering became so great that it filmed his eyes, and I knew that, though he still stared directly at me, he no longer saw me.

Then, as suddenly as the spasm had come, the starch went out of his body and his back slid slowly down the chair edge. He landed heavily with his head resting limply against the seat of the chair. His right leg doubled up in a kind of jerk, before he was still.

I knew the time had come. “Where are you?” I asked.

This moment had cost me sixty thousand dollars.

Three weeks ago the best doctors in the state had given me a month to live. And with seven million dollars in the bank I couldn’t buy a minute more.

I accepted the doctors’ decision philosophically, like the gambler that I am. But I had a plan: One which necessity had never forced me to use until now. Several years before I had read an article about the medicine men of a certain tribe of aborigines living in the jungles at the source of the Amazon River. They had discovered a process in which the juice of a certain bush--known only to them--could be used to poison a man. Anyone subjected to this poison died, but for a few minutes after the life left his body the medicine men could still converse with him. The subject, though ostensibly and actually dead, answered the medicine men’s every question. This was their primitive, though reportedly effective method of catching glimpses of what lay in the world of death.

[Illustration]

I had conceived my idea at the time I read the article, but I had never had the need to use it--until the doctors gave me a month to live. Then I spent my sixty thousand dollars, and three weeks later I held in my hands a small bottle of the witch doctors’ fluid.

The next step was to secure my victim--my collaborator, I preferred to call him.

The man I chose was a nobody. A homeless, friendless non-entity, picked up off the street. He had once been an educated man. But now he was only a bum, and when he died he’d never be missed. A perfect man for my experiment.

I’m a rich man because I have a system. The system is simple: I never make a move until I know exactly where that move will lead me. My field of operations is the stock market. I spend money unstintingly to secure the information I need before I take each step. I hire the best investigators, bribe employees and persons in position to give me the information I want, and only when I am as certain as humanly possible that I cannot be wrong do I move. And the system never fails. Seven million dollars in the bank is proof of that.

Now, knowing that I could not live, I intended to make the system work for me one last time before I died. I’m a firm believer in the adage that any situation can be whipped, given prior knowledge of its coming--and, of course, its attendant circumstances.


For a moment he did not answer and I began to fear that my experiment had failed. “Where are you?” I repeated, louder and sharper this time.

The small muscles about his eyes puckered with an unnormal tension while the rest of his face held its death frost. Slowly, slowly, unnaturally--as though energized by some hyper-rational power--his lips and tongue moved. The words he spoke were clear. “I am in a ... a ... tunnel,” he said. “It is lighted, dimly, but there is nothing for me to see.” Blue veins showed through the flesh of his cheeks like watermarks on translucent paper.

He paused and I urged, “Go on.”

“I am alone,” he said. “The realities I knew no longer exist, and I am damp and cold. All about me is a sense of gloom and dejection. It is an apprehension--an emanation--so deep and real as to be almost a tangible thing. The walls to either side of me seem to be formed, not of substance, but rather of the soundless cries of melancholy of spirits I cannot see.

“I am waiting, waiting in the gloom for something which will come to me. That need to wait is an innate part of my being and I have no thought of questioning it.” His voice died again.

“What are you waiting for?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he said, his voice dreary with the despair of centuries of hopelessness. “I only know that I must wait--that compulsion is greater than my strength to combat.”

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