The Grim Reaper was ringing a bell. That’s what Jill saw as she was leaving the grocery store. Why hadn’t she noticed when she was walking in? Was he there?

He wore a skeleton mask and skeleton gloves, as well as a long, ragged, black cloak. A hood frayed around the mask. His right hand grasped an entirely wooden sickle, the blade painted silver with blotches to convey a worn, rustic look. The small bell, its handle black and body gold, was in his left. The reaper stood near a red Salvation Army collection kettle, which hung within a tripod. The sign atop the tripod was similar to the Christmas version, except it had an orange border and bats instead of holly leaves.

Jill, who had a shopping bag in each hand, was going to keep walking, but a thought stopped her.

“Excuse me?” she said to the Reaper. “Is this really a Salvation Army thing? Is it … sanctioned?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The reaper’s voice was baritone.

“Because … and I don’t want to offend you, but this seems like a scam,” she said, a little apologetically.

“No offense,” the Grim Reaper said. “We’re looking to capitalize on the Santa thing. Christmas isn’t bringing in as much in donations as it once did, so we’re expanding to other holidays.”

Jill nodded. “Sure.”

“Halloween is the test run,” the Reaper explained. “If it goes well, we’ll have a pilgrim at Thanksgiving. Maybe a big turkey. Then Santa, of course, for Christmas. Then a bunny for Easter, midgets for St. Patrick’s Day, Uncle Sam in July, so on, so forth.”

Jill continued nodded, her eyes squinting and engaged.

“But with Halloween and the Reaper, you know, I think there’s the unique … I don’t know … threatening quality to it,” the Reaper continued. “Like, you know … if you don’t give money to the Grim Reaper, what’s going to happen to you?”

His eyes gazed at hers through the mask.

“I see,” Jill said, still nodding. “That’s great! Best of luck!” She started toward the parking lot.

“Wait,” the Reaper said, and Jill turned. He gestured with his head toward the kettle.

Jill smiled and shrugged to show the bags in each hand. Her purse was trapped on her shoulder. “Hands are full. But I’m here all the time, and maybe next time I’ll see you coming in.”

The Reaper shrugged. “Sure. Next time.”

Jill turned and stepped over the curb. A red pick-up hit her, slamming her beneath the bumper as it screeched to a stop. Groceries scattered. Jill was motionless on the blacktop. A woman screamed. People entering and exiting halted to gawk. The Reaper stopped ringing the bell for a moment. Then he resumed.

“There’s no next time with the Reaper,” he muttered to himself.

People turned to their attention to the Reaper when the ringing continued. They rushed toward the kettle, clamoring to stuff in coins and bills.

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