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.” More »