Kyrkland Coldfield was born in the 18th century to a family who lived in a small town in Massachusetts, whose real name has been lost to history. Young Kyrk found employment during the Revolutionary War as an assassin. The profession ran in his family, as far back as ancient Greece.
He’d been a quiet, observant child. His friends were few but steadfast; but he had to cut them loose as he began training with his father. He excelled at his work, preferring to strike from the shadows. His kills were clean, silent, and unnoticed by anyone save himself and the eyes of God. For most of his victims he had contempt – first, because they were siding with the enemy; second, because they allowed themselves the luxury of thinking they were safe and would never answer for their treachery.
The day came when he had to kill the father of one of his friends. He hadn’t known that Max’s father was a turncoat, but since he was the town’s leading supplier of gunpowder, such treachery had to be dealt with swiftly. Kyrk’s own father had recently fallen ill, and the doctor was supposed to arrive that evening to examine him. Kyrk would have liked to have been there, but that evening gave him the perfect opportunity to kill Mr. Moore.
He stalked through the Moore Company’s warehouse, past sacks of gunpowder and crates of rifles. At the end of the building was a small desk where Mr. Moore sat, his back to the door, doing his books. As Kyrk raised his hand, readying to throw his poison-tipped stiletto, he heard a gunshot. He dropped the stiletto, and fell forward. He felt his body being turned over, and the last thing he saw before he died was Max’s stunned face as he yanked back Kyrk’s black hood.
He wasn’t at all surprised to find himself in Hell. He was assigned to the Reaper Corps, which didn’t really have an Infernal or Divine association. He was an escort, taking the souls to their destination. The Personnel Department had thought it would suit his background – which it turned out wasn’t the case at all. For starters, he was given the region that included his home town. For a Reaper to succeed, he had to first get the individual to cross over. They had to agree to come. And from that point, it was Up or Down.
As an assassin, he never had been required to speak to his mark. No talking involved – the mark had no say in the matter at all. As a Reaper, you needed a working knowledge of how to make conversation. And you were supposed to know nothing about the departing souls, except their name and final destination. When you physically die, you go to the place in-between which is called The Veil. It looks like the real world, even feels like the real world – but you can’t communicate with the living – All Soul’s Night being the only exception.
On his first job, he wasn’t prepared for the person to be so scared of him that they couldn’t speak. That was when he discovered what he looked like to his assigned souls. Sure, he’d seen the drawings in the Bible, but he hadn’t really thought about how he looked to the living. All the other Reapers looked perfectly normal. To try to get the man to relax, Kyrk began to ask about his life. He waited a good while (the town clock indicated 2 hours had passed) for the guy to answer with his name, but Kyrk decided to try a different track, and made his first mistake. He introduced himself.
The departed’s eyes grew wide. “You’re…” he began, “You’re the bastard who tried to kill Travertine Moore? Serves you right you lost your face!”
“He’s a turncoat!” said Kyrk. And they argued, back and forth, until Kyrk became annoyed.
“Look – do you accept your death, and agree to go where you have earned your place?”
“Hmph. Will it change anything if I don’t?” asked the man.
“No,” replied our Reaper.
“Will you come with me?”
“You? No way in Hell I’m going anywhere with you!” shouted the man, but Kyrk grabbed him by the shoulder and started to leave, only to have the man stay rooted to the spot. He laughed at Kyrk.
The Reaper Corps supervisor, Ramiel, appeared next to him, and gave Kyrk a withering look. He grabbed the man’s hand and led him up and away. In a few moments he returned, alone.
“NEVER reveal who you are while you’re assigned here. This is a test for you. Pass it and you won’t end up in the 7th circle. You’ll keep this position. You can talk with them as long as it takes, but they must agree to come with you. Understood?”
“You won’t have to deal with this town much longer, so there won’t be the problem of anyone knowing who you were when you were alive,” stated Ramiel.
“I don’t understand, sir.”
Ramiel didn’t explain it to him, he simply vanished.
After what felt like a few a few days, but was actually a month, Kyrk discovered the answer for himself. A doctor from Lancaster that he was taking to Heaven’s Gate mentioned that there’d been an alarming outbreak of smallpox in all the colonies, but in Massachusetts it was very serious. When he next escorted a soul from home, it turned out she’d died from smallpox. The young woman told him more than half the town was sick with it.
The next soul was a grandmother, bound for Hell. She’d poisoned her husband when she was young, because he’d beaten her and their children constantly. She talked to Kyrk for hours. No one in town would help. Her parish priest – when she’d arrived bloodied and with a broken arm, her 4 kids in tow to seek asylum – turned her away and told her to pray. She’d bought the poison that night. She remarried, and lived a happy life. Two sons died in the War. She did not accept her death, or her fate.
He summoned Ramiel, and asked him why she was condemned to Hell and not Purgatory? He told him he didn’t make the rules, and the Commandments are quite clear: thou shalt not kill. “Where’s her no-good husband?” asked Kyrk. “In the 7th Circle, with the murderers and other doers of violence” was Ramiel’s answer. “Same place she’s going.”
“Look,” said his supervisor, “It is what it is. Don’t judge lest ye be judged, etcetera. Don’t get too close to your souls. Do your job. You’re not supposed to enjoy it – you’re in Hell, remember?”
“What if she doesn’t accept?” asked Kyrk.
“You can’t do anything if I don’t accept. My neighbor calls it ‘Making Lilith’s choice,’” stated a suddenly lively old woman.
“Your neighbor’s a witch?” asked Ramiel.
“She’s a wise woman, like her mother before her, like all the women of House Fisk.”
“Nothing but trouble, witches,” Ramiel said with disdain.
“I thought witches were Lucifer’s mistresses,” commented Kyrk.
“Twaddle! That’s just churchmen trying to discredit them,” she proclaimed.
Ramiel pointed his arm at Kyrkland Coldfield and said in a voice full of consequence: “She is your responsibility, wetskull (a very derogatory term for a Reaper) – see that she agrees, and get rid of her.”
The Reaper and the Grandmother sat on a fallen tree. “I planted this tree when my first child was born. Once my rotten husband took an axe to it, but before the first cut my neighbor ran out and yelled at him, saying he’d hurt the boy if he hurt the tree. As you can see, her trick worked.” Kyrk liked this soul. He had chosen to kill for a living, whereas she, in order for herself and her children to live, had killed her husband. She truly had no other choice. To send her to the 7th Circle wasn’t fair or just. “Did your neighbor tell you what would happen after you made that choice?”
“No. I guess I’ll find out, won’t I?” she said.
“Kyrkland Coldfield,” he said, extending his hand. She hesitated for a moment before grasping what he knew she saw as a skeletal hand. “Oh! I remember you – you’re Nicholas and Mary’s son. That Mr. Moore was run out of town – turns out you were right, eh? Now, isn’t that curious – I can see your face! I’m Elizabeth Roosevelt.”
“I’ll check up on you again,” he said.
The first week he checked, she had settled into what had once been her home. It had been burnt to the ground by fearful townsfolk, who thought maybe the pox itself now lived there. She acted as if everything was still in its place – table, chairs, pots, pans. The second week he had begun to see faint outlines of the old house and what must have been its contents. By the third week, the house stood completely visible – though the real townsfolk on the other side of the Veil could be seen walking through it.
And so, it continued for several months – he’d escort souls dead from smallpox (the babies were the hardest – and spooky, because their souls could speak as if they were adults) and watch as their homes were destroyed, one by one. The town was getting smaller, not just from the deaths but from people moving away.
“You know,” said Elizabeth to him once, “I suppose, if you felt sorry for someone, you could tell them about Lilith’s Choice. I wouldn’t mind some company, you know. They can change their minds, I guess, if they don’t like it here.”
One day his father was his assigned soul. He told him about Lilith’s Choice, and was about to tell him his identity when his father spat at him. “Pagan nonsense! I’ll do my time in Hell, where I’ll see that worthless son of mine! It’s his failure that made pariahs of my wife and I! She’ll be coming soon, as the pox has got her in its grip. Take me now, Reaper. My punishment awaits.”
His mother did arrive in 2 days’ time, and she embraced him when he told her his name, and about the Choice. Time passed. His own home appeared inside the Veil, right where it had stood in the living world beyond. Kyrk was careful to whom he told about the Choice – mainly small families, or men and women bound for Hell who hadn’t, in his opinion, been dealt with fairly. One of his ‘people’ was a traveler named Elspeth Santiestevan, a ‘witch’ who offered him a reason behind the high death rate of this smallpox – it had been magicked by a warlock named Cristoforo Tomaso Tayloro, who’d been thrown out of a coven and cursed with a pumpkin head for eternity. He’d been breeding pumpkins that carried a deadly smallpox. Kyrk would have enjoyed escorting him to Hell, but as soon as the pumpkin man arrived, he made Lilith’s Choice without being offered it. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Residents of this settlement inside the Veil began calling it “Reaper’s Rest.” Smallpox had all but wiped out the town, and the small village was abandoned, although Reaper’s Rest remained. But 100 years later, people began settling the abandoned site and a new town sprung up. Strangely enough, the new town designated a large area as a town park – which just happened to be where Reaper’s Rest was, on the other side of the Veil. Rumor had it that, whenever construction workers surveyed the area, they’d leave without measuring a single thing; they claimed they were being watched, or that their hands would become as cold as ice.
Kyrkland Coldfield keeps watch over his Soul Settlement. The Reaper Corps has never found it, nor could they. Those who make Lilith’s Choice are released from the constant watchful eyes of Good and Evil. Every October 31st, when the Veil parts, some lose themselves in the real world; sometimes a trick-or-treater gets lost in Reaper’s Rest, making a shortcut through the park. Kyrk finds them all, and scares them back. In death, as in life, Reaper Coldfield excels at his work. He eventually had a visit from Lilith herself, but that’s another story. Happy Halloween, everyone!