Mr. Mortality and the Heart Collector (Epilogue)

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    Unexpectedly, Michael MacBranain did not die.

    Oh, he had a fight of it. A fever, unconscious darkness, aches and frosty pangs, nightmares and night terrors filled with eyes and feathers, and eyes with feathers, and ghosts without eyes. And he certainly felt dead once or twice (or more than twice).
    Still, the Grim Reaper could attest, the young man did not die.
    No, he held as firmly to this mortal coil as he did to all things that mattered. And so it was that at exactly three-thirty in the afternoon, three days after the Adventure of the Heart Collector, the fever broke and Michael awoke in his own bed.

    The first thing he became aware of upon opening his bleary eyes (which had been partially glued shut by an ominous black substance) was the familiar form of one of his sisters, his mother, and a (somewhat) masculine presence in the room.
    "Dad?" he attempted to mumble through a heavy tongue; then fully recognizing the girl near his side and trying to sit up, "Molly!"
    His mother and the eldest of his sisters was at his side immediately.
    "Shh, lay yerself back down dear, don't exert yerself! Ye've had a terrifying ordeal, ye almost died ye moron!"
    Their voices overlapped and to his sick-addled brain, it was hard to tell which was which (although he later determined that, all things being right in the world, the tears were from his mother and the insult from his sister).
    Michael did lay down and had just drifted into a healthy doze...

    He bolted awake, realization driving him to complete consciousness as he sat up and jabbed a finger at the corner of the room half-screaming, "Mr. Mortality!"
    "Good morning, Mr. MacBranain," the Reaper responded casually from the opposite direction.
    The boy turned to see the angel-man seated at his bedside, limbs and bones in apparently perfect condition, and calmly sipping a cup of tea.

    "What are ye doin' here?" Michael demanded breathlessly, "Where are me mum and me sisters??"
    "On an all-expense paid trip to the zoo. They needed to give you space to heal, and your poor harried mother needed some space to breathe—doctor's orders."
    "Are ye impersonatin' a doctor now?"
    "I am not," the Reaper said, sounding partially offended, "the 'doctor' in question is Stella; I'm only the messenger! ...Although it would be helpful if in all future interactions you referred to me as Dr. Mallory, for the sake of my position and your own family's sanity."
    He glanced at a piece of paper in his hand, "Oh, by the way, you have a dose of medicine coming up if you want to remain alive."

    "So it was all real," Michael recognized, his fear evaporating and leaving him unsure how to feel.
    "Unless I'm a delusion," he cocked an eyebrow. Then his face softened.

    "Mr. MacBranain, I...," Mortality removed his hat and ran a spidery hand through his hair; a shockingly human gesture, "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry...This was all my fault. I never meant for things to get as bad as they did. I...I never intended for you to get involved at all! But one bad choice lead to another...and..."
    There was a weariness to the Reaper's face and voice, and for the first time, Michael noticed how disheveled his normally well-kept attire was.
    The boy was surprised to find himself wondering how long the Tall Man had been keeping vigil over him.

    "I only wanted to hire you for the paperwork," the man babbled, "I-I didn't even want you to go near the man's house, although I suspected there might be a heart was hidden there...I thought we could break the chain with any old heart but then I was wrong and..."
    A part of Michael was rightfully still miffed, but another part of his (admittedly just recently conscious) soul sensed a sincerity in Mr. M's words that touched him. Had he not also been given a second chance himself? And he supposed he couldn't really stay mad at his angel.
    "Ah...erm...come now, t'isn't all that bad," Michael said, almost reaching for the Grim Reaper's hand, and then in a moment of lucidity deciding that was a terrible idea. "It was'nae yer fault when the Jack o' Hearts first jabbed me was it?" (Was it? He couldn't remember.) "And if that were to help ye find a way to save the victims faster it only made sense to ask me help."
   He considered a bit more, then decided, "Ye were still the worst in some ways come to think of it, but at the end of the day, I've survived haven't I? And I think we both learned an important lesson."
    (Whether or not the Reaper actually learned something, and what he learned, Michael did not know, but he certainly hoped it was something of value.)

    At these generous words of comfort, the Grim Reaper's expression only darkened.
    "I'm afraid that the situation may be far worse than you realize, Mr. MacBranain."
    Oh dear. What now?
    "The first attack you survived by good fortune," Mortality explained, "The second? It was so deep and so near to your heart, you could only have survived by a sheer miracle." (And also, he was obligated to say, the help of Stella's Holy Water Mystic Tonic, available wherever quality supernatural goods aren't sold.)

    "What d'ye mean?" Michael asked, a quiet sense of dread beginning to creep through his bones.
    "With the right supernatural means one can stop Ghost Blood in its tracks...but it is hard for the natural flesh to recover from such an encounter."
    "But what does that mean??"
    "It means that you have a hole in your chest that may never go away," Mortality stated, "Your heart is exposed. Your emotions leak through. To the wandering Damned you are a walking fountain of feelings, glowing brightly with every pulse of your heart, and they will be attracted to you like vultures to meat; possibly for the rest of your life.
    "And that," he confessed solemnly, "is all my fault."

    Michael was overcome with a numbing horror as he began to understand what he was being told.
    "I-I'm cursed," he breathed, "I'm doomed. I-I'm haunted! I'm..."
    "In grave danger," the Reaper finished for him, "You and all those around you. But I've promised to protect you, haven't I?"
    The young man could only stare at him, still too stunned to fully comprehend the implications; to know how to think or feel or react.
    Mortality, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly how to feel. A look of grave determination, an angel-ish resolve had settled upon his corpse-like features, as he uttered, "No amount of apologies can make up for what I have done to you Michael MacBranain. I owe you a debt, and I always repay my debts."

    Reaching into his hat, the Grim Reaper withdrew an odd-looking document. It was written on paper, but the paper was white and opalescent, and when he unrolled it, it was longer than Michael was tall.
    He handed it to the boy, and when Michael examined it the letters were in a language he had never seen before, and yet he understood every word of it perfectly.

    "Become my permanent Assistant," the angel-man said, "and I will be able to protect and provide for you for the rest of your life. You will live in my house, where no evil may enter, and there you may remain as long as you like. You need face no supernatural threats ever again unless you choose to."

    Still numb and dumb-founded, Michael read through the Contract; a surprisingly fair one with little fine print, good benefits, paid holiday leave, and an (somewhat forebodingly) excellent life insurance policy.
    When he arrived at the bottom, there waited a dotted line.
    "Understand," the Reaper spoke up, "If you sign you will be my helper and I your protector forever. Our fates shall be inexorably intertwined, covenanted in the sight of God—I mean, unless you decide to quit or I fire you, but that's a messy business best avoided."

    Michael stared at the space that awaited his signature, his mind a-whirl with thoughts, of which he wasn't sure what to express.
    At last one of them slipped from his lips, a question that he didn't realize was so terribly important to him until he spoke it: "What if I'm nae a good Assistant, sir?"
    Of the questions he could have asked, this one must not have been the one Mortality was expecting.
    "Why...of course you'll be a good Assistant!" he said. "A better one than I deserve I daresay. You're a very hard worker, so I'm told. And it takes real bravery and quick-thinking to do what you did. Do you realize that?"

    Michael bit his lip, still overcome with uncertainty.

    "Ah," the Reaper said suddenly, "I nearly forgot! You dropped this."
    Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew Mr. MacBranain's rosary; still stained with blackness but restrung on a fresh cord.
    "It seemed rather important to you. It's part of your faith, isn't it? I requested Stella repair it."
    Michael stared at it and felt his heart give a small patter.
    His father's legacy, scarred but not destroyed. A sign of a new beginning.

    Then he thought on all that had happened to him over the past few days.
    He thought on his prayers, and his father's response, and the Heart Collector's daughter and how alike they were. He thought on second chances. And then he realized something.

    He realized that he was the Grim Reaper's Assistant.
    And perhaps, just perhaps, that was the very thing he was meant to be.

    "D'ye have a pen?"


    A short while later, Mrs. MacBranain and the many Miss MacBranains came pouring into the basement, overjoyed to see their brother awake and well.
    Kindly Dr. Mallory reminded them how Michael had bravely fought off ruffians for his protection, receiving the blow to the head and the knife to the chest that had rendered him unconscious and unable to return home for so many days. He told them how he (successful doctor that he was) had decided to reward Michael's heroism with the offer of a job as his resident gardener—and he'd agreed!--giving them even more to rejoice about.
    Michael held his family and wept bittersweet tears for a very different reason, however. He swore to himself that he'd write his family every chance he got. At least he could be grateful for paid holidays!

    Still, things were looking up for the MacBranain family, he thought, fondling his father's rosary.
    Providence surely worked in mysterious, indeed, sometimes terrifying ways.
    And in the end, he was beginning to suspect that this may have been the only viable career path for him anyway.

    No one else was hiring, after all.


A beginning.
Read More:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
~ Part 5

And so it ends...and so it begins.

Praise God!!! :la:

Real quick I wanted to lay down some acknowledgements!!

First of all, to my Beta Reader/Stupid Filter, my favorite little brother
(This story would have been so much worse without him you guys!)

Next, I wanna thank some the folks who've supported me from the beginning (and also happen to be on DeviantArt):
You guys were among the first to make me feel like this story might be worth writing!! If it weren't for your support, it might not have been finished! Many thanks!! :heart:

And finally thank you all so, so much for reading!! I couldn't have gotten this far without you!! I'm so grateful to you, and happy that you've enjoyed this story, imperfect as it is!
:hug: :heart: :hug: :heart: :hug: :heart:

The year is 1896, and Michael MacBranain is in desperate need of a job.
Fortunately for him (or perhaps not-so-fortunately), the Grim Reaper is also in desperate need of an assistant!
The trouble is, Michael is terribly superstitious and loathes himself for his own cowardice.

But with a dark supernatural force on the loose in New York City, there may be more at stake for Michael and his employer than just job security!


A multi-part short story, serving as a prototype for the future web-serial Mortality, the episodic adventures of the Grim Reaper and his assistant. While this story is not as well-researched or polished as I hope for the actual series to be, Sweating a little... it does give something of an idea of what I'm going for character and story-wise. I hope you enjoy this debut~

Elegant Divider 2 - bottom 

Mortality and all related characters (c) me.
© 2019 - 2022 DarlingWrites
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PaintFeathers's avatar
It's happy and sad to read the conclusion, I am soon going to read your story from the beginning again.
One of the best epilogues I've read!