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The lord of the manor was doomed.

His young wife, who had long had trouble sleeping, was accustomed to a stroll through the grounds late each night. Two manservants accompanied her for her safety. On such a walk, they heard a strange wailing from the river. Approaching cautiously, they saw a woman in a grey dress kneeling by the water’s edge. The moonlight glinted on a silver comb in her hand as she drew it through her long dark hair. She wailed constantly, a sound that seemed to pierce the souls of her observers.

“Oh, my lord,” gasped the lady of the manor. She and her servants turned and fled.

The family legend was well known. The woman at the river had been seen three days before the lord’s father had died at the stroke of midnight; three days before his father’s father had died at midnight, and so on, further back than any living man could recall. She had mourned the eldest son of each generation without fail for centuries. She was a harbinger of sorrow and grief; her wails would soon be echoed in the widow’s weeping.

The lord remained calm for the sake of his wife and young son. He summoned lawyers and accountants to put his affairs in order, and sent out urgent messages to his family and friends. He did not want to die alone.

On the third night, the manor house was full. The servants were rushed off their feet catering to the lord’s guests. Food was plentiful, and wine flowed like water. The lord had forbidden the wearing of black; it was to be a joyous celebration of his life, not a mournful goodbye.

Still, as the hands of the great grandfather clock in the dining hall crept closer to midnight, the tension could be felt in the air. The lady of the manor, her eyes wide with fear, sat close to her husband and held his hand tightly, as if she might be able to keep him from the bony hands of the reaper if she just held on.

A hush fell across the room, broken only by the quiet sobbing of the lord’s aged mother and the inexorable ticking of the clock.

As the second hand counted out the last few seconds before midnight, all eyes turned to the head of the table. The chimes of midnight began to ring out.

The lord of the manor closed his eyes as the last chime rang.

A crash echoed through the hall as a servant dropped a tray full of glasses. Clutching at his chest, the man fell to the floor, twitched, and stopped moving.

The lord of the manor opened his eyes just in time to see his mother faint.

© Kari Fay