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Around The Sun: The Grim Reaper

Steve Harrison tells of a somber days when he lost the two guiding lights of his life.

My father’s death shook me to the core. I had no money, but I bought an airline ticket on credit, round trip Australia to England. Then I went to the bank, told them I was going to England to attend my father’s funeral, and could I borrow some money to guarantee that I returned to Australia.

These days that seems a strange ask, but soon I was back in my native county, Yorkshire. This time there wasn’t the familiar face waiting for me in his favourite pub, The Walkers Arms.

We buried my father next to his father, near Robertown, the place where he was born.

One of my early influences when I worked in an advertising agency in Bradford was a man named Michael Pearson. He was my spiritual guardian. We lived quite close to each other. He had a house near that of my girlfriend, Jacquie in Amblerthorne, about a half mile up the road in Queensbury.

I was shocked to learn that he was dying in a Halifax hospital. The last time Michael and I had been together he was in good health, After drinking together, we had walked on a clear moonlit winter’s night towards my house through fields knee-deep in freshly fallen snow. The snow crunched beneath our feet as we left deep tracks.

We engaged in spiritual discussions, considering ourselves sages and seekers after truth. I looked up to him as being wiser than myself. He was four or five years older than me. Michael always delivered his thoughts in a quiet positive way. We would be in a pub with a group of people, laughing, talking loudly, then Michael would speak and a hush would descend. He could attract and hold a crowd with a whisper.

On the night of our snowy walk I was on the brink of another overseas assignment, project, adventure – call it what you will. “Promise me,’’ said Michael “that if you discover the truth you will come back and tell me what it is. You seem to have a better opportunity of finding it than I have these days.’’

We stood looking at one another on that freezing night, and I promised I would do as he asked.

And when I had promised Michael walked away. I will always remember the deep prints that his feet left in the snow. Though it was the middle of the night the moonlight was reflecting brightly on the snow. When I looked over my shoulder as I walked away Michael seemed to be backtracking in his own footsteps. The effect was that we had walked together, then one of us had vanished into the air. Every time Michael and I went our separate ways I was left with a sense of mystery.

Now I visited him as he lay pale and drawn in a hospital intensive care bed. There was a tube in one of his nostrils, a drip being fed into a vein in one of his arms.

I went to tell him my truth, but he told me his terrible truth. He had had a number of heart attacks. “Every night the devil comes through those doors with his scythe, ready to take me,’’ he said, pointing. “He looks like one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, grey and deathly. Every night I fight him off. He’s been a dozen times and he’ll come again.’’

Michael made me see his devil. I identified with the horror of his situation.

On the following day I visited Michael again. I wanted to tell him what I had discovered while reading the Bible. He listened intently to what I had to say, then told me that he was still being stalked by the grim reaper. I wanted to stay with him through the night to help him defeat his demon, but a nurse said he was weak and needed to rest.

On the following day Michael’s wife phoned me. The grim reaper had paid another visit, and this time he was the stronger. Michael had fought and lost his last battle.

I had to fly back to Australia, so I missed Michael’s funeral. That was a sad and lonely flight. I had lost the two people who had been the guiding lights for my soul.

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