Clarvan Strang looked older than his forty years. Too many seasons in the sun had robbed his skin of youth. Knotted brown leather with wrinkled rivers of gathered hide covered every square inch of skin that shirts and pants and overalls hadn’t covered over the years. Crow’s feet at the edges of his eyes were as deep as canyons, the result of a perpetual squint that no longer served only to protect him in the sun but followed him indoors. Rare passers-by, sitting in horse-drawn buggies on the worn path to town in the distance nodded at the man with the scythe, mistaking the swinging motions of his arms cutting wheat as waves. His cabin, cobbled together from scrap lumber, mud, straw, and tin, could barely be called a house. It sheltered him from the worst of the winter storms, but it was far from comfortable. It provided a place out of the weather, though, were he could sit on a wooden stool in front of the fire or the open door and sharpen the blade of his scythe. The scythe was the only tool he owned that merited such rapt attention. He spent every evening sharpening and polishing the blade, sharper after twelve years than the day it was made. Strang had replaced the snath and the handle twice in those twelve years. The grain cradle attached to it was the fourth or fifth in the same time frame, as the pieces of the cradle tended to break with heavy use. Strang repaired the cradle until the repairs would no longer hold the tines in place and then would build a new one.
Forty years old wasn’t old, but it wasn’t young. In the harsh middle of Kansas, forty could be either. Age and arthritis and too many seasons in the sun caught up with him. He could no longer gather wheat, so he would no longer be able to look after himself. Strang made a choice. Strang sharpened his scythe blade one last time, putting the finest edge on the blade he’d ever done. The next morning, he attached the blade to the door frame of his cabin, the sharp edge of the blade extending from the frame outward, the wide part of the blade parallel to the ground, about five feet from the ground. He fiddled with the blade until it was as firmly fixed as it could be, then stepped back from it, some twenty paces. He ran, as fast as his legs would carry him, toward the blade, lifting his chin slightly just as he reached it. The blade severed his head as cleanly as it ever cut a stand of wheat.