In most Latin countries death was a festival celebrated with candy skulls and children dancing around with Mr Skelebones puppets.
Death had been reduced from his sombre and morbid role into a user friendly creature like the Celtic festival of the dead (Samhain) morphing into Halloween!
And like the sanitising of the original Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia into the Christian celebration of Christmas; people's perception of the Grim Reaper was now one of a cartoon caricature!
In the 'Saint Orpheus Orphanage for Abandoned Children', Amelia Applecross was soon turning eight. She was of average height for her age; with pale, freckled skin, light hazel eyes and brown hair tied back into pig tails.
A sickly child from birth saw Amelia often cosseted away from her peers by the stern faced nuns who ran the orphanage, in case of infection.
This resulted in Amelia spending most of her days in the orphanage school's library reading book after book after book.
She possessed a voracious appetite for the written word, and whatever she could lay her hands on.
She read about other lands; people and their customs, of which often involved rites of passage and death.
One particular ancient people saw the grim reaper as a shadow who stole through the night, for which he was given the sobriquet of the 'Shaddah Man!'
Another was a character called 'Mr Skelebones!' which reduced the iconic hooded skeleton, sickle carrying creature, into a child's toy - ineffectual and easier to deal with.
The truth, however was more -- complex.
In her readings Amelia had found many instances of Death in nursery rhyme form.
There was an old 'black plague' poem from the time of the 'Great Mortality' in a collection of dark rhymes called, 'The Children's Book Of Verse For The Just & Shriven' which went:
"Yeoman, peasant, soldier, priest,
Children sleeping as they feast,
Mothers weaving at their looms,
Sewing shrouds for all their tombs."
And another about Death, the great gatherer:
"Farmer plough thy open field,
Sow thy seed for more to yield,
Comes the reaper scything low,
To gather little children as he goes."
Then there was an obscure piece called "The Shaddah Man", which went:
"Keep your doors locked good and tight,
From shadows creeping in the night,
Pull the blankets over your head,
Lest the Shaddah Man comes calling, 'bring out your dead!'"
Amelia became more and more fascinated by the concepts of death, penning her own tribute to 'Mr Skelebones' himself:
"Who comes a knock, knock, knocking at my wooden door,
Rattling at the windows, scratching underneath the floor,
'Let me in.' he whispers, scraping sharply at the walls,
With his bony fingers as sharp as razor claws."
What began as a mild fancy soon became an obsession with Amelia. Her morbid curiosity with the Grim Reaper was at fever pitch, until the day she contracted a terrible fever that laid her low.
She was once again isolated from the rest of the orphans in an iron cot in a dank room of gray, peeling paintwork and faded curtains.
The gas lighting was turned down low, and in Amelia's delirium the nuns and attending physician came and went as shadows in her fevered mind.
Her fever continued unabated, despite what was tried to bring it down, tepid baths, wiping her perspiration soaked brow with cool, damp cloths; nothing would work.
Her conditioned worsened hour by hour until the fever finally broke and Amelia woke feeling quite refreshed.
'How very odd,' she thought to herself, 'I have had the most amazing dream.'
In her dream she imagined someone dressed as a harlequin sitting quietly watching at the end of her hospital ward bed.
Behind the mask she glimpsed two eyes burning like bright, fiery coals.
"Mr Skelebones?" Amelia said, abruptly sitting up.
The harlequin leapt off the end of her bed and did a brief, amusing little dance ending with a flourish of movements and an elaborate bow.
Amelia clapped her hands in delight, her sweating fever all but forgotten.
"I knew you would come, if I called." she said.
The harlequin did another little quick step and held out a gloved hand towards Amelia.
"I knew you would come." she repeated, reaching out towards the outstretched hand.
Walking out hand in gloved hand, Amelia never felt more alive. Her skin glowed and she felt better than at any time in her short life.
They passed the attending nursing nuns unchallenged and out through the hospital doors.
Amelia never gave another thought to the child left behind now lying cold as death in her old hospital bed -- no thought at all, really...