Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)

Neal Shusterman

For Olga (Ludovika) N?dtvedt, a faraway fan and friend


The creation of a novel is more than just the effort of the writer—there are many people involved in bringing a story to fruition, and every single one of them deserves credit for their contribution.

First and foremost, my editor David Gale and associate editor Liz Kossnar, as well as everyone at Simon & Schuster, who have been, and continue to be amazingly supportive: Justin Chanda, Jon Anderson, Anne Zafian, Katy Hershberger, Michelle Leo, Candace Greene, Krista Vossen, Chrissy Noh, and Katrina Groover to name just a few. Also Chlo? Foglia, for what has to be one of my all-time favorite covers!

Thanks to Barb Sobel, my assistant who runs interference and keeps my life organized; and Matt Lurie, who manages my website and has built my social media presence.

Thanks to my book agent, Andrea Brown; my foreign rights agent, Taryn Fagerness, my entertainment industry agents, Steve Fisher & Debbie Deuble-Hill at APA; my manager, Trevor Engelson; my contract attorneys Shep Rosenman and Jennifer Justman, as well as trademark attorneys, Dov Scherzer and Matt Smith.

At the writing of this, Scythe is being developed as a feature film, and I’d like to thank everyone involved, including Jay Ireland at Blue Grass Films, as well as Sara Scott and Mika Pryce at Universal.

Forever and always, a special thanks to my kids, Brendan, Jarrod, Joelle and Erin—who keep me on my toes, keep me young, and always have thought-provoking comments and suggestions. And, of course, my aunt Mildred Altman, who is going strong at eighty-eight, and has read every single one of my books!

Thanks everyone! This series promises to be a very exciting journey! I’m glad you’re all a part of it!

Part One


* * *

We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

And as I see it, they’re all innocents. Even the guilty. Everyone is guilty of something, and everyone still harbors a memory of childhood innocence, no matter how many layers of life wrap around it. Humanity is innocent; humanity is guilty, and both states are undeniably true.

We must, by law, keep a record.

It begins on day one of apprenticeship—but we do not officially call it “killing.” It’s not socially or morally correct to call it such. It is, and has always been, “gleaning,” named for the way the poor would trail behind farmers in ancient times, taking the stray stalks of grain left behind. It was the earliest form of charity. A scythe’s work is the same. Every child is told from the day he or she is old enough to understand that the scythes provide a crucial service for society. Ours is the closest thing to a sacred mission the modern world knows.

Perhaps that is why we must, by law, keep a record. A public journal, testifying to those who will never die and those who are yet to be born, as to why we human beings do the things we do. We are instructed to write down not just our deeds but our feelings, because it must be known that we do have feelings. Remorse. Regret. Sorrow too great to bear. Because if we didn’t feel those things, what monsters would we be?

—From the gleaning journal of H.S. Curie

* * *


No Dimming of the Sun

The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Guests were frequent at the Terranovas’ apartment, so when the doorbell rang, there was no sense of foreboding—no dimming of the sun, no foreshadowing of the arrival of death at their door. Perhaps the universe should have deigned to provide such warnings, but scythes were no more supernatural than tax collectors in the grand scheme of things. They showed up, did their unpleasant business, and were gone.

Her mother answered the door. Citra didn’t see the visitor, as he was, at first, hidden from her view by the door when it opened. What she saw was how her mother stood there, suddenly immobile, as if her veins had solidified within her. As if, were she tipped over, she would fall to the floor and shatter.

“May I enter, Mrs. Terranova?”

The visitor’s tone of voice gave him away. Resonant and inevitable, like the dull toll of an iron bell, confident in the ability of its peal to reach all those who needed reaching. Citra knew before she even saw him that it was a scythe. My god! A scythe has come to our home!

“Yes, yes of course, come in.” Citra’s mother stepped aside to allow him entry—as if she were the visitor and not the other way around.

He stepped over the threshold, his soft slipper-like shoes making no sound on the parquet floor. His multilayered robe was smooth ivory linen, and although it reached so low as to dust the floor, there was not a spot of dirt on it anywhere. A scythe, Citra knew, could choose the color of his or her robe—every color except for black, for it was considered inappropriate for their job. Black was an absence of light, and scythes were the opposite. Luminous and enlightened, they were acknowledged as the very best of humanity—which is why they were chosen for the job.

Some scythe robes were bright, some more muted. They looked like the rich, flowing robes of Renaissance angels, both heavy yet lighter than air. The unique style of scythes’ robes, regardless of the fabric and color, made them easy to spot in public, which made them easy to avoid—if avoidance was what a person wanted. Just as many were drawn to them.

Neal Shusterman's Books