My friend Kristine asked me for some background on the Harvesters, so I figured I would write down what little I thought I had come up with for them. Turns out I had actually thought of more than I realized, and my wonderful hubby Dave helped me with some of the other details. So here, for your enjoyment, is some information on the Harvesters:
Harvesters are chosen (“Harvested,” if you will) as very young children. They’re chosen at random by older Harvesters. In areas of the world where people still leave unwanted babies on hillsides, exposed to the elements, some of them become Harvesters. The children who are taken by the Harvesters are forgotten by their families and the rest of the world. Their documentation disappears, and no one ever looks for them. No one knows where exactly the first Harvesters came from. Their teachings say that the first ones were selected by Death himself, and that he is responsible for the lists that each Harvester receives monthly. However, no one knows for sure, of course.
They are raised in the Center, a place that has grown as the world’s population has grown. It’s a city big enough to accommodate all of the Harvesters. They are raised and educated in such a way that they can fit in anywhere. The Center is out of phase with the rest of the world, so non-Harvesters can’t find it.
Harvesters live like most other people. They fall in love and get married, but they don’t have children. However, anyone who wants to raise Harvested children can do so. They become the closest thing the children have to families and the children will refer to them as such. Not all of the children are part of families, though. Some, such as Angel, grow up in what basically amounts to an orphanage.
Harvesters are not immortal, though they are immune to disease and most poisons, with the exception of aconite. They live roughly 150 years, but don’t show signs of age until a few years (five or so) before they die. Harvesters are also immune to the touch of other Harvesters. When they die, they just fall asleep and don’t wake up. It’s said that Death harvests the Harvesters personally, but again, no one knows for sure.
Contact with a Harvester causes death, though it isn’t immediate, and only if that person is on the Harvester’s list. It can be a touch as simple as brushing against someone while passing through a doorway, a handshake, or just the touch of the tip of a finger when accepting a drink. But that person will be dead by midnight. A Harvester’s touch won’t affect anyone not on their own list. Each Harvester receives their new Deathlist at the beginning of every month, and they must come into contact with each person on the list before the month is over. They do not choose the manner of death for anyone on their list, and the only set “expiration date” for anyone on the list is the last day of the month.
People don’t remember Harvesters once they leave the area, but they have to actually move on, not just leave the room or building, or leave to use the bathroom. This allows a Harvester to do various odd jobs to earn some money (generally under-the-table work that doesn’t require ID), but also ensures that they can’t be reported as a suspect if deaths are ever investigated (which sometimes happens if there are a large number of deaths in one area, or if any deaths seem overly suspicious). They are perceived as ordinary by regular people, as if they belong wherever they are.
The governing body of the Harvesters is the Council, consisting of six men and six women. A Harvester is eligible to be chosen for the Council once he or she turns 70 and can serve a term of ten years. After that time, he or she goes into semi-retirement, meaning that they aren’t required to do as much Harvesting, and serve in an advisory position for the Council. Often they also go into business in our world, with most of the money they earn going back to the Center. Since they are then living and working in an area for an extended time, they are not forgotten by the people around them, until they decide to move on (which they have to do after a few years, since they don’t show signs of age). They are not the only Harvesters working outside the Center, however. Any Harvester over 80 can choose to semi-retire (a Harvester continues Harvesting until he or she begins to show age, at which time they stop getting Deathlists) by sending a statement of their wish to do so to the Council. At this time, they can either get jobs in the real world (with any necessary documentation being provided by the Council) and send most of their earnings back to the Center, or do various sorts of work at the Center (work at the orphanage, operate small farms or greenhouses, work for the Newsletter, that sort of thing).
Harvesters don’t have many laws, though they are expected to obey the laws of whatever area they happen to be in. The primary reason for this is because to do otherwise would be taking advantage of the fact that people forget them when they move on. Therefore, there would be no way for them to be prosecuted for theft, murder, or any other crime. Also, they are absolutely forbidden to kill another Harvester. Since a Harvester is immune to the touch of another Harvester, the only way for one to kill another is to use a weapon of some kind, or else to poison the other with aconite. Aconite doesn’t grow at the Center, so it must be harvested from our world. The only reason aconite is harvested is to kill a Harvester who has been found guilty of committing a crime, whether in our world or at the Center. This may seem harsh, but it is felt that a Harvester willing to abuse his or her power in our world, or one willing to kill a fellow Harvester, is a detriment to their society as a whole, and one who cannot be an effective Harvester in our world. Death is a part of life, true, but Harvesters are only supposed to touch those whose time has come to die, not deliberately decide to take someone’s life whose name is not on his or her Deathlist.
The Deathlists are delivered psychically to each Harvester every month. They know the names, appearances, and locations of every person who is on their list. The people on the list are generally, but not always, grouped in the same area. Again, there is no set “expiration date” for anyone on the list—they must simply be touched by a Harvester by the end of the month. Once they have been touched, they will be dead by midnight of that day. And again, the Harvester doesn’t choose the manner of death for anyone on the list. So someone might be eating a handful of popcorn, turn to walk into the kitchen, slip and fall on a wet spot on the floor, and choke on the popcorn. Someone else might be hit by a car, and someone else might die from being hit in the head by a ricocheting billiard ball. It’s pretty random, but these things could have happened to them at any time—being touched by a Harvester just makes things like this more likely to happen.