A shiver zig-zagged down Joe’s back as the horse-drawn carriage pulled up alongside him.
The driver lifted the brim of his hat and said, ‘Joe Bones?’
He didn’t know why but Joe looked around him before he answered with a short, ‘yes.’
‘Jump aboard,’ said the driver with a gesture of his hand.
‘Who are you?’ Joe asked. He might have been seventeen but the old saying of not getting into cars with strangers sure seemed appropriate now. The guy was giving him the creeps. He looked like a corpse with his shrunken face and yellowing skin. And his eyes, his eyes were red with large black pupils and they looked at him like a vampire looked at its prey in those old horror movies. Joe didn’t like the look of this at all. No. Not one bit.
‘I’m your ride,’ the driver said, with a bow of the head he added, ‘the names Azrail Bartholomew Brown.’
‘Where we going?’ Joe asked. His stomach was tight and there was a little ball of dread growing in his gut.
‘Angel Gate Cemetery.’
Azrail smiled, allowing Joe a glimpse of his jagged yellow teeth. ‘Are you getting in, or shall I tell Mrs Crow that the trial is over?’
Pull yourself together, said Joe to himself. He took a deep breath, took hold of the silver handle at the side of the carriage and pulled himself aboard.
The black leather squeaked as he sat down. He could smell leather, cigarette smoke and something funny, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on but it reminded him of his nanna.
Azrail gave a flick of the reins, shouted “Yah!” and the horses took off at break-neck speed into the night.
Joe’s knuckles turned white as he tried to find some grip on the black leather seat. Vomit threatened to explode up his oesophagus as the horses and the carriage zigged and zagged across the town.
‘Do you think,’ said Joe, swallowing down the bile, ‘we could slow down?’
‘Can we -‘
‘I can’t hear you, hang on a minute,’ said Azrail. The horses came to an abrupt stop. ‘What did you say?’
‘I was just wondering if we could slow down.’
‘Ah, not good with travelling, eh? No matter,’ said Azrail with a wink, ‘we’re here now. Although, if you want to keep this job you need to sort that travel sickness out. Anyway, we’re here.’
Joe smiled weakly. He could hear the horses panting hard, their hot breath steaming in the air.
They were indeed in front of Angel Gate Cemetery.
The old Victorian Cemetery was on the outskirts of town, its sprawling grounds rambling in between farms and the odd expensive house. Angel Gate took its name from the two angels, Nox and Morta, who stood draped in their heavy marble robes, beatific smiles on their skeletal faces, their hands beckoning the weary traveller to step inside. Two big iron gates stood between them, bound together by thick iron chains and a large padlock.