Death’s Apprentice – Part Eighteen

‘Jesus!’ shouted his mother, clutching at her very ample bosom.

Mrs Crow bolted upright and as she did so, her false teeth that had been protruding from under her hairy grey lip, popped back in her mouth.

‘Jesus?’ she asked. ‘He won’t be able to help you, not after what you’ve done.’ She threw her head back and cackled.

Lola, who had, up until this point, been lying quietly across Mrs Crow’s lap, sat up and began to howl in accompaniment. It sounded like an orchestra from hell. Joe noticed that the hairs on the back of Lola’s neck were standing on end but there was no aggression in the dog as her tail was waving enthusiastically.

He looked over to his mother who looked like she was about to have a heart attack. Joe suddenly started feeling very cold. He remembered something from the night before, at the cemetery, when Mrs Crow seemed to simply step out of the darkness. Like Death. Death? Was he going mad, or what?

But what if? What if she was Death and she’d come for his mother? That wasn’t why she was here, was it?

Not that he loved his mother. He didn’t. But then, that feeling was reciprocal. He just didn’t want her dead.

Mrs Crow stopped laughing abruptly. She looked up at Joe and said, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ almost as if she was answering his unspoken question, ‘it’s not time. Yet. No, I’ve come for you.’ She pointed a long crooked finger at him.

‘Me?’ he said, taking a huge step away from her. He didn’t want to die. Not yet. Not even with his shitty life.

‘Of course, you! Who else would I be here for? No one else is trying to get a job with me, are they? And as you had a very late night last night…’ Her eyes snapped shut again, she flopped back onto the sofa, and she began to snore loudly. Again.

‘Are you sure you’re working for her?’ asked his mother. ‘Only she doesn’t look very -‘

‘What?’ screeched Mrs Crow, jerking awake again.

‘Er…nothing,’ said Joe’s mother taking in the murderous look on the old woman’s face. Joe was impressed; it was the first time he’d ever seen his mother short for words.

Lola jumped from Mrs Crow’s lap. The room darkened.

‘And,’ said Mrs Crow, suddenly appearing right in front of Joe’s mother, ‘it’s a live-in position, so he won’t paying you rent.’ She added, under her breath, ‘Or money for fags and booze or for your good-for-nothing boyfriend.’

‘What did you say?’

Mrs Crow placed her hands on her hips. The top of her head only just came to Joe’s mother’s chin. ‘I said, you won’t be stealing no more cash from Joe. He’s leaving. TODAY.’

‘How dare you -‘ She stopped. Her breath was escaping from her mouth in wisps. The room had turned to ice. And Joe’s mother seemed to shrink as Mrs Crow expanded and seemed to impossibly take up half of the room. The living room went as dark as the look on Mrs Crow’s face.

Mrs Crow towered over her.

‘Joe,’ she said, but never taking her eyes off his mother.

‘Yes?’

‘Get your things. You’re leaving.’

‘But…But what about the trial?’

‘No trial. I’m taking you out of here,’ said Mrs Crow, finally looking at him, ‘besides, we’re desperate.’

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Fifteen

‘Ok,’ said Mrs Crow, poking at the security guard with her black booted foot. ‘we need to hurry. His partner will be down in a minute to check on him and although he’s -‘

‘He’s not dead is he?’ asked Joe, taking in the security guard’s lack of movement and deathly pale face.

‘Of course, he’s not dead! What do you take me for?’ screamed Mrs Crow. ‘A murderer?!’

The security guard’s walky-talky began to crackle again. ‘Harry? You there, Harry? I’m coming straight down!’

‘Azrail, get…’ but Mrs Crow’s words disappeared as her eyes clouded over and her knees began to buckle.

‘Not again!’ screeched Azrail running forwards to catch her. He whipped out his long arms and managed to catch her before she fell to the floor. He scooped her up into his arms. ‘Come on,’ he said, turning to Joe, ‘follow me!’

Joe did as he was told and set off after Azrail.

Azrail’s long legs were striding off at a pace despite his old age and the fact that he was carrying Mrs Crow. Although, Joe doubted Mrs Crow weighed that much as she looked even more like a skeleton than when he’d first met her earlier that day. He looked at her skeletal arm poking out from under her black cloak. It looked old, really old, and nobbly and skinny and reminded him of an old gnarly oak branch.

There was a loud noise, like the sound of an aeroplane taking off and then a big pause before the noise started again.

Joe looked at Mrs Crow’s head bobbing up and down and realised she was snoring. He was amazed that such a loud noise could come from such a small old woman.

Azrail was bounding across the cemetery at a great pace and Joe was struggling to keep up, what with the bumpy grass and the tree roots snaking across the ground but, after what seemed like forever, they were back at the entrance to the cemetery.

The horses and carriage loomed tall before them. The first horse scraped his big black hoof across the road impatiently and snorted. His breath escaped in a blast of white against the night’s sky.

‘Get off me!’ screeched Mrs Crow bolting upright in Azrail’s arms. She began to flap her arms at him and he dropped her to the floor.

‘Sorry, but it happened again,’ said Azrail, taking his top hat off and bowing apologetically.

‘That doesn’t mean you get to carry me like a sack of spuds you great oaf!’

‘No, sorry Ma’am,’ said Azrail, bowing low again.

‘You great imbecile, get to the horses.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Azrail disappeared to the front of the carriage.

‘And what are you looking at?’ she screeched at Joe.

Joe stood there, frozen, like a rabbit caught in headlights. Was he having a bad dream? Because he hadn’t a clue what the hell was going on.

‘Well? What are you waiting for? Do you want to be caught here? With a security lying on his back?’

‘No, I…’

Mrs Crow stamped her foot on the floor. ‘Well get to the front of the carriage then!’

Joe did as he was told.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Fourteen

‘Can I help you, Sir?’

Joe wasn’t sure who had asked the question but he thought he knew the voice from somewhere but he couldn’t quite place where. He could just make out a new figure that had appeared next to the big guy that was questioning him. He didn’t think it was Azrail because Azrail was tall and thin and scraggly looking. This new figure seemed more ethereal like it had stepped out of the darkness itself.

Joe shook his head. Stepped out of the darkness itself? He really needed to get a grip of his nerves. Midnight digging in the cemetery seemed to have frayed his nerves.

The big guy wheeled around, and a streak of torchlight swept across the tombs and tombstones.

‘Who are you?’asked the big guy.

‘I’m Death,’ said the figure cloaked in black.

‘Very funny,’ said the guy. He reached down for something hanging at the side of his waist. It seemed to Joe like it was a walky-talky or something. The guy was a security guard.

Still holding the torch and pointing it at the figure in black, the guy pressed a button on the walky-talky and held it to his mouth. ‘Tom,’ he said, ‘we’ve got another bunch of weirdos….’ But he stopped talking and fell the wet grass with a heavy thump. The walky-talky and the torch were thrown from his hands. The torch tumbled onto the mud, it’s light coming to rest on the mysterious figure cloaked in black.

‘Harry! Harry!’ came a crackly voice from the walky-talky.

‘We haven’t got much time,’ said the figure stepping out of the black. ‘Where’s Azrail?’

‘I’m here, ma’am. I’m here!’ Azrail came running up from behind the mysterious figure, clutching at his wheezing chest.

‘I thought,’ said the figure, removing her hood, ‘you were supposed to keep an eye on him?’

‘I was. I just -‘

‘Mrs Crow?’ said Joe. He was very confused. Why was Mrs Crow in Angel Gate Cemetery at midnight? And why was she dressed in a black cloak like something out of a Victorian horror movie? And what had happened to the security guy?

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirteen

The dirt made a thwump thwump sound as hit the plastic wrapping encasing the body. When he went for the job at the funeral home he really didn’t expect to be digging graves in the middle of the night to hide dead bodies. Obviously he knew dead bodies would be involved somewhere but not at midnight and not like this. There at least ought to have been a funeral first or something…

‘Hey you!’ It was a male voice, deep and threatening and not one he recognised.

He stopped still, his heart pounding even faster. The amount of work his heart had done on this one night he wondered how long it would be before he had a heart attack himself.

‘Put the spade down and turn around!’ said the man.

Joe did what he was told. He let the spade fall gently onto the wet mud with a thud, and, for some reason put his hands in the air like he was surrendering as he slowly turned around.

There was a dark figure standing in front of him but he couldn’t make out all of his features as he was shining a bright white light into Joe’s eyes. Joe tried to shield his eyes from the light with one of his muddy hands but it did no good, he couldn’t see much at all apart from the white blobs burnt onto his retinas from the light. The only thing he could be sure of was that this man was huge, built like a brickhouse and had caught Joe in a very compromising situation.

‘What are you doing?’ said the man.

‘I…’ What could Joe say? He’d been caught re-handed trying to bury a dead body. A dead body wrapped in black plastic. A body that shouldn’t have been there.

‘I…’ he repeated.

‘Well? Spit it out!’

Death’s Apprentice – Part Eight

It had finally stopped raining when Joe got back to Crow’s Funeral Home. He was cold, wet and in a particularly bad mood as he was susceptible to when he was tired, and/or hungry and had had a run on with his shit head stepdad. Not only that, his “stepdad” shithead had eaten his tea for him too. His mother almost never cooked but every third week, on a Thursday night, she’d cook stew. It wasn’t the best stew; his mom was a pretty shit cook to be far, but it was a home cooked meal and better than a sandwich or cold pizza. One night, every three weeks, and he had to go and eat it before he got home. Joe pumped his fists at his side. God, he hated that bloke.

And now he was here. At midnight. It was a good job he loved his dog. To be honest, reallly honest, she was the only thing he’d ever loved. Before Lola, he didn’t know what love was. He couldn’t really say that he loved his mother. She was, in all honesty, a shit mother, and he knew it, but she was the only constant in the shit storm that was his life but that didn’t mean he loved her. He knew he didn’t, not once Lola had entered his life.

The clouds were scooting across the sky, covering and uncovering the moon. It reminded Joe of one of those old zoetropes that flicked as they spun around showing photographs and giving the illusion the images were moving. Joe pulled his hoodie in around him. What on earth could they want with him at midnight? If he really thought about it, and he really didn’t want to think about it, he had a bad feeling about this. But, if it paid Lola’s vet bills and got him out of the shithole that was home, then, what choice did he have? Although, all that talk about chosen ones and burying the chosen one had been a bit strange. He hadn’t got a clue what all that was about but still, that seemed to be the story of his life. Joe never knew what was going on.

Suddenly the clouds totally relinquished their grip on the moon and bright silver moonlight illuminated the ground in front of him. He hadn’t noticed, until now, the fog that was beginning to roll in across the road. His legs felt like jelly. Actually, no, it wasn’t his legs, it seemed as if the ground itself was shaking. There was the sound of thunder in the distance and…

No. It wasn’t thunder. It was the sound of hooves. Lots of hooves. And they were moving at an incredible speed.

Seven pure black horses with bulging red eyes and black feathery plumes adorning their heads, emerged out of the moonlight. They were pulling a large black Victorian Mourners Coach. At the front of the coach sat a man, dressed in black, and wearing a top hat.

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part six

Mr Crow had a slight limp which I found myself replicating as I followed him. We walked past a room with two cream sofas, and a half-dead pot plant on a small coffee table, and down a long corridor that seemed to get increasingly darker the further we went. There were lots of closed doors with small plaques tacked on to them, saying intriguing things like; embalming room, coffin workshop, and Place of Rest. We turned right into another even darker corridor lit by lamps that looked like they belonged in the last century. The air was hot and humid and smelled of paraffin and mint imperials.

Finally, we came to a square waiting room lined with wood panelling. Mr Crow directed me to sit down on one of the mahogany chairs. It sounded as if I’d farted when I sat down.

‘I’ll be back presently,’ he said, with a quick nod of the head before he disappeared behind of the two doors in front of me.

I looked up at the large chandelier hanging low above my head. It clearly hadn’t been dusted in a long while as a grey spider’s web trailed from it onto the far wall. I followed the trail with my eyes to where it reached the top of the left door frame. The mahogany door had a plaque which read; Hell. I smiled. They sure had a sense of humour.

Despite the fact I was there for an interview, I felt calm, although I wish I’d had more time to make myself look presentable as the big hole in the toe of my trainer wasn’t the greatest look.

Mr Crow emerged from the door which read; Mrs and Mr Crow.

‘If you’d like to come this way,’ he said, standing by the door and gesturing for me to enter.

‘Josiah,’ screeched a female voice from behind the door, ‘stop acting like a prick and get the boy in here.’

I watched as Mr Crow’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pursed.

‘Shut up woman, will you,’ he shouted back to her.

‘You better come in before she loses her head,’ he said.

I did as I was told.

I entered the office of Mr and Mrs Crow. The room was quite small but I guessed it would be a lot bigger if it wasn’t for the stacks of paperwork overflowing from every surface. There was a large desk in front of me, covered in ledgers and piles of paper that looked like it had come from a historical movie set. There was a rotary dial phone in black, an ink well, a quill and a wooden blotter. There was a wooden chair behind the desk, and behind that, the wall was covered floor to ceiling with a mahogany filing cabinet. From the few open drawers, it looked like it contained index cards, rows upon rows of yellowing index cards arranged in alphabetical order. In the left corner, just in front of the cabinet, sat an old woman in a rocking chair. She looked like she’d died because her mouth was gaping open and her bottom set of false teeth were producing from her mouth. She was dressed all in black and her grey hair was arranged in a neat bun on the top of her head.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked, pointing at the lady. She reminded me of nanna the day she’d passed away.

‘Depends,’ said Mr Crow, sliding in behind the desk. He opened the ledger before him, picked up the quill, licked the nib before plunging it into the thick black ink.

‘Name?’

‘Joe Bones.’

‘Okay,’ said Mr Crow, sticking out his tongue as he wrote my name onto the ledger in beautiful cursive script.

‘Age?’

’17.’

He looked at me over the top of his glasses. ’17, eh?’ He nodded as if answering some internally asked question.

‘Address?’

’51 Moon Lane,’ I said, in little more than a whisper, knowing that this information alone would make them not want to give me the job.

‘Mmmm,’ he said, looking at me over the top of his thick-framed glasses, ‘Moon Lane, eh?’

I jumped as the old lady, who looked like she’d been dead only a few minutes early, was now standing by my side.

She grabbed my arm and began feeling it.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Five

My heart gave a start as the door to the back was flung open. Several things happened at once; a tall man with a large hook nose and wearing dark blue overalls covered in soot burst into the room just as Lola yelped and disappeared behind my chair.

‘Lola!’

‘No dogs! No dogs! We don’t do dogs!’ called the man, flinging his arms in the air like he was swatting flies.

The receptionist jumped up. ‘No, Mr Black, he’s here for the job. His name is Joe Bones. I told you about him -’

He stopped his arms still high in the air. ‘You did?’ he asked, turning to look at the receptionist.

‘Yes, just now.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he snapped, ‘how am I supposed to remember everything?’ He turned on his heels to look at me. ‘Mmm,’ he said, looking over his thick round glasses at me, ‘you’d better come through then. But not the dog!’

‘Okay, I er…’ I looked a Lola. I didn’t think she’d want to go anyway.

‘Leave with me,’ said the receptionist, who was now standing beside me although I hadn’t seen her move at all.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘She’ll be fine with me here,’ she said, taking Lola’s lead, ‘now go on Mr Bones, go and do your interview before you miss out.’

I followed Mr Crow through the door and into the back of the funeral parlour. There was a funny smell, of acid and melted wax, lavender and something that reminded me of a fly spray my nanna used when she was still alive.

‘Down here,’ said Mr Crow, taking a dirty handkerchief from the top of his greasy overalls. He wiped his forehead with it then stuffed back into his pocket.