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?

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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.

My Grandad

I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking about my grandad a lot lately. I was 11 when he died and I was devastated. It was probably one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’m 42 now and still, I feel it. Not as deep or as intense as when it first happened but, even after thirty-one years, the grief is still real.

Recently, I saw a quote by Jamie Anderson on Pinterest that hit me in the feels:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot…Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Anyway, here’s a little memory of my grandad. He couldn’t talk or walk properly because he’d had several strokes but still, he was my hero.

The Red Leather Chair

The smell of frying bacon drifted in from the kitchen and my stomach groaned in anticipation.  Grandad looked at me with his smiling blue eyes, his thick white eyebrows arched high above his black glasses.
‘Sorry,’ I giggled, shrugging my shoulders, ‘had no breakfast this morning.’
‘Uh,’ he replied, with a shake of his head, a gentle smile erupting on his face as my stomach complained again.  He pointed to the telly with a crooked finger and then to his ears.  ‘Uh-uh.’
I flashed him a cheeky smile and shrugged again.
Shep, my Grandad’s long-haired collie, stirred in the seat beside me.  He yawned loudly, stretching out and laying his head on my lap as I wrapped my hands in his glossy coat and turned my head towards the telly just as it was announced by the heavily bearded commentator that Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy were due in the ring.
Grandad shifted forward to the edge of his seat, his walking stick clattering to the floor as he unbuttoned his shirt sleeves and rolled them up past his wrinkly elbows in preparation for the fight.
‘Fred, do you want sauce in your bacon?’ shouted Nan from the kitchen, but Grandad was oblivious to it all; he’d only got eyes and ears for that small black and white telly.
Shep leapt from the sofa, dashing behind it as my Grandad’s red leather chair began to dance around the room, the wood and leather creaking and straining under his weight, his grunting harsh but still with lashings of warmth, becoming louder as he lost his mind to the wrestling, to his life as a boxer in the army.
I could never tell anyone who won any of those fights we watched on that battered telly on the Saturday dinner-times we spent together; I was far too engrossed in Grandad’s face to care.  The strokes had robbed him of many things; his speech, the ability to walk or eat independently, but as we sat there I became lost in the sparkle in his eyes and the stories that had become etched in his wrinkles.  It was during these times that I could see my Grandad was still a man and was still truly alive.
But the red leather chair sits empty now; still and lifeless like the room in which it sits.  His grey trilby is still perched at an angle at the back of it, his walking stick abandoned on the floor.  The smell of cigars lingers in the air along with the smell of his hard-earned sweat.  But now the warmth has disappeared and a numbing coldness is seeping into the room through the cracks, filling me with emptiness.

Death’s Apprentice. Part Two. A Writing Experiment.

The sky burst. Rain crashed down around me, soaking me to the bone in a matter of seconds, and throwing up the scent of damp earth, decaying rubbish and rotten eggs as it churned up the water.

Come on Lola, where are you? I peeled my saturated hood from my head and held my hand up to my face to shield my eyes from the downpour.

‘Lola! Come on girl. Come on good girl!’

I thought I heard something, a whimper coming from behind me. I spun on my heels and saw a flash of white skin from beneath scrub at the base of an oak tree. I jogged over, my heart racing.

I removed the branches and weeds and found Lola cowering and whimpering, her tail flicking across the dirt.

‘Hey, there you are, come on,’ I said, stroking her head, ‘that’s a good girl.’ I reached into my pocket and fetched out a small dog biscuit, and offered it to her. Slowly she crawled out from her shelter and took the biscuit from my hand. I ran my hands along her wet fur; she was shaking. ‘What’s a matter girl? What’s he done to you?’ She rubbed her face against my leg. She smelled of dirt and wet dog.

‘That’s a good girl,’ I said, checking her ribs and legs. Everything seemed ok, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t trust him.

I clipped her lead onto her collar. ‘Come on Lola, let’s get you checked out.’ I gripped on to her lead tightly, my knuckles turning white as I thought about what he might’ve done to her. Shit head. If I found out he’d…I’d fucking kill him. I gently pulled on her lead and she followed me obediently, if slowly. Her legs seemed fine, but her head was low. She wasn’t her usual bouncy self.

There was a vet in town, about ten minutes away. I’d have to take her there. Make sure. I needed to make sure. I clenched my free hand into a fist. He’d pay. Somehow I would make him pay.

I managed to get Lola in to see the vet. He didn’t want to see her; he knows about my old step-man. Knows he’s no good. Probably threatened him, or broke in and stole some gear. In the end, he took her into the consultation room and gave her the once over. I didn’t tell him what I thought had happened and he didn’t ask. Ten minutes later Lola was given a clean bill of health, and I came out with a thirty-pound bill and a warning that if I hurt my dog again he’d report me. I hadn’t hurt her, but I didn’t argue, as much as it killed me inside that anyone would think that. No one believed anyone who was related to my shithead stepdad. And no one believed anything a member of the Bones family said. Looked like I was doubly fucked.