Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Seven

‘Well,’ said Joe.

‘Well,’ said Hel.

‘I’d better be getting on then.’

‘Okay,’ said Hel.

‘Okay.’

‘Thank you, though,’ said Joe, although he was unsure what he was actually thanking her for. But at least she’d fallen silent and the questions had stopped. He raised the Book of the Dead in his hand in a kind of salute and, without another word, turned and strode off into the trees.

The ground underneath Joe’s feet was springy and covered in branches and decaying leaves. The air smelled musty and damp which reminded Joe of autumnal walks with Lola by the cut.

Lola. His heart-strings gave a twang. He was never soppy or sentimental, except when he thought about his dog. He hoped they were taking good care of her at the funeral home.

The trees were tightly packed together, their gnarled branches like long fingers above him, their roots snaking across the uneven ground below him. He stumbled a couple of times as he tried to get away from Hel but he couldn’t go too far because he needed what little light there was so he could look at the book in his hands.

He stopped at what seemed like a good spot. The trees in front of him were becoming even closer together and Joe knew he’d struggle to see anything very much soon. He needed a torch. A torch would have been very good. He had one on his phone. Except…

Except, he’d given it to Charon. And it didn’t have very much charge on it anyway.

He opened the book and flicked through it until he found the section on The Forest of Suffering. The handwriting was a neat cursive in black ink. He began to read:

The Forest of Suffering

Dark and bleak.

You won’t make it through. So don’t bother.

But if you don’t want to take my word for it, try it.

And pray.

For there are things lurking in the trees that are worse than Cerberus himself.

Joe doubted very much that there could be anything very scary in these woods if Cerberus was anything to go by. Cerberus had proved to be quite a letdown. But then, that kind of was the story of his life.

He turned his attention back to the book:

It is said that the trees move in the Forest of the Suffering. They somehow manage to block the traveller’s way so it becomes impossible to break through. And then, when they trap you in their evil lair, they begin to whisper dark words into your ear. The traveller will slowly become mad through their words.

 Many souls have been lost to the trees. They linger, still half-mad in the forest, calling out and driving other’s to their deaths with their incessant sorrowful cries.  

 Joe looked up and listened. There was no sound at all so he very much doubted that this bit could be true either. Although, it was rather strange that there was no sound at all. No birds, no breeze, no…

‘What are you doing?’ A sweet little voice cut through the silence.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-six

The girl placed her arms behind her back and began to swing from side-to-side. She looked up at him and said, ‘You’re alive.’

No shit Sherlock is what he wanted to say but instead, he replied with a curt, ‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘What do you mean why?’

‘Why are you alive?’

‘Because I’m not dead.’

‘I think you’re being a little impertinent.’

Joe didn’t even know what that meant. ‘If you say so,’ he said. He really just wanted her to go so he could look at the Book of the Dead in peace.

‘Why are you here?’

‘I’m on holiday.’

‘No, you’re not.’ The girl thrust her owns out to the side, her fist rolled into tight little balls. The hounds surrounding her all stood up and began to give throaty grumbles.

It was a little orchestra of growls that put Joe on edge.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Joe.’

‘Joe what?’

‘Joe Bones,’ he replied.

‘Why are you really here?’

What to do? Tell her the truth or find some excuse? Joe decided on a solution somewhere between the two.

‘I’m here to find something for someone.’

‘What?’

‘I can’t tell you.’

‘Why?’

‘Because…’

‘Because what?’

‘Because I don’t know who you are.’

‘Well, that’s easy. I’m Hel,’ she said, thrusting out a little pink hand towards Joe, ‘pleased to meet you.’

Joe took her cold hand in his. It was ice cold. ‘And I’m Joe.’ All the hounds relaxed again.

‘I know,’ she said, ‘you told me.’

‘Well, it was very nice meeting you but now I have to go.’

‘Go where?’

‘Through the Forest of Suffering.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I need to.’

‘But why?’

‘To get to where I’m going.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘Through the Forest of suffering,’ said Joe through clenched teeth. Boy, he was glad he didn’t have a sister. Well, not one that he knew of anyway.

‘You’ll never make it through there,’ she said. She folded her arms across her chest.

‘Well, I’ll take my chances. Besides, Charon said I wouldn’t make it past Cerberus -‘

‘Cerberus? Why? Cerberus won’t hurt you. Not when I’m around.’

Joe stifled a laugh. ‘Okay, if you say so.’

‘I can help you through the forest.’

‘I’m okay thanks.’

‘I don’t think you are.’