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 Twelve

He thrust his spade in again and again ripping up more of the grave. And then…

Then he hit something hard. Rock solid. Like a coffin hard.

Eugh. His skin prickled, his stomach rolled. He picked up the candle lamp and held it over the grave with a shaky hand. He wanted to know what it was but by the same token, he didn’t. He swallowed the lump at the back of his throat and forced himself to take another look.

Yes. Yes. It was a coffin. He turned away disgusted with himself. Joe Bones was now the desecrator of graves as well as belonging to the most reviled family in Bloxwich.

‘Get out then,’ said Azrail, making Joe jump.

‘Do you think,’ he said, feeling the pounding of his heart inside his ribcage, ‘you could not sneak up on me?’

‘I didn’t,’ replied the old man, ‘what’s a matter? You not got the stomach for this line of work?’

It was only then that Joe noticed the long black package resting at Azrail’s feet. It was very long, probably as tall as the old man himself, and it was wrapped in what looked like black bags that had been stuck together with grey duck tape. It had a small part on top of it that looked like a…no, it couldn’t be a head? Could it?

It looked to Joe suspiciously like a dead body. And he’d seen lots of dead bodies. Not real bodies of course, but in the movies. He’d seen loads in the movies and they all looked like that; long and body shaped covered in bin liners and duck tape or brown tape, depending on what was available.

‘Is that…?’ Joe said pointing his shaky hand at the package. He noticed that his hand shaking. That was not a good look, so he quickly lowered it hoping that Azrail hadn’t seen his nerves.

‘What? A dead body?’ asked Azrail, with a smirk that made him look quite evil in the sickly orange glow of the candlelight.

Joe waited patiently for him to answer but it didn’t look like he wasn’t going to get one so he said, ‘So, is it?’

‘What do you think?’

Joe didn’t know what to think anymore so he said nothing and instead placed the lamp at the side of the grave, slung the spade beside it and began to pull himself out of the quite substantial hole. He dug his fingers into the side of the opening. The earth was wet and claggy beneath his fingers. He held on and pulled himself up whilst jabbing his knee into the side of the grave. He finally emerged covered from head to toe in black, sticky mud. His mother was going to kill him.

‘Grab that end then,’ said Azrail, bending down and grabbing the feet end of the body.

Joe bent down and…could he feel ears beneath the layers of black plastic and tape? The head felt squishy and…no he couldn’t think about it anymore else he was going to be sick.

On the count of three they hoisted the body into the air and with a fluid movement, they threw the body into the gaping hole.

It landed with a thump.

‘Off you go then,’ said Azrail, pointing at the hole.

‘What?’ asked Joe, worried that Azrail wanted him to get back in the hole. With the dead body. ‘You want me to get in?’

The old man hissed through his yellow jagged teeth. ‘No you moron, I want you to fill it back up.’

Wow,thought Joe, he leaves me to do all the work then calls me a moron. It’s a good job I need this work or I’d show him who’s the moron.

Joe swallowed his anger and grabbed the spade. The handle was sticky and black and caked in mud. He looked up at Azrail and said, ‘You gonna stand there and watch or…?’

‘No, I’ve got other matters to attend to,’ he replied. He spun on his heels, the tails of his coat swishing through the air and then he was gone into the black.

Joe looked at the pile of dirt and the spade in his hand. Great, he thought, just what he needed. And to think he could be lying in bed at home listening to his music or playing on his Xbox.

He dug his spade into the earth and began to shovel it back over the body.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Ten

So, this is part ten of my writing experiment. I’m not planning this story at all so I’m really outside of my comfort zone being a plotter. I’m enjoying the ride though. But, please be warned, as I’m writing this as I’m going along, there will be mistakes and plot holes. Lots of them! 🙂

Death’s Apprentice – Part Ten

Azrail vaulted from his seat at the front of the carriage onto the wet ground with a speed and grace that shouldn’t have been possible for a man of his age. He disappeared to the front of the horses as Joe carefully jumped from his seat. He landed on the floor but felt unsteady, his legs feeling like jelly, his stomach doing cartwheels from the speed of the journey. He looked up as Azrail came to stand in front of him. He grabbed the small lamp, lit by a single candle, from its hook at the front of the carriage. His fingers reminded Joe of old brittle branches that looked as if they’d snap if he held anything heavier. He spun on his heels and swept over to the large gates. Joe could see Azrail’s grey wispy hair peeping out from under his top hat.

He was sure Azrail had just snapped his fingers and the padlock had willingly fallen to the floor without being touched. The chain slithered from around the gate like a snake and the gates swung open with a loud creak.

He turned to Joe and said, ‘Come on then,’ before he turned and strode off into the darkness of the cemetery.

Shit, thought Joe. He was used to being out and alone at this time. His mum didn’t give a toss about where he was as long as he wasn’t under her feet but in a cemetery? Alone? With a strange guy, he’d only just met. And when Joe had just imagined that the gates had opened with a snap of Azrail’s fingers.

But a deal was a deal. And no one was going to say Joe Bones ever reneged on a deal.

He put his hands in his hoodie pockets to disguise the fact that they were shaking ever so slightly. If you’d asked Joe at that very moment Joe wouldn’t have ever told you that he was scared. Joe never admitted to being scared, He’d learned not to admit to anything, good or bad. Being stripped down to your boxer shorts at the age of eight by your stepdad and being made to stand there in the junk-strewn garden whilst being bombarded with cold water because you admitted to being scared kind of made him not admit to anything anymore. But, let me tell you, Joe was very scared as he stepped over the threshold and into Angel Gate Cemetery.

Azrail had been swallowed up by the darkness. All Joe could see was a small pinprick of light that bobbed up and down. With no other ideas, Joe followed the light into the depths of the cemetery.

A crow called from somewhere in the darkness making Joe jump. The branches of the oak trees that lined the small road into the cemetery bristled as he passed. Joe pulled at the collar of his hoodie. The long limbs of the trees reached out over the top of his head making him feel claustrophobic. He could just make out the faces of angels peering at him through the darkness but they didn’t feel like guardians to him at that moment, more like malevolent beings waiting for him to trip up.

He continued down the road, following the swaying spot of light. What if it wasn’t Azrail at all? What if it was one of those Will-O’-The-Wisp things that his Nana was always going on about and it was luring him to his death?

His heart began to pound in his chest like a drum. Joe really wished Lola was there.

‘Finally,’ said Azrail, stepping out of the darkness, illuminating the inky blackness with his candle lamp. He was standing in front of a large marble tomb that reminded Joe of a Roman temple. It was the size of a large garage with a huge triangular pediment astride two ornate pillars. Ivy crawled across its walls and across his roof. There was a strong gust of wind that shook the oak tree neck to it, making its gnarly limb hit the roof of the tomb like it was playing a drum.

Joe clutched at his chest. Azrail’s voice made him jump. Joe noticed that the light he’d been following was still moving away from him in the distance.

‘Take this,’ said Azrail, grabbing a spade from where it leant up against the front of the tomb.

Joe did as he was told. The wood was rough in his hands.

‘A spade, but…?’

‘Well done, you know what a spade is,’ replied Azrail shaking his head.

‘I mean,’ said Joe, aware that his anxiety was giving away to his pride and anger, ‘I know what a spade is -‘

‘Good, I’m glad you do. You wouldn’t last long in this job -‘

‘I mean,’ said Joe a little louder, ‘why do I need a spade, in a cemetery, at night? Isn’t that illegal? To dig in a cemetery?’

Azrail shook his head. ‘Over there, the anonymous grave in front of Sissy Simmons, the one with the wooden cross,’ he said with a point of his crooked finger, ‘dig.’

‘You want me,’ said Joe, his voice becoming awkwardly high, ‘to dig up someone’s grave?’

Death’s Apprentice – Part Nine

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.’

‘At midnight?’

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?’

‘Eh?’

‘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.

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 Seven

‘Too skinny,’ she said, holding my arm in the air.

‘We can’t be too choosy,’ said Mr Crow, ‘he’s the only applicant we’ve had.’

‘He’s too skinny. He won’t be able to do the lifting,’ she replied.

‘I’m strong,’ I said.

‘You’ll be carrying dead weights, you need upper body strength for that.’

‘Corvina…’ said Mr Crow, with a slightly desperate edge to his voice.

‘What!?’ Snapped Mrs Crow.

‘We are a little short on time, and you’re not yourself at the moment, what with…you know,’ he said, with a flick of his head.

Mrs Crow snorted.

‘Although, having said that, he’s not, you know…,’ said Mr Crow, with another flick of his head. Joe was beginning to think he was having a fit.

‘He’s not what?’

‘You know…’

‘No. I don’t or I wouldn’t be asking, would I?’ She placed her bony hands on her hips. ‘Well? Out with it!’

‘The Chosen One -‘

‘Of course, he’s not the Chosen One. How can he be when we buried the Chosen One two weeks ago?’

‘Corvina, darling, we’re out of options. We’re never going to find the perfect candidate, not when the Chosen One is indisposed of, are we? Beggars can’t be choosers, isn’t that the way the saying goes?’

‘Thanks,’ said Joe, unsure whether he should be offended or not.

‘And he’s the only applicant we’ve had…’

‘Doesn’t mean we have to accept any riff-raff off the street, does it?’

‘Wow,’ said Joe.

‘We’re running out of time. We’ve only got 33 days left and…’

‘No.’

‘But Corvina…’

Joe turned to leave. He’d had enough of this shit. He needed the money, yes, but not enough to deal with this crap. He heard Lola whining for him from outside. And yet, he needed to look out for her. He needed to leave the shithole that was home. He spun on his heels.

‘Give me a trial.’

‘What?’

‘A trial. One week, for free,’ said Joe, unsure of why he was saying he’d work for free, ‘and then, if you like what you see and you want to hire me, you can add the week’s wage onto my pay after -‘

‘But that’s not working for free then, is it?’

‘It is if I don’t get the job.’

Mrs Crow swept over to him, faster than a lady of her age should be able to. She pushed her rimmed glasses up to the top of her nose and stared at him for a few moments before spitting on her palm and holding her hand out for Joe to shake. ‘Deal,’ she said.

Joe cringed inside. There was no way he was going to spit on his hand too, that was just too disgusting. ‘Okay,’ he said, taking her hand. Her grip was unusually strong for such an old woman. ‘Deal.’

She let his hand fall.

‘Good. Although, I think we’ll start the trial tonight. Be back here at midnight -‘

‘Midnight?’