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.

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty

The boat began to glide effortlessly through the water. Charon lowered his hand and flicked the camera on the phone back. He held it up and began taking pictures of the landscape and Joe. Snap, snap, snap.

‘You can take a selfie too,’ said Joe.

‘What is a selfie?’

‘Pass it here and I’ll show you,’ said Joe holding out his hand. Charon reluctantly passed the phone back to him. After a few adjustments, Joe held the phone up and said, ‘look.’ Charon looked at the image on the screen of himself and Joe.

‘Ohhhh, I see. I like that. Let me try.’

Joe passed him the phone back. It was at fifteen percent.

‘Come here,’ said Charon, throwing his skeletal arm around Joe’s shoulders. Joe cringed inside but managed to make a smile. Charon clicked the icon and the flash went off. ‘I like this,’ he said, pushing Joe to one side. Charon took another selfie, moved around the boat a bit and took another one. He combed his hair back with one hand, then took another photo. And another. And another.

Then they were nearing the bank.

‘Er…Charon,’ said Joe, ‘I think we might be about to crash.’

‘Oh..what? Oh, oh dear,’ said Charon as the boat ground to a halt, caught on the sand and silt of the bank.

Joe jumped out. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He turned and began to walk off towards the tree-line.

Charon wasn’t listening. Instead, he’d turned his attention back to taking photos. The phone camera was click-click-clicking at a rapid rate. Joe knew the battery would be dead within minutes.

‘What the…?’ he heard Charon shout. Joe ignored him, put his head down and ran.

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.