Death’s Apprentice – Part 52

‘I have lost my heart,’ said Agnes.

‘Lost your heart? Like, it’s been broken or something? You want me to beat someone up? Because if you do,’ said Joe putting his palms up in the air, ‘I’m not your man. I’m no good in fights, never have been.’

‘No, I’ve lost my heart,’ she said, pulling down her top ever so slightly to reveal the top of a very nasty red scar that had been crudely sewn together with thick black thread.

Joe recoiled in horror. ‘What the…? How are you…?’ Joe stood up quickly. ‘How did….?’ But he couldn’t finish his sentence because blackness took hold of his vision and he crashed to the floor.

 

Joe could hear voices in the dark. He recognised them but couldn’t put names to them. He could open his eyes but he didn’t really want to. He was tired and he wanted to sleep. And his head hurt, at the back.

‘Stick that under his nose, that’ll wake him up,’ said one of the voices.

If they were talking about him, he didn’t want to know and he didn’t want to wake up. He wanted to sleep. Why couldn’t they just fuck off and leave him alone?

‘What is it?’ asked the other voice.

‘A mixture I made myself. It contains a lot of traditional ingredients and a few little extra bits I’ve added myself. I was especially pleased with the addition of the Cane Toad guts, it seems to give it an extra je ne sais quoi…’

Several things happened at once. Joe felt something cold and wet thrust under his nose and the most disgusting smell of rotting eggs and…

He didn’t want to think about it anymore. His eyes shot open. Agnes and Hel were stooped over him, a brown bottle of some sort held under his nose. His arm jerked up of its own accord and hit the bottle which fell out of Agnes’ hand and flew across the room.

‘Shit!’ screamed Agnes. ‘It can’t hit the fire.’ She threw her arm out, pointed at the bottle and screamed, ‘Beluk!’ The bottle came to halt and hovered mid-air.

‘What the fuck Joe,’ said Agnes, ‘I was only trying to help and you try and blow my house up!’

‘I don’t need any help and I didn’t mean to.’ He didn’t know why but he felt a little defensive. He dug his elbows into the Persian-carpeted floor and pushed himself up.

‘You sure about that?’

‘You look ill,’ said Hel, pushing the knife in a little deeper.

‘I’m fine,’ he snapped, dragging himself off the floor and onto his knees, ‘it’s just low blood sugar or standing up too quick or something.

‘What like Orthostatic hypotension or something?’

‘Yeah, that.’ Joe hadn’t got a clue what she was on about and he didn’t care. He just wanted her to shut up. He stood up slowly and staggered over to the chair by the fire. He dropped into it like a stone.

He looked at Agnes and Hel who were both studying him with a mixture of amusement and concern. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What the fuck had just happened? Why was he so grumpy? And, more importantly, why the fuck had he just fainted upon seeing a badly healing scar?

What the hell was going on?

And why the fuck was he swearing so much?

Death’s Apprentice – Part 50

‘It’s a long story,’ said Joe.

‘I know, but we’ve got time,’ she said.

But, where did he begin? ‘I don’t know how it’s all got to this point, to be honest, but, to cut that long story short, I need to find Death’s scythe -‘

‘Here, in the Underworld?’

Joe nodded. ‘Yes, Death’s sister stole it from Death, my boss.’

‘So, that’s what you’re here for,’ said Hel, ‘totally makes sense now.’

‘And you’re a human? And still alive?’ asked Agnes.

‘Yes,’ said Joe, but, he was starting to wonder whether he was actually dead and this was Hell.

‘And Death’s sister is…?’

‘I don’t know but I need to find her.’

Agnes’s covered her hand with her mouth and shook her head. ‘There’s no way,’ she said, her hand still covering her mouth.

‘No way to what?’

‘To get to Death’s sister.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Death’s sister lives in the Iron Fortress deep in the Valley of the Dead.’

‘Oh,’ said Hel.

Hades, who at some point, had woken up, sat up and gave a loud gulp. He stood up, stretched his back legs out and went over to Joe. He placed his head on Joe’s lap and began to cry.

Joe began to stroke Hade’s thick warm fur.

‘And?’ asked Joe.

‘And no person EVER has made it through the Valley of the Dead alive.’

‘I have the Book of the Dead to help me,’ said Joe.

‘That’s not going to help you, Joe, that’s written for dead people.

‘Well, it’s got me this far.’

‘Except, that’s not very far at all,’ said Hel.

Silence fell upon the room. He didn’t know why but suddenly he was feeling really grumpy. He grabbed at the Book of the Dead from where he’d dropped it on the floor. He opened the front cover and looked down the contents page. He found the section he was looking for, called The Valley of the Dead. ‘Page two-hundred and eleven,’ he said to himself as he flicked to the section.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 49

Joe looked into Agnes’ deep green eyes. They reminded him of the colour of the wildfire on the Game of Thrones TV series. Her red hair was like fire and as wild as the night. She looked like a witch, except, she was covered in tattoos like one of his mom’s mates who worked at the local tattoo parlour.

Her name was Shandi, ‘with an “I” not a “y”‘ and she was a self-confessed strident feminist. She was always telling his mom to leave his shitdad. That was the only thing that Joe like about her, because, in that she was right; his mom would be better off without his shitdad.

Joe prayed for the day that his mom left him, except, unlike Shandi, he knew deep down that his mom wouldn’t change and that she’d still be a useless mother with or without his shitdad. He loved his mom, but she really wasn’t cut-out to be a mother.

Besides, he’d seen Shandi and his shitdad snogging, and that had made Joe realise that Shandi wasn’t really looking out for his mother. Her concern was more like self-interest. Whilst he hated his shitdad, he didn’t want his mom to be hurt, not like that. His shitdad on the other hand…

‘I’m Joe,’ he said. He grabbed her hand and shook it. Her hand was warm, her hold firm. He didn’t know why but he knew he already liked her.

‘I know,’ she said, ‘I saw you coming, Joe.’

‘Oh.’

‘In my crystal ball. It said a handsome stranger would come.’

Joe’s face glowed red.

‘So, I prepared you some stew.’

His face turned a deeper shade of crimson. ‘Thanks.’

‘That’s okay,’ she said, punching him playfully on the arm. ‘Want some tea?’

‘Yes, yes please.’

She bounced off the bed. ‘Come on then!’ She gestured for him to follow.

He sat up. There were now three chairs arranged around Hades who was still curled up in front of the fire. Hel sat down on one of the chairs and Agnes sat next to her. Joe yawned as he climbed off the bed and went over to the third chair.

‘So, Joe, what brings you to my neck of the woods?’ she asked as he sat down. ‘Hel tells me you’ve got yourself into a spot of bother?’

A spot of bother? Well, that was one way of putting it.

‘You could say that,’ he said, taking the chipped mug of tea that appeared out of thin air in front of him. ‘Thanks for the tea.’

‘You’re welcome.’

‘And thanks for the stew,’ he added quickly.

‘You’re welcome. So, why are you here?’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 48

He didn’t blame Hades for falling to sleep. Joe had to admit this cottage was pretty snug and homely. He yawned loudly before he shovelled the last spoonful of stew into his mouth. He dropped the bowl onto the floor and stood up to stretch.

Yep, this place was rather nice; too many knick-knacks for Joe’s liking but still, it was more homely than he’d ever considered his own home to be. Yes, this was more like it.

He looked around for Hel. Where had she got to? He looked at Hades. Hades didn’t look worried as he lay there snoring his head off so why should he be worried? Maybe Hades had got the right idea. Maybe that’s what Joe needed, a nap. The bed did look really inviting, and it wouldn’t hurt to rest for a few minutes, would it?

He flopped onto the bed which seemed to cocoon him as he fell, like some giant cuddly arms. Oh, it felt so comfy, so warm…

 

Jow woke with a start. He gasped for air. That was one Hell of a dream. He’d been dreaming that he was being held prisoner by a woman with a knife.

His heart jumped into his throat as a woman’s head swooped into view, her features covered by her thick red hair.

‘And what do you think you’re doing on my bed?’ she demanded, whilst thrusting a silver knife to his throat.

‘I…I was just…’

‘I know what you were doing,’ she boomed, letting the sharp blade rest on his skin, ‘you were sleeping. ON MY BED!’

‘I’m sorry, I just…’

‘I just…I just…stop snivelling like a child. Actually, now I come to think of it, I’m quite partial to children. I like to cook them and eat them in a stew for my dinner.’

Joe’s stomach rolled. Acidic bile rose up into his throat. He hadn’t had he? The stew…? Eugh!!! He hadn’t eaten human flesh? Had he?

‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ he squeaked.

Suddenly the witch threw her head back and began to laugh. She dropped the knife onto the bed stand and climbed off Joe. She rolled over and lay beside him, clutching her stomach as she laughed.

‘That was too funny,’ said another voice. This one he recognised.

‘Hel?’

Hel came into view, her eyes streaming with tears of laughter.

‘What? You…?’ He sat up, his pride stinging with indignity. ‘You…what’s going on?’

‘We’re only having you on! Sorry.’

But, Joe could tell Hel wasn’t sorry. No, not at all. She was laughing now but he’d get her back. Yep, at some point, he was going to get her back for that.

‘Couldn’t resist, sorry. It was too easy,’ said the other woman who was still lying next to Joe. She turned her head to face him, her hand outstretched. ‘The name’s Agnes, pleased to meet you.’

Death’s Apprentice – Part 47

Joe paused.

What he got to lose? His life was pretty fucked up already. I mean, everyone hated him in the upper world. And here?

Well, no one hated him here. Yet. But what kind of loser ends up in the Underworld when they’re still alive? And, even though he was still alive, that could easily change and he could end up dead.

But then, he was in the right place for it.

And, his life had kind of been a waste up until this point.

The only thing he’d got going for him was Lola and sometimes he thought she’d be better off without him. He often thought of all the nice families she could’ve ended up with, with big gardens, nice comfy dog beds and a shitdad that didn’t hit her.

What kind of miserable person was he? He kept Lola because of his own selfishness. And he knew it. He was alone in the world and Lola made him feel that little bit less alone but was it worth her being mistreated?

Joe’s heart sank.

He really was a piece of shit, wasn’t he?

Joe pushed thoughts of Lola from his mind. He couldn’t help her down here so he had to forget her for a bit then, when he got back he’d….

No, he couldn’t think of that, not yet.

He climbed the steps and entered the cabin, with his heart feeling like it was in his feet.

Colour and smells seemed to assault him from every direction. His stomach groaned loudly again as he smelt the stew. Beef, he thought, with…carrots…and dumplings. God, he thought it smelled so good that he’d probably commit murder just to have some. His mouth began to water.

He looked over to the black cauldron bubbling in the hearth. Beside it, in the coals, sat a large black iron kettle. On the mantelpiece sat loads of knick-knacks – cat statues, a small crystal ball, a figurine of a naked woman, and some jars filled with what looked like black gloop and a strange clock with lots of dials and fingers and moons. A crooked broomstick leaned up the side of the brick fireplace.

The walls of the cabin were made from a silver-coloured wood that had been covered in colourful drapes and tapestries. And over at the far side of the single-roomed house sat the comfiest bed Joe had ever seen. It was covered with a thick layer of blankets and furs. He yawned. It sure did look inviting.

‘Here you re then,’ said Hel holding out a wooden bowl of steaming stew.

The saliva was beginning to pool at the corners of his mouth.

He took the bowl and began to shovel it into his mouth before he even sat down on the wooden chair placed next to the hearth.

Hades yawned and stretched out his front paws before he circled around in front of the fire several times. He crashed to the floor in a big dog-doughnut and before Joe had taken two mouthfuls of the stew, he was snoring loudly.

Death’s Apprentice – Part 46

Joe’s stomach groaned as he neared the cabin and smelled… His nose twitched as he sniffed the air. Stew. It was stew! His absolute favourite. Winner, winner, thought Joe, stew for dinner. Get in!

The log cabin looked well cared for and, if Joe was really honest, exactly what a cabin in the woods belonging to a witch should look like. It had a rocking chair on the porch with a patchwork quilt of browns and oranges and reds, carefully folded upon the seat. There were pots of plants on either side of the cabin door. Probably herbs, thought Joe, as this house belonged to a witch.

The garden was just as well kept. There was a well-tended pumpkin patch with pumpkins of various sizes and colours. There were rows of carrots, what looked like rhubarb, and potatoes. There was a small section of the garden fenced off with what looked like willow twigs that had been woven together. Behind the fence, were strange-looking plants with gnarled branches and bizarre flowers and plants that just looked like lots of twisted thorns.

‘Are you coming in or what?’ asked Hel, standing in the open doorway of the house.

‘I’m coming,’ he replied, slipping his hands into his pockets as he had an attack of conscience. It didn’t feel right just walking into someone else’s house. Having said that, he kind of hoped she wasn’t in there either. ‘Is…is she in there?’ He stepped onto the first step and stopped.

‘Who?’

‘The witch.’

‘No. At least…I don’t think she is.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ snapped Joe. Being hangry and anxious was not good for his mood.

‘Well, I can’t see her but she’s a witch isn’t she? So she could be a slug, or a frog, or anything, couldn’t she? So, I think you need to hurry up and eat already because if she catches you…’ Hel drew a small finger across her pale throat. ‘She might end up putting you in the stew…if you’re lucky…’

There was a pregnant pause interrupted by the sound of a frog croaking then Joe’s stomach groaning.

‘What?’ asked Joe.

Hel shrugged, turned, and went back into the cabin.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-Three

Joe could hear the sound of heavy breathing in the dark. He opened his hand and felt grass beneath him like a thick carpet. For a second he felt disorientated and confused. Where was he? Because he certainly wasn’t lying in his bed, all warm and snuggly.

He heard a soft snort.

‘Lola,’ he called, slowly opening his eyes. He took a sharp intake of breath as he caught sight of the biggest dog he had ever seen. It had three heads and one of its noses was now sniffing at his crotch.

A short cry escaped from Joe’s lips.

Everything came flooding back to him; the new job, Death, Charon and…

And Cerberus…

Cerberus, the Guardian of the Underworld.

‘Nice doggy,’ said Joe, ‘there’s a good boy.’ He carefully lifted himself up on his elbows. The dog continued to sniff his groin.

How had he ended up here, lying on the floor?

Shit. No. No, he hadn’t…had he?

Yep. He’d only gone and fainted!

Fainted?!!!

Red hot shame swept over his face. If his shitdad had been here, he’d have never lived it down.

He hadn’t wet himself, had he? His crotch felt warm and wet and…

Joe looked down. Thank God for that, he hadn’t wet himself but…eugh…a great big glob of dog drool landed on his trousers.

He fell back onto the grass.

Today was not a good day.

He was going to be eaten by a three-headed dog. No one would know he’d died, here, alone.

Alone.

He really was feeling sorry for himself. He suddenly had a craving for pizza. A huge pepperoni pizza with tons of barbeque sauce. And a large bottle of sprite. That would probably be his last meal if he ever got put on Death Row.

He looked at Cerberus. What did he mean, if; he was already on Death Row wasn’t he? And no one knew.

Not that his mother or shitdad would care.

Joe lay rigid as Cerberus began to walk forward so that Joe’s whole body was covered by dog.

Please don’t sit down! Please don’t sit down.

Cerberus lifted its three heads and opened his middle mouth wide. Its teeth were huge, almost the size of a man’s hand. It’s breath smelled like putrid meat and ammonia. Another big glob of dog drool landed on Joe’s face.

He retched as it splatted on to the side of his face. Pepperoni pizza no longer appealed to him.

The dog’s heads swooped down.

Please don’t eat me! Please don’t eat me!

Cerberus’ tongue flopped out and he gave Joe a big fat lick on his face.

Eugh. Where had his tongue been? It felt rough on his skin, like sandpaper and it was sanding the skin off his face.