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.

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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 Nineteen

The Daily Herald

27th March 2017

Nation in Crisis – No deaths in 67 days

Experts are baffled by the lack of deaths in England over the past sixty-seven days. The phenomenon – which has no precedent and therefore has yet to be identified – began straight after the death of one Edith Shanks of Dursley, Staffordshire. She died at 11.59pm on the 19th January and there have been no deaths since; people who should have died, simply haven’t. Instead, they remain alive like living ghosts. This has prompted some to make comparisons with zombies.

Zombies have become popular in recent years due to television series such as The Walking Dead, and films such as World War Z. However, these living ghosts are not like the zombies of pop-culture since they don’t appear to eat human flesh.

There was a report two weeks ago of a man eating his own foot but this was quickly dismissed from being part of this new phenomenon by experts. It was later reported that the man in question had taken Spice, also known as The Zombie Drug.

However, this hasn’t stopped some people calling these living ghosts, Zombies or Eternalists. According to our resident television and film critique AND Zombie expert, Dan Brown, Eternalists are a particularly nasty type of zombie as they just won’t die, not even if you cut them up and destroy the brain.

These living ghosts might not be zombies, but, like the Eternalists, they seem to survive, even after being torn apart. Our Crime Reporter, Roger Galbraith, was at the Crown Court recently when the living corpse of Tom Harrington was able to give evidence to the court about the attack on him despite his head being completely separated from his body.

“This is a national emergency,” stated the Prime Minister, Boris Buchanan as he strode into number ten today. He is due to chair an emergency meeting of COBRA to determine what can be done about the dead that aren’t dead. We will keep you updated on developments as we get them.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Seventeen

‘Joe, NOW, not next week!’

I better go down and face the music, he thought.

Joe grabbed some tracksuit bottoms, slipped a black t-shirt over his head and run his hands through his black hair to calm it down a bit. He breathed in deeply, exhaled slowly and prepared himself for the onslaught of Hurricane Mom. But what could he tell her about the mess? Although he was coming to the conclusion that most of what he thought was a dream, wasn’t a dream, he didn’t really know which bits were really real. Did he really put a dead body in someone else’s grave? And, if he did, he couldn’t really tell her he’d done that, could he? So, what did he say? What possible explanation could there be for making all this mess?

Let’s get it over with, he thought as he opened his door.

‘Lola, come on girl,’ he said, turning back to make sure she followed him downstairs. But she was missing.

Shit, shit, SHIT! Had they loosed her out in retaliation for all the mess? They better not have hurt her. They better not have…

He spun on his heels, shot out of his room and down the stairs. The door to the living room was open and he could see his mom through the gap. She was bent over, her large cardigan hanging off her shoulders. He could see she was looking over at the sofa, a gormless look on her face.

He entered the room, looked at his mom then followed her gaze. He took a sharp intake of breath as he caught sight of Mrs Crow asleep on the sofa, Lola lying across her lap.

‘What the..?’

His mom shrugged. Her cream cardy fell off her shoulder revealing a rough looking tattoo of a bleeding heart. Joe hadn’t got anything against tattoos – having one was on his to-do list – he just had a problem with ones that looked like they’d been done by a six-year-old child.

‘Okay,’ he said, as his brain tried to process what was going on, ‘how long she been here?’

‘Never mind that. Why is a strange woman asleep on my sofa?’

‘Erm…’ Joe scratched his head. Why was Mrs Crow asleep on the sofa?

‘You know her? Please tell me you know her?’

‘Yes, I -‘

‘Well? Who is she?’

‘Mom, this is Mrs Crow.’

‘Mrs Crow?’

‘Yeah, she’s giving me a trial on a job -‘

‘What Job? How much? You know I’ll be needing rent. Water, electricity, gas,’ she said, counting them on her fat fingers, ‘and food. And food for that rat of a dog. That does not come cheap you know. And -‘

His mom jumped in the air as Mrs Crow gave a loud snort.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Sixteen

Joe’s body was tired. Very tired and it felt like stone. He didn’t want to move from his comfy bed. It was warm and soft and like a little bit of heaven. He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to face the day. He felt like he’d only just gone to bed, like he’d been up all night.

That was one hell of a dream, he thought to himself as he rolled over and pulled the duvet in around him so that he resembled a giant caterpillar. Almost. He could feel the cold air on his feet that were sticking out of the bottom of the duvet, so he pulled his legs up to his chest. That was what tended to happen when a seventeen-year-old was forced to use the duvet of a small child. It still had the same cover on from when he was seven. Paw Patrol. Yes. Paw Patrol. It might have been pushing it for a cool seven-year-old to have a Paw Patrol cover, but at seventeen years old?  Yep, that was truly pathetic. As you can imagine, no friends had ever visited his room or his house.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t asked for a new duvet and cover. He had. The duvet itself was that old. It smelled that old as well. Joe didn’t really want to think about all the bugs nestling in it. He had tried to wash it once but it had dried funny and had become all lumpy.

It was better than his bed though. Actually, Joe hadn’t technically got a bed, just a single mattress on the floor that his shit-head stepdad had saved from a skip. It was, at least, a full-size single, although Joe didn’t like to think too much about where it had come from. He also didn’t like to think too hard about the stains, in various shades of brown, that covered it or the little holes that were peppered over its surface.

Joe decided at that moment that the first thing he would buy with his first pay packet – if he got the job, of course – would be a new mattress. The bed he’d have to save up for, along with a place of his own. A place of safety for Lola. A place of safety.

But then, his heart dropped into his stomach – like the body in his dreams had dropped into the open grave – as he realised that he couldn’t buy a mattress because, if he bought a mattress his shit-head stepdad would know that he had enough money from his job to buy things like that and that would mean trouble. He knew he’d have to pay rent, of course, and he knew they’d bleed him dry for that but if shit-head knew he was bringing in enough money to buy a mattress, shit-head wouldn’t like it. Shit-head wouldn’t want him buying mattresses because shit-head would expect ALL the money for himself. And if Joe didn’t give it to him? Shit-head would attack Lola. Again. And if that didn’t work – it would because Lola was Joe’s life – he’d take it anyway. However, he could. By whatever means.

Joe sighed loudly. The new mattress would have to wait. For now, at least.

‘Joe Bones!’ It was his mother screeching from the bottom of the stairs.

Joe bolted upright in bed. What had he done now?

‘Get your arse down ‘ere NOW!’

He sighed again. Today was going to be a bad one, he could feel it in his bones. And, it had only just started. He swung his legs off the mattress and looked over to the door.

‘What the…?’ There was a pile of muddy clothes on the floor and a pool of dirt on the bare floorboards around his normally clean trainers.

It seemed he had some explaining to do. It also seemed that his dream of burying a dead body in the middle of the night, the coach and horses and Azrail and Mrs Crow, might not have been a dream after all.

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 Eleven

‘Do you always ask this many questions?’

Joe shrugged. ‘Do you always ask people to dig up graves?’

Azrail blew through his yellowing teeth in a show of exasperation. ‘I don’t want you to dig up the coffin if that’s what you’re worried about.’

Joe threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest. ‘I’m not worried,’ he said, although the pounding of his heart told him the exact opposite was true.

The old man smiled but it wasn’t a happy smile. ‘Good. Get on with it.’

Joe sighed. ‘Ok, but can I have the light?’

‘The light?’

‘Yes. How else am I going to find it?’

Azrail took a deep breath and passed Joe the light.

‘Thank you,’ said Joe, ‘and what will you be doing whilst I’m the one working?’

‘Working myself,’ replied the old man. He spun on his heels. ‘Now get on with it,’ he hissed as he disappeared into the gaping doorway of the tomb.

Joe was left alone, with only the silence and his own heart pounding against his ribcage for company. The wind began to blow and a crisp packet was tossed into the air.

He took a deep breath and held up the candle lamp and moved it from side to side to locate the grave of Sissy Simmons. A thin slither of sickly yellow light ran across the ground before him, picking out the raised mounds of the freshly dug graves. Inside, Joe’s stomach was doing cartwheels but he stepped onto the wet grass anyway, well aware of his need for this job.

He kept sweeping the light across the grass and the graves trying to locate the one he needed. There was Edmund Simmons, Joe Simmons and Barty Simmons but no Sissy. Onward he plunged into the cemetery, the legs of his jeans becoming wet as the tall grass brushed aganst him. The water was beginning to soak through the hole in his left trainer and now his sock was becoming like a sponge. The next row belonged to Christina Simmons, Jesse and then in the middle was an unmarked grave, except for a small, crudely nailed together cross measuring no taller than the length of his foot. He held the lamp higher to highlight the grave behind it, and there it was; Sissy Simmons.

Joe couldn’t tell if he felt relief or sick at the thought at finding the right grave. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought, remembering one of his nanna’s old sayings.

He dropped the lamp on the ground beside the anonymous grave, quickly double-checking that this grave was the one in front of Sissy Simmons. Satisfied he was in the right place, he took the long spade firmly in his hand and thrust it into the wet earth.

It cut through the soil easily. Pictures of decaying bodies and opened-mouthed skeletons played in his mind. What if he, you know, actually saw a dead body?

He’d seen his nanna, of course, but that was different. She was of his own flesh and blood. He didn’t like it, it’d had made him really…well,…sad. He loved her. In fact, if he was really honest about it (and if he was honest, he didn’t really like to think about it), she was probably the only person he could say that he’d ever loved. But, he couldn’t deny, there was something comforting about seeing her one last time to say goodbye. But someone else’s dead body, under there, under the damp earth, with worms and things burrowing into their flesh? Eugh, how on earth would he get over that?

The spade went thump, thump, thump as it cut through the earth. He tossed it into a loose pile on the side of the grave.