Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Four

Joe sunk into his chair. Yep, he was getting a really bad feeling about all of this.

‘And who’s Joe? Is he the Chosen One?’

‘Joe is Joe,’ said Mrs Crow ‘and no is the answer to the second question.’

‘Wouldn’t it be better to use the Chosen One? I mean,’ said Morana, with a patronising smirk, ‘that is what they’re for.’

‘No shit Sherlock.’

Mr Crow coughed.

‘The Chosen One is dead,’ said Mrs Crow.

‘Dead?’

‘Are you deaf?’ asked Mrs Crow.

Morana moved forward, her eyes narrowed. ‘What did you say?’

‘Dead. I said, the Chosen One is dead.’

‘How? How did he die?’ asked Joe. All eyes turned to him. Joe went even redder. He didn’t know why he’d spoken. He didn’t know where those words had come from.

Mrs Crow leaned over and gave him a patronising pat on the knee. ‘An unfortunate accident.’

‘Accident?’

‘He was murdered by my sister.’ She gave him a big toothy smile that made Joe think that this had actually pleased her greatly.

‘Why would your sister murder the Chosen One? And why was he the Chosen One? And what was he chosen for, exactly?’

‘Details, details,’ said Mrs Crow, dismissing his question with a flick of her hand.

‘No. Come on, Corvina, if…’ Morana looked at Joe, ‘…this…Joe is going to be sent to get the scythe you should really answer his questions. You can’t send the poor boy into the lion’s den, so to speak, completely blind, now can you?’

Mrs Crow let out a long hiss. ‘Okay, okay,’ she said sticking her hands up in the air. She turned to Joe. ‘What do you want to know? Anything? No? Good.’ She turned away from him.

‘Actually,’ said Joe, ‘I want to know everything.’

Mrs Crow slumped in her seat, her shoulders hunched up, her hands clamped onto the side of her chair. ‘O – fucking – kay!’ she screamed. ‘Here it is. The whole fucking lot. My fucking sister stole my scythe because she’s a fucking bitch, okay? Is that what you want to hear? How Death got done over by her own fucking sister?’

‘Well, actually -‘ But Joe couldn’t finish his sentence.

‘She came here. Stole my scythe. MY scythe -‘

‘What’s the scythe?’

Mrs Crow hissed again, louder this time. ‘For God’s sake, Joe! You don’t know what the scythe is?’

Joe shook his head.

‘It’s what I need to do my job properly. I use the scythe to cut the souls of the dead from their mortal bodies. I mean you wouldn’t send in a surgeon without his tools now, would you? And now she has it -‘

‘That’s why there’s been no deaths in England? But why hasn’t it affected the rest of the world?’

‘Because there’s more than one Death. Every country has its own Death. Humans do like to die.’

‘And kill each other,’ put in Marcus.

‘And kill each other. Morana here is the Overlord, the Big Boss, The Death, blah, blah, blah…and she,’ said Mrs Crow, looking like she was about to swallow a wasp, ‘doesn’t actually collect souls now, she just -‘

‘Corvina!’ warned Morana.

‘Corvina you should’ve got the promotion,’ said Febris, ‘that wasn’t fair. Not fair at all,’ said the old lady shaking her head before slipping her oxygen mask back over her face. She shrugged at Morana. ‘Sorry, but it’s true,’ said Febris through her plastic mask.

It was Morana’s turn at looking like she’d swallowed a wasp.

‘Sorry,’ said Mrs Crow, ‘I digress. We needed someone to get the scythe back as she’s taken it to the Underworld. I can’t go down there. Don’t ask why, because I’m not going to tell you. We advertised for a hero. Got loads of applicants.’

‘They all died on the trials, except one,’ added Mr Crow.

‘He doesn’t need,’ hissed Mrs Crow, ‘to fucking know that!’ She closed her eyes and sighed loudly. ‘As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, we found our Chosen One and my sister cut him down with the scythe before he’d even had the chance to enter the Underworld.’

This was crazy. He was going mad. Joe rubbed his eyes. This couldn’t be happening. This really couldn’t be happening.

‘And now we’ve got you, Joe. Well done! Congratulations!! You got the job!!!’ Mrs Crow began to clap. Slowly the whole table joined in with the clapping. There were murmurs of well done and congratulations rumbling around the table.

‘Hang on,’ said Joe, bolting upright in his seat, ‘I’ve got to go down into the Underworld?’

Advertisements

My Faves – Book Review – The Lie Tree by Sarah Hardinge

So, I thought it would be good to go over some of the fiction that has inspired me whilst I’ve been on my writing journey (oh, that sounded a bit cliche, didn’t it?). I don’t have a list in order, as such, of my favourite books because that would be like asking me to pick a favourite child; it just wouldn’t happen. Besides, I’d end up with about one-hundred books in my top ten, lol!!!

I’m going to start with The Lie Tree, by Sarah Hardinge, just because…

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2015)

This book won the Costa book of the year in 2015 but I only read it last year so, not for the first time in my life, I was behind everyone else.

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel – with a smidge of magical realism – focusing upon Faith, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose family is uprooted from Victorian England to live on the small island of Vane because “one of the most widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried” Faith’s father “as a fraud and a cheat.” Faith has no idea why this would be so as “his bleak and terrible honesty were the plague and pride” of her family.

When Faith’s father is then found dead under mysterious circumstances, she decides to investigate. She goes through his papers and belongings and finds a strange tree which only grows and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. Not only that, eating the fruit of the tree allows one to uncover truths. “The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered” (from the Amazon Blurb).

Faith decides to use the tree to root out her father’s killer by spreading lies across the island of Vane but soon she realises that lies and truths can hurt as well as heal.

This book is so well written, I devoured it in record time!

A thoughtful and provoking read which delves into a vast number of issues including class, good and evil, lies and truths, the treatment of women in Victorian society, the limits of science, the power of religion and family loyalty.

Faith, for me, was a great protagonist and her story arc was satisfying. She progressed from a timid girl to one who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her arc was refreshing given the male-oriented times the novel is set in.

I loved the fact that the only ally Faith really has isn’t human at all. And, is the tree really her “friend”?

I found The Lie Tree to be a beautifully written and dark tale. And how I wish I’d written it!!

Great for those who love intricate, escapist tales filled to the brim with the supernatural and mysterious. Not great for those who want something easy and light to read.

 

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part Eighteen

‘Jesus!’ shouted his mother, clutching at her very ample bosom.

Mrs Crow bolted upright and as she did so, her false teeth that had been protruding from under her hairy grey lip, popped back in her mouth.

‘Jesus?’ she asked. ‘He won’t be able to help you, not after what you’ve done.’ She threw her head back and cackled.

Lola, who had, up until this point, been lying quietly across Mrs Crow’s lap, sat up and began to howl in accompaniment. It sounded like an orchestra from hell. Joe noticed that the hairs on the back of Lola’s neck were standing on end but there was no aggression in the dog as her tail was waving enthusiastically.

He looked over to his mother who looked like she was about to have a heart attack. Joe suddenly started feeling very cold. He remembered something from the night before, at the cemetery, when Mrs Crow seemed to simply step out of the darkness. Like Death. Death? Was he going mad, or what?

But what if? What if she was Death and she’d come for his mother? That wasn’t why she was here, was it?

Not that he loved his mother. He didn’t. But then, that feeling was reciprocal. He just didn’t want her dead.

Mrs Crow stopped laughing abruptly. She looked up at Joe and said, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ almost as if she was answering his unspoken question, ‘it’s not time. Yet. No, I’ve come for you.’ She pointed a long crooked finger at him.

‘Me?’ he said, taking a huge step away from her. He didn’t want to die. Not yet. Not even with his shitty life.

‘Of course, you! Who else would I be here for? No one else is trying to get a job with me, are they? And as you had a very late night last night…’ Her eyes snapped shut again, she flopped back onto the sofa, and she began to snore loudly. Again.

‘Are you sure you’re working for her?’ asked his mother. ‘Only she doesn’t look very -‘

‘What?’ screeched Mrs Crow, jerking awake again.

‘Er…nothing,’ said Joe’s mother taking in the murderous look on the old woman’s face. Joe was impressed; it was the first time he’d ever seen his mother short for words.

Lola jumped from Mrs Crow’s lap. The room darkened.

‘And,’ said Mrs Crow, suddenly appearing right in front of Joe’s mother, ‘it’s a live-in position, so he won’t paying you rent.’ She added, under her breath, ‘Or money for fags and booze or for your good-for-nothing boyfriend.’

‘What did you say?’

Mrs Crow placed her hands on her hips. The top of her head only just came to Joe’s mother’s chin. ‘I said, you won’t be stealing no more cash from Joe. He’s leaving. TODAY.’

‘How dare you -‘ She stopped. Her breath was escaping from her mouth in wisps. The room had turned to ice. And Joe’s mother seemed to shrink as Mrs Crow expanded and seemed to impossibly take up half of the room. The living room went as dark as the look on Mrs Crow’s face.

Mrs Crow towered over her.

‘Joe,’ she said, but never taking her eyes off his mother.

‘Yes?’

‘Get your things. You’re leaving.’

‘But…But what about the trial?’

‘No trial. I’m taking you out of here,’ said Mrs Crow, finally looking at him, ‘besides, we’re desperate.’

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?

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 Three

I’d got no cash on me, so I ran down to the cash point on the corner of Archer’s road, leaving Lola at the vets in case I “did one” without paying. I punched my pin number into the machine and groaned as it flashed back that I was now only five pound off my agreed overdraft limit. I clicked on the thirty-pound button and waited for the machine to vomit out my cash. I needed a job, and quick, especially now that I’d been kicked out of school. And I needed to get Lola out of that shit hole.

Somehow.

Easier said than done when you had the surname Bones and the shithead for your stepdad.

I stuffed the money in my pocket and turned to go back to the vets just as the sky gave up its load again. Shit. I began to walk down the street as bus trundled past, its wheels hit a pot hole and sent a shower of filthy water all over me.

‘For fuck’s sake!’ I said, jumping to the side as the water cascaded over me. I was red hot inside, boiling anger simmering in my belly. Water had collected in a dip on the path. I aimed a kick at it and water shot into the air and splattered on the window of Crow’s Funeral Home. There was a small sign sellotaped to the inside of the glass which read:

Help wanted, hours variable, apply within.

Maybe God did exist after all.

I had to get Lola first. Couldn’t take the chance of the vet reporting us; that would mean a good kicking for Lola if the RSPCA came round and talked to shithead. He’d probably go for Mom too now that he knew I’d fight back.

I ran down the street as quickly as I could, handed the money over to the receptionist and waited for the printer to eventually churn out the receipt. And then waited for the vet to bring Lola out. Her tail started to wag as soon as she saw me. I thought it might fall off. She looked brighter now, but even so, the vet seemed reluctant to give her back. His hand hovered mid-air, holding her lead tightly.

‘Joe.’

‘Yes?’

‘A dog isn’t a toy. They’re not playthings to take our frustrations out of, do you understand?’

I stared into his blue eyes. My heart ripped in my chest. Tears threatened to spill like the rain outside.

‘I would never hurt her,’ I said, ‘she’s the only thing that’s ever shown me love.’ I grabbed the lead from his hand and ran out of the door before I betrayed myself any more. Real men don’t talk. Real men don’t feel.