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.

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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 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.