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-Two

Warm breath stirred the hairs on the back of his neck. There was a faint whiff of dog breath in the air. Slowly he turned his head to the right. The Book of the Dead was not joking when it said that Cerberus was a monster.

There was a low throaty growl. Joe’s shoulders slackened. Well, if it was his time to die at least he was in the right place.

He cautiously turned around, making sure he kept his head low.

What was it they were told at school when the RSPCA came in to give a talk about dealing with aggressive dogs? Shit, shit, what was it?

Even without lifting his gaze from the floor, Joe could see that Cerberus was no ordinary guard dog. It looked like a gigantic rottweiler with three heads, red irises and a cobra for a tail, the head of which was flicking from side to side, its mouth open ready to strike. The dog must have been about seven feet tall. It towered over Joe with its acrid breath staining the air. Drool pooled in the corner of its mouth.

Oh, how Joe wished it got those honey cakes now.

Cerberus snarled, allowing Joe a glimpse of his sharp, yellow fangs in all three heads.

He wasn’t usually scared of dogs. In fact, he preferred dogs to people. But at that moment, his heart was pounding, his hands were sweaty and his knees were knocking together; Yep, he was scared alright.

‘God doggy,’ he said. His voice was a little high and even he could detect the shaky edge to it. ‘Good doggy,’ he repeated. How weak and stupid did that sound? What the fuck was he going to do?

Cerberus leaned closer, it’s lip curled, the hairs on the back of its heads were raised.

‘I don’t want to die,’ escaped from Joe’s lips.

Why had Death sent him, Joe, down here? Se must have known he wasn’t cut out for this crap. He had difficulty standing up to his own shitdad. Shit, shit, shit.

He didn’t have any dog treats in his pockets, only a small bag he carried around for when he was out with Lola. No one could accuse him of not cleaning up after his dog. He thought about how big Cerberus was. I bet that dog can produce some poo. I’m about to die and I’m thinking about poo? What is wrong with me?

Cerberus’s middle head opened it’s mouth wide. Joe could see the row of sharp teeth; fangs for tearing flesh, chunky molars for crunching into bone. Joe could see the dog’s tonsils dangling at the back of its throat.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die! His whole body was shaking.

Cerberus lunged forward.

Then everything went black.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirty-One

Joe didn’t stop running until he’d put as much distance as he could between him and Charon. He hadn’t run since he’d done P.E. at school in year eleven, not that he’d done very much physical exercise even then because, well, he didn’t really go to school.

He stopped as he neared the tree line, bent over and held his chest as he tried to get control of his breathing. He was really unfit.

Finally, he stood up and looked at the towering trees of the Forest of Suffering. What had Charon said about it? All Joe could remember was some comment about something called Cerberus that would tear him apart. Joe thought he’d heard of Cerberus before but he couldn’t place where. He opened the Book of the Dead that Mrs Crow had given him.

He flicked to the chapter called “The Underworld Guardians,” then found the entry for Cerberus:

“Cerberus guards the entrance to the Forest of Suffering. Beware of the monstrous Cerberus for he has three heads and the tail of a snake. Beware all ye that enter for ye shall not be allowed leave. Soothe the monster with the honey cake given to you by your psychopomp. It will subdue the beast long enough for you and your psychopomp to enter. Do not look back.

If you are unlucky to be alive when you face him, you will find death soon enough.”

Joe didn’t understand any of it. He looked up and scanned the perimeter of the forest. He couldn’t see any dog, let alone one with three heads and a snake for a tail. He let his gaze fall back to the book. What on earth was a psychopomp? Where did he find one and where did he get the honey cakes?

He flicked through the book and found the section for psychopomp:

“Before you enter the underworld, Death will assign you a psychopomp, or a Guide of the Souls. The psychopomp will help you make a smooth transition from your old world through the land of the dead. They will guide you. Giving you the tools and the advice you need to get you to your destination.”

So, Death had been no help whatsoever. She’d really prepared him well, hadn’t she?

Joe’s heart leapt from his chest into his throat as he felt something move behind him. There was a thump on the grass and a meaty growl that rumbled around his chest.

Death’s Apprentice Writing Experiment – A Review of my work so far.

Now I’ve written a fair chunk of the beginning of Death’s Apprentice, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review what I’ve learnt so far.

I’ve written thirty parts of the story at this point and, I have to say, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable, if a little scary, experience.

The Good Points:

I like how this whole experiment has opened me up to a new way of writing a novel. I have never pantsed a novel before. Pantsing doesn’t mean pulling down someone’s pants. In writing it’s used to describe a way of writing which isn’t plotted. A pantser writes by the seat of his or her pants, with no fixed outline. The story develops as you write it. This is also known as winging it and whilst I’ll admit to winging a lot in my life, I have never winged writing. Until now!

It’s not necessarily stretched my imagination because I had a very vivid imagination anyway, but, it’s made me think on my feet.

I’m not a rigid plotter but I do like having some sort of destination fixed in my head. I don’t write in chronological order but write the parts that appeal to me as I’m plotting. If I become stuck in the plot I go away and think about it, write another scene and let the problem tumble around in my head. With Death’s Apprentice, I haven’t been able to do that and it’s forced me to confront the plot issues as they happen. I’ve found this both challenging and rewarding.

The Bad Points:

I feel out of control of the writing. In a way this is liberating but also has taken me out of my comfort zone.

I feel that I don’t really know who Joe is yet, although he does keep surprising me with his actions.

Sometimes, it’s quite daunting sitting in front of a blank screen, knowing that I’ve got to write something because it’s Wednesday. I haven’t had writer’s block so far, so that is a good thing (thank heavens for that!). I’m sure there will be a stumbling block at some point, but I’ll deal with that if it happens.

I haven’t been reading all my work before I write the next section. I usually refresh my memory with a brief look at the week before’s post. Now I’ve done a review of the story so far, I can see I’ve somehow changed from the first-person viewpoint to third! That’s not too much of an issue though, as that can be sorted when I’m editing. Although, it does leave me with the question of which point of view I should use for the narrative.

It’s hard knowing that my mistakes are there for everyone to see. My writing isn’t polished and some of it is downright crap, lol!!

In Summary:

I like where the story is heading so far. It’s been a challenge, but one that I’m enjoying in a masochistic kind of way. I’m enjoying where it’s taking me, but I know that sometimes, my writing isn’t necessarily the most exciting because I am struggling to write some parts. It’s helping me to let go and write a little freer. It’s helping me to become less of a perfectionist.

What do you think of Death’s Apprentice, so far? What’s boring you? What do you think is good? More importantly, what’s bad? What’s grinding your gears? Where can I improve?

Let me know 🙂

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 Twenty-Nine

Charon beckoned for Joe to follow him, the phone clutched tightly in his hand.

‘This way, sir.’

When Joe looked up he was caught off guard by the landscape that had somehow appeared out of the darkness. A lump caught in his throat at the stark beauty of the place. He shook his head. He was becoming pathetic.

Charon’s small wooden boat was tied up at the side of a wide river that swept from left to right as far as the eye could see. Behind that, Joe could see a vast forest with trees reaching up into an eternal twilight, their gnarled branches reaching out like giant claws.

‘What’s that?’ asked Joe, pointing to the forest.

‘That’s the Forest of Suffering.’

‘The Forest of Suffering? And I’ve got to go through there?’

‘Yeah but I wouldn’t worry too much, you’ll never make it that far. Cerberus will tear you up first.’ Charon gave a little chuckle as he climbed into the boat. He placed the lamp on the floor of the small boat and held his hand out for Joe. Joe took it and climbed in.

The boat rocked gently from side to side and he climbed in. Joe noticed that there was no oar or motor. The water of the river was still and full of weeds and…

‘No! Don’t look in the water!’ screamed Charon.

Joe thought he could see faces floating beneath the surface of the water. Pale, skeletal face with huge mouths and…

There was a sharp slap on the side of his face. It broke his concentration. He looked at Charon, holding the side of his face which was stinging.

‘What was that for?’

‘No looking! You’re not going to die on my watch. What happens after, well, that’s not my problem.’ He gave another little chuckle.

Joe felt unsteady on his feet as the boat moved from side to side. He went to sit down.

‘No! No! No sitting on this journey. We’ll be there in a minute.’

‘Oh okay.’

Charon turned to face the front of the boat. ‘And off we go,’ he said, holding his left hand in the air, his crooked finger pointing to the other side of the river. In his other hand, he still had the phone. Joe could see it said seventeen percent battery. Joe hoped the crossing wasn’t going to take too long because he didn’t want to think what would happen if the phone ran out.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Seven

The door creaked on its hinges as Joe pushed it open. A cool breeze blew in from the open doorway. Joe took a tentative step forwards but stopped because he could see nothing but black. A vast open expanse of black.

‘Go on then,’ said Mrs Crow.

‘But there’s nothing there,’ said Joe, taking a step backwards.

‘There is,’ said Mrs Crow, and with a sharp jab to his back she added, ‘now stop piddling about here and get on with it.’

Joe staggered through the door and into the black.

‘It’s been nice knowing you,’ said Mrs Crow to his back, ‘you know if the worse happens.’

He turned as the door slammed behind him.

‘Great,’ he said. The word echoed through the darkness. ‘Brilliant. Just brilliant.’

He stood still, not knowing what to do. Did he go back? The prank had surely gone far enough, hadn’t it? He couldn’t play this stupid charade forever, could he? No. Time to go back. Things had gone far enough.

Joe spun on his heels. He’d had enough. He’d go back through the door, have a good laugh with whoever had set this up but now it was time to finish it. Except…

The door had disappeared.

‘Very funny!’ he shouted to no one in particular. ‘You can stop now!’

‘Stop what?’ The voice made him jump. He swung around to see a figure swathed in black, lit by a small lamp held by a skeletal hand.’

‘Fuck! Who are you?’

‘Pleasure to meet you too!’

‘Yeah, erm.. sorry…I…you made me jump.’

‘Well, who else did you expect to be here?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Joe, he flung his arms in the air, nearly losing the book in his hand, ‘I’ve never been here before.’

‘Of course, you haven’t. You only die once.’

‘I’m not dead.’

‘Not dead? Don’t be stupid! Of course -‘

‘I’m not. I’m still alive and kicking and not falling for this shit anymore.’

The figure rushed over to him and grabbed Joe’s wrist. It held it in icy cold hands.

‘Wow!’ the figure exclaimed. ‘You have a pulse! You’re an actual live person. Well, this is very irregular.’ The figure dropped Joe’s hand and held up the lamp to Joe’s face. Its hood dropped from its head, revealing a man’s skeletal face. He had a patch over one eye and long straggly grey hair. Joe thought he could smell ammonia. The man reached up with his free hand and run it across Joe’s face. Joe cringed inside.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is too much, isn’t it? It’s just…it’s just I only ever see the dead ones and to find a live one standing right before me, well, it’s nothing short of a miracle.’ The man reached inside his cloak and scratched his armpit. ‘I’m Charon, by the way,’ he said, offering Joe the hand he’d just scratched his armpit with, ‘and I’m your guide across the River Styx.’