Death’s Apprentice – Part Five

My heart gave a start as the door to the back was flung open. Several things happened at once; a tall man with a large hook nose and wearing dark blue overalls covered in soot burst into the room just as Lola yelped and disappeared behind my chair.

‘Lola!’

‘No dogs! No dogs! We don’t do dogs!’ called the man, flinging his arms in the air like he was swatting flies.

The receptionist jumped up. ‘No, Mr Black, he’s here for the job. His name is Joe Bones. I told you about him -’

He stopped his arms still high in the air. ‘You did?’ he asked, turning to look at the receptionist.

‘Yes, just now.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he snapped, ‘how am I supposed to remember everything?’ He turned on his heels to look at me. ‘Mmm,’ he said, looking over his thick round glasses at me, ‘you’d better come through then. But not the dog!’

‘Okay, I er…’ I looked a Lola. I didn’t think she’d want to go anyway.

‘Leave with me,’ said the receptionist, who was now standing beside me although I hadn’t seen her move at all.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘She’ll be fine with me here,’ she said, taking Lola’s lead, ‘now go on Mr Bones, go and do your interview before you miss out.’

I followed Mr Crow through the door and into the back of the funeral parlour. There was a funny smell, of acid and melted wax, lavender and something that reminded me of a fly spray my nanna used when she was still alive.

‘Down here,’ said Mr Crow, taking a dirty handkerchief from the top of his greasy overalls. He wiped his forehead with it then stuffed back into his pocket.

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My Grandad

I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking about my grandad a lot lately. I was 11 when he died and I was devastated. It was probably one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’m 42 now and still, I feel it. Not as deep or as intense as when it first happened but, even after thirty-one years, the grief is still real.

Recently, I saw a quote by Jamie Anderson on Pinterest that hit me in the feels:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot…Grief is just love with no place to go.”

Anyway, here’s a little memory of my grandad. He couldn’t talk or walk properly because he’d had several strokes but still, he was my hero.

The Red Leather Chair

The smell of frying bacon drifted in from the kitchen and my stomach groaned in anticipation.  Grandad looked at me with his smiling blue eyes, his thick white eyebrows arched high above his black glasses.
‘Sorry,’ I giggled, shrugging my shoulders, ‘had no breakfast this morning.’
‘Uh,’ he replied, with a shake of his head, a gentle smile erupting on his face as my stomach complained again.  He pointed to the telly with a crooked finger and then to his ears.  ‘Uh-uh.’
I flashed him a cheeky smile and shrugged again.
Shep, my Grandad’s long-haired collie, stirred in the seat beside me.  He yawned loudly, stretching out and laying his head on my lap as I wrapped my hands in his glossy coat and turned my head towards the telly just as it was announced by the heavily bearded commentator that Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy were due in the ring.
Grandad shifted forward to the edge of his seat, his walking stick clattering to the floor as he unbuttoned his shirt sleeves and rolled them up past his wrinkly elbows in preparation for the fight.
‘Fred, do you want sauce in your bacon?’ shouted Nan from the kitchen, but Grandad was oblivious to it all; he’d only got eyes and ears for that small black and white telly.
Shep leapt from the sofa, dashing behind it as my Grandad’s red leather chair began to dance around the room, the wood and leather creaking and straining under his weight, his grunting harsh but still with lashings of warmth, becoming louder as he lost his mind to the wrestling, to his life as a boxer in the army.
I could never tell anyone who won any of those fights we watched on that battered telly on the Saturday dinner-times we spent together; I was far too engrossed in Grandad’s face to care.  The strokes had robbed him of many things; his speech, the ability to walk or eat independently, but as we sat there I became lost in the sparkle in his eyes and the stories that had become etched in his wrinkles.  It was during these times that I could see my Grandad was still a man and was still truly alive.
But the red leather chair sits empty now; still and lifeless like the room in which it sits.  His grey trilby is still perched at an angle at the back of it, his walking stick abandoned on the floor.  The smell of cigars lingers in the air along with the smell of his hard-earned sweat.  But now the warmth has disappeared and a numbing coldness is seeping into the room through the cracks, filling me with emptiness.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Four

Crow’s Funeral Home sat at the end of high street, sandwiched in between Everheart Florists and the King’s Head pub which has been derelict for over twenty years. Crow’s (established 1854, or so the peeling gold lettering over the door told me) was a shabby red-bricked, double-fronted Victorian building.

I pushed open the black door and entered but Lola wouldn’t cross over the threshold. She began to grumble.

I closed my eyes and sighed.

‘Come on girl, don’t do this now.’

I turned to face her. Her teeth were bared and her hackles were raised.

‘What’s up, Lola? Come on now,’ I said, pulling her by the lead, ‘don’t be stupid!’ But the stupid dog wouldn’t listen and dug her white claws into the pavement.

‘Lola, come!’

The dog sat down in silent protest.

‘Can I help you?’

‘It’s this stupid dog,’ I said, ‘she won’t…‘ But I lost my train of thought as I looked up and into the eyes of the most beautiful woman I’d ever met. Her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was the colour of wild red roses. My heart began to skip a beat.

‘We’re closing in a minute but if you need some help?’ she asked, slipping on a pair of black shades.

Lola growled.

‘Be quiet!’ I snapped as I tried to regain my train of thought. Why was I here? Oh yes. ‘I’ve come about the job in the window.’

‘Oh right, come in, come in,’ she said, standing to one side of the doorway, so that I could enter.

‘Come on Lola,’ I said, pulling on the dogs lead. She would not budge.

‘Let me,’ said the receptionist. She took the lead from my hand, gave it a sharp tug and then let out a hiss that sounded a bit like that of an angry swan. The dog stood up and lowered her head in submission and the receptionist pulled her inside. I followed, impressed by how easy she’d tamed my unruly dog.

The Funeral home wasn’t what I expected. The right-hand side was taken up with a selection of headstones of various shapes and sizes and stone, and a small variety of coffins of different styles and materials including oak, wicker and (for the more environmentally minded) cardboard. Beside the coffins, there was a black covered sample book containing fabrics from silk to velvet and linen for the lining of your choice. The receptionist’s oak desk sat to the left of the room, covered in papers, an old fashioned rotary-dial phone and a large porcelain vase of Stargazer lilies which filled the air with their pungent aroma. There was also another smell in the air, something disguised by the lilies but equally as pungent but I couldn’t quite place what it was.

‘Please sit down,’ said the receptionist pointing to a set of four oak tables arranged around a small table, and I’ll tell Mr Crow you’re here. What’s your name, please?’

‘Joe Bones and thank you.’

The receptionist disappeared through a door at the back and returned a few minutes later.

‘Mr Crow will see you in a minute,’ she said, as she took her seat behind the desk.

Lola was quiet now. She curled up by my feet on the deep red carpet.

The clock on the wall read 5.00pm. I looked at the magazines on the coffee table; The Funeral Times, and Funeral’s Today. I didn’t pick them up; they looked like they’d been there since the place has opened.

So, you want to be a writer?

So, you want to be a writer?

Here are six tips to help you on your way!

I make jewellery but I also write too. I have four books out as I’m writing this and, as you know from previous posts (see A Writing Experiment? and New Year, New Projects) I have more in the works. Here are my top six tips to get you writing:

  1. Read. A lot!! I love reading so this isn’t a major issue for me. Reading will make you a better writer. You need to learn somewhere, right? So why not learn from those who came before you? It’s amazing what you can get from other writers. You’ll pick up writing techniques, grammar tips and vocabulary as you go. Learning by osmosis – what’s not to love?
  2. Get yourself a notebook and a pen, go somewhere quiet and write! You don’t need any expensive gadgets to start. Just time, inspiration, and a notebook and pen.
  3. Practice. And Practice. And practice… Once you begin writing, keep going. The only way to get better at anything is practice. Maybe take a writing course to hone your skills. Writing courses come in many shapes and sizes. Some are free and some are run by fabulous, well-established writers (Neil Gaiman, I’m looking at you!).
  4. Get feedback. This gives you an outsider’s perspective of your writing. People can tell you where your weak points are and when you’re doing something right. You could join a local writing group for this. I did and it improved my writing considerably.
  5. Get a thick skin. You’re not always going to write fabulous prose. Sometimes your work will be utter crap. Don’t be afraid to face that fact. And even when your work is absolutely amazing and fabulous, people will tear it apart and make you feel like dirt. Unfortunately, this is something we, as writers, have to live with. Not everyone is going to love what you write and you need to learn to live with that. Write anyway!
  6. Write! Make sure you write, even if it’s just a few words every day. Don’t just talk about it. Write it! Write your first draft even if it’s utter rubbish. Don’t worry, everyone’s first draft is crap. But as they say, you can’t edit a blank page! You can edit your writing though. And edit. And edit. Rewrites will make your writing shine!

As Charles Buckowski said:

“There is no losing in writing, it will make your toes laugh as you sleep, it will make you stride like a tiger, it will fire the eye and put you face to face with death. You will die a fighter, you will be honored in hell. The luck of the word. Go with it.”

 

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.

Death’s Apprentice. Part Two. A Writing Experiment.

The sky burst. Rain crashed down around me, soaking me to the bone in a matter of seconds, and throwing up the scent of damp earth, decaying rubbish and rotten eggs as it churned up the water.

Come on Lola, where are you? I peeled my saturated hood from my head and held my hand up to my face to shield my eyes from the downpour.

‘Lola! Come on girl. Come on good girl!’

I thought I heard something, a whimper coming from behind me. I spun on my heels and saw a flash of white skin from beneath scrub at the base of an oak tree. I jogged over, my heart racing.

I removed the branches and weeds and found Lola cowering and whimpering, her tail flicking across the dirt.

‘Hey, there you are, come on,’ I said, stroking her head, ‘that’s a good girl.’ I reached into my pocket and fetched out a small dog biscuit, and offered it to her. Slowly she crawled out from her shelter and took the biscuit from my hand. I ran my hands along her wet fur; she was shaking. ‘What’s a matter girl? What’s he done to you?’ She rubbed her face against my leg. She smelled of dirt and wet dog.

‘That’s a good girl,’ I said, checking her ribs and legs. Everything seemed ok, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t trust him.

I clipped her lead onto her collar. ‘Come on Lola, let’s get you checked out.’ I gripped on to her lead tightly, my knuckles turning white as I thought about what he might’ve done to her. Shit head. If I found out he’d…I’d fucking kill him. I gently pulled on her lead and she followed me obediently, if slowly. Her legs seemed fine, but her head was low. She wasn’t her usual bouncy self.

There was a vet in town, about ten minutes away. I’d have to take her there. Make sure. I needed to make sure. I clenched my free hand into a fist. He’d pay. Somehow I would make him pay.

I managed to get Lola in to see the vet. He didn’t want to see her; he knows about my old step-man. Knows he’s no good. Probably threatened him, or broke in and stole some gear. In the end, he took her into the consultation room and gave her the once over. I didn’t tell him what I thought had happened and he didn’t ask. Ten minutes later Lola was given a clean bill of health, and I came out with a thirty-pound bill and a warning that if I hurt my dog again he’d report me. I hadn’t hurt her, but I didn’t argue, as much as it killed me inside that anyone would think that. No one believed anyone who was related to my shithead stepdad. And no one believed anything a member of the Bones family said. Looked like I was doubly fucked.

A Writing Experiment?

I thought I’d try a little experiment. Every Wednesday I’ve decided I’m going to start posting a section of another piece of writing from a novel I’m working on. It might just be a sentence, a couple of lines, a paragraph or two, or a couple of A4 pages. The story has a working title of Death’s Apprentice. I haven’t done much planning in regards to this story so I don’t have many details and I shall be writing it as I go along, by the seat of my pants. I’ve never written in this way before and I usually do loads of planning so I’m well out of my comfort zone. This inevitably means that there will be loads of mistakes, loads of plot holes and I will forget things but, in the end, I will hopefully have a rough draft to refine and work with (fingers crossed :)).

I’ve decided there are no rules. I’m going to write what comes to me and I’d like you to come along for the ride. Please comment if you want to, all suggestions are welcome 🙂

Let’s see what happens!!

Death’s Apprentice

Clouds gathered above, heavy with rain, and dark, like my mood. I pulled my hood over my head and continued walking down the dirt path, Lola’s black leather lead clasped tightly in my hand. He’d done it on purpose, I knew it, despite all of his bitching otherwise. He’d left the back gate open, I could see it in his shitty brown eyes. In the curl of his lips as he told me she was missing.

It was payback.

I looked at my right hand clutching the lead; my knuckles were still red and angry and swollen. I smiled. He’d come off worse; his eyes were as black as the clouds above me. I think I’d broken his nose. He deserved it. Lola didn’t.

I kicked at a stone on the path. It flew through the air and landed with a plop in the canal. I watched water ripple out from the point of impact, ever-increasing circles stretching out across the muddy brown surface. Rain began to tumble from the sky and pock-mark the water. A white-beaked coot scooted into the reeds to get away from the impending downpour.

Where was Lola?

‘Lola!’ I shouted. I thought she’d be here. ‘Lola!’

A train rumbled by, shaking the green railings that blocked off the canal and scrubland from the railway tracks. Dried, brown leaves were kicked into the air as it rushed by. The air stilled, and quietness descended upon the wasteland.

‘Lola!’ My stomach rolled. I thought I would’ve found her here, in her favourite place. I cast my eyes around the scrub, desperate to find her. What if…what if he hadn’t just let her out? What if…

The sky burst. Rain crashed down around me, soaking me to the bone in a matter of seconds, and throwing up the scent of damp earth, decaying rubbish and rotten eggs as it churned up the water.