Death’s Apprentice – Part Twenty-Two

Joe followed Mrs Crow through the door at the back and down the long corridor that seemed to grow darker the further we went. Mr Crow, the fat man, and the tall man all followed behind. Lola, who hadn’t wanted to enter the first time I’d entered the home, was now trotting beside Mrs Crow quite happily. Joe, although he loved Lola with all his heart, couldn’t help feeling a little bit betrayed.

Mrs Crow entered an open doorway at the end of the corridor. Joe followed but stopped still in the doorway frozen not by fear but by a strange sense of foreboding which he couldn’t quite explain.

There was a large oval oak table polished to within an inch of its life with a large skull etched into its surface. A long scythe ran along the back of it which reminded Joe of the table used in one of his favourite programs, Sons of Anarchy. There were thirteen chairs arranged around the table.

‘Hello,’ said Mrs Crow to the room. She turned to Joe and said, pointing to an old woman wearing an oxygen mask, ‘Joe, this is Febris.’

Febris nodded.

Joe said hello to the old woman who looked like she was only inches from dying.

‘Next to her is Limos.’

‘Hello,’ said Joe.

Limos looked up, said hi, then went back to playing with his belt over which his large belly hung. Joe could see his stomach poking out from under his Metallica t-shirt. Joe couldn’t tell you why but he really took a liking to Limos.

‘And this is Marcus.’

Marcus stood up, shook his blonde hair and held out a hand to Joe. Joe took his hand in his and shook it. Marcus’ handshake was loose and his hands were very soft.

‘Hello,’ said Joe.

‘And I’m Lucifer,’ said a husky voice.

‘Lucifer?’ asked Joe, turning to where the voice had come from. He was sure that somehow all of this was a big fat joke and that at some point someone was going to jump out at him and shout “Surprise! Got you!”

Lucifer, if that was who he was (and Joe doubted this very much), was huge, both in width and height and he had a great mane of orange hair with a bushy beard and moustache. When he took Joe’s hand in his, Joe thought he was going to crush his hand to dust.

‘Yes. Pleased to meet you. And you are..?’

‘The answer to our problems. Hopefully,’ said Mrs Crow. Joe also doubted this very much. At no point in his life had he ever been the answer to anyone’s problems.

‘Sorry, but I didn’t quite catch that,’ said Marcus taking his seat.

‘Come and sit down, Joe,’ said Mrs Crow pointing to the seat at the side of her.

Joe did as he was told.

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Seven

‘Too skinny,’ she said, holding my arm in the air.

‘We can’t be too choosy,’ said Mr Crow, ‘he’s the only applicant we’ve had.’

‘He’s too skinny. He won’t be able to do the lifting,’ she replied.

‘I’m strong,’ I said.

‘You’ll be carrying dead weights, you need upper body strength for that.’

‘Corvina…’ said Mr Crow, with a slightly desperate edge to his voice.

‘What!?’ Snapped Mrs Crow.

‘We are a little short on time, and you’re not yourself at the moment, what with…you know,’ he said, with a flick of his head.

Mrs Crow snorted.

‘Although, having said that, he’s not, you know…,’ said Mr Crow, with another flick of his head. Joe was beginning to think he was having a fit.

‘He’s not what?’

‘You know…’

‘No. I don’t or I wouldn’t be asking, would I?’ She placed her bony hands on her hips. ‘Well? Out with it!’

‘The Chosen One -‘

‘Of course, he’s not the Chosen One. How can he be when we buried the Chosen One two weeks ago?’

‘Corvina, darling, we’re out of options. We’re never going to find the perfect candidate, not when the Chosen One is indisposed of, are we? Beggars can’t be choosers, isn’t that the way the saying goes?’

‘Thanks,’ said Joe, unsure whether he should be offended or not.

‘And he’s the only applicant we’ve had…’

‘Doesn’t mean we have to accept any riff-raff off the street, does it?’

‘Wow,’ said Joe.

‘We’re running out of time. We’ve only got 33 days left and…’

‘No.’

‘But Corvina…’

Joe turned to leave. He’d had enough of this shit. He needed the money, yes, but not enough to deal with this crap. He heard Lola whining for him from outside. And yet, he needed to look out for her. He needed to leave the shithole that was home. He spun on his heels.

‘Give me a trial.’

‘What?’

‘A trial. One week, for free,’ said Joe, unsure of why he was saying he’d work for free, ‘and then, if you like what you see and you want to hire me, you can add the week’s wage onto my pay after -‘

‘But that’s not working for free then, is it?’

‘It is if I don’t get the job.’

Mrs Crow swept over to him, faster than a lady of her age should be able to. She pushed her rimmed glasses up to the top of her nose and stared at him for a few moments before spitting on her palm and holding her hand out for Joe to shake. ‘Deal,’ she said.

Joe cringed inside. There was no way he was going to spit on his hand too, that was just too disgusting. ‘Okay,’ he said, taking her hand. Her grip was unusually strong for such an old woman. ‘Deal.’

She let his hand fall.

‘Good. Although, I think we’ll start the trial tonight. Be back here at midnight -‘

‘Midnight?’

Death’s Apprentice – Part six

Mr Crow had a slight limp which I found myself replicating as I followed him. We walked past a room with two cream sofas, and a half-dead pot plant on a small coffee table, and down a long corridor that seemed to get increasingly darker the further we went. There were lots of closed doors with small plaques tacked on to them, saying intriguing things like; embalming room, coffin workshop, and Place of Rest. We turned right into another even darker corridor lit by lamps that looked like they belonged in the last century. The air was hot and humid and smelled of paraffin and mint imperials.

Finally, we came to a square waiting room lined with wood panelling. Mr Crow directed me to sit down on one of the mahogany chairs. It sounded as if I’d farted when I sat down.

‘I’ll be back presently,’ he said, with a quick nod of the head before he disappeared behind of the two doors in front of me.

I looked up at the large chandelier hanging low above my head. It clearly hadn’t been dusted in a long while as a grey spider’s web trailed from it onto the far wall. I followed the trail with my eyes to where it reached the top of the left door frame. The mahogany door had a plaque which read; Hell. I smiled. They sure had a sense of humour.

Despite the fact I was there for an interview, I felt calm, although I wish I’d had more time to make myself look presentable as the big hole in the toe of my trainer wasn’t the greatest look.

Mr Crow emerged from the door which read; Mrs and Mr Crow.

‘If you’d like to come this way,’ he said, standing by the door and gesturing for me to enter.

‘Josiah,’ screeched a female voice from behind the door, ‘stop acting like a prick and get the boy in here.’

I watched as Mr Crow’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pursed.

‘Shut up woman, will you,’ he shouted back to her.

‘You better come in before she loses her head,’ he said.

I did as I was told.

I entered the office of Mr and Mrs Crow. The room was quite small but I guessed it would be a lot bigger if it wasn’t for the stacks of paperwork overflowing from every surface. There was a large desk in front of me, covered in ledgers and piles of paper that looked like it had come from a historical movie set. There was a rotary dial phone in black, an ink well, a quill and a wooden blotter. There was a wooden chair behind the desk, and behind that, the wall was covered floor to ceiling with a mahogany filing cabinet. From the few open drawers, it looked like it contained index cards, rows upon rows of yellowing index cards arranged in alphabetical order. In the left corner, just in front of the cabinet, sat an old woman in a rocking chair. She looked like she’d died because her mouth was gaping open and her bottom set of false teeth were producing from her mouth. She was dressed all in black and her grey hair was arranged in a neat bun on the top of her head.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked, pointing at the lady. She reminded me of nanna the day she’d passed away.

‘Depends,’ said Mr Crow, sliding in behind the desk. He opened the ledger before him, picked up the quill, licked the nib before plunging it into the thick black ink.

‘Name?’

‘Joe Bones.’

‘Okay,’ said Mr Crow, sticking out his tongue as he wrote my name onto the ledger in beautiful cursive script.

‘Age?’

’17.’

He looked at me over the top of his glasses. ’17, eh?’ He nodded as if answering some internally asked question.

‘Address?’

’51 Moon Lane,’ I said, in little more than a whisper, knowing that this information alone would make them not want to give me the job.

‘Mmmm,’ he said, looking at me over the top of his thick-framed glasses, ‘Moon Lane, eh?’

I jumped as the old lady, who looked like she’d been dead only a few minutes early, was now standing by my side.

She grabbed my arm and began feeling it.

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.

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.