literature

Mr. Mortality and the Heart Collector (Part 2)

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(Read Part 1 here: fav.me/dbs8k08)

    They say that two years ago, the Devil did pay a visit to New York. And he came in the form of a butcher.

    It all started with the disappearances—women reported missing by their friends or families. That is if their absence was even noticed.
    The women, you see, were prostitutes and degenerates. That lot went missing all the time, and no one cared where they went; not even the police in the beginning.
    But then the first body was found, and the true shadow of fear was cast over the people of New York.

    In total, eight women were found over a period of six months, each having their chests carved open and hearts removed with the skill of a physician and the brutality of an animal. Some were found in alleys, some in the Hudson, some in dumpsters like so much discarded meat. The blood of lost sinners stained the streets of the great metropolis crimson, and America was scandalized.
    And the murders went on.

    Some tried to connect the killer to London's infamous Whitechapel murders, but the modus operandi was too different. Still, the comparison stuck; and being famous for the hearts he stole, he earned himself a name: the Jack of Hearts.

    The likeness ended there, however, as America's Jack did something his British counterpart did not.
    The Jack of Hearts was caught.

    Dr. Nathaniel Grimm, a man who was trusted as a healer and man of science, was found to have a secret room in his house, wherein he kept stored twenty pickled human hearts, a small library of books on the occult, and the tools of a science most profane and twisted.
    The arrest was made, a court date was chosen, a swift verdict proclaimed and a sentence handed down. No one had to think twice about what to do with this monster.

    Hang him.

    But Dr. Grimm only laughed when he heard his fate.
    “I have discovered the key to immortality!” he chuckled lightly. “You cannot be rid of me so easily.”

    Nevertheless, the day came for his execution; and with the shadow of death looming over him, he faced the city he had terrorized and promised with his final words: “So long as there are hearts that beat in this world, I will never truly die.”
    And then the hangman pulled his lever, and the madman breathed his last.

    The Devil of New York had finally been exorcised.

    And then one idiot went and mucked it all up.


~~~

   Michael awoke to the smell of cat urine.

    This wasn’t so strange. He had become acquainted with smells far worse during the months he had spent in New York.
    What was strange was that, aside from a cold ache in his chest, he was warm and comfortable, despite the assault on his nostrils.
    When was the last time he had a bed to himself? Wrapped in layers of quilts and a quiet, homey darkness…

    “WELL LOOK WHO’S AWAKE!”

    A pair of curtains was thrust open and sunlight split the shadows—revealing a cramped room full of skulls and charms and potions.
    Michael shrieked and pulled the blankets over himself in terror; then winced when he felt a sharp pain in his chest.
    “Oh, come now, don’t be a baby. There ain’t no evil spirits here!”
    The quilts were yanked out of his hands, along with what futile assurance they offered, and he was left to stare into the evil grin of a one-eyed woman.
    “Just Stella!”

    “W-witch!!” Michael cried (as any reasonable person would).
    Although in truth she didn’t really look like one, aside from the blue eye patch and eye-shaped charms that jangled as she moved. In fact, she was rather pretty for one who consorted with devils.
    “Who, me?” she chuckled, and it was sweet and thick like molasses. “Honey, this is all for show~ I make my livin’ trickin’ people int’a thinkin’ I can see their futures. ‘Cept for the merchandise,” she waved her long nails at the charms and bottles around her. “Those are real. ‘Cept maybe that one. Oh, and maaaaybe that one. And probably that one. It’s been awhile since I checked.”

    Before he could question her further, the strange woman had shoved a bowl of something warm in his hands.
    “Eat up!” she ordered cheerfully, “Recoverin’ from contact with Ghost Blood takes a lot out of a body—‘specially a growin’ boy such as yourself! And I wouldn’t move around too much if I was you. That Jack of Hearts nicked you awful close to your heart. Lucky for you not too close, else I’d be helpin’ Mortality bury your corpse in secret somewhere, and formin’ a dark pact of silence between us—and probably extortin’ him for everythin’ he’s worth.”
    She laughed out loud, this time with a sound more akin to a cackle.
    Michael was less amused.
    “Jack of Hearts”…?
    Her words registered and the memories of what had happened began flooding back to him, full of awe and horror.
    “Where am I?” he demanded fearfully, “How did I come to be here??”
    “Why, you’re in my wagon sweetheart! Mortality brought you here to recover. Knew I wouldn’t snitch on him for his incompetence—mostly because he paid me not too.”
    Brought him here to recover...
    The final memory clicked into place, and Michael gasped. The Tall Man had saved his life. Like a dark, stick figure angel he had swept onto the scene, driving away…whatever it was that was trying to eat him.
    Then, Michael realized, perhaps he isn’t a demon or a madman.
    But then…

    At that moment, there was a tap at the window.
    Both he and Stella turned to look, Stella’s face turning sour and Michael’s own paling.
    There was a raven on the sill.
    “Oh no you don’t,” the Not-Witch said, standing, “not yet anyhow. You’ve caused this poor boy enough trouble for one day. Go on then, shoo!” she thrust the window open and waved her arms at the ominous creature, causing him to dodge off the sill and onto the branch of a tree outside with a flutter.
    “It isn’t my fault he ran off screaming like a child!” the raven said with a familiar English accent. “Had he given me a moment to explain myself, we would have avoided all this inconvenience. Now I’m more late for work than ever!”

    Michael’s jaw fell open.

    “And you’re gonna keep on getting’ late ‘til this child is over his shock, long as I have anythin’ to say about it!” Stella huffed, as though the raven-who-sounded-awfully-like-Mr.-M were an irritating neighbor. “I’d bet my good shoe you drove him off by bein’ all spooky and dramatic-like again, ‘stead of just talkin’ to him like a normal person.”
    The dark omen shifted guiltily on his perch but persisted.
    “We have no time for this. It isn’t just my job that’s at stake you know. It’s people’s lives!”
    “Uh-huh, like I haven’t heard that one before.”
    “I’ll speak teh Mr. Mallory,” Michael interrupted timidly.
    “You use that mouth to eat that food child,” Stella scolded, turning to face him. “Do you have any idea how hard it was to steal that chicken? The farmer had a shotgun!”

    The raven reached his beak under his wing as she spoke, plucking out a glimmer of gold and ruffling his feathers.
    Stella turned at the sound of it.
    “On second thought,” she said, seeing reason, “I might be able to give you five minutes with the boy. If you promise not to upset him!”
    “I wouldn’t dream of it!” the English avian replied, dropping the coin into her outstretched hand. “I assure you I have an excellent bedside manner!”
    “HA!” the Not-Witch scoffed, before exiting the wagon and slamming the door behind her.

    The raven also vanished from the window, and Michel was left with five seconds of solitude in which to feel his stomach drop to his toes and his palms grow sweaty, and become more acutely aware of the icy wound in his chest and how it throbbed with coldness and bad feelings.
    And then the door opened and Mr. M stepped in, tall and human and dressed for a funeral; a swirl of black feathers at his feet the only sign he had ever been anything else.
    In his hand, he carried a folded black umbrella.
    He doffed his hat and placed it over his heart as he entered, both a gesture of humility and practicality, as even without it he had to stoop slightly to avoid bumping his head.
    “Now, Mr. MacBranain,” he said meekly (squinting an eye and dodging as the charms that hung from the ceiling caught in his hair and raked at his pallid face), “I assure you I am as harmless as they come! Kind old Mr. Mortality they call me. I wouldn’t hurt a—”

    “Yer Death, aren’t ye,” Michael said, and the words numbed him.

    Mr. M opened his mouth and then closed it.
    Then he sat down.
    “Well, yes and no,” he said at last.
    Michael crossed himself, then took out his father’s rosary and kissed it.
    “Are ye human?” he asked, and Mr. M snorted.
    “Very much so,” he said, “unfortunately. But as my position is one that could be considered angelic in its history and function, you may also think of me as an angel I suppose. A very substandard angel. With issues.”

    Michael sat up straighter as realization hit him.
    A man and an angel. An angel-man! Or perhaps an angel-ish man was a better term.
    Dad did send me an angel after all!
    The young man felt his eyes growing moist.
    But now was not the time for tears. Providence had allowed his father to heed his prayer. Now was the time to be a man!
    “An’ what do ye want me for, sir?” Michael inquired; trying his best not to let his voice squeak with unshed manly tears.
    Mr. M hesitated, and then solemnly reached into his coat and withdrew another copy of The Penny Midnight.
    Michael read the headline:

JACK OF HEARTS KILLER ON THE LOOSE BEYOND GRAVE: MR. MORTALITY FAILS AT JOB ONCE AGAIN
Should the Grim Reaper be able to trip over his own shoes? Citizens call for increased Reaper training and possible uniforms.

    Suddenly Michael remembered where he had heard that name before.
    “Ye let a serial killer escape because ye were busy trippin’ over yer own shoes??” he exclaimed, incredulous and more than a little indignant.
    “It wasn’t my fault!” the Reaper defended with an emphatic gesture--one that knocked a fragile talisman off a nearby shelf.
    Mr. M nudged the shattered pieces into the shadows with his shoe before continuing, “Alright, so I tripped while chasing the b******. And I almost lost my umbrella, which would have been a true horror. So his soul escaped and fled into the city, and now there’s no way I could possibly collect him as he’s tied himself to a heart. What’s a man to do?”

    The idea of aiding this man in catching a murderous spirit was almost more horrifying than the spirit itself.
    “Don't look at me like that,” the Reaper defended, “I'd like to see you do better.”
    Michael shook his head.
    “So that's why he's goin' after those folks? Ye can't collect souls tied to hearts?”
    “Beating hearts specifically.”
    “I still don't see how this has anythin' to do with me?”
    “Absolutely nothing!”
    “But then...”
    “Look, Mr. MacBranain,” Mr. M said frankly, “before you were stabbed I didn't care very much who I was hiring. All I needed was someone to place an ounce of paperwork between myself and the inevitable termination of my employment; buying myself a few extra days to mend my mistake and save my own skin. In effect, the only thing I was hiring you to do was exist.”

    Well, that was depressing.

    “But now!”
    Michael was startled out of his growing moral irritation (and gloomy thoughts about what this must mean his father really thought of him and how much he surely deserved it) by the Grim Reaper clasping his arm with bony fingers.
    “Now Michael! You have something I can use! Something Heaven can use!”
    At these words, Michael's heart sped up.
    Used by Heaven? After...everything...?

    “But...what can I do sir?”

    “That wound on your chest,” Mr. M explained. “I can't find the hearts, Michael. I only know where to find ones that have ceased beating. But you...you were stabbed with the same knife; you can feel their pain. You can help me find the hearts and cut off Dr. Grimm from his anchor. You can set them all free.”

    You can set them all free.

    “No!” Michael cried, sitting up, “I can't be doin' somethin' like that! I'm a coward! I ruin everythin' I touch! I...”
    “I will protect you,” the Grim Reaper vowed. “Upon my scythe, I swear it.”
    “Y-ye don't understand...I can't...”
    “You're the only one who can. Ghosts thrive on and exacerbate dark emotions. The longer those hearts are tied to him, the more broken they will be; some irreparably. They need you, Michael!”

    Michael shook his head vigorously and tried to stand.
    Dad sent me the wrong angel.
    “I need to get home,” he said aloud. “Me mum'll be worried about me. Ye're the Grim Reaper, surely ye can find someone or somethin' else!”

   He had halfway staggered to the door, chest pulsing with frozen pain, when Mr. M spoke up again.
    “Maybe I can. But you can't.”
    Michael froze.
    “'No Irish need apply'. Remember? No one else wants you.”
    “I...”
    “And do you really, truly want to give up this opportunity?” he continued, coolly, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life trying to make up for the fact that you are, in fact, a useless coward? This is your chance to be brave, Michael! Your chance to save lives, and ensure your family's happiness and well-being for years to come! Think of it!”

    And Michael did think.
    For his father had sent him an angel, and the angel had brought him a chance. A second chance. A chance at redemption.
    A chance to save lives.
    Michael turned.

    “How much will the job pay?”

...

To be continued...
Read More:
Part 1
~ Part 2
Part 3
~ Part 4
~ Part 5
~ Epilogue
Afterword

Oh noes! Mr. Mortality did a (duly censored) swear! o(oAo)o What can I say? I guess I'm just one of them edgy Christians who just wants to watch the world burn. (Jk, it's actually because it's in character and I don't feel right if I don't keep it. He only swears occasionally tho, I promise.)

Thanks so much to my readers for being so encouraging and so patient with me! I'm sorry that what you waited for ended up being six pages of mostly-exposition. I hope the humor and character-development managed to keep it entertaining for you!

Also, look, it's Stella! She's a sassy southern gal (hence the accent)~

~~~

The year is 1896, and Michael MacBranain is in desperate need of a job.
Fortunately for him (or perhaps not-so-fortunately), the Grim Reaper is also in desperate need of an assistant!
The trouble is, Michael is terribly superstitious and loathes himself for his own cowardice.

But with a dark supernatural force on the loose in New York City, there may be more at stake for Michael and his employer than just job security!

A multi-part short story, serving as a prototype for the future web-serial Mortality, the episodic adventures of the Grim Reaper and his assistant. While this story is not as well-researched or polished as I hope for the actual series to be, Sweating a little... it does give something of an idea of what I'm going for character and story-wise. I hope you enjoy this debut~

~~~

Mortality and all related characters (c) me.
© 2018 - 2022 DarlingWrites
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LadyPep's avatar
I finally got around to reading this and loved every bit of it! :heart:  I really liked how you introduced Stella's character and the way you opened up the chapter with the newspaper clipping-type background behind the Jack of Hearts to set up the events for later. ;)  It's your edgiest episode yet (Inner Tube joke lol)!  At least you censor your swearing, I leave mine in (with Haddock & Isolde), which is one of the main reasons why I haven't submitted it to the Bible Amid Worlds group (other reason is because it's sort of violent??).  I feel like it would just be more natural for certain characters who get flustered to curse, which works well with Mortality!