Enjoy the 13th chapter of the series about The Undertaker from Mokvas. If you haven’t done it yet, read the previous chapters first:
The Golden Goose Inn was one of a few establishments with an agreeable opening time. There were always enough guests leaving it during the emerging daylight, either voluntarily or in a soaring flight, mostly landing in a puddle of mud, piss and vomit.
Situated in the worker’s quarter, ducking beneath the shadow of the huge Metallurg factory and its four chimneys, it attracted regulars and barflies from the entire neighborhood. Like every night since the construction of this neighborhood, the tight rooms of this declining building of wood and bricks were brimful in every corner. In one, unshaved toothless seniors played card games, whilst opposite the bar younger males placed their bets and tried to prove their muscular capabilities in arm wrestling. From another corner music was carried around the floor – tacky and superficial. A boy around ten years old with ginger hair, a dirty face, rugged clothes and bare feet played accordion. His small hands could scarcely hold the instrument and after a closer look it became obvious that he was trying hard not to fall asleep.
The music ended abruptly.
“What is it now?” the barkeeper hissed at the lad when he spotted him approaching, exhaustedly pulling one foot after another.
“I’m tired,” the boy answered sorely. “I wanna go home. I’m hungry, thirsty and need to pee.”
“If you leave now, you’ll get no coin,” the barkeeper grunted. “I hired you until dawn. You have a minute to pee, otherwise scram!”
As the boy left the inn, another figure entered, fully swathed in a mantle. The person went straight to the taverner.
“One Razor’s Edge, please,” a suave female voice caught his attention.
“Oh…,” the hitherto ignorant bartender raised his attention from the dirty glasses in the wooden tub and his eyes widened in surprise as he noticed the strikingly beautiful face under the hood. “Well…, dear miss… we haven’t served Razor’s Edge here for more than a year…”
“What a tragedy,” the woman sighed. “But I’m absolutely convinced you store a bottle of this fine ferocious liquor under the counter for very special guests.”
“Dear lady…,” the taverner stuttered, “eh, well… you know…” Then he bowed to her and whispered conspiratorially: “The new regime and all the restrictions and shortages… The Razor’s Edge was banned for being too dangerous to the spirit of the revolution…”
“Dangerous to the spirit of the revolution…,” the woman repeated and erupted into an outburst of laughter. Soon the chatter ceased and even the loud noise from the arm wrestling corner calmed.
“Hey, pussy!” a robust hulk suddenly emerged from his stool. “You’re ruining my games!”
“Really?” the woman turned to the sweating and roaring men and removed her hood. For a few seconds virtually the entire establishment held its breath and gazed at the revelation with smooth platinum hair and silver eyes. The tavern crowd gathered back its consciousness as the ginger boy opened the door and, unimpressed, passed the winsome woman, cheerlessly shambling to his accordion corner.
“You! Yes, you!” The hulk greedily examined the woman, promptly deciding to get her under his thumb. Others watched carefully and in envying silence for that something unbelievable happening and his being about to get the dame of every man’s dream. “You know who I am? I’m called Canute the Fearless. The strongest and toughest comrade of Metallurg and this quarter. The one who runs the games here. And you’ve ruined my game.” He pointed out two distracted men who obviously forgot to wrestle and stared with open mouths at the female. “You know what this means?”
A few men laughed appeasingly but unconvincingly.
The woman with the silvery glance smirked, amused. This made the games owner even furiouser.
“I’ll make you my bitch!” the man sputtered. “I’ll sell you to everyone who’s willing to pay a hundred denarii and you can believe there will be plenty of them in Mokvas. And after your day is over, I’ll fuck what’s left of you.”
This time the men’s laughter was much stronger, some even applauded. However, the one who seemed to enjoy the intimidation most was the woman herself.
“I gladly agree,” she responded and stepped out towards the arm wrestlers. “Under one condition though. You’ll have to defeat me first.” Then she pinpointed the table.
The hulk approached her.
“You’re in no state to impose conditions,” the man growled. Some of the guests became terrified and preferred to slip out of the tavern. The bartender helplessly pottered behind the counter, his throat tight with cowardice.
She looked the hulk straight in the eyes. The smirk on her lips remained but her irises changed from soft silver to deadly steel.
“Common, Canute,” a wrestler from the games corner rebuked the game master, “don’t be such a dick! Give us some fun!” Other men began approvingly to roar and clap on tables.
The hulk turned back and grinned. Finally he raised his hands and added:
“So be it.”
“When you win,” the beauty with the dangerously sharp look spoke after the tumult had faded enough she could be heard, “you may pimp me and fuck me as you wish until the end of your life. But if I win… I want your boots, clothes, your money and your ears.”
Another salvo of laughter followed and even Canute’s face turned red from guffaws.
“Agreed,” he replied and shouted at the men: “Clear the bloody desk!”
They settled against each other. She still sneering, he with impatient hunger though irritated by her brazen self confidence. The palms of their right hands met. Hers gentle and fragile, his monstrous and crude.
All went as it necessarily should. Slowly but with ease her hand sunk to the table, he pushing it almost without resistance. He even decreased the speed to relish and dramatize the show. The crowd howled, some held their bellies, others wiped away tears.
About two inches from the table their hands came to a stop. The hulk suddenly realized he was unable to push her hand completely down. As if it was supported by a block of concrete. The only way would be to squash it against this block. He tried. At least he attempted to squelch her palm. Surprisingly it felt like concrete too. Or iron.
The men appreciated this turn and applauded Canute’s performance. The hulk struggled to hide his confusion and to appease the cheering crowd.
“The Director knows about your games?” the strange woman unexpectedly asked with a calm and smooth voice.
The hulk was unable to say anything for she clinched her fingers into his hand so he had to strive to hide the sharp pain.
“No, he doesn’t,” she answered as well. “But imagine he would. What would he do? He would single handedly tear off your cock and drill a hole in your head with it. Then he’d squeeze every drop of piss out of it to sprinkle onto your brain. Like oysters with lemon. And finally he’d stick his fingers into this hole and force you to lick your own brain from them.”
Some of the men were still laughing. Some showed worried looks. The face of the hulk became pale and strained, his arm started to tremble.
“All right Canute, crush her,” a liverish voice resounded. “Don’t let this bitch insult you.”
Nothing changed and the woman continued:
“You know what would happen then? You’d still be alive! The Director knows his work. He’d carry you to the Undertaker. Yes, to this boogieman from the cemetery. And he’d dig your grave with his sharp shovel. In granite. So you could be buried alive, covered by a stone you could never lift. And after you had hoped you had finally passed to the Underworld, he’d call you back, raise you. And you’d become his unliving servant, a body without a soul…”
A macabre silence devoured the room. Some men were holding their breath. Only the sound of the accordion filled the already thin air. The ginger boy was grinning from ear to ear and enjoying the farce. The strange woman noticed him and sent him a wink.
“Shut up, you cursed spawn!” an angry spectator howled at the boy and hurled his heavy beer glass at him. The glass hit his shoulder, the child staggered, the musical instrument fell from his hand. The ginger boy fell to the ground and with tears of pain held his arm.
“I’ll tell you a story, Canute the Fearless,” the woman kept talking with the hulk’s hand safely in her grasp. “You know how I met the Undertaker for the first time? Wish to know? Of course you do. I was chained at the entrance of the Underworld by Death herself. I became her prisoner due to some… unpleasant circumstances. One day or night was it that he found me there. Desiring to punish Death he freed me. And then together we sought this bitch out.”
The female wrestler slowly hauled her look from one face to another and all the males turned their eyes towards the floor under its burden.
“Do you wish to know why the gravedigger hunted Death? Of course you do. He was born as sidekick of his mother who succumbed to a mysterious vagrant who spent several days on her family’s farm. When the boy reached his twenties, the Reaper visited the farm. His whole family died within a month. All struck by an unknown disease. Shortly before her death his mother revealed to her son a present his father had left there. A kitbag. An enchanted one. Its owner had to say: Up with you into the kitbag! And there was no creature beneath this sky which could resist the command. The kitbag simply swallowed and imprisoned it… The young man buried his family. And then he went out into the world. He took only two things with him. The spade he used to put his relatives to rest with and the kitbag.”
The strange woman recognized the broad cheer on the ginger boy’s face. The only male cheering face in the establishment.
“And so the man with the spade wandered around the world searching for Death. It took him many long years until he found the entrance to the Underworld. He dared to descend as the only human being doing this voluntarily. At the shores of Styx he freed me and I showed him the way. And we caught the Reaper by surprise. The Undertaker pulled out his kitbag and before Death could react, yelled: Up with you into the kitbag, you vile slut! And truly, the kitbag darted and the Reaper became a prisoner. The man began to beat her with his spade. First Death threatened him, she cursed and insulted him. When she realized she had no power any more, she started to scream and beg, promising him wealth and power. But he only wanted his family back. Here Death repented and swore that this was impossible. The souls of his family were already too far away to reach even for her. For releasing her she gave him word to make him immortal and to share a terrible secret with him. So they became bonded. And now they serve each other…”
People suddenly sighed in surprise. Less due to the creepy story but because Canute’s hand began to rise. The sweating hulk helplessly watched how his arm was pushed back to the starting position and then slowly dragged to the table surface. His muscles trembled from exhaustion.
“No, no, no!” the men yelled at him. “Are you nuts? What are you doing?”
The hulk tried one last stand and put all his remaining strength into it. Cramps deformed his visage, he howled and wailed, his eyes swelled, about to pop out of their holes. Nevertheless with no effect. Canute’s arm dropped onto the table, crushing like a dry branch.
“You miserable witch!”
The hulk jumped up from his stool, hissing and spitting.
“She hexed me! You all witnessed it! Get her, comrades!”
It was as if everyone had waited exactly for this moment. Men started to punch, stools to fly, tables to split, jaws to crack. The inn rattled, the bartender still hidden behind the counter, the ginger boy clapped. Soon about fifteen men lay moaning on the floor. Those who dared draw their knives received broken fingers and elbows. At last the strange woman wiped her palms against her tight gambeson and lifted the near unconscious Canute from the ground. With the same nearly invisible speed she shredded his garments with her nails.
“Canute the Fearless,” she addressed him. “I have taken your boots and clothes. Now I’ll take your money and your ears. So you’ll become Canute the Earless.”
In a second she held his flesh in her fingers and blood dripped from it. She slipped them into her mouth and chewed with delight while the hulk shrilled his lungs off. Then she jostled the man into the corner and while humming a disturbing melody, collected all coins, bank notes and purses.
“This is for the mess,” she tossed a few dozen denarii towards the innkeeper. Then she turned to the ginger boy:
“What’s your name, little brat?”
“Leo,” the boy answered unafraid and showed her his teeth.
“Why are you here, Leo?”
“Well,” the kid lowered his head wearily, “I need work.”
“During the night?”
“Also during the night,” he replied and yawned discreetly.
“Then take this,” she pressed a full purse into his hands and pointed out the broken accordion. “With this thing you’ll earn nothing anymore.”
“Thanks, miss, but I cannot,” he rejected the gift.
“My stepparents would believe I stole it and beat the hell out of me. It’s enough I’ll get a beating for this…” The boy heaved the ruptured instrument from the ground. “They wouldn’t even believe someone repaid me for it…”
The women hesitated for a moment and the shadow of thoughts descended upon her face. Then she cleared her throat with slight perplexity and squatted down so she could look directly into the kid’s eyes.
“Listen, son,” she remarked with a concerned voice. “This money will remain yours. If you decide you want it, come to the cemetery and ask for Kerbera. Right?”
“Right, miss,” the boy smiled again. “Thank you.”
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