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Excerpt for The Lucius Chronicles by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Lucius Chronicles

(The complete DATS trilogy in one volume)

By R.A. Gregory

Copyright 2019 Robin Alexander Gregory

Smashwords Edition


Cover artwork by James Stevens

All other illustrations by Eugene Georgiades


This is a work of fiction. None of the characters in this book are based on real people, alive or dead. Any resemblance to an actual person, in name or otherwise, is purely coincidental.



Also by the same author:


The DATS Trilogy

Death and the Schoolboy

Death and the Atom Bomb

Death and the End

And

Drynwideon - The Sword Of Destiny (Yeah, Right)



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Acknowledgements

To Ollie, as always, and to everyone else who enjoyed the original journey as it was taking place.


Special thanks to James Stevens for the cover illustration and to Eugene Georgiades for the wonderful cartoons.



For more information (and free stuff) please visit www.rob-gregory.com



If you like this book, then please leave a positive review with your favourite ebook retailer or review website.

Table of Contents


Part 1: Death and the Schoolboy

Chapter 1 – Johnny

Chapter 2 – Eddie

Chapter 3 – The Accident

Chapter 4 – Realisation

Chapter 5 – Waiting for the Ghost Train

Chapter 6 – All Aboard!

Chapter 7 – Mrs Death

Chapter 8 – Questions

Chapter 9 – Uncle Lucius

Chapter 10 – Problems and Solutions

Chapter 11 – Soul Searching

Chapter 12 – Something’s Wrong

Chapter 13 – The Mission

Chapter 14 – Running Out of Time

Chapter 15 – The Mountain

Chapter 16 – The Fight

Chapter 17 – Lost Souls

Chapter 18 – Homecoming

Epilogue


Part 2: Death and the Atom Bomb

Chapter 1 - Johnny

Chapter 2 – MalCorp

Chapter 3 – The Holidays Begin

Chapter 4 – The New Job

Chapter 5 – Not so Good

Chapter 6 – Caught on Camera

Chapter 7 - Confrontations

Chapter 8 – A Close Call

Chapter 9 – Where’s Dad?

Chapter 10 – Rounding up the Troops

Chapter 11 – Breaking into MalCorp

Chapter 12 – The Rescue

Chapter 13 – Malthus Unmasked

Chapter 14 – Saving the World

Chapter 15 – Farewells

Epilogue


Part 3: Death and the End

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Johnny

Chapter 2 – The Ferry and the Lorry

Chapter 3 – Eddie

Chapter 4 – The Station in the Sky

Chapter 5 – The Death of Deathville

Chapter 6 – The Ghost Train Awaits

Chapter 7 – What on Earth?

Chapter 8 – Into the Void

Chapter 9 – The Guardians of the Gateway

Chapter 10 – Caving In

Chapter 11 – Escapes and Ideas

Chapter 12 – Full Steam Ahead!

Chapter 13 – The Battle Begins

Chapter 14 – The Final Fight

Chapter 15 – Emptying the Void

Chapter 16 – Farewells and Goodbyes

Epilogue


Also by the same author

About the author

Connect with me

Part 1

Death and the Schoolboy

Chapter 1 – Johnny

Johnny Jenkinson sniffed and wiped a tear away from his cheek. He hated his new school and most of all, Toby Brown and his gang. They were two years older than Johnny and loved nothing better than to tease and torment the younger children. And, of course, being a new pupil and small for his age, Johnny was the perfect target for their pranks. This time it had been a dunking in the school toilets. The time before that, a lunchtime ‘wedgie’ in the middle of the dining hall and the time before that, a sound beating behind the Gymnasium. Johnny had told his teachers, but they didn’t understand. They just said it was nothing serious and told Toby not to play so rough, which just made things worse for poor Johnny.

His parents didn’t understand either. Johnny’s father, a computer salesman just patted him on the head when he came home from work and said: “Boys will be boys.” His mother was more sympathetic, but she couldn’t really understand what he was going through either. After all, she had been the prettiest and most popular girl at school in her day, so never suffered the unwanted attentions of the school bully and his gang. So, after a while, Johnny just stopped telling them and suffered in silence.

As he tucked his ripped shirt back into his trousers and started to comb his messed-up hair, Johnny shivered. The dunking in the toilet had been particularly frightening. A few more moments and he could have drowned. It was only when one of Toby’s gang had got scared and shouted, “C’mon Toby, let him go or we’ll be in real trouble,” that he’d been released. Johnny didn’t know why Toby disliked him so much, but there was something in his eyes which made Johnny feel very small indeed.

It hadn’t always been like this. In Johnny’s last school, in the country, he’d had lots of friends to play with and bullies were unknown. In fact, until he moved to the city he’d thought bullies were made-up things, like ghosts, werewolves and bogeymen. If only Dad hadn’t got that new job, he’d still be in the countryside, where life was so much better.

As Johnny sat miserably against the wall of the cubicle, lost in thoughts of his old life and friends, the school bell rang, signalling the end of another awful day. Long after the sounds of the departing schoolchildren had died away, Johnny rose from his hiding place and slowly made his way home.

I need a friend, he thought.

Chapter 2 – Eddie

Far away, in a place not marked on any map, sat a small, thin figure, dressed all in black. He was sitting on a hill, watching a small herd of sheep and lazily knotting a blade of grass between his fingers. His fingers were extremely bony, with large knuckles and pale skin stretched tightly over them. Both the hill he was sitting on and the blade of grass were a dull grey colour. In fact, everything around him was grey. The clouds were grey, the sky was grey, even the sheep were grey. As the sun broke briefly through the clouds, it too was grey and looked more like the moon than the sun.

This place is so dull. Nothing ever happens here, thought the figure to himself and standing up, moved over to the sheep, which were happily munching away on the grey grass. Although the sheep were munching it, they weren’t actually eating the grass. Being skeletons, they couldn’t. No matter how fast or how much they ate, the grass just kept falling out of them. Stretching out a bony hand, he gently stroked the nearest sheep.

“Hello Gretel,” he said. “You’re enjoying that aren’t you?” The sheep looked up at him and gave a small, contented belch, even though she shouldn’t have been able to. “Good girl,” said the bony figure and sat down again with a sigh.

Being the youngest Death was no fun, thought Eddie. It was all work, work, work. Tend the sheep, tend the souls, tend the garden. There was no one his own age to play with. There wasn’t even a school where he could learn new things. Instead, it was just the same, boring routine, day after day after day.

Another bad day

“Eddie Death, what you need is a friend,” he said out loud, the emptiness around him echoing his voice over and over. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than a bell began to ring mournfully in the distance. It came from the old railway station at the bottom of the hill.

“Come along Eddie,” shouted a voice from further up the hill. “Time for work and don’t forget your sickle this time.”

“Yes, Mum,” replied Eddie and standing up, he produced a small silver sickle from his inside pocket. Rubbing the handle thoughtfully, he suddenly had an idea. As he began walking down the hill towards the train station, he smiled to himself. Eddie, you’re a genius! You need a friend and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

Chapter 3 – The Accident

“Bye love,” came the call from Johnny’s mother. “And try to have a good day at school, won’t you?” She was upstairs doing her hair and didn’t see Johnny walk glumly out of the front door.

Today was ‘Road Safety Day’, which always meant some particularly unpleasant humiliation from Toby Brown and his gang. PC Thompson would come around and make sure that everyone’s bike was safe for the road. Of course, Toby would ensure that Johnny’s bike had a buckled wheel, or loose handlebars, which would mean a telling off from PC Thompson in front of the entire school. That would be followed by a private lecture from the headmaster, for bringing the good name of the school into disrepute and usually finished up with a beating from Toby and his gang on the way home. As he buckled up his bike helmet, Johnny thought about not taking the bike, but sighed, as he realised that he would get into just as much trouble for not bringing it, as he would if he did.

As he cycled slowly towards the school, Johnny had a feeling of impending doom. Something about the day felt wrong. The sun was shining, and it wasn’t windy, yet it felt cold, almost wintry. As he cycled along the pavement, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Something definitely wasn’t right. Stopping his bike, Johnny got off and carefully checked the tyres, gears, brakes and handlebars. Nothing was wrong. Everything was tight and properly adjusted, just like when he’d checked the night before.

“Johnny, you’re being silly,” he said to himself, and after taking several deep breaths to calm his nerves, he jumped back in the saddle and set off again.

As he turned the corner, he stared in horror. There, waiting for him, was Toby Brown and his gang, all on brand-new mountain bikes.

“Get him!” yelled Toby and as one, the gang began to cycle towards him. Johnny rode his bike off the pavement and began to pedal furiously along the road, narrowly avoiding the oncoming bullies. He glanced behind him just in time to see Toby and the gang turn their bikes around and renew the chase. Johnny’s breath came in short, sharp gasps, as he struggled to keep ahead of the gang. He’d never pedalled so fast before and his legs ached as they churned around and around and around. Another quick glance behind told him that Toby and his gang were gaining on him. It was only a matter of time before they caught Johnny and started hitting him. And this time, Johnny knew, there would be no mercy from the older boy. You didn’t run away from Toby Brown and get away with it that was for sure.

With grim determination, he continued pedalling, knowing that his only chance was to reach the safety of the school gates before the gang caught him. One final glance behind showed that Toby was only six bike lengths behind him and catching up fast. With a last frantic effort, he rounded the corner by the school entrance, the edge of his pedal scraping the tarmac. Then, a loud bang, a sickening thump and Johnny knew no more.

Chapter 4 – Realisation

When Johnny woke up, he saw that he was lying down next to his bike. A small crowd of people had gathered around him and there was a lot of hushed talking going on. Someone was crying, a strange strangled sound in amongst all of the mumbling. In the distance, he could hear an ambulance siren wailing.

“It’s okay, I’m alright,” he said picking himself up off the ground. “I just skidded, that’s all,” but no-one seemed to notice. “Hey! I’m not hurt,” he said in a louder voice, but again no-one seemed to take any notice. “What’s going on!” shouted Johnny. “Why aren’t you listening to me? I’m okay!” But again, the crowd ignored him.

Johnny looked down at himself. That’s odd, he thought, I don’t seem to be hurt at all. I don’t have any cuts or bruises. Not even my clothes are torn. With a growing sense of unease, Johnny glanced around again. What he saw made tears well up in his eyes and a lump appear in his throat. He gasped in shock.

On the ground was his bike, the frame almost completely bent in half and next to that lay a small, crumpled figure wearing the same clothes as him. There was blood on the ground and what looked like a bone sticking out from the trouser leg. His bike helmet was broken in two. A car was parked at an odd angle to the road. It had a big dent in the front. Steam was coming from the radiator and a man was being comforted by several of the passers-by.

“I didn’t even see him,” the man said. “He just came out of nowhere. I didn’t have time to stop.”

The man began sobbing and someone put an arm around him, saying “There, there. It wasn’t your fault. It was just an awful accident, that’s all.”

With a growing sense of panic, Johnny stared again at the crowd of people. There, in the middle of the group, looking pale and frightened, were Toby Brown and his gang. They were just staring at the body on the ground and shaking. None of them seemed much like bullies anymore, just very small and very frightened children. Seeing them like this scared Johnny so much that he started yelling at them. “I’m not dead. Look at me, I’m not dead!”

“Oh yes you are,” said a voice behind him. Turning around in surprise, Johnny noticed for the first time, a small, thin child, dressed in black jeans and wearing a long black coat. Johnny couldn’t see his face because the hood of the coat was pulled up, but it was obvious that the child could see him.

“You can see me!” cried Johnny in relief.

“Yes,” said the child, “but no-one else can. All they can see is your body lying down there on the road.”

“But… but,” said Johnny, trying to speak against the rising fear which now threatened to engulf him.

“No buts,” said the child. “It’s all over. There’s nothing for you to be afraid of now. No bullies, no beatings, no nothing. Come on. Let’s play!”

And with that, Eddie Death, for that was who he was, grabbed hold of Johnny’s hand and pulled him clear of the crowd.

What was strange for Johnny was that as soon as Eddie touched his hand, all of his fear and anxiety left him. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. For the first time in ages, Johnny smiled, a wide and open smile of real happiness.

“Okay, let’s play,” he said and together they ran off, laughing down the road.

Chapter 5 – Waiting for the Ghost Train

“So, what happens now?” said Johnny. They’d been running for what seemed like hours and had long since passed the edge of the town, running now in the glorious countryside of Johnny’s upbringing.

“We go up,” said Eddie, and with a mischievous grin, pulled Johnny’s hand skyward. In a moment, they were off the ground and running in the air. Johnny couldn’t believe it.

“This is amazing,” he shouted above the roar of the rushing wind in his ears.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said Eddie, pulling them into an even steeper climb. Within minutes they were high above the clouds, running in the bluest of skies, with the sun beating down on their backs. “I always like this bit. It’s so much fun,” Eddie said. Then, pointing to a cloud far higher than the ones they’d already passed through, he shouted to Johnny, “What does that remind you of?”

Johnny stared at the cloud for a moment, then replied: “It looks a bit like a train station, I think. There’s the clock tower and that long bit either side of it looks like it must be the platform.”

“Spot on!” cried Eddie above the roar of the wind. “That’s where we’re going. To the Station in the Sky. We’ve got a Ghost Train to catch!”

As they neared the cloud, it became clear that it was indeed a train station. What any passing aircraft pilot would have made of it is anyone’s guess, but they would have probably needed a strong cup of tea and a lie down once they’d landed. For hanging in the air before them, defying all of the laws of gravity and several others besides, was a huge train station, made entirely out of dark grey, almost black stone.

As Johnny and Eddie arrived on the platform, Johnny noticed that they were not alone. All around them were people. Most were old, some incredibly so, but among them were also children of varying ages. The one thing that everyone had in common was that they were all smiling. In one corner, a group of children were playing, laughing freely as they did handstands and told each other jokes. Further down the platform, a group of grown-ups were staring at themselves and each other, as if in disbelief.

One of them spotted Johnny and detached himself from the group. He waved as he wandered over and clapping Johnny on the back as if he were an old friend, said: “Do you know, I’ve been waiting seven years for this day? Back there I was so ill. I couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t do anything for myself but lie in that awful hospital bed and wait for the end. The doctors tried their best, but they couldn’t cure me. The pain was terrible. And then today, a new doctor came to see me. Dressed all in black he was. I knew then that my time was up, and I thanked him for coming to take me. Now, look at me! I’m just like I was before the illness. All the pain has gone, and I know this is only the beginning. I’m going to keep on getting better and better. I just know it!” And with that, he slapped Johnny on the back again and strode cheerfully across the platform to rejoin his group.

“This is the best part of the day,” said Eddie, smiling at Johnny. “All of their pain, suffering and confusion has gone. Now, they’re just quietly waiting for the next part of their journey to begin.”

“Talking of waiting, my legs ache from all that running. Why don’t we sit down in the waiting room?” said Johnny, pointing towards a large, grey door, not far from where they were standing.

“No!” said Eddie with alarm. “You can’t go in there. If you do, you’ll never come back out again. You see those two figures in black by the door?”

Johnny peered closer and sure enough, the door was framed by two huge figures, dressed in jet-black robes darker than the darkest night. Johnny shivered, as he continued to watch them. There was something distinctly sinister about the way that they were standing, and they looked as if they could do very unpleasant things to a person without worrying about it in the slightest.

The waiting room

Eddie turned to Johnny and said in a hushed voice: “Everyone comes here when they die. It’s the rules. Those people who know that they’ve led good lives, or at least think they have, stand outside and wait for the Ghost Train. But there are people who know that they’ve led very bad lives and they stay in the waiting room. For them, the Ghost Train is a terrifying thing. The figures by the door are Deaths like me. In fact, the one on the right is Uncle Fergus. Normally he breeds rabbits, but today he’s on guard duty. While he’ll quite happily let anyone in, and believe me, some good souls do go in, if they try to get out again, well, let’s just say that it’s better to look away.”

All the time that Eddie had been talking, Johnny had the feeling that the train station was moving and as Eddie finished speaking, there was a small, but definite lurch, as if something had collided with it.

“Ah, we’ve arrived,” said Eddie with a toothy grin. “Quick, there’s something I want to show you.”

And without waiting for a reply, he grabbed Johnny’s sleeve and led him off the platform towards the station entrance.

Chapter 6 – All Aboard!

As they passed through the huge, stone arch of the station entrance, Eddie glanced quickly around him. “This way. We don’t have much time,” he said and led Johnny out into the street.

“Where are we going?” asked Johnny.

“To my secret lookout,” replied Eddie. “I want you to see the Ghost Train before anyone else does.”

As they hurried down the winding cobblestone road, Johnny looked around him. The street was lined with small houses and shops, all made out of the same grey stone as the train station. Apart from the greyness, which coloured everything, including the grass, it was rather a pleasant place. It reminded Johnny of the village where he had been born.

After a few minutes, the houses and shops gave way to fields and pretty soon, Johnny and Eddie were running up a hill towards an old, grey farmhouse. Just before they reached it, Eddie stopped and turned around. Sitting on the ground with a light thump, he swept his arm round in a dramatic arc and said: “Welcome to my world.”

Sitting down beside Eddie, Johnny gazed at the sight spread out before them.

Far below was the train station and village, which they had come from. The village was nestled at the bottom of a small valley. Gently sloping hills rose on either side, giving the place a quiet, almost sleepy feel to it. Beyond them, Johnny could see the cobblestone road, winding its way past remote farms and cottages, on its journey into the distance. Even further away, on the edge of the horizon, was a towering mountain range.

Unlike the gentle hills, the mountains were dark and foreboding. Their craggy peaks were covered with ice and snow, and Johnny couldn’t help but think that there was something cruel about them. With a shudder, he thought it was just the sort of place where ghosts, werewolves and bogeymen might live. At the foot of the mountains, Johnny could just make out a crooked tower, standing alone in the wilderness. A solitary light shone from a window high in the tower and Johnny had the strangest feeling that he was being watched.

Before he could ask who lived there, Eddie pointed towards the edge of the village and shouted: “Look, here comes the Ghost Train!”

Johnny heard the Ghost Train before he actually saw it. A huge, heavy chugging sound filled the valley, growing louder every second. Then, from around a curve in the hill came the train.

Johnny had never seen anything like it. The front of the train was as sleek as a bullet and gave the suggestion that it could do a million miles an hour without even trying. As it moved, it glowed with a soft metallic white light, which lit up everything around it. And as it rounded the corner, Johnny could see that the leading carriages were also made of the same glowing material. It looked as though a huge diamond necklace was making its way slowly towards the village.

As it pulled into the station and came to a halt, Johnny noticed that the last few carriages were different from the others. Rather than having gracefully flowing lines and shining with that beautiful gossamer light, these carriages were completely dark, with no real windows and a sort of ‘cobbled together’ feel about them. They looked as if they had been designed to keep things from getting out and Johnny was in no doubt that they were intended for the people in the waiting room.

As Johnny watched, people started to board the train. Those on the platform went first; the grown-ups carefully checking to make sure that the children were safely on board, before they climbed on themselves.

“Shouldn’t we get back down there, before it leaves?” asked Johnny, who didn’t like to think about being mixed up with the people from the waiting room, in case he went into the wrong carriage.

Eddie turned to face Johnny and pulled back his hood, to reveal a sad, thin, bony young face.

“You could stay here,” he said. “I get so lonely. I’m the youngest Death there is and there’s no-one else to play with. I know that everything’s grey and boring here, but I’m sure that with you around we could brighten things up.”

“But, if you want to go, you can,” continued Eddie. “All I have to do is cut your life-band and you’ll be on the train.”

He pointed to a narrow leather bracelet around Johnny’s wrist and pulled out the silver sickle from his pocket. “And all I wanted was a friend,” he said sadly.

Johnny stared down at the life-band and then back to Eddie. The figure before him looked so upset and there was something pleading in those deep-set eyes that made Johnny turn away again.

“All I wanted was a friend,” he said to himself softly. Suddenly, the memory of a small schoolboy, crying in the toilets after yet another beating by Toby Brown and his gang came back to him and Johnny straightened up. Smiling warmly at the glum little figure before him, he said: “Okay Eddie, let’s be friends!”

Below them, a ghostly whistle sounded, and a booming voice called out: “All aboard!”

A moment later, with a deep rumbling sound, the Ghost Train pulled slowly out of the station, on its journey to the afterlife.

Johnny grinned at Eddie and said: “After all, it’s too late now.”

Chapter 7 – Mrs Death

As they turned and walked towards the farmhouse, Eddie regarded Johnny.

“We’re going to have to disguise you,” he said. “My mum will kill me if she finds out that you missed the train. She’s very particular about things like that. Well, she won’t really kill me, she can’t, but you know what I mean,” he said with a smirk.

Then, after a short pause, he added: “I know what we can do. You can borrow one of my old robes and we’ll pretend that you’re another young Death, like me.”

And with that, Eddie ducked into the old wooden barn next to the farmhouse and returned carrying a moth-eaten, faded old robe. It was more grey than black, but that just meant it blended in well with the surroundings. Johnny tried the robe on. It had quite a few holes in it and was a bit on the small side, but Eddie wouldn’t be put off.

“Perfect!” he said with an even wider grin, “Mum will never suspect a thing!”

Johnny wasn’t so sure. Looking down, he could quite clearly see his feet sticking out from the bottom of the robe and he was pretty certain that Deaths’ didn’t walk around in trainers, or anything else resembling modern footwear for that matter.

As they approached the grey timber door of the farmhouse, Eddie said: “Okay, just leave the talking to me and everything will be fine.”

Johnny shuddered as Eddie casually pushed open the door and shouted: “Hi Mum!” He had a very bad feeling about this.

The door opened onto a large kitchen. As Johnny had half-expected, everything in it was a dull grey. An enormous grey stove sat in one corner, throwing out a furious heat and grey light over the flagstones. A big, grey, wooden table occupied the middle of the room and it was behind this that a tall, black-robed figure sat, with its back to the door.

“Hi Eddie,” said the figure. “You’re late. Was it a busy day today?”

“Yes, Mum, you could say that,” answered Eddie with just a hint of a giggle.

“Well, I’m glad that you’re back. The sheep need seeing to and your dad needs a hand in the woolshed,” she said, turning to address Eddie. She hadn’t expected to see anyone else except Eddie and was momentarily surprised by the presence of another Death-like figure in the kitchen.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked slowly, regarding Johnny with a cold, hard stare.

Unlike Eddie, who still looked like a boy, albeit a very thin and very pale one, Mrs Death was a skeleton. Not a scrap of flesh sat on the pearly white bones of her face. Among the other Deaths in the village, she was considered quite a beauty, however, Johnny’s shivering went up a notch or two, as he found himself being glared at by two fiery red eyes, set in a brilliant white skull.

“Uh, he’s an exchange student, from the other side of the Impassable Mountains,” lied Eddie quickly. “I think he looks after the souls of German children.”

Johnny cringed. The only German words he knew were from old war movies and a cross channel ferry he’d once been on with his parents and neither experience was going to help him now.

“Really?” said Mrs Death, an icy tone entering her voice. “What’s his name?”

“Um, um … Boris. Yes, that’s it, Boris!” said Eddie a little too loudly, clutching at the first name that came into his mind.

“How interesting,” said his mother, in a voice that could freeze stone. “You see, I just got a message from Uncle Fergus down at the station, saying that he’d seen you sneaking out of the railway station with a human boy. Your friend Boris wouldn’t be a human child by any chance, would he?”

“No Mum, no, of course not. He’s Boris, the exchange student, from um, um.” Eddie’s voice died away, as his brain went into overdrive, desperately trying to think of a plausible explanation for Johnny’s presence. “Um, err, um…” he went on.

“Silence!” roared his mother.

She drew herself up to her full height and towering over the two boys shouted: “Edward Ravenswood Death, how dare you lie to me!”

Eddie hated it when his mother called him by his full name. It meant that he was in trouble for sure. And when she stood up to scold him, it meant double trouble. He’d be cleaning out the stables for months after this and that was only if he was lucky.

His mother continued in a terrifying voice. “Not only is it hard to believe that this young Death crossed the Impassable Mountains alone, but he is also wearing jeans, trainers and a tatty old robe with your name embroidered on it! Furthermore, there’s a patch of green outside where the pair of you were sitting and ever since he’s been standing here, the kitchen has been growing more and more colourful! How do you explain that?”

Johnny and Eddie turned around and sure enough, behind them, the huge grey door was now a deep walnut brown. The flagstones, while still grey, were more lifelike than before. The stove was coal black and the light it threw out was now a deep, glorious orange. Neither boy could believe it. There was colour everywhere. What was going on?

Mrs Death sank back into her chair, shaking her head. All trace of her anger had gone, being replaced instead by a quiet sadness. “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,” she said softly. “What am I going to do with you? I’ve told you so many times before that you can’t bring humans here. It’s not their place. He’s only been here a few hours and already things are starting to change. He can’t stay, he’ll upset the balance of things.”

“But Mum, all I wanted was a friend to play with,” said Eddie miserably. “It’s so lonely here and I’m fed up with always being by myself.”

Mrs Death, in a happier mood

“I know, but he can’t stay,” said his mother tenderly. “You know I don’t make the rules. Now take him back to the station and make sure he gets on the train before it’s too late.”

Eddie paused. He knew then that he was in really big trouble. Very slowly and in a small, stammering voice, he said: “But Mum, the train’s already left. We were sitting on the hill when it went.”

Mrs Death sat bolt upright in her chair. “What did you say?” she spoke in an anxious voice. “You missed the train? You missed the only train for a week! Oh Eddie, what have you done? This is so much more serious than I thought.”

Standing up, she ran her bony fingers over her skull. If she had had hair, she would have been tying it into knots, Johnny thought.

“What to do? What to do?” she muttered to herself as she strode around the kitchen table, now the same walnut brown colour as the door.

Eddie was strangely quiet and was standing with his head hung in shame. He’d never seen his mother like this before and it rather frightened him. Glancing sideways at Johnny, he whispered: “Say something, Johnny. Please, say something.”

Gathering up all his courage, Johnny spoke in his best voice: “Please Mrs Death, Eddie didn’t mean to do anything wrong. We were both lonely and I wanted to stay. If it’s all right, I’d still like to stay.”

Mrs Death looked at Johnny, her fiery eyes now just glowing softly.

“My poor boy,” she said in that gentle way that most mothers have. “Don’t you understand? You can’t stay. Every moment that you’re here in this place, you draw us closer to your world and if the two should meet, it will be the end for all of us. No, you have to either go back home or onto the afterlife. The trouble is that the next Ghost Train isn’t due for a week and I don’t know how to return you safely to your own world.”

Suddenly, Eddie piped up. “What about Uncle Lucius? He’d know how to get Johnny back safely. If anyone would know, he would. I know it!”

“Eddie,” his mother said sternly. “You’re in enough trouble as it is, so I’d be quiet if I were you.”

“Sorry, Mum,” said Eddie sitting down on the floor in a heap.

Eddie’s movement seemed to jolt Mrs Death from her thoughts. All of a sudden, she became a mother again. “Boys, you must be starving. Come here; sit at the table and I’ll get you something to eat. Eddie, you’re in big trouble and your father’s going to hit the roof when he gets in. However, there’s nothing we can do now to change what you’ve done, so for the time being, we’re just going to have to make the best of it.”

Chapter 8 – Questions

Eddie’s dad pleasantly surprised Johnny. After facing the full force of Mrs Death’s anger earlier in the day, he’d expected Mr Death to be even worse. However, while he did scold Eddie for lying to his mum, he seemed quite relaxed about the whole affair and wasn’t at all concerned by the presence of Johnny in the kitchen. Unlike Mrs Death, Johnny didn’t think he was very frightening at all, even though he too was a skeleton. Instead, he seemed almost comical, especially when he aimed his toothy grin at Johnny.

“Well, my boy,” he said. “You’re a funny one, aren’t you? Too fat to be a Death, too thin to be a Cherub and not punctual enough to catch a train from what I hear.” He grinned again. “Not to worry though. I like a bit of colour around the place and I’m sure that we’ll soon have this mess all tidied up.”

After dinner, which was grey beans on toast for the boys and a bowl of fresh air for each of the grown-ups, the family sat around the table to discuss the day’s events. Eddie’s dad took out his pipe and stuffed it full of tobacco from a pouch inside his robe. As he started puffing away, Johnny couldn’t help but laugh at the clouds of smoke that rose from deep inside the robe. It was like watching a small bonfire get going.

Mr Death noticed that Johnny was laughing at him and with a mumbled: “Force of habit, young fellow,” he sheepishly put the pipe away. “I hope you never start.”

“No, sir,” said Johnny and he meant it.

“Right then,” said Mr Death and fixing the boys with what he thought was his most serious stare, which only made him look even more comical, he continued: “I’ve given the matter some serious thought and have decided that there’s only one person who can solve this problem. First thing tomorrow, you two are going to see Uncle Lucius.”

Eddie’s dad, the death of comedians

Early the next morning, to the sound of a skeletal rooster crowing, the boys awoke. Eddie seemed particularly excited by the prospect of visiting Uncle Lucius and he scampered around his mum in the kitchen, getting in the way and generally making a mess of things, as he tried to hurry up breakfast. Johnny was less sure that he wanted to visit Uncle Lucius. He felt that he’d caused enough trouble already and the thought of having to explain himself to another, even older Death, filled him with dread.

It was mid-morning when the boys finally set off on their journey. Rather than head back into the village, as Johnny had expected, they followed the cobblestone road on its winding path around the village towards the hills and mountains. Sensing Johnny’s unease, Eddie turned to him and said: “Don’t worry about Uncle Lucius. He’s fine. A bit old-fashioned, but that’s all. He’s really rather nice when you get to know him.”

As they walked, Johnny gazed around. He was certainly having a wondrous effect on the landscape. Everywhere they walked, the countryside sprang into life. All around them the grass was green, where before it had been grey. Small shrubs and hedges took on familiar colours and whenever he spied a skeletal bird or rabbit, it too had a glimmer of colour about it. Even the sky above them had adopted a brilliant shade of blue.

Stopping for a moment, he turned to Eddie and said: “Ever since we arrived, I’ve been meaning to ask; what is this place?”

Eddie turned and with a strange look on his face, said: “Well, it’s hard to say really. Although the valley and everything around you seems real enough, it doesn’t actually exist as it would in your world. That’s why it’s all grey, a bit like a shadow. The whole place is a sort of link between your world and what lies beyond. You can’t find this place when you’re alive and you don’t remember it once you’ve left, even though it’s always here.” “Anyway,” he said brightly, setting off once more’. “It’s home. Home to me and all the other Deaths. We call it Deathville.”

“And that’s another thing I’ve been meaning to ask,” said Johnny, trudging along behind Eddie. “How come there are lots of you and how come you’ve got a mum and a dad? I thought there was only one Death.”

Eddie smiled and replied: “They’re not my real parents, they’ve just been appointed by the village to take care of me until I’m grown up. You see I wasn’t born in the same way that you were. I simply appeared one day, in order to fill a need.”

Johnny was confused. “What do you mean: ‘To fill a need’?” he asked.

“For the same reason that there are lots of other Deaths,” replied Eddie. “Each of us fills a specific need. At the moment, I look after the souls of children. Uncle Fergus looks after Scotsmen. Auntie Agnes looks after Germans…” Eddie paused, suddenly realising why trying to pass Johnny off as a German exchange student called Boris, was doomed to failure from the start.

“Anyway,” he continued. “With so many people in the world today, there’s far too much work for a single Death to do and so we specialise. Of course, I’m still growing. Once I’ve lost my skin and got my grown-up bones, another young Death will appear, and I’ll go and help Dad with the comedians. Of course, that won’t happen for ages yet. Us Deaths don’t age anywhere near as fast as you humans. We’d never get anything done if we did!”

As they talked, Johnny noticed that the ground beneath them had been steadily rising. Shifting his gaze upward, he found that they were no longer in the gently rolling hills of the valley; they were rapidly approaching the foothills of the Impassable Mountains.

Remembering the solitary tower and single light that he had seen from the lookout the day before, he asked: “Where does Uncle Lucius live, Eddie?”

“In the tower,” replied Eddie excitedly, pointing towards the mountains in front of him. “Come on, there’s not far to go now,” and so saying, he broke into a run.

Johnny followed, with considerably less enthusiasm. For there, rising out of the ground in front of them was the great, crooked tower, surrounded by the cruel, icy peaks of the Impassable Mountains.

Chapter 9 – Uncle Lucius

The winding cobblestone road ended just before the entrance to Uncle Lucius’ home. The tower was enormous, bigger than anything Johnny had ever seen before. Rising for hundreds of feet, it seemed as if it had been pulled straight up out of the solid rock surrounding it. Further up, just as the tower started to disappear into the clouds, Johnny could see huge stone blocks and a single window, from which came a deathly pale glow. The entrance itself was foreboding. Two large jet-black doors were set into the stone and carved into the lintel above them was a giant skull, glaring down menacingly at anyone who should be brave, or foolish enough, to approach.

Eddie walked up to the doors and pushing them apart without effort, called loudly into the gloom: “Uncle Lucius, we’re here.”

From somewhere far away in the tower, came a voice in reply. “Come in, come in. I’ve been expecting you.” It was a deep, rich voice, not at all what Johnny had been expecting.

“Come on,” said Eddie and grabbing Johnny by the hand, dragged him inside.

As they passed through the huge, black doorway, Johnny got his first good look at the place Uncle Lucius called home.

“Wow!” he gasped, spellbound by the sight before him. On every wall of the tower, going around and around, and rising up as far as the eye could see, were books. Thousands and thousands of books. Every book ever written must be here, thought Johnny. As his eyes became accustomed to the pale grey light, he noticed something else. Everything in the tower was made out of bones. All of the bookcases were carved out of bone, as were the stairs and walkways leading to the vast heights above.

In the middle of the room, Johnny could see a large table, surrounded by five high-backed chairs. These too were made out of bones. Before he could investigate any further, the rich, deep voice came again: “Make yourselves comfortable, I’ll be down in a minute.”

Eddie and Johnny walked over to the table and sat down next to each other in the bone chairs. It was a strange feeling, thought Johnny, to be sitting on something made out of someone else, but the chairs were surprisingly comfortable, and Johnny soon got over his initial unease. Then, from out of the darkness above them came the sound of footsteps, followed closely by Uncle Lucius himself.

If the tower was impressive, then Uncle Lucius was even more so. He stood taller than anyone Johnny had ever met before. Dressed in an ancient black robe, there was no doubt that he was indeed very, very old. While Eddie’s mum and dad’s skulls were still pearly white, Uncle Lucius’ skull was almost yellow with age. The same was true of his bony hands. They were so old that they looked like fossils.

Meeting Uncle Lucius

Uncle Lucius looked at Johnny and Johnny gazed back. Uncle Lucius’ eyes, if you could call them that, were like two tiny stars, blazing white-hot from sockets that seemed infinitely deep. As he stared into them, Johnny felt himself being drawn helplessly down into their depths. They were at the same time the most fabulous and terrifying things he had ever seen.

Uncle Lucius turned his gaze away and Johnny breathed a small sigh of relief. Turning to Eddie and with a grand bow of his head, Uncle Lucius said: “Edward Ravenswood Death. Edward my dear boy; it is so very good to see you.”

Eddie didn’t mind it at all when Uncle Lucius called him by his full name. Actually, it made him feel rather important.

“And I’m delighted to see that you’ve brought your young friend too,” Uncle Lucius continued, the rich, deep tones of his voice ringing out across the tower, making it sound as if he were addressing a large crowd, rather than two rather small boys.

Walking around the huge bone table, Uncle Lucius took a seat opposite Johnny and Eddie. Rearranging his robe, he leant forward until his elbows rested on the table in front of him. Clasping his bony fingers together, he looked again at the two of them and said slowly: “Let us get down to business, shall we?”

Chapter 10 – Problems and Solutions

“Edward, my young friend. It would seem that we have a bit of a problem on our hands,” said Uncle Lucius, addressing Eddie. “No doubt your mother has already told you what will happen if your young friend remains here and no doubt you have seen with your own eyes the effect he is already having upon our beautiful little world,” he continued.

“However, all is not lost. After I spied you sneaking out of the railway station yesterday, I knew what might happen with a human soul present here and spent the night consulting some of the oldest books in my collection for a solution. Finally, early this morning, in the very oldest book of all, I believe that I have found a way to return your young friend to his body and in doing so, to save both of our worlds from destruction.”

Before the boys could say anything in response, Uncle Lucius leant in close towards them and said: “But it won’t be easy.” Straightening up, his ancient bones creaking with the effort, Uncle Lucius went on: “As our two worlds start to collide, the lines between them will begin to blur. At just the right moment, it should be possible to follow the railway tracks from the train station in our world, back into your young friend’s world. But the timing must be perfect. Too soon and you’ll end up in the void; too late and both our worlds will certainly be destroyed.”

Eddie shuddered. He’d occasionally heard his parents talking about the void and the lost souls that lived there, and from what they’d discussed, he didn’t like the thought of being stuck there until the end of time.

“Presuming you make it back safely into your young friend’s world, Eddie, you will have only a few minutes to return his soul to his body,” said Uncle Lucius.

Then turning to Johnny, he continued in a low voice: “When you reach your body, you must hold onto it as tightly as possible and Edward here will cut your life-band. When he does that, you will feel yourself being pulled back towards the void. Whatever happens, you must not let go of your body. If you do, you will be forever doomed to walk the skies as a lost soul. If you do manage to hold on, the pull of the void will gradually lessen, and our worlds will separate. Eventually, when all is as it should be, the pulling will disappear, and you will be returned to your body.”

“Right!” said Eddie, jumping up from the table. “We’d better get started then. The sooner we’re finished, the sooner everything will be back to normal.”

“Not so fast my dear fellow,” replied Uncle Lucius with a mild reprimand in his voice. “Did you hear nothing that I just said? The time is not yet right. You must wait at least one more day before you make your attempt. If you followed the railway tracks now, you would certainly end up in the void and we wouldn’t want that, would we?”

“No, sir,” replied both boys at the same time. “However, that leaves us with the problem of what to do with you in the meantime,” said Uncle Lucius deep in thought.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, as an idea suddenly came to him. “Edward, I’m going to make your young friend here a trainee Soul Searcher. That way you can still keep an eye on him and continue with your other duties uninterrupted.”

Uncle Lucius turned to look at Johnny again. Regarding the boy with an odd stare, he muttered to himself: “If I’m going to send you back while you’re still wearing your life-band, you’re going to need some protection against the void.”

Reaching deep into his robe, Uncle Lucius pulled out a worn, brown leather wristband. Dropping it into Johnny’s hand, he said mysteriously: “Here, take this. As long as you wear it, you’ll be protected from the void. It’s magic you see.”

Then, rather abruptly, he stood up, saying: “Right boys, you must be on your way. I have some very important work to do.”

“But, Uncle Lucius,” said Eddie, slightly taken aback by the sudden change that had come over his Uncle. “Aren’t you going to tell us your tales of the ‘good old days’, when you were younger? You always used to when I visited before.”

“Sorry Edward, I don’t have the time today,” said Uncle Lucius curtly, stepping away from the table. “There are some very important things that I must complete before tomorrow morning. And besides, you’ve got work to do. There are always souls to collect, you know.” And with that, he left them and strode up the bone staircase, disappearing once more into the gloomy heights of the tower.

Chapter 11 – Soul Searching

“Well, that was odd,” said Eddie, as they left the tower and began the journey back to the village. “Normally Uncle Lucius can’t wait to talk about the days when he was collecting souls. He usually goes on and on about all the magnificent battles he watched over and how he protected many a great King and Queen on their journey to the afterlife. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. It’s not as if he ever goes out collecting anymore. All he does is just sit in that tower and read his books.” Eddie sighed in obvious disappointment and walked on in silence.

Johnny also walked in silence, but something else entirely was bothering him. During the time that he and Eddie had been in Uncle Lucius’ tower, not a single thing had changed colour. Outside everything was a riot of greens, browns, yellows and blues, as a result of Johnny’s presence. However, the tower and everything inside it remained cold, grey and unfriendly. The same was true of the Impassable Mountains. Like the tower in front of them, they remained bleak and colourless. It was almost as if they weren’t really a part of Deathville at all.

As the sun began to set in front of them, turning the sky a faint pinkish colour, Johnny turned to Eddie and asked: “What did Uncle Lucius mean by the void and lost souls?”

Eddie slowed his pace a little and replied in a hushed voice: “The void surrounds all our worlds and separates us from the afterlife. The Ghost Train is able to travel the vast distance from here to the afterlife in what seems like the blink of an eye, but to go by foot would take forever. Yet that is exactly what some poor souls have to do.”

Gazing off towards the setting sun, Eddie continued: “Some souls refuse to believe that they have died, while others choose not to follow the Death that has been sent for them. In doing so, they don’t make it to the train station on time. They miss the Ghost Train and are condemned to wander the void for the rest of time. They are the lost souls that Uncle Lucius was referring to.”

Johnny shivered. Even though he’d ended up missing the Ghost Train, he was glad that he’d followed Eddie to the station when he did. He could so easily have become a lost soul otherwise.

When the boys arrived home that evening, rather than mention Uncle Lucius’ dangerous plan, they simply told Eddie’s parents that he was working on a way to get Johnny home and that in the meantime Johnny was to accompany Eddie on his rounds as a trainee Soul Searcher. Eddie’s mum was delighted at the thought of things getting back to normal, while his dad remained strangely quiet. Occasionally he would glance up from his paper and stare quizzically at the boys, but he said nothing of Uncle Lucius’ decision.

The next day, Eddie and Johnny got up extra-specially early and after completing the morning’s chores, which consisted of weeding the vegetable garden behind the kitchen and putting Gretel and the other skeleton sheep out to graze, they found themselves sitting at the lookout point, waiting for the bell of the railway station to ring. Johnny had borrowed some of Eddie’s clothes and was dressed in a black hooded jacket and black jeans. Eddie’s dad had very thoughtfully painted Johnny’s trainers black for the occasion, although the paint was already starting to peel off as it dried.

As the boys sat in silence, the deep mournful ringing of the bell came from the railway station. Standing up, Eddie thrust a hand inside his robe, pulling out his sickle. “Mustn’t forget this,” he said to Johnny with a cheerful wink and together the pair of them started off towards the railway station.

As they walked down the hill, Johnny checked to see that he was still wearing the brown leather wristband that Uncle Lucius had given him the day before. As he had put it on that morning, Johnny couldn’t recall feeling very magical, but he hoped that it would protect him from the awful dangers of the void anyway.

As the boys reached the station entrance, they were met by Uncle Fergus. He still looked extremely menacing in his big, black robe and at his side hung a long, ceremonial scythe, the blade made entirely of polished silver. “Hello boys,” he said in a voice that was little more than a low rumble. “Not up to any mischief today, are we?”

“No, Uncle Fergus,” answered Eddie, “We’re both on soul searcher duty.”

“Really?” replied Uncle Fergus, only half listening to Eddie’s reply. “Well, you’re not going to get the chance to get up to any mischief anyway, because I’m on a very special guard duty today; soul searcher guard duty, in fact. Your dad asked me to keep an eye on you, Eddie Death, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. So, I suggest that you both sit down, shut up and stay still until we’ve arrived!” he suddenly bellowed, pointing to a nearby platform bench.

The boys shuffled over to the bench and as they sat down dejectedly, they felt the tug of the train station as it pulled away from the village on its journey back to the real world. Staring at the empty platform, Johnny said in a hushed voice: “Eddie, what exactly does a soul searcher do?”

With Uncle Fergus at the Station in the Sky

Eddie turned and replied in an equally quiet voice, so as not to disturb Uncle Fergus, who was sitting next to them, engrossed in his newspaper. “Well, although it seems like people die all the time in your world, we actually only collect souls once a week. This means we have an awful lot to get through each time, so we have to make sure that we get it right. Soul searchers visit your world a few days before each collection and make sure that all the lists are correct and that everyone is where they should be. Some people feel it as a premonition that something isn’t right, but that’s pretty rare these days.”

“Of course,” Eddie carried on. “We don’t always get it one hundred per cent right. Occasionally, we take the wrong person. Smith’s and Jones’s are the most common mistakes. But, we usually notice the mix up before we reach the station, so we’re able to return them without too much trouble. I think they call it a ‘near death experience’ or something like that in your world. Of course, you were a last-minute job, so you got a really strong premonition only moments before the actual event. Sorry about that.”

But Johnny wasn’t listening. Something Eddie had said was spinning around and around in his mind, and he couldn’t make sense of it. Finally, he turned to face Eddie and said: “Eddie, if we’re going back to my world now, why can’t we just go to the hospital, or wherever I am and put me back into my body?”

Eddie stared at Johnny, trying to think of an answer. “Um, err, because, um …”

Because Uncle Lucius told us we had to wait at least one more day before returning,” said Johnny, completing the sentence for Eddie. “But why would he make us wait and risk our worlds colliding when he must have known that we could get back into my world safely, simply by using the Station in the Sky?” Johnny continued.

Eddie was completely lost for words and a shiver suddenly ran down Johnny’s back, as an awful thought occurred to him. Perhaps Uncle Lucius had actually wanted the two worlds to be destroyed?

Looking Eddie straight in the eye, he said: “Eddie, I think we’ve been tricked. I don’t know why, but I think Uncle Lucius wanted us out of the way today for some reason. Ever since he gave me this silly wristband I’ve had a bad feeling about him. I don’t even think that it’s magical at all,” and so saying, he tore the wristband from his arm and flung it to the platform floor.

Sure enough, nothing happened. No void appeared, no demons, no lost souls. Nothing.

Eddie stared at Johnny in disbelief. “But, why would he do such a thing?” he cried, “He’s never done anything like this before. He’s always been so kind.”

“I don’t know,” replied Johnny. “But we’re going to find out. We’ve still got time before it’s too late, so let’s discover what Uncle Lucius is really up to.”


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