Chapter one - Little missy
All decent stories have a good ending. The writer needs to know where he should end his tale, because all of them have one thing in common - if they go on long enough they all end in death. Sometimes death can also be found on the very first pages, when the main character becomes an orphan and after years of hard labor with horrible relatives, discovers that he is "the chosen one", and from time to time saves the world. These are simple imperatives of narration and without them no decent story can exist. Therefore, I do not know if this tale is suitable to gain a reputation as one of the "decent" because it starts not with death, but with shopping. In addition, shopping done on one sunny autumn afternoon.
On exactly such a day, the Baroness Angelina Dalles, commonly known as Madam Red, was in search of new, red gloves so she would not have to think about other much more serious and miserable things. She nearly walked into another store when she had to make a choice. She saw someone whom she had not seen for more than five years and did not know if she should ignore him and go unnoticed minding her own business or simply do otherwise. After whole three seconds of pondering she did otherwise.
"Charles!" she called and ran, spreading clatter of red heels across the street, wanting to hug or hit the man who just climbed out of a carriage.
Lord Sinclair turned around and, seeing the woman running toward him bowed as befits a true gentleman at the same time smiling broadly with a mouth full of teeth a bit yellow from tabaco.
"Red, what a pleasant surprise," he greeted with a clear Scottish accent, making his words flow as smooth as a meadow river. "How long has it been?"
"Far too long," she replied, and took him by the arm, pulling from the carriage in the direction of a nearby cafe. "Really, for years you have been locked in these mountains of yours like some bear. I thought you'd forgotten me. "
Hearing this the man burst out laughing.
"My lady, I am afraid that I cannot forget you even if I try."
"So you tried?"
"For God's sake, of course not!" Charles laughed again. "If you had not noticed Scotland is not near London, and after my father's death I had to take over his duties. I greatly regret this little exile of mine. Believe me."
"Then what exactly is my favorite Highlander doing so far from home?" She inquired squeezing his arm encouragingly.
Lord Sinclair closed his eyes with a sight.
"Do you remember my niece, Evelyn? She is as stubborn as her mother, or as another person, whose name I will not mention out of politeness," he looked at her pointedly. "She has it in her head that she will not just sit at home sipping tea. She has decided to become a physician. Good God, that girl and her dreams will be my end, I just know it."
"My little Evelyn, seriously?"
"Oh, believe me; she is not so little anymore" it was clear that the man lamented because of it every night at least twenty minutes before going to bed. "She is a young woman now, however, she is stubborn like a mule. She has finished her second year of medical school so I came to assist her in obtaining an internship. You know how hard it's for a woman."
Madam Red bit her lips and after a moment of struggling with her frustration she punched him in the ribs.
"Two years she has been here and you did not tell me? I cannot believe it, I just cannot! And exactly how long have you been here? "
"I do not know. Two, three weeks?" he admitted sheepishly.
"Three weeks?" she clenched her teeth and stormed into a building like a livid Valkyrie chasing some unfortunate soul, leaving the man in cloud of dust.
Lord Sinclair quickened his pace to catch up with furious woman disappearing in the doorway of a tiny café huddled dejectedly among the huge London buildings. Under the bright sky, it hunched in itself, fighting against the chilly air. The half a dozen customers glanced up when the door swung open, heralded by a blast of cold wind. Contrasting to the outside, the interior of the café was warm and merry, with bright lights and colourful walls. The customers returned to their conversations as the door closed behind the new entrant and the cold breeze was forgotten as he carefully sat beside woman in red at the table in a corner, taking care not to earn another blow.
"Stop sulking, Ann. At the very beginning I didn't tell you about Evelyn because I was hoping she would come to her senses and return home. But two years had passed, and she is still standing by this foolishness. Honestly, I felt too uncomfortable to tell you after that because I knew you'd be upset that I didn't tell you earlier. I must admit that when I arrived few weeks ago I wanted to meet you, but then I heard about your tragedy. I have even seen Rachel. It was she who advised me to leave you alone for the time being."
Madam Red glanced down, stroking her fingers on the tablecloth, her thoughts far away where she would rather not had them at all.
The woman could not woke up until she felt a rough, calloused hand on her shoulder. She had enough of it.
"Please, don't say anything and don't even start about how sorry you are. I'm sick of all this pity. All I can do now is forget. I'm still young and I have my whole life ahead of me, right?" she smiled as if trying to convince herself, but not even a hint of amusement reached her eyes. "As for Evelyn, send her to me at the hospital, next Monday, eight in the morning."
The man blinked, confused.
"But… don't you have to discuss something like this with your boss?"
"Of course I do. Even so, send her to me," she replied with a nonchalant smile. Maybe Madam Red was only a woman in a man's world, but she could deal with anything if she had an adequate advantage, and sister with the name Phantomhive was sufficient leverage.
That is the story of how Evelyn got her internship at the London Royal Hospital. She could not say that the atmosphere there was overly friendly, nor that she had been accepted with open arms. Aside from doctor Dalles, no one was happy with her presence; taking her as a little rich missy with new-fangled ideas that got stuck into her head. Her work consisted mostly in assisting Madam Red in the simple procedures and studding operations that were more complex, but still "appropriate" for a woman. From the very beginning when Madam was not around others burdened her with the worst tasks, and being only an intern she could not refuse them.
Like now, for example. She had been given the task to prepare corpses and hand them to an undertaker. Evelyn reviewed the documents and examined the remains. Everything was in order. It was not a difficult task, but from what she heard, dislike for it was born not from overload of needed work. That also was not fault of the dead, because, frankly speaking, everyone was used to them. The reason for all this commotion was much more prosaic: none of the nurses or the paramedics wanted to have contact with the man who took the bodies. From what Evelyn had managed to find out he was a strange fellow, much more frightening than his clients.
She went to the doors leading to the backyard that was currently bathed in the pouring rain. London weather left much to be desired, that was for certain. She adjusted a lock of hair that was falling over her eyes. Idle waiting did not make sense. She could as well use the free moment to do something useful. The girl sat down on the nearby ramp and began looking through her notes of histopathology.
Undertaker hated the rain. It was not bad in itself, cold and dampness were not a problem for him, but there was something in it that did not agree with his nature. Maybe it was fact that every drop carried the breath of life, and this was in direct conflict with his being.
He adjusted a soaking wet top hat and pulled the reins. He had to turn the wagon to be able to easily load the bodies. Undertaker wondered who was waiting for him this time. Maybe it was the old and disgusting Montgomery, whom he loved to frighten? Maybe it was one of the nurses? He hoped it would be the short, freckled blonde. She was the easiest to upset.
He slightly raised his hat, seeing a person in medical smock sitting on the ramp. It was something new. Through a rain he could not see their identity very well, until he got closer. He grinned and almost bounced seeing a young woman- apparently an intern. No true doctor would allow themselves to be sent to meet with crazy undertaker, whose disgraceful manners were well known throughout the hospital.
The girl saw him, immediately got up and went inside. Undertaker parked the wagon, tied the horse, and as quietly as possible, snuck up to the young physician. He tapped her on the shoulder, which of course resulted in a scream and a mass of papers floating in the air.
"What the hell?!" she shouted, her face paled like a ghost at the scare. She turned to the man laughing his head off. "Are you trying to kill me? You cannot scare people like th... "
Her voice faded as soon as she looked at him. The girl blinked as if she did not want to believe her own eyes and abruptly bent down to pick up the papers. When she finished and stood up, she was already calm.
"Can you load the bodies? I'll get the documents and give them to you give them to you as a receipt. "
Undertaker wanted to say something, but he could not, because the woman had marched to the desk in the corner and persistently began to ignore him. She was not mortified by his presence; she rather treated him as a worthless worm, an unmistakable sign of the upper class. He adjusted the hat and began to load the corpses into the coffins on the wagon. Unfortunately, nothing will be done if he doesn't do it. After completing half of the work, Undertaker had to admit that he was disappointed. This girl was boring, and by the tone of her voice and sharp, quick moves, it was obvious that she did not tolerate nonsense. Where was fun in that?
He was almost finished, but the entire time he was there he could not shake the feeling that he knew this girl from somewhere. Without thinking, he threw a body on the floor and glared at the young doctor. She was quite pretty for a living human, but he had most likely met her a while ago. Therefore, she would have had to be a child then, and in his profession, he did not see too many children, at least one that was breathing. He scratched his chin. A little girl with black hair and electric blue eyes, tolerant to no kind of nonsense… Where had he seen her before?
Suddenly he smiled and gleefully rubbed his hands. He remembered and could not get rid of the one and only thought: This is going to be fun. Oh, so much fun!
He doubted he was any wiser than he had been three hundred years back. He was older. He had been up, he had been down, and he had been brought up again. Has he learned enough? He had indeed learned from his mistakes, but he still had time to commit more of them. At the moment he was trying to learn something new; or maybe he was just making another mistake?
Undertaker drove a shovel into the ground and leaned on it looking with pride on one more dug grave. This was not part of the memorial service and not because the cemetery was empty. Burying the urban poor he had become accustomed to the fact that funerals generally involved nothing more than throwing commoners into a mass grave, burying them and digging the next hole.
This time, however, he was doing something else. This time instead of putting the dead into their graves, he was pulling them out.
He began to dig again. Despite his unusual actions, he did not care about onlookers. The cemetery was located away from the village, and just before nightfall in rainy and windy weather the majority of the villagers preferred to sit at home rather than roam through the moors. Even if someone wandered by they would likely not notice him. People were in this matter particularly uncomplicated. They simply did not see things that they did not want to see, and the grim reaper- even the ex-grim reaper- was one of those things. Yes, people... they seemed to be nothing more than animals, which cared only for themselves. However, over time, when he saw hundreds of their cinematic records, he began to notice some scenes that did not fit with the rest. He began to see in their souls no dull work, but the mystery from the border of life and death that asked for the answer.
Without a problem he tore the lid off of a coffin. This one was particularly fresh; no more than two, perhaps three, weeks. Undertaker shifted the child's corpse over his shoulder and jumped out of the hole just to stand in front of something blue. It was not an ordinary blue. It was not the everyday sky blue, nor the color of the little flowers that spring up by the side of the road, nor even the paint flaking off of the old shed in the back of the field. Every tendril of the various shades of incandescent strikingly white-blue lined up next to another making it seem like white tundra. It was as if a blizzard was eternally raging on with a black void in the center. It did not capture light, but defied it. It was so blue that it literally glowed. Moreover, it stood at the height of his navel.
Undertaker blinked once, twice, but the unusual blue color still relentlessly glared at him- it belonged to the eyes of a little girl. He took two steps to the left, then two to the right, but the glare traveled after him with unnerving thoroughness. Against all odds, it seemed that this pale lassy could see him. For an extended moment his eyes remained steady and unblinking on her face. A deep vertical line pulled between his brows, as if someone had smacked him upside the head and he had not recovered.
"Yes?" he asked finally.
"Lat Carl be," demanded the Scottish girl in a tone that ruled out any possibility of disagreement.
Undertaker was quite unable grasp the situation, which was at the very least unusual.
"You mean this?" he made a gesture, pointing at the corpse.
"This is my frein," said the girl and with a loud hmph crossed her arms.
"This isn't your friend," he tugged dead boy's cheek. "It's nothing more than an empty body."
"If it's neathing but an empty corp, then get yoursel some other," she persisted.
"But this one is quite fresh, exactly what I need for my experiments. To your friend it won't do any difference," he assured, not knowing why he explained himself to the child. In fact, he found that it was quite funny.
"Maybe fur him it doesn't matter, but fer me it does. There are other fresh corpses. I will show ye if ye leave Carl. Although ..." she paused and gave him a critical look from the top of the hat to the tips of muddy shoes. "Actually, why do you need these corpses? Wha are ye? "
Undertaker smiled and bowed so low that the dead boy's head hit the ground.
"I'm just a humble Undertaker, missy."
"No, ye are no!" protested the child.
The man stopped.
"Am I not?"
"Ye're talking oot yer fanny flaps . I saw how ye dug the coffins. Ye are too strong for a man. Whit are ye?"
Well, he thought, if she can see me, she might also be able to see other supernatural things. Even normal children were much more open minded than adults, the latter of which were mostly just stupid.
"Busted," he admitted. His smile transformed his face from human to almost bestial. "I am what people call a Grim Reaper."
This time the smile immediately disappeared from his face and he was left speechless for good.
"Last year we had a flu epidemic. Mony people in the village died. I saw a few different Grim Reapers. Each of them had a scythe and spectacles and ye have none."
Undertaker put the corpse on the ground and crouched down so their faces were at the same height.
"So you've seen them, little missy? In that case, you should have also seen their eyes," he whispered gloomily, taking her chin in one hand and the other lifting hair from his face. The girl, seeing the phosphorescent glow of chartreuse eyes, flinched and wanted to spring back, but strong grip stopped her.
The man chuckled.
"You recognize them, good. But you know what? Actually, you're right, I am not a Grim Reaper, not anymore."
"Are ye no?" she could not believe him.
"It was particularly boring. I have now more interesting job."
"I didn't know ye could stop being a Grim Reaper."
"You can stop being anything, my dear."
The girl wanted to express her doubts, but was interrupted by sudden rustling of nearby bushes. Two dark shapes jumped out, and lazily purring, leapt to a nearby tombstone.
Undertaker looked at the dun cats that seemed to reciprocate it with unusual for these creatures inquisitiveness. These cats were indeed strange. After a moment, he realized that he was no longer kneeling before the remarkable girl (who had just become in his eyes even more uncommon), because she hid behind him and clung to him like a burdock stuck to his coat. The Reaper raised his eyebrows and tracked her gaze to two purring creatures. Suddenly he came to the rather obvious conclusion.
"This is fine surprise indeed, my little missy is afraid of cats."
The girl huffed, but despite the annoyance, she hid behind him deeper.
"I'm no scared, I'm just ..." she fell silent, wondering what she should say to someone who, without any good reason, was digging up corpses. Should she tell him anything at all? All of sudden louder purr convinced her that she preferred the mad gravedigger to those diabolical creatures. "Da said that no one should trust cats." (A/N: Da = Dad)
"No one should trust them, huh?" Undertaker chewed his thumb wondering why anyone would trust the four-legged fur balls on the first place.
"How can ye trust someone wha is listening to neabody? And they have these big wary eyes ..."
At least with the previous had to agree. No matter how many times he had cast out cats from his shop after a while they still came back; especially in the winter when they had a habit of sneaking up and gnawing on his clients, not giving a shit about his supernatural person or an ordinary broom. Well, cats were cats, but their presence gave him a new possibilities.
"I'm sorry to say, missy, but it's terribly late and I have to be getting back," he stood up and wanted to move, but little hands wrapped themselves around his leg, stopping him. "Well, and what is this? Could it be that you are not afraid to approach a grave-digging former Grim Reaper, but you are anxious to be alone with two fluffy kittens?"
Only silence and one stiff nod answered him.
This time he could not stop a snigger escaping from his throat.
"In that case I have an offer," he made effective pause and continued trying to hide amusement echoing throughout his voice. "Being a very generous person, I thought I'd leave your friend's body here to rest. Or, I can take it, but in return I will get you back home, away from these big wary eyes. So, what do you think, my little missy? "
The girl thought for a moment and glanced at the body of little boy. His abdomen was swelled with greenish liquid, and the rest of the skin began to resemble a grey resin. She shuddered seeing a beetle coming out of his ear. She swallowed, leaned out and glanced at the cats, and then merely nodded to him. Undertaker laughed aloud, grabbed the boy's body and threw it over his shoulder. In the next moment, he turned around, picked up the living child, and hid her under the flaps of his coat.
The girl was evidently shocked, because instead of protests, from her lips escaped nothing more than surprised whimper. She grabbed him by the shirt and gritted her teeth, trying not to comment on the dangling chain of lockets that hit her in the nose. After a few steps, she felt that the man had bounced off the ground and jumped on the wagon. Then yanking the reins, he forced his horse to move off.
They rode in silence, which he broke when the cemetery disappeared behind a hill. Chuckling he undid the buttons of his coat, showing a small head full of jet-black hair tucked into his chest.
"You really do not like them, do you? However, it seems that you like me very, very much. "
The girl blushed and, embarrassed, moved away from him, almost falling off the cart. As could be expected this only resulted in another peal of laughter.
"You're a strange one, little missy."
"Look wha's talking," she stuttered, trying to fight the flush that clearly decided to stay on her cheeks permanently. Out of the blue the calls of an owl gained her attention. "It's getting late. I will better get off here."
Undertaker looked around, but seeing nothing but forests, moors and gloomy lake stretching into the distance he turned to his little passenger.
"Are you sure?"
"Ay, I'm sure!"
He drew the reins, stopping the wagon. Seeing her righteous indignation he could not stop giggling and ruffled her hair, from which she huffed even more. The girl pulled up her skirt and jumped straight into a big puddle, which was, however, far less important than gaining distance from him. She bit her teeth and headed forward through the mud.
Unable to stop himself, he moved the wagon forward, neither surpassing her nor staying behind. The girl, however, decidedly ignored him. But after five minutes of dreadful silence she could stand it no longer.
"What do ye want?!"
"Me?" he asked blinking with feigned innocence. "What could I want?"
"I don't know, that's exactly why I'm asking! Could ye just stop playing total bawheed? I cannot stand all this havering anymore."
It was too much. He roared with laughter rolling from the left to the right and again to the left. The girl clenched her fists and walked away in the opposite direction. Undertaker, hearing retreating footsteps, finally stopped and turned to the departing girl.
"Hey, little missy, at least tell me your name!"
The girl stopped and shaking with anger turned to him one last time.
"It's nane of yer business!" she screamed causing another peal of laughter. When Undertaker calmed down, the girl was gone. With two fingers he rubbed sore corners of his mouth. He could not remember the last time when he laughed so much.
Even now, after all these years, he giggled thinking about that day. He rubbed his hands, and barely controlling excitement, sneaked up to her and looked over her shoulder.
"It's good to see you again, my little missy."
So, my ever-first attempt at Black Bulter fic. I hope you like it ^^ The next chapters will be in much darker mood.