Any passing traveller might have wondered about the lack of carrion birds surrounding the corpse. Had this person committed such heinous crimes that even the hungriest scavengers would not touch hi...
Chapter 1: A Rude Awakening
The icy fingers of dawn were clawing their way over the hill top. A thin blue line of sky was just visible, as though someone was slowly peeling away the darkness to reveal the bleak landscape below. And bleak it was. A small town, huddled about a mile away, and a road badly in need of repair were the only signs of civilisation. It was bitterly cold; even the rocks with their coats of lichen were shivering. On top of the hill, ancient timbers warped by years of exposure to the elements, was a gallows. Swaying slightly on the end of the rope, its occupant watched the clearing sky.
Any passing traveller might have wondered about the lack of carrion birds surrounding the corpse. Had this person committed such heinous crimes that even the hungriest scavengers would not touch him? On closer inspection, it would become obvious to the really curious observer that this lack of interest was only because there was nothing on him worth eating. He hadn't been there long. His clothes, though still of a reasonable quality, hung off his skinny frame like the rags on a scarecrow. You might even feel pity for the poor creature, who was little more than a child, and wonder what hardships had driven him to alife of crime. What could he have done to deserve death and a lonely vigil, watching the sun rise with unseeing eyes?
"Ajax damn this infernal hill!" A piercing curse broke the stern silence. Someone was struggling to scramble up the hill. He looked out of place here, his clothing clearly more suited to the city than hill walking at dawn. With fashionably gloved hands, he snatched at rocks and small shrubs to pull himself closer to the peak. The muffled cursing continued as a prickly bush entwined its branches around his coat tails. For a few moments the man tugged furiously at the trapped garment. Then there came a ripping sound.
Giving up on reaching his destination with clothes in-tact, the gentleman (for his dress clearly labelled him as such) resorted to barging through any small plants that crossed his path. Progress was quickly made and it was almost no time at all before he was at the top, directly in front of the boy dangling limply from the gallows. Brows furrowed in annoyance, he took a step closer, eyeing the cadaver critically. Suddenly, he gave the corpse a sharp jab in the ribs.
"Well?Are you just going to ... /hang /there? I know you're not dead, so you can stop this charade right now and tell me how you managed to mess this job up!" Talking to a dead boy might have been considered an act of insanity. It would be, if the boy was actually dead.
With a groan, the dead body moved. Slowly at first, his fingers began trembling; then his hands, until the movement spread to the rest of his body. The boy twitched and jerked, bones cracking like egg shells as he awoke from the clutches of rigor mortis, growing more and more violent until, with a final spasm, he went still. His eyes lost their marble-like sheen, rolling disturbingly fast in his head before finally resting on the gentleman in front of him. Jaw muscles rippled into what might have been an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry, Mr Oxgang. But it's kind of uncomfortable up here... I don't suppose you could let me down first?"
"Why?So I can beat you to within an inch of your miserable existence?" Mr Oxgang snarled. "Do you have any idea how much trouble this is going to cause me?"
Oh yes, that's right,thought the boy sadly, Can't be getting him in trouble, can we? Never mind Edmund - he can get hanged as much as he likes... His thoughts must have crept onto his face. The man held up a warning finger.
"You do remember how we first met, little ghoul? If I'd handed you over to the towns-people, you'd have got a lot worse than a hanging. It would have actually killed you."
Edmund nodded. He'd been trying to pick this gentleman's pocket, but he'd caught him in the act. He'd also realised instantly what he was; a ghoul. A member of the undead (although Edmund couldn't remember ever being alive). A more superstitious person would have handed him over to the nearest witch-hunter, but Mr Oxgang was, above all else, practical. He could use someone like Edmund. When you are in the business of acquiring mysterious artefacts by any means possible it helps to have a good thief working for you. It's a bonus if that thief is immune to death by gallows.
With a sigh, Mr Oxgang pulled a small dagger from his belt and began cutting at the rope around the boy's neck. Edmund hung there like a bizarrely-shaped fruit until eventually the rope snapped. He crumpled to floor, too stiff to land properly. Stretching out his arms and legs, he was surprised to see the other man's hand held out to him. He took it.
"Come on boy. We'd better go and explain this to my aunt..."
A/N:This is something I've started writing for a piece of coursework - please let me know what you think!