Double his food, double his wasting, and the better for us, yes.”
|Author's notes: Contest Winner for "Invalid Item" 1494 word count before title, pictures, notes and formatting. The Prompt is the Fotolia Photo prompt which I also used as a cover picture of the story
The door creaked and he walked in, his dirty white tunic hung loose over his thin body as he moved to the bar without saying a word.
"Good evening Thanatos," said the bartender as he retrieved an earthen carafe and poured a wooden cup half-full of a dark liquor.
"Humpf ... too cool and too dark for my liking," said the old man.
The sound of the barmaid's boots clogged as she sauntered to the back table. The old man sipped his drink and watched as the barmaid laughed and fell into the lap of one of the scruffy men. Thanatos paid no heed to their tomfoolery; after all, he had something to do, and the lustful antics of miscreants made little difference in the world.
The barmaid twisted, her breast pressed to the man's chin as she whispered into his ear. The fellow looked hard at the old man at the bar.
Thanatos finished his drink, set a copper on the bar, and left out the front door of the inn. He picked up his oil lamp, lit it, and started down the rutted road. He glanced back over his shoulder when he thought he heard the door of the inn close. However, he saw no one behind him.
The waning moon gave faint light to the surrounding woods. What little it showed seemed ripped from the sky by the bent claws of the naked trees that lined the twisting road. The silver-grey of their bony branches made the shadows at their bases darker still.
"Crack ..." echoed off the darkness, and the old man stopped dead in his tracks. He held up his lantern and called out.
"Who's there?" he asked with a trembling voice. "Is anyone there? There's no need to follow me I have nothing worth the taking."
There was no reply; the old man quickened his pace. A half kilometer from the Inn, a limestone fence grew up beside the road and Thanatos moved beside it, he dimmed his lantern, and watched the road. After a bit, he moved along the wall to a new resting place and stopped once more listening for any signs of life.
Thanatos passed through the next shallow ditch following beside the stonewall until he reached a vine covered circular opening. The centuries old craftsmanship of the ancient masons who constructed it was long forgotten. He retrieved an iron key and once more looked in every direction for some unseen observer.
He opened the gate and followed the overgrown cobbled walkway into a garden of pale stones. He passed three decrepit edifices, the last still topped with a crumbling cross until he reached a massive granite crypt. He set his lamp down and with both hands placed his walking stick into a secret hole. From his pocket, he removed a new key at its handle a bright silver skull. He inserted the key into the mouth of a cherub on the crypt and turned it three times. With his entire weight, he hung on the lever that doubled as his cane.
Without ceremony, the crypt cracked loudly as its great stone cover began to roll back. When it stopped the old man once more looked out in all directions. Then he went down the descending stairs and disappeared.
The surrounding graveyard gave no hint of any occupants that should not dwell there, until two figures slipped from behind a marble statue, and hunkered down beside the opened granite crypt.
"Blimey Jasper, what are we going to do, this here lid's 120 stones if it weighs a kilo, we ain't moving it wit out his keys."
"We ain't needing his blessed keys, the bloody thing's already open ain't it."
'But Jasper she said there were more gold down there then any six men could carry, how we going to get in and out wit out the bloke seeing us?"
Jasper peeked over the edge of the stairway; there was only a faint glow of light deep within the chamber below them. He dug in his pocket, took out a wooden match, and struck it. While cupping the flame with both hands, he began looking at the surrounding ground.
"Here'e go, this is the ticket."
"Ticket to what Jasper, we going somewhere?"
"Knuckles, you're sure one daft fellow, this here's our ticket to easy street. Look we are going down there and ask that fellow to shares his old treasure with us."
"And you think he's going to agree to share it, just that simple?"
"No, you're the one that's simple Knuckles, you see, while I am doing the reasoning with him you are going to slip up behind he'm and adjusts his point of view."
"I'm doing what?"
"Oh for the love of Mike, you buffoon, you're going to hit he'm over the head with this bloody rock."
The two men slid down the stairs making their way into the crypt. At the bottom of the stairs, they could see the old man working on something at the far end of the dark chamber.
They saw that Thanatos had placed one of several wooden chests on top of a sarcophagus, and he appeared to be counting as he took something out of the heavy looking iron strapped box.
Jasper leaned over to Knuckles and whispered. "I'm going to work my way around to that side, when I start talking to him you slip straight in and hit he'm on the noggins and hit he'm good and hard too."
"Sure Jasper don't you worry none, he ain't waking up before morning."
"I don't want he'm waking up at all ... you dolt."
After several moments, Jasper slipped out of the shadows and spoke.
"Well, now look here's, tell me old man, why are yah down here holding communion wit the dead?"
Thanatos did not startle, but reached out taking the lantern he raised it up to show light on Jasper's face.
"Well I was wondering what was taking you so long, did you get lost or something, I thought I was going to have to go back and look for you."
Jasper's face twisted into a broad grin as he saw Knuckles moving up behind the old man.
"Don't you think you are being a bit sassy for a fellow without help?"
"Yes, I should be thanking you for coming to feed him; it is so much easier when I don't have to drag the bodies down."
Thanatos watched as the look on Jasper's face changed. He did not need to turn to see the horror happening behind him.
The shadow rose up from the floor behind Knuckles, a willowy black cloud from which two long bony arms formed, at its top, a hooded demonic face formed of skinless bone, with long jagged teeth, and two fiery pits with black diamond cores formed its eyes.
The demon moved without a sound. It drew itself up, and its face opened gapingly wide as it came down surrounding, and consuming Knuckles to his waist as if he were a giant plate of bangers and mash. Muffled screams and crunching bones echoed off the stones around them. The demon turned up its head, and Knuckles slid the rest of the way down into the monster like a kipper down into a heron's gullet.
Jasper screamed and started running for the front of the crypt. Thanatos did not move from his spot. However, the black, smoky creature glided into the darkness, a few seconds later, and Jasper's last protests faded into the quiet of the cold night.
Thanatos pushed the chest to the side to expose a hole in the top of the sarcophagus a minute later and the Hell-spawn demon returned. It began to melt into the hole until it reached mid point, then it stopped as if stuck. Thanatos rapped the top of the stone coffin several times with his staff, until the willowy shadow slipped the rest of the way in. The old man moved the chest back over the hole.
He waited until his watch chimed, then moved to the end of the stone bed of the dead. Thanatos pulled another wood and iron chest next to the satyr face carved in the end, and he lifted the carving. A rain of gold coins fell into the empty chest. The old man picked up a handful and placed them into his purse.
Sometime later, the hinges on the door to the inn creaked and Thanatos once more made his way to the bar. The bartender poured him a drink, and this time Thanatos slid a gold coin across to him. The barmaid stepped up beside the old man, and he slid five large gold coins to her.
"Five, why so generous?"
"Ah, that first one was so plump I practically had to pound Mauritius back into his bed. Double his food, double his wasting, and the better for us, yes."
"Indeed," said the barmaid as she slid the coins into the pocket beside her breast.