The brothers Olsen appeared at the end of the street shortly before midnight. Gaslight buttered the cobbles and narrow garrets peaked into the sky. The crunch of rat under wooden wheel softened the silence as the Olsen boys trudged into town, towing their ark of a cart behind them.
Depending on the moon and the tides of their blood, the brothers stood at six-six to six-nine. Their hair was hewn into blonde shocks and their eyes were as blue as sky over a wheat field before the storm.
The boys’ father, Olsen the Younger – or Old Nik, as his hearties knew him – was said to have gone mad as a youth at the murder of his father by a mad uncle. The uncle then married Olsen the Younger’s mother. Informed of the fratricide in a dream, Nik went berserk and avenged Olsen the Elder by killing the newlyweds. He took to the woods and mountains, slaughtering roaming bears, wolves and gypsies, and wore their freshly skinned hides, redside out, for warmth.
When he returned to his hometown of Werst in the plague-years, Old Nik staggered about the streets with a sack over his shoulder like any one of the madmen there. But by night he stuffed coals into the mouths of the the shit-eaters and necrophiliacs; the schoolmen and the mother fuckers.
He became, in a sense, holy.
In order to sanctify him it was necessary to erase the past. His wife and sons were banished from the village. The Olsen crone was destined to bring the plague, which would not kill her or her sons, to the neighbouring hamlet of Kerst. There pestilence came in the shape of a rat which ate off the bitch’s blackened toes. The plague that followed wasted the bloated rich, the goatish poor; the melancholic and the mad alike.
At nightfall the deceased were dragged or carried from their homes (a chalked cross marked these doors) and left in the street for removal by the brothers. Suicides among the cadavers (and many preferred to commit that unnatural act rather than be taken by the rat-demon) were recognised by poppies of blood where loved ones, with stake and stone, had released the souls of the departed.
The bells of the old kirk tolled twelve and the good citizens of Kerst huddled under their humps of bedclothes where they could not hear the cart men toiling below. The brothers worked to a kind of rhythm, barely touching the misshapen bodies as they flung them into the cart. The cart rumbled over the cobbles and the unfussy erections of the hanged found their way into one orifice or another. The slap and smack of bouncing bodies was broken by sniggers of escaping flatum. The Olsen boys were long used to the noise. They knew it would die down once they’d passed the big church.
The kirk roof was pitched to prevent Lucifer’s legionnaires from crawling down the chimney. Finding no traction on the mossy slate, the Devil’s wretches would slip and get impaled on iron railings below. While the absence of spiked demons in the morning attested to the efficacy of the design as deterrent, the brothers Olsen could have told the good citizens of Kerst that the railings were in fact often skewered with leathery and chitinous forms by dawn – not unlike the Turk’s bat qu’babs by night. It was just that the first chill rays of each new day turned the demons to dust – which accounted for grit in the wind that folk complained about.
A scythe moon hung over the hackled ridge as the brothers passed the ruins of the poor quarter. The cart was full to the brim and they were nearly done for the night when two figures, a man and a woman, stepped from a shop doorway.
Well-dressed for these parts, the man wore a black coat and stovepipe hat. A long red dress hung from the woman’s shoulders. Big powdered hair sat astride her head and her face was riddled with the pox.
“And what have we here, brothers?” inquired the man. Gold glinted in his teeth.
Brother Olsen cleared his throat having not spoken for the last forty-eight
“People,” he coughed.
“Dead people,” corrected his brother.
The top-hatted gentleman lifted his scarf to his mouth.
The brothers glanced at one another without moving their eyes.
“Gold,” confessed brother Olsen to his urine-stained boots.
“Give it us! Give it us!” hissed the mystery.
The man restrained her with an outstretched arm. His mouth glittered. “And where exactly,” he inquired, “is this…‘gold’?”
“In the cart,” said Brother Olsen.
“Stand aside!” ordered the gent.
Toeing the boards for a footing, the couple scrabbled up the hull. The moment they reached the rail the brothers pulled hard on their ropes and the robbers fell into the cart.
“Where’s the gold, where’s the gold?” shrieked the man.
“Down below!” cried the brothers.
The cart’s wooden wheels rumbled on the cobbles as the nob and his jade wrestled with squeaking bodies and tried to swim to the treasure. The thieves yelled at the brothers to slow down – but the more they shouted the more tongues slapped their faces; the more they fought for air the more swollen protuberances wormed at their mouths.
“Jump!” screamed the man humping the stake hole of a ballooning magistrate.
“But the gold!” wailed the woman.
“Shit!” cried the man. “ShitShitShitShit!”
He dove back in.
The wheels cracked and groaned until the cart became weightless. Stars streaked through the sky as the Olsen boys took the earth in giant glides. Wind thumped in their ears and they ran just for the joy of it. Behind them the robbers were gibbered at, fingered and dragged back down. By the time the brothers reached the humpbacked stone bridge on the outskirts of Kerst the howls were long faded. The wind dropped to a sigh and stars grew faint.
The brothers were as tired as dogs. Their jaws ached and grit ground between their teeth. What happened to the robbers they neither knew nor cared. They stopped at the bottomless pit to dump their load then headed home.
As they dragged their cart over the rise the lads hung their heads in the manner expected of their kind. They walked unseen beside the highway as traffic – some still with headlights on – shushed by. Above the mountains the first rays of the rising sun bled across the sky as the brothers trudged home for porridge, trundling their cart behind them.