Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jasfoup's "Happy New Year"

Evening Class



“Welcome to the creative fold, they said.”

Harold dropped his sports bag on the floor of the scullery and stomped through to the toilet.

“Didn’t it go well, love?” Ade put the kettle on. Everything was better for a cup of tea.

“Not really no,” said Harold through the toilet door. He paused to flush and wash his hands and opened the door still grasping the towel. “I wouldn’t have minded if they’d been honest in their lack of knowledge, but nobody even raised an eyebrow when I casually dropped the fact I was a black belt in Ikebana.”

Ada shook her head in sympathy. “They weren’t real martial artists, then?”

“No. They weren’t even impressed with my origami katana.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Patriot Names


“But why do we need a church?” Harold asked, standing in the nave of St Marple’s. “I mean, I appreciate the gesture that you arranged to have this transferred to my name but it makes a pitiful income compared to the cost of upkeep and taxes.

“It’s not actually a church, though,” said Jasfoup. “It’s never been consecrated. That means that you can have anyone in here with no risk of injury.”

“You mean demons,” said Harold.

“And vampires.” If a demon was ever likely to wink, Jasfoup was close to it. “And thanks to the market stalls, it’s already an official civic area. All you need is a non-denominational priest and you could marry anyone in a church.”

“I see.” Harold nodded and began to walk around the vast space. “And I could launch half a dozen missiles from the tower. Roll on, the apocalypse, because that’s as likely as me getting married.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Business Opportunity


Manfred (Manny) Humbolt was an Agent of Chaos. It said so in his calling card, along with the words ‘Reverend’ and ‘licensed registrar’ but there was little call for chaotic weddings in Laverstone (where most brides-to-be preferred the sedate predictability of Bride Boutique) so he worked at the Filbert Street Garage Tuesdays to Saturday Lunch. His boss, Winston Campbell, had started the business as a sole trader less than a year ago but thanks to the recession had already been forced to hire two more mechanics, Manny and Tom Blesset (who worked part time for Triple-S cabs).

It was with some surprise that Manny was called into the office on Thursday and he nodded a greeting to both his boss and a customer he remembered clearly as ‘souped-up van man’ before taking a seat on the vinyl padded tubular chair.


“Are you up for performing a wedding ceremony?” Winston asked.

“Sure.” Manny grinned at the customer. “I left my card in your crazy van, didn’t I? Are you sure you want a chaotic priest ?”

“I think you’d fit the bill to a T, old chap.” Van Man smiled and held out a hand. His palm felt too warm for a windy mid-November day but Manny just put it down to working in a cold repair shop. “You don’t mind working at night, I presume?”

“Sure, whatever you want,” said Manny. “You want it in a crypt as well?”

“Certainly not!” Harold Waterman winked. “We’ll save that for the honeymoon.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Manifested Crate


Harold stared at the crate, suspicion crowding his features but the crowbar in his hand itching to prise off the lid.

“What’s in it?” Jasfoup asked.
“It smells of
salt
and damp cinnamon.”


“The manifest says books and scrolls from Egypt and Mesopotamia,” said Harold. “Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like
you developed
an overnight stammer?”


“Oh that.” Jasfoup shrugged. “I was experimenting with haiga on my blog. It comes out better written down, apparently.”

“You have a blog? You didn’t tell me.”

“It’s a bit exclusive,” said Jasfoup. “I only let special people read it.”

“Am I not special?”

“Of course you are, Harold. Very special. Are you going to open this crate or not?”

Harold sighed and, stepping forward, levered the top off. The room was flooded with the mixed scents of cardamon, cinnamon and mildew. He pulled out a crumbling scroll. “It’s blank,” he said.

“Look in the bottom of the crate,” said Jasfoup.

“Perhaps
the words
have just fallen off.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Just Warming Up


Jasfoup queued at the tea van for ages* the morning after the raft race and came back with a tray of three teas (himself, Harold, Julie), a coffee (Felicia) and a hot water (Meinwen) only to be told that Harold didn’t want a tea, he’d asked for a chocolate milkshake.

“Why?” he said. “I’ve never even seen you drink a milkshake before, let alone forego a tea for one.”

Meinwen plucked a piece of thyme from the nearest garden and dropped it in her hot water. “That’s Tom’s snack van though,” she said. “I’ve seen how clean he keeps it. At least the milk shakes are bottled and sealed.”

Jasfoup looked back at the van and frowned. “Good point,” he said. “I’ll take these back.”

*Three, almost four minutes – mainly because the chap in front of me had upset the milk all over the counter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Tragic Death Of Santa Claus # 317.


Sergeant Brandsford knelt over the red-clad body and extracted the deceased’s driving license. “There’s something else.” he said. “A Father Christmas license. Number 317. He had a pitch outside the Amazon Nightclub on Friar Street.”

He stood up while Chambers, the coroner, examined him. “Any indication of cause of death?”

Chambers nodded. “A rade disease,” he said, “Fortunately not contagious. Had he been abroad at all?”

Brandsford flicked through the wallet. “There’re two expired tickets to Brazil,” he said.

Chambers nodded. “Just as I thought. He must have eaten the meat of the South American Rainforest Deer and had an allergic reaction, exacerbated by the warm winter clothing. I’ve only ever seen it happen at this time of year.”

“Why? What did he die of?”

“Jungle Balls.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Shopping


Ted Flynn loved opening the windows in December. One a day, the doctor said. You weren’t allowed to open more than one a day. Ted could live with that. Today was the 24th, though – the last window. He wasn’t allowed any after tonight, not until next year. The doctor had been talking about Advent calendars. Ted had been talking about houses.

This would be the best haul, mind. There would be dozens of presents under the tree tonight because the residents of this house didn’t seem to be short of a bob or two.

Fleetingly, he wondered why no-one had ever burgled Laverstone manor before.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Joy Ride


“But Officer…”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you were well over the speed limit for this flight path. I’m going to have to suspend your license.”

“But… doesn’t there have to be a court conviction for that to happen?”

“Not in this case, sir. It is quite clear that you’re over the limit for alcohol consumption, too.”

“It was only a glass of port… and every house for the last seven hundred miles… but I can hold my liquor.”

“Nevertheless… Blow into this, please?”

“What seems to be the trouble, officer?”

PC Gloop Brandsford winced at the sound of the newcomer’s voice. They’d warned him about this at Cadet College. What to do when your girlfriend’s father interferes.

“No trouble, Mr. Waterman. I was just about to arrest this gentleman for doing Mach 3 in a 20 MPH zone.”

“I see.” Harold waterman consulted with his business partner Mr. Jasfoup. “Well carry on then,” he said. “We’ll wait for the towing vehicle if you like.”

“Would you sir? That’s kind of you. I should watch out for the reindeer, though. Vicious beasts if you ask me.”

“Indeed.” Harold ran his fingers over the curve of the sleigh. “We’ll take good care it it.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yellow Snow


When Harold was a young boy, Ada let him play in the snow as long as he wrapped up warmly and remembered his mittens.* He often wondered where the coloured snow came from but having tasted it (strawberry, lime, orange and blackcurrant) stopped worrying.

“What was the yellow,” he asked, almost thirty years later.

“The yellow what?” said Jasfoup, flicking hazlenuts into the fire where they exploded with tiny pops.

“The yellow snow,” said Harold, “when I was a kid. It was you, wasn’t it, looking after me and making coloured slushies for me in the garden.”

“It was,” said Jasfoup. “Your mum asked me to watch over you, but I never left you any yellow snow. That was the dog from number 36.”





*He would deliberately forget them since all the other kids had gloves and a ten year old with mittens is asking for trouble.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Curry Sauce


Jasfoup turned off the news. “There’s unrest in Marjpur,” he said. “That can only mean one thing.

“What’s that?” said Harold, glancing up from his bowl of heat-and-eat some-kind-of-meat-in-curry-sauce-and-rice*

“Kali,” said Jasfoup. “I noticed her house was shut up for the winter. People can tell when she’s about, they get edgy, especially if she wants a good curry.”

“Ha!” Harold threw down hid microwaveable tray. “Anything would be better than that. Even a Vesta.”

“I send her a take-away from the Olden Laice,” said Jasfoup. “Devious can nip it over to India for her.”

“What good will that do?”

“She’s been in England for seven months,” said the demon. “She’ll be used to curries made with powder by now. A real curry just won’t taste right.”



* bought on an almost-out-of-date 40% off offer from the local convenience store**

**convenient for whom, Jasfoup always thought.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No to Age Banding on sweeties


“You shouldn’t have employed him,” said Jasfoup. “He’s a madman.”

“Laurence seemed all right to me,” said Harold. “Rather pleasant, in fact. He knew a lot about comics.”

“I like comics,” said Lucy. “Will he stock ‘Mandragora’ and ‘Phantasm’, do you think?”

“Aren’t you a bit young for those, darling? They’re adult rated and you’re only eight.”

“You said no to age banding,” said Lucy. “I’m expanding my vocabulary.”

“I’ll take your word for that.” Harold reached out and took one of her strawberry whips out of the bag. “This is… realistic…” he said. “They never made licorice whips in eight-plait when I was a child. What sweet shop did you buy it at?”

“Not a sweet shop, daddy. I got it at the Annie Winters store. I got jelly handcuffs, too but I gave them to Laurence downstairs.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. Bear’s Bath



Harold found his daughter huddled between the side of the bed and the wall, sobbing her heart out.* “Whatever’s the matter, darling?” he said, squatting down next to her and giving me a cuddle.

“I asked Mr. Bear if he wanted a bath,” she said, sniffing. “And he said no!”

“Did he really?” said Harold, glaring at the offending toy. “I shall have to have some stern words with Young Edward Bear.

“In my defence,” said Devious, peeling off the teddy bear suit, “she wanted to put me in the washing machine.”




*figuratively speaking. It would be too messy otherwise.


Stew the Bear courtesy of Cindy Hains

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bath Night


Harold regarded his four-year old with resignation. “I don’t remember there being a giant tadpole in the house,” he said, “so why is there a big frog?”

“Ribbit,” said the frog, and giggled.

Harold scratched his chin. “You can’t stay here, Mr. Frog,” he said. “Frogs are supposed to live in the garden pond. You’d better hop to it.”

Frog giggled again and made a half-hearted hop toward the stairs.

“Are you hungry?” Harold asked.

The frog nodded.

“Well then, perhaps I can make you a slug-and-woodlice risotto with a bluebottle garnish. Does that sound good?”

“Ewww.” The frog looked, if anything, greener.

“I hear there’s a giant frog upstairs,” came Jasfoup’s voice. “Send it to the kitchen. I’ve got some lemon dressing and there’ll be enough frogs-legs for us all on that.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Expanding Power


“I’m bigger than God,” said Harold from behind the computer screen. “I can kick his ass anytime I like.”

Jasfoup snorted. “Are you playing ‘Apocalypse’ again? I thought you’d got tires of that after your whole army of undead got trashed by Putti raiding party.”

“I did.” Harold tapped away at the keys for a moment. “I was so annoyed about that I uninstalled the game. Mind you, it left a ghost image on my hard drive.”

“It would,” said Jasfoup. “That’s the supernatural for you. So where are you bigger than God, then?”

Harold looked up and grinned. “Facebook.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gran's Visit


Lucy scowled as she dropped a box of old books and toys at the back door. “Why do I have to tidy my room because Gran is coming?” she said. “Gran loves me whether my room is tidy or not, doesn’t she?”

“Of course she does,” said Harold, “so if you don’t want to clean your room I quite understand. I’ll even try to hide all the wooden spoons from the kitchen.”

“That’s okay.” Lucy gave him her version of her mother’s lopsided smile. “I clean it.”

“Excellent.” Harold smiled at her, pleased at his mastery of pre-teen manipulation. He looked through the box. “Wait!” he said. “Are you really throwing out ‘A Treasury of Fairy Tales?”

“I’m a bit old for it, Dad. Who could ever believe in a Gingerbread house?”

Harold looked suddenly uncomfortable. “You’ve never been to your Great Aunt Lydia’s, have you?”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Crumbling Infrastructure


“It’s no good,” said Harold, throwing his pencil across the room, where it sank into the plaster to a depth of an inch. “I can’t get these books to balance.”

“Literally or economically?” said Jasfoup, looking up but keeping his finger on the page of Caroline Smailes’ “Black Boxes”. “Because if you mean financially, you need to take into account that Gordons went into receivership last week.”

“My supplier of contemporary fiction?” said Harold. “Let me feed that into my calculations.” He went quiet for a minute or two before sitting back with a scowl. “I’ll never get the accounts sorted now,” he said. “They owed me three thousand pounds.”

“Do you hear that crinkling sound?” said Jasfoup.

“No. What is it?”

“That’s the sound of the publishing industry collapsing.”

“That’s not funny at all, old friend.”

“Indeed it isn’t.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Technical Failure


Lucy stepped backward and swung the shotgun in an arc, reloading and cocking the trigger at the same time. Bringing it back into her hand, she fired both barrels at the approaching horror, smiling as its knee exploded with the first shot, followed by its head with the second. She swung it again and almost broke her wrist as it jammed.

The second horror snickered. “Ten out of ten for style,” it said, drool puddling the floor, “but minus eleven for technical expertise.”

Lucy sighed. “You’re probably right,” she said, reversing the weapon and smashing the creature’s skull apart with the butt, “although it’s a dual-use firearm.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

Psychic


She faces many futures, textured like an old cottage path littered with the poodle-droppings of pitfalls and death. She navigates carefully, taking minutes to choose this thread or that, seeing in one path her daughter becoming a parent and the other where she remains an old maid, traveling around the world on a millionaire’s yacht. The man behind her coughs and tries to steal her purse from the top of her tote bag but she shifts to the left where the policeman ahead of her sees the action in the mirror above the till.

She saw that future last week.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dear Jane...

Laverstone Manor
Wood Road,
Laverstone.

Jane Hillock
32, Latimer Road,
Laverstone.

Dear Jane.

It has come to my attention that you’re dating James Elverton. Please don’t. He is a notorious womaniser and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to find that he’s not even human, not fully, anyway. Call me mad if you must but I feel obligated to inform you of his goblin heritage. Have you met his mother? Goblin, I tell you. I can smell them a mile off. That’s why I stopped going out with him. It was either that or send his parents back to Hell, which puts a terrible strain on a relationship. You know how it is.

See you at Hockey practice.

Lucy

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Anonymous Source


“Take it from me,” said Harold through the two inch gap of his shop door. “Business might be slow, but the book trade will bloom soon enough. You can’t do without books. Try reading a pdf file in a nuclear winter. You’ll see.”

He was disturbed by the report in that evening’s Laverstone Times. Not only had they not printed his picture, they had not given the name of his shop and put him down as ‘an anonymous source.’ Mrs. Edith Clarke, 67, of Lower Park Way, was quoted in her response. “That bloke is an idiot,” she said. “Hasn’t he heard of batteries?”

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Travelling Demonbillies

Jasfoup stared at the distant wooded hills of North Carolina and the railway tracks leading there. Should he venture that way or stay here in Hicksville, Virgina? He pulled some pennies out of his trouser pocket and set them out on the rails while he debated. North or south?


He stood back as a train approached, heading for Colombia, South Carolina. That settled it. He had a score or two to settle down there, plus one festering soul. He jumped onto a freight wagon.


It was almost a pity he didn’t play the banjo.


Almost.


He just wished no-one did.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Time Out


Lucy watched the other girls going through the gates, laughing and sharing cigarettes on the way to the shop for chips and chocolate. Her time out had been suspended for going out of bounds during a hockey game and then lying about it afterwards.

Her stubborn refusal to change her story was the root of her punishment. Lucy turned to throw a pencil at the chalk board, where it sank in to a third of its length. She hadn’t lied at all. Not one word. There really had been a goblin in the woods.

It had been leering at her.



Image: ©Maryanne 'Mab' English-Betie

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cold Night


Harold shivered and pulled the duvet up further. He was certain he’d caught a chill rounding up those damned horses in the early hours of last night - and without so much as a thank you from the stables they’d escaped from. Then there was Jasfoup’s barbeque in the cold near-dark, although he’d lit a bonfire to keep everyone warm. Harold had no idea where Jasfoup got all those old fence posts from but they gave off a good heat despite smelling of manure.

He was still cold and risked getting up to put another blanket on the bed, a heavy one made by his Aunt Lydia, though he hadn’t seen her since he was a child. The colours were faded but he could still make out part of his old ‘Bleep and Booster’ curtains she’d cut up for patchwork.

He snuggled down again, glad for the extra layer but woke up soon after shivering once more. He rolled over, wrapping himself up like a caterpillar.

“Oy,” said a voice. “You’ve nicked all the blankets, you swine.”

Harold sat up, switching on the bedside light. “Uncle Frederick?” he said. “What are you doing in my bed?”

“I was cold, Harold. Didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Uncle, you’re not supposed to feel the cold. You’re a ghost.”

“Aren’t I allowed to have feelings, then, because right now I’m feeling hurt and resentful. This was my bedroom before you inherited the house, you know.”

“I know.” Harold sighed. “But your feet are like ice.”


Photo by Chris Zimmer

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Under-Age


Lucy span her polo mallet in a perfect 360 degree circle. “Super,” she said. “I’ll be at the White Art at seven-fifteen after piano practice. You can pick me up from there.”

Gatcome ‘Gloop’ Brandsford looked up, startled. He’d been staring at her wrist, wondering what it would be like to-- “Seven-fifteen?” he said. “My dad doesn’t get home till seven-thirty. Can we make it eight instead?”

“I suppose.” Lucy let the mallet slide through her fingers and back. “But I have to be back by nine. That’s when the dorms are locked for the night.” She turned to go. “You’re sure you can drive,” she said.

“Oh yes.” Gloop thought of his father’s panda car. “Anywhere you like.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yellow Jack


Harold answered the phone and listened to the jabbering for several minutes, “I know you can see it from the town,” he said. “That’s rather the point, isn’t it? There’s nu use declaring a quarantine if no-one knows you’re in quarantine.”

He listened again and frowned. “I didn’t know it was an offence, actually. It was in my book of maritime lore.”

He nodded. “No, Sergeant Peters, I don’t wish to incur a fine of not less than seven shillings or fourteen lashes. I’ll remove the Yellow Jack from the flagpole.”

He was about to put the phone down when the sergeant asked him something else. he put it back to his ear and summoned his iciest tone. “Lucy might only have a cold now,” he said, “but it other people give her germs it will surely get worse, and that goes for your lad Goob as well.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bazaar


Lucy wandered through the bazaar, her hands trailing over knitted jumpers and scarves, hand made Christmas cards and rows of stones with painted faces. For a few scant seconds as she passed, Julie spotted the goods from the other side of the divide, the White Market. Rows of skulls, bottles of potions, pouches and vials containing cold hearts and pixie tears flickered into view and faded moments later.

The effect was strong enough to raise eyebrows among the mortal shoppers and Julie hurried to catch up with her charge. “Lucy,” she said. “Put you gloves on, dear, or you’ll catch your death.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bright Spark


Lunch time was the one bright spot in Amy White’s day. The Hour from 12:15 to 1:25* was when she would get to see her friend Lucy, and best of all, Lucy would see her. None of the other kids saw Amy, not since the fire in 1989 had burned the west wing of the school to a cinder.

Lucy talked to her, though, and promised to do so forever. Amy knew not to trust her and she was right, for when Lucy was eleven, she stopped coming to school at all.

Lucy was a Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

Just like Lillian Pritchard in 1989 had been.


*This was a primary school.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Head Count


Lucy examined the mysterious package. It was a foot across in all directions (Daddy had explained the difference between a Daddy foot and a Lucy Foot in terms of measurement, much to her Auntie Julie’s amusement*) and wrapped in brown paper and tied with string and sealing wax.

Brown paper was almost like birthday paper, wasn’t it? And it had arrived on her birthday, which meant it was probably for her, even though it said Daddy’s name in the address box. There was probably a gaily wrapped present inside.

Or a skull.

“Cool,” said Lucy.





*“Is that why call your lollipop ‘ten inches’?” she said.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Late Snack


Tim was crouched in the bushes and Felicia paused to study him. He was watching a family of badgers, the cubs almost as big as the adults as they increased their body fat to survive the winter. The creatures had pulled over one of the wire basket bins and were rooting through the contents, wolfing down the discarded remains of a chicken take-away. Tim was busy photographing them with a night vision lens and making notes in a field journal.

Felicia had little interest in what this man’s life had been or what had driven him to contemplate suicide. Such matters she left to others. If she was interested she would read the obituaries for the next week or two, though she was never crass enough to ring them in red ink and say ‘I ate him.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jolly Hockey Sticks


The knock on the door was brash and confidant. Mrs. brown opened it to find the sort of girl who would be the captain of a hockey team – full of gung-ho, as they used to say when she was a child – looking away from her down the street, The sound of sirens echoed faintly.

“Can I help you?”

The girl turned, displaying a black eye and a swollen lip. “Mrs. Brown?”

“Yes… What’s this about?”

“I’m Lucy Waterman, Mrs. Brown” The girl held out a hand and Mrs. Brown shook it. She couldn’t help but notice the broken nails and scabs across the knuckles.

“What can I do for you, Miss Waterman?”

“You’ve got a lovely daughter, Annabel, haven’t you?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Brown frowned. “She’s all right, isn’t she?”

“She will be. I called the ambulance for her. She had a bit of a run-in with a goblin but I sorted it out.” Lucy smiled. “Would you tell Annabel she owes me a new polo mallet? I’d be ever so.”

“Erm… of course.”

“Ta muchly.”

Mrs. Brown watched her saunter away and closed the door. “Goblin?” she repeated. Was that the street name for a drug dealer or something?

Monday, November 17, 2008

M’Lady Waddington


“Is it Pall Mall as in HAL or Pall Mall as in Ball?” said Lucy, reading the card.

“The former.” Harold looked up from counting his money.

“Then why has it two ‘l’s instead of just the one?”

“That’s and interesting question,” said Harold, always keen to show off his knowledge. “The name is derived from a seventeenth century game where a wooden ball is driven through a suspended iron hoop. Pall Mall, from the Latin pallamaglio - palla meaning ball and maglio meaning mallet.” Harold coughed. “The London street was formerly a pall-mall alley and thus became shortened to Pall Mall, as in HAL.”

“That’s fascinating, dad,” said Lucy, “especially since you’ve landed on my hotel there. That’ll be seven hundred and fifty pounds, please.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Excerpt from Halcyon Days, chapter 43


The katana spun on its tsuba, flashing as the light travelled the length of polished steel blade and back again. The brass kashira described a circle, indicating the sword was marginally tsuka-heavy.

“Which is the more pressing need?” asked Azazel form his seat at the edge of the dojo. “The desire for vengeance or the desire for justice?”

Lucy frowned.

Her sister just smiled, the sword peripheral to her desire to take Lucy’s place, to feel the heat of the sun and watch the charred black skin peel away to pink.

The katana slowed, the blade facing Lucy. Her sister reached for it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dancing Shoes


Gillian pressed her fingers together, waiting for her daughter’s reaction. While Lucy had worn high heels before, she had never worn specially made, one-of-a-kind calf high black leather 3” stiletto boots before.

“How do they feel?” she asked as the fifteen year old teetered to the end of the room and back.

“Great.” Lucy grinned. “Really comfortable. It’ll be magic once I’m used to the heels.”

“They’re specially reinforced like mine,” said Gillian. She demonstrated by doing a pirouette on one heel. “Once you’re used to them you can puncture a mans head with a high kick.”

“Cool,” said Lucy, “but I was thinking more along the lines of dancing.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One for the Accident Book


Prime Corporal Gefardl wasn’t feeling well when he landed his spaceship on the sheep pasture of Farmer Edwin Height. On most of the sheep, come to that. Although it was broad daylight his ship had an invisibility cloak, so all the farmer saw as he looked across the summer grassland was a flock of very flat, very dead sheep. He called the police.

PC Albert Henshaw, in the passenger seat of Foxtrot 3, one of Laverstone’s two squad cars (Foxtrot 2 was currently in the garage, having the suspension realigned after PC Henshaw had demonstrated his off-road driving skills to off-duty WPC Wendy Owens), described the scene as ‘A giant fly, vomiting over the corpse of Edwin Height and then sucking the resultant goo up its proboscis.’ When Sergeant Sam Pierce, driver of the car, got out to investigate more closely, the giant fly did the same to him. PC Henshaw added the detail that the sergeant screamed for several minutes before his face finally dissolved and the monster drank everything but his buttons.

The fly then burped, vomited experimentally over Foxtrot 3 (PC Henshaw would be eternally grateful for the metal’s imperviousness to the stomach acid), turned and vanished into thin air. He then described a roar which Henshaw likened to the noise of a speedway race which gradually doppler-shifted into silence, leaving two semi-decomposed bodies and thirty sheep, each four feet in diameter and one inch thick.

He marked Sergeant Pierce down in the accident book as a drunk driver.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Harnessed Fury


The harness was a recent addition to Felicia’s ensemble. Specially designed for her needs, the nylon webbing stretched and shrank to accommodate both her human form (where it could be utilized as discrete underwear) and her wolf one. A pouch in the from contained a useful (if inelegant) one-piece coverall, a mobile phone, enough money for a cab across London, a small set of lockpicks and, for the elegant semi-naked woman about town, a lipstick. It also came with a pocket and ear-beads for an i-pod (not supplied.)

Felicia ordered six: three black, two white and one in shocking pink.

The Lady of Flowers




Emily Carter always thought herself alone in her weirdness. She loved her daughter, but Jenny had died when she was only seven years old, the victim of a virus that would have left her unwell but for the complication of MRSI from having her tonsils out.

After the burial (simple with only three mourners if you discounted the hospital staff) she put fresh flowers on the grave every day no matter the weather. As autumn approached she began planting spring bulbs in the dirt and added another every day. When Jenny’s grave was perfect she began to look after the graves next to her daughter’s as well, until the whole children’s area of the cemetery was kept spotless and full of flowers.

She resented other visitor’s to the cemetery, especially if parents of ‘her charges’ interfered with her displays. If little Tommy’s mother visited with tulips and Emily had planted daffodils she would dispose of the mother’s offering. People complained but after the first few incidents the Police declined to be involved in disputes involving her

The verger grew so used to seeing Emily with her little spade and trowel and basket of greenery that he never noticed when she removed more than she put in. Once Jenny’s bones were lovingly polished and assembled Emily began to bring some of the other residents home. No-one realised that under the expanse of bulbs and flowers were fourteen empty graves.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Warmth of a Wolf

“Harold!”

Felicia stepped across the lawn, her tread so light it hardly impacted the sharp spikes of frosted grass. Harold’s, by contrast, looked like the blundering footfalls of an ogre. He looked up, mild surprise showing at the sheen of fur across her features.

“What are you doing out here? She’ll catch her death of cold.”

Harold looked down at the baby nestled against his jumper. “I was showing her the frost on the hawthorn hedge,” he said. He lifted his daughter to see. “Aren’t they pretty? The way the frost outlines every red berry? Like drops of blood preserved in ice.”

“Harold, she’s freezing.” Felicia had hold of one of Lucy’s tiny hands. “Give her to me.”

She nestled the child against her chest where wolf fur trapped layers of warm air. Lucy’s face returned from white cold to a healthy pink in moments. “There,” said Felicia. “She’s so beautiful I could just eat her up.”

Harold coughed. “Which I always thought a quaint phrase but it's a bit worrying when a werewolf says it,” he said. “Shall we go back inside? My slippers are soaking wet.”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mail room


Lucy boxed up the seventeen shells she’d found on the beach and wrapped the whole package in brown paper and string and sealing wax, just like the boxes in the attic of Laverstone Manor. She inscribed Ada’s address (22, The Terrace, Laverstone, Hertfordshire) with a black biro (her tongue only slightly protruding from the corner of her mouth) and took it to the post office.

“First class, please,” she said, standing on tiptoes to reach the counter. “It’s for my Grandmother.”

“She’s a lucky woman,” said Mrs. Moffatt, leaning over the counter, “to have such a thoughtful little girl.”

“I’m not little,” said Lucy. “I’m 1.24 meters.”

“Fancy that!” Mrs. Moffatt held no truck with new-fangled measurements. She looked around the shop. “Is there anyone looking after you?”

“No.” Lucy smiled as she put two pound coins on the counter. “Daddy says I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after myself.”

“And how old are you?”

“Four.”

“I see.” Mrs Moffatt picked up the telephone. “Would you like an ice cream? I’ve got to ask a policeman to come and have a chat.”

Lucy’s face fell. “Didn’t I have enough money?”



From his vantage point on the ceiling, an invisible Devious frowned. In his experience, no good ever came of calling a policeman.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Footloose



Harold couldn’t understand the theft. Who would steal such rubbish from his tool shed? A tube of two part epoxy resin, a bag of plaster and a decorator’s sheet. Not exactly the crown jewels and Jasfoup managed to convince him that he’d probably left them somewhere himself. Had he checked the cellar?

Meanwhile Lucy climbed the sixty-three stairs to the bell tower at St. Marples’. Being footloose was not in the slightest bit fancy-free, not if you were a gargoyle. Tim was grateful for the glue, and the makeshift plaster bandages worked a treat.

She’d even worn her nurse’s outfit.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Follies of Youth


Harold stepped over the prone form of his daughter, stopping for a moment to check she still had a pulse. She might be sixteen years old and looked (and acted) twenty, but Lucy had not yet developed the taste for alcohol that she purported to. He glanced at the object her sleeping form was curled around: she would be having porcelain dreams tonight.

He fetched a blanket from her bed and tucked it around her. She would swear to him in the morning that she’d never touch alcohol again and mean it too. Harold would nod and smile remembering youth.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Bargain Made

Lucy’s flesh tingled where it met the edge of the circle, the hairs on her arm rising as the skin puckered. The air seemed warmer inside, warmed by the sun rather than seared by frosty twilight. She gathered her resolve and sat up. “Who’s there?” she said, her voice hubristic with authority – this was her father’s land, after all.

“‘Who’s there?’ she asks,” echoed a throaty voice, filled with the phlegm and bile of a bitter old man. “She lies in the circle ripe for the taking and asks: ‘who’s there?’”

Lucy felt calloused fingers running from wrist to shoulder, then over her breast to the hollow of her throat. Her nipples hardened.

“A bargain first,” she said, feeling the heat of desire in her voice. “Return my sister and you can take my virtue.” She gasped as an unseen hand pressed down on her groin.

“No need for bargains,” said the voice. “You’ve stepped willingly into our domain. Your virtue, what little you have left, is forfeit.”

Lucy reached across, trailing her fingers across an invisible arm, leg… She grabbed and was awarded with a shriek. “Or,” she said, “we could bargain with yours.”

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Coarse Courses


“Tempting and Damning 101. Again?” Jasfoup scowled at the letter, then screwed it up into a ball, pitching it expertly across the room into the waste bin. “I’m five hundred years old. What could a refresher course possibly teach me? I’m the one in the field, doing all the work. They’re stuck in a cozy little office in Dis devising all these rubbish courses. Why? I ask you.”

Harold retrieved the ball of paper and flattened it out. “Rubbish courses with rubbish teachers who don’t know diddly?” he said.

“That’s right,” Jasfoup nodded.

“That’ll be why they want you to teach it then,” said Harold, handing the letter back for the demon to re-read. “They couldn’t find anyone better.”

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hallow's Gallows


The last hanging in Laverstone was on November 1st 1849, at the top of what is now Gallowgate but used to be several hundred yards outside of town. The recipient of the death penalty was a man by the name of Frank Betton who, having robbed the graves of seven of the town’s recent dead, deserved the penalty.

The blacksmith, Mr. Jasfoup, was on hand to help out and although he was not the executioner he gave Frank the benefit of his experience, a long drop and a quick death.

The seven missing bodies were never found, though the blacksmith disposed of Frank’s body at his own expense.

He made a profit.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Like a Vulture, waiting...


Mrs. Williams coughed into her handkerchief. The little girl was still there on the next bench over, watching her every move. She shifted uneasily until she faced her, shading her eyes against the weak autumn sun. “What is it, child?” she said. “Why do you stare so?” She squinted. “Lucy Waterman, isn’t it? From the bookshop?”

Yes,” said Lucy. “How do you do?”

“I’m a bit poorly, love,” said Mrs. Williams. “A touch of bronchitis, according to the doctor.”

“Father says you have a chronic cough,” said Lucy.

“That’s right.”

“And Mr. Jasfoup said that when someone dies an angel and a demon fight over their soul.” Lucy settled in, resting her arms on the polished wood and her chin on her arms. “I’ve never seen an angel.”


Illustration: Winter Waits by Lynn Plourde with illustrations by Greg Couch

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bad Daddy. No Biscuit.

Gillian lingered on the kiss, Harold’s warm mouth awakening the twin desires for blood and sex. Both could wait, however, for she hadn’t seen her daughter since the previous evening. “Where’s Lucy?”

Harold’s face drained of colour until it was as pale as his wife’s. “I took her to the shop with me,” he said. “I forgot all about her.”

“It’s six o’clock at night, Harold,” Gillian snapped. “That’s beyond forgetfulness.” She all but flew out of the door, her running speed easily outpacing Harold’s driving as she raced across the lawns and over the wall into town.

He caught up with her at the shop, breaking several laws to do it, and opened up. They needn’t have worried. Lucy was fast asleep in a corner of the office, surrounded by sweet wrappers, two imps in sugar-induced comas and one slumped over a tome of Dark Fairy Tales..



Image: "Sleeping Child" Francis Luis Mora (1874 - 1940)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Woodland Burial


After the rain had drizzled away to nothing more than a fine mist, Harold let Lucy go out, relieved that the bored child would no longer be under his feet. “Put on your coat and wellies,” he said as she scampered off.

“Smelly wellies,” she said. “Smelly wellies and goaty coat.” She was at that age of linguistic exploration, though her rhyming rarely made sense.

“Be back by lunchtime,” Harold called, pointing at her with the wooden spoon he’d been using to stir the ca
sserole. The door slammed on his words.

Lucy meandered across the eastern lawns toward the woods, dragging her plastic spade with her. One of her mother’s cats left the hallowed ground of the mausoleum to accompany her. Trotting alongside the child with its tail high and the tip bent. As the path climbed it darted ahead, waiting for her to catch up at each twist of the path.

At the top, just before the beech trees occluded the sky, Lucy dug a hole. It took her most of the morning but the ground was damp and easily worked. “Skitty kitty,” she said, puffing with exertion and, pulling off her woollen mittens to dig into her pocket, offered it a Smartie.

It sniffed the sweet and declined, rubbing its head against her hand. She picked it up in both arms, its hindquarters dragging on the floor and dropped it in the hole, using her feet to shovel the earth back in.

“Smelly wellies, skitty kitty, flat cat.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Criminal Acts



Harold jumped as a hand wove around his throat. He could feel the prick of a blade taut against the skin of his neck. Every nuance of the forest became pin-sharp in his senses: the smell of the fungi at his feet, the warm breath of the brigand behind him, the sound of a leaf falling from a high branch on the oak above.

He forced his breathing to slow. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Your money,” cane the low his, punctuated by the acrid stink of an abscessed tooth, “or your life. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go?”

“Is it?” Harold gulped. He could feel his thyroid cartilage scrape against the man’s arm. “I though that archaic, myself. I think ‘Give us your dosh’ is the modern equivalent.”

“Give us your dosh then.”

“I could if you’d let go. My coin purse is in my top pocket and I can’t reach it with your arm there.” Harold felt the grip relax and he scraped his heel down the attacker’s skin. That gave him the leverage to take a half-step forward, twist a quarter-turn to the left and duck his head out of the man’s grip, holding the knife-wielding wrist and twisting it under and up behind his attacker’s back.

He kicked the would-be thief’s legs out and toppled him to the damp forest floor. “I should be more careful about who you attach in future,” he said. “I could have done you a mischief.”

He twisted the blade out of the man’s grip. “That’s a six inch blade,” he said. “Night black polymer handle, integral torch. £5.99 on e-bay.” He paused. “You know that’s illegal, don’t you? I could report you for having that.”

“Please don’t,” said the man, his voice muffled by fallen leaves. “I’m still on probation.”

Harold dug a plastic poop-bag out of his pocket and wrapped up the blade. “What did you want the money for?”

“My dentist,” said the man. “He’s putting the squeeze on me.”

Harold let go of the man’s arm and helped him up. “I’ll lend you the money,” he said, walking back toward the house. “At a decent rate of interest, naturally….”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Loss Leader


Jasfoup tapped his glass thoughtfully. “When you say ‘free of charge,’ he said, what exactly do you mean?

“Exactly that,” said Harold, pulling the bottle of Beaujolais from the ice bucket* to refill the glasses. “You offer people a satiated desire without any expectation of a signed contract in return.”

“Explain the point again,” said the demon. “It sounds to me like I’m satisfying desires for nothing. That seems like a lot of work for no gain.”

“Quite the opposite.” Harold sat back with a self-satisfied air and popped a piece of bourbon biscuit in his mouth. He chewed slowly and swallowed before elucidating. “How many people taking up the offer are going to be content with just the one experience? How many of them are going to come knocking on your summoning portal wanting a second bite of the cherry?”

“You have a point,” said Jasfoup. “This is like when we were in Asda and that lady gave you a free piece of cheese. You ended up buying a whole wheel.”

“Exactly,” said Harold. “But the best part is the one who don’t come back for more.”

“Why?”

“They’ve trafficked with demons anyway.”

Jasfoup whistled. “Sweeeeeeet,” he said. “You’re not a pretty face at all.”




Illustration from Magic the Gathering card game

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In the Dog House


When Lucy was four she went missing. Most parents would have their hearts in their mouths if their child went missing, but Harold was beside himself. Beside the usual parental fears of traffic accidents and kidnapping, he had visions of her being taken by the goblins, eaten by wolves – though Felicia was almost as frantic as he – or lost through a portal to unknown dimensions.

When she’d been missing for two hours he reluctantly called the police. Sergeant Mike Brandsford made reassuring noises and poked about in the outhouses with a torch. He returned to the kitchen a few minutes later with a broad smile on his face. “Is that your Doberman?” he asked.

Harold grimaced, wanting to say ‘No, it’s a Lucifer Hound actually,’ but instead he nodded politely. “That’s right,” he said. “We have a permit…”

“It’s not that, sir, it’s that the dog won’t let me past. I think you’ll find your little lass curled up at the back of his kennel, fast asleep.”


Based on a real life experience of Shullie, who did the same as Lucy

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Breakfast at the Manor


Laverstone, 1922

Sophia frowned at her reflection which, contrary to expectation, continued to apply face powder, squinting to achieve the appearance of dotty old aunt crossed with just a tinge of faded desirability. She tapped on the glass and her reflection started, smiled sheepishly and caught up with the original. “That’s better.”

She flicked through the three envelopes on the hall table, leaving the two bills – from the butcher and the florist – and taking the third, along with the newspaper, into the Green room where breakfast had been laid out. She rang the table bell and slit open the envelope with her thumb.

“Lag time is slipping again,” she said when Jasfoup arrived bearing a silver tray where a teapot and toast rack nestled like shining doves. “We aren’t anywhere near a breach, are we?”

“Blue moon in three days,” said Jasfoup. “There’s always a little leakage until the two planes align.”

“Tsk. It’s so tiresome. Typical of Lydia, too.”

“Ma’am?” Jasfoup hesitated, the sugar tongs poised over Lady Sophia’s china cup.

“My sister.” Sophia waved lavender-scented writing paper at him. “She’s coming for a fortnight, arriving on the 12:10 from Euston tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that good news, Ma’am? She can assist you when the portals align, surely?”

“Normally, yes.” Sophia began to butter her toast. “But she’s bringing some chap with her. Herbert Glossop.”

“I’m sure he will be delightful company, Ma’am.”

“He sounds ghastly.” Sophia reached for the marmalade. “If he gives us any trouble, feed the blighter to the pigs.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

South of the River


Lucy knew she shouldn’t go south of the river. Harold had expressly forbidden it on numerous occasions but when you could see the glint of a lost treasure and the river ran as slow and lazy and a laden bumble bee, what harm was there?

She carried her trowel ahead of her like a dagger, in case she met any pirates, making her way down the mossy bank to the yellow glint she’d spotted from the north bank. Brambles snatched at her dress and alder seed snagged her hair as she scrambled to the water’s edge and found… an old wrapper from a chocolate bar, and not even one she liked.

When the claws grasped her legs she cried out in fear, a moment before a scaled hand clamped over her face. She jabbed at it with her trowel and it let go with a shriek. Lucy flailed about with the trowel. “Cold iron,” she said, her eyes lit with fear and anger. “It burns like fire, doesn’t it?”

Only when she was safely back across the bridge did she collapse into a puddle of tears. She cried herself out. Better that than let her father know where she’d been.


Image by Jen Emery

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Legacy


Harold picked up the telephone. “You’ll have to take this one,” said Julie’s voice from the reception desk, “It’s School Services, about Lucy.”

Harold waited for her to connect the call. “Hello?” he said. “What’s happened? Is Lucy all right?”

“Mr. Waterman?” The woman’s voice was tinny. “It’s Mrs. Peterson here, from Laverstone First Starts. Lucy is fine, but we do have a problem with her.”

“Oh?” Harold’s relief regarding her well-being was transmuted into trepidation. “What has she done?” he asked. “She hasn’t disproved the existence of God again?”

“Nothing like that, no.” Mrs. Peterson’s voice was icy. “It’s the cats.”

“Cats?” Harold frowned.

“Yes. One followed her to school this morning and it was joined by several more. It’s almost lunchtime now and I can’t send the children out to play because the playground contains every cat and kitten for miles around.”

“Oh,” said Harold, suddenly deflated. “Her mother liked cats.”