Friday, February 29, 2008

Ransom!


Harold put down the phone, his face ashen. “That was Sam, over at Twilight,” he said. “They’ve got John.”

“John?” Jasfoup frowned. “John who? It’s a common enough name.”

“John the imp,” said Harold. “He said that if we want him back we need to leave a pint each of demon, were and vampire blood for their research, otherwise they’ll drain him and examine his brain from the inside.”

Jasfoup nodded and poured himself another cup of tea. It was a drink designed to relax with and it helped him think. “This is what we’ll do,” he said eventually. “We’ll go down to the third circle and get another imp. It should take long to train it up.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Pause in Hostilities




Michael was patient while he waited for the scheduled time of his appointment and busied himself looking at all the ‘Lost’ notices posted outside the heavy, rusted gates. It was some sort of joke, he assumed, to have notices for lost souls outside the gates of Hell. After an hour a minor devil – how much more insulting could his brother be? – showed him into Lucifer’s suite. He knelt before the coven hooves, as was customary before looking up into those familiar liquid eyes that he once drowned in. “Brother,” he said, standing to kiss Lucifer’s cheek, “We have an enemy in common. This Darwin chap and his Evolution theory will ruin us all if it takes hold.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Subtlety was never her Strong Suit



Ada’s house guest was as welcome as lice on a baby. It was the body odour that did it, the over-sweet, cloying scent like sugar burning on a hot stove or the putrescent leftovers from a cat’s self-prepared night-time snack. She tried giving him subtle hints like clean towels in his room and the dozens of incense sticks she burned at her altar to Kali every day but he resolutely failed to get the message. She had to resort to bluntness and hope that the archangel wasn’t offended. “For fuck’s sake, Gabriel,” she said. “Get a bleedin’ shower, will ya? You stink to High Heaven.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Two Lives of Harold Waterman


After a near-fatal brush with, if not death then his faithful companion pestilence, Harold Waterman elected to live life to the full. A complete change of appearance from the shabby chic of his youth to the sophisticated elegance of the Milan designers brought him not only peer appreciation but a rather attractive girlfriend. The change of lifestyle brought a change of business and he concentrated upon his love of antiquarian books and the acquisition of premises in the upper market area of town. A similar escape from death was not granted to his uncle, but Frederick’s loss was Harold’s gain and he was able at last to escape the apron-stings of his mother and move into his uncle’s dilapidated house. The business flourished, the house was refurbished and a complex series of fertility treatments – some orthodox, others less so – brought the patter of tiny feet. Harold’s life was completed with an heir to his fortune but his second chance at life became a living curse when he aged without death.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stock Option



Most shops that sell antiquarian books have only one copy of each in stock. By their very nature, antiquarian books are rare and a case of, say, hand printed copies of Dicken’s lost masterpiece Trials of a Wytchfinder simply don’t exist. The works were lost for a reason, after all, not least of which was scarcity of supply. Not so with the bookshop Alexandrian Gold where a gentleman of sufficient means could purchase a one-of-a-kind hand-illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra one day and return the next to find an identical ‘unique’ original copy in the display case. If questioned, the proprietor will allude to ‘the miracle of supply and demand’ and direct the gentleman’s attention to the scriptorium where modern reproductions are available for a fraction of the cost of an original. It is no coincidence that the payroll of Alexandrian Gold includes some on the names from the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Self Congratulation




The bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral was the best place in the world for quiet contemplation, at least when the bells weren’t ringing. When the choir sang, the voices were channeled up into space, creating a white noise that soothed and calmed. The views over the city had improved since the clean air act, and even the Seine didn’t stink of humanity anymore. Lucifer turned his gaze inward and contemplated his lack of navel. Seizing control of the church in 1394 was an act of sheer genius. The mortals never realised it was his lieutenants they were praying to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fresh as the Newly-Fallen




John Deakin came to with a start. He was still in the Formica-walled cubicle of the Fox and Geese, his trousers and boxer shorts around his ankles. He’d dozed off then. Bloodshot eyes glanced at his watch. 23:22. He’d slept for less than five minutes.

He pulled up his clothes. Five minutes to dream of eternity. He’d been enveloped in golden light, cradled in the arms of his mother yet free to move and talk and… fly.

John wept for the loss of the dream. It had felt so real, so perfect. Then he had dreamed of leaving behind the golden warmth for the inky cold as his wings were cut from his back and he Fell into this squalid world. He reached for the beer he’d brought into the toilet with him but it was on its side, spilt; wasted.

His eyes glowed red with anger. Someone would pay.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Minor Case of Shoplifting




DC Terry Squarren tapped the details into his blueberry. “And finally, sir,” he said, “what was the value of the book that was stolen?”

Harold frowned and tried to see what the constable was typing in. Squarren lifted the pocket PC to an angle out of his line of sight and waited, his pointer poised over the screen. He raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“How should I know?” Harold said. “Forty or fifty, perhaps. More to the right buyer.”

“Forty to fifty pounds.” Squarren typed. He looked up. “What do you mean ‘the right buyer?”

“Someone who wants to raise the dead, obviously.” Harold stared hard at the constable and with two fingers, dragged the blueberry down so that the DC was forced to look at him. “It’s a necromancy workbook.” He narrowed his eyes. “And that would be forty or fifty thousand pounds.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Choked



Harold never knew about his big sister. She died in the womb, strangled with Harold’s umbilical cord as he jockeyed for position on the runway to post-partum life. Born three minutes before him she never felt her mother’s love or the cosseting of a warm terry blanket. Ada was never allowed to grieve; the needs of her son outweighed her need to cry for her lost daughter and it was thirty-seven years before she felt able to face the tiny grave with the piece of slate inscribed with the words ‘Alice, 1968.’ Harold had asked about it once – he’d not been more than six or seven. She’d dismissed his question with a shake of her head and buried his dog next with an identical headstone.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Belated Valentine’s




Harold stared at the jar with the dried-up piece of _something_ inside. “It looks like some sort of fruit,” he said. “A dried peach, perhaps, or an apricot.”

Gillian glowered. “It’s a heart,” she said. “I saved it specially. I meant to give it to you as a Valentine but I forgot. I only remembered now because I found it in the bed.”

Harold grimaced and placed the jar on the table as far as his arm would allow. “You know I don’t eat human flesh,” he said.

She picked it up and pressed it back into his hand, folding his fingers around the jar. “It’s not human,” she said. “It’s demon. Just don’t tell Jasfoup.”

“Oh, dogs!” said Harold. “It’s not his, is it?”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Flowers for Mum




Harold gave her the chocolate box and she hefted it, her eyebrows drawing together in suspicion. There was no cellophane around the box and it felt far too light to contain what it purported to. Whoever heard of a box of chocolates costing three shillings these days? She pulled at the bow, expecting the box to fly open like that tin of peanuts he’d given her in 1975 but the box remained static. It opened to reveal a sheet of paper embossed with the Laverstone council seal. “The Ada Waterman Rose Garden will be unveiled on June 21st,” she read.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

True sentiment




Harold dropped a Valentine’s card on top of Jasfoup’s daily paper. The demon smiled.

“For me?” he said. “How kind of you, Harold. I didn’t know you cared.”

“I don’t.” Harold snatched back the card. “It was addressed to me. Look, it’s written in red ink and anonymous.”

“Oh.” Jasfoup looked at it. “Did it say anything on the envelope?”

Harold rolled his eyes. “Oh gee, Jasfoup. I never though of that.”

The demon stared at him. “Was that irony?”

“Of course.” Harold feigned patience. “If there was anything on the envelope it wouldn’t be anonymous, would it?”

“I suppose not.” Jasfoup read the message.

Roses are yellow,
Violets are blue,
If I had your face
I’d have something to look at on the wall in the study and with the rest of you I’d make a big pot of stew.”

“Have you annoyed your uncle lately?”

“Perhaps,” Harold said. “I dropped his tobacco down the toilet yesterday. How can you tell he sent it?” Harold frowned. “Has he left a bit of his soul in it?”

“No. One, the ink isn’t ink, but blood; two, I’ve read your uncle’s poetry before and three, he sent this same poem to your mother in 1953.”

“Oh.” Harold dropped it into the bin. “I thought it was a death threat for a minute. Thanks.”

“No worries, Harold.” Jasfoup waited until he was out of the room and readdressed the card to a succubus he knew. It had Harold’s DNA on it now.

Nine Cows


In the meadow by the river Laver eleven cows graze, taking advantage of the last light of dusk to top up their first stomach before ruminating for the night. By the time the first lifts its head and utters a low of warning Gillian and Felicia are upon them, half starved and desperate. Filth and mud cake their figures, their clothes ragged from premature burial and the tips of their fingers bled dry from scraping at coffin lids. Gillian fastens herself to the terrified animal, teeth extended to the limit to punch through the thick hide to the veins beneath. Felicia has different needs and less finesse, her claws all but severing the head of the second as she swallows great chunks of meat. Sated, they drop the carcasses in the river and make a mental note to write a cheque for the farmer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Under-Queen




It was the bright red underwear, pegged on a washing line among sheets and towels that brought the house to my attention. It was set back from the rest of the village, the whitewashed round tower rising above the tree line like an inland lighthouse. Smaller outbuildings dotted the larger like a mother hen with her chicks, forming a grassy courtyard of sorts with trees dotted here and there and ivy stretching questing fingers along the white bricks. I waited for an hour until a human woman came out with a basket and started pulling the sheets off the line. She was tall and young and plump and perfect but strong enough to struggle when we carried her away. The goblins would have a new brood mother at last.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mistaken Identity



“You don’t think it’s too cultist then?” Arthur Billings scrutinized his reflection. The black robes were stylish, he had to admit, but wasn’t the embroidered eye-over-pyramid motif a little over the top?

“Not at all.” Jasfoup plucked at a stray thread. “It shouts ‘Here is power, kneel before me and pay homage.”

“You think?” Arthur did a half twirl, grinning at the way the cloth made a satisfying swish. “I wear this then. Should there be something underneath?”

Jasfoup hesitated in the act of saying ‘ordinary clothes’ or at least ‘underwear’ but closed his mouth. “No,” he said. “It’s traditional to be nude underneath the robes.”

“Like the Scots and their kilts, eh?” Arthur nudged the demon on the arm and winked. “The mark of a real man.”

“Something like that.” The demon nodded and smiled, leading Arthur to the front door of the tower where the mob waited. “Off you go then, have a good time.”

Arthur opened the door and peeped out. “Are you sure all these people are my fans?” he said, “Some of them have got pitchforks and flaming torches. I can even see a couple of shotguns.”

“Why else would they be here?” Jasfoup gave him a bit of a push. “They’ll escort you to the town square and give you what you deserve.”

“The key to the city. Excellent.” Arthur straightened his glasses and strode out.

Jasfoup locked the door behind him and made his way to the kitchen at the back of the tower house. “We’ve got about twenty minutes before they realise they’ve got the wrong mad scientist,” he said, helping Harold and Felicia out of the pantry. “After that they’ll storm back here and burn the house down.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tainted Crown


Jedith took off the thin band of silver that held her hair from her face and rubbed at the tarnish. It never used to blacken so much that the filigree became hard to distinguish. When she was young – young being a relative term for an angel – it gleamed against her dark hair. His dark hair, rather, for like all angels Jedith was created male. Now, with her sixth millennium a distant celebration, the crown was as tainted as her brother Lucifer’s. She leaned over to scrub it in the Swedish lake, allowing the acidic water to clean away the grime.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

True Form


I remember the womb.

I remember thinking how strange it was to have such long limbs and not be able to fully stretch them in the cramped space that my mother allotted me. Bones were malleable in those days, my form mutable. It was the ability to experience the world through my mother’s viewpoint that convinced me to settle upon a bipedal from, though I’ll admit that I put in the extra joint and the hooves for the sake of tradition. Most demons try to make their true form the most frightening for mortals as a last-ditch effort to be freed, for when a mortal discovers your True Name and calls you by it, all glamours fall away. If then he can stand and look you in the face he has power over you.

Personally, from those earliest days, I worked out that the greatest weapon a demon had was his intellect. What use are all the loathsome tentacles if you’re reduced to carrying out the orders of a mortal mage? Better by far to smile and bow and introduce them to non-Euclidean architecture and watch their brains dribble out through their ears.

They weren’t daft, those ancient beasties from beyond space. What’s a sanitarium between cultists? I tell you now, if Nyarlothotep still made house calls, his physical presence would make your milk curdle after you’d drunk it, but I’d prefer to explode your synapses with intellect. Guess which one of us has the girlfriend, and which of us has a collection of porn.

Excerpt from an unwritten future


Jasfoup knelt in front of the child and offered her the soft toy. Wide eyes the colour of old walnuts stared at him before snatching it out of his hands. Not a word was spoken, but the demon sank down into a cross-legged position, almost but not quite invading the child’s personal space. She backed up an inch – as much as she could gain by sitting straighter against the wall and smiled, pulling the bear close and sinking her cheek against its acrylic fur. Jasfoup reached forward, brushing a lock of her dark hair from her cheek. She bit him.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Word of God




The Golgotha Accord was laid down in AD 27* when God’s latest ‘Best Boy’ was crucified and broke open the gates of Hell.** It outlines the areas of influence that the loyal and rebel*** angels have upon each other and the mortal realm and consists of 736 pages in Azrael’s crabbed handwriting and details such rules that were decided at the Fall. Rule 37 of the charter, for example, stated that “Neither Angel nor Rebel shall strike one another, for to do so will bring down the Wrathe of Heaven.” Current theory has it that this refers to the apocalypse though the archaic spelling, Jasfoup is alone in thinking, refers to the Breath of God, who loves a good fight.****



*Later changed to AD33 to come into line with the popular misconception the Jesus was born in ADzero.

**Not to free the souls therein, as is popularly claimed, but to declare Hell ‘Open for Business.’ Much to Lucifer’s disgust, they haven’t closed properly ever since. “It’s not as if they were even locked,’ he’ll say to anyone that broaches the subject in his hearing. “We’d just painted them and everything.”

*** Later renamed ‘Demons’ to match the popular culture’s pre-existing undesirables.

**** AKA the Holy Ghost. He used to be female until the Hebrews decided that (1) God had to be a man, (2) God couldn’t be part female and (3) Dresses were pretty cool so hey, let’s call them Robes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Birthday Party




“Are you ready for my birthday party?” said Jasfoup. “Any demon who’s worth knowing will be there, and they all want to meet you.” He leaned in and whispered, “particularly the succubae.”

“I’ve nothing to wear,” said Harold, clad only in his almost-clean Spiderman Y-fronts. “I’ve gone through my whole wardrobe and found nothing.”

“What about the grey suit?”

“At the cleaners.”

“The frilly shirt and leather pants?”

“I tore it on the “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“The buccaneer costume?”

“The shoes hurt my feet.”

“Come as you are,” said the demon. “We don’t stand on ceremony. Better still; come in your birthday suit. The ladies will appreciate the gesture.”

“But Jasfoup,” Harold said, his face screwed up in consternation, “I don’t have a birthday suit.”

Hidden Among Thousands




When the lunar eclipse occurred just after Imbolc (not that Harold celebrated such things, for it was difficult to celebrate pagan tradition when you were actually related to God) he nevertheless felt a twinge of trepidation. Traditionally this astronomical effect, the blood moon, implied a week of dark power and negative influence. He looked out across the barren fields to the south, where the M25 lay like an angry scar against the frosted landscape. Would this be the week his sister came for him? Her grave had been empty for a season now; whoever had raised her dark spirit intended mischief. Or perhaps the twinge was just indigestion.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Degrees of Danger



Even by his might-as-well-be-a-wife’s standards, Harold was somewhat stuffy. It came with the job, really, a ‘purveyor of books and obscurities’ could hardly be anything else. Harold might disagree with the epithet – as far as he was aware, he was a lively go-getter who didn’t baulk at rushing headlong into danger. This was true enough. As long as the danger was of the kind that might occur when one person outbids another at an auction, to be avenged with a hard stare and the consumption of a complimentary biscuit, then Harold faced danger daily. If the danger were more physical, though, then he would be the one standing to one side saying “jolly good shot, sir!”

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Orders of Priority




Harold was had been waiting for Jasfoup for twenty minutes and was becoming impatient. He knocked on the demon’s door – tentatively it must be said, for only the very brave or the very foolish antagonize a denizen of the lower planes.

“I’m busy,” said the demon. “I’ll be with you in a minute or two.”

“Why?” asked Harold. “What are you busy at?”

The door opened and Jasfoup peered out, looking both up and down the hall before beckoning Harold inside. “I have obligations,” he said. “My readers expect a daily update on my blog.”

“You write a blog?” Harold grinned, torn between ridicule and envy. He hadn’t got a blog and he mentally kicked himself for not thinking of it first. “What do you write about?”

“Nothing today. I’m stuck.” The demon looked morose, which gave Harold the lever he needed for moral superiority.

“Writing a blog is only a pseudo obligation,” he said. “You don’t have to do it if it makes you miserable. Why don’t you come out with me and see if that inspires you?”

The demon nodded and pulled his laptop closer.

“Later,” he posted. “Smut with Harold first.”

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Deep Wallet of the Unlawful




Harold actually got stopped by the police yesterday and was charged with “driving without reasonable consideration for other road users.” His mistake was to deliberately undertake a cyclist that was, in his opinion, too far out into the road and he might have got away with it if the twelve year-old cyclist hadn’t started crying. The arresting officer, PC Charlie Trubshaw, was new to the force and didn’t know Harold from Adam (as the saying goes) but a swift phone call to Detective Sergeant Perkins sorted everything out. It cast Harold a donation to the Laverstone Policeman’s Benevolent Fund (which pays for their Christmas party) but he expected that. His traffic offence and three points on his license was reduced, to his relief, to a caution and no points. A further donation ensured that PC Trubshaw would be teaching road safety at Laverstone Primary School for the following three months.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Haute Cuisine




Felicia looked down at her plate where a repast of sautéed potatoes, peas, carrots and meat awaited the attentions of her cutlery. On the recommendation of the family doctor she’d been advised to lay off the red meat, a task made difficult by her werewolf nature. Still this was, according to Jasfoup, known in restaurant circles as ‘the other white meat’ and although it came not from a bird but from a mammal, the dish itself was not unlike eating quail. Quail was, she found, something to focus on; if she told herself it was quail often enough she might even believe it. Quail. Not rat at all.