Monday, March 31, 2008

Dreadful Company




Harold paused with his fork, half a roast potato clinging to the tines, halfway between plate and mouth. He couldn’t swallow. It felt as if there was a lump the size of his fist lodged in his throat. His breathing became shallow as the sense of dread overtook him.

Felicia looked up as his fork clattered to the plate. “Harold?” she said. “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”

Julie stared, blank-eyed, across the table. “By the pricking of my thumbs,” she said in a child-like, sing-song voice, “something wicked this way comes.”

Gillian stood, her chair rocketing backwards from the speed of her rise. She reached to her belt, her fingers grasping at air until she remembered the house rule of ‘no weapons at the table.’ She reached instead for the carving knife, holding it handle upward so that the blade lay along the length of her forearm.

Felicia, reacting to the others, began to were, the coarse wolf-hair growing over her skin as fingernails sharpened into claws.

Harold stood scant moments before Julie pointed at the door to the stable yard. A shadow against the frosted glass announced the visitor as the knocker clanged once… twice… three times.

Harold rose almost mechanically, a puppet prince to answer the call of doom. The door swung open under his touch to reveal the one person who could strike more terror into his heart than his mother, a woman he hadn’t seen since his fourteenth birthday.

“Gr… Great Aunt Lydia,” he stammered. “What a lovely surprise.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hot Dog



Tom Blesset had a dog once. Noodles was a knee-high orange mongrel with less sense than a spaniel. It would lie on the pavement outside the house, allowing the sun to warm its paws until it retreated, panting, into the shade of the yard. That was before Tom put the gate in. He should have done that sooner, for Noodles might still be alive if he had. The dog must have run away because last summer when Tom heard it yelp, all he saw when he ran onto the street was Mr. Jasfoup, dabbing his pale lips with a handkerchief.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

See?




There was a minor difficulty in the village yesterday when Harold ran over Mrs. Prendergast. To be fair, he runs her over two or three times a week but she rarely notices, having died several years ago. The problem occurred because of the reaction of a pedestrian, Craig Atwood, who called the police to report a hit-and-run, giving them the make, model and registration number of Harold’s van. When the police arrived at the scene, Mr. Atwood was forced to tell them that the victim had not only walked off down the high street but appeared not to have noticed the impact. None of the other pedestrians had witnessed anything and Mr. Atwood became agitated when WPC Brown suggested he ‘sit down with a nice cup of tea.’ Harold received a formal apology from the Chief Inspector and sent his late Uncle Frederick to give the clanking chain treatment to Mr. Atwood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Games of the Damned and Famous


Real-world poker was a game invented by Jasfoup and his old drinking buddy Marlowe. The playwright was long since damned but, due to the incredible publicity of ‘Faust,’ had achieved the respectable status of ‘devil’ as a reward – never before then had Hell received so many requests for contracts. Every 30th May, the date of Kit’s ‘official’ death, they met at The Fish Inn in Deptford to show their hands. Marlowe was quite pleased with himself, having gathered to souls of four identical twins. “Two pairs,” he said, placing the mist filled jars on the table.

Jasfoup tutted and pulled out a yellow plastic bag with a biohazard seal. “I had a dig in the Bucks Palace sewers,” he said. “Royal flush.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Get Up, Stand Up




“Winston got fired from his job as a night security officer.” Felicia said this in an even, matter-of-fact tone but she was watching Harold’s reactions carefully.

“What did he do?” Harold continued to peel away the ‘return to publisher for pulping’ stickers on the three cases of novels from the local bookshop.

“He took his mum’s old nightie in to work and made a union banner out of it: ‘No Automatons Here’ and they sacked him.”

“She was big woman, as I recall.” Harold peeled off another sicker and “On what grounds did they fire him?”

Felicia snorted. “Gross negligee.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Break


Contrary to popular opinion, God is alive and well and enjoying some time in Tehran. This ‘short break’ as he likes to refer to it has been going on now for 157 years which goes some way to explaining why there’s been 157 years of political unrest there. It’s not that the demons are attempting a coup, more that the mortal factions sense his presence and want to keep him for themselves. He finds all this both amusing and faintly absurd. The humans don’t have a god; they are merely the servants of his people, the cats.

Meanwhile, Back at the Flat



PC Mike Brandsford surveyed the scene before him, wrinkling his nose at the stench of the faeces and urine. The flat was a mess. As far as he could tell, anything that could be broken, had been broken. The remnants of china and picture frames vied for floor space with the internal parts of the television, computer and DVD player. He couldn’t tell if there was anything missing; that would be down to the owner. “Tango Brava to base,” he said over the radio, “this Ms Black who’s been burgled, did she have a TV licence?”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Contentment


Felicia never bemoaned her days as a happy-go-lucky clubber, up for a bit of anonymous sex with whoever she fancied. Never the same woman twice in a row, never the same place twice in a row. Unpredictability; that was the key to good sex and a good life, even when you were too tired to go home and ended up sleeping rough until the morning – or sleeping with someone. You had to be careful there and leave before the dawn else they began to have expectations. Breakfast, another meet, a date. Before you knew it there would be tartan suitcases in her Interiors hallway; M&S knickers among her French Connection and oven chips on the side of Haute Cuisine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unwelcome Competition




Harold frowned. “Look at this,” he said, holding up the Laverstone Times and slapping it with the back of his hand. “They’re holding a half-marathon in the town next month.”

“What’s wrong with that?” said Jasfoup. He looked at the details. “Fourteen miles through some of the most beautiful countryside on Wiltshire. Prize money in excess of £12,000. What’s wrong with that? A bit of competition and I’ll be swimming in avarice.”

“Look at the course,” said Harold. “It starts and finishes in town, where no doubt it’ll affect trade at the shop, but worst of all they’ve set them to run up through the park and across out land.”

“So? It’s all for charity.”

“Right through mum’s rose bed.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Under the Moon of Love




I met my lover under a waxing gibbous moon. With three or four nights left before it was full, it didn’t occur to me that she might be a werewolf. Whoever heard of a lycanthrope that came out to play every night? Nobody, not even Selene. Of course, Selene didn’t even know she was a werewolf. The poor bitch had no memory of the three nights a month she changed into a woman.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saints Alive


The reliquary of St. Steven of Walthamstow was kept, as was proper, in a glass case in the north transept of St. Pity’s. When the police received an automated alarm call indicating that the church had been broken into they dispatched only one car, believing it to be pranksters or crackheads looking for a trinket or two to sell down the market. What they didn’t expect was to find Father Richards in a complete panic because the ancient and priceless reliquary had gone missing. WPC Foster retrieved the item the next day with and arrested Father Richards, whose fingerprints were all over it. Inconclusive evidence, perhaps, until the fingerbone inside the reliquary was tested for DNA and found to match the priest’s sister Agnes, who had been admitted to hospital from a chainsaw accident the previous year. The present whereabouts of St. Steven was never discovered, though the local Christian Retail Outlet had been doing a roaring trade in Saint’s Dust Holy Water.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Imp-erial Post


The delivery system on the internet storefront on the antique books shop included an option that Justin Parkes had never seen before. In addition to the usual ‘Express,’ ‘Normal,” and ‘Super Saver’ delivery options there was one which stated ‘Immediate.’
It was a bit pricey – almost the cost of the book itself but Justin was desperate for a copy of ‘How to Chat Up Girls’ to read before the party tonight. He pressed ‘Immediate’ and entered his credit card details. He still jumped when his letterbox clattered a scant ten seconds later and the book, wrapped in cellophane and cardboard with his name and address on a printed label, fell to his welcome mat. It didn’t occur to him until after the party, when Sandra Tipping was poised so elegantly over his half-naked body, to wonder how a 10 inch by eight inch book came through a six inch letterbox.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Trouble Brewing




Laverstone Manor, July 1948

Ada gathered Snowball in her arms. She was a traditional witch’s cat: jet black with eyes that (she was sure) could see right into her soul.

“Be careful,” said her sister Fredericka. “You’re holding him all wrong. You’ll hurt him.”

“I won’t” said Ada. “He’s just a big lump of love. Make him look at the camera.”

“All right.” Fredericka twisted Snowball’s head until she was facing the box brownie.

“Melissa, dear, face the camera.” Sophia tried to encourage her niece. “What have you got there? A cricket?”

“A gremlin, aunty Sophia.” Melissa looked away from the cage she’d made with her fingers. “He’s not very happy. Oh!”

“What’s the matter, dear?”

“He’s got away.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sam's Secret Project


Sam Hunt raked off the glowing embers and stared at the prototype of the new Twilight 2K range of industrial automatons. That was what distinguished him for the previous directors and made him popular with the workers here: he was always prepared to get his hands dirty. T2K0001 lay in supine splendour, the finely crafted muscles picked out in ceramic core steel and titanium. It was asexual and beautiful and could perform the work of a dozen men without sleeping. “Golem” whispered the racial memory part of his brain but he ignored the voice. “Rise, my beauty,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “Rise!”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Missing Persons


Harold pushed his arm as far as he could up the waste pipe, trying to breathe through his mouth to avoid the stench of rotting food from the kitchen sink. “Why can’t devious do this?” he asked. “He usually does all the really crappy jobs.”

“His arms are too short.” Jasfoup squatted a little distance away, upwind, and watched.

“Well he’s – Ah! I’ve found the blockage. It’s right at the U-bend.” Harold pulled his arm back out of the pipe and opened his hand. They looked at the partially decomposed corpse of one of the few races.

“It’s a young sprite,” said Jasfoup. “Poor little chap.”

“What was he doing in my drainpipe?” asked Harold. “It seems a stupid thing to do.”

He was trying to get into the house I expect,” said the demon. “With all the blood wards it’s like a fortress, but the pipes and cables are a weak point.”

“What do we tell his parents?” said Harold. “Who are his parents, even?”

“The ones looking for a missing child,” said Jasfoup. He looked up as the imp appeared. “Ah! Devious. Get rid of that long bendy bit of wire and find me an old cigar box as a coffin.”

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Presence of God


The Tower of Babel still stood, invisible to the mortal eye but nevertheless stretching all the way to the vault of Heaven from its foundations in the fiery pits of Hell. It had taken ten million souls almost a thousand years to build and now Lucifer trudged up to his creator. It was not the chains and tortures of Abaddon that made his existence a torment but this annual three-day trip knowing, when he arrived at the top, that he would feel the loss of his separation from God as keenly as he had on the first morning after the Fall. The Vault of Heaven was as bright and featureless as forever, the choirs of angels circling overhead singing their hallelujahs over and over as he approached the insane creature still drooling over the files and papers of last year’s report. “I’m sorry,” he said to the spinning moral compass chained by seven seals to the centre of creation, “but however lonely your heart I cannot grant your freedom.” He dropped the report with the others and, wiping the tears from his eyes, left the presence of God.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Trial of an Imp


When Devious, an imp of relatively high standing in the ranks of Hell, was caught with an ounce of contraband he defended its use with some aplomb. It was, he suggested, a means to enhance his usefulness as a servitor of demonkind. He could fly short distances, meaning less congestion in the metaphysical tunnels and corridors which connected every point in the Nine Planes to every other point (weather permitting) and bring into being small objects of debatable usefulness. The Under-council debated one of these, a plastic tray with rectangular compartments but decided that an ice cube tray was of little intrinsic value in Hell. Devious was let off with a mark against his permanent record but the fairy dust was confiscated by the Prime CouncilImp for further investigation. Devious wasn’t bothered because he knew which street corner Peter Pan dealt from.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Stating the Obvious


The “Theatres des Vampires” did a roaring trade after the books, and then the film based on them, sensationalized the idea that the performers were all undead. They weren’t, of course, as Harold could tell the first time he clapped eyes on them on a romantic weekend in Paris, booked via the Eurostar office. “I told you,” said his friend Jasfoup, “it wasn’t worth coming all the way to Paris for. It’s all a gimmick with fake blood and sleight of hand.” Later that night, in their hotel room (Jasfoup slept on the sofa to avoid temptation) it occurred to Harold that he had seen one of the performers cut to pieces. “I didn’t say they weren’t killers,” said Jasfoup, “just not vampires.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

One Single Impression - Change


My breath held
as shinken blade dances.
A life is changed

What are they feeding you?


Jasfoup lobbed a little more fresh trout at Gillian’s semi-feral cats, a morning ritual he’d come to enjoy, weather permitting. It was with some surprise that he noticed a fat tabby cat amongst the Egyptian Maus and squatted with hand outstretched, rubbing his thumb over his first two fingers. “Here, kitty,” he murmured, “fresh fishes for you to eat, yum yum.” He had a particular voice that he reserved for cats, for although he could speak their language, to do so would give them a superiority complex and mean they would never again bother to express their wishes by action. The tabby ambled forward, sniffed the proffered fingers and rubbed its head against Jasfoup’s hand.

“Good kitty,” he said. “You’re not fat at all, are you? Just very, very fluffy.”

He frowned as the cat sprayed the nearest plant pot, looked up at the half-dozen Mau queens and sighed. “And you’re a tom.”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Waiting at the Mailbox


Devious waited by the mailbox. He wasn’t happy about it; waiting here was a waste of his valuable time. Time that would be better spent cleaning, digging the foundation for Harold’s new outhouse of eating. Especially eating. An imp lives on its stomach.

He glanced back at the house. There was no sign of anyone coming to collect the mail . That was good. They’d had to install an American-style postbox at the front gate ever since the postman caught sight of what he tried to convince the council was ‘a gigantic wolf’ in the grounds and refused to come past the gate afterward. A week of fishing soggy letters from the puddle under the gatepost convinced Harold to seek an alternative solution, preferably one that didn’t involve Jasfoup taking great pleasure in showing the postman his own spleen.

Hence Devious sat on top of a cold mailbox in early spring, just before the start of the impish mating season.

Waiting for his parcel of cut-price Viagra.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

By the River


Jasfoup watched as Felicia jumped into the water and retrieved something. It was one thing to be a gentleman but quite another to get his suit wet. “What have you found?” he asked.

Felicia shook off the worst of the water and sneezed, holding up a hand to signal that another was on its way, preventing her speech. She sneezed again, looking slightly pleased at the result.

“An padded envelope,” she said, “containing a very soggy five hundred pounds and a photograph.” She passed it up to Jasfoup, whose curiosity had won over his reluctance to approach the wet girl.

“I don’t recognize her,” he said. “Do you?”

“I do, actually.” Felicia took back the photograph and frowned. “It’s Winston’s new girlfriend.”

“Is it? Well I never…” Jasfoup stared over her shoulder at the image of a young woman, caught as she came out of a doorway. “I thought he was gay.”

Walker’s Moon




It’s almost a new moon – only a couple of days off. It’s not strictly a new moon, though, it’s the same moon going through the phase where the shadow of the earth covers it completely. The next moon will take us through Ostara, the spring equinox where the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. It will be full exactly on the equinox. Is that serendipity or what?

The full moon in March is called the Worm Moon, so called because it is the time when the worms begin to clean their tunnels and push worm casts above the soil. All the moons have names to tie them to the seasons, although when Harold referred to one as a ‘crisp moon’ It took me three days of searching through dusty records of lunar names before I realised he meant it looked like a potato snack.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Custom Headrest



When Harold bought his long-term partner a custom headrest, he had hoped she would be at least pleased with the thoughtfulness of the gift. He’d paid over the odds for it and had it engraved with her full name (or at least her full nom-de-plume). She had been less than ecstatic about the gift. Even the gilding had spectacularly failed to impress her, despite its soft glow against the dark granite. There is, she told him, something morally wrong with being bought a gravestone with only the end date missing. Besides, shouldn’t granite be reserved for a 90th wedding anniversary?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Unbelievable Truth



“There is, sometimes, a piece of information so large, so terrifying, that to accept this unbelievable truth would set your mind to gibbering.” The Reverend Stephen Morrell stubbed out his cigarette and looked around at the twenty or so rapt listeners. “What I am about to reveal is such a truth,” he said. “The information will rock the Christian, Muslim and Jewish worlds alike but I tell you for free, only because my heart will burst if I keep the secret any longer.” He stared down at his glass where an amber fluid, a mix of Scotch and arsenic, swirling gently under the hot lights. “God is dead.”

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Wedding Day


Latitia tucked a loose strand of hair under her hat. “Sam?” she called. “Are you ready yet?”

“I can’t get me’ tie on.” Sam appeared in the doorway with his usual lopsided grin. “Would you tie it for me, Lattie?”

She swallowed the retort and beckoned him over. He couldn’t help being a bit slow; his mother had basted him soft, he and his brothers. It was more of a surprise that he came away as clever as he did. “Did you remember to invite your mum to the wedding?” she asked, looping his tie into a Windsor know. “I didn’t get an RSVP from her.”

“Sorry, Lattie.” Sam looked at the floor. “I forgot.”

“She put a hand under his chin and lifted his face up. “Never mind,” she said, planting a kiss on his nose. “Come on, the taxi’s waiting.”