Thursday, July 31, 2008

Middle Englander


“Have I got any siblings?” asked Harold as he perused the Great Hall with its four centuries of Waters Family portraits. He paused before a tiny portrait of Lord Aubrey Waters (1785-1836), his seven children, none of whom survived childhood, and his sister who stood half in shadow.

“You’re the son of Lucifer,” said Jasfoup. “There can be only one son of Lucifer at a time.”

“Is that apart from Cain?”

“Living sons, I should have said.”

“That’s a pity.” Harold passed on to the portrait of Lady Amelia Waters (1784 – 1851) who had the same glint in her eyes as she had in the previous portrait painted twenty years earlier.

“It’s for the best,” Jasfoup said. “You were never good at sharing.” He turned away, grateful that Harold had missed the semantics of ‘sons’ and had not enquired about daughters.

Portrait: Julia Louise Bosville: 'Lady Middleton'

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miscommunication



Harold scratched his leg absently and carried on with his work. It wasn’t until he took a break an hour later and had to smother his legs with rubbing alcohol to stop them itching that he noticed all the insect bites. And the new cat.

“Devious!” he called. “What’s that cat doing in the shop? It’s covered in fleas!”

The imp frowned. “You asked for it!”

“When? When would I, in your wildest imaginings, have asked for a mangy, one-eyed flea-ridden cat?”

“At 8:32 this morning.”

“What? I…” Harold cast his mind back and scowled. “I asked for a TEABAG.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Palming the Pints


“It was odd,” Harold thought, “what one could see in the palm of one’s hand.”

According to Mrs. Chitwick, who was his class teacher in 1968 at Laverstone Primary School, God had the “Whole World” in His hand. Harold had always been just a little bit disturbed by that and wondered how stable the world was. Was it like a cricket ball, hard and unyielding, or like a meringue nest? He hoped it was the former for he could imagine the temptation of crushing anything malleable all too well. If he were God he’d have closed his fist. At six years old, Harold thought about this so much it gave him a fear of meringue that remained unconquered until he met Jasfoup thirty years later. Ironic, really, since he later learned the Mrs. Chitwick had divorced her husband (who taught science) and become a Buddhist.

Now he almost understood what she had meant. As he looked at his palm he could see cultivated fields and valleys, rivers and mountain ranges and angels dancing the Macarena along his heart line, a tiny disco ball suspended from his middle finger.

He pressed two fists against his eyeballs, regretting that second pint Sam had bought him.


Bronze Sculptures by Chick Schwartz

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Guardians of Laverstone Hall


Two birds, if birds they be, guard the entrance to Laverstone Manor. Not at the gates, for those were a late addition when Sir Robert Waters sold off a strip of the land to the road development company effectively splitting his land in two, but at the great arch of the house leading to the stable yard.

With the decline in familial fortunes, the use of the house changed and the grand entrance fell into disuse. Still the two statues guard it, their ancient magic -- a gift from the Fae to the late Lady Melissa Waters – still pulsing through the granite feathers and fur and claws.

Harold dresses them in fairy lights every Christmas.

Summer Birth



Contrary to the expectations of the attending nurses, who had hoped for a thunderstorm at the very least, the Antichrist was born on the 8th July at just after eleven in the morning. Her mother (for the antichrist was a girl) suffered nothing more than a slight pain – certainly a lesser one than when the infant had been planted there after one gin too many at the annual Harvest Ball – and thought fondly of last year’s Master of the Hunt.

For her part, the Antichrist, who upon being presented to her mother was promptly named Clarissa, had time to practice her piercing cries and her scowl. To her consternation, neither ability withered the flesh from the bones of the nurses nor summoned her minions from the bowels of Hell to wreak vengeance for a slapped bottom.

Clarissa developed a pout.

Gertrude Wainscot carried her newborn daughter out into the sunlit grounds of Pine Lodge and, contrary to the advice of the nurses, held her up to the sky and announced her birth the way she’d seen it done in ‘The Lion King’.

There was little in the way of applause from the animal kingdom, although a magpie chose that moment to steal a piece of bread from the bird table, its tuxedo flashing in the sunlight.

Gertrude sat at the edge of the lawn, wrapped Clarissa in swaddling and ordered tea for two. The trees behind her trembled as two leafy green arms reached to hold their daughter.

Pan smiled.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ReCycling



Harold stormed back into the shop, slamming the door and making a face at it before taking a deep breath and walking over to Julie’s desk.

“Here’s you double espresso latte macchiato,” he said, handing her a cardboard cup from a cardboard tray. “Pink in, green out. Pink in, breath out.”

“Why are you filled with bilious thoughts?” Julie asked, popping the lid off her coffee and adding a sweetened from her desk drawer. “I thought you liked doing the coffee run.”

“I do, normally.” Harold put the tray down. “Using these waxed cups is so wasteful, though. I washed out all the ones we used last week and took them back. The little so-and-so on the counter said she couldn’t use them”

“Not hygienic, probably,” said Julie.

“Not hygienic, apparently.” Harold raised his fingers, zen-like. “Who does she think uses them? Demons?”

“They do.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t know that.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No Answer



“Would anyone like an ice lolly?” Jasfoup, uncharacteristically generous, made the rash statement as they crossed the park.

“Yes please,” Felicia and Julie said in unison.

“May I have a ’99 instead?” asked Harold.

“Instead of what?” said Jasfoup.

“Instead of the ice lollies you’re buying.”

“I’m not buying ice lollies.” Jasfoup splayed his fingers. “I merely asked if anyone would like one. I made no offer of purchase.”

Harold’s face clouded. “Ask not such hypothetical questions,” he said, “For you terry with my sense of justice.”

“I like a good bit of tarry,” said Jasfoup.

“For Pete’s sake!” said Felicia. “Here’s a tenner, Harold, get us all a 99.”

“Thanks, Fliss.” Harold grinned. “What about big meany?”

“He never answered his own hypothetical question,” she said, “so he can go without.”

“Hey,” said the demon. “It was rhetorical, not hypothetical.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dr. Whiteface's Apprentice


Inspector White studied the young woman intently, trying not to stare at her odd, marbled false eye. “All you have to do,” he said, “is study the men before you and tell me which one assaulted you.”

Julie nodded. “They can’t see me, can they?”

“Not at all.” He smiles. “You’re quite safe, this is a two-way mirror.” He patted her arm and bent to a microphone. “Peters? Send in the clowns.”

Six men in clown wigs and make up trooped in. “Now Miss Turling,” said White. “Which one threw a pie at you?”

“That one,” said Julie. “Number four. The one that’s throwing one now.”

The inspector winced as the pie landed square in his face, foam and custard dripping off his hair. He pressed the intercom again. “Peters?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me the two-way mirror was broken?”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ducked Bills


Harold didn’t like the new additions to the lake. “They look too real,” he said.

“They aren’t real,” said Jasfoup, “they’re just constructs. I got the idea from that golem Twilight made. Think of them as garden ornaments.”

“It’s hard to imaging them as gnomes,” said Harold. “I don’t even like gnomes but I’d rather have a cheery face and a fishing rod than those things. They act as if they’re real.”

“Look on the bright side, Harold.” Jasfoup grinned. “They’ll scare avay trespassers and herons and they won’t eat the fish.”

“All good points,” said Harold, “but that doesn’t explain the fine I got from the Fisheries Department for keeping crocodiles.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Out with a Birdie


Harold pulled at the planks covering the door. “What was this room?” he asked. “You’d think a scullery from its proximity to the kitchens.”

“It was a clubhouse,” said Jasfoup, taking a rotted green plank from Harold and placing it neatly in a pile, ready to be burned. “It was boarded up when Sir Michael died suddenly from heat stroke.”

“In England?” That can’t be in the top ten natural causes list.” Harold pulled off the last of the boards and pushed at the door. “What sort of clubhouse?”

“A golfing clubhouse.” Jasfoup peered over is shoulder. “Sir Michael built an eighteen hole course over the grounds and used to invite his friends over to play.”

“I say.” Harold pulled out a mouldy canvas bag. “Were these his clubs?”

“They were indeed.” Jasfoup pulled out a putter. “In fact, this is the very one that got heated to 400 degrees just before he died.” He looked at Harold’s expression. “What? It was an accident.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good for Relieving My Tension


Jasfoup hunkered down and surveyed the homunculus. “Typical of him,” he said. “He had to make the bugger out of metal, didn’t he? He couldn’t have stuck to the traditional clay.”

“So how do we destroy it?” Harold looked at the eyes, glowing the coal red of a magical being. “It’s not made of paper. It won’t melt.”

“Indeed not.” Jasfoup looked at him oddly. “I have to confess that I’m stumped. It’s not like it has a lift-off lid.”

“We could melt it,” Valerie suggested.

Jasfoup looked skeptical. “Melt it in what?”

“A melting pot, obviously.” Valerie sneered. “There’s one at Twilight Pareseuticals.”

“Why did he make a huge metal man and then animate it with ancient homunculi spells?” asked Harold. “It isn’t right.”

“It’s in the perfect image of Steve Lowry,” said Jasfoup, “and will obey any command given it.”

“So?”

“Perhaps the real Steve turned him down.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pleas


Eventually we reached the outskirts of London, though no news had come from that dread city in months. In less than a year – had it been so short a time? – many of the roads had become impassable as God’s green helpers challenged the demon’s superiority. We had come upon a section of the M4 near Cardiff that was a carpet of yellow dandelions, untouched by wheels since last September.

At Laverstone we spied a house still standing – a rallying point for the demonkin, no doubt, and we watched them going about their daily business. They seemed to be farming a hundred acres or so, using imps and gremlins for labour and had constructed a water wheel against the nearby river and a windmill, of the traditional kind, in the pasture to the west. Only one of the occupants seemed to be a demon so if we had to fight we had an even chance.

We waited at the gates for a while, debating the merits of begging for help or slinking away. Gabriel wanted to fight, but I didn’t want to hurl ourselves into one course of action so early. I rang the bell and presently a demonkin arrived. He was more human then not, but still held the stench of the pit about him.

“What ho, chaps,” he said through the iron bars. “we don’t get many angels knocking. Are you seeking sanctuary?”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sorrow


Jasfoup found Harold on the edge of the bowling green, sheltering under a brolly as the rain lashed over the bowling green. “Why stop play?” he said. “We’re not made of paper. We won’t melt.”

“Not everyone has your skill with the bowl, old chap.” Jasfoup sat next to him on the grassy bank and spread out his wings. Harold smiled in gratitude and folded the umbrella. The demon’s wings were so much larger.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “We were winning.”

“And you’ll win next time too.” Jasfoup patted his hand. “Come on, Harold, old chap. Let’s go home.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Optimist


“Why are you such a pessimist, Harold?” Jasfoup cut carefully around a money off token in the evening paper. “All I said was ‘Global Warming’ and you’re ready to buy a mountain.”

“I’m not a pessimist,” said Harold, filling a tall glass with milk from the fridge. “I merely have foresight. Global warming could change the face of the earth in as little as thirty years. Laverstone would be under water.”

“Rubbish.” Jasfoup sniffed. “The average temperature of the earth is 0.6 degrees colder than last year. God’s making Ice Age 3.”

“What utter rot.” Harold sat at the table.

“Is it? I’m wearing a jumper in July.” Jasfoup picked up Harold’s glass of milk. “I’ll prove you’re a pessimist,” he said. “Watch.” He drank half the milk and put the glass down again.

“You’ve drunk half my milk,” said Harold. “I hate you sometimes.”

“On the contrary, old chap,” said the demon, grinning. “I’ve left the glass half full.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

Medical Condition


Harold put the phone down, counted to ten, then picked it up again and dialed. “Use ringback,” Felicia suggested. “Just press hash-five when it’s engaged. Who are you phoning, anyway?”

“The doctor’s.” Harold grimaced and did as she suggested.

“Nothing wrong, is there?”

“Not exactly wrong, per se” Harold dropped his voice. “I have a pain… down there…”

“In your bum? Let me have a look.” Felicia went for his trousers, causing Harold to dance backward in fright.

“Certainly not,” he said. “Nobody gets to see my bottom.”

“Why?” asked Jasfoup, arriving just in time to hear him say it. “Is your tail growing?”

“My tail?” Harold frowned. “I don’t have a tail.”

“You’re on the cusp of demonhood,” said Jasfoup. “It’ll grow soon, you mark my words.”

The phone rang.

Harold stared at it, sweating.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ordinary Joes


Latitia stood to pour the tea, leaning over the table to reach Julie’s cup. “You just have to find what works for you,” she said. “You talk to dead people, you should be open-minded about predicting the future. I can’t read tarot cards or tea leaves and if you’re giving me the palm of your hand I hope it’s because you want to be friends.” She sat down and proffered the milk jug. “Milk and sugar?”

“Julie looked into her tea and swallowed hard. “You may not be able to,” she said, “but I can see our future in the water. Run!”

As they scrambled out of the house, Julie was reminded of the scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ where they spot the T-Rex coming by the ripples in a tea cup. She risked a look over her shoulder. Yup. Not a T-rex, true, but a thirty-five foot angel with a sword and a thousand eyes was, somehow, so much worse.

She almost wished she were an ordinary Joe without the ability to see this shit.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And a Wrap


“Did you manage to balance the accounts yesterday?” Harold ran his finger down the columns of the open spreadsheet, his lips moving as he totaled the numbers flashing by. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the computer to add it correctly, he just wanted to be sure they were correct.

“It’s in the can,” said Jasfoup glancing up from his crossword. Now that he knew who set them for the Laverstone Times, he could complete them almost without reference to the clues.

“Good,” Harold totaled the column, pleased to see the computer was correct.

Jasfoup made no comment, content that by the time Harold found out that by ‘can’ he meant ‘toilet’ it would be somebody else’s problem.

Friday, July 11, 2008

They are not the same thing, no.


Jasfoup scowled at the supermarket cashier. “That’s a bit steep, isn’t it? I bought exactly the same basket of shopping last week and it was half that much.”

The sales girl regarded him from beneath twin bars of mascara-encrusted lashes. “Not my fault, is it?”

“I shall tell the manager,” Jasfoup said, getting out his purse.*

“Am I bothered?” She held out her claw. “Forty five.”

Jasfoup grumbled but counted out coins. “What went up so quickly?” he asked.

“It’s the high price of honour, ain’t it?” Gum moved from one side of her snout to the other. “Scarcity of supply drives prices upwards. Basic economics, that.”

“Indeed.” Jasfoup took his receipt and scrutinized it. “I see you’ve charged me for humility twice.”

“S’right.” She was already dealing with the next customer, a minor demon Jasfoup recalled worked in level five. “Ain’t you humiliated enough yet?”


*Yes, Jasfoup has a purse. 'Look after the pennies,' he says...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Merlikin's Schooldays


Harold scribbled some notes on a sheet of paper, looked up the reference in a second tome, growled* and buzzed Jasfoup.

The demon sauntered into the office several minutes later, still with a dab of whipped cream on his chin. “You have something stuck…” Harold pointed to his own chin.

“Thanks, old bean.” Jasfoup’s long tongue snaked out and found the offending blob. “Devious and I were having a race,” he said. “I won, of course. You rang, m’lud?”

“Why didn’t I get a cream cake?”

“Nobody’s had a cake, Harold.” Jasfoup winked.

“I--” Harold swallowed. “I came across this reference in the spell for conjuring gates but I’ve no idea what it refers to. The Blue Fish?”

“A well known portal.” Jasfoup smiled and flipped the reference book to see the title. “As I thought,” he said. “Trust me on this: No good will come from any spell you learn in “Ye Apprentice’s Tome of Amusing Cantrips.”


* a combination of frustration and hunger

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How To Fall


It is an act of sedition to distribute pamphlets in Heaven. The Celestial Garden is a haven of calm and beauty. No music sullies the peace. No children playing, no clatter of lawnmowers on a summer evening.

Of those angels who resisted Lucifer’s call, many regretted their actions. With Lucifer, Azazel and Beelzebub gone, eternity became the quiet of solitary contemplation or the chorus of Hosannas in the Hall of Praises. There was no middle ground.

There are no posters in Heaven – the clatter of the press, or even the whirr of a modern laser printer, would attract the wrath of the Seraph Gabriel and his band of Virtues. Purgatory is a long way from Heaven and difficult to contemplate. Even the mortals who reach the Shining Gates do so with relief that their journey through it is over.

Imagine the speed of a forest fire through a pine grove; hissing and spitting as it raced along pitch and amber. That was the speed with which the pamphlet How to Fall was passed from Grigori to cherub, angel to Seraph. A quiet unrest began – a whisper here, a snatch of song there, the rise and fall of a pentatonic scale as a oft breeze disturbed the precise placement of leaves in the Glorious Wood.

One by one they Fell.

Angels with their wings torn away, angels with their throats hacked out, angels with their fingers removed to prevent the plucking of a harp.

One by one they Fell.

To Earth.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Attacop


“Where are you going?” Jasfoup barely glanced up from his crossword but his eyes flicked out to the summer sky. Grey clouds hung low, pregnant with rain.

“Just out for a walk.” Harold pulled on his heavy woolen coat. “I’m sick of being cooped up in the house. I thought I’d go up to the Stone and blow the cobwebs from my head.”

“Been sleeping with spiders again?” Jasfoup grinned. “See you later them. Mind you stay out of the Wildwood.”

“It’s all wild,” said Harold, picking up his hat. “It’s a wildlife reserve.”

“Yes,” said Jasfoup. “The goblins are pretty annoyed about that. I fined them for poaching a deer last week.”

Monday, July 07, 2008

Exhibited Blues


Felicia growled at the crowded wall and the three pieces of work still in her hand. How exactly were these supposed to fit? The piece of art had been hailed in London as avant-garde but when the three crates arrived there were no instructions on assembly. She had the catalogue from the Gordon Myres Gallery on Upper Cork Street but frankly it was little help. She had only managed to discern the positions of twenty-seven of the fifty-three pieces from glimpses of their neighbours.

“What do you think?” she asked.

Mrs. Prendergast took one look at the wall. “It’s a load of tosh,” she said, her pithy comment hanging in the air long after the ghost had faded through the wall to haunt the tea shop next door.

Felicia nodded. “You’re probably right,” she said aloud. She tucked the three pieces back into the crate and wheeled it back to the store room. If anyone noticed the difference, she and the Basement Gallery would make a mint on the publicity.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Born in a Big Blue Barn


“Were you born in a barn?” Sam growled and indicated the door with a nod of his head.

Felicia swept her leg in a rear-high kick. The door slammed with the hiss of pressurizing air. “I wasn’t,” she said. “Laverstone maternity hospital, actually. Nine pounds four ounces at four minutes past nine. My mother always said she was grateful I didn’t arrive at ten past twelve.”

“And you’re telling me this because?” Sam hardly pulled his hollow eyes from the television. He looked gaunt, unkempt, as if he hadn’t slept of eaten for several weeks. A grey, stained wife beater hung from Auschwitz collarbones.

“Because you asked.” Felicia stood behind the small black and white portable and leaned forward with her forearms on the back plastic. The television creaked under the weight, the stool it was stood upon shifting slightly. Sam’s lips pursed. “Because I never understood why being born in a barn referred to leaving a door open when hitting a barn door meant an easy target. I mean, do barns have doors or not?”

Sam looked up then, meeting her eyes with ones that had seen despair and faltered. “Barns that have doors have them and barns that don’t, don’t.” His eyes shifted again. Now kill me or leave. You’re interrupting the film.”

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mad Dog


Jeremy ‘Mad Dog’ Carson was under-height. He’d spent his formative years in this situation, enduring nicknames of ‘Dwarf,’ ‘Porgy,’ and “Mini-me’ among less complimentary ones. There were two paths he could have taken to deal with it – he could have shied away from it and turned inward to his love of mathematics and physics or outward into more social pursuits. He chose the latter, joining a karate dojo when he was ten and then, when he looked old enough to lie about his age, a boxing gym in the small streets of The Shambles.

He earned the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ when his mum died, the victim of a traffic accident when a lad the same age as Jeremy ploughed into her Metro with his dad’s Rover. He’d been going too fast with too little experience, trying to get to his work placement scheme on time. Jeremy had tracked him down from the insurance claim and beaten him to a bloody pulp. No police were involved.

By the age of twenty-three, Jeremy weighed 210 lbs in his 4’ 3” frame with not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. It was a rare man that ever dared call him ‘Shorty.’

Only his wife got away with that.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Picnic Afternoon


Harold spat the tea over the grass, an automatic response due to the disgusting taste.

“What is this?” he said. “It’s utterly disgusting.”

“Tea, sir,” said Devious, taking out a cloth to mop the chequered tablecloth. “Well, as near as I could make it.”

“What do you mean, ‘as near as I could make it’?” Harold frowned. “You’re an imp. I asked for tea. Ergo, I get tea. Not that filthy mess you just served.”

“I had a few problems, sir. I forgot the milk.”

“It was green tea.”

“And the sugar.”

“We have sweeteners.”

“And tea.”

“We have…” Harold grimaced. “What did you use?”

“Tree bark.”

Harold shook his head. “Just give me lemonade instead.”

“Yes sir.” Devious scurried behind the tent. “He wants lemonade now.”

“So?” Delirious continued to butter sandwiches.

“I forgot to bring the lemonade.”

“Use a substitute.” Delirious looked up and pointed. “There’s a dog over there.”