Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yellow Spines


“What happened to the books on comparative religion?” asked Harold, looking at the shelves. “I’m sure they used to be between Bushido and Crime.”

“We haven’t seen them for a while,” confessed Jasfoup. “Not since that day you had us reorganize all the books by spine colour and got fed up with it again by the end of the day.”

“Well they must be somewhere!” Harold scowled. “Have you looked everywhere?”

“Of course we have.” Jasfoup poured himself some tea. “We even looked down the back of the sofa.”

“And you didn’t find anything?”

“Only my virginity,” said Julie. “I knew I’d lost it at the office.”

“Well look again.” Harold stomped off to his office.

Julie watched him leave. “Thank goodness we didn’t tell him about Carpentry, Cookery and Cutlery,” she said.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Finding the past


Jasfoup thumbed through the manor library, trying to find more about the derelict church through the memoirs of former residents. Lady Sophia had left tidbits of information in her 1911-1912 journal, referring to ‘the black-hearted creature in the folly’ but never mentioned it by name.

As far as Jasfoup could tell there had never been anyone actually living there (except the homeless in modern times and there were precious few of those in Laverstone – precious few who survived, at any rate) so who – or what -- had Sophia been referring to?

He shuddered. There was one avenue of information about Harold he could ask.

Ada, Harold’s mum.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

St Marples'


“It’s such a terrible waste.”

Harold scowled at Jasfoup’s return to the topic of the condemned St Marples’. What business was it of theirs what the council did with their property. It was too expensive to buy and far too expensive to renovate even if he wanted it. Which he didn’t.

“I don’t want to move the book shop into the church,” he said. “Stop going on about it.”

Jasfoup sat in front of him and closed the laptop from behind. Harold could hear the screams of a billion pixels as the screen shut down. “What if you already owned it?” he said. “What if the bill for demolition was bigger than the bill for renovation?”

“Then I’d ask the council for a grant,” said Harold. “Now can you give the subject a rest? I don’t want St. Marples’. It’s creepy.”

Jasfoup raised an eyebrow. This was the first honest opinion he’d heard Harold have.. Alliteration aside, how heavy a horror had Harold had?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Priceless


Harold ticked off another day on the calendar and paused to give the picture a kiss. It was a cheap, hand-made affair that he’d sent a pound to the school with Lucy so that she could be included in the art project – a block of pre-printed calendar months glued to a picture drawn directly onto the yellow card in cheap water based powder paint. It crudely displayed a stick figure with a huge head and big smile occluding the other features. A message was stitched in wobbly wool embroidery: “I love you, daddy.”

Harold smiled. It might have cost him a pound, but his daughter’s Christmas present to him was priceless.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wet Grass


Jasfoup tromped through the long grass, the lower portion of his suit trousers fast becoming soaked from the morning dew. Daisies peppered the surface, competing with buttercups, harebells and lady’s slipper orchids.

“Why does he never cut this meadow?” he asked, referring to Harold.

Felicia shrugged. The water beaded on her fur like diamonds and she periodically shook them all off, only to become just as wet a minute later. Seeing that the demon expected an answer she were back to partial human form.

“He likes the flowers,” she said. “Some of them are quite rare, he says.”

“Some of them aren’t,” said Jasfoup, crushing one of the flowers between his fingers. “Some of them are very common indeed.”

Felicia shrugged again. “You know Harold’s relaxed attitude to gardening,” she said. “He just lacks a daisy cull.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Laverstone Manor, 1915


“How was your walk with Captain Lovell?”

“Wonderful.” Sophia paused from arranging the flowers, her young face shining. “We went up to the waterfall and we sat of the rail of the bridge.” She stared into the middle distance, picturing the dashing captain. “It’s almost as if he could mesmerize me,” she said. “His eyes were like the lake in moonlight, so deep I could almost drown.”

“The lake?” Mr. Jasfoup glanced up from polishing her walking boots. “You could drown it that fairly easily. It’s fifteen feet deep in the middle.”

“No, silly.” Sophia returned to the task in hand, sliding the stem of a freesia between the two cornflowers. “I meant his eyes were like the lake.”

“Cold and wet?” Jasfoup gave the boots a final wipe and put them by the door. “You made him cry, then.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Raisins in Curries


Contrary to popular opinion, fluffy bunnies do not stay adorable very long. Nor are they able to form coherent sentences when presented with a quill and parchment. Harold plucked the work from a particularly small rabbit that, by rights should have rolled doe eyes (for it was a doe) and simpered pathetically. Instead, it glared at him and bared yellow incisors.

“What manner of creature is a witch?” he read. “One that cannot decide.”

He flipped the paper over, expecting more. “What utter rubbish,” he said, storming into the kitchen where John was taking tea. “I want these rabbits gone by lunch time or I give the lot to Jasfoup.”

“Yes Master.” The imp bobbed his head, still rolling a cigarette. “Their magic pellets taste foul anyway.”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Literally


“John?” Harold lobbed a tome at the imp as he clip-clopped around the corner, his hooves giving only limited traction on the wooden floor Jasfoup kept polished for that very reason. “I need a copy of Malleus Maleficarum by Thursday. Hop to it.”

“Hop?” John looked at his hooves dubiously.

“It’s just an expression,” Harold explained. “it means ‘do something quickly’.”

John hefted the book, judging how much parchment he would need for a copy. “Why?” he said. “Why not just say ‘hurry up’?”

“How should I know? Something to do with how fast rabbits reproduce I expect.”

John nodded thoughtfully and went back to the scriptorium. Harold could hear his progress down the hall: clip… clip… clip…

When Harold opened up the shop the following morning he was, having forgotten the conversation with John, surprised to see so many rabbits running around the shop, each one clutching a sheet of parchment and a quill pen.

Harold took the work from the nearest and studied it. “This is no good,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a sixteenth century reference manual and the rabbits can spell.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contentment


If there were such a thing as contentment, Ada would probably have it. She had no bills to speak of (what bills arrived were generally covered by the rents she received for the six other properties in the street) and the house was decorated and furnished to her specifications. The only thing about it she wasn’t keen on were the three sub levels of cellars that Harold and his friends had dug looking for treasure. To be fair, they’d decorated it nicely with carved stone friezes on every wall and put in an extra toilet at the bottom (she didn’t dare think where that drained to) but with each of the levels larger than the floor plan of the level above it generated so much dust.

Still, she could shut the door on it. For now she had a warm fire, a glass of G&T (and the bottles in the kitchen), a comfortable sofa and a James Bond film on the telly.

After which she had a warm bed, a box of chocolates and a randy incubus.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Halcyon Days possible opening


Harold was sat on a deckchair on the edge of the croquet lawn, about to take a sip of Earl Grey sweetened with honey, when the rocket fell straight through Frederick and destroyed both hoop number eight and the end post.

Harold winced and walked over to the offending toy. “Lucy?” he called. “You could have had somebody’s eye out with that.”

Harold looked to the gap in the hedge where his daughter had just appeared, a sheepish expression on her face. “Sorry, Dad. I must have got the fuel mix wrong. Let me try again with an extra ounce of saltpeter.”

Harold bent to pull the fourteen inch rocket from the lawn. He hefted it in his hands. “It’s top heavy,” he said. “What have you got in the nosecone?”

“Nothing.” Lucy rushed forward, arms outstretched to retrieve the toy but Harold was already unscrewing the end piece. “…Much,” she amended.

Harold squatted as the cone came free, releasing a coughing, spluttering three-inch humanoid onto the grass. “Live cargo?” he said.

Lucy clenched her teeth, her lips going down in an embarrassed grimace. “Yes,” she said, biting her lip, “Sorry.”

“You know how I feel about you tormenting the Denizens,” said Harold. He peered at the tiny figure who was in the process of dusting himself off. “Wait a minute,” he said. “This is a gremlin.”

“Yes.” Lucy nodded, rubbing her fingertips together pensively. “I caught him in the garage.”

“Well that’s your problem,” said Harold, thrusting the rocket at her. “Gremlins always mess things up. You should have used a brownie.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Childrenised Harold and Jasfoup

Right here at Chris Eldin' A Bench Press.

Harold, the Prince of Poop? Surely not!

Metaphysical Fauna



People think there is no beauty in Hell but there is as much in Hades to delight the soul as there is in the most celebrated of English country parks. Take butterflies, for instance. In the mortal realm their wings are daubed with colour in order to deceive predators or entice mares. The Monarch, for example, has a distinctive ‘stained-glass arches’ feel to its wings yet it’s Hadean counterpart, the Shadow Monarch, has but a fan of electric blue on each wing.

Of course, the pattern is only there for those that have the Sight. When Dante travelled through the three realms in 1300, he noted: “a cloud of silent butterflies / floating on blackened wings” only because he was, at that point, unable to see the delicate traceries they display.

Butterflies are part of the ecology of Hades just as they are in the mortal world. The help pollinate the huge variety of flora we have (along with the flies and the wasps) and their caterpillars keep the weeds down. Most of them are herbivores and only three species feed on living flesh in the larval stage.

Perhaps I should write a book – “The Flora and Fauna of Hades” in the same way Rowling wrote her Monstrous Compendium. The main problem would be the camera – How does one take photographs of the metaphysical without them being all blurry?

Answers on the back of a fiver to…

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Blurb for ABLS


Chase, committed womaniser for over a decade, had fallen in love at last with the woman he was supposed to kill. He didn’t want to kill Pennie Lowry but when she came with such an attractive life assurance policy in his name he had his gambling debts to consider.

Finally confronted with a corpse after a fall down the stairs cuts her literally in half, How can Chase prove he didn’t do it when he’s the beneficiary ? What’s her ex-husband got to do with it and why was he at her flat that morning. It’s up to Chase and his ex-girlfriend’s girlfriends to find out, because all he has left are two half-Pennies to rub together.

Rebel


Stephen Woolley changed his name by deed poll, online for only £15, to Steve Harley and bought himself a motorbike. Not quite a Harley Davidson, since he could only ride a 125CC on a provisional license, at least it wasn’t a step through moped like his mother had pointed out at Winston’s garage when they passed it on the bus. At 37, Steve was a bit late in his personal rebellion, but his father’s unexpected death under the wheel of a traction engine at the Laverstone Steam Rally had left him with a mortgage-free house and an increase in disposable income from his job as an insurance clerk at Hutchins and Hutchins.

It came as a complete surprise when, on his ride home from work through the hills, the spark from a campfire ignited a pocket of gas in a rubbish pit dating from the middle ages and caused a small explosion half a mile away which blew down an ash tree right into the path of his Honda. Steve hit it at 54 mph and suddenly had to come to terms with not being a rebel any more.

He scrambled to his feet from the twisted bike, surprised he hadn’t even grazed an elbow, thanks to his mum’s insistence on ‘proper biking leathers.’

“That was lucky.”

Steve followed the voice to a middle aged man, standing at the side of the road eating salted peanuts from a packet. “Yes,” he said. “I’m surprised I got out of that.”

“Maybe you didn’t.” The man bent to pick up a scythe. “Maybe you died and this is just your brain refusing to believe it.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Plastic Pals


Sam studied the memo, his lips hardly moving as he read the report. “The TX1000 has gone missing,” he said. “What does ‘rogue state’ mean?”

“It means they can’t control it.” Latitia ran a finger down her new husband’s back. “Why are you looking at emails? We’re supposed to be on our honeymoon.”

“I was just curious.” Sam tapped a reply and sent it off. He returned to his wife’s delicious, dark arms.

“What did you say?”

“I just told them to put it down to expenses,” Sam said. “I don’t know how long Steve’ll survive inside that construction but he’s welcome to whatever life he can get.”

“That’s nice.” Latitia slid down the bed. “It’s fitting that you should be the one to grant his freedom. You did kill him to begin with, after all.”



A 'missing' epilogue to Another Bloody Love Story

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jester



All Harold wanted was a dog. He’d started asking in March, when the excitement of Christmas and birthday and new year had faded and spring had begun to show and was still asking at the start of December. He’d begun to resent his mother’s “We’ll see,” but Ada didn’t know how she’d cope with a dog.

Harold’s birthday came and went with a chemistry set and a lego castle (obtained with tokens from the back of Weetabix boxes). The latter was melted by the former before Christmas --Ada had never even seen a flamethrower prior to that. Christmas day dawned with an orange in his stocking and a set of Enid Blytons under the tree but no puppy. Ada, unable to keep the secret at the sight of his glum, five year old face, confessed that his uncle Frederick had got him one and would bring it at tea time.

Harold’s excitement mounted exponentially. At 4:30 (the earliest they’d ever had tea) he sat with his head between the curtains and the window, looking out into the cold street for his uncle’s car.

Finally the old VW Beetle hove into view and Harold raced to the door, his hands making unconscious fists over and over. The car stopped, his uncle got out, the dog ran across the road and was crushed by Mr. Blesset’s Skoda.

Harold stroked the limp, black and white Jack Russell anyway, and insisted on burying it himself, once his mum had dug the hole.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncommon Sales


“What is that dreadful music?” Harold stomped across the kitchen and turned off the radio. He hadn’t had a good word to say about anything after the fiasco of waiting outside all night to watch the meteor shower, only to have the clouds roll across before it started.

Fanfare for the Common Man,” said Felicia, not even looking up from her paper. “They use it for the Olympics and everyone runs to dust off the Emerson, Lake and Palmer LPs.”

“Well I don’t like it.” Harold turned the radio off.

“That’s because you’re a gentleman,” said Julie. “You’re no commoner.”

Harold blushed pink and dipped his head modestly. “Nice of you to say m’dear,” he said.

“And I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with you selling off all your vinyl records before they became collector’s items,” said Jasfoup.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pleiades, Please


Harold squinted and put the binoculars to his eyes. “No sign of it yet,” he said.

“No sign of what?” Jasfoup put down the tow deckchairs and looked up at the sky. Cloudless, it held the gibbous moon low in the eastern quarter. Thanks to Harold’s insistence on using the northern lawn, light pollution from the town was low and a twist of the Milky Way was visible arching overhead.

“An intergalactic space fleet, heading our way,” said Harold. He lowered the glasses and took the seat Jasfoup assembled. “Uncle Frederick told me about it this morning.” He looked up in time to see a streak of fire. “Look!” he said. “There’s one!”

That’s a meteor,” said Jasfoup, settling into his own chair. “Earth is moving through the Pleiades cluster. There should be quite a show.”

Harold sighed. “Frederick was having me on?” he said.

Jasfoup nodded. “I’m afraid so.” He pulled a flask out of his copious inner pocket. “Tea?”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Racial Networking


When you travel a long distance and meet someone you would never have expected to be there a common phrase is that it’s a ‘small world’. It isn’t, really. The world, compared to the size of your average Joe (as opposed to your average John) is actually pretty darned huge. The coincidences actually happen pretty frequently. This is not the fault of planning, or chance or destiny, it has a lot to do with the way a human brain works.

There’s a lot of brain power fro very little effort of the part of a mortal. He is inherently lazy. God uses that largely vacant computer power to run the planet, as if it was a giant supercomputer networked across eight billion brains. You might think it a coincidence that your next-door neighbour chose to holiday in Los Palmas at the same time as you, but in reality you both picked up on the thoughts of Paulo Callsta debating opening a bar there last week

You see, God is lazy too. Omnipotence is knowing which news feed to read.
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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Blunder



It might have been a casual blunder that led Billy Jenkins to fall through the gable end of the west wing of Laverstone Manor. The lure of several hundreds of running feet of soft lead, the traditional flashing for eighteenth century roofs, had led him to risk the wrath of the occupants. The secrecy with which Harold and his chosen family kept their natures left the locals thinking them easy targets. Not so, as Billy found out when he leaned on a gargoyle to steady himself and it bit his hand.

His skittering dislodged several tiles and his subsequent landing in the western loft left him broken across two beams. He survived long enough to see the gargoyles coming to feast.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Battle for St. Jude's


“We need a full frontal attack,” said Harold. “Gillian and Felicia attacking from the front, Julie and Jasfoup on the left flank and Valerie and I on the right.”

“There’s no need for such gratuitous violence,” said Meinwen. “This is the annual church jumble sale, not a Normandy landing.”

“You haven’t seen the people that attend,” said Harold. “You got to be as brutal as you can, just to be on a level with their casual indifference.”

“You make it sound like the apocalypse,” said Meinwen. “We’re talking little old ladies at a church jumble sale.”

“That’s just like an apocalypse,” said Harold. “They have sharp elbows, do grannies. I had a bruise for a week last year.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quicksilver


Felicia watched the fish as they swam in shafts of sunlight filtered through leaves. A flash of quicksilver as a ghost koi darted from beneath a lily pad to snatch at the dry flakes of food and then darkness.

She hovered over the water for a moment, ready to test her reflexes against that of the fish. Gillian’s semi-feral cats began to line up, expecting a free dinner.

“You’d better not.” Harold took a seat at the side of the bench. “I think that as much as Julie loves anything she loves those fish. She’d be upset to learn it was you depleting her pond and not the cats after all.”

“You wouldn’t tell her, would you?”

“No, of course not.” Harold waved a hand. “I can be bought.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lofty Ideals


Harold’s loft could have comfortably housed the whole congregation of St. Jude’s with room to spare. The central section of the manor had almost no loft at all, the original architect declining to include a room for the storage of yet-to-be-invented Christmas trees and old cardboard boxes. The wings were another matter entirely and had great vaulted roofs with windows already set under eaves to give the appearance of a much larger household staff.. There were no stairs to these fly-encrusted adobes, their only access being through a small hatch at either end of the top floor landing, disused for years.

So when the smell of rotting meat permeated the manor, it was little wonder that the lofts were the second-to-last place he’d look.

Book Burnings


Harold was nervous, pacing across the staff kitchen like a tin train with a head of steam. Jasfoup had to physically push him into a seat and put a cup of tea in front of him. “What’s got you so rattled?” he asked. “You’re like a baby with a full nappy.”

“Good image. Thanks.” Harold frowned, his fingers wrapped around the hot cup. “I’ve just heard the local branch of Earthbricks got torched,” he said. “While that’s great for business generally, it’s not great for us specifically.”

“Why not?” Jasfoup grinned. “Surely the reduction in bookshops will drive more business to this one?”

“Yes, but the wrong kind of business.” Harold scowled. “The last thing I need in here is a bunch of snot-nosed kids wanting copies of Rowling’s latest grammar graveyard.”

“Right.” Jasfoup nodded. “I’ll tell Devious to cancel the brimstone.”

Monday, August 04, 2008

Three of a Kind


“So which of you stole the tarts?” asked Harold. His mother had just telephoned with the news that all the baking she’d done for Shannon’s surprise birthday party had vanished with the dawn. “Only the three of you, and me and mum, knew about it”

“It was them,” said Devious, pointing at his sons.

“Not me.” Delirious shrugged. “I wouldn’t dare.” They both looked John.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I did eat one of the apple ones, but the pastry was too heavy. She hasn’t got the touch at all, has she, though I do hear she makes divine sponges. Anyway, I was too worried about it all going on my hips so I showed Mr. Jasfoup to see whether he thought them fattening. Well, he had to try one, didn’t he? Just to see. Then he had to try the other sorts to see if they were fattening and by the time he was finished there were none left and he wasn’t any fatter at all.”

“But look on the bright side,” said Devious.

“What’s that?”

“It’ll save Shannon from eating them.”



Shannon is my adopted niece, daughter of Tracie, 16 today. Happy Birthday, Shannon.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Harry’s Gas ‘n’ Grub



Harold resented having to put petrol in his van. Particularly late at night and especially at “Harry’s 24/7 Petrol and Groceries.”

“I hate using this place,” he said to Gillian in a fierce whisper. “That night porter always looks at me funny.”

“I’m not surprised Harold.” Gillian lit a cheroot and dropped ash on the forecourt. It glowed brightly against the petrol-washed concrete before fading to a dull grey. “Most people would bring a petrol can down here an d fill it up. You must be the only person in the village to drive his lawnmower a mile and a half at midnight to fill the tank.”

“It has to be at night,” Harold said. “It’s not taxed or MOTd and I don’t want Sergeant Crum nabbing me.”

“It hasn’t got any lights, either.”

“So? I can see perfectly well in the dark. Now do me a favour and pay, would you? And don’t forget the loyalty points.”

“Very well, Harold. Anything for a quiet life. I’d rather walk home though.”

“Why? I made that trailer especially for you.”

“And I appreciate it.” Gillian bent to give him a peck on the cheek. “It’s just that I feel ridiculous riding on a wheeled rocking horse.”

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Negative Space


The bush shook slightly, betraying the presence of the creature hidden in its branches. Harold, safe in his hiding place, aimed the camera, focusing the lens until he had a pin-point shot of the elusive creature. He held his breath and pressed the shutter release.

“It won’t work, you know,” said Jasfoup. “Night fae are Denizens. The camera won’t pick them up. That’s one of the reasons there are so many in the cities now. All the fast food outlets offer them easy pickings.”

Harold flicked on the view screen anyway. Sure enough, the frame held only the echo of the creature; a negative space of leaves and twisted branches.

Twilight of the Dogs


The Society of Twilight continued after the death of its founders and switched, not so much to a democracy as a kleptocracy, where each department stole just enough from the others to survive on its meager budget. Like an Escher design, where one hand draws the next in an infinite loop, the departments survived successive funding cuts until Terry Lenkman, assistant director of ecological services, made the suggestion that they all declare a truce and begin to steal from outside the organisation.

That was the end of the kleptocracy. They had to invent a new name for what they were doing not.

They called themselves the Government.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Three Shorts


Healthy Living

I bought a book last week about Zen and the Art of Healthy Living. I read it yesterday and I’m a reformed character. No more burgers and colas for me. From now on it’s all green tea and the lotus position.

The only trouble is that I can’t reach the tea from the lotus position.


Black Balled

One tends to caution when a fledgling vampire is disconcertingly eager to bite a former acquaintance. They don’t realise the number of committees, requisition forms and psychological profiling it takes to approve new members to the Camerade.

I watched young Elizabeth bite her boyfriend. Their screams as I staked them were music to my ears.


Mrs. Henderson’s Apple Trees

Windchimes tinkle in the garden when there’s no breeze. People have forgotten the origins of these ringing pipes. It’s not to make a pretty noise or to scare birds. It to warn us when the faery creatures are at large.

I’m ready for them. Let them come if they dare. I have my shotgun ready.