Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dryad


“So what is that, exactly?” asked Harold, staring at the little green man. “He doesn’t look very friendly.”

“It’s a dryad,” said Jasfoup quietly, pulling him away step by silent step. “A warrior of the Faery King.”

“What does it want with us?” Harold continued staring as the demon pulled him away. “I’ve seen statues and wall plaques of him. He’s supposed to be the King of the Forest, isn’t he?”

“From the king, yes.” Jasfoup squatted at a safe distance. “People see dryad and only half remember, so the folklore gets confused and paints them as the Oak Lord instead. As for what he wants, it’s mating time for the Fae. I expect the king has sent him to kidnap you.”

“What?” Harold exclaimed. “The Faery king wants to mate with me?”

“Don’t be silly, Harold. He want’s you as leverage against the Fae Queen.”

“Oh, right.”

Jasfoup grinned. “You sound disappointed.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bramble Cuts



Jasfoup was just pulling bread out of the oven when Lucy came running in, her summer dress soaked with water* and blood dripping from the palm of her chubby hand.

“Uncle J!” she cried. “I cut myself.”

“Let me see.” Jasfoup licked the corner of his pinny and wiped away the blood to reveal a jagged tear across her palm, two inches long. “Let me get the first aid kit,” he said. “I think we can get away without stitches today.”

Lucy’s face crinkled at the thought of more stitches.

Jasfoup smiled and dabbed the cut with anti-sceptic ointment, wishing he could protect her from all the little miseries of life. “How did this happen?” he asked, dropping the cotton-wool into the bin and manoeuvring a plaster from its protective shielding.*

“Brambles,” said Lucy. She was four now but, unlike most children her age, still had the Sight. She would be starting school in the autumn and would lose it then. There was no space on the curriculum for ‘talking to your dead mother and her pet werewolf.’

“Brambles?” Jasfoup repeated. “Were you picking blackberries?”

“Brambles the cat,” sighed Lucy. She pulled her hand away before the demon could seal the plaster with a kiss. “I was giving him a bath and he scratched me.”

“Ah.” Jasfoup began to put the first aid kit away. “Cats don’t like baths, then?”

“It’s not the bath he was averse to,” said Lucy. “It was the bikini line trim with Daddy’s electric razor.”





*He hoped it was just water

**Much easier when someone else does it. Plasters are designed to be opened with two hands, much to the disgruntlement of every single person with a cut finger.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Long Shadows


Clarissa seethed all the way to the church. How dare Millicent Waters make such vacuous comments about her son. Not good enough for her precious Rose, was he? After he’d given his life for his country? She’d show them all.

The sun slid behind the poplars, leaving deepening shadows as she made her way through the graveyard to Bertram’s grave. She rooted in her carpet bag and pulled out the stub of a tallow candle, lighting it with one of the long tapered matches from the Manor kitchens.

She marked the turf into twelve foot-square sections and began to dig.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Independence Day

Lucy’s first flat was full of excitement and cardboard boxes and dirty mugs in the sink. Her father had been reluctant to let her go but even he had to admit (with Gran pulling his fingers back until he yelped) that independence was a sign of maturity.

They’d compromised. Gran had put feelers out for a flat for her to rent that was local enough that Lucy could drop in for a chat but far enough away from her farther and aunts that she didn’t feel stifled. As luck would have it, the top floor of a house in Bobbin Mill Lane was up for rent at a reasonable rate – just within the budget of a seventeen year old girl with her first job in Channel Fashion. Utilities included, too.

Harold finished unloading the van, took a look at the small mountain of cardboard boxes and offered to help her decorate. “No dad,” Lucy said. “This is my flat and I’ll do it myself.” He gave her a hug, pressing a twenty pound note in her hand. “Get yourself some chips,” he said.

Gran had offered advice. “Get your bedroom sorted out,” she said. “You can ignore the rest so long as you’ve got a tidy haven.” She’d left as well, shooing Felicia and Julie out in front of her. The downstairs door slammed and Lucy was alone at last, free to decorate her new flat however she pleased.

But how could she decorate silence?

Even Harold shed a tear.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RatRaces


Jasfoup wasn’t known as a sporting man, though he generally kept his views on the subject to himself. He could never be persuaded to bet on horses, for example, citing the need to collect the souls of so many that did as reason enough for abstinence, but wasn’t averse to the idea for other, more interested people.

Every fourth Saturday would see him donning his best suit and travelling to the cellars and tunnels beneath Laverstone Town Hall for the monthly racing. Men from all over the county bred rats to race in the Laverstone Pit Tracks and there was money and prestige to be had.

Jasfoup rarely lost and betted mostly upon his sidekick’s racer. One of the faults of rodent racing was the tendency of the mounts to wander off course and look for food. Devious, as rat trainer extraordinaire, had begun training mice to act as jockeys – a simple enough affair you would think but the little souls* had difficulty holding the reins without thumbs.

There were no rules specifically against it, but when the Waterhouse Stables won all seven races in one night, as inquiry was only to be expected.

Thus were the Disqualification Wars begun. Jasfoup refused to concede that Devious’ creations were against the spirit of the RatRace. He maintained that not a single one of the seventy-six 1840 rules disqualified cybernetics.




*An expression only, since mice (or rats) didn’t have souls.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Delicate Matter


Jasfoup looked up as the door opened, following the line of his elegant legs to his boots resting on the antique oak desk to the full-moon face of Harold standing in the doorway. He used the remote to turn the volume down.*

“Yes, Harold? What can I do for you?”

“It’s this original manuscript of Shakespeare’s,” said Harold, stepping forward. “It strikes me as odd that such a great playwright should mess up the title of his own play.”

“Oh?” Jasfoup swung his legs off the desk. “Let me see.”

Harold laid the manuscript down. “Love’s Labour’s List, see?”

“A typo, surely?”

“In a handwritten manuscript?”

“I see what you mean.” Jasfoup took out a penknife** and sharpened a quill. Choosing a shade of dark sepia ink he made the necessary adjustment. His handwriting matched perfectly. “There,” he said. “Good as new.”

“Oh.” Harold looked from the manuscript to the demon. “Thanks,” he said. He turned to leave and then paused. “What was that music,” he asked. “it was lovely.”

“Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G minor,” said Jasfoup. “Did you like it?”

“I prefer Tchaikovsky’s sixth.”

“Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony?” Jasfoup snorted back a laugh. “It’s Pathétique,”



*This meant he prodded Devious to go into the next room to change the settings on the server.

** Two point four inches. Still legal in the United Kingdom***

***Not like the rapier he kept down his trouser leg.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Faery Dues


Laverstone Manor is, for the early part of the morning, in the shadow of the mountain. Much as that phrase is romantic, the mountain in question is only a mountain by reputation, not by scientific measure. Blue Fairy Mountain stands only 397 feet and is a modern corruption of the name ‘Blue Fae Mound’ and refers to the night of the blue moon, every 2 ½ years, when the Faery Queen demands her due (so the legend goes) from the townsfolk.

The shadow is both literal and metaphorical, for only the denizens of the town, those blessed (or cursed) by living in the supernatural realm, know that the Faeries’ dues are all too real.

Laverstone Manor traditionally bears the brunt of the payments.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From the Management

The Year 2012


Jasfoup crouched down on his haunches and pointed to the broken egg shell. “This has been pushed from the nest up there,” he said. “Probably by a cuckoo. This was meant to be a sparrow, but now its parents will work twice as hard raising a cuckoo baby instead.”

“It doesn’t seem fair,” said the little girl next to him. “Why couldn’t the sparrow baby have a chance to live, too?”

“God’s fickle laws,” said the demon. “He will, apparently, have watched it fall.”

The three year old bent to the dried, long-dead foetus and touched it. “I think it should live,” she said.

The raw red featherless sparrow struggled upright and made a rasping cheep. Jasfoup sighed and picked Harold’s young daughter up. “You really should control that power,” he said, burying her head against his chest and covering her ears. “One day you’ll get into so much trouble.”

He carried her back to the house, ensuring that she didn’t notice the first step he took, the one that crushed the undead.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chance Meeting


“Mr. Jasfoup!” Frederick smiled. “I though you said you couldn’t make it into town today? Mr. Jasfoup?” He nudged the demon, who gave a start and stepped back a pace. “Back with us now? I swear, you were looking right through me.”

“Frederick?” Jasfoup frowned at the solid appearance of his old friend. “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”

“Don’t be absurd.” Frederick clapped him on the shoulder. “I only saw you this morning.”

“Good for you.” Jasfoup smiled. “Perhaps I could buy you a cup of tea.”

“A small whisky wouldn’t go amiss.” The poet grinned and began walking. “I see you’ve found another copy of my book. Is that for the library?”

“Yes.” Jasfoup passed it to him. “How many is that?”

“Twenty-seven,” said Frederick. “I feel so sorry for them, cast adrift upon an uncaring world like heroes after the deed is done.”

Jasfoup nodded. “Damned heroes,” he said, opening the door to the café. “Mocha latté?”

“A what?” Frederick frowned. “I’ll have a cup of tea, same as you.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Averting Catastrophe


Jasfoup handed the stallholder a few coins and pocketed the second-hand book of poetry. She opened an old biscuit tin and poured the coins inside, “Wait a minute,” she said, fishing out a coin. “This is a foreign one.”

“Sorry.” Jasfoup tried to take it from her but she stepped back out of his reach. “It was unintentional,” he said. “Here, have a replacement.”

She frowned and looked at him. “Where’s this from?” she asked. “It says ‘1986’ on the back. That’s eight years from now.”

“I didn’t mean to give you that,” said Jasfoup. “I just bought it today. It’s one of the Battersea mis-stamps from the Royal Mint in ’76. It’s worth over a pound.”

“Really?” Her face lit up. “’appen you’ll want it back then.”

“Of course.” Jasfoup held out his hand. “Here’s another one.”

“If it’s worth over a pound, you’ll pay me fifty pence for it, I expect.”

Jasfoup nodded and took out his purse. “You are an avaricious witch,” he said, pocketing the coin and thus avoiding a temporal calamity. “How about I take you to lunch?”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Costs of Living


“What’s going on?” said Harold, waving a letter at Jasfoup. “I’m not made of money.”

“I know.” Jasfoup took the windowed brown envelope and tapped it against the heel of his left hand. “If you were made of money you’ve be worth something.”

“Yes, fourpence.” Harold sat down. “Why am I getting a bill for the blinking church?”

“How should I know?” Jasfoup pushed the teapot toward him. “Have a cuppa. It’s good for shock, they tell me, though I’ve always found ten thousand volts does the job.”

Harold pulled out the chair and collapsed into it. “I’d cut my head off for the insurance but I’m only worth a tenner.”

“Don’t be so self deprecating,” said Jasfoup, tucking the bill into his breast pocket. “You’re worth at least seven hundred and sixty pounds.”

“Thanks.” Harold frowned. “That’s a bit precise. How did you work that out?”

Jasfoup drank the rest of his tea as he rose. “That’s the value of your organs on the black market. Must dash.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Don't talk to me about Life... Assurance


“What’s this you’ve bought?”

Jasfoup was running through the accounts. Harold, as usual, had let them slide into a tangled mess of receipts and invoices worthy of any accountant’s nightmare.

Harold looked up from his perusal of the new edition of Gossamer’s Bible Alterations: Editorial Decisions and typographical Errors to Damn the Unwary and shrugged. “It a life assurance policy,” he said. “The salesman said it was risk-free so I signed up.”

“Risk free to whom?” Jasfoup examined it. “There’s no payout until death, Harold, and you’re paying a hundred pounds a month.”

“That’s right. It’s so that I can leave a bit for my loved ones, to cushion the blow of ma passing.”

“You have a three hundred year lifespan, Harold.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know that.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Heaven's Fall


With a sweep of his hand Harold directed his rag-tag band of fallen angels to attack the last stand of the Heavenly Host; a church in a village in Gloucestershire. It was fitting that the last battle be on England’s Green and Pleasant Land, although it was neither green nor pleasant any more. What God hadn’t destroyed with his rain of fire and brimstone had fallen prey to the locust-wasps when Big John had opened the Second Seal.

He looked away for a moment as Belphegor fell prey to the Archangel Michael’s Bow of Burning Gold, fired from a bell tower that collapsed a moment later from the sweep of He Who Is Dragon’s tail. Another motion and hordes of Nazgul…

“Wait a minute.” Jasfoup paused the game. “We don’t have Nazgul. You’ve imported those from another game, haven’t you?”

“There’re no rules to say I can’t,” said Harold.

“Yes there are.” Jasfoup glowered. “And while we’re at it, why do I always have to play Heaven?”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Melancholy Moment


The day being fine – an improvement over the last couple of weeks – Harold elected to wander up to the cupola in the roof. The spiral staircase from the top floor to the aerial room hadn’t been swept for a while, and he brushed the cobwebs from his face as he heaved up the trapdoor, surprised and annoyed that someone had sawn around the bolt from the outside. *

The altar slab was exactly as he remembered it from Gillian’s resurrection and, once Devious had appeared with a mug of tea and a saucer of three biscuits, he used it as an impromptu seat, surveying his land and that of the farms to the west. The buzz of a tractor intruded as Mr. Johns, who owned the adjoining farm and rented two field from Harold, lifted the giant, plastic-wrapped rolls of hay onto the back of a wagon.

“Whatever happened to haystacks?” Harold said. “I used to love playing in those.”

“Me too.” Devious watched the farmer for a moment, a flame dancing across his claws like the dime in an old gangster movie. “They used to burn so well.”



*That's how Vixen got inside in Dead Line

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quiet Jim

“The trouble with believing in reincarnation,” said Quiet Jim. “Is that once you’ve been reborn a couple of times you can’t not believe in it.”

“What?” Pete Carpenter took a sip of his pint. “You’ve lived before, you mean?”

“Of course. Haven’t you?”

“Not that I know of.” Pete frowned. “Did you go to one of them hypnotists and find out you was Henry the eighth or something?”

“No. I was just born with all the memories of my former lives,” said Jim. “I wasn’t anyone famous or nothing. I was a private in the trenches in 1917 and got killed by a bomb, and a steelworker in the forties, until the factory got bombed.”

“That’s amazing,” said Pete. “What have you learned, over your three lifetimes?”

“That I always end up with the same woman,” said Quiet Pete, “and that suicide bombers get reincarnated.”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

History Lesson


Laverford Forge once rested on the edge of what is now Laverstone Manor. It was part of the coaching inn and used irregularly until 1685 when a foreign gentleman (viewed with much suspicion and accepted – grudgingly – only because of his impeccable English and extensive repertoire of plays and anecdotes) arrived from Italy and offered to work it for his keep.

After a display of his craft, where it took him only seven minutes to fashion a horseshoe and only fourteen hours to make a rapier, his offer was accepted without further hesitation. The news of this wondrous blacksmith (and the oddity of his coal-dark skin in Puritan England) spread as far as Kent and Northumberland and the Inn prospered along with the smithy.

The whole nation mourned when LaverFord Inn burned down in 1712, taking the famous forge with it. The Blacksmith survived, but with the advent of a bridge over the river business had shifted and the coaches became accustomed to using the White Hart in the village.

Laver’s Ford was no more, and the village commemorated the new bridge by changing its name to LaverStone. The old Inn became the site of the new manor house but the smith, who went by the name of Jasfoup, was never seen again.

Blacksmith's sign by Black Forge Art

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cannon to the left of them...


The Royal Park in Laverstone has the honour of holding one of the few remaining cannons from the battle of Trafalgar. It’s rusted now and the barrel was stoppered with concrete some time in the 1960s after it became a repository for the ring pulls from cans of Coca-cola and Tab.

It gets a brush down and a lick of black paint before the May Day parade and a second one just prior to Remembrance Day – fitting that a weapon of war has become part of the war memorial.

Harold was fined £450 plus costs when he ‘borrowed’ it for Felicia’s exhibition of Gillian’s paintings ‘The Art of War.’ He was also asked how he managed to remove the six hundred pound cannon from the memorial (to which it was welded) and transport it the ¾ mile to the gallery without aid of a crane. He declined to answer.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Heat.


Harold hates having to visit his dad. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as when he wants a purple travel ticket (travel to the past) and he has to apply in person and get his dad to authorize the chit.

The other demons are suspicious of his motives. They’ve worked hard for a long time to gain their positions, and the last thing they want (apart from the apocalypse) is some usurping brat of the Fallen Prince nicking their jobs.

There’s one thing about the Inferno that Harold likes. While the eternal torment is a bit of a drag for the damned, Hell has the best saunas.

Monday, September 08, 2008

May King Out


There’s a tradition of maypole dancing and Beltane festivities in Laverstone. Mostly it’s an excuse for a party and a medieval fair around the town centre (as opposed to ‘Barney’s Fun Fair’ which occupies the park on the May Day bank holiday weekend) and the environs of St. Jude’s.

While the tradition of the May King and Queen is relatively well known, what is less celebrated is what happens at the end of the year, when the Forest King returns to the land, to be butchered so that the new harvest can begin. The God is symbolically reborn afterwards.

Ronnie Walker enjoyed being May King to the nineteen year old queen, Lisa Brown. He thought that was the end of his duties, other than to pass on his crown of oak and ivy leaves. The Society of Chaotic Kinship has other ideas. They want a return to the old ways, and Lisa has an ancient knife.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Forgery


It takes a peculiar kind of dedication to be a forger. John had it in spades, though he was often so absorbed in his work that he had an almost child-like quality of thought. If asked, for example, where he got the mulberry-leaf paper he was using to reproduce the seventeenth century edition of “Croeso y Fae” he would say ‘up a tree’ rather than explain the process he used to make paper in the traditional method using water and horse urine. He is a master craftsman. Every process of a forgery is done meticulously in exactly the way they would have done it originally. “Better than the original” is one of his regular phrases, though he can’t predict the aging process.

For that he nips back in time and leaves it in the mausoleum. That’s the benefits of being an imp.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Heart and By-pass


Chen Niroshi lived on the other side of the tracks to most people in Laverstone. He’d come to Britain in 1953 with very little money and had taken what work he could. A caretaker/porter at the railway station paid very little, but Western Railways allowed him the use of a disused carriage on one of the sidings free of charge.

It didn’t matter to Niroshi that the wheels had rusted to the rails or that his water had to be piped from a tank he’d set up to catch the rainwater from the roof, over the years he’d re-designed the carriage with scavenged materials to resemble a gypsy caravan.

He was understandable upset when the Highways agency bought the land to build a bypass.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Works Van


“Jasfoup? Would you have a look at the van, please?”

“Sure Harold.” Jasfoup went outside to the tiny parking bay at the back of the shop. “I see it,” he called back. “It’s green with writing on the sides in gold leaf.”

“Very funny.” Harold followed him out. “Would you have a look at the engine, I meant. It’s running off kilter.”

“What do you expect me to do about it?” Jasfoup took the keys off him to open the door. He popped the bonnet lock. “I’m not a mechanic.”

“No, but you’re good with gremlins,” said Harold. “There’s a homeless family taken up residence behind the alternator. See if you can bribe them or something.”