Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jasfoup's "Happy New Year"

Evening Class



“Welcome to the creative fold, they said.”

Harold dropped his sports bag on the floor of the scullery and stomped through to the toilet.

“Didn’t it go well, love?” Ade put the kettle on. Everything was better for a cup of tea.

“Not really no,” said Harold through the toilet door. He paused to flush and wash his hands and opened the door still grasping the towel. “I wouldn’t have minded if they’d been honest in their lack of knowledge, but nobody even raised an eyebrow when I casually dropped the fact I was a black belt in Ikebana.”

Ada shook her head in sympathy. “They weren’t real martial artists, then?”

“No. They weren’t even impressed with my origami katana.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Patriot Names


“But why do we need a church?” Harold asked, standing in the nave of St Marple’s. “I mean, I appreciate the gesture that you arranged to have this transferred to my name but it makes a pitiful income compared to the cost of upkeep and taxes.

“It’s not actually a church, though,” said Jasfoup. “It’s never been consecrated. That means that you can have anyone in here with no risk of injury.”

“You mean demons,” said Harold.

“And vampires.” If a demon was ever likely to wink, Jasfoup was close to it. “And thanks to the market stalls, it’s already an official civic area. All you need is a non-denominational priest and you could marry anyone in a church.”

“I see.” Harold nodded and began to walk around the vast space. “And I could launch half a dozen missiles from the tower. Roll on, the apocalypse, because that’s as likely as me getting married.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Business Opportunity


Manfred (Manny) Humbolt was an Agent of Chaos. It said so in his calling card, along with the words ‘Reverend’ and ‘licensed registrar’ but there was little call for chaotic weddings in Laverstone (where most brides-to-be preferred the sedate predictability of Bride Boutique) so he worked at the Filbert Street Garage Tuesdays to Saturday Lunch. His boss, Winston Campbell, had started the business as a sole trader less than a year ago but thanks to the recession had already been forced to hire two more mechanics, Manny and Tom Blesset (who worked part time for Triple-S cabs).

It was with some surprise that Manny was called into the office on Thursday and he nodded a greeting to both his boss and a customer he remembered clearly as ‘souped-up van man’ before taking a seat on the vinyl padded tubular chair.


“Are you up for performing a wedding ceremony?” Winston asked.

“Sure.” Manny grinned at the customer. “I left my card in your crazy van, didn’t I? Are you sure you want a chaotic priest ?”

“I think you’d fit the bill to a T, old chap.” Van Man smiled and held out a hand. His palm felt too warm for a windy mid-November day but Manny just put it down to working in a cold repair shop. “You don’t mind working at night, I presume?”

“Sure, whatever you want,” said Manny. “You want it in a crypt as well?”

“Certainly not!” Harold Waterman winked. “We’ll save that for the honeymoon.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Manifested Crate


Harold stared at the crate, suspicion crowding his features but the crowbar in his hand itching to prise off the lid.

“What’s in it?” Jasfoup asked.
“It smells of
salt
and damp cinnamon.”


“The manifest says books and scrolls from Egypt and Mesopotamia,” said Harold. “Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like
you developed
an overnight stammer?”


“Oh that.” Jasfoup shrugged. “I was experimenting with haiga on my blog. It comes out better written down, apparently.”

“You have a blog? You didn’t tell me.”

“It’s a bit exclusive,” said Jasfoup. “I only let special people read it.”

“Am I not special?”

“Of course you are, Harold. Very special. Are you going to open this crate or not?”

Harold sighed and, stepping forward, levered the top off. The room was flooded with the mixed scents of cardamon, cinnamon and mildew. He pulled out a crumbling scroll. “It’s blank,” he said.

“Look in the bottom of the crate,” said Jasfoup.

“Perhaps
the words
have just fallen off.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Just Warming Up


Jasfoup queued at the tea van for ages* the morning after the raft race and came back with a tray of three teas (himself, Harold, Julie), a coffee (Felicia) and a hot water (Meinwen) only to be told that Harold didn’t want a tea, he’d asked for a chocolate milkshake.

“Why?” he said. “I’ve never even seen you drink a milkshake before, let alone forego a tea for one.”

Meinwen plucked a piece of thyme from the nearest garden and dropped it in her hot water. “That’s Tom’s snack van though,” she said. “I’ve seen how clean he keeps it. At least the milk shakes are bottled and sealed.”

Jasfoup looked back at the van and frowned. “Good point,” he said. “I’ll take these back.”

*Three, almost four minutes – mainly because the chap in front of me had upset the milk all over the counter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Tragic Death Of Santa Claus # 317.


Sergeant Brandsford knelt over the red-clad body and extracted the deceased’s driving license. “There’s something else.” he said. “A Father Christmas license. Number 317. He had a pitch outside the Amazon Nightclub on Friar Street.”

He stood up while Chambers, the coroner, examined him. “Any indication of cause of death?”

Chambers nodded. “A rade disease,” he said, “Fortunately not contagious. Had he been abroad at all?”

Brandsford flicked through the wallet. “There’re two expired tickets to Brazil,” he said.

Chambers nodded. “Just as I thought. He must have eaten the meat of the South American Rainforest Deer and had an allergic reaction, exacerbated by the warm winter clothing. I’ve only ever seen it happen at this time of year.”

“Why? What did he die of?”

“Jungle Balls.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Shopping


Ted Flynn loved opening the windows in December. One a day, the doctor said. You weren’t allowed to open more than one a day. Ted could live with that. Today was the 24th, though – the last window. He wasn’t allowed any after tonight, not until next year. The doctor had been talking about Advent calendars. Ted had been talking about houses.

This would be the best haul, mind. There would be dozens of presents under the tree tonight because the residents of this house didn’t seem to be short of a bob or two.

Fleetingly, he wondered why no-one had ever burgled Laverstone manor before.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Joy Ride


“But Officer…”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you were well over the speed limit for this flight path. I’m going to have to suspend your license.”

“But… doesn’t there have to be a court conviction for that to happen?”

“Not in this case, sir. It is quite clear that you’re over the limit for alcohol consumption, too.”

“It was only a glass of port… and every house for the last seven hundred miles… but I can hold my liquor.”

“Nevertheless… Blow into this, please?”

“What seems to be the trouble, officer?”

PC Gloop Brandsford winced at the sound of the newcomer’s voice. They’d warned him about this at Cadet College. What to do when your girlfriend’s father interferes.

“No trouble, Mr. Waterman. I was just about to arrest this gentleman for doing Mach 3 in a 20 MPH zone.”

“I see.” Harold waterman consulted with his business partner Mr. Jasfoup. “Well carry on then,” he said. “We’ll wait for the towing vehicle if you like.”

“Would you sir? That’s kind of you. I should watch out for the reindeer, though. Vicious beasts if you ask me.”

“Indeed.” Harold ran his fingers over the curve of the sleigh. “We’ll take good care it it.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yellow Snow


When Harold was a young boy, Ada let him play in the snow as long as he wrapped up warmly and remembered his mittens.* He often wondered where the coloured snow came from but having tasted it (strawberry, lime, orange and blackcurrant) stopped worrying.

“What was the yellow,” he asked, almost thirty years later.

“The yellow what?” said Jasfoup, flicking hazlenuts into the fire where they exploded with tiny pops.

“The yellow snow,” said Harold, “when I was a kid. It was you, wasn’t it, looking after me and making coloured slushies for me in the garden.”

“It was,” said Jasfoup. “Your mum asked me to watch over you, but I never left you any yellow snow. That was the dog from number 36.”





*He would deliberately forget them since all the other kids had gloves and a ten year old with mittens is asking for trouble.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Curry Sauce


Jasfoup turned off the news. “There’s unrest in Marjpur,” he said. “That can only mean one thing.

“What’s that?” said Harold, glancing up from his bowl of heat-and-eat some-kind-of-meat-in-curry-sauce-and-rice*

“Kali,” said Jasfoup. “I noticed her house was shut up for the winter. People can tell when she’s about, they get edgy, especially if she wants a good curry.”

“Ha!” Harold threw down hid microwaveable tray. “Anything would be better than that. Even a Vesta.”

“I send her a take-away from the Olden Laice,” said Jasfoup. “Devious can nip it over to India for her.”

“What good will that do?”

“She’s been in England for seven months,” said the demon. “She’ll be used to curries made with powder by now. A real curry just won’t taste right.”



* bought on an almost-out-of-date 40% off offer from the local convenience store**

**convenient for whom, Jasfoup always thought.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No to Age Banding on sweeties


“You shouldn’t have employed him,” said Jasfoup. “He’s a madman.”

“Laurence seemed all right to me,” said Harold. “Rather pleasant, in fact. He knew a lot about comics.”

“I like comics,” said Lucy. “Will he stock ‘Mandragora’ and ‘Phantasm’, do you think?”

“Aren’t you a bit young for those, darling? They’re adult rated and you’re only eight.”

“You said no to age banding,” said Lucy. “I’m expanding my vocabulary.”

“I’ll take your word for that.” Harold reached out and took one of her strawberry whips out of the bag. “This is… realistic…” he said. “They never made licorice whips in eight-plait when I was a child. What sweet shop did you buy it at?”

“Not a sweet shop, daddy. I got it at the Annie Winters store. I got jelly handcuffs, too but I gave them to Laurence downstairs.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. Bear’s Bath



Harold found his daughter huddled between the side of the bed and the wall, sobbing her heart out.* “Whatever’s the matter, darling?” he said, squatting down next to her and giving me a cuddle.

“I asked Mr. Bear if he wanted a bath,” she said, sniffing. “And he said no!”

“Did he really?” said Harold, glaring at the offending toy. “I shall have to have some stern words with Young Edward Bear.

“In my defence,” said Devious, peeling off the teddy bear suit, “she wanted to put me in the washing machine.”




*figuratively speaking. It would be too messy otherwise.


Stew the Bear courtesy of Cindy Hains

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bath Night


Harold regarded his four-year old with resignation. “I don’t remember there being a giant tadpole in the house,” he said, “so why is there a big frog?”

“Ribbit,” said the frog, and giggled.

Harold scratched his chin. “You can’t stay here, Mr. Frog,” he said. “Frogs are supposed to live in the garden pond. You’d better hop to it.”

Frog giggled again and made a half-hearted hop toward the stairs.

“Are you hungry?” Harold asked.

The frog nodded.

“Well then, perhaps I can make you a slug-and-woodlice risotto with a bluebottle garnish. Does that sound good?”

“Ewww.” The frog looked, if anything, greener.

“I hear there’s a giant frog upstairs,” came Jasfoup’s voice. “Send it to the kitchen. I’ve got some lemon dressing and there’ll be enough frogs-legs for us all on that.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Expanding Power


“I’m bigger than God,” said Harold from behind the computer screen. “I can kick his ass anytime I like.”

Jasfoup snorted. “Are you playing ‘Apocalypse’ again? I thought you’d got tires of that after your whole army of undead got trashed by Putti raiding party.”

“I did.” Harold tapped away at the keys for a moment. “I was so annoyed about that I uninstalled the game. Mind you, it left a ghost image on my hard drive.”

“It would,” said Jasfoup. “That’s the supernatural for you. So where are you bigger than God, then?”

Harold looked up and grinned. “Facebook.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gran's Visit


Lucy scowled as she dropped a box of old books and toys at the back door. “Why do I have to tidy my room because Gran is coming?” she said. “Gran loves me whether my room is tidy or not, doesn’t she?”

“Of course she does,” said Harold, “so if you don’t want to clean your room I quite understand. I’ll even try to hide all the wooden spoons from the kitchen.”

“That’s okay.” Lucy gave him her version of her mother’s lopsided smile. “I clean it.”

“Excellent.” Harold smiled at her, pleased at his mastery of pre-teen manipulation. He looked through the box. “Wait!” he said. “Are you really throwing out ‘A Treasury of Fairy Tales?”

“I’m a bit old for it, Dad. Who could ever believe in a Gingerbread house?”

Harold looked suddenly uncomfortable. “You’ve never been to your Great Aunt Lydia’s, have you?”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Crumbling Infrastructure


“It’s no good,” said Harold, throwing his pencil across the room, where it sank into the plaster to a depth of an inch. “I can’t get these books to balance.”

“Literally or economically?” said Jasfoup, looking up but keeping his finger on the page of Caroline Smailes’ “Black Boxes”. “Because if you mean financially, you need to take into account that Gordons went into receivership last week.”

“My supplier of contemporary fiction?” said Harold. “Let me feed that into my calculations.” He went quiet for a minute or two before sitting back with a scowl. “I’ll never get the accounts sorted now,” he said. “They owed me three thousand pounds.”

“Do you hear that crinkling sound?” said Jasfoup.

“No. What is it?”

“That’s the sound of the publishing industry collapsing.”

“That’s not funny at all, old friend.”

“Indeed it isn’t.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Technical Failure


Lucy stepped backward and swung the shotgun in an arc, reloading and cocking the trigger at the same time. Bringing it back into her hand, she fired both barrels at the approaching horror, smiling as its knee exploded with the first shot, followed by its head with the second. She swung it again and almost broke her wrist as it jammed.

The second horror snickered. “Ten out of ten for style,” it said, drool puddling the floor, “but minus eleven for technical expertise.”

Lucy sighed. “You’re probably right,” she said, reversing the weapon and smashing the creature’s skull apart with the butt, “although it’s a dual-use firearm.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

Psychic


She faces many futures, textured like an old cottage path littered with the poodle-droppings of pitfalls and death. She navigates carefully, taking minutes to choose this thread or that, seeing in one path her daughter becoming a parent and the other where she remains an old maid, traveling around the world on a millionaire’s yacht. The man behind her coughs and tries to steal her purse from the top of her tote bag but she shifts to the left where the policeman ahead of her sees the action in the mirror above the till.

She saw that future last week.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dear Jane...

Laverstone Manor
Wood Road,
Laverstone.

Jane Hillock
32, Latimer Road,
Laverstone.

Dear Jane.

It has come to my attention that you’re dating James Elverton. Please don’t. He is a notorious womaniser and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to find that he’s not even human, not fully, anyway. Call me mad if you must but I feel obligated to inform you of his goblin heritage. Have you met his mother? Goblin, I tell you. I can smell them a mile off. That’s why I stopped going out with him. It was either that or send his parents back to Hell, which puts a terrible strain on a relationship. You know how it is.

See you at Hockey practice.

Lucy

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Anonymous Source


“Take it from me,” said Harold through the two inch gap of his shop door. “Business might be slow, but the book trade will bloom soon enough. You can’t do without books. Try reading a pdf file in a nuclear winter. You’ll see.”

He was disturbed by the report in that evening’s Laverstone Times. Not only had they not printed his picture, they had not given the name of his shop and put him down as ‘an anonymous source.’ Mrs. Edith Clarke, 67, of Lower Park Way, was quoted in her response. “That bloke is an idiot,” she said. “Hasn’t he heard of batteries?”

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Travelling Demonbillies

Jasfoup stared at the distant wooded hills of North Carolina and the railway tracks leading there. Should he venture that way or stay here in Hicksville, Virgina? He pulled some pennies out of his trouser pocket and set them out on the rails while he debated. North or south?


He stood back as a train approached, heading for Colombia, South Carolina. That settled it. He had a score or two to settle down there, plus one festering soul. He jumped onto a freight wagon.


It was almost a pity he didn’t play the banjo.


Almost.


He just wished no-one did.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Time Out


Lucy watched the other girls going through the gates, laughing and sharing cigarettes on the way to the shop for chips and chocolate. Her time out had been suspended for going out of bounds during a hockey game and then lying about it afterwards.

Her stubborn refusal to change her story was the root of her punishment. Lucy turned to throw a pencil at the chalk board, where it sank in to a third of its length. She hadn’t lied at all. Not one word. There really had been a goblin in the woods.

It had been leering at her.



Image: ©Maryanne 'Mab' English-Betie

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cold Night


Harold shivered and pulled the duvet up further. He was certain he’d caught a chill rounding up those damned horses in the early hours of last night - and without so much as a thank you from the stables they’d escaped from. Then there was Jasfoup’s barbeque in the cold near-dark, although he’d lit a bonfire to keep everyone warm. Harold had no idea where Jasfoup got all those old fence posts from but they gave off a good heat despite smelling of manure.

He was still cold and risked getting up to put another blanket on the bed, a heavy one made by his Aunt Lydia, though he hadn’t seen her since he was a child. The colours were faded but he could still make out part of his old ‘Bleep and Booster’ curtains she’d cut up for patchwork.

He snuggled down again, glad for the extra layer but woke up soon after shivering once more. He rolled over, wrapping himself up like a caterpillar.

“Oy,” said a voice. “You’ve nicked all the blankets, you swine.”

Harold sat up, switching on the bedside light. “Uncle Frederick?” he said. “What are you doing in my bed?”

“I was cold, Harold. Didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Uncle, you’re not supposed to feel the cold. You’re a ghost.”

“Aren’t I allowed to have feelings, then, because right now I’m feeling hurt and resentful. This was my bedroom before you inherited the house, you know.”

“I know.” Harold sighed. “But your feet are like ice.”


Photo by Chris Zimmer