Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pinheaded Angels

Harold squinted into the microscope. "There are new worlds down there, beyond the range of sight," he said. "Do they have their angels and demons, do you think?"

"No, Harold. Thinking there are worlds at the sub-atomic level is woolly science. If they were there we would see them with our electron microscopes. Haven't you ever heard the phrase 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

"I have." Harold frowned. "I can never remember the answer, though."

"It's a trick question," said Jasfoup. "The answer is an infinite number, as long as you chop them finely."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brothers

Harold looked up from his laptop. "How many siblings do I have?" he said.

Jasfoup frowned. "None. You were an only child, remember? If you'd had brothers and sisters you'd remember having your face pushed into the dirt more often."

"No, I meant on my dad's side." Harold turned the screen around so Jasfoup could see the google image Harold had found. He had to admit, they did look alike. "This is Mbuma Jonya in Botswana. He could be my twin."

"He could, poor bugger." Jasfoup nodded. "So you're asing how many children Lucifer sired in all of history in the far-flung nether regions of the planet?"

"Exactly so, yes."

"In all of history? Seventeen."

"And how many are still alive?"

"Two. You and Cain."

"Excellent." Harold tapped his fingertips together. "I'm the sole inheritor then."

"Apart from Cain."

Harold pooh-poohed the notion. "One day," he said, "I'll be your boss."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fallen Angel

The glass shattered on the cobbles, sending shards several feet in all directions. Among the puddle of water and clumps of glitter, a plastic angel still attached to its stand glared out at Meinwen. The flow of pedestrians in the crowded market place moved around them like a lump of concrete on a motorway.

"Damn," she said, squatting to retrieve the pieces before someone cut themselves.

"That's bad luck," said Winston, stooping to help.

"Too right it is." Meinwen gathered up the larger bits. "That's twenty quid down the drain. Ouch!" She pulled a sliver of glass from her finger and blood welled out, several droplets falling onto the cobbled and the plastic figure. She sucked at it.

"No, I mean it's bad luck like a black cat on a ladder." Winston stood and scraped up several shards with the toe of his boot. "It's a portent of disaster. A harbinger of evil approaching."

Meinwen looked up at him. "Broken snow globes in general or just ones with angels in them?"

"Broken statues of angels covered in blood, in particular."

"Ah," Meinwen stood up and dusted herself off. "Good job I don't believe in all that guff then."

Winston frowned. "How can you not? You run a shop that sells all kinds of divination equipment. Crystal balls and tarot cards and I-Ching sets."

"Exactly," said Meinwen. "So if I followed all the portents as well, I'd never survive Blackie crossing the kitchen to get to his cat dish."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Snow Angels


At six years old, Lucy was sufficiently well versed in American culture to make snow angels against her father's wished (he worried about the dirt on her clothes). She made them all around the house until, when Harold looked out of his study window and noticed, it gave him the creeps. "It's like be surrounded by the buggers," he said to Julie, who remembered all too well the night when the archangel Sariel tried to destroy them all with Holy fire.

"I could tell her to stop," she said. "Or ask Jasfoup to melt them away."

"No." Harold shook away his fears and smiled. "Let the child play."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Memory Lisp

Harold held his infant daughter to the window. "Look at the depth of snow, Lucy," he said. "I haven't seen it so deep since 1976 when we were snowed in and mum had to dig a tunnel to the outside loo. It was a brilliant tunnel, too. Over six feet high and in the shape of a man. She was so clever!"

"ran-ran-ran," agreed the fourteen-month Lucy.

He spotted a figure on the drive. "Look! There's uncle Jasfoup! He's making a pat from the road to the house, only without a shovel. His path looks like the bottom half of a person, too. He's so hot blooded he just melts the snow around him."

Harold frowned. "Oh. There's another childhood memory ruined."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Security Code


Harold tapped in the security code and opened the lid of the steel plated box. There was little inside – if he'd hoped to find the demon's heart it wasn't here – just a couple of files (one on himself and one on his mum) and several vials of blood, individually labelled with the donor and date of collection. He was particularly pleased to see his half-brother Cain's blood, dated 84 AC (After Creation).

He pulled out the files and read his own. If he was disappointed by the blank space in the death due' column he didn't show it, but his gaze flickered to his mother's file more than once.

He close the lid ten minutes later, wondering if Jasfoup had intended him to find out. Using your birthdate as the code wasn't very sophisticated, but then who had a birth year of 1432?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Mighty Forgeterer

The South Hampshire Police Force (Laverstone Division) didn't approve of vigilantes. "They are not above the law," Inspector White was quoted as saying, "and will be punished for any crime they commit in pursuance of their own victims." He them proceeded to regale the Rotary Club audience with exploits of his own crime-fighting career.

On the following day the red-suited 'Mighty Rememberer' ("Your crime, however small, will be remembered and avenged") was convicted of three counts of 'Breaking, Entering and Defecating on the Living Room Carpet of Careless Dog Owners.'

The Mighty Rememberer, aka Donald Parsons, had forgotten about DNA.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Separate Holidays

Harold dropped the suitcase next to the door, crossed the stairs and called up to his daughter. "Lucy? Are you ready? Tom will be here in a minute with the taxi and you need to be ready."

"One minute!" The teenager's voice drifted down the stairs. "I'm just putting my make-up on."

Harold turned back to the kitchen and looked out of the window in case that made the taxi come sooner. "Make up?" he said. "She's fifteen!"

"And has been wearing makeup for five years now. She's so good at it you never notice, Harold." Julie pressed two envelopes into his hands. "Here's your tickets, boarding passes, itineries."

"Itineries? We're not going on separate holidays, you know."

Julie laughed. "A fifty year old man with his fifteen year old daughter? You might both be going to Paris but you're definitely having separate holidays."

Harold huffed. "I only look like I'm in my late twenties, though."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Culture Counts

Felicia slumped in a vacant chair and let out a long sigh. When no-one asked what the matter was, she took a deep breath and sighed again.

Jasfoup looked up. "Okay," he said. "I'll bite. What's up?"

Felicia glanced at the ceiling. "The second floor," she said. "The sky. Heaven. God and above all that, the Council for the Reunification of Artistic Practice."

"Crap," said the demon. "What's up with them?"

"They've banned the show I was going to put on next week. Now I have an empty gallery and may as well close until the new year."

"You should," said Harold. "This is Laverstone. The only art people buy at this time of year are prints. Unless you stock your gallery with mass-market Twilight rubbish you're not going to make a penny until after the sales anyway."

"The monkey has a point," said Jasfoup. "What was the show? Before it was vetoed by the Cultural Quango, I mean."

"It was going to be 'Sacred: Images of the Yoni in popular culture."

Jasfoup sniggered.

Harold sniffed. "If John Lennon loved her, she must have had something about her besides a complete lack of talent."

Jasfoup laughed aloud. "You were going to have a week long show about vaginas?"

"Not just in art," said Felicia. "Popular culture. Graphics, craft, garden landscaping. Even crochet."

"How did they even hear about it?

"I made the flyers out of Penthouse magazines."

"I know." Jasfoup grinned. "Harold's only three pages short of a complete issue."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Beeswax Angel

Lucy Waterman, at four, still believed in Christmas and still believed that Jesus put on a red suit and Wellingtons and came to save all the presents before they died and became the ghosts of Christmas Presents. Not that she'd seen any ghosts, though her daddy maintained that there were such things, just they weren't allowed in her bedroom.

What Lucy liked most about her fourth Christmas was the yellow angel with beautiful wax wings Julie bought in the everything-for-a-pound shop. It smelled of honey and she was allowed to play with it after tea. On the morning of Yule Eve she looked for the angel where she'd put it on the radiator shelf but she'd vanished, leaving behind a pretty set of honey-scented stalactites hanging from the shelf.

Julie was not pleased at the mess but could see her charge was upset. "Don't worry," she said, "She went back to Heaven to help get Jesus ready for Christmas."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stealing Freedom

Harold eyed the long row of stalls nervously. The air smelled of wet horse and manure and the acrid sting of old urine. "What are we doing here?" he said, pulling off his gloves.

"Stealing Freedom," said Jasfoup. "Now hush, and put your gloves back on."

"But freedom is a concept," said Harold. "You can't steal freedom. You can steal the freedom of an individual by depriving him of his rights. You can even steal the freedom of a nation or an ethnic group, but you can't steal Freedom."

"You can when it's a racehorse," said Jasfoup, "and a lot of people are going to be very unhappy when it disappears."

"What will you do with it?"

"Send it to a farm where it can live out its life playing with butterflies," said Jasfoup.

"Really?"

The demon counted to ten. "Sure."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Flirt

It was just a harmless flirt, she thought. A bit of banter with the old git, a few drinks she couldn't have afforded and paid for with a few kisses and letting him cop a feel of a tit until he came in his pants then home. She hadn't expected him to follow her, drag her into the alley behind Billingham's, press her up against the wall and stare at her with his little piggy eyes.

"Please..." His grip around her throat was making her hoarse and faint. "You're hurting me..."

His features rippled like a waxwork in a horror movie. She would have screamed if she had the breath. The last thing she saw as the darkness took her was her own face staring at her from an oversized business suit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Howling Moon

The Twenty-second brought December's Full 'Howling' moon along with a crisp frost. Eager to get some night pictures with his new camera, Harold went out with Gillian and Felicia, neither of whom felt the cold and were therefore happy to pose almost naked for the shots. They walked to the top of Laver Falls where the best views of the laver vally could be had, the moon hanging low and looking larger and brighter that usual.

Harold took a few shots as Felicia partially transformed. "Why do they call it the 'Howling' moon?" he asked as the camera clicked and whirred..

Felicia shrugged. "I don't knoooooooooowwwwwwww."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Promotion

Meinwen sighed and sank back against the paste-table, all but collapsing it with her weight. What was wrong with people? She'd set her pitch at the edge of the market – with a note from Councillor Waterman to say she had permission – but despite the number of people not a single copy of her Guide to Laverstone had been sold.

"You need a new approach," said Winston as he approached eating a warm sausage roll from the baker's. "Don't try to sell it as a guide to the town – people think they know the town. Here, let me try." He stuffed the remainder of the roll in his mouth and picked up a handful of the slim books.

"Ghosts and Demons in Laverstone," he shouted. "Mass murderers, serial killers and kidnappers! See who lives in your neighbourhood. Only a tenner today! Can you afford not to know who's watching as you run your bath?"

Meinwen had sold out by mid-day. She was so pleased she bought Winston a burger*.




*vegetarian, from sustainable soya farms.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Newsletter

Dear Adantia.

At this time of year my thoughts return to England and the town I left behind. No doubt you're knee deep in floods and leaky roofs and wishing the holidays were over so you could get a plumber without needing to remortgage the house to cover his call out charge.


Spain is lovely at the moment – balmy nights and glorious sunshine all day and fewer tourists than at any other time of year. We bought a cottage outside of Puerto Banos and are staying until the end of February. You know the best thing about Spain? No Faery portals. Not one, at least, that I've come across. No talking skulls, either. Do you remember the one Papa found? It was such fun until it drove him insane. I'm sure you've heard the story a hundred times.



As I always said to Freddy, pull a cracker for me! How's he coping with his demise?
Well, I hope.

Toodlepip!


love, Lydia

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Towton Moor


Jasfoup winced at the scene of carnage before him. It was a good job Palm Sunday wasn't always this violent or there'd be no-one left in the whole of England.

The Lancastrians, under the Duke of Somerset, had the higher ground and superior numbers but had not taken account of the freezing wind and flurries of snow. Edward, Earl of March and the future Edward IV, led the Yorkshire army to the bottom of Towton hill but instead of advancing, his archers used the wind to give them a superior range and fired volley after volley into the Lancastrian ranks, pulling back when the Lancastrians retaliated then moving forward again to collect all the arrows that had fallen short.

Finally, the Lancastrians abandoned the advantage of the hill in favour of melee combat, where intense fighting often forced the removal of corpses before combat could resume. The battle swayed back and forth until the Duke of Norfolk arrived to swell the Yorkshire forces and push the Lancastrians into a rout.

Jasfoup watched it all from the hill.

"You put that astroturf and the tarpaulin at the bottom of the hill, didn't you?" he said to the imp at his side.

Devious nodded. "Aye, sir. Delirious is adjusting it as the battle rages, but the blood is being funnelled off into the pipe. We'll soon have the two thousand gallons you need."

"How will you know when we have enough?" said Jasfoup. "Have you got someone at the other end?"

"Ah." Devious sucked air through his teeth. "I didn't think of that."


The Battle of Towton
photo by Chris McLoughlin

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Company Party

The company party wasn't as much fun as Harold had anticipated. Nobody wanted to play 'Stick the tail on the donkey' despite the amount he'd had to pay to hire it – it had messed in the kitchen and eaten half a shelf of Mills & Boon, too. Jasfoup had dashed off to collect a soul from a chap in the market who'd died with a ruptured spleen after Santa's reindeer had kicked him and Julie was too occupied with an Ugarit tablet she'd brought back with her from Syria.

Only the imps seemed to be enjoying themselves. Devious was working through the buffet one plate at a time; Delirious was draining the drinks table and John was playing pin the tail on... Oh no he wasn't.

Harold looked away. Didn't he have some accounts that needed attention?

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Lovely Evening

Melanie Pritchard had left the house feeling lonely and unloved, but with a resolve to treat herself to a dinner in a restaurant followed by a night at the theatre. What she hadn't counted on was to be wined and dined by the person waiting to be seated ahead of her. He bought her lobster and champagne, then treated her to the best (and rarely available) seats at the Laverstone Playhouse for a performance of Noughty!

It was only later that he revealed he was the writer of the play, Jasfoup de Ville. She almost swooned on the spot. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. de Ville," she said. "Take me home."

He smiled and handed her a pen. "Write your address down, dear lady, he said, and sign it, too, if you wouldn't mind."

She did as he asked and handed it back. He ordered a taxi and took her home.

"Bye, then," he said, declining to leave the taxi. "I've had a lovely evening, it's just that this wasn't it."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming in a Jiffy

"And then he said 'I'll come in a jiffy'. What?" Julie paused at Jedith's nudge and upward nod. She looked up just as Harold's head eclipsed the sun. "What is it, Harold?"

"Jasfoup wondered if you'd like to find somewhere to eat. It's a couple of hours until dusk and we could probably do with something, even if it's just to hydrate."

"Sure." Julie smiled. "Chinese would be nice."

"I'll tell him," Harold turned and began to walk back.

"One," said Julie, "two... three..."

"Hey!" Harold turned again. "Were in ancient Syria. There won't be any Chinese restaurants."

"My bad," said Julie, keeping a straight face despite Jedith's giggles. "Make it an Indian then."

Jedith let out a whoop of laugher, after which Julie couldn't keep a straight face.

Harold returned to Jasfoup and looked with dismay on the sandcastle he'd spent two hours building, crushed flat beneath Jasfoup's feet. "Gee," he said. "Thanks for that. They said they were hungry too, and could they have Chinese."

"Only if they fetch it themselves," said Jasfoup. "They'll have a bit of a wait, mind, the shop doesn't open for four thousand years."

"I did overhear something about you, mind," said Harold.

"Oh?"

"Yes. One of your many sexual predilections. I wondered where all my jiffy bags were going."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Before Creation

"So let me get this straight," said Julie. "Your God, the god of the Hebrews and Christians was originally El, the god of the Sumerians and Canaanites?"

"Essentially," said Jedith. "Before I was made, of course, though I have always existed, just as God has, for he made me on the second day."

"This would be on the second day of creation, or the second day of his reinvention?"

"Creation, of course, though to be fair there was a 'before then'."

"And the Canaanites?"

"The descendants of the Ugarites, though also the people of the first murderer."

"I have to counterbalance that with the concept of there being no death prior to that, so Cain couldn't possibly have predicted the consequences. It was manslaughter at worst."

"He hit his brother with a stick this big." Jedith held her hands a yard apart. She lowered her voice. "Don't look now, but I bet Jasfoup thinks we're taking about him."

Julie giggled.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

At the Waterman's Midwinter Party


Midwinter solstice was the night of the most lavish party in Laverstone, when the Manor was opened to all and sundry from the town – the only stipulation for entrance being that you had to have a Laverstone address to be admitted. This often led to several Henry Smiths attending the celebration, each one living at 14 Hazel Coppice. Harold didn't mind. Lies were, in effect, the family business.

Certain parts of the manor were out of bounds – the cellars, the upper floors and the kitchen area – but that didn't stop Hilary Sweet, junior reporter on the Laverstone Times, from investigating. She looked upon it as a public duty to get the inside scoop on the Watermans. Where did the vast fortune come from? How did they afford such an elaborate lifestyle on the takings of a small antiquarian bookshop and gallery? Just what was the relationship between Harold Waterman and the mysterious Jasfoup de Ville?

What she saw in the cellars turned her hair white overnight. She would never speak of it, but afterwards she quickly rose the head reported, editor, owner and finally mogul all in the space of three years. She developed a penchant for fine clothes, gourmet food and speciality lovers. Despite her white hair, she never aged a day after that night but died exactly ten years later on the night of Harold Waterman's Midwinter Birthday party, alone in a locked penthouse flat with a look of absolute terror contorting her features.

Jasfoup kept the pen.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gift Ideas

Jasfoup wiggled his toes in the sand. The Mediterranean sparkled as far as the eye could see and the waves were depositing nautilus shells and amphora in a line that stretched from Ugarit to the necropolis at Minet el-Beida. To his left julie and Jedith were talking in low voices – probably about him – and to his right Harold was building a sand castle.

"It's your birthday in a couple of weeks," he said.

"Is it?" Harold didn't even look up.

Jasfoup watched him crush a spiny murex shell to make minarets for his castle. "Well, two weeks and six thousand years." He grinned. "How do you feel about the end of our contract?"

He looked up then, consternation contorting his face. "The end of our contract? I'm going to die?"

"Er... I didn't say that." Jasfoup's attention was suddenly focussed on a small crab trying to hide under his toenail. "I'm not saying your birthday and the sudden, violent termination of our contract together are related." he coughed. "Is there anything special you'd like for your birthday? Thunderbolt-proof hat, for example?"

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Domino Effect


Ras Shamra was a city of marvels. Rising from the desert it was surrounded by a series of pillars designed to break up the force of wind-driven sand and protect the people and buildings from being eroded to dust. Sixty feet high by thirty wide, they spanned the city like the fins of a turbine engine, funnelling the sand out and back to the desert. The city had survived in this fashion for a thousand years.

Until a traveller, looking for a bit of shade to eat his Tesco Chicken Salad Sandwich, leaned against one at the exact pivot point.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

No Parking

Harold stopped so suddenly that Julie walked right into him. "Why did you do that?" she said when she'd recovered herself and her dropped handbag.

"Traffic warden," said Harold. "He's putting a ticket on my van."

"Well tell him not to."

"I will!" Harold marched up to the crisp uniform. "I say?" he said, "You can't put a ticket on that van. It's mine, parked perfectly legally at the back of my own shop."

"I'm sorry sir," the warden said. Was there a trace of an Eastern European accent? "But you are clearly parked in a restricted zone." He pointed at the 'No Parking' sign.

"But I put that there," said Harold, "to stop other people parking here."

The wisp of a smile crossed the warden's face. "Erecting a traffic sign without due authority is a criminal offence," he said. "But if that's the case I'll void the ticket.."

"phew"

"...and call in the police to attend to the matter. Meanwhile, you'll notice I've clamped your vehicle. Good day to you."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Trouble? Nooooo-ooooo

Felicia picked up Lucy and borrowed the car seat. "I'm having dinner with some friends," she said, "but have a good evening. I'll have her back by morning."

Harold frowned. "Isn't four a bit young for an overnight?" he said. "And what friends?"

"Stop fretting about it, Harold." Gillian zipped up her leather one-piece. "It's Fliss' monthly werewolf pack meeting. They have wine, watch a movie and then go out for dinner. What could possibly go wrong?"

Harold shrugged and opened the van. "Nothing, I suppose," he said. "Now, Bernard's set us an table in his new conservatory. It'll be beautiful to eat by the light of the full moon.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hibernation

Jasfoup crouched on all fours and shone a torch up the pipe. It led underneath a large pile of logs, leaves and old straw. Julie stood to one side, her arms crossed and her hands holding her elbows. Her breath steamed in the cold, autumnal air.

Jasfoup looked up at her. "What did you build it for?"

"For hedgehogs to hibernate in," she said. "A lot of them die from cold this time of year."

"They're flea-ridden rodents," said Jasfoup, "but I can see your point. They do eat slugs and snails and so on. I can't see any in there, though."

"There was one, I know," said Julie. "I just want to make sure he's all right."

Jasfoup nodded. "I'm not putting my hand in," he said. "They're vicious little beggars." He looked up at the imp on her shoulder. "Send Wrack."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Moot Point

Moot Point, designated as 'an area of outstanding beauty' on the very tip of the Chilterns and accessible from the A4130 just north of Laverstone, has two legends surrounding it. It is a promontory overlooking the Nettle Valley; a natural circle of rock and scrub where no trees grow to mar the view. One legend states it was a congregation point, or moot, for all the witches of Buckinghamshire in the seventeenth century where so many feet tramped the circle that it stayed. The second declares it the point of impact of a Fallen Angel, where the fiery spirit burned all to ash in a thirty yard radius and then cursed the spot before moving on.

Belief in either legend is a moot point – extensive studies in the sixties declare the area to have an unusually high alkaline content to the meagre soil, preventing anything other than grass from growing.

Jasfoup, on the other hand, knows which of the Fallen had a pissing contest there.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Skeleton Crew


"What's this?" Jasfoup looked aghast at the four animated skeletons dusting and polishing the shop. "You know I loathe the undead."

"You said we needed a night cleaner for the shop since the imps were so rubbish at it, " said Harold. "This is my skeleton crew. Besides, they're not truly undead, just animated skeletons. They have no will of their out; no free thought. They're little more than puppets, really, if you think about."

"Puppets made out of what used to people," said Jasfoup. "It's disgusting. Where did you learn such an abhorrent spell?"

"It's a funny thing," said Harold. "The police are inspecting a house where the owner killed his family and they asked me to take a look at some of the weird writings on the walls. I found a book of spells in the attic."

"This house wouldn't be in Offley Street, would it?"

"It would, actually." Harold seemed surprised. "Do you know it?"

Jasfoup shook his head. "It was in the paper."

Harold's Nemesis

"Yes please," said Harold to Jasfoup's offer of tea as he slit open the envelope and unfolded a letter stamped with the official seal of the Laverstone Chamber of Commerce. "I say! The rotten beggars!"

"Problem?" Jasfoup put a mug of steaming Breakfast Blend in front of his client.

"I'll say. It's from that darned Barry Sanderson at the C of C. He says that due to the upmarket nature of my business, he's putting our commercial property rates up to the top tier, retroactive to the day we opened the shop three years ago. That's hardly fair! It means we'll be paying the same rates at the big name shops in the precinct."

"I see." Jasfoup read through the missive. "Perhaps a strongly worded letter might be in order?"

"More than that." Harold logged onto his computer. "A little industrial level hacking is required."

"Oh? I didn't know you were that talented."

"It's not difficult, old bean," said Harold. "I just have to open a chat window with Backdoor Harry."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Silent Auction

It was a silent auction.

The auctioneer flashed numbers on a giant screen while pointing at the bidders holding placards to declare they were still 'in'. Gradually the placards fell away until only Harold and Jasfoup were left holding placards.

Harold glared at the oblivious Jasfoup as the numbers clocked higher. Finally he gave up and left Jasfoup with the winning bid.

"What were you thinking off?" he asked afterward. "You were bidding against me. We could have got that fifth century Septuagint for half the price."

"Not at all, Harold," said the demon. "You're not my only client, you know."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pure Schmaltz

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Harold frowned at Jedith. "What do you mean, I should be grateful? You infected me with a disease there was no cure for, forcing me to enter into a pact with a demon who takes every opportunity to belittle me. Why would I have reason to be grateful?"

"You have your health."

"At the cost of my soul."

"You've got a lovely house."

"Which I inherited when my favourite uncle died. I'd rather have the uncle."

"You have a lovely wife."

"I would if she'd marry me. As it is she'd rather drain the blood from every man, woman and child in London."

"You have a beautiful daughter."

"Only because Azazel needed her genes to jump start the goblin species." Harold paused, looking at Lucy in her cot. "Yes, you're right. I love Lucy. Thank you."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Belated Greetings

Harold scowled. "I've had enough," he said. "Julie's been acting oddly round me for days. I'm going to find her and clear the air."

"Good for you Harold." Jasfoup was watering the indoor herbs. "Go and apologise. It's the right thing to do."

"I will." Harold paused. "Wait! Apologise? Apologise for what?"

"Whatever you've done, Harold. Whatever you've said. What you might do. What you can't remember doing. What somebody else did and if all fails, for existing."

"Perhaps she should apologise to me."

"I doubt it, old chap. She remembered your birthday."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

and I'm Cutting Me' Own Throat...


"It's a verified original?" Harold opened the box and looked at the tablet. Donning a pair of white cotton gloves, he put the certificate of authenticity to one side and picked up the stone tablet, tracing the cuneiform script and mouthing the words as he traced along the line, left to right.

Vos vadum loco haud alius deus pro mihi.*

"Fascinating," he said, "And this is the original stone tablet of Moses?"

"According to my source and--" the gentleman tapped the certificate of authenticity "—the chairman on the Musee de Cairo."

"And your price?"

"Seven hundred and fifty thousand euro."

"If it's real, it's priceless."

"It is real."

"Then I'll take it for nothing." Harold slipped it behind the counter. "And I'd love to hear you explain why a supposedly Jewish artefact three thousand years older than the Roman Empire is written in Latin."


*Ye shall put no other god before me

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Explorer Returns

"You're back!" Jasfoup smiled in delight as Harold walked through the door. "Are all the strange worlds and new frontiers conquered for another day?"

"I am," said Harold, "though it was a near thing. I was almost eaten by a hag. She tried to gut me and smoke my bones over a barbeque pit."

"I'm glad," said Jasfoup. "It would snerrate me so, to hear of you being dismembered in some far off land."

"Snerrate?" Harold frowned. "Is that good or bad."

"Oh, bad, definitely." Jasfoup picked up Harold's new hat and tried it on. "It has the roots 'serrate' -- to cut up – and 'sneer' – a facial expression implying contempt. I'd be dismissively cut-up about your demise."

"That's encouraging to know." Harold patted his shoulder. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," said Jasfoup. "I'm so pleased you're back to look after the baby."



Thanks to spacedlaw for the word 'snerrate'

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No Trace of Narcissus

Lucy made a den in the old mushroom house. Harold, once the nine year old had convinced him she needed somewhere that was hers and hers alone – and not part of the manor where he could enter at any time – was content to let her use it once he'd made sure it was safe. Devious cut and glazed some windows into the semicircular roof while she was at school and fitted a proper lock on the door. Harold presented her with the key on the Saturday morning, and gave her a figure he'd spend on decoration and furnishings.

Lucy was happy there. All she really wanted was a deckchair and her music player. The echo in there was superb.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Road Trip

Harold checked his bag one last time. "Towel, salted peanuts, two bottles of water, a flask of tea and a canister of salt," he said. "Should I take anything else?"

"Spell book?"

Harold patted his left breast.* "In my pocket."

"Splendid." Jasfoup looked over to packing. "Swap the salt into a waxed-paper package," he said. "We're going on a road-trip to 6 BC. A plastic container might raise eyebrows in an archaeology dig."

"Good point," said Harold. "What about sandwiches?"

"What about them?"

"I asked Delirious to pick up some from the garage. The plastic triangles are so useful to pick up vampire dust."




*i.e. his chest, in the top left quadrant. He hadn't started taking hormones or anything.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eating Out

Harold studied the map. "Very interesting," he said to the market vendor in a louder-than-usual voice, "but we want to get to Rath Shamra. Can you show us where it is on the map?"

"Excuse me sir?" Devious tugged at his trousers with the hand that wasn't in a sling. "I think you'll find that's not a map of the area he's given you but a menu for the food he's selling off the cart."

"Really?" Harold looked at it again. "What language is it in?"

"Sanskrit, sir."

"Oh. Any recommendations on what to eat then?"

Stinky pointed with his walking stick. "The meatballs," he said.

"Why? Are they particularly good?"

"The flies certainly think so."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not for You, such Despair.

"I bought something today." Jasfoup handed Harold a tiny, faux-leather box and stood back, his hands up with just the pads of his fingers touching, tapping.

Harold opened it, suspicious of the demon's motives. It would more than likely explode in his face. "Beauty is skin-deep," Jasfoup had once said. "I peeled off enough faces to know that."

It wasn't a bomb but a diamond ring; elegant and very expensive. "Oh, Jasfoup," said Harold. "You shouldn't have." He went to try it on.

"It's not for you, halfwit," said Jasfoup. "It's for Julie. Do you think she'll like it?"

"You're going to propose to her?"

Jasfoup frowned. "Of course not. I want her to enchant it."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seventies Style

When they were halfway home Harold declared a rest stop. King's Cross to Laverstone was only 43 miles (although the traffic queues around the great old station were horrendous they were made more easily navigable when one had a demon riding shotgun and causing other drivers to stall, traffic lights to change and police camera to enjoy a prolonged close-up of pigeon excrement.

"We're only twenty minutes from home," said Jasfoup, staring out of the van window at the squat, seventies-style church of Batford All Saint's. "Why are we stopping here?"

"Because the chippy here hasn't changed in forty years," said Harold. "It's a piece of history."

"Oh. So?"

"So they still sell deep fried fish fingers."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Special Reminder

Emily Pierce always gave her husband a special reminder of their wedding day. It got to the point – after the first two or three – where Edward dreaded their anniversary. It had been the name she'd taken that had given her the idea and a brief internet search had put it into her head that it would spice up their sex life.

Edward always bought her the same thing – a bunch of roses, a box of her favourite Belgian Truffles and a soppy card. Her gift – on the nearest Saturday to the date – was always another piercing on the underside of his penis, each an inch from the last.

He wouldn't have minded so much, but even he could see the marriage wouldn't last past seven years.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Love Enough

Bennington's granddad gave him one piece of advice before he died. 'Love enough,' he said, before the darkness took him. Ben often wondered what he meant and wished that perhaps he'd waited another minute or two before pushing him off a cliff in the middle of the night. (His mother blamed Ben for the death anyway. 'Who takes their granddad camping at the top of a cliff when he's incontinent?') but the Police ruled it 'accidental'.

When he met Janice, the future recipient of his used condoms she asked, while they were cuddling on his mum's sofa watching the 24 hour M*A*S*H marathon on Sky 37. "Do you love me?" he remembered his granddad and replied 'Love Enough'.

She was thankful she found out sooner rather than later.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't Step on Them

Harrington Smythe-Coldbury, the Mayor of Laverstone*, was put out by Harold's apparently ostentatious display of wealth when he was asked to give a lecture on the re-opening of Laverstone's Guild of Merchants and Artisans. "The damned** man is wearing white-suede shoes," he said sotto-voce to his wife. "What a disgusting display of his wealth. You can only wear them once before they're ruined."

"Don't be such a prick," his wife whispered back. "He's got a baby, hasn't he?"

"So?"

"That's not white suede, it's milk vomit."


*a title Harold coveted but couldn't yet justify attempting to achieve. His six hours a week of voluntary work with the council was already getting on his nerves.

**if only he knew how literally correct he was.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tangled up in Blue

Once she'd left the company of her friends, the depression hit Ellen Slinn like a familiar blanket, draining colour away from the world and giving it the washed-out effect of the super-8 films her history teacher used to show in class.

Leaving the train at 11:17 and walking back to her parents house was just a matter of plodding; one foot in front of the other until she arrived. Not that she was drunk – far from it; she'd limited herself to one alcoholic drink in every three, interspersing them with water and fruit juice and the slim chance of seeing Laurence at one of the clubs.

She hadn't.

She was almost surprised when the figure asked her for a light, her hand closing on the keys in her pocket the way she'd been taught in self-defence class but the stranger was only a girl. Ellie relaxed and shook her head. "Sorry," she said. "I don't smoke." She was already reaching for her purse to give the young vagrant a pound when the knife entered her stomach.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Concessions


"So how will you get these fairies to fly, Mr. Marl— er, Shakespeare?" The playwright's editor and confidant, Vittore Jasfoup, tapped his cane against the ladder.

"On ropes!" Shakespeare looked up at the roofing beams. We'll build a golden arch at the front of the stage, then the fairies can swing out over the audience."

"I should be careful about using a golden arch," said the editor. "Not only is there the safety aspect but you could find some clown selling fried meat products underneath it."

"Pish and posh to you," said Shakespeare, slapping his trousers. "I've already arranged to take cuts from and food vendors. We'll make a fortune."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Jennifer Fremen's Silk Flower

Halloween would always remind Jennifer of the twin scents of cinnamon and latex.

She transferred to Laverstone High in the autumn of her sixteenth birthday, when the leaves on the apple trees in the orchard had become mottled and littered the grass with their yellow-red carpet and the horse chestnuts rained fruits into the sweaty fists of eager boys.

The Halloween Ball brought a flux of excitement into the lives of the students. Fancy dress and, thanks to the idea of one of the older girls, a faux new year's party in honour of the few pagans under-represented on the school council. Jennifer had become friends with one and was considering abandoning Christianity in favour of the more exciting Wicca – they were excused assembly and choir practice!

When the ball came – on Friday the 30th since the caretaker refused to open the building on a Saturday – she dressed as a gothic witch (black lace and pewter crosses) and pushed her way through the throng at the punch bowl to find herself pressed against an Upper Sixth girl dressed in a latex catsuit and carrying a multi-tailed whip.

"Sorry," she said, gluing her eyes to the floor instead of the very short shirt and trying to back away, but Lucy Waterman smiled and placed the tip of the whip under Jennifer's chin, raising her face until their eyes met. "Don't be," she replied, drawing closer, her ruby lips opening. She tasted of cinnamon.

Mr 'History' Parkes gave them both detention.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Salvage

Winston counted out the pile of banknotes, pleasantly surprised Jasfoup had given him a bonus and rounded up the day's pay to £1000 without so much as a quibble. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

He wrote a receipt for £120 and ran it through the ancient time stamp clock, a relic of the sixties he'd salvaged when the renovated the steelworks he and Sam used to work at. Sometimes he envied the simple, repetitive production of lathe work and the £180 pay packet at the end of a forty hour week.

Winston looked at the pile of notes Jasfoup had given him. Most of the time he didn't.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Warm enought for you?


Harold stepped into the portal and looked around. Although on a mountain, the path was wide enough for a cart and didn't set off his vertigo. Off to the side Julie climbed trough as well. "Blimey," she said. "I thought Faerie was supposed to be warm? This wind is as cold as... well... my tit."

"You should have put your cardi on," said Harold. "I told you it was mountainous."

"Actually, Harold, you said Faerie was always warm and comfortable."

Harold shrugged. "Well it was last time I was here. Anyway, I'm not cold."

"That's because you're wearing your semi-sentient leathers," said Julie. "I bet you haven't even brought a blanket."

"I have, actually," he said. "It's keeping the thermos of tea hot."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Target

What we need," said Jasfoup, "is someone to lure our hermit necromancer out of hiding. Someone able to take care of themselves with spells and whatnot but still present an irresistible target."

"Oh yes?"

"Someone in the full flush of manhood, strong and virile, yet sensitive enough to lure the purest heart into temptation."

Harold raised an eyebrow. "Someone like me, you mean?"

Jasfoup coughed. "I hadn't thought of it like that," he said. "What a marvellous idea, Harold. Sometimes your keen insights astound me."

"Don't butter it too hard, old bean." Harold put his pen down and stared right into the demon's eyes. "I know you too well. You had me down as 'target' the minute you thought of the plan."


Image: Target Jasper Johns 1978

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

And then a Wooden Overcoat

"Now talk," said Harold, stabbing the immobilised pixy with the rubber end of a pencil. "Where is the damned necromancer?"

"I can't say," said the pixie. "You know you're going to get into trouble for this, don't you? The Queen doesn't take kindly to kidnappers."

"Look," said Julie, her false eye hovering inches away from the pixie's face. "Tell us what we need to you or we're going to fit you for wooden shoes."

"Isn't it supposed to be concrete shoes?" said Harold. "You'd still float in wooden shoes, surely?"

"If you want to drown him, sure," said Julie, "but I was going to make him clog dance."