Saturday, January 31, 2009

Incalculable Worth


“How much is the shop worth?” said Harold, his pencil dancing up a column of figures as he calculated the week’s takings. Passing trade accounted for less than 3% of sales – not enough to pay for heating the shop (assuming they paid their bills which, thanks to Jasfoup’s creative accounting and Devious’ skill with a pair of wire strippers and a junction box, they didn’t).

“Lots?” said Jasfoup. “Maintaining a respectable frontage is the duty of every demonologist. You can never put a value on a reasonable means to earn a crust, for appearances’ sake.” He sounded more like a Victorian parlour magician than an accomplished businessman.

Harold raised one eyebrow. “You sound like a Victorian parlour maid,” he said. “I’m surprised you don’t come out with a few ‘Good Morrow’s’ and ‘ne’er-do-wells’.” He grinned. “No, seriously though. I’ve got to put a figure on it for the insurance.”

“Off the top of my head,” said Jasfoup, thoughtfully, “Somewhere between a billion pounds and one pound eighty-seven pence.”

“How is you work that out?

“That’s how much me lunch cost me,” said the demon. “It’s in the fridge.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Implings


“What do you mean, Delirious has spawned,” said Harold. “Spawned what?”

“A child. Children. Implings.” Jasfoup was as close as Harold had ever seen him to biting his own nails. “This is a disaster.”

“On the contrary,” said Harold. “Since Devious in indentured to me for life, so are his offspring. I wrote that into the contract at the cost of a large slice of Ada’s fudge cake.”

“Really?” Jasfoup frowned. “I’ll have to check my copy, but I think you’ll find it doesn’t extend to the next generation.”

“It does,” said Harold, with what Jasfoup considered to be a very smug grin. “I made sure it was valid to the Final Frontier.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just So


The light was split into prismatic shafts as it entered the kitchen – red to the cooker, yellow to the breakfast bar, green to the terrarium and so on. It didn’t bother Elizabeth that the red shaft was no where near the orange or the green several yards from the blue. Colours only ever went where she wanted them to go. Other people didn’t seem to realise a shaft of monochromatic light could be directed by will alone. “What about ultraviolet?” someone asked over tea and biscuits. Elizabeth just laughed. “Let’s just say I don’t have any vampire trouble,” she said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Favourite Things

Harold wrapped the book in brown paper and string, dropping a blob of sealing wax onto the join. He loathed sending his precious books out into the world but ‘bookshop’ was written over his door and once in a while he had to good on the promise.

“That’ll be £49,” he said, one hand still on the volume of ‘The Panderings of Melodia’, “in coin of the realm.”

“Oh yes?” The purchaser, a man in his forties wearing a cloak with a hood that he kept up even in the shop. “Which realm might that be.”

“Harold drew the book an inch or two away from its would-be owner. “Any realm you like,” he said, “as long as I can pass it onward.”

The man nodded. “Pay it forward,” he said, “I get it.” He counted out eight ten-tian notes.

Harold tucked the book back under the counter. “Patently not,” he said. “Tians stopped being legal tender when the goblins over-ran Melodium.”

“Really?” The man frowned. “When was that?”


“Tomorrow afternoon.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Scented Garden

The garden was in disarray – had been for as long as Harold could remember. He’d never taken much notice of it except as a short-cut to the compost heap, since the high hedges that surrounded it (kept neatly trimmed by Devious, who gardened on Thursdays) hit it from view.

Not today, though. He’d opened the window of the third floor bathroom (he’d had to, really, thanks to the lingering effects of last night’s curried prawns) and happened to spot a flash of yellow in January.

“Jasmine,” said Julie when he mentioned it. “I cleared away some of the dead wood last October and it’s flowered a treat. Come and see.”

She donned a pair of wellington boots from the scullery and led him around the corner of the house into the old scented garden. She saw him looking about. “It’s a shame, isn’t it?” she said. “I bet this used to be a beautiful retreat in its day. I rescued the Jasmine, but there were dozens of plants I can’t even begin to imagine.”

Harold looked through the tangle of brambles and nettles to the dilapidated remains of a small building. “What’s that?” he said, pointing.

“An old summerhouse, I think.” Julie pulled some thornapple fruits that looked dry and withered. “I use it for drying herbs at the moment.” She looked at the handful of berries. “Lamb casserole for tea, I think.”

“Those are poisonous,” said Harold with a frown.

“I know.” Julie winked. “Shall we invite the vicar?”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jasfoup's Chocolate Fingers

Scented Garden


There used to be a scented garden at Laverstone Manor. Lady Melissa Waters (1839 – 1914) created it as an adjunct to the West Wing, where one could step out of the house and into the delights of Jasmine, Lavender, Thyme and so on. It surrounded a small stone and wrought iron arbour twined with rambling roses and she would sit there with her books and letters and while away the summer afternoons.

The garden was demolished during the occupation of the house by the RAF in the First War. They apologised afterward, but it made an excellent spot for five-a-side cricket, with the arbour serving as club house. Herbert turned it into an outdoor cooking area, and the desolation of the pigeon-haunted surroundings – albeit one of romantically recovered wilderness – is pervaded by the eternal reek of frying onions.

Julie found a record of the planting from 1886 (Lady Waters was a stickler for detail) and she wanted to recreate it.

Jasfoup was reluctant. “Bad memories,” he said.

“It’ll be good for Lucy,” she said.

Harold put it on the spring List of Things To Do.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jasfoup's Underwear!

Natural Shrinkage


“I say, old bean, you appear to be shrinking.”

Harold caught hold of Jasfoup’s arm, somewhat alarmed by the change in his friend’s stature.

Jasfoup looked at his hand and used it to gauge the rate of shrinkage. “Is it warm in here?” he said. “I do feel a little dry and shrinkage is normal in such situations.”

“Normal? What’s normal about shrinking?”

“I must be due to appear on television,” said the demon. “Or a video somewhere.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Harold stared at him.

“I have to be smaller to fit into the little screens.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Addiction


Rachel looked up at the kindly doctor, whose sudden smile contrasted so beautifully with his oil-dark skin. “I can’t stop writing about these people,” she said. “Devils and shopkeepers and whores… it’s like an addiction. Look at me. I prompt appears and I write. A thousand times over, quite literally.”

“I see.” The doctor wrote something in the patient notes. “And you believe these angels and other fantastic creatures really exist?”

“Of course. I see them all of the time.” Rachel sighed. “It’s not just that. I’m not even sure it’s me writing them,” she said. “Sometimes it feels as if I’m just one of the characters in this Laverstone place and someone else is writing me.”

“Don’t be silly.” Jasfoup patted her hand. “You take your tablets and have a nice sleep. I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“Yes, Doctor, thank you.” Rachel frowned. “Have we met before?”

He laughed. “Of course we have. Yesterday, on my rounds. Now go to sleep.” He watched until her breathing pattern changed, then closed the book, sliding it carefully onto the shelf. Hell was full of such stories, but it was rare that one of the souls suspected the truth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Child Prodigy


Harold held up the hundred pages of foolscap. “She’s a child prodigy, I tell you,” he said looking at Lucy who, at the grand old age of five, had written a whole play by herself, albeit in green felt-tipped pen.

Jasfoup took the pages off him and riffled through them. “Pah!” he said. “She’s no such thing.” He handed the pages back to Harold but smiled at Lucy. “Clever she might be,” he said, ruffling her hair. “But I asked her to write something original which this patently isn’t. This is just a word-for-word copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tour


The two walkers were back. Jasfoup had suspected they might return and taken several precaution since the infamous ‘Wolf in the Walls’ incident where Felicia had all but taken the door off its hinges by travelling at speed through the cat flap.

“We’ve taken a room at the… er… pub,” said the gentleman, who displayed no ill fortune after spraining his ankle so badly.”

“The White Art,” Harold supplied. “What do you want here? This is private property, you know. We don’t do tours.”

“No, we can see that,” said the woman. “We just wondered if we could have just a little peek at your chapel.” She pointed to the mausoleum at the edge of the eastern lawn.

“Why not,” said Jasfoup. “Do come through. There are sevel ghosts in the *ahem* chapel.”

“Now that were closer,” said the woman, “it looks more like a tomb.”

“Hence the ghosts.” Jasfoup smiled. “Actually, there are so many that if I were you I’d come back tomorrow when there are no tourists. They’re frantic to get out after a fifty year sojourn in there and they’re not terribly fussy.

“They’ll haunt anybody.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Watching the Baby



Lucy screamed as only a three-month old baby can. Jasfoup checked his pocket watch. It was an hour before Julie and Harold were due home and he’d been left – literally – holding the baby. He picked her up for the third time and checked her nappy.

“All right,” he said. “You’re not hungry, you’re not thirsty, your nappy’s dry and you’re not teething. “What is the matter with you, girl? Missing your dad?” He chucked her under the skin with a claw. Lucy cried and clung to his finger. A shaft of sunlight through the window caught his timepiece and spackled the wall. Lucy stopped crying and made a grab for it.

Jasfoup raised an eyebrow. “You want my watch?” he said. “If it stops you crying, here.” He unthreaded the watch from his waistcoat and pressed it into her hands. “You play with that while I make some tea.” He watched her with it for a moment before filling the kettle, looking out of the window as it boiled.

Winter turned to spring, spring to summer. He turned to see Lucy grow into a toddler, a child, a teenager. He watched as puppy fat turned to muscle, clumsiness to grace.

Jasfoup rubbed his eyes and took his watch back, huffing a sigh of relief as Lucy returned to her normal age. Harold would not have been pleased to miss out on his daughter’s childhood. He smiled and polished the glass with his sleeve – time just slipped away if you weren’t careful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tramplestiltskin


It had been a long time since Jasfoup had seen someone gallop that hard into the stable yard. One could almost believe this was still the eighteenth century rather than the twenty-first.. With practiced ease he calmed the sweat-flecked, terrified horse, holding the reins until both it and the rider had calmed sufficiently to speak.

“A wolf,” said the woman, pointing back into the woods. “It attacked my horse.”

Jasfoup frowned. “I was under the impression, madam, they wolves were extinct, and there are no wildlife parks or zoos within thirty miles. A stray dog is more likely, don’t you think?”

“I… I suppose so.” The woman laughed nervously. “Silly to think it was a wolf, in hindsight. Whoever heard of such a thing? I ought to go back – I think Sheba here trampled it.”

“You’d never find it again if you did,” said Jasfoup. “Your horse is fine, just go home.”

“Thank you.”

“And try to stay on the bridal path in future. This is private property, remember.”

The woman just waved as she trampled Harold’s croquet lawn.

Felicia never said a word about the line of hoof-shaped bruises down her back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Cafe in the Park

This is the real cafe, upon which the cafe in the Royal Park, Laverstone, is based, with the exception that the one in laverstone has a walled garden at the side, with a serving hatch, and the laverstone Museum attached.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Lucy's Bedroom


“I like the skull,” said Jenny. “That’s really cool. Is it real?”

“Of course it’s real.” Lucy ran her fingers over the carved bone. “I’m not sure what all the symbols mean, though. He told me once but I’ve forgotten.”

“Who told you?” Jenny squatted so that she could look directly into the dark, empty sockets. It gave her the un-nerving feeling that it was staring back and she shuddered. “Your dad?”

“No. He doesn’t know I’ve got it. I don’t think he’d approve.” Lucy winked and patted the skull like a favoured pet. “Ebul told me himself, didn’t you?”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fairy Ring Enchantment


Jenny Purfeit sipped at her whiskey and coke as she looked out of Lucy’s second-floor window at the elegantly manicured lawns below. “What happened to your mum?” she said. “You never talk about her and there aren’t any pictures…”

Lucy stopped typing in the middle of sending a soulbook message to her online friend Jessica5 in America. She swiveled her chair to face her school friend. “My mother?” she said. “She’s under an enchantment and won’t be awakened until I’ve come of age.” She stood up and went to the window. “See that fairy ring,” she said, pointing to a circle of fly agaric where Endal had cut down a chestnut two years ago.

“Yes,” said Jenny, a note of hesitation in her voice.

“My mother’s buried under there.”

“In a glass coffin?”

“No, silly. It’d break. She’s in Tupperware.”

Jenny’s mouth dropped open “You’re having me on.”

“A bit.” Lucy picked up her glass. “I haven’t seen my mother since I was about two, but Dad still says she’ll be back.”

“He must really love her,” said Jenny.

Lucy nodded. “Either that or she owes him money”

Monday, January 12, 2009

The New Girl


Alicia Graves ignored the stale quiche and scooped up the last of the marmalade fancies. She ate quickly but methodically, depleting the buffet with the efficiency of a student three weeks after his grant had run out. Her salary did not permit her such luxuries and making the most of free food was an undergraduate skill she’d have got honours in at Trinity.

“Fabulous spread, isn’t it?”

Alicia froze, her free hand hovering over the pyramid of coconut slices. Reluctantly, she withdrew it and turned to face the speaker. “Marvellous,” she agreed. “Far better than I managed on my Boxing Day Open House.” While not strictly a lie, for she had invited all her friends over on Boxing Day, Alicia’s social group comprised herself, her neighbour Mrs. Tolly and her cat Mephisto, and Mrs. Tolly had been at her sister’s for the week.

“I’m sorry I missed it.” The speaker was a stout gentleman with a moustache that went out of fashion on the forties.

Alicia touched him lightly on the arm and smiled. “You must come next year,” she said, “though I can hardly emulate your wife’s skills in the kitchen.”

“Oh.” The man smiled. “Do you know my wife?”

“Only by reputation,” said Alicia. “You talk about her often.”

“Do I?” The man frowned. “Do you work at the school then?”

“I hope so, Headmaster.” Alicia pulled her glasses from her pocket and put them on. “I teach the Classical Literature classes. You hired me last September.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thin Ice


It was the thin film of ice that gave it away. The rest of the pond was inches thick in the stuff – almost enough to stand on until you heard that tell-tale high-pitched squeal of splintering cracks. Here, though, were shallows where in summer the muddy water was a haven for wildlife.

The ice was too thin. It had been broken recently and re-frozen. Harold planted a foot close to the edge, where the ice was still thick, and peered in. “It’s Jean Dawlish, all right,” he said, shifting his weight backwards until he was safe once more on the frozen ground. “She’s not been there long, either.”

Sergeant Brandsford of the Laverstone police called it in. “We’ll have to wait for the coroner,” he said, “and no doubt Inspector White will want to take charge of the investigation and I won’t even get a mention in the police gazette.” He paused, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know it was her, anyway?”

“Easy,” said Harold. “Her ghost is standing right beside you. She says it was her jimmy that done her in.”

Mike Brandsford took a sharp step sideways and gave a bark of laughter. “Even if I believed you,” he said. “I’d need to have some proof.”

Harold stood, pulling his gloves on. “She says the knife he used is in the bottle bank at the Old Mill pub. It’s got his dabs all over it.”

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Teenager's Secret


Lucy led her friend Jenny through the under-used front door of Laverstone Manor and straight up the stairs to her second-floor room.

“This is an amazing house,” said Jenny. “I still think you could throw a spliffing party here.”

“Not without Dad’s permission. He hates having visitors to the house. A party would be out of the question.” Lucy sat in front of her computer and logged on. The monitor on the wall opposite her bed flickered into life, showing a series of security camera stills before the screen was filled with MTV.

“What were those cameras?” said Jenny. “Were they in your house?”

“Yes.” Lucy left the music on but switched the picture feed to the cameras. “I like to keep track of the family,” she said. “Dad and Julie will still be at the shop, but Endal will be about somewhere.” She flicked through several cameras until she spied her distant cousin. “That’s okay. He’s in his studio.” She flicked the screen back to MTV and opened her desk drawer. “Fancy a drink?”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Food for Thought


Lucy’s Biology teacher, Miss Graves,* kept, as most schools did, a tank of mice in the classroom. Unlike other schools, however, she bred the mice as food for the other classroom pets: a pair of asps and a tank of small black scorpions. She deemed it a privilege for a child to be allowed to lift a mouse by the tail (or in a glass for the squeamish – there were health and safety rules to consider) and feed the other class pets.

Lucy was fascinated. The expressions of the snakes as the mice were dropped into the vivarium was identical to the expression Miss Graves had when a pupil failed an exam.



*An appropriate name, her students thought, for she looked like something that had been dead for a very long time. Her breath (which smell not of coffee like the other teachers after morning break but of cinnamon and aniseed) was dry and rustly and her teacher’s robes were stiff like paper left in the sun.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Grub's Up


There was a distinct disadvantage to the use of colloquial English, thought Harold as he sat in the snug at the ‘Bushman’s Rest’ Australian-style public house. He’d been attracted by the sign outside: “Authentic Aussie Hot Grub” and had ordered accordingly, scoffing at Jasfoup’s more cautious “rare fillet steak with hot pepper and blue cheese sauce’ but in retrospect the demon had been right to be cautious.

“That steak looks good,” he said. “Are you really going to eat it all?”

The demon nodded, swallowing a piece of pink meat smothered in sauce before replying. “I’ve warned you before about meaning what you say,” he said. “Now tuck in. Those witchetty grubs look tasty.”

Second Flooding

“I can’t believe you just did that.” said Felicia, staring at her empty cup. “You threw away my coffee, didn’t you?”

“I thought you’d finished with it,” said Harold. “It was so cold it had three rings of congealed scum around the side and some ants were drilling for oil.”

“Well I hadn’t.” Felicia looked down at the ground. “You threw it on an ant’s nest too. Isn’t that a sacrilegious offence? You’ll have wiped out hundreds from the caffeine poisoning alone.”

“Christians don’t believe animals have souls,” said Harold. “The adversity will make them stronger. They’ll think their god sent them a flood.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Review

Review of 'An Ungodly Child' at the
Bluechrome Blog

Available at Amazon.co.uk (will be back in stock this week, I'm told) or at Amazon.com, or order from your local bookshop or library.

Old Wives' Tales

It is an old Romanian folklore that a vampire cannot stand chaos. One of the best armaments a man can have against these savage creatures of the night is a bag of grain, be it wheat or rice, or even poppy seeds. The lore is that a vampire will stop to count whatever has been spilled.

Harold used this to his advantage in the long, cold winter after Gillian left. Without her protection, he became the prey of ever vampire in England and three from America, all of them seeing to gain power from the blood of Cain. He took to spreading bird seed in the atrium, the most accessible point of the Manor and generally unlocked. It also had electric fans on timers that would cause a re-count every ten minutes.

It was unfortunate for his predators that the atrium faced an uninterrupted eastern horizon.

And a whole bank of UV lamps.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Stand for Sparrow


The quarter-circle table looked better in a different corner.

It used to lie in the northern corner of the room, where sunlight dared not venture for fear of the house across the road stealing its vitality and that worked well enough for Alison’s bunches of sweetgrass and sage, both of which retained their scent more readily when dried out of the sunlight.

Now, with Sparrow back, Alison had moved the table to a position where it got the sun most of the day. She’d always been a peaky child, more prone to lounging on the sofa with her father than in exploring the world outdoors. “It’s boring, mum,” she used to say as a teenager. “There’s nothin’ to do outside.”

It was a far cry from Alison’s youth where the television was an accessory to pleasure and not a replacement for it. In her day they would leave in the morning and not come back until tea time. The streets were safer then but Alison was convinced they were as safe now if you stuck together with your friends. Not that Sparrow would be hanging about the streets. Those days were long gone.

“There you are love,” she said, arranging her daughter’s skull where it would catch the best of the sunshine. “That’ll bring a smile to your face.”

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Very Private Artist


Harold was unsure about Laverstone Manor’s newest resident. A distant nephew of Anansi, Endal had bumped into Jasfoup on one of the demon’s frequent trips abroad and shared a dinner outside a restaurant on the side of the Nile. Jasfoup had given him enough money to cover a plane ticket home and a train to Laverstone.

“It’s only for a week or two until he gets on his feet,” the demon said. “It’s not like he’d going to stay forever. He can sleep on the sofa.”

A week or two had become a month or two and Endal was still on the couch, his possessions strewn about the room with gay abandon. “What is all this stuff?” Harold asked, using a pencil to stir a box of flattened drinks cans gathered from roads and car parks.

“That’s my art.” Endal stood and glowered, and just for a moment Harold could see the shadow of the real Endal – a black-bristled body and multiple legs branching from his shoulders. He couldn’t help shuddering. “What sort of art?” he asked.

“Mobiles,” said Endal. “Strung from the trees in the forest, where normal folk can gaze in wonder at the beauty of a tangled web.”

“Just gaze?” said Harold. “Or become so intimately entangled with it that they become one with the sculpture, leaving only their bones to sway from the golden silks?”

Endal shrugged, blinking each of his eight eyes. “I can’t help it if my art moves people to self sacrifice,” he said.

Harold nodded and moved to put the kettle on. “Careful,” he said, “Your heritage is showing. Tea?”

Friday, January 02, 2009

Lame


Felicia burst through the kitchen door, quite literally, sending splinters of pine boarding all over the room. She darted into the hall, changing form in mid stride and was two-legged before she reached the top of the stairs.

Harold was taken by surprise, staring at the ruins of his door in sheer horror. His attention was diverted by a middle aged couple in walking boots and anoraks, each of them clutching a silver topped cane.

“Excuse me,” said the woman. “I think we frightened your dog. I’ve never seen a Shepherd try to go through a cat flap before.”

Harold got up and opened what was left of the door. The pane of glass in the top half slid out and cracked. “It was your sticks,” he said. “She doesn’t like sticks.” He frowned. “What are you doing here, anyway. This is private property.”

“I know,” said the woman. “We saw the signs, but my husband here has twisted his ankle and since this is such a lovely old house we thought we’d come here for help.”

Harold nodded. “That’s a lame excuse,” he said.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Certain Ferocity


“There is a certain ferocity of spirit that belies the thin veneer of civilization we habitually plaster onto ourselves,” said the young lord with the white hair, steepling his fingers at the helpless man duct-taped to the kitchen chair. “But that’s nothing compared to the ferocity of spirits.” He chuckled. “Just my little joke, old chap. Laverstone Manor is almost six hundred years old and has seen its fair share of murderous plots and dastardly deeds. Can you imagine what would happen if those spirits knew you were going to steal their... er…” He hesitated. “Jasfoup? What’s the opposite of ‘heritage’?”

“I don’t think there is one, Harold,” said the man in the tall suit.

“Well then. There you are.” The man called Harold stared at Ted Flynn as if he was expected to contribute.

Ted cleared his throat. “Bravo?”