Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Fool and his Money


The Morris dancer scowled. His black face was painted in traditional fashion to prevent the people he begged from guessing his identity. Dancing was one thing, after all, and begging was generally rewarded with a free dinner in prison. He banged Jasfoup on the head with an inflated bladder. “Tuppence?” he said. “This isn’t 1930.”

“Indeed not.” Jasfoup fished out a couple of pound coins from his purse. “I saw you dancing the ‘Queen of Fulsome’s Jig’,” he said, “but from what tradition were the handkerchief movements?”

“From the village of make-it-up-as-you-go-along,” said the dancer. Thanks for the beer token.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Scholarship


Harold frowned as he filled in the form. “What should I put for her mother?” he asked. “It says: ‘if deceased put date of death’ but Gillian’s date of death was forty years before Lucy was born. Do you think that might confuse the people awarding the scholarship?”

“Possibly.” Jasfoup tapped the papers. “Put Gillian’s date of death as the same as Lucy’s birth. That’ll tug at their heartstrings. Why are you applying for a scholarship for her, anyway? You’re rich.”

“Not on paper.” Harold grinned. “Knowing she has to get grade As to renew her scholarship will make her knuckle down and study.”

“A good plan.” Jasfoup nodded. “But why not let her have a bit of childhood first? She’s only four.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reading Railroad


Laverstone Station has three platforms. Platform one is a seasonal train serving holiday makers and steam enthusiasts and puffs its way, weather permitting, across the hills to Reading every Thursday from April to September. Platforms two and three serve the mainline trains between London and Oxford, though not all trains stop at Laverstone. One an hour is our generally allotted number.

There’s an underpass to Platform One where an old man plays a cello for pennies. His two performing monkeys will grin and tip their hats if you put a pound or more into his hat. Ignore him at your peril. Those with the sight can see the stumps where they ripped off his angel wings.

Those performing monkeys? Aren’t.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sacred Spring


The River Lavers has swelled with the meltwater coming off the hills. Signs of new growth are appearing everywhere, from sprigs of wild garlic to a hedgerow festooned with catkins. At the far side of the park, the spring at St Pity’s is in full flow. Drop a penny in the slot and bless yourself with the tears of Mary Magdalene herself, so the legend goes. Of course, only Jasfoup remembers Bishop Steadman having the water pipes laid during the spring of 1856 and commissioning a young Robinson Ellis to write the inscription over the font: “Mille lacrima,” after Catullus.

Miracle on ward 13


Jasfoup saw the ghost of Edward Edwards before the young man died. He thought little of it until, after the ghost had followed him for several hours, he inquired of the spirit’s purpose. The exchange of a contract signed in ectoplasm for the young man to wake from a coma left the demon free to enjoy the opera. At the hospital, Edward’s sudden recovery and healing of thirty-four broken bones was hailed as a miracle and drew in dozens of pilgrims from all over the world. Jasfoup was pleased. There was no soul tastier than a pilgrim bound to Fall.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Consequences

There were gherkins in the blackcurrant preserve. Quite how they had arrived there was anybody’s guess, though Inspector White had a suspicion it was something to do with the settings of his PDA. He’d been in a pickle with it ever since it he’d tried to jam the screensaver to stop it coming on every time he picked it up. Trying to text the problem to his tech-savvy son had been inadvisable in the magical field of Laverstone. Whoever said that magic and technology didn’t mix was right. He was just glad he hadn’t mentioned dropping it down the toilet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thinking Sideways

Adam squinted into the hole. “It’s stuck,” he said. “It’s squeezed itself into the hole, tried to turn around and now it can’t go forwards or backwards.”

“Can you actually see it?” said God.

“Yes.” Adam reached into the hole. “If I can catch hold of its legs I can… Ow!” Adam pulled his hand out and sucked at it.

“What happened?”

“The little b— chappie bit me. That’s it.” He stood up. “The only way that’s going to come out of that hole is sideways. I’ve had enough of trying to rescue it.”

“Fair enough.” God concentrated and the creature scuttled out.

Adam watched it dig a hole under the next rock. “What’s that called again?”

“Crab,” said God, “but you can’t eat it.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fistfuls of Fury

Arnold Crabtree held the bottle between two palms and unscrewed the lid with his teeth. The clean scent of witch hazel filled the room and Arnold poured some out. He put the bottle down, rubbing his hands in the balm to ease his swollen fingers and gain a measure of relief. The doctors said he was lucky not to have gone into anaphylactic shock but they didn’t have that when he grew up. All Arnold got was a double handful of agony. That was the last time he’d believe Tommy Blesset when he said there was honey in bee hives.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vanity


Vanity was not something Lucy was overly concerned about. In fact, if not for her unruly hair she would be content to live without a mirror in her room at all. She’d seen pictures of her mother – a painting anyway – who had been possessed of a classic beauty but for her shadow-black tresses which Lucy had inherited along with the glittering eyes. Alas that she’d also got her father’s pug-like nose and receding jawline, neither of which sat well against her grandmother’s elfin features and olive skin. It could have been worse. At least she didn’t inherit her father’s genitals.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Little Blue Apples


There was a point to Chaos, Lucifer mused, it was what kept you from going stale. It’s all very well to say that infinite things were possible in an infinite void but eventually even a god ran out of ideas. Look at the huge number of fir trees, for example. God had got really stuck on fir trees to the point where sixty varieties all looked identical but for a slight change in leaf pattern. Far better to kick a bucket of chaos over and see what was left after the biggest lumps were cleared away. Apples, for one thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Homonyms


“Well…” Jasfoup considered the question. “Take your Aunty Felicia. If she likes someone… I mean really likes someone the way a mummy bear loves a daddy bear, she might send them poetry.”

“Boys don’t read poetry,” said Lucy.

“Some do,” said Jasfoup. “Your Uncle Frederick for one. He wrote books of poetry.”

Lucy frowned. “He died ages ago. Dead people like poems.”

“Aunt Felicia is a special kind of lady, though. She likes girls instead of boys.”

“Uncle Jas.” Lucy reached up and patted his hand. “You’re talking about Sapphistry. I asked you about sophistry. We did lesbians at school.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Best Laid Plans


Lucifer lit the star lantern and smiled. A thousand miles below, what would one day be the Holy Land was folded into the bosom of night. A series of trails marked the progress of the Eastern Kings and the Western shepherds. They would reach Bethlehem in a few hours.

God, looking out of his window, frowned. “Who’s lit the guiding slamp?” he asked. “It’s a day too early. Shirley and Billy-Bob aren’t due to have the Christ child until tomorrow Gabriel? Give me the list of kids due to be born tonight. Who’s this Mary? Is she religious at all?”

Blood and Treasure


Laura Travin got her emerald in the end. It took her three hours while the ancient corpse of her long-dead grandmother summoned a solicitor buried three cross-passages along.
Henry Blake FRCRB was happy to give the document of ownership a once-over, though his eyes had long rotted away and he had to be read the small print.

“That all seems in order,” he said, in a dry, papery voice. “Though the mention of the Finders Keepers Act of 1994 took me by surprise.”

Laura smiled as she unhooked the necklace from the old lady’s corpse. She’d been counting on that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Darkling


The apparition was all in white. Harold could tell it wasn’t real – he might have been taken in by a apparition in white but when it had a daisy motif he recognised from the tablecloth in the scullery the jig, as Chandler would say, was up.

He looked at the sword in his hand. What was the law on household defence these days? It he ran a burglar through, did it count as self defence? Did it count as diminished responsibility if he genuinely believed it was a ghost? Perhaps not.

He changed his grip and clumped the intruder with the flat of the blade. To his surprise, the sword met only a slight resistance before the tablecloth folded around it, slowing the swing and forcing the point floorwards. Harold backed away as it dropped, staring in horror at the twisting mass of shadows before him.

A tentacle curved out and by instinct he chopped at it with the saber, surprised at the complete lack of resistance. The shadows knitted together again, changing shape as they dropped closer to the floor. Another tentacle formed, this time at the end furthest from Harold; a column of smoke rising to a foot above the rest of the mass.

It twitched from side to side.

Harold jumped as Jasfoup appeared beside him. “What is this thing?” he asked.

“A Darkling,” said the demon. “A creature of shadow. Look! it wants to be friends.”

“How can you tell that?”

“It’s wagging its tail.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Emerald Death


She follows the Undertaker’s map, traversing the catacombs with the grace of a swallow in flight. Left here, third left, second right, mind the pitfall trap… She stops at an unremarkable coffin, cracked with age and showing scraps of cloth and bone. The application of a crowbar snaps long-rusted nails to reveal the corps within, still wearing the ancient emerald necklace her great grandmother promised her. She reaches for it and a bony hand grabs her wrist..

“What trespass occurs here?” said the paper-thin voice. “What thief disturbs the tomb of Elizabeth Travin?

“I’m not a thief,” said Laura Travin. “The emerald is my birthright. Look, I’ve got the paperwork.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another Bowls-up


Harold lay on the bank looking through binoculars. Nearby, Julie fed Lucy another spoonful of yellow gloop while Jasfoup produced a pot of scalding-hot tea from his inside pocket and three cups and saucers from his trousers.

“I made Lapsang Souchong,” he said, “to alleviate the need for milk.”

“Jolly good.” Harold tutted, his gaze fixed upon the Laverstone Ladies Charity Bowls tournament. “Mrs Redd’s took another mulligan,” he said. “That’s her third in one match. She’s either lost her touch or she’s completely made of money.”

“Or she’s standing on a previously undiscovered red ant’s nest,” said Jasfoup. “Tea?”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Virtual Taxation


“I’ve got a tax bill for St. Marples,” said Harold, throwing the paperwork at Jasfoup. “I thought you said that couldn’t happen.”

“You thought wrong,” said the demon, glancing through the thirty-odd pages. “What I said was, you wouldn’t owe any. This is the past fiscal year.”

“It’s wrong, surely?” Harold took back the pages and skimmed through them. “Look,” he said, holding up pace twenty-three. “It says they’re charging me £2,306.48 for ‘a possible change of use’. What change of use?”

“That’ll be the prospect of turning the tower into a residence,” said Jasfoup. “It’s a legitimate concern. It’s something you have planning permission for so you could if you wanted. They’re taxing you on the possibility that you will.”

“Why? Where would I put the three gargoyles living there already.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buttered Armadillo


“Do stop fidgeting, dear.”

Ada gave Lucy a stern look over the top of the menu as the waiter approached. “What’s the soup today?”

“Cream of Armadillo, madam,” said the waiter, his pen poised over his notepad.

“Excellent,” said Ada. “Armadillo soup for two with four buttered tortoises, a pot of slime and glass of ooze.”

“Eww. What a disgusting place, Gran. Can’t we go to Burgerland instead?”

“No Lucy, the park restaurant will do nicely. It’s about time you learned some decent manners.”

“I don’t want to eat armadillo soup.”

Ada laughed. “It’s not really armadillo,” she said. “It’s artichoke.”

She didn’t mention what the tortoises really were.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Raspberries


Laverstone, 1939

Lady Sophia looked up from the handwritten manuscript dear Pelham had sent her. “Freddie!” she said. “Stop taunting your sister.”

“She started it.” Freddie glared at her sister. Adantia merely smiled and chased a raspberry around her bowl with her spoon.

“Adantia, dear, don’t bait your sister,” said Sophia, her interest in the children’s antic waning. “Jasfoup? More tea, I think. That damned Captain Yates is due any minute.”

Jasfoup coughed. “Captain Yates is waiting in the music room, Ma’am” He smiled at the girls and spooned out more raspberries and cream, freezing it with a touch and a wink. “Though he won’t be officially damned for another three years.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bible II


“And then he slew all the men, and all the women, and all the children, and all the cattle, and the sheep and the goats and the fruit bats and the weevils and the turnips and the ears of corn.” Jasfoup closed the book. “And then he cut off all their foreskins and took them to the King of Persia and married the princess.”

“That’s horrible,” said Lucy with the conviction of a four year old. “He should have left one last man standing.”

“Why?” said Jasfoup. “This is Biblical canon, you know. You can’t go around changing the endings of bible stories.”

“If he leaves one man,” said Lucy, “they can make a sequel.”

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tom Fool


Mrs. Tavish, who runs the post office, always has a kind word for those that take the trouble to pass the time of day with her. “Life’s never to busy to be pleasant,” she says, usually as a pointed comment to someone who’s asked for a stamp and just stuffed the money through the gap in the bullet-proof, hammer-proof and stinky-breath-proof plastic screen over the counter. “Good day to you,” she’ll shout over the ringing of the door bell as they leave, more a curse than a blessing, but then she’ll turn to the next customer and smile as if she’d been given flowers.

Tommy Tavish is somewhat less enthusiastic about his customers. He retired at 55, expecting to pack up and move to warmer climes. Brighton, perhaps, or Swansea. His surprise when his wife applied for – and won – the position of postmistress took all the joy from him and now he sits in the kitchen – or on the bench at the front of the shop if it’s warm – scowling at the youngsters and offering his toothless grin to any single ladies that go past.

They tell his wife about his advances over the purchase of a stamp and a pot of tea with the parcel weighing station as a makeshift table. “Silly old fool,” she says, blaming him still for a loveless marriage. “He’d run a mile if any of them showed an interest. I wouldn’t mind but his relevant parts haven’t even worked since the silver jubilee.”

Friday, February 06, 2009

Art F-All


“I bought an etching,” said Harold, pulling out a framed aquatint of the Old Offley Mill before it was turned into a restaurant.

“It’s rubbish,” said Jasfoup. “I’ve seen better work at the community college.”

“It’s an investment,” said Harold, pointedly. “It’s a limited edition, number nine of ten, and only cost two hundred pounds from that arty shop on Panters Row.”

“You were robbed,” said Felicia, barely glancing up from her Arts Review magazine. “I’ve got three of the others nine in the rack at the gallery for thirty pounds each.”

Harold scowled. “At least mine is framed.”

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Wicked Night


“Reverend?” Mary Clements tapped him on the shoulder. “Which is higher? A flush or a straight?”

“A straight, Mrs. Clements, but please call me Peter. I’m off duty after all.”

“I would hope so, given the circumstances.” said Mary. She leaned in close, one hand on his arm. “You can call me Mary.”

“God doesn’t mind a bit of gambling, Mrs. er… Mary,” said Reverend Dodgson. “It’s the love of money he condemns, not the entertainment and raising of church funds.”

“Are you sure?” said Mary, her face so creased with uncertainty that her foundation was cracking. “I thought it was a sin.”

“Avarice is a sin, Mary, not the few pennies you’re about to win off poor Mr. Wright.

“Pennies?” Mary laughed. “Two hundred quid, more like.” She returned to the table, leaving the Reverend Dodgson perplexed.

“I think you’ll find she’s a ringer,” said Jasfoup, offering him a cup of tea. “But then, Bishop Mackenzie never ran a casino evening in the Church Hall.”

“Oh dear!” Peter took a sip of the lukewarm tea. “Will the bishop not approve, do you think?”

“He be fine, Reverend.” Jasfoup smiled. “It’s a wicked night, if you don’t mind me saying.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Green Mill


“Where did that cake come from,” said Harold, over elevenses. “The one you brought home last night and made me eat.”

“I didn’t make you eat it,” said Jasfoup. “I just offered it you. Gillian made you eat it. Remember the starving people in Basingstoke, I think she said.”

“You knew I wouldn’t like it though,” said Harold. “Cream cheese topping on a cake?”

“Cheesecake?” Jasfoup said. “You like cheesecake.”

“That’s different.” Harold took out a small piece of cardboard. “I rescued this from the cake box,” he said. “Green Mill Confectionary with a little picture of a green windmill. I’ve never heard of it, and there are no windmills this side of the chalk.”

Jasfoup nodded. “Perhaps there’s a Green Mill far away,” he said. “Without a city wall.”

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sans bells


Jasfoup drove up to the house with the top down and the engine thrumming like a live beast. He wore a silk scarf over his hair and in his customary sunglasses he looked like he was dressed for Lanzarote rather than Laverstone.

“Where did you get this?” said Harold, shaking the vehicle with one hand before climbing gingerly on. “I’ve never seen it before.”

“I’ve had it for ages,” said Jasfoup, looking away. “I though we’d be more likely to make it through the snow in this than in your van.”

“I’ve fitted tyre spikes, though,” said Harold.

“Not since last year,” Jasfoup pointed out, “and they wore down over the summer.”

“Hmm.” Harold looked ahead. “There are traces for eight deer on the shafts,” he said, pointing. “Are you sure it’ll work with just two?”

“As long as we don’t try to fly,” said the demon.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Betsy


It was unusual for the police to knock on the door of Laverstone Manor. Unusual in that Harold would normally be warned of their arrival a good ten or fifteen minutes in advance – plenty of time to hide anything suspicious.*

“Can I help you?” he said, his voice an accidental falsetto.

“Mr. Harold Waterman?” asked Sergeant Mike Brandsford.

“You know me, Mike,” said Harold. “What’s up?”

“Are you the registered keeper of a green van, registration BET 5Y?”

“You know I am. Betsy’s my PJ.”

“Pyjamas?”

“Pride and Joy.”

“Ah.” Mike took out his pocketbook. “You’ve been driving it without a valid Road Taxation Licence.”

“It’s vintage,” said Harold. “Exempt.”

“No, My Waterman,” Mike handed Harold a slip of paper. “The plate is vintage, but the van is only two years old. Here’s you summons. Good night.”




*Not that Harold intentionally did anything illegal, but sometimes the imps did and it was difficult to pin the blame on invisible, supernatural beings.