Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Second Coming

The orbital platform survived the destruction of the Earth and despite all the predictions it was not a war that ended the life of the planet, nor global warming or over population.

The collision of the moon with a comet was a complete fluke. Had the combined Earth forces not attempted to deflect the comet, it would have hit the moon head-on, splitting it in two and releasing a cloud of dust that would have changed the climate forever. Instead the meteor was deflected into a glancing blow, sending it into a decaying orbit that left a crater the size of France and stripped away part of the Van Allen Belt.

With the increase in radiation the birth rate slowed and eventually stopped. Humanity fled to the stars, leaving the planet to fend for itself.

Many species – avian and land mammals in particular – died out. Fully half of the insect species died with them, though many adapted to the higher levels of ultraviolet and prospered, filling the niches left available. Plants, too, adapted to the new pollinators, though they became unrecognisable from their ancestors.

Lucifer looked down on the green and blue planet, chewing a soft yellow fruit that might once have been an apple. He nudged the figure next to him. “Another million years or two,” he said, “and you can start again. Another Adam, Eve, Cain.”

Jeshua shook his head. “Already have, old bean,” he said. “Only He used cockroaches this time.”

Lucifer grimaced. “Sucks to be you.”



Image: Halcyon: Orbital

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick

There’s a lamp-post in the Royal Park that has a legend attached. The park was designed by Sir Harold Lauder (1798 – 1874) and was completed in 1862 in commemoration of the Queen’s silver jubilee (It was originally named ‘Jubilee Park’).

At the side entrance stands a statue of Sir Harold standing erect in his top hat and his hands in front of him at waist level, palms down. Contrary to speculation by dirty-minded schoolboys, what is missing is actually his cane.

The story goes that the park was due to open but the gas-lights had not been installed. “I want a gas lamp right here,” he said, tapping his walking stick upon the ground. His walking stick stuck and wouldn’t come free at all, despite the best efforts of all the workmen. When they returned the next day it had grown into a beautiful wrought-iron gas lamp which remained lit despite having no gas attached. Indeed, it was such a miracle that the Queen came to see it personally (thus causing the name change).

The lamp post remained in situ with its lamp lit for 53 years, until it was torn down to be melted for cannons in the great war.

A facsimile was erected in 1976, along with the statue of Sir Harold.


Image: The Most Amazing Places to Visit in Britain
(and Laverstone isn't in it!
)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Peter Dashey was sure Jean was cheating on him. There was nothing concrete – a bag of clothes went missing from the bedroom. She went to bed earlier claiming tiredness, and she left the house for long periods to ‘go to church’ where she’d been a practicing agnostic until her mother died.

He skipped work one day and followed her. She did indeed go to the church and stayed in there all day. When the Reverend Dodgeson closed the church as 4:00 pm, Peter was incensed to see him wearing Peter’s best shirt.

When Jean invited the vicar to tea on Saturday afternoon, it was the last straw, but Peter put on him brightest smile and sat at the table with them.

“More tea, vicar?” he said, one hand feeling the reassuring weight of the hammer under his chair. “One lump or two.”


Image: More Tea Vicar?: An Embarrassment of Domestic Catchphrases

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Re-match

Harold insisted on a rematch of croquet. Having been cheated out of a win at the weekend, he declared there was to be a match in the evening after work. “Refreshments provided,” he said, ordering a hamper from Fortnum and Mason’s, “I do hope you’ll come.”

“Pimms on the terrace, old bean?” said Jasfoup when he put the phone down. “Or gin and tonic if you’ve invited your mum as well.”

“Of course,” said Harold. “For everyone else, anyway. Let’s just make sure the match is after Lucy’s bedtime. I don’t want my balls vanishing through a portal.”

Jasfoup winced. “Sounds painful,” he said.



Image: Croquet Secrets: The Collected Writings of John Riches

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest

“That’s disappointing,” said Harold as he read the morning edition of the Laverstone Times. “They’ve cancelled the ‘Exhibition of Interesting Things’ at the museum. I was quite looking forward to that.”

“Does Laverstone have any interesting things?” asked Julie. “I always thought it was a bit of a dump myself.”

“Of course it does,” said Harold. “I myself donated a collection of Bronze Age tools and implements, and there is the a wealth of history relating to the stones and the Barrows.”

“Fascinating,” she replied, her tone carefully neutral. “Why was it cancelled?”

Harold sighed. “A lack of interest, apparently.”



Image: Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things: An Introduction to Semiotics (Semaphores and Signs) by Marcel Danesi

Monday, June 22, 2009

Because It Is So

“Can I help you?” Meinwen Jones, proprietor of Rites of Passage looked up as the gentleman entered.

He looked around the shop before speaking, giving her the impression he was incognito and she was tempted to tug his false beard. He coughed politely, waving away smoke from the incense she’d lit in honour of Loki.

The gentleman leaned forward. “Do you do curses?” he whispered.

Meinwen drew back. “What sort of curse?” she said. “I don’t cast them but I could probably find the ingredients for one.”

“You could?”

“For the right customer,” she said.

“What sort of customer?”

“Generous ones,” she said, pushing a charity box to the front of the counter. “Ones I like. What curse do you want, and to whom?” He pulled out a book which fell open on a page entitled “Wilting.” Meinwen scowled. “Black magic?”

“It’s not for me,” the man said. “A friend of mine is having trouble.”

“Upon whom is it to be cast?” she asked.

“His wife’s lover,” he said. “I have his handkerchief…”

Meinwen smiled. “Perhaps I could find the ingredients...”



Image: Don't Arm Wrestle a Pirate: 101 Really Bad Ideas

A Game of Kings

Midsummer day was the perfect time for a croquet match. Lucy, sat with Julie on a traditional chequered blanket with her favourite toy wolfie, was fascinated by the bright, primary colours of the balls and kept reaching out for them.

Harold was winning, of course. Jasfoup tended to let him win rather than suffer the tantrums and Felicia was hopeless at the game but Ada was putting up a fair fight.

Harold’s glee when his ball hit his mother’s was palpable. He stood on his, ready to pound Ada’s into the bushes, when a small portal opened, sending Ada’s ball hurtling through the last hoop and into the finish stake.

Harold frowned and stomped over to Julie. “That wasn’t fair,” he said. “You’re not allowed to open portals on the croquet pitch.”

Julie shook her head. “It wasn’t me,” she said.

Lucy giggled.



Image: Adult wooden croquet set

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No Vacancies

Harold stared at the girl leaning on his desk, appalled at the scent of cheap cigarettes, beer and spearmint chewing gum. He loathed spearmint. He frowned. “What job?” he said. “I haven’t got a job available.”

“Suddenly,” she said. “Is it because of my tee shirt?”

“No, of course not.” Harold read the slogan. ‘I didn’t make a cock-up. I had one’ and stifled a smile.

“Is it because of my hair?”

Harold shook his head. Pink hair was hardly revolutionary, these days. All the old ladies had it in the seventies. Even poodles had pink hair now. “I don’t know why the Job Centre sent you,” he said. “There isn’t a vacancy available and I don’t know why they thought there was.”

“It’s because I’m a girl, isn’t it?” She leaned forward and chewed gum at him. “That’s sexual discrimination that is.”



Image: Job Interview Skills - Extended DVD & CD

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Plans of Men


Harold frowned, tracing his finger along the proposed line of the new road. “This passes through three houses on Paget Road,” he said. “Including Mrs. Walker’s.”

Jasfoup got up and gave the plans a brief glance. “Compulsory Purchase,” he said, “The golden ticket of every town planner.”

“But she’s lived there since before I was born,” said Harold. “She’ll be heartbroken.”

“All the more reason for you to approve the plans,” said the demon. “You’re the heir-presumptive to Hell, after all, Might as well get some practice being evil in.”

“But if we tighten this bend by another three degrees,” Harold said, “We can jut clip twenty feet of the garden of this one house on the other side.”

Jasfoup took a sharp intake of breath. “You can’t,” he said. “It belongs to Howard Peabright, the Chair of the council.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Harold's Deepest Fear


There weren’t many things Harold was scared of. Living with vampires, ghosts and werewolves on a daily basis gave him a healthy outlook on the supernatural. Ghosts didn’t like ozone, vampires didn’t like fire (but then, who did?), weres didn’t like silver and witches didn’t like being dumped in a vat of salt water. He took a seat on the council partly to ensure his business wasn’t hit by obscure laws implemented by a council official he refused to bribe but mostly because of his coulrophobia.

Harold was just in time, too. Cullingwoods World-Famous Circus had just put in an application to pitch on the Royal Park during the August bank Holiday week and Harold had managed to be in a position to deny the application.

“Take the Big Top down,” he said. “There’ll be no clowning in Laverstone.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bought Silence


Another night of Lucy’s teething had sent Harold half insane from lack of sleep.

“Half?” said Jasfoup. “You were half way there before the sleep deprivation, Ada knows where you are now.”

“Dusseldorf,” said Harold. “That’s what it feels like. I need a good night’s sleep.”

“You can borrow my place,” said the demon, “but Lucy’s crying is nothing to the screaming of the damned.”

“I’ll give it a miss, thanks.” Harold frowned. “Where are the imps?”

“Downstairs in the scriptorium,” said Jasfoup. “Why?”

“Give them the night off.”

“You can’t do that. You can’t treat imps kindly. You’ll start a revolution.”

“Twenty quid?”

“Consider the shop empty.”

Harold phoned home from his camp bed. “Honey? I’m working late.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trade Commission


Harold frowned as he opened the letter from the Laverstone Trade Commission.

“Dear Sir,” it said.

“It has come to our attention your business ‘Alexandrian Gold’ contravenes section 12 (d) of the Laverstone Traders Washing Agreement, to whit ‘no business shall be permitted to open on the sixth Monday after Beltane, pursuant to regulation 5(a) and is subject to a fine of not less than five shillings thousand pounds.”

Your honourably,

J P Fortesque
43rd Earl of Washers and Trader’s Guild.”


“Do you know anything about this, Jasfoup?” he asked.

The demon looked away. “An old Laverstonian Guild,” he said. “You’ll have to comply, else they’ll revoke your trading licence.”

“But what was all that business about the sixth Monday?”

“Ah.” The demon smiled. “That was washing day. All traders were required to help with the washing of the public linens.”

“There is no way,” said Harold, “That I am washing my linens in public.”

“I know,” said Jasfoup. “Your mum still washes them for you.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bargain Books

Harold frowned at the notebook. He’d picked it up on the flea market for fifty pence. “Have it,” said the shopkeeper after charging him £9.50 for a 1937 guide to Laverstone. “I can’t even work out what language it’s written in. It’s all Greek to me.”

“Not Greek,” said Harold, handing over a ten pound note for the two and waving away the change. “Meroitic hieroglyphs, though I don’t know of anyone who could translate them.” He passed the book to Julie, “Any clue?”

Julie paused and, stopping the pushchair from falling backwards with her foot, flicked through the text. “No clue,” she said, though someone had to understand it to publish the book.”

“It wasn’t published.” Harold looked at the inside cover. “It’s a notebook from 1958,” he said. “though it doesn’t say whose.”

“I’m sure you could find out,” said Julie, taking the book back and flicking through the pages back to front.

“How?”

“This isn’t ink. It’s blood.”

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Balls-Up


The balls cascaded across the park in a tide of primary colours,* all the brighter for being against the snow. Fortunately, their odd shape prevented them from bouncing very far: each was cut neatly in half along the moulding seam. Hayden glared at her brother Richard. “Where did you say you’d got these?” she said. “We only get one millennium in our whole life and you but a load of defective balls for the party.”

“That big shop on High Street,” said Richard. “Waterman’s Emporium of Curious Goods.” They were on offer. I only paid a tenner for them.”

“I see.” Hayden used a plastic bag to repair the broken net and began gathering up the brightly coloured sponges. “Are you sure they were on offer, or did they just have a sign saying 50% off?”


*and green

Monday, June 08, 2009

Home On The Range


A few miles from Laverstone, on the other side of the chalk, lie the Norfolk Broads and while a good portion of the broads is a nature reserve, several square miles of it, although not actually a square of land (or marsh), is the Royal Air Core practice range. It’s effectively a military zone with stiff penalties for trespass. Jasfoup and Felicia wander about there from time to time and have only once had to dodge the testing of some new air-to-ground missiles.

In the vert centre of the area is a small wooden cottage where the gamekeeper lives. John Fleishman looks after the wildlife in the area and has a bunker to retreat to when the military is test firing. His home on the range and solitary occupation also doubles as an excellent cover for his Denizen status. A half-Trow* (on his mother’s side) is hard pressed to find somewhere to live.

*Shetlands troll

Sunday, June 07, 2009

BOGOF


Once in a while, Harold reduces his stock by having a giveaway. The first time he tried this tactic, he set up a table outside the shop with a hundred books on it, on a first come, fist served basis but attracted no extra custom whatsoever, just the manager of the local Oxfam bookshop stopping off with a van and taking the lot. While Harold applauds the concept of Oxfam, their business plan of putting other shops in the area out of business rankles a little.

His second giveaway was a little more successful – buy one book, choose another free. Unfortunately, he was left with just as much rubbish as before.

His third method – and the one he still uses, was to wrap each free book in paper, with a bow and ribbon, and give them away with a purchase. Not every book is rubbish, either – there are some rare gems and first editions, and the popularity has spread to the point where he runs a lucky dip online.
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Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Bird in the Hand




On the step of the Magik shop (the ‘k’ spelling attracted the gullible tourists), when Meinwen opened up, was a cardboard box no larger than her hand, fastened the old-fashioned way with string and sealing wax and the address of her shop neatly printed in black ink. The stamps were all small denominations – the latest Royal Mail money-makers of twentieth century design, though to Meinwen’s eye the letterboxes looked like phallic.

She carried the box inside and ignored it until she’d switched on all the lights, stocked the till and brewed a pot of nettle tea. Able to take a few moments, she broke the wax and worried the knot. She was never a one to waste string, as her mother would say. Inside the box, once she’d lifted out the tissue paper, was an old fashioned £5 note, the kind that went out of circulation with the Conservative government. Inside the note, was a handful of small bones – a bird, Meinwen thought, but there was no explanatory letter.

Meinwen took a sip of tea. There were markings on the bones; tiny scratches and indentations and she pulled a magnifying glass from the drawer to study them.

“Meroitic hieroglyphs,” she said with a frown. “A language that’s been dead for six thousand years. Where the Hell am I going to find a translation of those?”

She looked up at the pentagram above the door with a wry smile.


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Friday, June 05, 2009

Carved Bone


Azazel compared his bone to the others in Meinwen’s possession. “There are some words missing,” he said, and concentrated hard. A wisp of smoke appeared above the bone as he carved in the missing sigils by will alone. When he’d completed four of the microscopic words he paused and blew away the bone dust, holding it tightly until the bone yellowed to match the rest. “Here you go,” he said. “As good as new. As good as when the rest were originally carved, at any rate. That’ll be £5 please.”

“Here.” Meinwen handed him the note the bones were wrapped in. “It’s an old £5 note but it’s the gesture you’re interested in, isn’t it? Not the actual value of the money.”

“Clever girl,” said the Demon. “You have the will of it. Now I shall leave you. I have pressing business.” He opened a portal and had gone before Meinwen even looked up.

“Bugger,” she said aloud. “He didn’t tell me the translation.”

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Last Vision


The last vision Micky Malone had was of an angel. “Tell me’ father I was sorry about the car,” he said, as the 1989 Daimler folded itself around a the horse chestnut he used to throw sticks at for the conkers.

Azazel climbed up into the branches to wait while a demon he vaguely recognised from Dante’s Seven, a night club in Dis, and an angel he’d never met materialised. They waited for several moments until Micky shuddered for the last time, then the demon reached into the body and hauled the soul out.

“Michael Patrick Malone?” said the angel. “Welcome to the afterlife. Oddly you weren’t due for another three days but we were in the neighbourhood already so here we are.

“I’m going to Heaven?” The man was clearly pleased. “My Da always said I’d spend eternity stealin’ the tyres off Old Nick’s Bentley.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said the demon. “Old Nick hasn’t got a Bentley. You read too many trashy novels, lad.”

“I’m not going to Heaven?”

“Certainly not,” said the angel. “You’re well into the negative on karma.”

The demon nudged him. “You should have nicked some of that,” he said, opening a portal. “Only I bet you couldn’t get it jump-started.”

Azazel waited for all three to vanish before he dropped down. He pulled oped the car door and wound the window down halfway. He pulled Micky’s arm trough and snapped it off. Missing limbs were a regularity in car wrecks. A bust of flame melted away the remaining flesh and her threw the ulna and hand away. He sat on the bonnet and began whittling, heedless of the approaching police car.

They couldn’t see him anyway and they were soon kept busy when they found the brake line Azazel had cut,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

To Consult an Expert


Meinwen’s fascination for the mysterious would, she knew, get her into trouble. The trick was having the ability to get out of it again. She contacted Azazel about the tiny skeleton with the Meroitic hieroglyphs who studied them without need of an eyeglass. One thing about being a demon (or an angel for that matter) was the ability to focus down to a microscopic level.

“You’re a little out of your league, aren’t you?” he said, his second set of eyes still on the bones. “I’m a little rusty on archaic human scripts, particularly those of a non-Yahweh religion but it’s definitely a spell of some kind. Animation perhaps.” He looked over the remaining bones. “There’s a wing missing,” he said. “And without it the words won’t make any sense.”

“A pity.” Meinwen went to gather up the bones. She could sell them as a curiosity.

“Wait.” The demon smiled. “Was I not the great Artificer? Was I not the Smith of Heaven before the Fall.”

“Could you make an artificial wing?” Meinwen asked.

“I could.” Azazel retracted his second pair of eyes and took on human form. He rubbed the dark patch of stubble he caused to grow on his chin. “There would be a small fee.”

“How small?”

“£5?”

Monday, June 01, 2009

As Good As Dead


On Low Street, tucked between the closed and boarded premises of Harold’s Emporium (now the favourite place of bill posters) and the Glendale Tobacconist and Off-Licence is a single door leading to an upstairs flat. The shingle screwed to the wall declares it the premises of “As Good As Dead,” exterminators and taxidermy supplies. Richard Deveril, the owner and sole employee, conducts most of his business by phone and internet and parks his van in the space that used to belong to the Emporium next door.

Richard is an amiable fellow who has loved animals since he was a child. Don’t be surprised if he praises the attractiveness of your dog if he passes you in the street. If he takes a particular shine to it he’ll offer you cash. It is mere coincidence that those declining his offer find their pet run over, poisoned or dognapped within a week.