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."