Saturday, February 27, 2010
Janet Wilde looked up. Did she really have to walk all the way to table nineteen? Her back was killing her and she was over the limit on painkillers already. It was the American. It had to be. English people wouldn't complain so often Americans thought it was their God-given right.
She struggled over. "Yes sir? What seems to be the problem?"
"This steak is cold."
Janet checked her order pad. "You ordered the lightly seasoned, yes?"
"That's right. I didn't expect it to be cold."
"Can you not smell it, sir? Flakes of snow on the breeze? The scent of woodsmoke through the bare branches of oak and birch? You asked for lightly seasoned and it's exactly what you got. This steak is wintered.
Friday, February 26, 2010
"I remember my mother darning socks." PC Mike Brandsford had a misty look in his eyes. "She said us kids would be the death of her."
"Us kids? How many siblings do you have?"
"No siblings, just two brothers and a sister." Mike grinned and used the steering wheel to pull himself upright. "She was right, though. We were the death of her. My brother Simon borrowed her car one night." He used his fingers to put inverted commas over the word 'borrowed'.
"Joy riding? Was he hurt?"
"No, but he ran the petrol down so low she stalled on the high street and got crushed by a Esso tanker."
"That was ironic."
"Aye. The papers said that, too, but it was carrying petrol, not iron."
Anna nodded in the darkness. This time last week she'd been in a high speed chase on the M11. Had she really left the Met for this?
Thursday, February 25, 2010
"I don't know, my lord. He's been doing that for hours." Belial bit his lip. "He's refused the food you sent."
Lucifer went inside and approached the man, stopping just close enough to reach out and touch him on the knee. "Iesua," he said. "What is wrong with you?"
The rabbi's looked up, his hollow eyes displaying all the torture he'd suffered and the hands of his persecutors. "Such black thoughts, Lucifer," he said. "I have such black thoughts."
"Be calm." Lucifer coaxed him forward and held the sweat-damp head to his chest. "What black thoughts, Rabbi?"
"I want to burst out and slaughter them all." Iesua sprayed saliva, his outburst was so venomous. "The priests, the Romans, the guards... even those who wept at my feet but would not get me down."
"And what good would that do?" Lucifer kissed away the tears. "All your teachings would be undone."
"I know." Iesua looked into the Fallen's eyes. "How do you do it? How do you keep the rage inside?"
"I have no need of rage." Lucifer stood, holding out a hand to help his guest rise. "Come. Let me show you what evil the mortals do in Your name."
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Lucy's favourite meal was fish and chips eaten outdoors either in the park, where the ducks would snuffle around their feet, or in the graveyard shielded from the busy streets by a great hedge of yew trees.
Wherever they ate, Gran pretended there were people there with them. "Why good evening Mr. Blunt," she'd say. "Have you met my grand-daughter Lucy? Harold's girl. You remember Harold?" or "I'll eat with my fingers if I like, Mrs. Pemberton, and never mind about social graces. I'm old enough to enjoy it and who cares if it makes my fingers smell of fish?"
Such conversations made Lucy giggle, but her father was not amused when she invited another of her Gran's 'friends' home for tea. He called her downstairs looking quite cross and spoke to her so sharply she had to pinch her arm to stop herself crying.
"Why did you invite Father Brande to tea?" he hissed. "I didn't even like him when he was alive!"
Image: 'Conversing Ghosts' by James Tafel Shuster
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
"Exquisite." Julie sliced her piece of carrot into four, the better to savour the piquant taste. "A lot better than the last one, anyway. All he ever served was instant mashed potato and hot dog sausages from a can."
"There was plenty of it, though." Harold stabbed his dinner. The whole plateful didn't quite fill the fork.
" Perhaps we ought to combine the two," said Jasfoup. "Mix their souls into one average cook where the food tastes okay and is plentiful."
"One mean cook?" said Harold. "We could just eat at Bernard's."
Monday, February 22, 2010
She always felt a bit guilty when they knocked on her door, though. Their leading questions about the end times and the
"You'll be taken by ambulance to the hospital, dear," she'd say, "but they won't resuscitate you on account of your beliefs but your son Matthew will insist on you being cremated in spite of them. Then he'll scatter your ashes on the rose bed in the park, leave the church and move in with Timothy Moffat."
It never went down well.
Today, though, it wasn't the Jehovah's Witnesses but Jean Brampton from the WI, a parsimonious, tight-lipped woman who refused to be a patron of 'Madame de Pardo' but was happy to drop in and drop a question or two over a cup of morning coffee.
It's not like Beryl could turn her second sight off.
Sighing, she pulled her dressing gown around her and opened the front door. "Jean!" she said. "What an unwelcome surprise. Come in."
Jean wiped her shoes on the bristle mat. "I thought you only had to tell the truth when someone asked you a direct question," she said.
"That's right." Beryl led the way into the kitchen and began to fill the kettle. "But sometimes I'm truthful in my spare time, an' all."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
"Its a broadband wireless signal amplifier," said Harold. "Julie was complaining that her laptop had a tentative connection to the house network at best and was more of a light fingering than a handshake."
Jasfoup winced at the electrician's sudden snort of laughter. "I'd take a close look at you metaphor usage if I were you, Harold," he said. "Besides," he lowered his voice, "the magical field damps out communication. That's why we had a similar problem downstairs."
"Your wireless internet is poor down there as well?"
"Of course. It annoys people no end when they can't connect to facebook any more."
"How did you fix it? Did you use a signal booster?"
"No, we just used extra-long aerials."
"Where? On the laptops?
"No." Jasfoup grinned. "Up where the sun doesn't shine."
Saturday, February 20, 2010
"But why?" said her customer. "What have you seen in the cards that frightens you so?"
"It's not so much as what I can see in the cards as the cards themselves. I started off with the standard Marseilles tarot, of which the first card you picked our war the quinze: le Diable but the second card is from the Italian deck, quindici: il Diavolo."
The man shrugged. "So?"
"It is the third card I find so disturbing." Madame de Pardo tapped it with her finger. "It represents a continental shift I am loathe to explore."
"What is it though?" The man's eyes glinted in the light from her crystal ball. "What scares you so much you'd forego my coin?"
Beryl tapped the card again. It showed a dog dancing under a full moon, several human heads dangling by their hair from his paws. "This is a card from a deck printed in America in 1840, quince: el chacal." She sat back. "I don't own any American cards."
Friday, February 19, 2010
"A funeral," said Frederick. "Brigadier Alfred Lord Hewitt. Splendid chap. We met in a bookshop after the war. He always wore a red silk handkerchief in his top pocket. He stayed here for a while, you know."
"You weren't in the war, Uncle. You were born in 1943."
"I didn't say I was in the war, Harold. I said he was. I met him in 1956 when Papa was just getting to his sociopathic stage. He stayed for a year or two then upped and vanished without so much as a by-your-leave."
"He must have had a good innings if he's only just died!"
"Not really." Frederick adjusted his cravat. "Julie just dug him up from behind the potting shed."
Thursday, February 18, 2010
"Found it." Lucy ran out of the door onto the sun-bright terrace, scattering the cats basking on the warm flagstones.
Julie looked at the old woman standing in the kitchen and held up her hands in a 'what-am-I-supposed-to-do?' gesture. The old woman frowned and pointed to the door, from which the sound of Lucy rumbled like summer thunder. Julie sighed and went after her, followed by the woman.
"Lucy Waterman," she said, hands on her hips. "Where, exactly, did you find it?"
"It was in the ghost house," said the child, referring to the family mausoleum.
"It happens the be the shroud of you great-grandmother," said Julie. "Not yours to take."
"She didn't seem to need it." Lucy came to a halt. "If she wants it back she only has to ask."
"Tell her to put it back," said the old woman. "Tell her I'm asking."
"She cane see or hear you," Julie hissed. She forced a smile. "Lucy, darling," she said. "You shouldn't take things from coffins."
"Well, firstly it's impolite to the dead and secondly they're generally covered in grave lice."
"Ugh!" Lucy threw off the cloak and ran off into the garden.
Julie stepped forward to pick it up. "Now what's the matter?"
The ghost of Lady Melissa did not look amused.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Her gold medal today was for her history project 'The Life of a Manor House'. The school governors had been impressed with her research and the depth of social insight into the plight of an under-stairs maid. Nobody mentioned she'd been able to see the ghosts since she was seven.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
"I SAID it's dinner time and we have a guest." His mother closed the laptop screen, forcing him to forego the treasure. His fists clenched.
"Mo-om! I was playing that." George glared up at her. "You could have at least let me save my game."
"You could have done that ten minutes ago when I first called you." His mother folded her arms into a no-negotiation pose. "Now go and wash your hands for dinner."
He appeared several minutes later, sliding into his chair with a frown as his mother spooned pasta and vegetables onto his plate. "What's this crap?" he asked. "I wanted a burger."
"It's pasta arrabbiata," said his mother. "In honour of our guest."
George looked at the stranger, an old man of his mother's age with long hair and pewter jewellery. "Who's this then?"
"This is Peter, from the circle I go to," she said. "He's the leader, or dragon of the group."
"Pleased to meet you, George. Your mum's told me a lot about you." Peter held out his hand.
George narrowed his eyes. "Dragon, eh?" He picked up his knife.
Monday, February 15, 2010
"No!" Jimmy hooked the crowbar around his arm and pulled him away. "I saw Fingal try to get in through there last year. It was... unpleasant. They never found his body"
"Ew!" Charlie made a face. "What then? The window?"
"Aye." Jimmy inserted the crowbar between the frame and the brickwork and with a snap like a pistol shot the whole window toppled out of the wall. "Shoddy, see? The windows are alarmed but the frame isn't." He began to climb through the hole.
"...and the removal of the window affords us an easy entrance. Soon the treasure will be ours for the taking. Jimmy Mulville goes first, his long legs making the jump look like a child's step... Wait! Something's wrong..."
"Den!" Jimmy's voice was a hissed stream of anger. "What the feck are you doing?"
"Making a film about the break in, Jimmy. I thought I'd call it 'Midnight Run' It's streaming live off my website, look." He pulled out his phone and keyed in the website address. Jimmy's face filled the screen, lit perfectly by the appearance of strobing blue lights.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Julie sat down and looked at the portrait of the fifty-something matron. "They didn't have cameras when she was a girl," she said. "There's a portrait of her in the Long Gallery if you'd like to look, though."
"Not really." Lucy shook her head. "It's too cold in there and the man with the runny nose scares me."
"What man with the runny nose?"
"The one in the painting third from the end."
"Ah! A painting."
"No. I said he's in the painting. I didn't say he was the painting."
"A spirit, you mean?"
Lucy shrugged. "I suppose. he sniffs at me." She demonstrated by closing one nostril with her finger and sniffing. "It doesn't matter. He doesn't hurt anyone."
"Be that as it may," said Julie. "I'll speak to your father about him."
"If you like." Lucy rooted through the photographs. "Why aren't there any pictures of Mummy here?"
Saturday, February 13, 2010
He was almost glad to discover the truth about Heaven and Hell. At least as a future overlord of Hell he didn't have such dilemmas!
Friday, February 12, 2010
She tapped the tarot cards "Shuffle the cards, dear, and then cut them." He didn't look the sort to drink tea and reading the bubbles in a glass of coke gave her a migraine.
He shuffled them three times – awkwardly, since his hands weren't quite big enough – cut the pack and passed them back to her. Smoothing the table cloth (actually the scarf she'd worn this morning) Madame le Pardo laid out three cards: Past, Present and Future.
On the left lay the Tower. "You've had a bit of a trying time, haven't you? she said, neither expecting nor receiving an answer. "You lost your job, your car, your goldfish and your girlfriend in short order. You poor thing, you." She "You're at the start of something," She turned over the second: The Fool. "Now you're on a new journey. Lots of beginnings." She frowned as she looked at the border. Those figures cavorting around the edges were new. She turned over the final card and gasped.
"What is it? Is it good or bad?" he asked.
Madame le Pardo reached for her fan and fluttered it across her face unto the blush had faded. She looked again at the third card and the very realistic portrait of the young man sat in front of her. "You're starting a male escort business," she said. "Let's just say you're too big to fail."
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"Devious," he shouted, his face puce with indignation. "What do you call this?"
"Decking, sir." The imp patted the construction proudly. "It took four of us to dig the Ark out of Mount Ararat and bury it this deep."
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
"I'm thinking of the burns I'm going to get when I desecrate the Holy Book."
"Meh! Nothing compared to the ass kicking Lucifer will give you if you don't." It was a persuasive argument. The demon sighed
"Are you quite sure about this?" The demon looked askance at the slip of paper in his hand. "It's easy to remember. It's a nice, round number. It's _traditional_."
"Quite sure I'm afraid." Harold smiled and closed the demon's solitary hand over the amendment. "The number of the Beast was never 666. Recent experts have determined the number to be 616. It was found in the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The original Hebrew was smudged."
"But what am I supposed to do now? All Hell is set up for the number 666. Imagine all the teenagers that are going to be inscribing 666 on their arm with a biro and a compass point and find they've put the number of... Wait! Whose number is 666 then?"
Harold flicked through the Supernatural Who's Who. "It's Crispin," he said. "God of individual sized Brambly-Apple pies."
Monday, February 08, 2010
Something about Gillian's tone of voice filtered into Harold's subconscious and he looked up into the violet eves of his vampire partner. "I wish you wouldn't wear those contacts for everyday use," he said. "They were expensive."
"I don't care," she said. "It's not like I'm going to damage my eyesight, is it?"
"I suppose not," he conceded. "What did you mean 'do I want you?' Of course I want you. I love you. Mostly."
"You have a funny way of showing it." Gillian ran a fingernail down his cheek, leaving a line of blood in its wake. He grabbed her hand, his eyes narrowing. "You spend more time playing that game," she said, "than you do off it. When I do get you to turn the computer off you go off with Jasfoup. Anyone would think it was him you were married to."
"It's an important game." Harold gestured at the screen. "Playing through the thousands of possible outcomes of the apocalypse will pinpoint the best areas of the world to invest in. At the moment, Cambodia has a 76% chance of surviving intact. I sent Jasfoup to scout out real estate there."
"So you'd rather sit there looking at post-apocalypse Earth than make love all night."
"Well..." Harold paused his game. "If you put it like that..."
"Good. Now hurry up. I've only got an hour."
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Fifty yards of hemp was an extraordinarily long piece of rope but it was generally just enough to bind a client and suspend them from the transverse beam, her cold hands keeping their panic to a controllable level and their arousal to a feverous heat. There was something especially erotic about being bitten when your dominatrix is a self-confessed vampire and has you bound head to foot and grateful for the privilege.
Her brand of 'erotic domination' never included sex which enabled her to keep within the law. Her clip-on teeth were available for inspection at any time.
Not that she ever actually used them.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Meinwen looked up as Jasfoup entered her shop, taking a meandering route to her desk poking at the charms and contaminating the chakra crystals on display. He even took an extra few minutes to fill a dream catcher with nightmares. She put down the stapler she'd been using to put together a batch of her 'Walks around Laverstone' pamphlets.
"So..." said Jasfoup when he arrived at her desk He offered Meinwen a toothy grin. Even though she was an ordinary mortal, she knew his nature and wasn't easily tempted. "Do you have a publisher for that little book of yours yet?" Except by that.
Friday, February 05, 2010
"I shall close the library," said Harold. "That will drive people to the bookshops and increase my profit margins." He handed Jasfoup a straw boater. "Here, try this."
"Closing the libraries is a terrible policy," said the demon, putting down the trilby and jamming the boater over his ears. "Not everyone can afford to buy all their reading material. You'll create a state of rich literates and poor illiterates who become poorer and poorer because their lack of education keeps them as underdogs. No, Harold, libraries should be kept open, subsidised heavily and prevented from censorship by narrow-minded librarians."
"That's collectivist talk," said Harold. "Where did you learn that. You should be all for censorship and oppression."
"Biblically, I agree, old chap." Jasfoup picked up the trilby again. "But socially I'm all for the liberation of the individual and the freedom to sin. In order to sin, one must have knowledge of morality, and thus access to literature." He handed Harold a ladies' bonnet. "If I were you, I'd keep your policies under your hat."
Thursday, February 04, 2010
"Nobody does, darling." Julie gave the child's hand a squeeze. "I'm sure he's going to be just fine. He has the very best surgeon."
"If you say so." Lucy pulled her hand away. "I hope God doesn't want him."
"God?" Julie frowned. "Why would God want him?"
"I heard Timothy Weston's mummy tell him God wanted his father to go and live with him but Timmy said his dad wasn't gay so God left him in the church in a box."
"Oh." Julie was saved from the need to respond when she saw Harold through the glass with his thumbs up. "Look," she said. "Your father's finished. Big Ted is as good as new."
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
"Can you read that?" she asked the gentleman at the kitchen table. He stared at it for a full minute.
"Canine peptide?" he said.
"Hardly." Julie took the book back. "This is supposed to be a cake recipe. It's not going to have anything to do with dogs, is it?"
"It would if you were making a cake for a werewolf." Jasfoup shrugged.
"No, I think it's cayenne pepper."
"The book is donkey's years old. They probably didn't have cayenne pepper then. They probably didn't have pepper, come to that. Mark my words, it's 'hair of dog'.
"You may be right. I really can't tell."
"What sort of cake is it supposed to be, anyway? Can't you make one out of Mrs. Beeton?"
"This is supposed to be a family recipe for 'Wooing Cake'. I thought it'd be more personal than something anyone could make."
"Magic?" Jasfoup snorted. "Magic and wooings don't mix. You should know that. Look at all the times weddings have gone wrong because some well-meaning fairy godmother has cast an enchantment over the bride. Or the groom. Or both. Come to that, you might as well substitute the gelatine for toad spawn. At least you might get a marriage in the duck pond."
"Don't be facetious." Julie closed the book with a snap. "It's too late in the year for toad spawn."
Jasfoup grunted. "Who's it for, anyway? Is someone getting married?"
"Not yet, but Felicia's been so mopey lately I thought it couldn't hurt to give her love life a bit of a boost."
"With a wedding cake?" Jasfoup laughed. "There's nothing that says you want somebody to be miserable than to give them a wedding cake when they're single."
"Too much. Why don't you take her clubbing instead?"
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
He had quite a shock when he arrived at the picnic site, but not as big a shock as the ladies, all in their Sunday best.
"Oh," said Harold, the blush starting from his cheeks and spreading all the way to his toes. "When you said it was 'all natural' I thought you were just putting on a bad French accent."
Monday, February 01, 2010
"Is she still there?" Andrea huddled in the left corner, where a missing pane of glass had been replaced by a sheet of corrugated iron sporting the grammatically incorrect 'Mr Smailes suck cocks" (and prompting Andres to perform her first and last act of vandalism – that of adding an 's').
"Aye, with a right face on 'er an' all." Gary Trubshaw had skipped school so often the police were tempted to buy him a rope. "Mornin' Mrs. Naseby."
"Don't you mornin' me!" Angelina Naseby had a voice to match her name, in that it heralded doom. "Have you seen our Andrea?"
"Not since yesterday, Missus." Gary held up a cigarette. "Got a light?"
"I don't smoke, and neither should you. It'll stunt your growth."
"Too late for that." Gary watched her head off down the street, slippers flapping. "I'm six foot two."