Friday, January 29, 2010

Handled With Discretion

"Say your prayers, kid." Pete held the barrel of a Beretta to the boy's temple. "You've got ten seconds."

"Christ!" Stevie, still holding the twenty dollars and change they'd taken from the boy's pocket, stood back. "You really going to waste him?"

"Sure..." Pete's finger whitened as he put pressure on the trigger.

"Wait!" They twisted at the new voice but had to shield their eyes from the brilliant burst of light. The glow faded, leaving behind the speaker: a tall, middle-eastern man with dark curly hair, a close-shaven beard and a robe.

"Who the Hell are you?"

"You called for me. I am the Christ. You can call me Iesua, though I wish you hadn't called upon Sheol as well."

"Sheol?"

"Hell." The deep baritone issued from a figure in black lycra, though the membranous wings looked real enough. Stevie ran, his footsteps echoing from the alley walls.

"You really want me to believe you're Jesus? And Satan, I presume."

The demon bowed. "Nothing so grand. Just a minion."

Pete frowned at Iesua. "You've come to stop me shooting this kid,"he turned to the demon "and you want me to."

"Exactly." Iesua clicked his fingers and a bolt of lightning fried the boy. "The boy wasn't Christian," he explained. "You are. Killing him would have been a mortal sin."

The demon clapped. "Nicely reasoned," he said. "Handled with discretion."

"Thank you." Iesua grinned, winked and handed Pete a card.

Jesus Christ
Saving the world, one soul at a time

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

"What's wrong with this mirror?" said Harold. "It's always dusty and lackluster and I swear it makes people look different."

"Careful, Harold." Jasfoup caught hold of the magician's arm. "We wouldn't want to activate the portal, would we?"

"Portal?" Harold took a step back. "You never told me it was a portal. I've never seen it open."

"You wouldn't have done, no." Jasfoup took the duster and gave the frame a few flicks. "It hasn't opened since 1876, but one day..."

"What?"

"What?"

"One day what?" Harold frowned. "You said 'one day' and left a trail of ellipses."

"I did?" Jasfoup smiled. "One day another little girl will squeeze through the mirror into Wonderland."

"You mean this is the actual mirror from Charles Dodgson's vicarage?"

"Exactly, Harold. This is the looking Glass." He scowled. "I've just never got it open."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Decade of Grunge in the Basement

"It surprising how much rubbish accumulates in an art gallery," said Harold on his annual inspection of the property. "You'd expect an art gallery to be a clean white space but there's grunge everywhere."

"This is an exhibition, Harold." Felicia took hold of his arm and guided him past the mannequins and digitally enhanced images of coffee stains blown up to three feet by four and framed. She manoeuvred him in front of a series of Warhol-esque screenprints of Kurt Cobain. "I was lucky to get these," she said. "The artist just happened to have them in the back of his studio."

"At the back of his studio, in the skip I would imagine," said Harold. "Where's the art? Where's the beauty." He paused. "Where's the price tag?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eating Peaches

The bird in the house signalled death, I just didn't know it would be mine. I don't know if it came down the chimney – Peter always said we should get one of those wire baskets for the top but you'd never catch him going up a ladder – or if Penelope Peaches – our chocolate point Burmese – brought it in. Either way, it was up to me to catch it and put it outside.

The poor thing was beating it's head against the French windows trying to get out. I threw the door open irrespective of the cold it let in and used a copy of Variety to shoo the thing toward freedom. It glared at me with a beady black eye. Do all birds have beady black eyes or am I guilty of cliché? Whatever. I managed to get the bird into the garden but not before it had pecked my hand. I pulled the door closed and it just sat on the patio, staring. I should have known something was wrong then. Hitchcock had nothing on this little dupek.

The fever came within an hour, closely followed by the vomiting and diarrhoea. I tried to clean it up but after the fourth or fifth bout I stopped caring, even when I saw the amount of blood in the toilet bowl. When hunger got the better of me I ate the first thing to hand. Poor Penelope Peaches. Peter will be furious.

Unless I greet him with a 'welcome home' kiss.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Local Campaign

Harold paused in the middle of Saddler Street and stared at the local election poster. Someone had been sabotaging his campaign by airbrushing the posters. He had a good suspicion who, too.

"Jasfoup?" he said when he got back to the shop. "Don't you want me to become the mayor?"

The demon frowned. "Of course I do., Harold. There's nothing better for entropy than an agent at the top of the political ladder. That's why we support the opposition."

"Then why have you been sabotaging my campaign posters?"

"What makes you think I have?"

"Who else knows my lineage?" Harold thrust a poster at him. Jasfoup suppressed a smile at the two tiny horns.

"I would assume a lucky guess from your opponent." Jasfoup handed the poster back. "Reverend Richardson has printed all his with a halo."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Anyone for Seconds?

The Laverstone Manor Halloween Ball was open to all residents of Laverstone who could prove they lived within a four mile radius of the manor (this being a distance determined by Lord Robert Waters (1724-1 769) as the furthest he was willing to ride to collect Demesne taxes). A good time was had by the majority (those who managed to remain sober) but very occasionally a gatecrasher would blag his way inside. Such undesirables were treated with every courtesy due a genuine guest with one exception: the ice-cream they were offered was produced in the Manor Dairy. Only the privileged were aware the Manor didn't have a dairy.

Devious the Imp was always pleased to offer his Chunky Monkey.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crime and Punishment

"Where were you last night?"

Lucy slid off the wall as her friend alighted from the bus. "I waited at the diner until six,"

"I got grounded," said Susan. "Mum found the packet of condoms i bought last week."

"So? I thought it was her who told you to always be careful."

"It was." Susan lowered her voice. "What she got mad about was there was only one left."

Lucy snorted, composed herself. "Sorry. What are her terms?"

"I'm not allowed out and she took the plus account off the TV. I've only got the basic channels for a week."

Lucy shook her head "Barbarous," she said, giving Susan a hug.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A l'Orange

Jasfoup knocked on the patient's door. Since he met Julie he made a habit of visiting the patients in the psychiatric hospital and this one, Johnny Eider was a voluntary resident; an interesting case of a man who was convinced his father had been a duck.

"Good morning Johnny," said the demon. "I've brought you some oranges."

"That's very kind of you, Dr. Jasfoup. I don't know what I've done to merit such consideration from you."

"No thanks necessary, my dear, feathered friend," said Jasfoup, extending an arm across his shoulders. "In fact, why not join us for dinner on Sunday?" He scribbled the address on a piece of paper and handed it over.

"Thank you, I will." Johnny looked at the address. "What time should I arrive?"

"That depends. How much do you weigh?"

Johnny shrugged. "About a hundred and twenty pounds?"

"Hmm." Jasfoup frowned. "At twenty minutes a pound you'd best come Saturday night."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fairy Cakes

Harold paused at the newly opened bakery on Albert Street. When a shop is called 'Wishes Baked In' one can't help but wonder if the owners are Denizens, or at least have a touch of the supernatural about them. Certainly the cakes were impressive: great towers of confectionary with layers at all angles. There was one, covered with teapots, he was particularly desirous of. He went inside.

"Can I help you?" The shopkeeper was dressed in pristine baker's whites but otherwise showed no inclination to recognise Harold as anything more than a potential customer.

"I'd like that tall cake in the window," he said. "The one with the teapots."

"Certainly, sir." The woman smiled. "Would you like to take it now or have it delivered? There's a seven pounds delivery fee."

"Oh, delivered please." Harold gave her the address of the shop. "Which bits are magical?"

"Oh, Bless you sir. All of it. The magic's in me, you see. I bake it in."

"Oh?" Harold stared at each of the six tiers. "I can't see any," he said. "Is it under the icing?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Time to Diet

"I need to lose weight," said the middle aged red-haired woman, brushing the first lock of silver from her forehead. "What do you suggest?"

Meinwen shrugged. "Eating less, taking more exercise. You look all right to me."

She was gifted with a fleeting smile. "Thanks. I read something about a slimming tea?"

"All teas are slimming to a greater or lesser extent," said Meinwen. "Taken without milk or sugar, naturally. Green tea is particularly favourable for detoxification and dieting, but you have to take it on an every day basis and in moderation."

"Any particular brand?"

"Dragon's Well." Meinwen nodded for emphasis and smiled.

"Okay. I'll take a box."

Meinwen laughed. "I don't sell it," she said. "Crystals, incense, rune stones, tarot cards... but not tea."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Phyllie's American Style Diner


They built the restaurant to look like Phillies in the painting, though the 2 AM feel of Hopper's masterpiece could never be recreated in the Albert Street diner. Laverstone council statutes dictated that any hostelry serving food be closed by midnight.

Still, Phyllie's American Diner opened at six to catch the breakfast run and closed at midnight after the pubs closed but before the nightclubs spat out teenagers drunk on sweet cider and sugared vodka, Phyllis Hunter. the owner/manager invested all her savings and her husband's redundancy money in the place, taking out two walls of the old grocer's shop and replacing it with plate glass (and, prudently, electric shutters) and decorating the inside with beech wood tables and leather-covered seats.

Charlie Hunter found a new lease of life as the evening short-order cook. Away from Phyllis' dictates he found pleasure in talking to his customers, becoming conversant with their jobs, their families, their lives. It was just the luck of the draw, he said, that it kept him out of the house in the evenings, returning long after Phyllis was in bed and sleeping until lunchtime.

Charlie and Phyllis made a point of sharing the evening meal together at home. 4:00 PM until 6:00 was their special time, sacrosanct against all but their daughter Judy. "The diner was the secret of our marriage," Charlie said at Phyllis' funeral several years late. "We only saw each other for two hours a day. Every moment was a date with a girlfriend."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The High Cost of Silence

"Squealer" McPhee gave the corpse a swift kick to the head. "Stupid," he said to the broken figure. "I said it was stupid to ask for that much."

He danced away as the concrete began to pour, unwilling to allow it to splash onto him. Within moments the corpse was gone, buried under twenty feet of footing for the new A361 flyover.

"How much did you ask for?"

Squealer whirled at the voice. It was a tall black man, his face lit by the screen of a mobile phone. Odd shadows gave him the appearance of wings.

"What?"

"How much did you ask Johnny Simes for, to stop you blabbing about see him murder his wife?"

"Oh. Three hundred grand."

The man whistled. "Not bad. Hardly a stresser on the Avarice scale but enough of one on Johnny's 'lets-not-leave-any-loose-ends' one." Jasfoup smiled and pulled Squealer away from the scene of his burial. "A high price considering your life was so cheap."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ice Screams

"My knees are killing me," said Harold, as he came through the door. "There's so much ice I slipped into a lock step like a Russian dancer at the Kremlin."

"We ran out of sand the week before last," said Jasfoup. "I sent Devious to get more but he just came back with a stick of rock and a kiss-me-quick hat. That didn't help at all."

"I should think not." Harold sat and massaged his injured knee. "Those hats act like little sledges on an ice rink. One of the customers broke her leg."

"Really? They're not making a claim for compensation, are they?"

"Yes, but to the council. He did it in the multi-storey on Peel Street."

"Is he all right?"

"I will be after compensation."

"It was you? You look fine."

"I wasn't at the time and I have the A&E report to prove it. It's not my fault a little vampire blood healed it up afterwards."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Paper Trails


"Sales have slowed recently," said Harold, chewing the end of his pencil. He loathed the taste but knew it made Jasfoup cringe like fingernails on a blackboard.

"Holiday season," said the demon, who knew all to well what his employer was doing and refused to look up. "People don't buy antiquated books during the season. They just want ghost written 'autobiographies' of minor celebrities." He made inverted commas with his finger for 'autobiographies'.

"And the bad weather doesn't help either." Harold bit his lip. "The only people shifting second hand books this time of year is the charity shops that sell hardbacks for tenpence. All the old dears buy them instead of coal."

"On the upside, though," said Jasfoup, "People will be doing spring clearing soon. You can pick up some cracking masterworks for next to nothing."


Burning Books

Monday, January 11, 2010

Haunted Car Park

"There's no free parking here, you know," said Harold to the surly gentleman who had parked his car in one of the spaces behind the bookshop. "If this was a public parking space there'd be a sign."

"If it wasn't a parking space there'd be a 'no parking' sign," said the man, twisting his cap so that the peak shaded the back of his shaved neck. "Or yellow lines or summat."

"Look," Harold bent to peer into the driver's side window. "Just between you and me, the place is haunted. I'm the only one the ghosts allow park here."

"Ha!" The young man sniggered. "Good try, grand-dad. Pull the other one, it's got a hand lotion dispenser."

Harold wrinkled his nose when he worked out what this meant, and as the white soft-top Ford Escort backed out, vibrating the brickwork with its speaker volumes, he nodded to Devious in the passenger seat.

The music ceased, soom replaced by the sound of a ripping soft-top.

Friday, January 08, 2010

To Steal from Lucifer

Thefts from Hell are rare but when they happen there is an immediate lockdown and no traffic is allowed in or out. The last time it happened was when someone stole Belphegor's sweaty towel from the Pit of Boiling Obscenities in 1349 and what a ruckus that caused. No, it didn't come from Turin at all. This time, though, was far more serious. Gabriel's Belt of Perpetual Maidenhood disappeared from the Libertine Palace with no clue toward the identity of the thief.

Jasfoup marked the date in his calendar. The first of the 'virgin' births should occur in early September.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Holy Mackerel


"Fish and chips?" Harold held the pencil above the list and raised an eyebrow.

"Please." Jasfoup checked the calendar. "Is it Friday already?"

"No, it's Tuesday. I never did understand all that 'fish on Friday' guff."

"It's the Catholics," said Jasfoup. "They liked the idea of fasting but not the going hungry bit so they elected to not eat meat on Fridays. God counts fish as vegetables, apparently."

"I see." Harold wrote 'cod and chips' on the piece of paper. "Was the mackerel particularly special in the scriptures? Is that what the apostles used to catch on the Sea of Galilee?"

Jasfoup frowned. "I don't follow..."

"Holy Mackerel?"

"I see! No, that came from the Sermon on the Mount, or one of them, anyway. Jesus said 'we are all fish and God has the net to save us'.

"He didn't mention canning factories, then?" Harold thumped Jasfoup's arm lightly. "Let's hope God doesn't sell his catches on the market, eh?"

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Child's Cleverness


Sunlight, fire, pointy bits of wood, beheading... Harold tried to think of all the ways a vampire might die and then imagine Gillian in that situation. Every scenario came out with Gillian alive and wise-cracking a footnote as she sank into her coffin as the sun breached the eastern horizon. Harold wiped away a tear as he stood in front of the empty tomb. It had been three months with no word from her. Was she still alive?

"What's the matter Daddy?" Lucy's voice startled him. "Why are you sad?"

Harold looked down at the innocent face of his daughter. At seven years old, she didn't remember her real mother and had been spoon-fed on stories of her. It was too risky to tell a child her mother was a vampire. Or had been. Another tear escaped.

"There's nothing wrong," he said. "I just miss your mum."

"Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?"

Harold smiled. "You could give me a hug," he said.

"There's no point in standing here anyway," said Lucy as she allowed he father to wrap his arms around her. "This tomb's been empty for weeks. The lady went away."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Lady with the Unwelcome Gift

Harold stopped dead in the street, causing Julie to bump into the back of him. "No," he said. "I'm not going into a coffee house."

"Why not?" Julie rubbed her nose. "They serve a super variety of coffees and they have tea as well."

"Coffee shops never serve decent tea," said Jasfoup. "They lavish all their attention on Arabica this and Columbian that so when you ask for tea you get a bag of Typhoo in a stainless steelpot that hardly has enough water for a cup, with a tiny amount of milk, all served with a coffee cup so thick you could hammer nails with it and so wide the tea is instantly cold."

"All true," said Harold, "but this particular coffee shop has that woman who stares at me all the time."

"Maggie Russel?" said Julie. "She's all right. She just has a wonky eye."

"I know," said Harold. "It's wonky because she has a watered-down version of the Sight."

"Watered-down?"

"Yes," said Harold. "She can see souls."

"Ah," said Julie. "That's why you don't like this shop then. She never serves you."

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Place to Call Heaven

Graham Sutcliffe viewed the corpse with a curled lip. The man was never handsome to begin with and the removal of half his face by a cut-throat razor hadn't made an improvement. The clothes were top-notch though – Savile Row suit and Carnaby Street shoes – and he was rather pleased they had transferred to his after-life.

"So what happens now?" he said.

"What?" The small man in the shabby grey suit looked up from his notebook. "Oh. Whatever you think should happen, I suppose. It's not my department."

"Well what normally happens?" Graham took out a gold cigarette case and lit a cheroot. "I don't like to be dead but there must be something better now, surely?"

The little man shrugged and reached to remove the physical cigarette case from the body. careful to avoid getting any blood on his hands. "I can't rightly say," he said. "There's Heaven, if you believe in it. Or Hell. Or the Paradise of Seven Hundred Virgins."

"Ah! Excellent!" Graham lit his ethereal cigarette with an ethereal lighter. "That sounds just the place."

"Fair enough." He pulled a sheaf of tickets from a pocket and handed one to Graham. "Show that to the angel outside and he'll take you."

"Top hole." Graham gave him a mock-salute as he left.

"It beats me," said the small man returning to his notebook, "why anyone would choose a place where seven hundred spotty 18 to 35 year olds spend all eternity playing computer games and watching Star Trek."

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's Wishes

Harold rang in the new year with Lucy and Jasfoup on the East patio with her mother watching, unseen, from the shadows. To be fair, it was Barghela the gargoyle doing the actual ringing and Harold just took credit for it. With his five-year old daughet wrapped up tight against the hard frost, he and Jasfoup lit a dozen floating lanterns, sending them up into the night sky until they were just an orange speck in the distance, lost against the gibbous moon.

"Make a wish," he said as each lantern filled with warm air and rose. "We can send these directly to heaven."

Lucy squeezed her eyes shut to wish each time, then scoured the skies for any signs of a pegasus of her very own.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Orchard, under Frost

The old orchard was silent under the sharp first frost of the new year. Lucy sidled in through the moon gate, her breath making clouds around her face and her feet leaving tiny number-four prints across the grass of the paddock. This was the long way round to the sleeping trees but she'd poked at the ice in the lake with a stick first, hopeful it was thick enough to skate on. It never was.

The apple trees were old when her father moved here, he said, but for the one her great grandmother had bequeathed Lucy on her birth. That one had been planted by the kitchen garden and produced apples only on one day a year: her birthday. It was magic, her dad said, which Lucy took to mean he hadn't a clue why.

Here, though, among the wizened boughs and gnarled trunks she felt an expectation in the air, a collective holding of breath (if leafless tress could do such a thing) and as she ducked underneath the low branches of a weeping pear that was desperate for a prune she saw why.

Another apple tree, no bigger than Lucy herself, self seeded in the middle of the orchard, one perfect apple still dangling from the bare twigs with a cardboard label tied to the stalk.

For Lucy
Happy New Year