Saturday, July 31, 2010

Double Cross

Julie helped the two boys through the back door of the gallery. "Can you help them?"

"You should have brought them to me sooner." Legion glided across the room to the students, lifting their eyelids and examining their skin for signs of deterioration. "I'm not sure there's very much I can do for them now."

"Please try." Julie helped Dill into a chair. His lips were moving in a repeated pattern but he'd forgotten to inhale so no sound came out. She tried to lip read but it seemed as if he was talking about the weather. 'Rains?'

"I can't repair the eye." Legion inserted a finger into Sam's socket and levered out the dull, glazed orb. "Still, you're no stranger to ruined faces, are you?" She pulled Dill's right arm out straight and scratched a sigil into it. Julie caught a flash of silver as one of the demons entered, forcing Dillard out of his skin.

"Hey!" The ex-student, ex-mortal scowled. "Do you mind? I was using that."

His body opened his eyes and spoke with a mouth he recognised from the bathroom mirror. "Not any more, mate."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Willpower

The tiny car crawled along the Old Oxford Road at a snail's pace, its driver seemingly oblivious to the mile-long tailback that had developed between Little Taunting and Laverstone. By the time the procession reached Marsh Lane, Sergeant Brandsford, who had stood patiently next to the 'Keep Left' sign of the pedestrian safety point, walked alongside it, tapping on the driver's window.

"Mrs. Waterman," he said when she acknowledged him. "What a pleasure to see you."

Ada spared him a glance. "Michael Brandsford. I held your mother deliver you."

"So I'm told." He took another step to keep up with her. "Would you mind pulling into the side of the road, please?"

"If I must." Ada gave him a wry smile and did as she was asked.

"Why were you going so slowly?"

"It's a solar powered car."

"I'm sorry?"

Ada sighed. "It's a solar powered car. And it's cloudy."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rat Out

Lucy watched her father examine the contents of every cupboard in the kitchen, his bowl and favourite spoon – not too rounded, not too pointy – ready on the napkin beside it. He'd started on the knee-high cupboard next to the fridge, emptying it of corn flakes and wheaty bricks and Frosted Tadpoles while each breath got shorter and huffier. He'd tried the cupboard next to it, the eye level cupboards and the pantry.

She spooned the last of her porridge down and sat back, the spoon clattering against the stoneware bowl and briefly drowning the Justine Briber show on Radio Two. "Jasfoup ate the last bowl of you chocolate rice." She smiled smugly at the demon, who let out a heavy sigh.

"It's true. I couldn't resist them. I'm sorry."

"You might have mentioned it before I turned the kitchen inside out." Harold opened the packet of Frosted Tadpoles and filled his bowl.

Jasfoup leaned over and whispered to Lucy. "I ate the last bowl but you ate the other twenty, didn't you?"

Lucy smiled. She was, everybody agreed, the very picture of five year old innocence.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Snake in the Grass

Harold put a hand on his friend's arm. "Don't turn around but there's a snake in the grass."

"That's supposed to be a metaphor, Harold." Jasfoup smiled tersely. "it's supposed to mean there's a traitor in our midst but you meant it literally, didn't you? Since this is England and it's far too damp today to encourage adders and grass snakes to come out and play I suspect what you're looking at is what Devious affectionately calls a 'Legionnaire.'"

"One of those wiggly demon children Legion was on about, you mean?"

"Yes."

"Yes." Harold pulled a jam jar out of his pocket. "Let's catch it."

"Catch it?"

"Yes." He bent into a wicket-keeper's position, the jar and the lid in separate hands. "You're a demon so it can't attack you and I'm half-demon so I should be safe too." He paused. "Shouldn't I?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aconite and Hemlock

Inspector Cameron White stood to one side of the kitchen while the coroner examined the body. His wife Beryl would have loved this decor – it was all stainless steel and white enamel. She'd redecorate their kitchen like this if he could afford it. Minus the dead body, naturally. He coughed. "Any clue toward pinpointing cause of death?"

"Cardiac arrest after inhaling a fatal dose of hydrogen cyanide." Eric Chambers pointed to the victim's lips, which were an exceptionally deep pink. "Happened fairly quickly, I'd say. She struggled to breath, fell unconscious hitting her head on the corner of the worktop here." He pointed to a still-sticky bloodstain. "Then she lapsed into a coma while her lungs collapsed and her heart stopped.

"Cyanide?" White shook his head. "I thought that was only popular in Agatha Christie novels. Any clue what it was in?"

"Actually yes. She dropped the packet." Chambers pointed to a small sachet labelled 'Cut Flower Food' in bright purple letters. "What should have been Manganese salt was potassium cyanide. It would have activated as soon as she added it to the vase."

"Clever." White nodded, almost approvingly. "Do we know where the flowers came from?"

"The neighbour said it was a tall lad in a space invader knitted tank top with bicycle clips on his legs.

"Ah. That sort of lad." He looked at the dead girl. "She should learned something from the fall of Troy."

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

"Beware of geeks bearing gifts."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death of a Playwright

"Ellie! More wine!" Christopher Marlowe, lying on his back on the overstuffed settee, held his tankard in the air.

"Haven't you had enough?" Ingram Frizer raised his head from the table.

"No. My arse is still sore.." Marlowe looked for the innkeeper. "Ellie?"

"Not until you pay your tab." Eleanor Bull bustled from the kitchens. "Fourteen sovereigns are owed for the drink and the bowls of venison stew."

"Venison? Hardly, Madame." Nicholas Skeres looked up from his letter writing in the far corner. "I've eaten enough street rabbit in my time to recognise the taste."

"Street rabbit?" Robert Poley looked down at his dish. "I've never seen one of those."

"He means rats." Marlowe twisted in his seat. "It that true, Ellie? Are the streets of Deptford free of vermin thanks to your pot?"

"They will be when you've gone home." Eleanor stood to one side and handed him a scrap of parchment.

"What's this?" Marlowe looked at it. "The bill? Are you serious?"

"Deadly serious, sir. Put up or shut up, if you please."

"Oh, damn you, woman." Marlowe picked up Frizer's dagger and threw it at the table where he and Poley were sitting, It stuck in the wood, inches from Frizer's leg. "Frizer will pay. He's plenty of Walsingham gold in his purse."

"That could have hit me, you mincing buffoon." Frizer pulled the dagger out and stood."

"Better a mincing buffoon than a perfidious cocksucker." Marlowe swung his legs to the floor and stood. "It was you who passed information to Mary's chamberlain, wasn't it? Did he drop his pantaloons for you?" He made several hip thrusts to demonstrate.

"Prick." Frizer's face turned bright red as he advanced on the playwright. "Take that back."

"Like you did?" Marlowe turned and proffered his arse. "If you prick me, do I not bleed?"

"I'll prick you all right." Frizer leaned over as if to bugger him, but it was his dagger that pierced Marlowe, not his cock. He stood back as the playwright fell. and drew his rapier. "That was an accident, right?"

Skeres and Poley nodded.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Strange Dreams of Selwyn Dean

It was, I thought, a huge stretch of the imagination. I'd just parked in a woodland car-park next to the university and let the dogs out to pee. Now I was talking to an angel with a broken wing splinted with a ski pole and duct tape.

"What are you supposed to be? A clerk?" He looked at me with one eyebrow raised as he considered my attire. Jeans, blouse, boots, woollen coat and fedora. I'd dumped my handbag in the boot and stuffed my purse and keys in a pocket, the better to pass as a man in the shadows of the trees.

"No, a bursar." I made to walk away but he stepped in front of me.

"Have you met God?"

I thought he was joking and shook my head slowly. "No, though I do have an appointment to get to..."

"Yes, an appointment with God." He pointed further into the trees with a foam sword.

"In the wood?" I looked dubious but he velcroed his sword to his belt and took my arm.

"No, silly. On the other side."

I pulled away. "He's dead?"

"He's the Dean, but mostly he's in the pub on the other side of the wood."

"Oh." I looked back at the car. Both dogs were lying on the parcel shelf. "Will this take long?"

"No. Selwyn's too busy writing the next scenario."

I shook my head. It served me right for applying for a university job on a live roleplaying weekend.




Image: Strange dreams... by Photographer Sergei Bizyaev

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Breaking the Brain Siege

"How would you deal with a demon-possessed corpse?" asked Harold. "Just for argument's sake. Blue sky thinking. Any method you can come up with."

Julie stirred her coffee, the tink tink tink a counterpoint to the low grumble of the dishwasher in the background.

"Devious? Shut up. It was your turn to do the pots so stop moaning about it."

"Yes sir." Devious ran extra hot water, scowling at the reflection of the back of Harold's head.

"Nuclear bomb?" Julie took a sip of coffee. "Engineer a tidal wave? Meteor strike? Napalm? Neutron bomb?"

Harold sucked air between his teeth. "A little more precise. Imagine there are people among them, hiding out."

"Is a demon possessed corpse a zombie?"

"More or less."

"Then the people are expendable. Fireball the lot."

"That's less blue sky and more air head." Harold stood an action figure on the table. "Let's make it just one demon-possessed zombie. You have to stop the meat but catch the demonic spirit inside it."

"Soul trap."

"What's that when it's at home?"

"A mirror inscribed with a portal to itself. Any spirit looking into it will be trapped inside."

"How long for?"

"Until the mirror is broken."

"Great! Can you make one of those?"

Julie shook her head. "Of course not. There's no such thing."

Harold let out a deep sigh. "Apart from a soul trap, what other method would you use?"

Julie put down her coffee and smiled. "A bottle of liquid nitrogen and a hammer."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Novelist Dot Con

Harold Waterman missed the reading of the awards. No doubt the prize would have gone to that old hack, Peter Numan and his doorstopper book The New-New Testament: An Interview with Jesus. He clamed it was non-fiction, written over the course of a year with a man who was speaking in tongues but everybody knew, unofficially, he'd spent nine months in a sanatorium and banged out the book in six weeks afterward.

Instead he was shut in an airless room with three men in cheap black suits, reduced to drinking water. He looked up at Mr. Adams. "When does the after-party start?"

His eyes flickered to Harold's face and away again. "Does it matter?" He returned to his paperback edition of Gloaming. "You won't be attending anyway."

"Why not? I have an executive pass for being a judge of the Bibliolatry Prize."

"How exactly did you become a judge then?" The second of the suits stepped forward, balancing a pair of spectacles on his nose as he scanned a list of names. "Only I can't find you in the Who's Who in Publishing."

"I'm an author." Harold puffed his chest. "I wrote The Godly Child."

"Which sold the sum total of fourteen copies, including the ten disbursed to the author."

"It was still nominated for the award."

"In biro, at the bottom of each voting sheet."

"It received votes."

"A vote, Mr. Waterman. It received a vote. Your vote, in fact. Is that correct?"

"Maybe." Harold shifted in his seat. "I voted for the only book I thought had merit. I wouldn't have bothered voting at all but I ended up on the panel and thought it deserved to win. I was going to remove it only I wrote it in pen. Anyway, it was only for a laugh. So can I go now?"

"No Mr. Waterman. You see, here at Digital Dearth we take a dim view of vote rigging."

Harold smiled. "Perhaps you should invest in brighter ideas."

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Charred Souls Beneath My Wings

Jasfoup released his wings, revelling in the freedom as they became taut, the tingle of fire through the membrane a feeling of utter bliss. The mortal world had been his habitat for centuries but was it any wonder most demons preferred to live at home in Hell?

Mrs. Peterson called to him from the sands, her flesh charring and renewing in a constant, eternal cycle. "You're looking a bit peaky, Mr. J. Been away long?"

"A minute is too long, Mrs. P." He held up his hand and willed the skin tone to darken to a healthy black. "Better?"

Mrs. Peterson had already been swallowed by the sand. Jasfoup let the updraft from the boiling sands fill his wings and with three beats he was up and away, soaring through the umber skies of hell toward the tiny city on the horizon: Dis.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Chance meeting

"It's all a matter of wrist-action old boy." Jasfoup speared a wriggling escargot au naturale on a cocktail stick and prised it from the shell. "Honestly, it's as easy as throwing dried peas into a plastic straw at ten paces."

"That doesn't sound very easy, to be honest." Harold was less gregarious in his choice of snake and was eating salted cashew nuts. "Actually, it sounds rather—"

Both speech and locomotion were arrested by Jasfoup's arm across his chest. "Are you wearing perfume?" said the demon. "Something lily-based?"

"No." Harold sniffed his armpit. "Just Invisible and Dry."

Jasfoup stepped to one side and took the corner at a wide angle. "Amanda!" he said. "I thought I recognised the stick of corruption. I'd like to say it's lovely to run into you, but I don't lie on my lunch breaks."

Monday, July 05, 2010

Unjust Accusations

Harold stirred cranberry sauce into his grave, the scrape of his fork the only sound in the otherwise silent kitchen. That and his breathing. His companion didn't breathe but he could almost believe he could hear, if he strained hard enough, the ticking of her thoughts. "I had Mack Benton in here again when I got home from the shop."

"The farmer from next door? What did he want? Have his cows got loose again?"

"No." Harold stared at his plate. The cranberry sauce looked like rivulets of blood among the fatty globules of gravy. He pushed the plate away. Duck was never his favourite, anyway. "He took me to see his field. The sheep were all dead with their throats torn out."

"Don't look at me." Gillian held her hands up, palms outward. "Not guilty, your honour. If I wanted a sheep – which I don't, thanks to a growing herd of human donors – I'd just take the blood. I wouldn't rip the throats out."

"Did I accuse you?" Harold stood, transferring the sink for washing. "He thought it was dogs."

"And by dogs you mean—"

"Wolves, yes. Or one wolf in particular."

"Felicia."

"Yes." Harold sighed. "Can't you keep your werewolf under control?"

Gillian shook her head. "Always quick to judge, Harold. It wasn't Felicia. She'd have taken one and eaten it. This was the work of someone else."

"Who?"

"Those two lads in Fulham Crescent. The students. One's a were-Labrador and the other's a were-Cairn Terrier."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Delivery

"And this is your great method of extracting demons from their possessed hosts, is it?" Harold picked up the jar and shook it. Inside was a spider, which seemed glare balefully out. He could imagine it speaking to him if its brain were large enough to house speech functions. "I've memorised your face, old son," it would say. "Soon as I'm reincarnated, I'll 'ave you." It hinged upon two existential concepts, naturally, both that reincarnation existed and that spiders believed in it.

"This is what you've been up all night doing?"

"Do you know how difficult it is to tattoo a sigil on a spider?" Jasfoup looked hurt. "Besides, it took me two hours to catch the thing."

Harold put the jar down and turned to the demon. "What about delivery?"

"Delivery? I thought an authoritative English accent. A Donald Sinden, if you will"

"I meant, how will you get the spider to the demon?"

"Ah." Jasfoup stoked his chin. "Catapult?"

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Amanda's Surprise

"Here." Jasfoup led the ghost through the tiled halls, past a row of small doors set into a wall and stainless steel racks full of gleaming knives, saws and forceps. He motioned to a gurney covered with a pale green sheet. A pair of grey feet protruded from the bottom, a brown tag attached to one toe. "Read it."

The ghost glided forward. "Amanda Brinkley. This is my body?" She drew away.

"Not just your body." Jasfoup stepped forward and snapped away the sheet. "Ta-da!"

"I remember the face." The ghost drew forward. "Why are you showing me this?"

"Look inside," said the demon, raising his eyebrows toward the corpse. "You won't regret it. I got rid of the current occupier and redecorated."

"What do you mean?" The ghost hovered over the body and settled slowly into it. The corpse's lips fluttered, hesitantly at first. "What have you done?"

"Salt and varnish and one or two secret ingredients." The demon clapped his hands. "Mummification!"