My days! This was a bit of a stinker for me this week. I think it's actually harder to include phrases than single words.
Check out Raven's Nest for Wordzzle rules and guidelines.
The 10-Word challenge (superlative, flea market, falling leaves, disinformation, who was that masked man?, keeping kids out of trouble, I'm a believer, bonnet in the attic, staff, generation)
Autumn always makes me think of Jack, and I can't tell you just how much he's been on my mind lately.
There's a little flea market near us which operates every second Tuesday of the month. One windy autumn day I was bored and messing about down there and that's were I first met Jack.
He was a good generation older then me, but we became fast friends even so. He had this crazy idea that friendship was the best way of keeping kids out of trouble and I suppose he was right in a way - at least, that's how it worked out for me.
I was one of those smart-aleck kids, convinced that everything adults told me was pure disinformation and that the world owed me something, although I couldn't have said just what that was - a complete jerk in other words.
I ran into Jack by accident – literally. I'd just stolen the latest Nick McKnight thriller A Bonnet in the Attic, from one of the stalls at the flea market and was running hell-for-leather away from the scene of the crime.
I didn't see the old fellow leaning on what looked like a wizard's staff until it was too late and down we both went in a tangle of arms, legs and the many folds of that ridiculous long grey coat of his. The stolen book shot out from under my jacket and landed with a splash in a puddle.
I got up, swearing a blue streak and was about to run off again when I felt Jack's bony old hand gripping my arm as he levered himself up to a standing position.
"Just a minute, son," he said. He then bent down and carefully picked up the sopping book. "I believe you dropped something."
He knew I'd stolen that book. It wasn't wrapped or anything and I had been about to run off without it – not something you'd do to something you'd just shelled out good money for. I felt my face begin to burn. You see for all the trash-talking I did, I wasn't really a bad kid and had really only tried stealing for the buzz rather than for the gain of it.
His faded blue eyes stared straight into mine as he gravely placed the dripping book into my hands.
"It'd be a shame to leave it behind," he said, "after all it must have cost you." He turned to go, leaning on that knobbly old staff of his. At the last moment, he turned back. "By the way, if you want a really good book, try Who Was That Masked Man? It's a much better read than that one."
There was a kindness in his eyes and a tone of wry amusement in his voice that got to me in a way that all my parents' shouting, grounding and stopping of pocket-money had never managed to do.
I tucked the book back under my jacket and started walking back the way I'd come.
These days, I'm a believer in owning up to things you've done wrong but back then I was still too young and scared in spite of my cockiness, so although I didn't go back and own up to my crime, I did drop the price of the book into the stallholder's money-tin when he wasn't looking. It was the best I could do.
As I said, Jack and I became fast friends after that. He was a superlative steady hand, helping me to keep my wilder teenage impulses in check and he never once mocked me for the mistakes of my callow youth. He could always see a way out of the scrapes I got myself into – and there were plenty of those! I wouldn't be who I am today without him.
After I moved away to college, I heard that he'd been knifed by some young drugged-up punk he'd tried to befriend.
Crazy old fool.
Crazy, brilliant, magnificent old fool.
But I still remember that autumn day. I can still feel my heart pounding. I can still hear my feet thudding against the ground, kicking up great clouds of dead leaves. I can still feel the burn of the breath tearing in and out of my lungs. I can still see Jack's face, a snapshot picture of pure surprise as this kid comes barrelling into him from nowhere.
And that's why whenever I see the leaves falling, I think of Jack.
I'm doing this all wrong: my minis end up longer than my 10-worders but hey-ho. Anyhoo, Harold is back again this week. Words to include were: deep in the forest, government, charming, heirlooms, flabbergasted
"Well, don't look so flabbergasted, old shoe," said Teatime, "Anyone would think you'd never seen a monkey before!"
"Well I've certainly never seen a talking monkey before, that's for sure," replied Harold the demon, "How in Hades did that happen?"
Teatime jumped nimbly off the table and onto Harold's shoulder, where he settled himself down quite comfortably.
"Well," he began, "there I was, deep in the forest, minding my own business – "
"- or throwing it at someone." interrupted Harold, chortling.
"Oh, charming!" moaned Teatime, "Why is it that that people only ever remember the poo-throwing? You know, we capuchins have a very rich repertoire of behaviours: nest-making, tool-using... Look it up in Wickedpedia sometime, why don't you? Anyway, where was I?
"Deep in the forest." prompted Harold, still smirking a little.
"Yes, right." Teatime sniffed, "Anyway, there I was, minding my own business when, all of a sudden I felt this stinging sensation and the next thing I knew I was in this big white room, being prodded and poked by humans and injected with badness knows what, and generally in a pretty pickle altogether."
"So the humans made you into a talking monkey!" marvelled Harold, "What was it? A secret government experiment? Was it their military?"
"No, I'm afraid not," sighed Teatime, "Nothing as worthy as that, dear boy. I think they were probably just looking for a cure for dandruff or something." An angry glint suddenly appeared in the monkey's black eyes. "But of course I wouldn't know, would I? Because you'll be amazed to hear that for some reason THEY DIDN'T ACTUALLY BOTHER TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME!" This last part was delivered in a screech which, coming as it did from right next to Harold's ear, caused him to wince.
All over the carriage, heads turned towards the pair.
Harold smiled weakly at the heads and hastily started stroking Teatime as one would a pet.
"Calm down," he urged, "People are looking at us. I'm sorry if I upset you."
"No, No," replied Teatime, collecting himself with an effort. "I should be the one to apologise."
He produced a tiny white handkerchief and blew his nose delicately. "It's just that the thought of what those humans did - and still do - to creatures like me rather gets in amongst me. Please accept my most humble apologies for the outrageous display."
"Er, Ok, sure," said Harold, somewhat mentally wrongfooted by the monkey's rather mercurial temperament.
After another nose-blow, Teatime went on. "Anyway, things were looking decidedly sticky for me. Each day the humans would take one of us monkeys away somewhere, never to be seen again - and there weren't that many monkeys to start with, if you know what I mean."
"I do," cried Harold, "It means that –"
"The point was rhetorical, actually," said Teatime with some asperity. "Anyway, when we were down to just two monkeys, I decided that, whatever else happened, I was not going to end up the way the others had, so I made The Deal. That night, a lab assistant carelessly left a certain cage door unlocked and the rest, as they say, is history."
Harold pondered this for a few moments.
"So you escaped," he said, "I get that, but how did you get the ability to talk if the humans didn't give it to you?"
"Well, that was part of the bargain I made with your dear pater, you see," explained Teatime. "I needed more than just an open cage door to get away from the humans. I needed the tools to stay out of their clutches for good. I needed to have the sort of powers that my tormentors had: language, rational thought, education, culture and so on. Your father gave those to me."
"I see." said Harold. "But why are you here with me now instead of running around?"
"Well, I work for your father and he told me to come up here and keep an eye on you. Help you out a bit and whatnot."
"You work for my father while you're alive?" Harold was amazed: the Deal did not usually oblige the Signatory to do anything in life. "And he gets your soul when you die as well?" He shook his head in wonderment.
"Let's say you father drives a hard bargain." Teatime said dryly.
"Wow!" breathed Harold, "And to think I didn't even know animals had souls to trade."
"Now, that's exactly the way the humans think," said Teatime. "and I would have thought that you, as a demon, would know better. Didn't you pay any attention in Monday School?"
"Not really," admitted Harold, "it was just so boring. I mean, all those rules and regulations, stealing of heirlooms or birthrights or whatever, and those tedious genealogies! Who cares who begat who, anyway?"
"Whom," corrected Teatime, fussily. "who begat whom! I can see it wasn't just Bible Study you neglected."
"I fear it is so," grinned Harold, "Anyway, here's our stop, I think."
The train had indeed come to a halt. Harold and Teatime alighted and began to make their way through the crowded station.
"Righty-ho," declared Teatime, cheerily "Let's find something to eat, something to drink and then we'll see about getting you a job and a place to stay."
Harold surveyed the various fast food outlets on the station concourse.
"Hmm, I don't see any banana stalls here," he said doubtfully. Teatime rolled his eyes.
"My species is omnivorous, you doorknob. Just get a cheeseburger, and make sure there's none of that filthy mayonnaise stuff on it."
They got to the counter and the burger was duly ordered.
"What drink do you want?" Harold whispered as the smile behind the counter waited expectantly. "Let me guess, banana milkshake, right?"
"Don't make me throw poo at you," hissed Teatime, "An orange juice will do nicely, thank you so very much."
"You're the boss," grinned Harold, opening his wallet.
Across the concourse from the burger bar, a nondescript young woman in a smart charcoal business suit flipped open a cell phone and dialled a number. As the call went through, she brushed back her dark hair and lifted the instrument to her ear.
"Control?" she murmured, "India here. I think we have an incursion, can you send a squad?"
"Negative, India." came the reply, "All squads are currently engaged. Track and report the incursion until a squad becomes available."
"Understood, Control." She snapped the phone shut and sighed. Just her luck! The one time she actually managed to spot an Accursed Fallen One for herself, there were no squads available to wipe it out. Well this AFO was not going to get away from her! She dropped the phone into her shoulder bag, zipped it closed and stepped out onto the concourse.
As she walked towards the burger bar, the late afternoon sun glinted off the discreet gold pin in the left lapel of her jacket: a shepherd's crook bisected by two crossed keys. Underneath was inscribed a tiny motto: Dirigere et Defendere.
Meanwhile, the Accursed Fallen One in question was involved in the abominable machination of happily tucking into a bacon-double-cheese (hold the Mayo). From time to time its evil scheme involved passing bits of food to its pet monkey, thereby occasioning a certain amount of damnable saucer-eyed delight in three small children at a nearby table.