Saturday, 31 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 87

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were not hard in themselves, but when I first read them I did not think they would be very easy to weave into my ongoing story.

Most awkward: surface tension (had to include a whole bath scene just for that one!).

The Mini (Free estimates, French fries, carpet, Braille, silver-tongued bandit)

The greasy smell of French fries, wafting up from the burger place below my tiny flat, woke me from a light doze I hadn't realised I'd slipped into. At least, I assumed that was what had happened, but actually, it hadn't been the smell at all. As I looked around, somewhat groggily, I noticed a flyer had been pushed through my letterbox – the rattle must have been the thing that woke me. I padded across the worn carpet and picked up the postcard-sized thing. I was going to chuck it straight into the bin as it would most certainly be a pizza menu or an offer of Free Estimates! by some silver-tongued bandit of a tradesman or something. Now that it was in my hand, though, the flyer – if such it was – was none of those things. In fact, it had no printing on it at all, just a load of raised dots. It was a message in Braille. But who would have sent such a thing to me, and why?

The 10-worder (plumber, autograph, Florence Nightingale, a chill wind’s a blowing, watering hole, sleek, triplets, backwards, surface tension, parrot)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

"Ray used to be a plumber, you know," said Nicole, as she bustled backwards and forwards about her huge kitchen with its impressive array of sleek-looking modern appliances. Harold and Teatime were seated at the kitchen table. Ray had just gone out with the dogs to the local watering hole, as he called it, to get some celebratory alcohol.

Ever since they had arrived, Nicole had not stopped fussing over Harold and Teatime like some modern-day Florence Nightingale. Were they hungry? (A definite yes in Harold's case, Murder at the Blood Drive being neither appetising nor sustaining) Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold? At first it had been a bit of a novelty to be so nicely treated, but now her and Ray's overly solicitous attentions were beginning to grate just a little. Harold half-expected her to ask for his autograph.

She plonked a generous plate of trail mix down on the table in front of a somewhat bemused Teatime (who had been hoping for cake, to be honest). "Ray calls this stuff 'parrot food'", she laughed, "But the kids used to love it so I keep some around for when they visit. Have I showed you Cathy, Caitlin and Carrie - my triplets, my Lord?" she asked, and when he didn't answer immediately, "My Lord?"

To distract himself from Nicole's inane chatter, Harold had been thinking of triplets of an entirely different kind: in his head another new piece (he was going to call it A Chill Wind's a-Blowing) had been getting born just nicely, but it disappeared with a disappointed silent pop as he realised that Nicole was actually addressing him directly and that she actually expected an answer of some sort.

"Er, yes, I believe you did." he answered, lamely, "Fine-looking children, they were too."

"Tell Nicole you want a bath," whispered Teatime. If there was not to be cake, then they might as well get down to brass tacks and start getting organised.

"But I don't need a bath, Teatime," said Harold, somewhat puzzled. Demons' vessels did not sweat and bacteria could not live on them in any case, so bathing was rarely necessary. Surely Teatime knew this?

"I know you don't, old button," replied Teatime patiently, "but we need to talk – preferably in a quiet place where we won't be disturbed. Honestly, old shoe, do I have to explain every little detail?"

Harold shrugged, "Er, Nicole?" he said.

Back at Aunt Aggie's, Agent India was almost ready to hug herself with satisfaction. She had been absolutely on the money. OGS had been a little lax and had not followed its own procedures properly. India liked procedures, they minimised the variability of human decision-making and kept things nice and controllable. Now India knew that the slip-up was probably because of the last-minute change of plan imposed upon Joshua squad by Director Opal, but all the same, procedures were meant to be followed even if – especially if – something unusual cropped up. In this instance, however, she was pleased to note that, just as she'd thought, the demon's bag had not been searched very thoroughly at all. She looked down at the device in her hand. On its screen, a little red dot was glowing steadily.

"Bubbles are always perfectly spherical, aren't they?" mused Harold as he soaked in the scented water of Ray and Nicole's massive marble sunken bath. He'd seen people bathing on TV and had had the odd shower himself, but this! This was really pleasant. No wonder humans enjoyed it.

"Yes, it's because surface tension exerts an equal force in all – " Teatime stopped himself, mid-lecture, "Look here, old sock, I didn't mean for you to actually have a bath, merely to ask for one."

"I know," said Harold lightly, "But now I'm here... Anyway, how come we were slumming it at the Sleezee when we could have come here and lived it up?"

"That's part of what I want to talk to you about," replied Teatime, "Now listen."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Goodbye to all that...

At the end of this week, the project that I have been working on in various capacities for more than severn years will finally come to an end. Most of the people I have been working with will disappear, transferred tp the rival company that it taking over the contract. The offices will be emptied of all furniture, fixtures and fittings and will be closed down forever.

So this is my list of goodbyes.

Goodbye to the staff restaurant with its peculiarly variable food quality. No more pastry that you could pave a road with, no more curry that, regardless of what meat is in it, will otherwise contain mostly tinned tomatoes. Goodbye to the shocking pink sausages (what the heck was in them?) Goodbye to the Sting-inspired, burnt-on-one-side-white-on-the-other toast.

Goodbye to the dreadful paintings (if we could call them that) on the walls of the landings. Don’t Feed the Pixies has remarked on these before and he is on the money: they are soulless and unpleasing to the eyein the extreme.  I wish we could burn them in the carpark, but I doubt they'll let us.

Goodbye to the smokers’ spot on the pavement leading into the campus, may your blue smoke never stink up my clothes again.

Goodbye to the 06:30 text message from the Mumbai Massive (Indian Help Desk) telling me that all was or was not well with the systems overnight. Goodbye to the middle of the night calls from said Massive, asking me to check why the call centre is experiencing slow response from the computers.

Goodbye to having four machines on my desk – yes, four! Desk space – at last!

Goodbye to the morning walk and twelve minutes homward one (blogged about some time ago). I’ll be home-based so my commute will not be through leaf-carpeted streets, just real carpet.

Goodbye to the many good friends I’ve made over the years. It’s been a blast!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Monday Poem

A real challenge from TFE this week.

We were to listen to a 10-minute piece of music by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, called Threnody for the Victims and write whatever it inspired in us.

The Fundamental Inscrutability of Musical Sensibility

Now, I like a good tune, me, Dad said.
Something can I bawl off-key
And bounce off every steamy bathtime tile.

Volins scream a hard knife-edge
Across the horizon of my hearing.

You can't hum this on your way to work,
Nor tunelessly whistle what hasn't got a tune.
How do they even know they're playing it right?

I'm chilled to the bone by notes on taut leashes
Gnashing their teeth at each other, barely a semitone apart.

And what's all that jungle-banging drums malarkey?
It sounds like an old tin dustbin
Tossed down a light of concrete steps.

Now comes the hollow bass, a dark cavern,
A pit yawning wide at my feet.

Aye, it's a moving piece right enough, he laughed.
When I heard it I started moving away at once.
My Dad, the music critic.

Their screams, I hear them now.
Now and probably forever.

I have to say I dislike this kind of music intensely (my own modest efforts are slightly less edgy than Barry Manilow, which explains a lot) but there is no denying there is power in this piece - power and terror.

Great challenge, TFE!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 86

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week, I only had time for a mini and a10-worder.

Most awkward: Haz-Mat and Sidewinder

The Mini (abstemious, chlorophyll, origami, cheerleader, dung beetle)

Jake stared morosely at the brick walls of his cell and sighed. It was all his own fault, he supposed, taking the kid's stuff like that. He'd sold the camera and watch quickly enough but why, oh, why, had he kept the wallet? He could have taken the money out and just tossed it away. Stupid! The young female cop with her cheerleader good looks had not liked finding a wallet on him with someone else's id in it. She had stared at him like he was some species of odious dung-beetle instead of the poor drunken homeless man he was passing himself off as. She had not been impressed to discover several bottles of the chlorophyll-green Dr Evergreen's Efficacious Elixir either. The kid must have ratted him out good: she had known just what to look for in his stuff. Memories unfolded in Jake's mind and took flight like so many origami birds: the kid, with his sandy hair and college-boy good looks, almost a man. The kid, a dimple-cheeked toddler, running up, arms outstretched to be picked up and swung as high as the moon by his daddy. Ah well, a more abstemious life now lay ahead of Jake and the thing was, the kid would probably never know.

The theft referred to in this story is recounted in the Mega here (scroll down to the bottom).

The 10-worder (Incensed, sidewinder, bogus, conniption, Haz-mat, conniving, customize, perforated, zeal, rolling off a log)

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

"Easy as rolling off a log!" crowed Ray, as he finished checking the duct tape binding India's and Mercury's hands and feet. "I can't believe you fancy-pants OGS agents with all your special training, Captain Midnight decoder rings, silly names and whatnot fell for the ole' bogus 'couple in distress' routine, I really can't".

The two agents glared at him in incensed silence. They had little choice: Ray had pressed a strip of tape over their mouths once Mercury had (reluctantly) uttered the formula that would release Harold.

"Right-ho, old shoe," declared Teatime, "Time we made ourselves scarce, I think.""

"You sit tight now. I'm sure someone will come along – eventually - and find you." Ray sniggered. "Agent Dumb, Agent Dumber, it's been a pleasure." He sketched a mocking bow to the two agents, and walked back to his car.

"Where to my Lord?" he asked Harold.

"Oh, mm," Harold hadn't the faintest idea where would be a good place to go but Ray and Nicole were looking at him expectantly. Fortunately, Teatime had an idea.

"Your house, I think." he said, "We can plan what to do from there."

"My Lord?" Ray looked to Harold for confirmation.

"Yes," declared Harold, "let's do that." One of these days, he was really going to have to start making decisions for himself.

When they had gone, the two agents immediately began to try and free themselves. Ray had been pretty thorough, however, and they made little headway. Eventually, they gave it up as a bad job. When they missed their nine o'clock check-in, someone would be despatched to investigate. Until then, there was little else to do but wait.

"The look on those OGS agents' faces!" laughed Nicole as they sped along the road. "They must have thought they were being sooo good-Samaritan-like, rescuing us!"

"Yeah, and when Mr Teatime started talking I thought they were going to have a conniption," Ray chuckled, "Bet their fancy training manuals didn't cover that!"

Meanwhile, in the back seat, Harold was trying to make sense of it all.

"Teatime," he asked, in Infernal, so as not to be overheard, "Who are these people and, come to that, who are OGS?"

"These, dear fellow, are Black Sheep, our little helpers here on the Brightside. In exchange for a life of wealth and comfort, they do odd jobs for the likes of you and your father."

"I see," said Harold, "But how did you manage to call them?"

"I was fortunate enough to find a public telephone and, one quick reverse-charge call later...." Teatime looked very pleased with himself.

"Ok, but what about this OGS thing?"

"Well," explained Teatime, settling comfortably into his role as tutor, "OGS stands for Order of the Good Shepherd. They're committed to the cause of Light and work to protect human souls from us – well, you demons, specifically. They are, shall we say, somewhat noted for their zeal"

"But, how come you know all these things and I don't?" Harold wanted to know. "I know I wasn't always paying attention, but I'm pretty sure no-one mentioned this stuff."

This put Teatime into an awkward position: he knew perfectly well why Harold hadn't been told anything about OGS, Black Sheep – or plenty else that a demon needed to know before venturing to the world of men – but wasn't about to let on, not yet, anyway.

"I'm sure it was an oversight, old sock. Anyway," he continued brightly, "That's why your father sent me along to help out, I expect. Oh look, I do believe we're here.""

Ray and Nicole's home was a magnificent sprawling mansion set in its own grounds. The gates, huge steel things, perforated in a beautifully intricate pattern, swung silently open as the car approached, courtesy of Ray's remote control.

Hearing Harold's low whistle of appreciation, Ray laughed. "It certainly is something, isn't it, my Lord?" He stopped the car in front of the magnificent front doors and they all disembarked. Harold gazed at his new surroundings. This was certainly a whole lot nicer than the SleepEZ Motel!

"Ray had the architect customize just about everything," Nicole said proudly, "Even the bath-taps!"

"Woman, will you ever shut up about them taps?" Ray pretended to grumble, "Can't a man have his initials on something without hearing about for the rest o' his life?"

They walked into the cool spacious elegance that was the house's hallway. Ray's two huge dogs, Haz-Mat and Sidewinder, bounded up to them, barking joyfully. What do you know, someone's actually pleased to see us, thought Harold. That makes a change.

Eventually, Agents Prada and Othello arrived to free India and Mercury. When they heard what had happened, they shook their heads wearily.

"It constantly amazes me that people are willing to risk conniving with demons when it could cost them their very souls." said Prada,

"True," agreed India, massaging some feeling back into her hands, "But they probably don't think it'll ever come to that. They just see the benefits they're getting right now."

"Well," sighed Othello, "I guess we lost this one, I don't suppose we'll be seeing that particular fiend again anytime soon."

India was just about to agree when an idea struck her. If it checked out, they'd be seeing that demon again soon enough – and this time they'd be sure to nail that perishing monkey as well.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Monday Poem

Well, it's here at last, the much-anticipated Garage/Plath poetic dichotomy.  I went down the Path of Plath as I broke down in my attempts to get to the Garage.

You can find Sylvia Plath reading aloud her poem, Lady Lazarus, along with its words here.

Now, Ms Plath's poem is really strong medicine all the way through, but one line just jumped out of it for me and so became the basis for this week's bus ticket.

Dying is an Art

Dying is an art.
You have to get it just right.
There's no point
Landing gently in the grave
Leaving life half-lived behind you
Like a half-eaten sandwich
Going stale and curling up at the edges.

Dying is an art
Few are they who manage it well.
That good night beckons us all
But only angels rush in
Where fools fear to tread.
But, some do not go gentle or timely, you say?
True, but being killed is not the same as dying.

Dying is an art.
Dying is an act.
It screams to be
It needs to be
The triumphant coda
To your life's music.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 85

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

I left it a little late to begin writing this week, so only managed a 10-worder and a Mega.

Hardest word of the week: Pinocchio

The 10-worder (early morning light, Pinocchio, mist, leaves, sandy, coffee, walking, traffic, pray, stomach)

Through my open bedroom window
Early morning light through early autumn mist
Steals in uninvited, but nonetheless welcome for all that.

Sounds of distant morning traffic come floating in.
Postman walking up, whistling, rattling the letters in
To fall like leaves upon the waiting mat.

The smell of coffee lures me downstairs
And bacon stirs my stomach awake.
I stoop and scoop the mail.

One sandy envelope peeks out sheepishly
From amongst the busy whiteness of bills
I clutch it and let the others drop, a snowy paper trail.

My fingers barely know how to tear, to open
My heart barely knows how to hope, to pray.
Like Pinocchio with cut strings, I'm falling
My boy is wounded, but he'll be home today.

New to Harold's story? The summary is here

The Mega (early morning light, Pinocchio, mist, leaves, sandy, coffee, walking, traffic, pray, stomach, train, art, admirable, cotton, fluffy)

The early morning light was burning off the last few wisps of mist, giving the day a washed-clean look. Overhead, the light edged what few clouds there were, turning them into fluffy cotton wool balls. It was going to be a glorious day.

There was little traffic on the road and, with Agent India at the wheel, they were making good time. So good in fact that, upon hearing India's stomach growling, Agent Mercury had allowed a brief stop to pick up coffee and muffins for them both.

Needless to say, they didn't offer any to Harold, which the latter thought was a bit mean since he hadn't eaten anything since the previous afternoon. Maintaining a physical vessel here in the world of men took energy, surely they knew that? Oh, well, if they weren't going to give him proper food, he'd have to improvise. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out one of his paperbacks. It was better than nothing, he supposed. He tore out a page from Murder at the Blood Drive, screwed it up and popped it into his mouth.

Agent Mercury caught the movement in the rearview mirror.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. Harold chewed quickly and swallowed, so as to be able to speak.

"Having breakfast," he said, tearing out another page. He glanced at it briefly, "Oh, what do you know. Looks like the janitor did it." He screwed up the denouement and ate it. It tasted like wet leaves, but it was an energy source of sorts. Agent Mercury shook his head in disgust and turned back to face the front once more.

Up ahead, there was a car parked on the shoulder with its hood up. A sandy-haired man stood looking into the engine compartment, scratching his head, clearly baffled. On the grassy verge at the roadside, a young woman with a swaddled baby in her arms looked on anxiously. As the van drew near, the couple waved frantically at them to stop.

"Shall I stop" asked India.

Mercury sighed, another delay! Still, all they might need to do is phone for a tow-truck or something, he couldn't in all conscience just pass by without helping.

"Yeah, pull over," he said, and India did so.

As the van stopped, the woman ran up to the nearside, a look of relief and gratitude on her face. Mercury wound down the window.

"Oh, thank goodness!" the woman cried, "I thought no-one was ever going to stop!"

"That's alright ma'am," replied Mercury, "what seems to be the trouble?"

"The engine just cut out on us. Please, could you take a look? Ray's not really very good with cars and I'm sure it's something simple. Please?"

"Well, OK," said Mercury, "But I'm no expert either. Mechanics is a bit of a dark art to me." He turned to India, "I'll just be a minute." then to Harold, "You stay put and don't try anything."

Harold shrugged and carried on eating.

As Mercury was walking towards the other car, Ray turned towards him. He had something in his hand, a tool of some kind, Mercury thought. As the object came into full view, however, Mercury realised it was actually a gun.

Agent India was surprised when the woman suddenly let her "baby" fall to the ground, revealing a gun of her own, pointed straight at her.

"Everyone out of the vehicle!" shouted Ray, his gun levelled squarely at Mercury's chest.

Moving slowly, India complied. No matter how much they train you, she thought, there are always things they don't prepare you for.

Harold reached for the door handle but immediately felt the warning prickle of Mercury's Binding. Stay put, he had said. That was pretty unequivocal, and to disobey would be painful. The thing was, if he stayed put, Ray might react badly and start shooting. Harold had no affection for these two humans after the way they had treated him, but he didn't particularly want them to die either. He stalled in indecision, feeling like Pinnochio with his strings cut.

Mercury, seeing that Harold hadn't moved, called to him to do as the man said, which he did.

"You must be the one who did the Binding," said Ray. "You have until a count of three to release my Lord."

Now Mercury realised what these two were.

"No chance, Black Sheep" he snarled. The man laughed.

"Your bravery is admirable, my friend," he said, "but, pray tell me, are you willing to let your lady friend die because of your stubbornness?" He called out to his wife. "Nicole, shoot the girl"

"No!" cried Mercury and Harold both together. "No shooting!" added Harold. If he was their Lord, they should obey him, right?

"Sorry, my Lord," said Nicole, "we have orders not to do anything you say until you're released."

"Whose orders?" asked Harold.

"Why, mine, of course, old sock, whose do you think?"

Harold looked down in astonishment to where the voice was coming from. Teatime shook off the baby blankets and climbed nimbly up to his usual place on Harold's shoulder.

"You didn't think I'd abandoned you, did you?" he said, grinning.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Monday Poem

Time for the Monday poem challenge, set here by TotalFeckinEejit.

This week was a quick photo challenge, while we loyal sons and daughters of Eejit toil over our Garage or Plath-related oeuvres for next week.

This delightful image was one of three supplied by TFE and here is what I did with it.

These are the things that get left behind.
When they've moved out, or moved on.
Lover's bed and loving hearth
Are become filthy mattress and busted cooker.
This is the mess they make of your life
When they leave for someone younger, thinner and prettier
Than you are.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Saturday Wordzzle 84

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words

You can go to Raven's Nest for the original rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were challenging, to say the least! I said this last week, but boy!

Most awkward words this week: blood drive, powder puff

The Mini (the sky is falling, variations on a theme, bravery, powder puff, empty soda bottles)

Powder Puff was not known for his bravery. In fact, he was afraid of just about everything, including his own shadow.

Mophead and Haggendass, who were old enough to be orange, would tease and bully poor little pink and fluffy Powder Puff mercilessly. Their pranks were always variations on a theme. They would lie in wait for Powder Puff behind a pile of old tin cans or inside an old cardboard box (the dump where all the gribbles lived had plenty of these) and they would then jump out at him with ear-splitting yells, pulling hideous faces. They would then fall over laughing as their victim shrieked and ran off in terror.

Eventually Powder Puff had had enough. He trekked across the dump to the Westinghouse Snow Palace where the Great Gribble lived. The Great Gribble was old and very wise so Powder Puff hoped he would help him deal with the problem of Mophead and Haggendass once and for all.

Eventually he obtained an audience with the Great Gribble, who was so old he looked for all the world like a rather large untidy dust bunny. His two little black eyes, though, were bright, kind and intelligent. Once Powder Puff had explained his predicament, the Great Gribble thought long and hard before giving his advice. Powder Puff listened intently. Yes, he thought, it just might work.

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" Yelled Mophead and Haggendass, leaping out from behind a pile of soggy newspapers. Despite being really quite scared, Powder Puff bestowed upon them his sunniest smile.

"That's OK," he said sweetly, "the Mighty KolaMonster will save me."

"What?" cried the two bullies in consternation. This was no fun: where was all the shrieking, the running, the laughing?

Powder Puff gave a shrill whistle and from around a great big pile of old TV sets lumbered a hideous beast. Its head was covered in shining, clanking metal plates, its body was covered in thick hairs of all different colours and lengths and the beast was making a shocking racket with its tail.

Mophead and Haggendass took one look and ran for it.

Now it was Powder Puff's turn to fall over laughing. The KolaMonster was in fact a stray dog that had recently taken up residence in the dump. Powder Puff had made friends with it and over the weeks had trained it to accept having flattened tin cans, old electrical wire and whatnot tied to its head and body. He'd even trained it to wag its tail, rattling two empty soda bottles, now half full of old washers and nails to make a fearful din.

Powder Puff had not been altogether certain that the Great Gribble's advice would work, but the old fluffball had been right: bullies are cowards at heart and all you needed to do was stand up to them.

The 10-worder (plaster, cottage cheese, hallowed, hard working, food for thought, blood drive, broken finger, ceiling fan, pastry chef, production)

Betty had a great idea to get people to come along to the local blood drive, she organised a promotional event called Food for Thought. People could come, donate their precious pint and then they could stay and help themselves to food and drink, and watch a light-hearted stage production featuring songs, sketches, poems and whatnot all on the subject of blood.

She managed to rope in a friend who was a pastry chef to create some delicious pies and cakes, while she and a team of hard-working volunteers put together all kinds of buffet dishes - vol-au-vents filled with cottage cheese, sausages on sticks, vegetables and dips, sandwiches, chips, nuts and suchlike. Meanwhile, the performers had been diligently rehearsing their show.

Eventually the hallowed day came and they were all set. Fortunately, it was a fine evening and lots of people showed up to donate, most of which stayed around for the food and the show.

It was during the final rousing song-and-dance number that disaster struck. The cast had been encouraging the audience to stamp and clap along to the music - which they had been doing with great gusto all evening. Unfortunately, the building was old and the plaster had weakened over the years. All the bumping and stamping jarred loose a large, old-fashioned ceiling fan which crashed down onto the stage in a great cloud of dust.

All was dead silence for a few seconds then a lone voice piped up.

"I think I've got a broken finger"

It was Mr Henderson. Everyone burst out laughing and a spontaneous round of applause followed: Mr Henderson had been wearing a huge papier mache costume in the shape of a hand. The fan had sliced clean though the outstretched "index finger", missing his head by inches.

It was the best blood drive ever!

The Mega (plaster, cottage cheese, hallowed, hard working, food for thought, blood drive, broken finger, ceiling fan, pastry chef, production, the sky is falling, variations on a theme, bravery, powder puff, empty soda bottles)

New to Harold's story? The story so far is here  Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

Mr Teeth was not happy at having to meet Mr Peck so early in the morning, but the latter had insisted as he wanted to provide an update before leaving town for a couple of days.

The two men met for breakfast in the Mayflower Hotel. Mr Teeth didn't go in for the sort of fancy breakfasts these places dished out, usually contenting himself with some crackers with cottage cheese and a protein shake. He had to admire the artistry of the pastry chef here though. His creations, all variations on a theme, were little short of stunning. Glazed pastry animals of all kinds were set out alongside the more usual fare of bacon, eggs, beans, toast, fruit salad and whatnot. They must have had to set up a veritable production line to turn these things out in such numbers. Hard-working waiters bustled about the place, getting coffee and toast for the patrons while overhead, an old-fashioned ceiling fan turned lazily under the intricately moulded plaster of the ceiling.

"What have you got for me?" said Mr Teeth, setting aside his orange juice.

"Well, the person we're looking for left town by train at about four in the afternoon, the day of the fire." replied Mr Peck, flicking a pastry crumb from the sleeve of his Armani suit with a perfectly manicured fingernail.

"You sure?" asked Mr Teeth. Mr Peck looked at him in silence for a few moments before replying.

"Yes. I have seen camera footage taken at the train station which confirms it. I have some still images if you wish to see them."

Mr Teeth waved the offer away. If Mr Peck said he'd seen that little trumpet-playing punk get on a train, that that's what the little punk would have done, you could bank on it. That's what fifteen hundred a day bought you: certainty. So he was probably out of town when the fire got started – unless...

"Maybe he snuck back into town later by bus or something," he rumbled, "keep checking."

"As you wish," said Peck smoothly.

The little trumpet playing punk in question was passing time mentally composing his latest jazz piece. He was going to call it The Sky is Falling and it would feature some deliciously creepy harmonic minor scale runs. Yeah that ought to do it. Harold wondered if these hostile, hard-eyed humans would actually let him have his trumpet back any time soon. Probably not, but at least composing music kept his mind off what was probably coming.

If he had understood the situation correctly, they were going to send him back to the Basement. Most demons really hated this, it was a badge of abject failure to be so summarily ejected from the world of men and, because of the way a Dismissal worked, they could not return for at least a year and a day. Harold knew that his father would be furious with him for messing up so spectacularly after such a brief spell on the Brightside - and Harold's father's wrath was legendary. Demons with more bravery than Harold possessed had withered under it.

It wasn't entirely his fault though, surely. After all, no-one had told him about the crazy humans and their crack-of-dawn raids. Come to think of it, he had not really been told that much at all about what to expect once he got here. Harold was self-aware enough to know that he was not the most attentive and focused pupil that had ever lived, but he could absolutely not remember anything about these agents with their tasers and hallowed words of power. Food for thought, indeed! He made a mental note to ask Teatime about it if they ever got the chance for a private talk.

Agent Mercury appeared in the doorway to the break room.

"You." he barked, pointing at Harold, "With me."

Harold followed Agent Mercury out of the room. Agents India and Othello fell in behind him, tasers still drawn although there was no need, Harold wasn't about to try any "funny business". Teatime, perched now on Harold's shoulder, took the opportunity to have a good look around as the little group walked through the operations room to Opal's office. It didn't look good though, he had to admit: these Shepherds were annoyingly vigilant and well-prepared. Escape was going to be extremely difficult.

Director Opal was a distinguished-looking African American man of late middle age and if he was surprised to see a little monkey perched on Harold's shoulder, he didn't show it. As Harold and the others entered, he pointed wordlessly to a seat in front of his desk. Harold sat down and saw that they had emptied his rucksack onto the desk for some reason. There was a small pile of spare clothes, his shoes, a couple of paperbacks - The Case of the Broken Finger and Murder at the Blood Drive – that he hadn't got around to reading, two empty soda bottles and (hooray!) his trumpet. Opal leaned forward and indicated this last item.

"What is the purpose of this?" he demanded. His dark eyes boring into Harold's baby blues.

Harold was nonplussed, of all the silly questions to be asking! Surely the human knew what a trumpet was? Did he think it was some kind of secret demonic weapon? Its music could be beguiling for sure, but honestly, it usually took more than a pretty tune to ensnare a soul. OK, not much more in some people's cases, but still. As he pondered these things, Harold became aware of an unpleasant prickling sensation which was gradually worsening: a warning from Agent Mercury's Binding that he'd better play nice and answer the question.

"It's a musical instrument. I enjoy playing music." Harold explained. The prickling receded. "Would you like to hear something?"

Opal looked at him as though he had suggested something incredibly filthy. That would be a no then, thought Harold. He was beginning to wish that they would just do the ritual and send him back home already, if that's what they were planning. This relentless suspicion and hostility was getting old! Oh, wait, the human was speaking again.

"What do you know about the disappearance of the demon, Baron Samedi?"

That was an easy one for Harold. "Nothing at all," he said, "Except what I heard on the news." Opal frowned.

"You're in the club's CCTV film, what were you doing there?"

"I went to see if the Baron would let me play at the club, it is the best jazz club around, you know – or was, anyway."

Opal grunted, "And the Baron said 'no', I take it?"

Harold nodded. He was not proud of the stupid blunder he had made in trying to set up shop in another demon's turf.

"OK," said Opal, leaning back in his chair, "We're done here. Mercury, you know what to do."

"Yes, sir!" said Agent Mercury, pleased to be doing something at last.

Oh well, this is it, thought Harold. Back to the Basement. If he was lucky his father would get over his rage in a couple of hundred years or so. If he was lucky.

They had ordered Harold to pack all the stuff on the desk into his rucksack and bring it along. On leaving Opal's office, Agent Mercury took the little group towards the double doors leading to the reception area and the outside world. Seeing Harold's look of surprise, Mercury couldn't help himself.

"Bet you thought we were going to send you home, didn't you?" He said, "Well, we were going to do just that, but it seems that HQ has requested the pleasure of your company."

On Harold's shoulder, Teatime stiffened. Oh, this was terrible news! He would definitely have to do something now.

As they got outside the building, the first light of dawn was just beginning to creep across the sky, edging the powder puff clouds with pale light. Well, it's now or never, thought Teatime.

All of a sudden, the little monkey leapt off Harold's shoulder and was away around the corner of the building in the blink of an eye. Harold was about to go after him but Agent Mercury would have none of it.

"Get in the van!" he ordered.

"At least let me try and get him to come back," pleaded Harold. The prickling sensation was beginning again.

"Now!" insisted Mercury.

Harold reluctantly got into the van.

He hoped that Teatime knew what he was doing.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Monday Poem

This week The Lord High Eejit has set us a photo poem challenge (you can see the challenge here).  We were to choose one or more photos supplied by his good self and create..... 

I chose this photo.

And here is what I did with it.

Novice Jogger

The dark-light, dark-light, dark
Of this fence's strobing shadow
Stripes my pounding feet
As they beat this aching street.
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.

The slap, pant, slap, pant, slap
Of my forty-something progress
Echoes wall-to-wall
An acoustic rubber ball.
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.

The tick, tock, tick, tock, tick
Of molasses-mired stopwatch
Slices seconds like a knife
I am running for my life
Five miles or fifty, it's all the same.
I can manage neither.

Then there was the whole Tommy Tucker debacle.  I thought that was what we were going to have to do, so I made this....

Little Tommy Tucker

Little Tommy Tucker
Went and took up with a hooker
But the hooker was no looker
So he callously forsook her.

Seeking consolation
She then sued for compensation
But it went to arbitration
She was filled with indignation.
And such terrible frustration.

She felt dissatisfaction
At the judge's poor reaction
And she wowed to take some action,
Put an end to her distraction.

Rigged his pressure cooker
To blow up the feckless sucker.
And now little Tommy Tucker
Rues the day he crossed that hooker.

(Or he would do, if he had lived)

Sunday, 4 October 2009

PJ's Old Stamping Ground

This is the third and final post about my friend PJ (you can read the two previous ones here and here).

It's the week before Christmas 1999 and we are scrambling up a steep, rock-strewn Welsh mountainside.  PJ is with us but is very quiet this day.

"There you go," I say, handing back the Tesco bag of classical CDs I have borrowed.  PJ takes them and invites me in for a cuppa.  I don't have time today, so we shoot the breeze for a few minutes, and then I'm away.  He seems happier of late than he has been in a while, which is a good thing.  Maybe he's staying off the weed a bit - it always seems to make the shadows deeper for him, that stuff, and I wish he'd pack it in altogether, but while he shares a house with JH, that's never going to happen.

"There's an awful lot of Geology hereabouts, isn't there?"  I joke in a lame, Terry Pratchett kind of way, as I haul my spectacularly unfit body up yet another mini-cliff.  One the Ms - MG, I think - laughs far too much at this, really.  I suppose it's the oddness of this thing we're doing, taking PJ for a climb in the middle of winter, in a place he used to always love rock-climbing in as a younger man.

My Other Half and I get into the house, shopping bag-laden.  The kettle's on and, oh look, there's a message on the answering machine (nobody called it voicemail in those days).  It's from JH, PJ's housemate, asking us to call back as soon as we can.

There's ice on some of these rocks, making it more dangerous.  If I'm honest, though, I really shouldn't be doing this: clambering about the scenery in the dead of winter.  The sky is a dead lead-colour and it's pretty cold.  We were due to make this trip a week ago, but one of the cars broke down on the motorway and it poured with rain so much that we had to give up in the end.  PJ didn't mind, though, and today he's not bitching either - but then this is his old stomping ground and he's used to this kind of thing.

We call PJ's home number and JH answers.  He's in a panic, can we come over straight away?

We reach the top finally, a place of sere, wind-swept grass, unforgiving boulders and patches of startlingly  white snow.  There's just myself, my Other Half, the two Ms and, of course, PJ.  JH, KP and one or two others should have made the trip with us - it had been their idea in the first place, after all - but when we had turned up at their place, they were all so wasted on drugs that we had to leave them - only PJ came with us in the end.

JH is sitting in the back of a police car outside the house when we arrive.  What the hell...?  We manage to snag a detective who is milling about with the handful of uniforms, going in and out of PJ's house.  The detective won't say anything to us about what has happened here.  I immediately assume the worst: PJ has finally managed to take his own life (he's tried this at least twice before).  I give the police what little information I have about his family, his grownup kids' names, his sister's in Kent.  In the end, we have to leave with no information - they won't even let us talk to JH.

"So, who's going to be first?" 

We all look at each other a little sheepishly.  I think we all want that honour.  Both of the Ms have known PJ longer than I have, so it should be one of them, I suppose.  They seem a bit reticent, though, so in the end I put out my hand.

I unscrew the lid, tilt the black plastic container and the wind immediately starts hungrily grabbing the fine grey powder, pulling it out over the dead grass and away, away to the mountains.  One by one, the others take their turn and we each say goodbye to our old friend PJ.

It turns out, PJ had had a massive heart attack in the early hours of the morning and his housemate had found him slumped at the bottom of the stairs.  The kittens, which PJ had loved, had been playing on and around him, which would have amused him hugely if he'd known.  I hope he does know.

So long, old friend.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

This is me!

This is a potrait of me, by the renowned and highly collectible artist TotalFeckinEejit.  He did this potrait without ever laying eyes (or hands) on me and I must say it's me to the life!

He graced the art world with my image for a good reason.  Click Here to find out why.

Saturday Wordzzle 83

Each week, Raven gives us a set of 15 words - 5 for the mini, 10 for the 10-worder or all 15 for the mega challenge. The idea is to create a passage which includes the words

You can go to Raven's Nest for the rules of the game and some excellent advice.

This week's words were challenging, to say the least!

Most awkward word this week: laugh and the world laughs with you

The Mini (monsters in the closet, roughly, bowling, menu, Pennsylvania)

You are cordially invited to the Annual Monsters in the Closet Masked Ball the gilt-edged invitation card said. Chuck tore the card roughly into two pieces and dropped them into the wastebasket.

"Are you crazy?" cried Martha, "You can't possibly turn down an invite like that!"

"Can and will," replied Chuck with a finality that Martha had come to dread over the years: there'd be no changing Chuck's mind now. Mind you, that didn't mean she couldn't try.

"Have you even looked at the menu?" she sighed wistfully, retrieving the pieces of the invite, "There's caviar and smoked salmon and three kinds of –"

"Not interested," he cut her short.

"But –"

"No buts." he snapped, "You know it's my bowling night and I NEVER miss my bowling night." He stomped out of the room, putting an end to the discussion.

Martha sighed. The invite card was so thick and the finish so smooth and creamy under her fingertips. In beautiful golden lettering in the bottom right of the invite was printed:

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington,
DC 20500

The 10-worder (family, cheese cake, 20 years ago, refrigerator, laugh and the world laughs with you, bath brush, zombies, African violets, butterflies, holding hands)

About twenty years ago, a family of zombies moved in next door. Now, I know it's pretty commonplace these days to have undead living with the living (so to speak), but back then it was something of a rarity and folks didn't really know what to make of it. The Goldsteins were friendly enough though, in their slow way, and a few days after they moved in, they knocked on our door to introduce themselves. My mother grabbed up a bath brush and would have chased them down the street with it if my father hadn't stopped her. She was kind of old-fashioned that way. Live and let live, Dad said, but she didn't think that applied to people who weren't alive like us. Anyway, we invited them in and it turns out they'd brought us a gift of some African violets in a pot and a homemade strawberry cheesecake – very neighbourly, and all. We children were so excited to meet our zombie neighbours that we stood together holding hands with butterflies in our stomachs. They had just the one child, a grey-faced boy called Edward who shambled in wearing a tee-shirt with Laugh and the World Laughs With You on it, which seemed a little odd as I don't think I ever saw any of them laugh, ever. My mother put the cheesecake into the refrigerator "for later" and thanked our guests coolly but politely. They stayed for just a short while, long enough for a cup of tea and then they shuffled back to their home. When they were gone, my mother scrubbed the teacups with bleach and threw the cheesecake away uneaten because the thought of eating something a dead person had made was disgusting to her. She kept the violets though.

New to Harold's story? The story so far is here

The Mega (family, cheese cake, 20 years ago, refrigerator, laugh and the world laughs with you, bath brush, zombies, African violets, butterflies, holding hands, monsters in the closet, roughly, bowling, menu, Pennsylvania)

Even as a child, growing in a small town in Pennsylvania, Agent India had never been afraid of monsters in the closet; as a teenager, she had yawned her way through countless movies about zombies attacking small towns in search of the inhabitants' brains. These things did not scare her because she had always had a firm idea about what was real and what was not. Zombies and closet-dwelling monsters were not real. Demons, on the other hand, very much were. For as long as she could remember, India had been able to sense them when they came near.

At first, she had had no idea what it had been about certain people that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She had asked her parents about it and they had not known what to tell her. Eventually, she had plucked up the courage to speak to the priest in her local church. He had explained her gift to her and had put her in touch with the Order of the Good Shepherd, who, he said, could make good use of it.

How right Father Nolan had been! India was full of elation as she and the other members of Joshua squad, along with their captive, bounced around in the back of the van which was now bowling along at a good clip away from the warehouses and back to base.

Harold, on the other hand, was decidedly not full of elation. He had fallen straight into the humans' trap. Honestly, even someone with the IQ of a bath brush would have realised that they had left the doorway so invitingly unguarded on purpose, but not him, oh no!

The paralysing effect of the taser had not had chance to wear off before the leader of the humans was standing over him, reciting the words of Binding. Few humans even knew these words and fewer still had enough faith to make them stick, but stick they did. Harold could feel the effect of them like a cocoon of barbed wire wrapping him from head to toe. At the moment, because he was sitting quietly and not causing any trouble, the wire was only loosely wrapped and he could only just feel it, but he knew that if he did anything out of line, the wire would tighten. No wonder Teatime had been so insistent that he put as much distance as possible between himself and these humans. Harold hoped Teatime was alright - the little monkey hadn't said a word since the female driver of the van had thrust the pillowcase with him in it roughly into Harold's arms with the stern injunction that he sit still and keep the monkey quiet, or else.

Agent Mercury had been about to begin the words of Dismissal to send this fiend back where it belonged when the approaching wail of a police siren had interrupted proceedings. Someone, it seemed, had heard the noise and had called the cops. OGS agents had no more powers than any other private citizen and it was unlikely that the police would be even remotely understanding if they were to come across a small group of people performing some strange ritual in a deserted warehouse. There had been nothing for it, therefore, but to de-camp to base and do the ritual there.

Agent Prada brought the van to a halt outside what looked for all the world like a small industrial unit in a nondescript business park just outside town. A fading sign on the unit even proclaimed that this was the home of Aunt Aggie's Mouth-Watering Family Cheesecake. Cheesecake production had ceased more than twenty years ago, however, and the unit now served as OGS's local base of operations.

Agent Mercury slid open the van's door and ordered Harold out with a jerk of his thumb. Cradling Teatime's pillowcase carefully, Harold complied. He desperately wanted to talk to Teatime, make sure he was alright. He didn't dare risk it yet though because, although he had not specifically been told he couldn't, he wasn't sure how much leeway the Binding permitted, if any (if only he'd paid more attention to his teachers!). Also, the humans might be suspicious if he started talking to his "pet" in Infernal, which was the language the two of them had always used.

The deserted reception area of Aunt Aggie's was much like any other: there was a counter, some fabulously uncomfortable seating, a coffee table bearing out-of-date magazines and on the wall, a picture of a bowl of African violets and butterflies which was a triumph of anodyne mediocrity. This was, of course, all a front and Harold was surprised to discover, upon passing through a set of double doors, that a bustling, brightly-lit operations room lay beyond.

"...was actually holding hands with her, can you believe it? I know! Oh, wait, I'll have to call you back." A fresh-faced young man quickly put down the phone as the small group passed his desk.
"Sir?" He called out, "Agent Mercury, Sir?"
Mercury turned to face the youngster, a look of irritation on his face.
"What is it?" he barked.
"Opal wants to see you in his office right away."
"Tell him I'm kind of busy." Mercury gestured vaguely in Harold's direction.
"He knows that, sir. That's what he wants to see you about."
Mercury sighed. More delays! Was he ever going to get rid of this demon?
"Ok," he said, addressing the squad, "Go and wait for me in the break room. You –" he said, turning to Harold, who had been gawking like a hick tourist at the bright lights, computers and whatnot, "Go with them and don't try any funny business".

Funny business was the farthest thing from Harold's mind as he sat in the OGS break room with Agents India and Othello, et al eyeing him in a less than friendly fashion. On top of the refrigerator next to him someone had left an old Pizza Hut menu and an unwashed mug with a cartoon of a weeping clown on it, along with the words laugh and the world laughs with you. They got that right, thought Harold.

Feeling Teatime stir, Harold loosened his grip on the pillowcase and the little monkey poked his head out and looked around.

"Excuse me, can I let him out now?" Harold asked Agent India, "He won't be any trouble."
"I suppose so," she replied. He's just a little monkey after all, where's the harm.