Sunday, 25 December 2011

Santa's sneakiness.

I have, over the years, let the annual Christmas Santa-hunt become excessively complex. By last year it had expanded to include reindeer for dinner and the ransacking of the sleigh. Back to basics. Get Santa first and deal with the rest later.

After last year's complete farce, I decided to keep things simple this year. None of us were on the roof but I left gin traps for the elves. These are tall cages with narrow entrances and a bottle and glass at the bottom. The elves get in, drink the gin, and then cannot find the way out. So if Santa deployed his army I was ready for them.

All the chimneys were capped except one. Oh, I know Santa isn't stupid. He wasn't going to take the only open chimney. One of the chimney caps was loose and that's the one he would take. He did. So far, so good.

Click had fitted the chimney with a series of one-way trapdoors. Each one Santa passed through was sprung and would close behind him. That part worked too. We could hear them snap into place as he descended.

We waited at the fireplace with nets and powdered parsnip, which the Internet assured me was the only way to sedate Santa.

Everything went exactly as planned. The red figure landed in the fireplace, Click and Caligula threw the nets and I threw the powdered parsnip.

The parsnip powder exploded. The net caught fire and burned away in a flash. Red Stan roared at us and jumped from the fireplace, whacking his horns on the mantelpiece on the way.

"What the Hell are you playing at, Dume?"

"What am I playing at?" I waved away some of the smoke. "Why aren't you Santa?"

"Santa? I met him on the roof." Red Stan let his flames subside. "I wanted to watch you try to catch him but he said you weren't bothering this year. So he kindly opened a chimney to let me get back into the warm."

Well, the words I said were not fit for young Caligula's ears so I was relieved to note he wrote them down instead. Finally I asked "So which chimney did he come down?"

"I don't know." Red Stan curled his lip. "I am not the boss of Santa. Nobody is."

Through the castle echoed a hearty 'Ho ho ho". We ran to follow the sound, but too late. Caligula, Click and I had coal again. Which would at least have heated the castle somewhat if Caligula hadn't eaten his and Red Stan hadn't picked mine and Click's up to examine it.

Next year, Santa, it's personal.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Don't talk. Write.

Click answered the door yesterday. I've told him not to do that. It scares people.

It didn't scare this particular visitor. The Professor was waiting for me in the living room with a well-filled whisky glass in one hand and a fat cigar in the other.

"Ah, good evening," he said. "I hope you don't mind me helping myself to whisky. Your assistant said you might be some time."

"I was clearing a drain in the kitchen." I lifted a bottle of my current favoured tipple, a 1963 vintage Vacuum Cleaner Salesman, and poured a glass. "My wife insists on acting as though we have a waste disposal unit. We do, but he has his own room."

The Professor smiled and took a large swig of his whisky. "Funny looking little chap, your assistant. Spanish?"

I rolled my eyes. Click had been watching Don Quixote and as always, had picked up the accent. Fortunately there are no windmills nearby. "No," I said, "he's from... out of town."

"Ah." The Professor tapped the side of his nose. "Say no more."

I showed him to a seat. "So what brings you out here in this cold weather?"

"A taxi. I think it was a taxi. Rusty box on wheels with a badly-trained gorilla driving?"

"Yes, that's the local taxi. I wonder if old Sumpcrack McWheelspin has fitted any brakes yet?" I had never dared risk the taxi. The bus was dangerous enough and it moved at a snail's pace compared to Sumpcrack. He spent a fortune upgrading the engine in his battered old Citroen but never bothered with anything else.

"It doesn't seem likely." The Professor placed his glass on the table. "He stopped by hitting a tree sideways. I think I'll walk back to the village."

"Yes, that's probably best."

"Anyway, I wanted to tell you I managed to get that ghosthunting book onto Amazon. Just the Kindle so far but it's a start."

"That's good news. I have some books on there too." I watched the ash on the end of his cigar with some unease and nudged the ashtray closer to him.

"I saw them." He tapped ash into the ashtray. "I also saw you had an article on the Book Boost. Well, now I have one on there too. Did it boost sales for you?"

"I don't know yet." This line of questioning was becoming tiresome. Everyone expects me to be struggling with the weight of my book earnings but it takes a long time to build up and a long time to filter back to me. "There's another quarterly report due this month."

"Oh, right. I've been going it alone, you know. Self-publishing. It means I have direct access to the sales data."

"I do that too," I said. "Jessica's Trap is traditionally published but the short story books are self-published."

"Yes, of course, I was forgetting." He stood and picked up his glass. I hadn't noticed him finishing it. "I took your advice too, and put up a free sample on that Smashwords site you told me about." As he strolled around the room, he passed the drinks cabinet with no perceptible pause. When he regained his seat his glass was full.

"Did it help? The free sample, I mean?"

"Hard to say yet. It's only been there for a week or so."

"Then it'll be scrolling down the lists. You'll need another free one to liven things up again." My own free samples have been scrolling down too. I would also need to put another one out soon.

The Professor swirled his glass. "Strange world, this writing. We're doing the same thing on the same sites and yet we don't seem to be in competition at all."

"Most people read more than one book in their lives. Even if we were going after the same audience, which we're not, there's nothing to stop anyone buying all the books they want."

We spent much of the rest of the evening in contemplative silence. It's odd, but those of us who spend all our time spinning words on paper or screen often find that, faced with real people, we have little to say.

Then again, maybe it's because we feel we've said quite enough for one day already.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Speed of Death.

"Hello Dume," came the timbrous tones from behind me.

I was busy in my laboratory, noting my discovery that social workers do indeed have hearts albeit very small ones, and preparing to test the hardness of the one I had most recently acquired.

"Hello Death." I turned but he wasn't there.

From behind, once again, came "Hello Dume."

My shoulders slumped. Death in a playful mood was not something I wanted to deal with at that moment. He reappeared in my line of sight at the end of a blurred streak of movement.

"Pretty fast, eh?" He jutted his jawbone. "You wouldn't call that two miles an hour, now would you?"

"No," I said. "I would refer to it as something more in line with your initial assessment. Pretty fast."

He produced a newspaper. I wish he would stop reading those things but he likes to tick off the obituaries and check he hasn't missed anyone.

"Look at this. Your scientists reckon that people moving at three miles per hour can outrun me. Ha! Tell that to all those four-minute-mile runners I've reaped."

I read the article and had to agree the conclusions were ridiculous. "It doesn't look as though they were being serious."

"Well I'm being serious. I can move incredibly fast, faster than anyone or anything except on Christmas Eve. Santa is the only thing in the universe faster than me and he can only do it one night a year. Then he has to rest for a year. If he didn't smoke, drink and eat so much he might be able to do it twice."

"He is quite nimble, that's true." Which is why I still don't have his head on my trophy wall. Still, it's nearly time to try again.

Death levelled his eyeless gaze at my laboratory bench. "Who do you have there?"

"A social worker who kindly called in to make sure Caligula was properly fed. He has been, now."

"I see. Obituary published?"

"Unlikely," I said. "This one's fresh."

"So she might still be hanging about? I'll just take a quick look around the place, if you don't mind." He took his soul bag from his belt.

"Certainly. The place could do with clearing out. There's a particularly irritating one called Banquo who has taken to showing up at feasts. I'd be pleased to be rid of him."

"Sorry," said Death, "that one's untouchable. I can clear up the rest. Any sign of your father these days?"

"Not for ages."

"Hm. Well, off I go. Watch my dust, Dume." He shot through the wall.

I returned my attention to the experiment. I thought it best to start with the diamond-edged cutter although I doubted it would get through a social worker's heart. It never has before.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Musings on fatherhood and food.

Another social worker appeared today. This one wanted to check on little Caligula and also asked some difficult questions about whether I knew what might have happened to the last one, or the one before her. You just can't get any peace these days, even in your own home.

There must be a nest of these social workers somewhere nearby. They seem to be more numerous than the Ferals. I don't like them much, they taste bitter and they're stringy, but there's not much else available out here in the swamp in winter. We haven't had a visit from a nice fat politician since the last election, which was won by the only one who didn't visit the castle. The most sensible one took the prize for a change. Pity they took his brain out as a condition of his appointment, but then I understand they all have to get that done. Too many political brains in one place might cause an explosion so it's a health and safety thing.

This social worker had hair in the style of a safety helmet although it looked harder. The style was so tight it had pulled the skin of her face into a permanent wide-eyed leer. I thought Caligula would probably like her face so I took her to his room. As always, I let her in, shut the door quick and locked it. While waiting for the screams to stop, I wondered if we had enough of that diabetic otter urine to sweeten the meat. I think we're running low. Maybe this one would be less bitter. There's sugar in the kitchen but I hear that's now considered to be bad for your health.

Once Caligula was full it was safe to enter the room and remove the remains. He's a growing lad, there's not much left these days. I'll have to be careful he doesn't get too fat. Some of those social workers are nimble on their feet and can be hard to catch.

I have to admit, despicable as he is when awake, he looks really quite sweet when he's asleep in his cage, covered in blood and flecks of gore and sucking a finger. I was right, he did like her face. He was wearing it.

It's hard to believe my progeny is over two years old and hasn't managed to kill or even maim me yet. I hope I haven't fathered a softie. Even his mother is still alive and has a few fingers left. She's lost most of her face but well, that's an improvement in her case.

Oh well, it'll be bath time soon, once the flecks of gore start to rot. Best get the fire hose and the stab vest ready.

First I have to restock the freezer. That's one of the good parts of parenting. A steady supply of visiting officials.