Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 18.

Thoughts skittered like terrified mice through Bryarus' mind. Things like: "What a way to go"; "How do I get out of this one"; and "Phew! What a pong!" Haroon's foot grew into an even larger collection of filthy bunions and corns. It began to descend.
        Someone clattered down the coal chute into the cellar. "Whoo! some journey. Hey," a small voice called, "will you take a look at that! A Stomp God - a sciapode, by all that's holy!"
        The foot shrank a bit, and Haroon turned his head with a frown. "Who dares to speak thus to me, of the Holy Stomp?"
        "Yeah, like I said, a sciapode. Failey Fwich, master craftsman, at your service sirs," the cluricaun replied and slipped off the back of a rat. He swept his hat off to bob a neat bow, and dusted the seat of his breeches. "'Tis the saving of you all that I hitched a lift." He trotted over to Haroon, who was scowling, and wrinkled his nose at the foot. "Indeed and your problem is huge, to be sure. How long have you been walking on these?" He looked up accusingly.
        "Insolent midget, I shall crush-"
        "Oh now, keep still do," said Failey, who was scrambling over the foot with a measuring-tape. "'twill be a tricky enough job as it is. Madam Rat, it's several yards of leather I'll be needing, as well as the thread, a gallon of water, some salve, a few bits of-" he sprang to one side as Haroon made a swipe at him. "Now look," he went on, hands on hips, "will you be wanting something to soothe those corns, or will you not?"
        A confused series of expressions chased each other across Haroon's face and got jumbled up around his mouth. His eyes flickered from side to side. At last he managed: "Soothe? Corns? Er - I am the vengeance of- (soothe? Corns?) Ahem; the infidel shall be stomped-"
        "Not with these, he shan't. A fine brogue is what you'll be wanting for the job. Ah, here comes the water; sit yourself down now. Go on; sit down."
        The rats who had staggered in with a low, laden trolley, left their task and launched themselves at Haroon's chest. He collapsed, arms flailing, into a heap of cushions and fur.
        A few minutes later an expression of bliss crossed his face, and Bryarus risked a small cough. He held out a full glass. "Er," he said, and the sciapode's eyes swivelled toward him. "Have a drink? it's only Cordial. There's been a mistake, you know. My parents wouldn't have wanted bombs to be dropped. They were pacifists - at least, they tended not to notice wars and things; too busy looking at rocks. I expect that being eaten gave them a big surprise."
        Haroon frowned and began to sip the Cordial. Bryarus hurried on: "Have you considered that the ones to blame might be the people who ordered the massacre? It's just a thought..."
        Haroon's face took on a struck-by-a-wet-fish look. A light bulb seemed to flicker above his head. He spoke slowly: "The infidel perhaps speaks truth. I shall contemplate this idea." He took a big gulp of Cordial and leaned back against the cushions. His head-dress slipped over one eye and began to unravel itself. He drained his glass and began to cry. "Always, it is I who must take the worst tasks. Away - hic - from home; from my son... Look, my friend, is he not a delight to a father's breast?"
        Haroon put a sweaty arm around Bryarus' shoulders and waved a crumpled photo under his nose. It stank of rancid lard. From between two large, pink sets of toes, a round face smiled up in a gap-toothed grin. The eyes were so close together as to be almost touching, and wisps of discouraged- looking hair jutted out from among a patchwork of birth-marks. The general effect was of a large boiled egg, smeared with blood-coloured glue and rolled over a moulting dog, which had been set on end and given feet.
        "Um," said Bryarus; "beautiful chap, isn't he?
"

Cicely slammed the door as she left a doctor's West-end town-house. She was with Murdo Goshawk; he had been a wonderful support to her at this dark time. She jerked on her gloves and stamped over to his car. "That stupid psychiatrist wasn't any good," she said.
        "I assure you, he's the best in his field, Miss Watts," Murdo opened the door for her. "If he says that Bryarus is unlikely to be classed as insane, then that's the truth."
        Cicely snorted and got into the car, tucking her skirt neatly under her knees. "`Not particularly unusual,' indeed. What kind of maniac leaves everything to a cat's home instead of his own family?"
        Murdo got in and started the engine; he pulled away from the kerb before answering: "Well, I've heard of such things before. Such wills can be very difficult to contest. You just ask old Barney of Loophole and co. Perhaps we'd better hope that your brother doesn't get hanged for treason, after all?"
        "Well of course, I mean, naturally I wouldn't want..." she stopped, and then continued in sudden hope: "Oh! I wonder whether he was joking?"
        "I think it'd be a bit chancy to wait and find out, don't you? No, I rather think that this other idea is better."
        "What, Arkwright's idea about the museum tax? Yes, perhaps..." She gave a brisk nod. "I think I'll phone that man at the council when I get home."
        Murdo smiled. One or two things were slotting into place; there was definitely a story here, he thought. What was this "treason" rap about, exactly? He looked sideways at her. She didn't look mad, but all this stuff about Egyptian gods messing up the house seemed a bit far-fetched. somebody else was taking it pretty seriously, anyway. He drew up outside her house and got out to open her door. "I'll grab the coffee. You go off and phone," he said.
        Murdo carried the coffee into the sitting-room. Her voice wafted after him: "Mr. Hartman? It's Cicely Watts, here - no no, I'm not calling about the creek. This is simply to do with the museum in Lower Postleton. What? Yes, that's right, the one I own together with my brother. Well, I feel that it is my duty to tell you that I believe a local tax is due on it. Yes yes, I know a museum would be charged as a community service. However, are you not aware that it contains a shop, which operates purely for profit?"
        Murdo smiled to himself and looked around the room. He turned the television set on. Oh hell, he groaned; an art programme. He reached out a hand to turn the set off again, and then he paused; what was this?
        Cicely was still talking: "Look, Mr. Hartman, I believe in paying what's right, for the public good. I am quite prepared to take this to government level... Thank you. Good-bye."
        The handset crashed into its cradle and Cicely strode into the sitting-room. She chuckled and rubbed her hands. "He'll never be able to pay half the tax on a shop. That place never makes money, and the subsidy's not enough. He'll have to sell! Oh hello," she continued in surprise, "what rubbish are you watching?"
        "Shush!" Murdo said, and waggled a hand. "This is amazing! It's art - can't stand the stuff - but this guy makes it grip you in the guts. He's got a really humorous touch, but he lets you see things clearly. Good commentary job, too. Wish I could write like that..."
        Cicely humphed, and grabbed a cup. "Where're the biscuits?" she said.
        Murdo sighed, and turned off the set. This wasn't getting him his story. He considered the well-built woman beside him, with her knees pressed together as firmly as her lips.
        He wondered whether she'd talk if he screwed her.

The next morning Rupert Effingham sat like a cheerful penguin, surrounded by a confetti of letters which all clamoured for more programmes like Dwish's; he was feeling pretty pleased with himself. He was looking forward to tonight's session with the whip. He knew that his Fiona would be especially pleased to lather his bottom tonight; he had spent a long time embroidering a new message onto his latest, powder-blue bloomers. If he was really lucky, she might let him-
        The telephone shattered his dream. He picked it up, and was almost blasted out of his seat by the irate tones of his brother-in-law. "What the hell d'you mean by it, you shrimp? I make the art films around here!"
        "Eh?" said Rupert.
        "Don't try and be clever, you little wally. You know what I mean; that poncy programme you shoved on air last night. We had an agreement, my lad! Pull a fast one on me, will you?"
        "But - but, Jarrold; I thought, well, it came from you, I mean, well, Miss Doorbar said-"
        The yell on the other end of the phone resounded through Rupert's office. "Olwyn! You let that bitch of a woman - urk, urgle, ack, guck." The voice paused for a minute, and was replaced by strangled breathing. After a few seconds, it continued: "You stupid bastard, Rupert, your precious `Miss Doorbar' has been fired, I tell you, fired!" The telephone crashed in Rupert's ear and he put his set down carefully.
        "Oh dear," he said, and looked in dismay at the pile of letters which surrounded him.

Bonasus was depressed, too.
        A week later, the depression hadn't lifted. He looked up from his meal of grass, beside Pos Creek. He had moved downstream to better pastures; the greenery was succulent and flavoured with the peppery taste of buttercups. He sighed. It wasn't the same, though, he grumbled to himself. The Watts' grass may have been tough, stunted stuff, but those buckets of alcohol were superb... He stared moodily at a bunch of cows which tittered at him from beside the hedge. If only they wouldn't stare so.
        A vulture flew overhead, and cackled a greeting at him. He waved a dispirited hoof and went back to munching.

Hathor zipped into Olwyn's sitting-room, and perched on the lion's-head pump. "Hey!" she called. Bast uncurled herself from a chair and ambled over. Hathor continued: "Bes hath returned with the squeaky little man. He hath listening devices to plant. Shall we have fun?
        Bast purred and clambered heavily onto Hathor's back. The vulture flew away, over the rooftops, and the wind whistled in the cat's whiskers. They soared and circled; finally Hathor spotted Kraphedd's limousine. They dropped onto its roof and Hathor leaned over to peer in at a rear window.
        Kraphedd yelped, and cringed toward the other, open back window where Bast gave him a wide, green-gold stare and turned him to granite. She lumbered in and looked at the new statue thoughtfully. Yes, she decided as Bes brought the car to rest beside Gertrude, it was good. She still had the touch, in spite of her condition.

That afternoon, Olwyn stood in a chalk circle in the centre of her new sitting-room. Everyone sat around, on the floor. The room was quiet, except for Bertha's gentle voice: "That's the way, cariad. Now, just relax into it. You can do it..." Olwyn checked the placing of all the items such as the sprig of thyme, gathered at dusk and paid for with a gift of seed; or the candles, stroked upwards with rose-water. She breathed deeply and tried to relax. "Now!" she said, and stretched her arms out. In her right hand she clutched a lock of Ra's hair. The gods began an ancient chant, accompanied by a pixillated rhythm; Ra hammered on the museum's drum and Min pattered away on bongos.
        Olwyn turned seven times widdershins, and murmured a spell under her breath with each turn. As she finished the last, she stroked the lock of hair down her body, cried out: "Clear Bryarus' name for evermore; free his house from the shadow of suspicion. So mote it be," and threw the hair into a waiting crucible. The gods stopped drumming and chanting immediately.
        They looked around, puzzled; a hammering sound carried on. "Oy! a voice shouted from below, "Once and fer all; shut yer bloody noise up there!" there was one last thump, and another voice screamed:
        "Hey, mind yerself on that ladder! Watch my tea set!"
        A cascade of shattering crockery was followed by a yell of "Oh bugger."
        Olwyn ignored the smashing sounds downstairs, and looked around her sitting-room with a pleased expression. She said: "Look! no frogs! I cracked it, Bertha; for the first time, a spell with nothing wrong!"
        She spoke too soon.

In a Postleton West boudoir, Murdo was running his hands over a naked, palpitating Cicely. It had been an expensive meal, he thought, but worth it - even the champagne - if it would loosen her tongue as it had the rest of her. She'd tell him anything, soon. It'd better be good. She wasn't his type; far too large and posh, and she'd gone all maudlin over that Arkwright Pottle wimp. She'd been mumbling something about investments and securities. So now, Murdo supposed, he was cast in the role of comforter. What a pain. Must remember to put the condom under "expenses".
        He slid his hand up one quivering thigh; there was no sense of foreboding. Why should there be? He knew nothing of Olwyn's little spell; he couldn't see her as she looked around her sitting-room and announced the absence of frogs.
        But it was at that precise moment, that Murdo and Cicely became smothered in thick purple goo. So did the rest of the Watts' house.
        "Ugh! Get off me, you brute!" Cicely wailed at Murdo, and tried to push him away. Her hands slithered against him.
        "What the hell am I doing here?" He gagged. He stumbled to his feet, and slipped on the floor. What was he here for, he wondered as he feverishly tried to slip on his goo-dripping clothes and fumbled with the buttons. For some reason, it had seemed important to seduce this woman, but why? He looked at the large lump of heaving purple which was feeling around for clothes too, and shuddered. Had he gone mad? He'd been convinced there was a story, about - about what? Damned if he could remember. He grabbed his shoes and squelched down the stairs in them.
        Cicely followed, making disgusted little noises and trying to flip the stuff away from her. "Ugh, oh, uuugh," she said; "ughughugh... Urk! Help!" She slipped, and slithered down behind Murdo. She smashed into his knees, and he scrabbled at the banisters. He clawed a trail in the goo. Cicely swept all before her, and landed on his head at the bottom.
        "Oh!" she wailed, "My beautiful, Rennie Mackintosh wallpaper!"
        Arkwright rang the doorbell.

Later that day, Olwyn drove to the back of Phelonia Hall and whistled down the coal-chute. "Hey," she called, "you can come out now. I did the spell and there were no frogs!"
        Bryarus emerged, followed by a staggering Haroon. The sciapode wore good brogues of soft leather; he waved the bottle at her and sang, off-key: "For hic-he'sh a jolly goo' fellow..."
        "Sssh!" Olwyn put her finger to her lips. She only blinked slightly at this new apparition. "E-L'll kill me if he finds me here! The spell only cleared your name."
        The party wove an uneven course toward the patient Gertrude, with Haroon falling over his huge feet and trying to sing while Bryarus kept a hand clamped over his mouth. Failey sat on Bryarus' shoulder and chuckled, and a few rats scurried around their feet.
        Arkwright was hurrying away from the house as they arrived. He gave Bryarus a nervous smile and said: "Terribly sorry, old chap, I simply can't stay just now. I've got some tremendously important calculations to do; I promised Cicely I'd work out just how much there is to shift. She seemed to want me to, well, scrub away at it; but as I told her, it's absolutely vital to estimate the quantity first..."
        Bryarus gazed at him with his brows raised. "What was all that about?" he asked no-one in particular.
        He opened his front door and found out. Purple dripped thickly from banisters and hat-stand; from the walls; and from Cicely's furious face.
        "Oh dear;" Olwyn said in a small voice as she gazed around, "this is worse than frogs, isn't it? I suppose it must have been me."
        "Get out!" Cicely said, and shook goo-covered fists at her. "Out!"
        "I'd like to help, really I should; I feel responsible-"
        "You've no business hanging around here now, my girl; E-L got rid of you, and I'm not having you touch my house." Cicely tried to stamp her foot, and squidged a splat of purple.
        One of the rats sneaked in and licked at the stuff. He rolled his eyes and quivered; he signalled to his fellows: "Food! Good! Get everyone!"
        "Cicely," Bryarus was stern, "You will not speak to friends of mine like that. Come, Olwyn; let's leave her to her bad temper."
        "It's dreadful for you, I know," Olwyn said gently, "but we can get a firm to clean the place up; and meanwhile, you're welcome to a bed in my place."
        "Out!"
        Olwyn shrugged. The door slammed as they left. No-one noticed the stream of rats which slipped into the house through an open window. It took two hours for Cicely to clean herself up a little. She spludged into the sitting-room. It was heaving and crawling; she screamed, jumped backwards, and slid on the hall floor. She finally regained her balance and shook her head. She peeped back around the door; the floor was roiling with rats. They were chomping eagerly at the goo. A thousand pink eyes glittered up at Cicely; she fainted.

In the dark of Olwyn's sitting-room that night, something stirred in the crucible. A tiny lizard slithered out of it and made straining noises. It grew and grew. Two minutes later a large crocodile flexed its muscles, snapped its teeth together, and started to heave itself toward the passage door.

Cicely awoke the following morning, with her head pillowed on her angular sofa. She groaned and sat up; then she remembered. Rats! Purple goo! She jumped to her feet and glared around wildly. Then she sank into a chair. Had she gone mad? The place was spotless.
        She pulled herself upright again and staggered through the rest of the house; clean and neat as ever! She must have had a massive hallucination. She went pink as she remembered the incident with Murdo; maybe it had been the champagne. And hadn't Arkwright come to the door? She had a definite impression that she'd asked him to do some cleaning, and he'd insisted on going away and calculating. Oh well, she shrugged, she'd just have to see him and apologise.
        She took a deep breath and picked up the 'phone to call her fiancÚ. "Darling," she said, "I-I'm sorry if I was a little strange last night-"
        "Well," Arkwright's voice was high with displeasure, "actually, Cicely, I did think it was a bit thick - I mean, asking me to behave like a cleaning woman! Why don't you get a proper char in?"
        "I know I know, I didn't mean it like that, darling. I've been under a lot of strain recently, and I wondered if we could go for a quiet-"
        "I did come round yesterday to offer you a special treat; there was an Accounting Seminar, but it's too late now; I had to go alone."
        "Well, I'm sorry, Arkwright, but couldn't we go out tonight?" He sniffed and said: "I can't manage it tonight. I've got to wash my hair. And then there're some invoices-"
        Cicely put the phone down gently and turned away. She sighed.

In the depths of Phelonia Hall, the coal-cellar floor was covered with a sea of smiling rats. They lay, drowsily clutching their stomachs; a fog of purple fumes was being belched and hiccuped into the darkness.

Go on to Chapter 19
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved