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

Chapter 19.

Derek Hartman slumped at his desk. He turned his head to gaze from the sloping attic window, across the roofs - a jumble of tile, slate and corrugated iron. A few chimneys crumbled grandly and smoked with verve; some of the roofs steamed and were softened with little worlds of moss.
        He had resisted efforts to move the council offices to lush premises, away from the edge of Lower Postleton, on the unusual grounds that it would be a waste of public money. The truth was that he would have missed his lunch-time nip down to Marco's, where the old tramps hung around. These men had taught him about Life, Humanity, and Sucking Eggs; the least he could do was to buy them the odd pint.
        The fight over Lower Posleton's existence seemed never-ending, he sighed to himself.
        Hugh Brightson looked up from the paper which littered his desk, and grimaced at his superior. "Improvement Committee?" he asked.
        Derek shook his head and wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No," he said, "this time it's personal. Miss `Keep it clean' is trying to get rid of the museum; she wants us to start charging her brother tax on it." He mimicked a falsetto: "Are you not aware that it contains a shop? Ew, ew, ew." His voice dropped again, and he ran his hand through his hair until it stood up in brown spikes. "And the dreadful thing is, she's right."
        Hugh twiddled with a pencil and frowned in abstraction. "She owns it, too, doesn't she?" he asked at last, his eyes beginning to twinkle. His boss nodded. "So she'd have to pay half. Well, sir, how long has that shop been there? Must be going on for fifty years or so, surely?"
        Derek bounced his fist on his desk and yelled: "Back-dated tax! Of course! Hugh, you're a genius." He began to stab at calculator buttons, muttering: "Let's see, there's the tax for... And then, compound interest on the unpaid... Add a bit for avoidance... Wow!" his eyes answered Hugh's twinkle with a gleeful light. "This should get her to lay off for a while. I wish I could see her face when this bill thumps through her letter-box."

Olwyn opened her bedroom door, stumbled through it, and put her foot straight into a yawning crocodile's mouth. She stared into the long reptile's unwinking eyes, and her throat constricted; after working the glottis up and down for a few seconds, she managed a squeak of: "Help?"
        The crocodile jerked a little, and the upper jaws inched down. "Gerr ogh," it said.
        Olwyn sprang backwards and tripped neatly over her own feet. The crash brought the twins out of their room, each clutching a leg of their latest disrobed victim. He was snoring, but he whimpered vaguely every time his head bounced over a bump. Isis dropped her trophy, and clapped her hands. She said: "Oooh! A real Nile crocodile!" She turned shining eyes toward her sister. "Nephthys - it's been ages; shall we try..." Nephthys nodded, and threw down the limb she was holding. They advanced toward the reptile.
        It backed away, twitching slightly. It flexed its jaw a few times, and spoke: "Sheemsh to be shtill working. Shuper," it said, "jusht bloody shuper. You shtep in a chap'sh mouth and then attack him. Not even a `Hello, how are you, what'sh your name,' oh, no. Well, I'm ash well ash can be exshpected, thank you, and the name'sh Cronshpyke. Pissh off."
        "Oh," said Isis, and stopped. "not a real Nile crocodile. Oh, well."
        Olwyn looked up in despair. "I've done it again, haven't I? Perhaps frogs were better than crocodiles and goop-"
        "Charming," muttered Cronspyke.
        "It wasn't you, Olwyn, dear," said Nephthys, "it's Ra, you see. This is what comes of mixing magic styles." She raised her voice: "Ra! Come here!"
        The god wandered along the corridor, scratching his balls. His thin fingers crackled as he rubbed rheum out of his eyes. "Oh," he said, and cackled with mirth. "I see. My lock of hair did it again, eh?" He looked around at the accusing stares of the three women, and wiped the spittle off his chin. "Well, don't look at me like that. He ought really to live in a river; plenty of fish, and-"
        "Ugh! Fishsh," said Cronspyke, "shpoilsh the complexshion, you know. Shtick to herbsh, vegetablesh-"
        Bes' guttural tones rolled out of a bedroom door nearby. "What's that? Someone wants cosmetic advice, do they?" He popped into the corridor, and tripped over the snoring body. He scrabbled to his feet, and looked down. "Isis," he said, "I wish you'd tidy your toys away."
        Cronspyke's voice grated louder: "-Not coshmeticsh, no! The shkin needsh..."
        Min popped his head out of the kitchen, grasped the situation, and ducked back in. He re-emerged, clutching two bottles of sparkling, purple wine. "Is time for Cordial, yes?" he said, and upended one of the bottles into Cronspyke's gaping mouth.
        Ten minutes later, they were all sitting on the floor around Olwyn's slime-pool. Cronspyke had been partially stuffed into the pond, and the frogs sat on his head and complained.
        "I didn't know that crocodiles really could cry," said Olwyn.
        "Alwaysh mishunder - hic - undershtood, that'sh ush," he replied.
        "It'll have to be the Creek. So, how do we get him down the stairs without frightening the neighbours?"
        "Charming," muttered Cronspyke.
        "Let's go, get some more Cordial," Bes said, and they all surged into the kitchen.

Bryarus flopped out of one of Olwyn's many bedrooms, and into her sitting-room. He yawned, scratched his head, and picked up the morning newspaper which dangled from the letter-box. He collapsed into a chair and started to read. "Beetles on the moon?" ran the headlines. He stiffened. "Strange object appears... Tidal waves in Titicaca..." Bryarus' eyes slid away from the page.
        He looked up to see Ra staggering past under a crocodile. A luminous, orange, fake-fur rug wrapped itself around the reptile, with a fetching hood-and-cape effect; scaled feet scrabbled against the god's back, and a toothy snout drooped over his forehead. A lizard-like eye stared at Bryarus with a desperate appeal, and dribbled tears over Ra's hair.
        Bryarus looked away. He choked, and glanced back; yes, it was still there. He cleared his throat, and spoke casually: "Unusual headgear, Ra."
        The god swayed to a halt, and wobbled. "Ha! Fooled you!" he said, and swivelled his eyes upwards. "See, Cronspyke? What did we tell you?"
        "It'sh shtupid," the crocodile's voice grated back, "orange! Ugh. Clashesh with my complexshion..."
        Bryarus closed his eyes. Omigod, he thought, they've got talking crocodiles, now. Well, that was Ra's business. It could stay there. He washed his hands of the crocodile.
        His eyes fell back to the newspaper: "Moon wobbles in orbit... Strange tides rise in Mediterranean... Riot in Observatory over reports of beetle..." He felt a fizz of hysteria bubble up from his stomach.
        "Ra," he said with a calm desperation, "get Khepri down off the moon."

The Black Maria drove back to Bryarus' home, to an internal fanfare of ancient flutes and oboes playing under a wild chant. Gravel sprayed in the Watts' drive as it slid to a halt and disgorged a selection of gods, a bouncing drinks cabinet, and the odd luminously-dressed crocodile. Everybody surged around the house to the creek, and Cronspyke dipped a toe in. "It'sh a bit cold, ishn't it?" he said.
        "Oh, you'll get used to it; there's always Bonasus' turds to keep you warm," Bes waved a hand at the fields.
        "Talking of whom," said Bryarus, "where is the shaggy chap?" he cupped his hands around his mouth and yodelled: "Cordi-ordi-ordial! Cordia-al..."
        A thundering shook the earth, and the bonnacon powered along the bank toward them. He skidded to a halt, panting, and stuffed his tongue in Bes' ear.

That evening, the Folk Club reverberated through Lower Postleton. Marco squidged against his counter and scratched an ear. Bits of cobweb and plaster rained down onto his head and mixed with the dandruff, as feet above danced to the enthusiastic beat. Arlo and Tansy entered the cafe with Olwyn and Bryarus. They were followed by a vampire, a straggling line of gods, and a large puce rat. Marco sniffed and jerked his head at the rat. "Dog?" he asked.
        "No. She's a rat," Arlo said.
        "Okay. Club's started." Marco waved a thumb upwards, to where another patch of plaster was giving up the struggle. "Wanna beer to take up?"
        They grabbed a barrel-full, climbed up what remained of the decrepit staircase, and staggered into the club room just as the climax of: "Fishing from the bottom of the sea-ea..." wailed to a close. The singer sprang down from the small stage.
        A thunder of applause shook the floor and somebody squealed: "Aaagh!" as he fell through the hole in the corner.
        Someone yelled after him: "Bring some more beer when you come back up."
        Djehuti wandered over to the stage and tapped the microphone curiously. Someone called out: "Oh yeah, song! Song! Come on mate, spit it out."
        Djehuti looked around with raised brows. He beckoned to the twins, who let go of the new, slightly used young man that drooped between them and danced over to the god. They whipped out their double-flute and sistrum. The young man slid to the floor and began to snore.
        Ra sidled up to Bryarus and whispered: "You'd better stop him; he'll probably show off, and then he gets carried away... Mind you, the quality of what he Creates like that isn't as good as-"
        A long, sweet flute-note interrupted him, and the sistrum began to rattle delicately. Bes laughed and flipped out the museum drum; he tapped its heavy voice into life and then the wild music started to roll along. Djehuti's voice rose, wordlessly. One minute it rippled, light as moonlit snow; the next it sank to an earthy mischievousness. The power of it built up and up, until...
        The air popped and a blue-and-red clad gnome appeared at the singer's feet, with a small harp in his arms. He shuffled forward and fell off the stage. "Urkle," he said, and "Spanggg" went the harp. The crowd cheered and clapped a storm of sound.
        "-See? I warned you," Ra shouted into Bryarus' ear. His voice was disgusted. "Look at the distorted, pathetic object he's Created. Ha!" He wiped spittle from his lips and turned away from Bryarus. "I can do better than that."
        He clambered onto the stage and unzipped his trousers. Drivula looked, and sniffed. "I've seen better meat in a black pudding," she said.
        Ra ignored her and started pumping away with his hand, an earnest expression on his face. "Oh yes - yes - wey-hey!" he yelled, and two gnomes popped from his fingers onto the floor, their arms and legs tangled in a clinch.
        "Ooh, look at them! What are they doing?" Nephthys was gurgling with laughter.
        The gnomes broke apart, blinking in confusion. One wore a bell on her pointed hat; it tinkled as she stood up and smoothed her neat skirt. The other one propped himself on one elbow and glowered up at everyone. "Oh shit," he said, "not again. Bloody gods."
        Rat twitched her whiskers in disgust. "See?" her voice echoed into Olwyn's head. "that's how he Creates. And you want me to go back to him? He even Created himself that way."
        "Neat trick," said Olwyn.
        The applause died down; an elated Djehuti opened his mouth for another song. Bryarus launched himself across the room; he grabbed the god by the ankles, bringing him down with a crash. "For heaven's sake," Bryarus shouted up to the musicians, "play something simple! Something to dance to - anything - only, no more Creation, okay?"
        The music of the gods changed to a compulsive, slow rhythm. Bryarus felt his brain throb; he wanted to laugh and cry. He got up off the god and his feet danced him back to Olwyn. He grabbed her and twirled her to him. She was so warm against his body; so smooth and soft, in whatever this silky material was that slid between their thighs. He held her close, and her flushed face laughed up into his. Her eyes sparkled...
        His arms tightened around her; her hips moved against his body. her eyes widened, and it was his turn to blush; something stirred between them, crawling from groin to stomach.
        Bryarus' feelings were mirrored in her eyes. There was surprise; then embarrassment, followed by pleased fear; and finally alarm, which reached epic proportions when the swelling crawled up to his chest. That was the moment when Bryarus threw caution to the winds, let Olwyn go, and clutched himself. Uraeus slid from between them, fell to the floor, and slithered off across the room.
        "Thanks, Ury," Drivula called after him, as she grabbed the confused Bryarus and pressed close to him in a slow shuffle. "That'll teach you, fella, to make it with her on the dance-floor," she muttered into his ear with a click of her fangs.
        Min gave her a wink as he swept by. Olwyn was moulded to his body; her eyes looked like startled green sapphires. She was giggling faintly.
        Drivula slid her partner into the dark corner and they fell down the hole. "Damn," she said.
        "Gerroff," he yelled, his voice muffled by yards of vampire skin. Drivula picked herself off the winded Bryarus and unstuck him from the floor.
        Marco stopped picking his nose and said: "More booze already? Okay. Beer or Cordial?"
        The night degenerated into images of drink and dancing. Wild music pounded the air, until Bryarus and his party finally staggered away.
        The twins examined the body that they had brought with them. He hadn't moved since they'd arrived. "I think he's all used up," Isis said, and stirred him with a foot. "Pity. I quite liked this one."
        Nephthys sighed. "Yes. His little whimpers were so sweet... Still," she brightened, "I think that cute vicar is giving in. He'll be our priest yet." She nodded at Isis and stepped over the body.
        An hour later, Marco fumbled up the stairs. The young man still snored and spluttered by the door; three gnomes lay pillowed on his stomach. Marco shrugged as he switched off the light. Live and let live, that was his motto.

In a van, parked miles away on the Wold, an engineer hunched over a radio receiver and twiddled knobs. He listened intently and switched to yet another frequency. He scratched his head; he could make nothing of it. All he could get from the various "bugs" which Bes and Kraphedd were supposed to have planted were flopping noises, choking sounds, and the rush and bubble of water. They weren't the sounds he expected; secret discussions, whispers of intrigue...
        They were exactly right, however, for Postleton East's bedsit-block toilets.

It was dinner-time, up at Phelonia Hall. Several rats slid silently under the heavy table and lurked hopefully. All they needed was for someone to lose his temper; food usually fell from the sky at such times. There was cold consommé this evening - they liked that. The signs were hopeful; the air was heavy with displeasure.
        An unaware Jarrold Effingham-Luton scowled above them. The quiet colours and majestic proportions of the walls failed in their task of encouraging a peaceful digestive process; even the candlelight, winking off crested crystal and silver, couldn't attract the usual smug smile from E-L. Emily picked at her food, at the other end of the polished table, and said nothing. She was not the only one. Arkwright was there, too, in his capacity of E-L's nephew.
        "Dammit!" E-L finally exploded, "someone's got to squash these upstarts. They're churning out more and more of the stuff - and Rupert keeps showing it! Wittering on about `public demand'; pah! Can't have any old street-kid thinking he can up and make television. Anarchy; it'll breed anarchy. Next thing, everyone'll be doing it. Arkwright!"
        His nephew jumped, and choked on his asparagus. "Yes, E-L?" he said.
        "Your fiancee - her brother owns the museum. I wanna buy it, get those sods out of there; they'll come begging to me for work, then. You get over there, and work with Cicely on this. She wants rid of the place, doesn't she?"
        "Yes, b-but, well, I've kind of broken it off, there's been so much strange-"
        "What?" E-L half rose out of his seat, and slammed his hand down on the table; a Spode plate leapt from it and smashed itself to death on the floor, in a splatter of cold consommé. "Broken it off? Well, you can bloody well mend it again, or you'll get nothing more from my estate. Ouch! Ow!" He jumped, and looked down at the consommé which dribbled over his shoe. "And," he yelled, "get these bloody rats out of here!"

The next morning, Bryarus picked the mail off the mat, and ambled into the kitchen to tackle a plate of cereal. He shovelled some into his mouth, rubbed his eyes while he munched, and then turned to the letters. He grunted, and stopped chewing. One for Cicely from the council - what was she up to this time? Oh, and here was one for him. He tore it open, stared at it, and choked: "What the hell; how can I-" Cereal sprayed everywhere as he jumped to his feet. "Cicely!" he yelled.
        Cicely appeared at the kitchen door. Her mouth was primmed up. "Bryarus," she said, "stop shouting like that. The neighbours-"
        "Sod the neighbours!"
        "-This is your fault, you've been at them again, haven't you? Don't look so damn innocent, this tax bill's got your stamp all over it!" Bryarus shook the paper under her nose.
        Cicely looked smug, and removed a speck of fluff from her skirt. "Well, it's only right that you pay something, after all, it is a shop..."
        Her brother's jaw was set in a hard line. He looked at her coldly, and spoke in even tones: "Well, Sister dear, I hope you enjoy your victory. Here's your letter." He thrust her mail into her hand. "You'll have to celebrate in a tent, though; this house'll have to go." He stalked out of the room, slamming the kitchen door behind him.
        Cicely stared after him with her mouth open. What did he mean? She shrugged, and opened her letter just as the doorbell rang; she scanned the page while she hurried out into the hall.
        Bryarus had opened the door to a huge bouquet of roses which appeared to stand there on top of Arkwright's legs. "Dearest," Arkwright said, peering around the roses, "I just came to apologise - I didn't mean-"
        "Yours, I think," Bryarus threw over his shoulder at Cicely, and he turned back toward the stairs. His head thumped with contained fury. This fancy accountant must have thought up Cicely's latest wheeze, he thought; he reached into his pocket to feel the comforting lump of geode. It seemed to throb in time with his brain. If only something would take these idiots out of his life.
        "Oh, Arkwright, darling," Cicely began. And then her eyes caught the meaning of the words in her hand, and she yelped: "Arkwright! My God, look at this; the council; I can't possibly afford-" Something swished along the hall. Arkwright's eyes widened. A naked man appeared from behind Cicely and ran toward them in clodhopper boots and glasses.
        The man was yelling something; and then he saw Arkwright's flowers and horrified expression. The nude disappeared into the sitting-room with a hand over his mouth. The muffled cry of: "Ah, but; her lover - he has come back! Non, non; say I have not ruined all?" wafted from him. Arkwright threw the flowers at Cicely. Cicely screamed.

Go on to Chapter 20
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved