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

Chapter 22.

Fairy-lights flickered and festooned the space above Postleton's shopping-streets. A yellow glow crept onto the pavements from doorways and shop fronts; it froze in pools on the concrete slabs, and fluttered coyly into shadows when people passed. Breaths froze on the air as late shoppers hurried from shop to department store, in a desperate attempt to fulfil their gift lists. Jovial Santa Clauses clonked bells and Ho-ho'd, surrounded by glittering, frosted Christmas trees; children watched, wide-eyed, before being jostled onwards by anxious parents.
        The tramps in Lower Postleton blew on their ragged-gloved fingers and huddled around glowing braziers; they passed festive bottles around, to warm their stomachs. There was a sprinkling of sturdy, new coats among them; these had sprouted since Dwish had brought the touch of prosperity to the area. There was always a job at the museum for anyone who wanted it, these days; the die-hards were not too sure that they approved.
        "These youngsters are getting soft," Nathan grumped. He reached into the embers with a stick, and dug out a hot potato. He tested it; still hard. He shoved it back in with a grunt. "Oh, I dunno," Joe looked around vaguely and raised a bottle to his lips. "this here Cordial do be better'n what we used to get, I reckon. No harm in a bit of comfort now and then, eh, Nellie?"
        Nellie nudged him, "Stop the nattering," she said, "or you'll miss a fine pair of legs - at the end of the road. There, you fool, with that bunch o' tourists. Having her photo took in front of the museum."
        Joe's eye brightened as it located the shapely legs in question, which exposed themselves, beneath a large cape, to the flash-lights; and his hand slackened on the bottle. Nellie grabbed it with a laugh, and downed at least half of its contents before he managed to wrest it away from her again. "Randy old sod," she said, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
        Nathan was still glowering at the fire. "I mean it," he said, "these kids don't know what hardship is. And, what about all this stuff at Marco's-"
        "Excuse, please, photo?" A Far-eastern gentleman grinned hopefully at them and brandished his camera.
        Nellie smiled back. "It'll cost yer," she said.
        A flurry of photographing followed, in which each member of the tourist party struck a pose before the picturesque denizens of Lower Postleton, and a scattering of coins and notes enriched the pockets of the three.
        Nathan fished his potato out again, and handed an underdone sausage to Joe: "Here, will this do you?" He wrapped his potato-warmed hands around his nose, and went back to his earlier grievance: "Yeah, Marco, with his posh new table-cloths - and now, this poncy sign. Neon lights in our patch. Pah."
        Joe became aware that the shapely legs were undulating toward him and the flickering light. They led up to the tightest little red skirt he'd ever seen; his eyes wandered up past it, over the full, scantily-clad bosom, to the unblinking golden eyes. His Adam's apple bobbed.
        "Any of you fellas suffering from fever?" the voice was treacle sliding over gravel. Joe shook his head and gulped. Drivula pouted. "No unpleasant humours?" Her medical mind was restless.
        "Not so's you'd notice," said Nellie, "Only Nathan, there." Drivula looked at him hopefully.
        Nathan frowned. "Don't be daft; I don't need doctoring. She just means I'm in a bad mood." Nathan saw her shoulders droop, and wiped bits of potato off his nose thoughtfully. "Tell you what," he said, "why not try old Gaffer over at the village? The one they call Old Codge? He's been looking a bit peaky lately. Mind, that's not surprising; he's ninety or so."
        Drivula hunkered down beside them. "Tell me more," she said, and chomped a chunk off Joe's sausage. The others cringed away from her glistening teeth.
        Three streets away, Arlo descended from the ladder in front of Marco's, and stood back. "Okay - switch 'em on," he said.
        The porch flashed into a buzz of neon colours; in pulses of red, yellow and blue, it proclaimed: "Marco's Tacos."
        Marco came out to stare up at it; he nodded in satisfaction. Arlo glanced at him. "Tacos?" he said, "do you do tacos?"
        The large man brought his gaze slowly down from the lights, and he stuffed a thoughtful thumb up his nose. "Well," he said, "no; but it rhymes, see. Looks good, don't it?"
        Arlo hung the ladder beside the door, and they strolled in. Arlo slid his lap under Tansy's bottom, and put his arms round her waist; she nibbled his ear in greeting and handed him a mug of beer.
        From inside the cafe the strains of "Loove ya, ba-aby, lo-ove..." undulated out to the street; the place was packed. It did indeed contain the posh new table-cloths so scathingly referred to by Nathan; they were a clashing riot of primary colours in cheerful checks. They seemed to be glued to the tables. Bryarus' curiosity overcame his better judgement; he lifted a corner of the cloth, and then shuddered. He looked up with awe in his eyes, and said: "Don't look; it's not a pretty sight. The table's still crawling with maggots."
        Bryarus and the gods were holding an "Oops, oh dear, what shall we do" meeting. Khepri bustled around between the tables; he was happy in his new role of muck-roller, and only occasionally got stuck to the floor. There were three pairs of willing hands to unstick him and set him rolling again; the recently-created gnomes had found employment, too. It took a little getting used to, having food delivered under the tables, but nobody ever complained. This was Marco's after all; you might just as well eat off the floor. Ra smiled sentimentally as a hand reached up and tapped his knee. "Your wine, Deity," said a high, female voice.
        Uraeus glowered from Ra's pocket, and slid out onto the floor. He disappeared into the kitchen before Ra could drop the bottle and grab him. "Oh, dear," said the god as he wiped a dribble from the corner of his mouth, "I fed him only yesterday; I do hope he won't..." His eyes shrank from the accusation in the faces around him. Everybody's attention became riveted to the kitchen door; Marco's shout came from behind it: "What you doin' in here? What? You say what?"
        A hissing, gravelly voice answered him, and a "whoomp" as of something being set on fire. "Hey!" yelled Marco, "what'd you want to do that for? that fish was cookin' fine."
        "I'm zzorry," said the other, "I've juzzt got thizz difficulty..." "
        Keep your flaming breath away from my cooker!"
        Bryarus leaned across to Ra and whispered: "Is that what Uraeus sounds like?"
        Ra shrugged: "How would I know? No-one's ever hung around long enough to hear him speak."
        Busy sounds of wet cloths on sizzling surfaces issued from the kitchen, and Uraeus' hissing voice continued in a lower monotone. Marco replied, panting slightly: "Okay, okay. I'll see what I can do. But lay off the chip pan, now, see? I don't want that goin' up, too." Marco's face appeared round the door, blinking through a greasy layer of black soot. "Hey, any of you lot got throat-sweets? I need plenty."
        Several hands scrabbled earnestly in pockets and thrust an assortment of tablets at him; he returned to the kitchen with them. "Zzplendid," said Uraeus. Sucking noises ensued.
        The twins lost interest and turned back to their latest young man. Isis frowned and clicked her tongue against her teeth in annoyance. He had slumped, with his head in his plate of congealing chips, and was snoring. Nephthys looked across him at her sister, and shrugged. "I really thought this one would last better," she said. "Oh, well..." She gazed with a considering eye across the table at Hathor's brown-eyed worshipper. "Ri-icky," she called in low, honeyed tones.
        Hathor's head snapped around, and she briefly became a snarling lioness. "Thou shalt lay off - this one's mine," she said with simple directness. Nephthys giggled.
        Djehuti, comfortable in his ibis-head, was saying: "We -ah- really do have to fix the Gate."
        "Okay," said Bes, "so, fix it."
        "Well, it's not -ah- as easy as that. The leakage is -ah- putting too much pressure against it - we need a strong spell to -ah- repair it and close it at the same time. A very strong spell." He clicked his beak and dipped it in a tall glass of Cordial.
        Ra wiped grease from his mouth. "Well, why don't we just use Bryarus' Total Dimension-Key and have done with it? That'd be strong enough, for sure."
        Bryarus looked bewildered, and Min leaned over to explain: "Is your stone. Is focus for all dimensions - all are within, until `kapow!' it is broken."
        "What, you mean all dimensions?" Bryarus' mind was oscillating.
        Bes' huge eyes twinkled, and he took a long draught of Cordial. "Sure," he said, "The guy really means all of 'em. You know - the times, the after-lives, and n-to-the-power-infinity others. I reckon you know instinctively; I've seen the way you fondle the thing. It contains every imaginable universe, while it's still whole. If you, or someone near you, touches it a certain way, and you've got some big problem, then you'll get pulled along the line which affects you most."
        "Oh, is that why-"
        Bes ploughed on: "But, if you split it, with just the right mumbo-jumbo, all the dimensions will fuse for an instant and then go back to normal; it'll be like an explosion. That's the sort of thing we need, now. Clears the air."
        "So you want to break it." Bryarus fingered the stone in his pocket, with a lost look in his eyes; Olwyn put her hand out and stroked his arm. He turned to her, put a hand over hers, and smiled. "Daft, aren't I? It's only an old geode."
        Djehuti cleared his throat: "Ahem. There is, indeed, a power there; but we -ah- need the greatest effect. We need true purity."
        Bryarus looked up: "Eh? What? Why?"
        Ra cackled. "Ha! Of course! Because misery and frustration, and other corruptions, broke the Gate, that's why. What level of purity did you reckon on, Djehuti?"
        "Well -ah- a virgin, at the least. An adult virgin; children would -ah- lack the concentration needed."
        Bryarus nearly jumped to his feet, but his chair clung to him. He subsided. "What are you talking about?" he gasped. "You can't - you wouldn't - not sacrifice, surely?"
        The twins broke into peals of laughter, and Hathor patted his shoulder. "No, no, thou hast unworthy thoughts. The virgin sacrifice was a waste of good flesh." She licked her lips and turned back to the adoring brown eyes beside her. She shrugged, and Ricky watched the rise and fall of her breast greedily. She grabbed his head, and thrust a nipple into his mouth in one fluid motion, as she spoke to the others: "Hast thou no other solution, Djehuti? Hath none other of us got any other bright ideas?"
        All around the table, foreheads furrowed in thought. Isis looked at Nephthys with raised brows, and said: "Why not just do a memory-wipe spell, or an aggression-suppressor?"
        Djehuti shook his head. "No. For one thing -ah- these memories are complex, and aggression is too deep. For another - have none of you noticed how -ah- magic is warping? We have to do the most -ah- fundamental spell to overcome this; and it must be done by a virgin."
        His companions glanced at each other. Ricky was making blissful sucking noises. The throat-sweet sounds which still slurped from Uraeus in the kitchen beat with them in syncopation for a while. Marco, his face smeared now with grease and soot, doled out plates of blackened fish; the thick smell of burnt frying-pans filled the air. The hubbub in the cafe died down as the customers wrestled with ungumming the food from the plates and their teeth. The juke-box ran down in a final humming sigh of "ba-aby..." Uraeus fell silent, and then a huge, hissing sigh heaved itself up from his guts. "Oooh; that'zz good - zzo good," he said, and slithered back toward his friends.
        Ra snapped out of his reverie, and his jaw dropped. "Hey! How come we're not all gagging? Oy..." he beckoned to Marco, who lumbered over toward them. "What'd you do? This kid's breath stank so bad, you couldn't believe it."
        The large man scratched his nose and looked around the room. "Is that right? I dunno. I never could smell much, leastways, not so's you'd notice. People keep going on about the way this place stinks, but I ain't whiffed nothin'." He shrugged, and ambled back to the kitchen, throwing over his shoulder: "Anyway, he told me his problems. Seems no-one ever listens. Uh-oh..." He cocked his head to one side; there was a rushing sound outside on the creek, a sloshing roll like that of the Severn Bore. "Sounds like company; okay, I'm comin'." Marco called, and hurried back into the kitchen. Someone pounded wetly at the back door; it creaked open.
        "Hi. Hey - that a dog you got with you?" Marco's voice was raised in suspicion.
        "Sphplendid! A dog, he callsh me. Charming; no, shtupid, I'm a crocodile."
        "Oh; okay."
        Two minutes later, the whole room chorused: "Hi, Bonasus!" The bonnacon dripped hairily into the cafe, and raised his Cordial-soaked muzzle from a bucket which hung around his neck. He waved a nonchalant hoof at everyone. Cronspyke draped over the other's back, and exercised his jaw gently. The crocodile's orange, fake-fur rug had slipped a bit.
        Uraeus climbed onto the table and slid into the vat of Cordial. He gurgled happily. The others returned to their problem.
        "Okay, so no one has any ideas. Well, who here is qualified for the big job?" Bes chuckled, and looked around the room; his gaze lingered on the twins and Min. He shrugged, and quirked up one eyebrow. "I guess it's a pretty tall order, don't you? I suppose we could find a monk or a nun..."
        "Um," said Olwyn.
        "Ah, no," Djehuti shook his head regretfully, and clicked his beak. "The mind must be open, and the virgin must willingly perform the spell."
        "Well, um-" Olwyn said.
        "Is hopeless, then," Min sighed. He peered into his empty glass, and dipped it into the vat.
        Everyone sat, shoulders bowed in gloom.
        Olwyn cleared her throat. "Well, actually, it's not hopeless..." she said, and all eyes swivelled toward her. She blushed; "you see, well, I'm a virgin."
        Jaws dropped with a creak all around the table, and her colour deepened. "You are?" Isis found her voice again, and looked at Min, who shrugged and grinned. "Wow!" she said.
        Olwyn's chin tilted up: "Well," she said, "why shouldn't I be? There's no law, is there? I'm still the same person, for goodness' sake. Do you want someone to do the spell, or not?"
        Djehuti recovered, and hastened to reassure her: "Of course, of course. You do understand that there would be some -ah- danger, however?"
        Bryarus' voice was sharp: "Danger?"
        "Yes -ah- the spell must be cast perfectly; there can be no -ah- rehearsal. If it goes wrong, the dimensions will fuse for ever. If a bomb drops, you will -ah- die with Dwat."
        "No, Olwyn," Bryarus put his hand on her shoulders and shook her, "you can't do it! Let them find someone else, or just leave things as they are. Is it so bad if this place gets bombed?" His shoulders sagged. "Everything's bound to change, anyway. Cicely keeps niggling. She's obviously got some plan on at the moment; one day she'll slip under my guard and succeed. And once she manages to get the museum sold and the Protection Order is lifted, there'll be nothing to stop the developers bulldozing Lower Postleton. Why couldn't dad have made a damn Will?"
        Olwyn put a hand on his arm. "What about Dwat? You'd leave Dwish's people to their fate? You know things can't be left."
        "But, Olwyn-"
        "No. It's not your decision, Bryarus." Olwyn turned to Djehuti: "You know my spells are always going wrong; if you think you can teach me this one okay, then lead me to it."
        Isis gurgled. "Your spells don't go wrong, dearie - you just get a few extras thrown in!"
        Bes was looking at Bryarus in surprise. "Hey, if you want to get that Will business sorted out, why don't you use the Key, too?"
        "Eh?" said Bryarus.
        "Stand close to the vortex, when the spell zaps that stone. Easy. Even better," he chuckled, "kiss the magician just at the climax."
        The cafe door crashed open, letting in a gush of frost and Drivula. Old Codge was draped like a sack over her shoulder, and she hurried toward the group of friends. "Willey's on his way," she gravelled, "Ah, here he is now; seems the pack are howling their way down here."
        "Drat it, woman, put me down," Old Codge's cracked voice rose in fury, and he beat all he could reach of Drivula with his stick.
        She swung him onto his feet, and held onto his arm. He tried to suck her hand off, and she looked indulgent. "They said you needed a doctor, so a doctor you're getting," she said. Min silently passed a glass of Cordial over to the old man.
        The vicar hurried in, wild-eyed and with his surplice in disarray. "They are coming," he gasped, and squished into a chair. He mopped his brow. "My dears, every single orthodox religion is after your blood. You're a threat to their supremacy, you know. All the synods agree with my bishop that you are nothing but ghosts and poltergeists; Old Ahmed and Goldstein have joined together in a belief that you are evil spirits... They're on their way to the museum, with incense and candles and all those fol-de-rols. There's an ugly-looking crowd behind them; it wouldn't surprise me if they tried to burn the place down."
        Bryarus unstuck himself carefully from his seat. "I've got to get over there," he said; "poor Jim will be frantic. Arlo; Tansy; you coming?"
        Tansy looked up from her job of thoroughly kissing Arlo, and said: "Sure, boss. Will there be a fight?"
        Old Codge pricked up his ears and stopped gumming Drivula's hand. "A fight? Where? Let me at 'em."
        Drivula patted his head. "Come on, honey," she said, and hefted him over her shoulder again. The friends whooped out after them.
        When the torch-lit procession of spiritual guides swung into the area, the museum was in shadow. Nathan and his friends looked on, still warming their hands by the glowing embers. The stern-faced leaders strode onward.
        Fifty yards from the building, they stopped and turned to their followers.
        Figures drifted unobtrusively out of the darkness around the museum.
        "Children of Christ," the Bishop began.
        "Wait a minute," came another voice, "In the name of Allah-"
        "Muslim pig," shouted someone from the back.
        The bishop flapped his hands, and shouted: "Shall we be divided in this? The forces of evil are among us, my children. In the name of Ch-, er, The Almighty, let us move on and burn this house of Satan to the ground. It is as the Army of Chr-, er, God, that we-"
        "You mean Allah?"
        "No, already, you berk - he means Jehova-"
        "Who're you calling a berk? I'll show you who's-"
        "Yeah? You and who's army?"
        The figures from the darkness gathered behind the leaders.
        The crowd began to babble, and the leaders shifted uneasily. The bishop flapped his hands again, and shouted: "Please! Please; this is mere semantics."
        "Who's he calling a mere semitic?" The growling grew greater.
        "No, no, can't you see that Satan is trying to split our Holy ranks? We are moving forth in the name of everyone's Almighty, and we must do so together, as one heart and one voice. Come! Onward!"
        He lifted his flaming torch aloft, and started to sing: "Onward Chr- Almighty so-oldiers, Marching as to war..."
        He got no further. Min grinned at him and tripped him up.
        Fighting erupted; no-one was quite sure afterwards who started it, but several people had a vivid memory of a manic, toothless ancient who whirled a heavy stick over his head and cackled "Come and get it, you morons!"
        The fighting was busy, but no real damage was likely to occur - until the leaders joined in with their torches. They were very cross. They hefted their weapons, and tore toward the museum; it was their bad luck that Bonasus and Cronspyke were in the way.
        Cronspyke objected to having his complexion trampled on, and he grabbed hold of the bishop's leg; he used the man as a flail, swirling him around in a wide arc. The bishop fainted. Cronspyke lumbered down the museum steps with him and dragged him into an alleyway. "My dear fellow," said the vicar.
        "Shorry, but he shouldn't have shtepped on me," replied the crocodile.
        The remaining arsonists ploughed on up the steps. "What the heck's that?" yelled one.
        "Oh, only an old cow. Perhaps we can make beefburgers," replied his neighbour. That was a mistake. A bonnacon is, on the whole, a placid creature, which is just as well. A frightened bonnacon is very dangerous indeed; and Bonasus was terrified. He did what came naturally, and an enormous, seemingly never-ending wave of flaming faeces erupted down the museum steps and glowed like lava toward the unbelieving crowd. The street emptied energetically, with foes and friends alike clambering over each other to be first out. within minutes, all was quiet apart from the gentle crackling of cooling turds. An old voice raised itself in the distance: "Leave me alone, dratted woman!"
        A gravelly chuckle answered, and there was the sound of dragging feet.

The bishop slept; he smiled. He had done God's work... If only his head wouldn't hurt so. Was it wine? Perhaps he shouldn't snaffle so much communion wine. He turned over in bed.
        The reverend Willey let himself quietly out of the house.

Go on to Chapter 23
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved