of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved
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
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 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
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
"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
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.
in his ibis-head, was saying: "We -ah- really do have to fix the Gate."
"Okay," said Bes, "so,
"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
"Oh, is that
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
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?
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
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,
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."
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:
"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
"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."
"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
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
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
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
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,
A gravelly chuckle answered,
and there was the sound of dragging feet.
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.