The Neal James Website

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Short Stories Volume  Five

Coming in 2025!

Running his own business had long been an ambition of Tom Blessed, and when Grant Masefield, his boss, gave him his chance he grabbed it with both hands. His rise was meteoric and he took pride in what he was achieving. That pride came with some terrible consequences.

 

Evelyn and her husband, Ad, were deliriously happy in their little cottage with its beautiful garden – everything seemed to be coming up roses. However, once Mazikeen made his appearance, the naked truth about their circumstances became all too apparent


 

Marcel DuPont was a very happy young man. He had the career that he had always wanted, a boss who was more than willing to give him his head, and a beautiful girl, Nicole Fournier, on his arm. It wasn’t until the evening before his wedding that he realised that things were not as they had seemed to be.



Joe Bridger’s time was up; he was on death row in Rikers Island and his only solace was setting a puzzle for Detective Clancy Sullivan to solve. The poems in his diary were the keys to the missing bodies, but would she become just one more to add to the list?

Knowledge

“Ooh, thank goodness that’s done,” Evelyn said as she stood up and rubbed the small of her back. She looked down the border and smiled, despite the ache which was only now beginning to ease slightly.

            “Looks good,” her husband, Ad, said. “Nice mix of colours all around the lawn. I’ll get the mower out now that you’ve done planting; then we can have a break and a nice cup of tea.”

          He jumped slightly at the feel of something sliding against his left foot. He looked down, only then realising that his feet were completely bare. The snake slithering across the grass made him shudder, and with a single chop with the spade in his hands, he cut off its head.

          “What is it?” Evelyn asked.

          “No idea,” he replied. “Just seems to be a…”

          Evelyn paused, waiting for Ad to decide what the reptile resembled, but when nothing was forthcoming, she frowned and came over to where he was standing.

          “Have you ever wondered how we seem to know what we know?” she asked.

          “No,” he replied. “Not really. Why do you ask?”

          “Well, you said, a moment ago, that we could have a break and a nice cup of tea.”

          “Did I?”

          “Yes; what’s a cup of tea?”

          “Dunno; can’t imagine where I got that from.”

          “There’s more,” she said, taking his arm and turning to the cottage at the top of the garden. “Where did that come from?” She pointed her trowel at the building. “And what’s this?” she asked, waving the tool in the air.

          “Haven’t a clue, love,” he said, looking at her in puzzlement. “Don’t we just know?”

          “Okay; how do we cook our meals?”

          “On the cooker, or in the microwave,” he said.

          “What are they?”

          “Don’t know; look,” he said, “what does all of this mean?”

          “It means, Ad, that we’re using all of this stuff without knowing where it came from or how to operate it – explain that.”

          “Er… I can’t; we just do it, and…”

          “And? Then what? What happens when we’ve done all that we wanted to do during the day?”

          “Go to bed, I suppose,” he said, scratching his head.

          “What’s a bed?”

          “Dunno.”

 

           

“Bugger!” Azazel said, thumping the table in frustration. “Give him one job to do, one bloody simple, mind-numbing job, and he cocks it up! May as well have gone there and done it for myself.”

            “You can’t,” Mazikeen said, lazily peeling a banana and shoving the whole thing into his mouth in one go. He coughed, swallowed, and resumed his statement. “The boss said to get it done, not to do it yourself; he might not be pleased if you go and get involved on the ground, so to speak.”

            “You go, then,” Azazel said, folding his arms in a fit of pique.

            “Not bloody likely,” he replied. “I’m quite attached to my bits and pieces, thank you very much. I’d rather not have them cast to the winds, if it’s all the same to you.”

            “Well somebody’s got to go there and set the ball rolling; do you fancy telling the four horsemen that they’re redundant? ‘Oh, hi lads; you’ll never guess… Armageddon just got cancelled because some demonic twerp couldn’t get a simple job right’ I don’t want to imagine what their response would be.”

            “But you’re Lucifer’s right-hand man; he gave the job to you, and it seems to me that he probably wouldn’t really care after all who did it, as long as it bloody well got done.” Mazikeen said, reaching for another banana and hoping that Azazel hadn’t noticed his change of mind.

            “Who else is around today?” Azazel said, looking at the duty roster.

            “Nobody; all the rest are out on other jobs. It’s just you and me… that is, it’s just you.”

            “Bloody typical!” Azazel cursed. “All the planning for the end of the world and it falls on my shoulders. Well, I suppose that if you do want something doing properly, you have to do it yourself!”

            “Huzzah!” Mazikeen said, with as much enthusiasm he could muster in the circumstances. “What’s on the box tonight?”

            “Philistine!” Azazel said.

            “Samaritan!” came the stock reply.

 

 

“Excuse me!” Azazel called from the bottom of the garden, as the couple was making their way towards the cottage at the other end of the property. “Could I have a word?”

            Evelyn and Ad stopped in their tracks and turned at the sound of the voice. They looked at the individual approaching them, and the turned to each other. Neither could think of anything to say immediately, so they turned to face… whoever it was.

            “Allow me to introduce myself,” it said. “I’m Az.”

            “Hello, Az,” Evelyn said. “I’m Evelyn and this is Ad.”

            “Yes, I know,” Azazel said. “Can I…?”

            “How do you know?” Ad said. “We’ve only just met you.”

            “I just do,” it replied. “Look, just let me…”

            “No, no,” Evelyn replied. “You can’t just know; that’s us – we’re the ones who just know.”

            “Sorry?”

            “So you should be, “Ad said. “Just appearing without so much as a ‘by your leave’, and now you just say that you know us. Who told you about us?”

            “Nobody that you need worry about…”

            “That doesn’t make sense,” Evelyn said. “Look; we’ve been here for… how long now, Ad?”

            “Dunno,” he replied. “We just wake up and get on with things; no idea how long it’s been…”

            “Ah, now maybe I can help there,” Azazel said, sensing an opportunity to seize the initiative without scaring them. “Do you see that tree down at the bottom of the garden?”

            “What’s a tree?” Ad asked.

            “Right,” Azazel said. (‘This is going to be trickier than I thought’, he thought). Let’s just take a stroll over there and I’ll explain it to you.”

            “What’s a stroll?” Evelyn said.

            “Just come with me,” Azazel said, tetchily, now wishing that he hadn’t got involved after all. “It’s quite simple really.”

            The garden was quite long, and they made the trip in complete silence; Evelyn and Ad exchanged glances and made whirly gestures at their heads when Azazel wasn’t looking. Finally they reached the spot indicated by their visitor and came to a halt. The tree stood a little over nine feet in height, and its boughs had a spread of around twelve feet. The two of them looked up at it.

            “Where’s this come from?” Evelyn asked. “It wasn’t here yesterday.”

            “What’s yesterday?” Ad asked.

            “Do shut up, dear,” Evelyn said. “I was talking to him.” (They had decided, in the course of their walk, that their visitor was, indeed, a ‘him’).

            “It’s a tree,” Azazel said. “They grow in the soil from seeds.”

            “Where are these seeds from?” Ad asked, still embarrassed by Evelyn’s reproof.

            “They come from the fruits that grow on the tree,” Azazel said, starting to see a corner where he was going to paint himself into.  

            “Okay,” Evelyn said, holding a finger in the air while thinking deeply. “If the tree comes from the fruit and the fruit comes from the tree… which was it that got here first?”

            He was firmly in the corner. Azazel cursed himself for trying to be too clever, and tried another tack. “It’s a magic tree,” he said.

            “Oh… magic…” Ad said, knowingly.

            “What’s magic?” Evelyn asked, and Ad winced, wishing that he’d thought of that.

            “It’s stuff that people like me do for a living,” Azazel said. “Look, wouldn’t you like to try the fruit?” he asked, quickly side-stepping another possible corner.

            “We were just about to have lunch,” Evelyn said, starting to head back to the cottage, which now seemed a lot further away than it had been earlier. “Would you like to join us?”

            “No!” Azazel said, a little too sharply, and making them both start. “Thank you, but I have lots of other things that I need to do,” he said again, a lot more softly.

            “Well,” said Ad, “I think we should have something to eat before we try a strange… fruit did you say it was?”

            “Yes,” said Azazel, becoming exasperated. “Very good for you; lots of vitamins and stuff. Just the kind of thing that you’d need to eat if you want to keep this garden as nice as it is.”          

            “What’s a garden?” Evelyn said.

            “Sheesh!” Azazel said. “This isn’t getting any easier. Look – just eat the apple and all will become clear. You’ll know what you know all of the time.”

            “See, this is the problem,” Ad said. “One of us will say something, the other will ask what it is, and the first one then says that they don’t know; what’s that all about?”

            “It happens all of the time,” Evelyn said. “It’s becoming quite annoying.”

            “Is it, really?” Azazel said.

            “What?” they both replied.

            “All right; it’s called Retentive Subject Loss,” Azazel said.

            “Why is it in capitals?” Ad asked.

            “Because it’s important; it means that you know what it is that you’re doing, or eating, or cooking and so on, because you need to know it in that instant. When you’ve done what it is that you need to do, however, you no longer need the knowledge and it… vanishes. It comes back the next time that you need to know it.”

            “When will we know when we need to do it again?” Evelyn asked, clearly becoming frustrated.

            “That’s on a ‘need to know’ basis.”

            “And that wasn’t in capitals because it’s not important?” Evelyn said.

            “Something like that,” Azazel remarked. “If, however, you eat the apple all of that will change and you will acquire the knowledge of everything that you do, and also keep that knowledge for future use.”

            “What, both of us?” Ad asked.

            “Yes, otherwise the other one who hasn’t eaten the apple will just appear stupid all of the time, and that wouldn’t…” he bit his tongue just in time.

            “Wouldn’t what?” Evelyn asked, quietly, suspicious that there was something Azazel was holding back.

            “Well,” he said, “wouldn’t understand the true happiness of being who you are,” he said, thinking on his feet.

            “Okay, then,” Evelyn said. “If you’re sure that it’ll be all right…”

            “Oh, positive,” Azazel said, clenching his fists in anticipation.

            “You first Ad,” she said, plucking an apple from the tree and handing it over.

            “No, love,” he said. “After you.”

 

 

“Where is he?” Mazikeen almost fell from his chair at the booming voice from behind him. Lucifer stood there, imperious in his majesty. “I said: WHERE IS HE! Did you not hear me?!”

            “Yes! Yes, of course. Oh great one,” the quivering form of Azazel’s friend said. “He’s... er... taking care of something… for you, actually.”

            “That should have been a five-minute task! Get out of here, before I turn you into something pleasant!”

            Mazikeen was gone in an instant, leaving Satan standing alone watching the events unfolding in Evelyn’s garden. He shook his head in fury, and raged before descending into the realm whence he had sent his minion. His appearance fazed Evelyn and Ad not at all, but for Azazel, it was as if someone had sent a bolt of lightning right up his backside which was, actually what had just happened. He was trapped – were it not for the heat, he would have considered himself to be frozen to the spot.

            “Incompetent!” Lucifer said. “Begone!” He snapped his fingers and Azazel vanished.

            “Bit harsh, that,” Ad said. “I thought we were getting along quite nicely; he was about to join us for a cup of tea. Would you like one?”

            “No, thank you,” Lucifer said, his voice a melodious baritone which saw both parties smiling at him sweetly. “There is much to do, and I really would be very grateful if you were to accept the small gift from the tree of knowledge.”

            “Oh, that,” Evelyn said. “We were just talking about that. Your friend said that it would give us all kinds of skills.”

            “In that, at least, he was quite correct. Now, if you would kindly oblige, all the wonders of the world will shortly be available to you. You will know things that would never have imagined.”         

            “There’s a catch!” Ad said, suddenly. “There’s always a catch!”

            “No. No catch,” Lucifer said, mildly. “A free gift to a deserving pair of beings, that is all.”

            “Very well,” Evelyn said. “If you’re sure.”

            “I’m sure; eat up.”

            Evelyn took a first, tentative bite of the apple. She took another and then handed the fruit over to Ad, who took a couple of bites for himself. Lucifer smiled, content now in the belief that his plans were all back on track. Waving a pleasant ‘goodbye’, he returned to his domain, leaving the two alone in the garden.

            “He didn’t stay long, did he?” Evelyn said. “Are you all right, Ad?”

            Ad had stopped chewing on the bite of the apple which he had taken, and was now staring intently at Evelyn in a manner which both disturbed and excited her. His breathing had become quite rapid, and at first she thought that he was ill. Then, an odd sensation stirred within her, and she began to understand what it was that he was experiencing.

            “Ad,” she said, slowly. “How long have we been running around this garden stark naked?” Her gaze fell downwards and she gasped in amazement. “Bloody hell! What’s happened to that?!” she said pointing at the focus of her attention.

            “No idea,” he replied. “But why have I never noticed those before?” His gaze was fixed slightly higher than hers, and his breathing was becoming quite rapid.

            “”I don’t know either, but I’m starting to think that I know where we could talk about this a bit better in private. Come on, before I change my mind!”

            With that, the pair hurtled off towards the cottage and disappeared into its depths.

 

           

 

“Yesssss!” Azazel punched the air as he saw them vanish into the cottage. “Now we’re cooking!”

            “I’m cooking, you mean,” Lucifer said as he walked over to Azazel’s side. “In future, when I ask… no, TELL you to do something, get it right.”

            “Oh, yes, well, yes…. Sir,” he replied. “Shall I organise the horsemen now?”

            “No, that can wait for a few thousand years. Let the little people have their fun before they start to try and destroy each other. Then we can move in; it won’t take too long, and we do have the time, don’t we?”

            In a cloud-covered, divinely decorated room amidst a choir of beautifully tuned angels, a large, white haired figure sat upon a golden throne and laughed to himself. Michael, his chief angel, frowned slightly and approached.

            “Something amusing, my Lord?” he asked.

            “Hmm? Oh, no… well, yes, actually, there is. Our friend downstairs thinks that he’s ruined all of our plans for the humans by tricking them into eating the forbidden fruit.”

            “Oh, no,” Michael said. “Then all is for naught?”

            “Not at all, my friend. He will come to realise his mistake in a day or so.”

            “How? They have both eaten the apple…”

            “Ahh, but not the right one,” God said. “In his haste to poke me in the eye, the tree from which the apple was plucked was a crab apple. After a day or do of severe stomach cramps and not a little running to the toilet, they will be back to their original selves.”

            “But the way they looked at each other…”

            “Oh, I think we’ll let them have that brief episode of carnal pleasure; it will serve to lull our friend downstairs into thinking that they’ve got the better of me, but he’s going to be mightily annoyed when he sees what’s happened.”

            “And Armageddon? Weren’t you looking forward to that?”

            “Patience, Michael. That time will come – it’s best not to hurry these things. I do so enjoy it when he gets mad.”