Chapter Two – Ye Olde Pathe of the Brave
Jimmy stooped down into a tiny basement which appeared to house, predictably, an old curiosity shoppe. The shoppe was brightly lit at the entrance, dimly toward the corners. The air was dry and chalky. There was a general feeling of claustrophobia, with strange trinkets and junk of all imaginable shapes and sized stacked and stored in such a way as to make one suspect it was done so to purposely obstruct and annoy those who enter. Nothing in the store seemed to be anything that could be of any imaginable use to anyone. Vastly oversized bird cages that could house people, books without their covers and antique bicycles with handlebars missing made it looked more like refuse collection than a curiosity shoppe.
While we can all see the direction this story is taking, less so our dull-witted hero.
‘What kind of a shit show is this place?’ Jimmy muttered to himself under his breath.
‘It’s a magic shop obviously, you pie-faced moomin’, someone, or something, croaked from somewhere out of sight. ‘And the best wishes of the season to you too you miserable, arrogant urchin’. The voice sailed over from behind what seemed to be a pile of what seemed like a bookshelf of old magazines and comic annuals. ‘You find a street that shouldn’t be here and a funny little shop in a Christmas story and you can’t put two and two together and realise you’re in a fairy tale. My God Jambone, you’re just as incompetent as they say you are in those daft bookes your mates wrote. I didn’t think it possible. I really didn’t think it possible’.
‘What bookes?’ Jimmy muttered and he rounded the bookshelf and squeezed himself between an enormous picture frame and boxes of assorted lamps. Away from bright entrance Jimmy now had to squint in the dimmer light, but there in front of him, behind a little makeshift desk, lit by the weak glow from a nearby lamp, sat an impossibly old looking crone with a mannish face so miserable and unforgiving as to drive even the most hardy of adventurers away in fright. We’d rate her a 4 (that’s a 7 on a field report on a pickup forum). Thank God it was gloomy dear readers, for she was truly horrific.
‘Ey up, a notch waiting ‘appen this. She’s bound to be lonely this one’, Jimmy remarked to himself, before continuing, ‘what bookes old crone, and what do you mean incompetent?’ Jimmy tugged on his lapels and rearranged an imaginary tie. ‘I’ll have you know I am a project manager’.
Jimmy stuck his chin out, ‘organisation is my stock in trade, my strong suit’, his lines were well rehearsed, as if addressing an audience. Jimmy had made this speech many times when routinely accused of incompetence. He then paused and turned on the deadly charm, ‘I should smite your bony backside with the flat of me sinewy right hand’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
The crone, however, seemed indifferent to our hero’s flirtations. She merely flapped her old grey hands in the air and conjured up an impressive glowing orb, some kind of apparition thing that just hung in the air. It chased the gloom in the shop into the farthermost of all it’s corners, but more importantly, it serves to remind the slightly less calibrated amongst Krauser’s readership that this is a Christmas fairy tale of magic and derring-do and not currently a field report to be taken seriously. No one is claiming to have ever met a witch.
‘It’s your lucky day Jimmy’, she wailed jubilantly. ‘Once in a hundred years I appear from my slumber to find the world’s most incompetent, cack-handed dingbat and grant him knowledge, oh such a great knowledge’, she cackled and peered at Jimmy past the blinding glow of the spinning orby thing, before adding pointedly ‘any knowledge he wishes. It’s a kind of, ‘raise the weakest link in the chain’ kind of service’.
‘You single out the brave and the genius!’, Jimmy exclaimed. Never one to give up the frame so easily.
She continued in vaguely hypnotic and rhythmic chant,
’you can learn the cures for hills of ills,
cancer, AIDS, invent those pills (that cure them, not cause them),
write the worlds most banging tunes,
or build a bridge from here t’ moon’.
Jimmy interrupted excitedly, ‘could you make it ‘pie and a pint for a pound day’, every day down at the Giggling Squid’, he gasped the words out, barely daring to believe it could be true.
The crone shook her head impatiently. ‘yes, but don’t you understand you damned fool, I can give you the knowledge that ends all wars!’ The crone began to chant again, the globe burned brightly again, spinning quickly on it’s axis again, making a melodic whirring noise again. ‘Jimmy, just choose it at will and whim and you could invent the engine that runs on air. You could save the world Jimmy Boy. I am talking about ending hardship and saving humanity, you could live forev…’.
‘I GOT IT, I GO IT! HOW DO I CLACK THE ‘OTTEST SKIRT’, Jimmy blurted, now unable to contain himself.
The light dimmed and the orb suddenly stopped spinning.
‘Come again’, the crone croaked.
‘The skirt, you old hag, that top drawer skirt I see ‘ere and about’, Jimmy waved his hand in the general direction of the world outside. ‘How do I clack it?’, he demanded. He then raised his long skinny fore-finger aloft and said decisively, as if addressing a crowd again, ’there’s a way you can clack them crumpet. I want to know how. I want to know the secret that has eluded me for centuries. That’s the knowledge I want’.
The room was silent for a moment.
‘You want a book about how to get women’, the crone asked flatly, ‘what you mean like Ye Mystery Method?’ and still holding her hands aloft underneath the now grey and lifeless orb, she motioned with her neck to an old black and beige paperback lying by the comics and pulp fiction.
Jimmy bounded forward and grabbed the old book, thumbing through the dusty pages, wide eyed. ‘I could well see this being useful’, he slavered.
‘But that’s just a crummy old paperback’, the crone cried, ‘someone brought that in last week. I’m offering you the secrets of the universe; you can get that waffle from any disreputable bookshop. Wouldn’t you like to invent the microchip?’
Jimmy looked up at the crone and pounded his finger against one of the pages as he declared ‘it says here it’s all about giving them a bit of a cheeky chat’. Jimmy sniggered. He banged the pages together, dust exploding outwards in all directions into the dry air. ‘I’ll be balls deep in a tenne before closing time, and all I wanted was an 8’, he crooned, cramming the tattered pages into his pocket. To his credit, he felt a twinge of guilt at being so selfish. Pie and pint for a pound day at the Squid would have probably been the preference for most of the lads, but Jimmy has always struggled to fight the temptation to selfishness. It was, he said, his only flaw.
‘It takes years of practice and a lot of hard work to perfect that there Mystery Method’, the crone cooed. ‘It’s very powerful but you can’t just go out and get immediate successes. You have to try and fail and tray again’.
Jimmy’s face fell. The jubilation drained from his cheeks. None of our heroes are perfect dear readers and the hero of this story is no different. For if there is one thing akin to kryptonite to our Jimmy, then there were in fact two. These ideas of ‘hard work’ and ‘years of practice’ were in the same category as ‘the police called by to see you earlier’ and ‘it’s your turn to get the ales in’. It was, according to Jimmy, his only flaw.
‘I haven’t got years to get this done crone’, Jimmy whined pathetically, ‘the banging top night out is tonight’. He fell upon his knees, ‘I throw me on your mercy crone, and remember this is to be at most a three part tale, so we need to cram in as much as we can to the rest of this chapter and only one more’.
‘Very well’, said the crone. ‘Since you haven’t actually chosen anything in terms of any magic from me, you just chose than daft pickup book that you could have just bought anywhere’, she glanced dismissively at Jimmy’s bulging pocket where the book was indeed still crammed, Jimmy clasped his hands urgently and protectively over the bulge as if fearing it was to be taken from him, ‘how about I’ll grant thee a boon?’
‘The Grant’, Jimmy cooed. ‘Do it! Grant me!’ he proclaimed. He held his breath, threw his arms wide and closed his eyes. Visions of the south of Gaul, fine horses, swish clothes and ‘top totty’ filled Jimmy’s head. He closed his eyes tighter, salivating in anticipation.
When he opened his eyes he was a little disappointed to see he was still in the dingy little shop in the same old grey tunic, with the crone’s ugly old face staring back at him. Jimmy peered over her shoulder as if expecting to see the tops of the street of Monaco or the view from the balcony of the Metropole.
‘Grant me?’, he repeated, throwing hia arms apart and shutting his eyes again.
‘Jimmy lad, you are a buffoon,
you lower the tone of every room… err, that you grace.
You’re a total waste of space.
But you need to know what game’s all about
and you can’t do that without
experience and wings to help you out.
I’ll give you all this knowledge that you boys crave,
a plan and a crew to run with night and day.
These powers to thee I grant,
by the time I end this magic chant’.
And with that, the crone clapped her hands together. The two stared at each other in silence for a second.
‘A bit of an anti climax’, the crone said sheepishly, ‘I probably should have explained, it takes a few days for the information to bed in, by the time New Year comes round, you and the lads will know how to work a set in most bars. Sink a few ales in the Squid tonight, but on New Year’s Eve you’ll venture into Clapham Junction and there you’ll exercise your mighty powers. Try not to cause too much trouble; it’ll affect me badly at my half century review’.
‘OK’, Jimmy muttered as he turned slowly to leave, rubbing his head gently. ‘Thanks crone’.
Jimmy clambered over the bric-a-brac and oddities, back through the bird cages, books and furniture that littered his path back towards the door. Turning the handle, he glanced around the shop one last time, he could hear the crone humming behind the junk that now obscured her from view, he turned his back and got the feeling he was returning back to reality as he stepped through the door and headed back to the life of the village outside.
He began to wonder if he’d made the right decision as he walked past a church group singing Christmas carols. He wasn’t all bad our Jimmy. He worried if he had been selfish. He could have chosen ‘pie and a pint day every day at the Giggling Squid’, something the whole village could enjoy and maybe the lads would have liked better. Now he’d have to tell them they couldn’t spend all night in the squid, they were to venture out into the respectable peoples’ taverns of Clapham Junction. These doubts though didn’t last long and as he padded back along the street, he again turned up his collar to the falling snow and set off in the direction of his home. As he whistled his favourite tune ideas were already beginning to filter through. Building value before opening, pawn sets, targets, various gambits designed to adjust social dynamics in your own favour and as Jimmy reached the outskirts of the village and closed in on his own low rent neighbourhood, and as the snow fell heavier, and as the wind grew colder and the streets darker, and as Jimmy smiled more broadly, he warmed to one idea of which now he was certain.
He even said it to himself, as if to officially accept it was true, ‘me and the lads are going to hit them smart taverns soon enough and pull us some unsuspecting, decent looking skirt’.
You can find Jimmy hanging out on his blog here and he can sometimes be persuaded to do consultations.