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Acute Oak Decline

Post 1


Decko took in the tastefully rendered frontage of a once familiar building. He had set foot in the pub only once in the last eight years, just long enough to establish that they didn’t keep proper beer any more. He hadn’t spoken to any of the others in all that time. There had been two or three near-misses with Dave, with Decko being careful to stay a couple of supermarket aisles apart. And he vaguely recalled Ziv sweeping imperiously past in his Merc convertible, sunglasses and chromework glinting in ostentatious harmony.

The texted invitation had come from an unrecognised number, but the message had to be authentic. Only the four of them knew those things, and so Decko had decided to go without too many qualms. Whatever they’d once had in common might well have gone forever, but it could do no harm to test that out. He was sure, too, that they’d all feel the same way, whatever that way turned out to be.

Inside, the British Oak was changed and unnecessarily dark, but there were three figures at a table pretty much where the Council ought to sit. Decko glanced at the bar, inexplicably hoping to see Denise, but the bored-looking girl in her place was another generation’s stereotype. He took in Ziv, looking improbably relaxed and grey at the temples. Dave seemed almost well-to-do, and to have somehow acquired relative dress-sense. Mickie looked completely unfamiliar, which came as no great surprise since Decko had entirely forgotten what he looked like.

‘Hello Decko. Let me get you a drink”. It was Ziv speaking, and it was all wrong. There was something about Ziv that didn’t even look right, and as for buying drinks, that was what Dave was for. Not-Denise stared blankly when asked to suggest a closest semblance to bitter. Decko sat down accompanied by a straw-coloured liquid in a glass with a stem, his low expectations fully met.

‘I bet you prefer the place like this’, Decko accused, determined to sound as downbeat and ungrateful as possible. He wasn’t addressing Ziv specifically, but the Decko of old rarely addressed the other two directly. ‘He helped them find the finance’, announced Dave breezily, oblivious to the whitening of Ziv’s knuckles.

After a brief silence while he regained his composure, Ziv summoned his customary formality to introduce Lou. This explained why Mickie had looked so unmemorable. It might have come as a relief, had it not been for the aura of menace emanating from Mickie’s replacement, if anything amplifying that of the original. Where was Mickie then, Decko wondered? He wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that the Council’s most dubious member was completing a three-year stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Mickie would be coming out a week on Monday, and Ziv added that that was why it was important to reinstate the Council now. No further explanation was forthcoming, so Decko declared that restarting the Council was not among his priorities, not in this pub at any rate.

‘The Supreme Council of the British Oak must be reconvened, and it must be here’. The person called Lou spoke for the first time. The temperature seemed to fall a few degrees.

‘It’s kind of appropriate that all this should happen in the week that Game of Thrones finished’, Dave chirped. Ziv and Decko stared at each other. Amid the incredulity, something long-forgotten clicked into place.

‘You can get the drinks in for that’, Decko sighed.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 2


Maybe this stuff was stronger than it looked. Ziv was going on and on, with the all-too-familiar earnestness that Decko had long forgotten about. Ziv only had two modes, he now recalled, this one and the cynical one, and neither of them were remotely convivial. An hour ago now, the penny had dropped on why Ziv looked different. It was his eyebrows, which had once been assiduously barbered but were now grown bushy and rather imposing. That just was another level of distraction, though. And this seemingly interminable lecture was going nowhere. Decko observed that it had all been very nice, but he would have to leave since his corporeal integrity would probably be compromised if he got home after Emmerdale had started.

Dave looked at Ziv. Permission to speak was not forthcoming. Ziv glanced at Lou, and was answered by a curt nod. Ziv leaned forward, as if he was trying to guard a secret. It was strange then that he spoke in the loudest and most aggressive whisper that Decko had heard since...well, the last time he’d sat down with this lot.

Apparently Decko couldn’t go home, because there was something that Lou had to show him, but for some unexplained reason he could only do so after the fall of darkness. Decko‘s head swam, and a clear thought condensed out of the swirling fog for the first time since Dave had bought the fourth round.

With a sweet smile, Decko declared that in that case he’d be back around ten. He rose from his seat, thought better of draining that particular glass, and left.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 3


Decko emerged from the bathroom and tiptoed into Kath’s bedroom, anxious to avoid giving his wife even more to complain about. Much of the car park of the British Oak was visible from the window there. He hadn’t recognised any of the vehicles as he’d left the pub, but something had suggested to him that the beige-coloured and battered Volvo estate was pretty much what Lou might be expected drive.

That guess was wrong, obviously. Whoever was getting into it now was much too big to be Lou. He looked almost too big to be getting into a car at all. And he seemed to be wearing a ridiculously heavy coat for a pleasant evening in late May.

So there was nothing for it but to summon a long-neglected number on his phone. Returning to the sanctuary of the bathroom to make the call, Decko was surprised when it was picked up within a minute. Denise would have let it ring all night, he thought wistfully, and the brand of impoliteness of the answerer was all wrong too, apathy rather than snarling contempt. No, she had no idea who Ziv was. But yes, the bloke with the bushy eyebrows was still at the corner table, along with two others.

The numerals that announced 21.51 stared blankly back at him. He slipped the phone into his pocket and descended the stairs. Decko announced to anyone who might be listening that he would probably be out for some time, and strode the two paces from bottom step to front door. He set off up the street with a purpose that, if challenged about it, he would have been hard-pressed to explain.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 4

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Acute Oak Decline

Post 5


Decko felt quite pleased with his new-found assertiveness, as he fished a can of bitter out of the bag he’d acquired at the express supermarket en route. He followed up with what he hoped was a commanding instruction for Ziv and the others to get straight to the point. Judging by their dishevelled appearance after six hours on the hard seats of a gloomy pub, his companions probably wouldn’t stretch this out too long anyway.

The outcome was not what Decko had counted on. Dave’s long-winded story about the importance of his newly-allocated parking place at the council offices might have been expected. Ziv’s discourse about his divorce, and Eleanor and the girls now being resident in the Dordogne, certainly wasn’t. Starting on the second can, Decko demanded to know why they were so reticent about telling him what was going on.

Ziv looked pensive, and asked whether Decko had noticed any impossible things happening since they’d last met. Decko was non-plussed. His tentative suggestion of the current US President’s election was met with derision. Ziv remarked that Trump’s win has been entirely predictable, and so for that matter was the Brexit referendum result. It was only the complacent Establishment that had thought those things were impossible.

Dave tried to help. Was there anything even more improbable than United getting back into the Premier League, for example? Decko felt his ire rising for a moment, but then suddenly remembered that there was Leicester actually winning it. Yep. That would qualify as impossible. Ziv sighed with relief, and began to tell an equally unlikely tale.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 6


‘I was approached in the July of 2015’, said Ziv. ‘I still don’t know how he found me, or how he even knew about the Council. I’d all but forgotten about it myself. He got quite frightening when I told him that the Council had just sort of fizzled out. He told me that I had to get it back together. I’d have ignored him, even when he started making threats, but there was something oddly compelling about him’.

Decko, third can now in hand, wanted to know who the hell Ziv was talking about. Ziv glanced nervously at Lou. Lou stared menacingly right into Decko’s eyes, reached into the supermarket bag, opened the last can and drained most of it in one go. Decko suppressed an irrational sense of terror, and complemented Lou on being more like Mickey than Mickey.

‘It’s Mickie now, not Mickey’, Dave interjected. Without the aid of a textual representation of the exchange, Decko wondered wtf Dave was talking about. ‘She wanted a more feminine spelling’, said Dave.

Decko’s head swam. ‘Are you telling me that Mickey has had a sex change?’
‘That would be gender reassignment’, sighed Ziv, ‘and yes, Mickie has. Now can we get back to Leicester City?’

Decko slumped back into his seat. What had suddenly become his last can seemed to be empty. Dave, empathetic as ever, got the next round.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 7

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Acute Oak Decline

Post 8


Ziv continued with his protracted explanation of Lou’s interest in the Supreme Council of the British Oak. Shortly before their first meeting ended, Lou had apparently made a rather improbable claim. Ziv then managed to get back in touch with Dave, by no means a trivial achievement since nobody had ever felt it necessary to note down any of Dave’s contact details. The two of them agreed that they should challenge Lou to demonstrate his purported powers.

‘Lou claimed to be able to do just about anything’, said Ziv. ‘but unfortunately most of his examples seemed to involve killing people. So we had to come up with something that was never going to happen without divine intervention, but would do no harm if actually came to pass’.

‘Gary Lineker had to present Match of the Day wearing only his underpants’, Dave blurted out, far too childish in his enthusiasm for such a portentous subject.

‘And Lou thought about it, and he agreed’, Ziv continued. ‘The only proviso was that he’d need a year or so to set it up. We didn’t mind that, of course. The longer the better in fact, seeing as how Lou scared the proverbial out of us’.

Decko was having a little difficulty keeping up with this turn of events. ‘So who the hell is Lou?’ he demanded. ‘And what does he need us for, if he can do anything he puts his mind to anyway? And why can’t he speak for himself?’

The room seemed to darken. When he tried to recall the scene in time to come, Decko would be unsure if they were in the pub any more, or whether they had been transported instead to some secret corner of hell at the very moment that Lou began to speak.

‘I am Lucifer’, he hissed, which at least explained where the Lou had come from.
‘I am come to purge mankind of its sin, and to right all wrongs. The Council is chosen to direct me’.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 9


The bored-looking barmaid snatched up the supermarket bag and swept the empty cans into it. ‘You’ll get me sacked’, she complained, her voice a perfect combination of indifference and resentment. ‘I want to go home, so **** off, will you?’

‘You’re not called Denise, by any chance?’ asked Decko. Her name turned out to be Destiny, which seemed quite appropriate under the circumstances and even had some of the same letters.

The four were ushered towards the door, Dave doing his utmost to sound bright and carefree while the others remained silent and pensive. Decko recalled that the Fallen Angel was supposed to be showing them something, now that it was dark.

‘He denies that whole Archangel-Cast-Down thing’, corrected Ziv. ‘He says he’s the Demiurge’.

This particular term had hitherto evaded Decko’s vocabulary, and so he opted instead to ask what the promised exhibit was going to be. ‘His Sword of Justice’, said Ziv flatly, as if the presentation of such an artefact was somehow normal. ‘It’s quite impressive to look at, I must admit. He claims that he only has to swing it, and whoever he’s thinking of dies, regardless of where on earth they happen to be’.

‘You remember the Bag List?’, asked Dave. Decko remembered it all too well: it was Mickey/Mickie’s register of people that the Council should consider putting to death. Dave’s recent enthusiasm had apparently evaporated. ‘That’s why Lou wants Mickie to lead the new Council’, he added despondently.

Decko’s heart sank. Just as it couldn’t possibly sink any lower, Ziv spoke again. ‘For some unknown reason, he carries the sword around in the back of his Volvo’.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 10


‘This Volvo wouldn’t be a sort of vomit-coloured estate, would it?’ But Decko already knew that it was, even before they stepped out into the disconcertingly-empty car park. ‘Only I watched somebody drive off in it an hour ago’. The pitch of his voice had shifted upwards half an octave for some reason.

Ziv thought it was pretty irresponsible to just watch someone get into a car and drive it away. Even had the vantage point been closer than a quarter of a mile from the vehicle, Decko might have deemed this opinion and its intrinsic supposition about the nature of ownership to be somewhat controversial. Dave had meanwhile started to wail and sweat a lot. Lou just threw his head back, clenched his fists and let out a blood-curdling roar. A gust of wind rose up and rustled the surrounding trees, and clouds scudded meaningfully across the moon.

The position of that moon, lowering in the southern sky, might have had some bearing on what happened next. Lou set off at a brisk trot, not out onto the main road but along the unlit path that lead out of the back of the car park to Demiurge-knows-Where. After a moment’s hesitation, Ziv set off after him at an unreasonably athletic lick. Decko and Dave stumbled along behind, until Dave tripped in the darkness and pitched into a clump of nettles. Decko, who was blowing hard already, decided that this might be a good point at which to give up the pursuit.

The two stragglers parted back at the pub. Under the streetlight, Dave’s face was puffy and reddened and he was still rubbing his eyes and moaning gently as he turned downhill for the village. Decko checked his phone. It was half past eleven, still comfortably short of Kath’s Absolute Patience Limit, so at least that side of things wasn’t looking too bad. An impulse told him that he ought to block Ziv’s calls. It turned out that he must have blocked them already, some time in the unremembered past. This might explain why Ziv had turned to Dave of all people to test Lou out. Upon realising that he might not have been considered less useful than Dave after all, Decko felt better and set off up the road towards home.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 11


Ziv still managed to call Decko twice the following morning. Decko picked up the first time, but rang off as soon as he recognised the somewhat desperate-sounding voice. The second time, from yet another unknown caller, he was careful not to answer at all.

Decko considered the recent numbers. The second one ended 666 and kind of had to be Lou’s. The first, less portentous one was therefore probably Dave’s? Decko noted that number as a precaution. Even if he couldn’t imagine one right now, there might be some obscure circumstance under which the world needed Dave. After that he blocked both numbers and assimilated the probability that the other three had already got back together and were looking for him. It wouldn’t take much effort to find an address and pitch up in person, Decko thought glumly.

He was always tentative these days when speaking to his wife, ‘these days’ meaning since about 1994. Kath flew off the handle, which was only to be expected, but there was still something particularly unreasonable about it this time. Apparently somebody had rung on the landline during Decko’s first Oak excursion the day before. Who they were or what they’d actually wanted failed to leave a permanent impression on Mrs Henderson. Everything else must have vanished in a red mist when a Ms Michelle Someone-or-Other, formerly known as Mr Michael Stanbra, was mentioned.

There was now little alternative, Decko knew, to weathering the storm of invective while staring resolutely at the carpet. This is what happens, he was advised, when you consort with perverts. Decko wondered whether the imprecation of perversion was related to Mickie’s reorientation. He hoped it was otherwise, not least because he could have suggested a couple of dozen better reasons for applying the label.

Under any other circumstances, the sound of the doorbell would have come as a relief at that moment. Instead Decko watched Kath’s retreating back with a sense of dread. He heard the door open, and winced in dismay at his wife’s stifled scream.

Acute Oak Decline

Post 12


All things considered, Decko was quite pleased to find a diminutive blonde woman standing in the hallway. She wasn’t Ziv, or even anyone else he knew, and that was clearly a positive. The police uniform she was wearing was something of a downside, however. ‘Mr Derek Henderson?’ the Officer of the Law demanded, practising her unsmiling efficiency. Decko affirmed his name, feeling just as uncomfortable about his wife’s glare at the corner of his vision as he was about the direct interrogator.

‘Do you know a Mr Lou...Deg...Demi-rug...?’

That would be Demiurge, ventured Decko helpfully. Not his real name. Met him for the first time yesterday. Weird bloke, not very talkative. Decko reasoned that there was very little point being evasive here. If the police were in any way likely to remove Lou from the equation, that could only be a good thing.

The policewoman turned to Kath. ‘Nacro spoke to you about Ms Starr, didn’t they?’ And then back to Decko. ‘Are these two things connected?’

You’re supposed to be the detective, luv, thought Decko. What he actually said was that he had no idea what she was talking about, which was broadly true. Further explanation revealed that Nacro was the organisation formerly known as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, and that Ms Starr was the Deviant Formerly Known as Mickey.

‘Ms Starr was going to go and live with Mr Dimmerurge when she was released, but that was a matter of concern to us. Ms Starr suggested you as a possible alternative’.

‘So what has Lou actually done?’ asked Decko, in part because he was disinclined to comment on Mickie’s co-residence prospects with Kath simmering alongside. The policewoman hesitated, conspicuously weighing up how much she ought to say. She opted for nothing whatsoever, and left after advising that Nacro would be back in touch. Curtains twitched up and down the street as the police car pulled away, and Kath seethed.

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