Ger just lay there and soaked in the warmth of bed. Only when he was good and ready did he sit up in confusion. This was the part where you said
“But it felt so real.”
His phone said 2:30am. He debated his options, staring up at the dark ceiling. He could just go back to sleep, forget about the dream. The ambulance siren decided his fate. Swinging out of bed he fixated on the sliver of light peeking beneath his bedroom door door. He was going to tell someone about this dream.
Continue reading "Reprisal for a Dream"
“Are you serious?” Mavati’s voice punctured the background noise of the station.
Somewhere in the curved walls hummed a fan, recycling air through their haven from the void. She looked up. Hidden behind a mysterious black orb she could feel the camera’s watchful eye.
The answering voice was halting, pronouncing a series of words rather than sentences “For your own safety we watch. Every moment of the day you are known. Should you stray we will help you back to congruence.”
She rolled her eyes “Alright.”
Holding up a pad she made a few remote adjustments. There was the tiniest of changes in the decibel levels. It would have taken a sharp ear to hear the camera shut down.
Gen stood before the door. He was thinner than most Zedzen, with spindly limbs sprouting from an oval body. His shieldlike head looked the larger for it; its contours swept back over his body. He regarded the controls with black on black eyes, chilling in their expressionless gaze. Reaching out he ran his lanyard over the scanner. The light flashed red. With delicate fingers he punched a rhythm on the alien keypad and swung his card over it again. This time it glowed green. The door slid open and he stepped through on three legs. He half-turned, beckoning to Mavati.
Continue reading "Exhibit A"
It was at the end of the age of heroes on a brisk autumn morning that Edward descended upon the settlement of Ketchiwan. His invasion force consisted of an old man and a teenage girl. In his defence the girl was pretty handy with a broom.
Ketchiwan was a dirty little town. Herds of cattle thronged the streets, yelled at by poky men with heavy rods. The smell was overwhelming, what could you expect from nervous cows. It was enough to make Yllen’s eyes water. Today was market day and the topic of conversation was money. Everyone they passed argued over money. The herders complained about the price of a head. Fur clad hunters swore at steak-necked merchants. It seemed to her that the very town was at war, all for a couple of coppers. She travelled in Edward’s wake. The thin, pale warrior rarely had trouble with traffic and those dumb enough to stumble into his way were treated to a whack of his stick, be they man or beast. Gundrea was somewhere, sometimes to her left, sometimes behind. His cheerful chatter merged with the cacophony.
They reached one of Ketchiwan’s squares, more of a circle, occupied by a dead tree laden with trophies. Here the hunters boasted of their kills and displayed the tongues of basilisks or fangs of smilodons. Among these men were legends of their own and Yllen was drawn to listen. However her attention was commanded by Edward, his eyes black pools beneath his helmet.
“Do you feel it?” he growled.
Yllen tested the ground with her feet “No.”
“She calls from beneath the earth, an ancient turning in her sleep.”
Yllen listened. Perhaps there was.
Gundrea’s hand landed on her shoulder “Did you hear that? Oxtails three a piece! We could eat meat tonight for that money.”
Edward sighed and Yllen shared in his distaste. She turned to regard Gundrea, his expression fixed in a vague amiability.
“Can’t you hear it?”
Edward planted his stick into the dirt “We have arrived, old man.”
Gundrea nodded “I guess this is goodbye.”
“You’re a fool and I hope someone throws you off a cliff.”
Gundrea chuckled “I’ll miss you too, lad. It’s been quite a time.”
Edward faced them, coldly inspecting Gundrea. He spoke to Yllen.
“That you follow him speaks to your patience, to say nothing of your other qualities.”
Yllen felt her cheeks redden but there was something going on she wasn’t being told about. “Are you going?”
“This was our agreement, your master and I. As far as Ketchiwan.”
“We could go further.”
Awkwardly Edward patted her head “Stay safe.”
She glared at Gundrea “Why is he going? We could go on with him further.”
“Could, but I ain’t keen on being mildly eviscerated.”
Edward patted his stick “My travels from here will be far too dangerous for a child.”
“What about a warrior?” Yllen brandished her broom in what she hoped was a threatening manner.
“I will hear no more of it,” and that was that. It was hard to argue with Edward. His face screwed up until he looked about to cry.
Yllen looked sullen a moment but brightened as she thought of a last request “Before you go, could I at least have my own demon?”
Gundrea navigated away from the square, avoiding the animal masses. Yllen lagged behind, stroking the small furry body in her hands.
“Are you really going to keep that?”
“Edward said it could be my demon familiar. He knows the world’s secrets.”
Gundrea counted the ramshackle huts “It’s a rat.”
“It’s better than a broom.”
“Hmm, can it make us money?”
Yllen held up the rat, staring deep into its rodent eyes “Can you?”
Gundrea grabbed her arm, pulling her toward a building not so much built as grown from a collection of lean-tos. He pushed in the door and entered an inn, or to the locals a beerhole. The floor was a mixture of boards and vomit. Two workmen slaked their thirst with watery ale. The seats were tree stumps and the counter barrels with a board across them.
Gundrea made his way on over “Top of the morning to ye, lass!”
Only Gundrea could have gotten away with referring to the woman behind the counter as a lass. Anyone else would have been furniture by now. Indeed she reached for a chipped axe, left casually beside a barrel.
“I’m here to see your bossman, Vagolo the Knave of Knaveton.”
Her hand grasped the axe “Dad’s been a dead five years.”
Gundrea boggled “Whaat, Old Vaggy? Did he at least go out armwrestling a bear?”
“Diarrhoea,” she said, flatly.
Gundrea’s mouth twitched “What a sod. Did he happen to mention any buried treasure ‘afore he died?”
“Forget I mentioned it. But I remember you now, missie. Vagolo always went on about his daughter.”
The woman’s brow peaked and Gundrea hid a grin.
Yllen ended up fetching sawdust, helping to lay it on the floor and cleaning the back rooms, what few there were. By the time she and Gundrea were done it was late afternoon and the inn had gone from a hideous pit to at least a presentable one. Gundrea had regaled the tender with tales of her father in the idle moments and by the end she insisted on not only putting them up but even paying them ‘for her old dad’s sake, now about this buried treasure’. So it was in that late afternoon with the bar slowly filling up Yllen found herself with nothing to do. And Gundrea, apparently so good with people, made his first mistake of the day.
Daniel stared into his empty cup. A guru had once spoken to him of how the universe was no more than the composite of our rational minds struggling to comprehend each other. Daniel needed coffee. Why didn’t the universe understand this?
Daniel turned to subject the speaker to his caffeine deficient wrath. Steve was standing there with a college-age girl in tow. His mind went in two directions. The first part imagined a coffee tree growing from Steve’s body. The other twisted the mouth into a professional smile and said “Steve, how can I help you?”
Steve turned to the woman beside him “Amelia, this is Daniel our best employee. Dan, this is Amelia the new intern.”
A half-remembered e-mail popped into Daniel’s head. He leapt from his chair and grabbed Amelia’s outstretched hand “Nice to meet you, Amelia.”
She looked nervous and squeezed his knuckles so hard they ground together. Daniel drew back nursing a bruise. And then Steve was Steve “Actually Dan, I have to pop off to a meeting. Was hoping you could show Amelia around, give her the lay of the land.”
Daniel resolved to look up the difference between murder and manslaughter “Sure, Steve. Happy to help.”
“Cheers, don’t forget to induct her!” Steve winked on the way out.
That left Amelia.
Continue reading "Code of Ethics"
“Alright. Let’s do this.” Morgan cracked his knuckles, his default when trying to look tough.
“It’s up this way,” said Ben.
They walked with the morning commuters down an avenue that ended in a sharp wooden door. For something so abrupt and mysterious it was something of a disappointment. On the other side was just an open yard anyone could have entered from the street.
“Come on,” Ben led Morgan along, past the coffee shop queue, around the bustling offices.
“9 to 5:30,” said Morgan disparagingly.
“The banks close at 4:30.”
There was a laneway back here, modern cobbles with a grille showing the car park. Two smokers lingered, enjoying a quick one before work. Morgan eyed them with suspicion. He waited till he was past before replying.
“Imagine if the guards only worked daylight hours.”
Ben’s eyes drifted up the side of the building “Would they catch more crooks that way?”
But they had reached the end of the lane.
Behind the offices, behind the shops, behind the whole city the alleyway lurked. Morgan could see right down to the end of the road and yet, somehow, he knew if he’d tried entering it that way, he’d never find it. He read the street sign, a bright blue nailed to one of the old georgian houses.
Walk through Walls
“The hell is this?” he growled.
“Just a joke. Sable knows the artist.”
Morgan sneered and plodded down the avenue. there wasn’t much beyond the old houses. An old man sat against a clean dumpster, nodding his head. It was early morning but there was a bottle in his hand. Ben sighed, approaching him. The old man didn’t respond, even when Ben bent out and tentatively checked his pulse. “Have you talked to her?”
They knew who 'her' was.
“Don’t want to.” Morgan tried to burn down the houses with his gaze.
Ben stood up “I get the feeling if Felicity was a guy you would have just punched her and gotten over it by now.”
“Yeah well, I don’t hit girls.”
“She didn’t break any laws.”
“She broke my fucking heart!”
It was loud enough to wake the old man. Bright blue eyes darted about his grimy face as he scrabbled on the pavement. From behind the dumpster a scruffy dog poked its head out.
“Sorry,” said Ben “How are you this morning?”
From his perspective there were two young men. One looked ready to give up, his shoulders slumped beneath an oversized mac. The other one was an irate rhino with fists.
“I weren’t doing nothing.”
“It’s alright,” said Ben, reaching into a pocket. He produced a euro and offered it to the man who accepted it begrudgingly “Is Barking Wilde still in number 14?”
The dog nosed around them, lapping up a few crumbs.
“No, no no, you don’t want to go in there.” said the man, his hand trembling.
“What’s wrong?” asked Ben.
“You’re the O’Carroll boy right? It’s all gone downhill. Nothing but bad eggs and burnt bacon.”
Morgan’s glare was an inferno “Were they smoking?”
The old man tried to drill a hole in the dumpster with his back. Ben had to interject “Alright, you take it easy now.”
He pulled himself up, a fearful eye always on Morgan. Then he tottered down the avenue with a euro in his pocket.
At the door Ben hesitated “You ok?”
Morgan’s chest deflated, had he been holding his breath all this time?
“I just don’t wanna talk about it. It’s not like she’s the first girl to cheat on me.”
Ben studied the door intently “Plenty more fish in the sea, right?”
“Right,” growled Morgan “Just tell me who to rough up.”
“Whoah,” said Ben “We’re not doing a drug raid. These people are just squatters. Even if they’re not, we can’t just beat them till they confess.”
“Actions in pursuit of a criminal are not criminal. So long as the injustice is great enough any means are justified.”
Ben looked pained “You really believe that?”
Morgan hammered on the door “Open up!”
“It’s me,” added Ben limply.
It seemed as if the door would never open. They stood there, Ben looking at the ground while Morgan appraised the dog. The city lived outside. A crack appeared between door and way.
“The fuck do you want, Ben?”
“Larry? I’m here to see Wilde,” tried Ben.
The door slammed. Right off Morgan’s hand in fact. He didn't so much as grimace, shoving inward. Larry wasn’t much of a fight, grimly hanging onto the knob and heaving as Morgan took a step.
“You first,” he said, leaning against the door so Ben could enter. Morgan held it open until even the dog had wandered in.
“This is a fucking invasion!” moaned Larry.
“Call the guards,” said Morgan. He stepped inside, the door locking them inside. They were in a dingy hall lined with newspapers.
“What’s going on Larry? Where’s Stevens and Martina?”
“I am in so much fucking trouble. You gotta get out of here, Ben.”
Morgan forgot their babbling, focusing on the air. It smelt wrong. The walls, flaking paint, were plastered with gum and webs. At his feet the worn old dog snuffled amidst the newspapers then pissed on them.
“Look just whatever you fucking do don’t go up there, Ben.”
Morgan immediately made for the stairs. They stuck to his boots. Resin or something coated each step in ugly dollops. It stretched when he lifted a foot, unwilling to let go. Morgan stomped harder. Ben edged after him, avoiding the worst of it. Someone had wallpapered the landing. Then someone else had torn it all down. Sheaves of molding paper still hung off the walls. It smelt like a fridge with a power failure. The doors were coated in graffiti, crude stars done in whatever material had come to hand. Morgan swept a hand over it.
“This is a Georgian house, covered by preservation orders. Vandalism is an offense.”
Ben pushed past “Let’s just get Wilde. He should be in here.”
He knocked on one of the doors “Barking Wilde? It’s me, Benjamin Murphy-Mannis.”
Morgan kicked a bucket, sending flying the accumulated bilgewater of the leaking ceiling. The rotten damp sank into the filthy carpet and dripped down the stairs. The dog following them licked it up.
The door heaved open. It banged against the wall, swinging back in his face and hanging ajar.
There was a glimpse of a dark eyed man “What do you zombies want? Can’t I get a doorman?”
Morgan pushed the door forward. This room was no better than the rest of the house. In fact it was worse. The fireplace was stuffed with old newspapers. Gum and resin filled the corners of the room, slick as if just spat up. In a circle of half-eaten sandwiches sat the Wilde, crosslegged. His eyes were black wells. Ben's voice softened
“How are you doing?”
“Doing? I’m doing nothing. I’m blocked.”
Ben crossed the threshold “Want to talk about it?”
"The reason we can't write is because we're afraid. Once we condemn words to the page they cannot be taken back. Rub them, scrub them, they are forever in your memory."
Morgan sighed. This was looking like a big waste of time.
“What about the others Wilde? Remember they were going to help you?” Ben stopped a few feet away.
“Mindless. They had to go. Eyes for the dark one.”
“You killed them?” Morgan always had a fist on hand.
“What? Oh no. No. What are you crazy?”
“Ben says you know people. People who disappear.”
“People who disappear end up here.”
Morgan and Ben exchanged looks.
“We’re looking for someone. A guy named Gerry Holdam.”
Wilde shook his head “Had to go. They all talked too much. Saw through the mask.”
“Do you know him or not?”
“They are lean and athirst!" he shrieked “Ask him by the canal! He saw them taken!”
What Morgan did not have was patience. He shoved Ben aside and grabbed Wilde by a scruffy turtleneck “You got three seconds.”
Something like fear penetrated those shadowy eyesockets “Alright! Alright Just don’t break my circle!”
Almost as an afterthought Morgan squashed one of the rotten sandwiches. Mustard oozed around his boot.
“The canal!” Wilde cried “I was down by the canal with the poet. You know the one! Your guy was there with a girl!”
“How’d you know it was him?” Morgan held Wilde so close he could smell the fearful sweat.
“She said his name! She said he owed him!”
“Who was the girl?”
“I dunno. I don’t have good eyes. Ask Patrick.”
“Morgan,” said Ben quietly “Put him down.”
Morgan dropped him. Wilde fell back on his rear.
“Thanks Wilde. If you need help, you know where I am,”and Ben was out the door. Morgan followed him down the stairs. When they were gone, Wilde ventured to close the door. It hung open, forming a narrow angle with the wall. All of a sudden, the dog sauntered into view. Wilde regarded it's lean form with abject horror. It crossed the threshold.
Journal and Notes of Erwan Fast
Though it makes no difference I would begin by declaring my character. I am not an evil man. I have lived the law as my life. I have respected the Order and the Church's teachings. I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of God and ask for her protection and forgiveness for this venture.
This venture, these notes and my experiment concern Necromancy. If you are not of the Order I would urge you to read no further and, since I have entrusted these notes to the Order’s keeping, pray that you will return them without incident. To do otherwise is to invite, as I have, inquisition, damnation and death.
But to Necromancy. The word itself is foreign and has no discernable history. Folklore says it came to our shores from the fabled western continent, from the land beyond the southern range, from spirit tongues spoken by the fae. Such unsubstantiated claims are to be treated with the respect their peddlers deserve.
Necromancy is wholly considered a foul art. Its practitioners are ghoulish, depraved and a complete travesty of God’s law. However in our revilement of its proponents I have often wondered if we have made a mistake. Is fire evil because it can burn a man’s flesh? The Order values knowledge above all things, yet discussion on this topic is shunned. Is a blind eye healthy?
So, I have taken it upon myself to study Necromancy. I admit now that I have learned far more than is considered healthy for a man to know. If knowledge is truly a crime then I am guilty. However knowledge is not enough to condemn a man and it has, I am certain, not corrupted my being. So I have devised one last experiment to see, once and for all, if evil lies in the heart or in the art.
I will compile what notes I take and though I will obscure some things, to prevent misuse in the event these papers fall to the wrong hands, I will attempt to be clear and contrite in all my recordings. I do all of this of my own free will and hope only for the even judgement of my peers and ultimately, of God.
She fell. Hel couldn’t reach her in time. She was gone. He leapt but the buzzing drove into his skull. The sky wheeled. The veil was torn away and everything went dark.
Hel jerked upright. On the table beside him a metal box buzzed at him. It read 7:45. He slapped it. The beast silenced he sank back into warmth. Strange. He didn’t remember having a magic box that printed numbers. Turning over, the box’s red eyes spelt 9:13. He hit the floor cursing. He tore his combat gear from the wardrobe.
The door slid open with a hiss. He stepped into an airy kitchen lit by morning sun. A man sat on rays of light, munching cornflakes.
“Morning sleepy head,” He wore a dressing gown and slippers.
“Uh,” said Hel.
“You were out late last night."
An awkward silence pervaded, the kind where you realised you couldn’t remember your friend’s name. Hel’s eyes wandered as he wracked his brain. A bowl of fruit gleamed on the table, beside them a blank, grey box.
The man sighed “And yet you came home alone."
Roommate, right, and they’d gone to college together. What was the nickname he’d had?
“You sure you’re not wanting for company?” He gave Hel a sly look, patting his gown.
“Th-” Hel began. He frowned. Words fled his brain. The clock on the wall read 8:26.
Frantically he charged the door. “I’m late!”
Continue reading "Edge of Waking"
The roar of engines matched the cheers of the crowd. It was a wild day up at the Royal Dublin Society. The car show had drawn thousands from across the country, all revelling in a love of the automobile. The summer sun didn’t hurt either. Shorts and skirts wandered the race course, soaking up the heat with hot dogs and beer. Few paid attention to the small side hall. It was to some administrator’s amusement that the two shows were on the same day. The three women passed through the entrance to be attacked by an angry owl.
“Oh my god!” said Felicity, ducking. Her fashionable dress creased around her.
The owl jerked its wings back and forth, hooting angrily. Its eyes were strangely glassy and it couldn’t seem to leave the perch over the door. Sable brazenly approached. Pulling back the sleeve of an oversized jumper she waved a hand in front of it. The creature continued hooting mechanically “It looks so real.”
The owner slipped out from behind a desk “Do you like our owl?”
The desk was littered with animals. Some were fur coats on clockwork bones, others were even less formed than that. A skeletal cat with a key lodged in its spine clicked and ticked.
Aine gave them the once over “Good taxidermy.”
“Why thank you, my husband’s work.”
Felicity stood up, patting down her dress “Fur is murder.”
“I’m sure it died in its sleep.” said Aine. She’d dressed for work only to remember today was a Saturday.
Continue reading "The Weekend Convention"
Deep within the darkest reaches of the office complex, evil stirred.
“I’m just saying, remembering the map would have been a good idea,” Kobe said, sipping his tea.
“Well then you should have remembered it,” Steve stuffed biscuits into his mouth. They were slightly soft. Being taller, it was his responsibility to assign blame.
Kobe didn’t mind. He was, he told himself, the sensible one. He’d remembered the shopping bag. His hand hovered over it, shoved into the suit pocket.
Steve swallowed “Alright, let’s roll.”
They stepped out of the shelter of the coffee dock. Desks stretched into darkness. Makeshift walls sectioned off areas of the giant office. They were fragile attempts to hold back the madness. Creative services had vengefully festooned them with ancient frescoes. Fluorescent lamps flickered to life at their footsteps. They died away in their wake so that they were moving in a small island of light. In the distance approached another island. The security guard stopped at an ornate fountain, waiting for them to arrive. Brass naiads playfully skirted the edges of the basin, the bubbling waters their laughter.
“Stay cool,” muttered Kobe.
Steve strolled right up. “Evening officer.”
The guard looked them over. Two young lads in those ill fitting suits interns wore. “Evening lads. Out for a stroll?”
“Just stretching the legs. Those monthlies are killing us.”
“Oh yes, the monthlies,” the guard was about to say something else but they slipped past him.
“I still say we can balance it if we put the capital gains against the credit expenses,” said Kobe.
“Nah, that’ll never work. We’d have to trim the holdings accounts.” replied Steve.
The guard shook his head ruefully and continued on his rounds. Kids these days didn’t know a thing about accounting.
They edged around the dining plaza. A vast open space at the centre of the complex, it was home to sculptures, urns and Barbecue Thursdays. Watchful eyes gazed accusingly into the office. They gave Kobe the jeebies.
“Seriously, that one in the middle. I’ve seen him before.” Kobe said.
“It’s Atlas, duh. Haven’t you ever been to New York?”
Kobe paused before the exit to the plaza. “My family aren’t all up on Ameri-kkk.”
Steve looked heavenward “We’re on the Corinthian Avenue, right?”
“No, the leaves aren’t right.”
Steve scratched his head, looking down into the endless desks and wishing he had that map. He gave the pillars a hopeful look. The leaves carved on their upper edges looked fine to him.
“Do you think it’s the same one or a copy?”
Kobe shook his head “Internet piracy has gone too far. I think we’re that way.”
Steve trotted a little way in the direction pointed. The lights came on, illuminating a large hand-painted sign ‘The Underworld’.
The stairs creaked under their weight. Down and down they descended. No automatic lights greeted them down here. Kobe went around the room for a switch. His hand brushed over something metallic. Some thing roared to life. The boys were illuminated by a hellish glow.
“Haw haw haw!”
Kobe grabbed at it. Aluminium tubes came away in his hands. He staggered backwards, then flung them. With a click the lights came on. They illuminated a dusty robot covered with a sheet. Its motors whirred as the red lights on its face flickered.
“Haw haw haw!”
Steve came back from the light switch “Looks like you found old Roboto.”
Kobe glared at the stupid thing “Why’d they put it here?”
Steve was holding back a laugh now “Don’t you remember St. Patrick’s they had that Styx float?”
“I was on holiday?”
He was tsked at “Bet you didn’t even have a drink.”
They left the robot to moulder and crept down a bare corridor. The air hummed. Now they were on familiar ground. They went room to room in grim silence, knowing only what they sought once they found it. Behind a locked door, under a rack of servers it sat, glowing in the light of a hundred LEDs..
Steve poked it gingerly. “And from that box spilled all the evils of the world.”
“Pandora had a jar. Box is a mistranslation.”
Steve heaved on the little black box “Well jar sounds dumb.”
Together they man-handled the backup unit out of its hole. They unplugged its chains and loaded it into a big shopping bag.
“Damn.” said Kobe.
“We should have told that guard we were IT. What if he sees us carrying this?”
“We’ll tell him it’s full of numbers. Now come on, I don’t want to be here all night.”
They huffed and they heaved with their prize. When they were gone peace returned to the Underworld. The ghosts settled and all that was left was a blinking message
ERROR: BACKUP FAILED
Rock became dirt. Dirt became sand. Small shrubs sprouted here and there. They fought the desert sun to a standstill. Tatula was wary now. Tel had carved the great beasts that roamed here. He had boasted of killing them, only for their carcasses to have mysteriously disappeared on the way home. The horizon shimmered madly, showing deceptions and lies. Her headache from last night did not help. A great column of fire roared before her, only to become the buzzing of insects on a corpse. She inspected it briefly, harried by the stench of rotting flesh and the merciless sun. Her lips cracked as she whispered “Water.”
Her hand strayed to her flask and as if committing some great sin she took a sip. Something hissed at her feet. A snake slithered away across the sands. She let it go. On the horizon her vision swam into focus. She saw trees.
It lay between her and sweet shelter. The furry body was near Tatula’s size. Not a whisker moved. She thought about going around. While she did her hand tore a strip of weed. Its bitterness stung her tongue and body to action. It was time to put one over the hunters. She approached.
The leopard lay in the sun its ragged coat flecked with sand. Its mouth moved as if whispering something. A single lidded eye looked up. The other socket was just a scar. It growled feebly. She knelt before it.
“Bite and I will spill your belly.”
“Water,” it begged.
Tatula sunned herself. “You must promise not to eat me.”
The leopard croaked assent.
“Swear on the bones of your Grandmother.”
“I swear,” managed the leopard.
A hunter keeps his word until his stomach growls, warned her grandmother. Tatula waited a moment more. Then she put down the knife. A little water dribbled between the leopard's lips, the last of her flask. It lapped at it greedily. Then she grabbed the leopard by the scruff.
“You must be out of the light.”
The leopard's legs wobbled. It could barely move. She heaved mightily. He was damned heavy.
They sat in shade. Tatula's eyes were divided, one on the leopard, the other on the setting sun. Inwardly she seethed. The scraggly trees hung over them but there was no sign of water.
The leopard lifted its head, its first movement in hours. “You must dig.”
“And what shall I dig with?” asked Tatula.
“Paws,” it said.
Tatula looked at her hands “Perhaps I can find a rock.”
She remained there, clasping the knife
“Afraid I will eat you?”
She turned her full attention on him “They say Grandmother Cat forged the first lie.”
“You are someone else's prey.”
The hairs on the back of Tatula's neck rose. “Whose?”
The leopard curled its lip. “First, I will teach you how to dig.”
She dug. The leopard taught herhow to tear a strip of bark and lash the stone to wood. Secrets, she thought wryly, she had never thought worth knowing. Down into the earth she dug. Scarcely had she gone a foot when the dirt was damp. Another foot and the hole was a pond. They filled their bellies that night with oasis nut and sandy water. The leopard took only what she gave, as if a guest in her house. Her sleep was uneasy. In some dreams the leopard chased her, in others burning eyes. The cold awoke her eventually. She glanced about frantic and spotted a single gleaming oval. It was the eye of the leopard, creeping closer. Her fingers closed about her obsidian fang. He snuggled her weakly. The warm fur soothed and the dreams receded for a while.
In the dawn the separated. The leopard refused her invitation.
“Someone else has marked you.”
“Who?” she asked again.
“He runs in front and chases behind. Beware him, the desert fox.”
They parted ways. The east called her on.
The road bounded the woods. Or perhaps the woods bounded the road. No one stopped to check. Two carts rattled along, laden with tin and tents. There was no room to ride, so the people walked instead. Children danced between wary parents, tearing at each other’s patchwork clothes. The adults talked little, eyes fixed on the horizon. These were people with little and little left to fear. Limping amongst them, one had not even that.
“I think it’s going to rain,” declared Gundrea.
“It is raining master,” said Yllen.
“I mean I think it’s going to rain more,” He sidestepped, elbowing a woman. “What do you think?”
She ignored him.
Gundrea shrugged and tried the man on his other side “How about you?”
Edward glanced up at the sky, his face wreathed in shadow. The rain went in his eye.
Continue reading "A stone's throw away"
And then the music started. A saxophone incanted through the premises. Thick beats growled through the paper walls.
“What have you got me into?” growled Morgan.
“Relax, man. It’s legal.”
Xac sat back on a cushion. He’d led Morgan, by ways and means, to a little cafe off the back of Mount Street. They’d stepped through a battered old red door into another world. There were no chairs, and the tables sat low to the ground. Sitting on the floor was a problem for Morgan. He was built like a rugby forward. Every time he shifted his leg knocked the table. What really offended him though, was the hookah.
“I am not breathing that shite,”
He slapped it for emphasis. Xac pulled back his greasy hair and took a puff. Xac looked like a drug-addled deadbeat. Moonlight flesh and tattered jeans, an old lady had already told him to get help once today.
“It’s apple and cinnamon. Like your maw used to make.”
“She only made them when you were around. These things are probably full of weed,” Morgan raised his voice “Guards should shut this place down.”
“Sam’s gonna be here and you’re carrying on.”
“Bad enough I’m here. You want to hook up with…”
Xac sniggered; it was funny seeing his lunk of a friend hesitate.
“You said you wanted something to help you forget Felicity and you didn’t care what. Well Sam’s your man.”
“I thought maybe a strip club,” Morgan rumbled, looking at his hands.
“This is just the beginning. We’re just setting the stage,” Xac took another hit.
“With a piking drug hole.”
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
They both jumped. The girl appeared out of nowhere, she had a vaguely Asian look, with a faded, floral pattern blouse
“No, we’re good, good looking.” Xac’s smile was incorrigible.
The girl was gone before he could try a pick-up line. He fell back on a cartoonish leer.
“Since when were you into girls?” Morgan asked.
“She heard you man. Lay off the morality.”
“It’s not about religion. It’s about the Law!”
The saxophone ground to a halt. Someone applauded. In the lull they heard the door. Peering out from the snug, Xac spied the third of their pack for this evening. Sam drifted up the aisle as if it was a dream. Perhaps it was. Much like Sam themself. Spiky hair fringed with blue, dressed like a punk rocker they defied definition with a diffident smile. The attendant led Sam to their table, the two in deep conversation. Morgan caught only the tail end.
“-and if I had a dream you’d be in it.”
Smiling and nodding the girl made for the kitchen. Two sleepy eyes regarded the pair.
“Morgan, so sorry about your loss.”
“No you’re not,” he muttered.
Xac shifted up, making room for Sam to float to the floor. Then they sat there. It made Morgan uncomfortable. No one had ignored him since the day he’d beaten a bully with a toilet seat.
Sam was still staring at nothing. The two exchanged looks. Finally the girl returned with a coffee. It was placed in front of Sam, who broke from a reverie to say thanks and smiled and waited for the attendant to leave. Then and only then did they pick up the mouthpiece of the hookah and sip a little smoke.
Morgan’s patience finally gave out “So what’s the big event?”
Somewhere, the saxophone began to purr. Sam smiled.
“We’re going to summon a demon.”
“Why howl at the moon?”
“Why not?” replied Sable, circumventing the street rubbish.
“I don’t get it,” said Ben.
His voice carried through the crowd despite its gloomy timbre. And what a crowd. Mount Street thronged with people. Sable, in a summer skirt and winter boots, had to step onto the road. She jogged past a pack of tourists and hopped back onto the footpath, waiting for Ben to catch up. Ben moped right through them, muttering apologies. The wind caught his coat, whipping it into a grey frenzy. Sable fancied it was trying to escape. She let him pass then fell in behind. He was her battering ram.
Sable gestured across the street. Night clubs always looked forlorn and abandoned during the day. Blacked out windows and locked doors gave the impression of a building people would rather forget, along with how much they’d drank in it.
“It’s a night club,” said Ben.
“I know. Look at the doors.”
Ben peered closer.
She swatted the back of his head lightly “The senses! The eyes, the nose. It’s what I’ve been talking about. What we perceive, that’s what matters.”
He considered it for a while. “We took a twenty minute detour to see a door.”
Sable started back the way they came “It’s the experience that counts.”
They walked up near the quays, passing the theatre.
“Seen Morgan lately?” asked Ben.
Sable’s eyes were on the posters. Ben tapped her shoulder.
“Sorry. When was the last time you saw a stage show?”
“Oh, well Smock Alley put on Waiting for Godot last year.”
A business man with earphones slammed into Sable. He murmured something like sorry before taking off again. She brushed down her jacket looking sour. “Why are the banksters always such jerks?”
“He was probably in his own world. Most people are.”
“Being knocked down is something you should only try once.”
Sable finished dealing with imaginary dirt and Ben fell into line behind her. His original question came back as she dodged oncoming pedestrians.
“I saw Morgan last Friday. Frankly I’m glad he broke up with Felicity.”
Sable paused at the entrance to the Maldron Hotel. She hadn’t been in it since it was done up. Its great glass maw opened to admit an elderly couple. Ben was looking at her.
“I really don’t see the point,” he said helplessly. She stepped inside.
The glass ran right down the side, the architect having thought a view of the car park worth showing. Massive plant pots dominated the hallway, otherwise taken up with the front desk. A grand wooden staircase led the way up to some sort of lounge. Sable floated up those stairs, drinking in the texture. Carpet ran to the walls, edges just beginning to fray. The tables were pine, sleek modern chique that clashed with the antique lamps. Behind the bar a bored tender examined a glass. The only other occupants were two business men, laughing at a joke. Sable stood there, long enough to draw notice
Ben appeared behind her. “Oh, they put in a bar.”
Sable turned to him wagging a finger “She’s a complete social climber you know. she just wanted an invite to the Gala.”
Ben stared at the ceiling “I enjoy wasting my life on these meaningless detours.”
She blinked, then frowned at him, then cursed “The library, right. We’ll go there immediately.”
Ben had his doubts.
There's a saying on the plains. If you meet a blind man on the road, kill him.
Now I know what you're thinking but let me explain. You see, there's a story to go with the saying. Everyone knows it, no one ever tells it; until now. It goes that a king out riding met a blind man stumbling along the road. Being the generous sort the king ordered one of his guards lead him home. The blind man responded with these words
“You are very kind great king, but I would fare better on your horse.”
The king was offended at such insolence and rode off with his entourage.
Now as the day closed the king rode back the same way. But a hundred yards from this morning the blind man still struggled. Seeing this the king's heart softened and he ordered his guards to help.
Again the blind man refused “for whom would you give up your horse?”
Enraged the king ordered the blind man beaten. The guards drew their knives, and held them up to eye level.
The blind man stared at nothing “A king who will not give up his horse, deserves to have it taken.”
The guards circled their king, their eyes dark. Then they closed in.
So it goes that a king out riding met a blind man stumbling along the road.
A door creaked. Begrudgingly, the abandoned inn admitted a torrent of rain. A figure tumbled in, dropping his broom to kiss the floor.
“Sweet mercy, dry land!”
He was followed by a girl. A woman. She was at that precocious age where she looked like neither and acted like both. The last of the trio stepped inside, only to be sprayed as the girl shook water from her overcoat. A tall, reedy presence, he sighed, allowing the wet to cascade from his expensive cloak. His tired gaze swept over the common room, settling on an unlit hearth.
Yllen hopped after him, still trying to get the rain off.
“Sorry-” she began, only to be interrupted by a chair.
“Bring that with you. It’ll make good kindling."
Pausing only to rub her shin, she dragged the chair over. Gundrea picked himself up off the floor and for lack of anything else to do, began sweeping.
“Here, this place was packed last year. What happened?”
“They retired to live long happy lives no doubt,” said the thin man. His cloak drew back, revealing armour referred to in the ancient tongue as a speedo. Yllen set the chair down. They called him Titanslayer but he’d told her to call him Edward. He tore apart the chair, tossing the pieces on the hearth.
Yllen abandoned her soaking overcoat and tried to coax some warmth into her hands.
“Here lass, you’re shivering something awful.” Gundrea put his arm around her. He smelled of dust.
“I’m alright.” She appreciated the warmth though and dallied before standing away. Gundrea just gave her the same wrinkled, knowing grin he always did. He looked ancient but wasn’t really, probably.
Edward focused on the hearth. He arranged the broken chair pieces like someone building a watch. Only when satisfied did he intone “Spirit of fire, by the compact of my people I call you to account and request payment of your debt.”
A tiny spark settled on the wood. It sat there until it died. Gundrea produced a tinder box. Edward took it grumbling. “That normally works.”
Continue reading "A Ghastly Mess"
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