Tuesday, 28 May 2013


3: to have an outward aspect : seem <appears happy enough>
(a writing prompt from Trifecta)


(a writing prompt from Studio30Plus)

“How did you think it would appear?” Lucas said, “Castle?  Dark tower?  Mc-Bloody-Donalds?”
 His companion, a tanned athletic man shrugged.

“Worse,” he said, “You said the Enemy is a corruptor, destroyer.   This is... business.”   They were facing a large building with a gabled roof.   Modern paintwork gleamed with the corporate smile of welcome.  Trust me, it said.

“Business,” Lucas said, as someone may have said ‘tumour’.  “Anyway, the incursion’s only starting here.   Some time until the enemy takes control.   Hundred years, maybe more.”

They crossed the car park and walked up some stone steps toward the glazed reception area, a modern growth on old stone.

“The girl, Xam, is here?” the warrior said.  He sounded eager. 

“You liked her, eh?” Lucas said, “Well, yes and no.  One of her is here, but not her.  Xam doesn’t travel, she just... is.”

The two men stepped into the lobby.  Old photographs showed the building as it had once been, monochrome, grim, braced to spring, glowering windows dark and watchful.    The receptionist was a slim woman in her forties with neat blonde hair and a fetching pressed-blouse efficiency.

“Samantha Kettlewell,” said Lucas looking at her badge, “No appointment I’m afraid, we’re here to wreak havoc.”

“When did you ever do anything else?” she said, then she looked at the other man and grinned.  “Hello again.   Sleep well?”   Her voice was innocent, her eyes more truthful.

 He frowned.  “Yes, but... Xam?”

“Slept very well,” Kettlewell said.   The warrior swallowed.  Yesterday she’d been younger, stranger, and far different in Context.

“Aye well, enough,” said Lucas, “How long till the Enemy’s real enough to face?”

“A century and a half,” Kettlewell said, “I’m picking up echoes.  It’s going to be grim.”

“Which way?”

“Downline,” said Kettlewell, “the place is a workhouse then.   I think I’m an inmate.  It’s obscured I’m afraid. The Enemy is wary.”

“It should be,” Lucas said, “Come on big fella, let’s go cause mayhem.”

The two men departed silently.  Samantha answered a ringing phone.  Routine.


The image above, which is copyright Peter Higginbotham, is of a property in Whitby, North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom which is now a shared premises for a number of small businesses.   Prior to that it was a fever hospital.   Prior to that it was a workhouse for the lodging of the destitute and hopeless.  Local stories suggest the place is haunted, but there are stranger things than ghosts lingering in the shadows and hauntings aren't always one way things.  

Monday, 20 May 2013

First Draft

(a writing prompt from Trifecta)
No more than 333 words inspired by:

At seventeen years old Jackson Stryker was the youngest Warp Agent in the Paradox Police.   He strode from his office clutching the silver edged telegram that had been delivered mere moments ago

“The game is afoot,” he said, brandishing the telegram, “My nemesis has returned.   This telegram is from Baron Von Stark himself gloating about his latest mischief.   He and his Nihilinuns have simultaneously abducted our President’s daughter at five separate points in her life and he’s threatened to kill them all in order, youngest to oldest unless we accede to his demands,”

“That son of a bitch,” growled Sergeant Bull, “What does he want this time?”

“Money, Pete,” said Stryker, “and lots of it.   But I’ve no intention of paying a penny.   Here’s the plan...”

“What are you writing?” asked Edgar looking at the laptop.

Irritated at being broken off my tone was sharper than it had to be.  “It’s a prompt for Trifecta,” I said, “Thought I’d try a science fiction piece this time.  Light touch instead of all that dark gothic stuff, you know a bit Harry Harrison maybe.”

Edgar did not look impressed and made a disapproving noise as he read down the screen.
“Seventeen years old?  And he’s already got a nemesis?  Really?”

“Why not?” I replied, “All heroes need a nemesis.”

“Yeah.. but come on.  When did he start being a cop?  Kindergarten?   And Von Stark?   Forget it.”


Edgar sniffed.  “Hero called Stryker, villain called Stark.  Too similar.  You’ll confuse people.”

“Alright I’ll change the name,”  I started to edit. “How about Von Wrath?”

“The Pit Bull joke is too obscure,” Edgar said, “And if your villain kills the hostages youngest to oldest, the older ones will all disappear before they can be killed.”

“For a talking cat you’re damned pedantic,” I said, “that’s the whole point.  Paradox Police.  Time travel.”

“Makes no sense.  And you’re one word over the three hundred and thirty three word limit.”

I glanced down at my word count.

“No I’m

The Hanged Man

(a writing prompt from Write on Edge involving the picture above,
and from Studio30Plus about the word Redemption)

Skene could feel the ancient cold of his cell as he squirmed downward into dream, forcing sleep as his heart hammered faster with the exertion.   This once came easy to him but that was a long time away from here (in which direction he did not know) and now every moment the effort of his attempt strained his nerves, tried to draw him back to meatspace and the frigid stone confinement.  If he gave up now though he would give up forever.  He could not live with that.   He had to find his way back, to let them know that he knew he’d been wrong.   Just that.

A moment like a painful birth and the dream opened for him.  Skene lay on dry ground, the breath knocked out of him and his body jarred from the impact.  He took a second before standing.

The Cornerhouse waited alone, surrounded by nothing but flat plains.   It looked like part of a larger edifice, and so it was of course.   This was a glimpse of the whole, a single gate house and two vestigial wings that intersected with this part of his dream.   He wondered who would be playing Cerberus today and groaned as he saw.    

Skene walked toward the doorway of the hexagonal building, toward the guardian, a man in a funeral suit and tall hat.   His skin was greying, his eyes twin blue stars of cold contempt.

“You’re not welcome,”

“Malachi,” said Skene, “I need to speak to someone.  Anyone.”

Malachi’s voice was tomb-dry.  “No fatted calves for you, prodigal.   Turncoat.”

Anger flashed through Skene’s long-practised despair.  “I walked away, and that was wrong.  I know that.  But I never betrayed-”

Malachi cut him off with a snarl revealing a mouthful of discoloured and splintered teeth.  “Not welcome... but expected.”  He stepped aside and the door behind him opened slowly.   “Counter-Clockwise.”

Skene climbed the stairs, entered the house and held his breath.   He turned left and walked the corridor, much longer inside than it seemed from outside, wondering which of the ten thousand rehearsed words he should use.    Each window showed a new outside – a burnt ochre desert, an ocean of shining gold beneath watchful stars, a city of rainbow neon where spiders passed from hand to hand in secret trades.  He knew them all but passed by each view uninterested.

“We can’t get you out of there,”  The speaker was an old woman waiting in the chambered vault of the next Cornerhouse.   “They have you too deep for us to reach.” 

“I just wanted to explain-”

She held up her hand.  “No time.   We cannot keep you here.   You will have to return there.”

“I know,” Skene said desperately, “But I wanted to say I was sorry, wanted another chance, to do something-”

She nodded.  And then she smiled and he recognised the girl he had known in a far Context.   He knew how her laughter would sound, remembered that they had been lovers (or would be).   “Oh you’ll do something, Skene.   You have to return there.  But you’re taking something back with you.”

Her fingers touched his chest.

He opened his eyes then in cold and painful darkness, stone around him.   He felt the change that she had made and he grinned like a rogue in a convent.   Freedom waited just beyond the walls, and walls were nothing to him now.

(a continuation of Strength, High Priestess and Magus & Hermit)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Career Change

(a writing prompt from Trifecta - 33 words including underneath, paradigm and honey)

The nerve of that wasp to sting a sorceress!  Well, a teacher (but a sorceress underneath).  

“Get a job,” she snapped.  

Paradigm shift.  The new and baffled bee began to dream of honey.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Cloak of Falcon Feathers

(a writing prompt from Trifecta)

The two men watched, seeing unseen, as the young woman on the monitor moved her arms and hands and fingers.

“Tai-Chi?” said the younger man.   The name badge on his white coat read  Frankl.   He could not take his eyes from the screen and the constant intricate gestures.

“No,” The older man was short and white haired.  Nobody pestered Doctor Kessler about name badges or rules and regulations.   “Not Tai-Chi.   They look more like yoga mudra, but not from any tradition I know.”

“You do yoga?” 

“I read books,” said Kessler testily.  

The woman had been found wandering in Munich, stark naked, stumbling and her inability to respond to the presence of others had led to her being given over into the care of the Planck Institute.   She’d been catatonic for just over a month.

“When did the gestures start?”

“A week ago,” Kessler said.   “About the same time that the tattoo on the nape of her neck started to fade.”   He smiled like a chess player.

Frankl kept his eyes on the woman and her deliberate complex dance of hands and fingers.   He could not see the back of her neck, her blonde hair was in a long braid.

“Tattoos  don’t fade,” he said, “Unless it was henna or some temporary-“

Kessler showed him a photograph.   The design was black and angular and looked like a pair of spiders with interlocking legs.   “A tattoo.   And it’s gone.  And now this.”


“I know.   The same gestures over and over.  Twenty four distinct patterns then they repeat.  Minor variations.”  Kessler nodded to himself.  “Getting more precise I think.”

“Some obsessive compulsive syndrome?”

“Clearly.  But nothing I’ve seen before.  Damnation…”    Kessler’s nose had started bleeding, he raised his hand to wipe the blood away.   The woman stood gracefully from her cross-legged position.   Frankl reeled, suddenly dizzy and the monitor screen flickered briefly.

“My damned nose,” Kessler muttered pressing a handkerchief to his nostrils to staunch the blood.

“She’s gone,” Frankl said, “She’s just… gone.”

Monday, 13 May 2013

Orphaned Hope

(this image and the word "Orphan" - writing prompts from Write on Edge
The characters are Gaston Leroux's and while I would normally eschew using someone else's characters, the two principals insisted that the prompts fit them perfectly and refused to allow me to apply the prompts to another subject. I am not foolish enough to refuse the polite requests of the Opera Ghost since they rarely remain long as polite requests.)

I should never have allowed myself to become distracted.

It is something that comes too naturally to me I am afraid.   Reality is a vice of pain and tedium; memories and hope alike turn the handle of the vice,  and so I prefer to let my mind wander and play in the celestial heights and infernal depths of imagination.  

I should have been content with demonic dreams.  Angelic aspirations have proven far worse.

Her voice entranced me.   A perfection of tone and a natural ease in its deployment.   I listened from the dusty fringes and glimpsed her and became… distracted.    I abandoned all usual reveries and my thoughts were all for her.  I learned of her life from the gossip of others and from correspondence cunningly removed and then returned.   She was Swedish, orphaned, daughter of a mediocre violinist whom she missed with a longing that pained me.

Only in music have I known longing like that.   As my fingers move over the keys of my spinet my imagination guides them and music flows.  It is a dance of creation and my mind supplies full accompaniment, and I poor wretch that I am simply adore the emerging perfection and long for the revelation of the whole.

Sometimes I deliberately insert a jarring discord.   To remind myself.

I can’t recall the beginning of the deception.   She yearned for an unseen hope.  Whether she first voiced the nonsense about angels or whether it was some twisted inspiration of mine I cannot say.   But I became her Angel of Music and did not dare think ahead to where that nonsense would end.

A thousand times I resolved to end it, to use silence like a surgeon’s knife to cut her free of me, and to cure myself of her.   But I longed for her company, her conversation, the simple joy she showed in knowing me.   A thousand times I resolved to end it.  A thousand and one times I crept back to be near her and greet her with a whispered word.

Last night the music made me reckless.   The dance of creation had soared into celestial grandeur and made me believe the impossible.   She loved me, she loved me, she loved me for my voice and my mind and my great heart.   All else she could overlook, the music told me, and fool that I was I listened to the music.

I greeted her with song and took her hand.   She recoiled and did not know why, but I did.   Angels are perfect and fleshless.   I could fool myself with dreams but she did not have my skill or experience in self-deception.

I calmed her and led her and exhaustion and shock dragged her into slumber in a room, a pretty room I had made for her.

And I played at my spinet and prayed to emptiness that the music could deceive me again.  It did not.    Reality was a rare visitor to my little house but it crept in now uninvited and screamed truth in my ear.    I would end this folly, return her to her life, and then trouble the world no longer with jarring discords.   I would weave words around her as I carried her home, and it would all have been a dream.

I did not hear the door to her room open.

I should never have allowed myself to become distracted.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Wooden Heart

This story originally appeared at Studio30Plus 

The grove of trees was secluded, and it was dark.  It was ancient and largely unknown.  And it was waiting.    The eldest of the trees held court there, squatting like a bloated tyrant with a tanglewood crown and grasping miser’s fingers raking the earth around its corpulent trunk.   Healthy things did not grow there, wholesome plants did not flourish.   Birds did not roost in the trees of that grove, not the wise old birds anyway.  Ravens shunned it.   Foolish fledgeling songbirds who fluttered into the tyrant’s little realm did not flutter out again.   Insects and crawling things flourished and dug and bred greedily in the stinking moisture of the hollows of that grove.
An approaching light, flimsy and weak.   Two men picked their way through the night, a lantern held aloft by the older of the two.
“It is much further?” said the younger, a strong young man in his twenties, broad shouldered beneath his roughspun jacket.   His voice carried the barely masked complaint of someone who had been out much later than he expected to have been out, and who had travelled much further than he had wanted to.
“No,” said the older man.   He picked his way between two wiry sentinel trees and carefully stepped down and down and down the grove’s steep sides.   “We’re here Antonio.   Watch your footing.”
Antonio, the younger man peered down into the place that his neighbour had brought him to and he grimaced.  The air was foul.
“This is not a healthy place,” he said quietly.
“What is a healthy place?” said the older man hanging the lantern from a jutting branch.   “Where in all of Tuscany is healthy?  Is safe?”
Antonio recognised the familiar bitterness in his neighbour’s voice.   “My friend, the cholera has passed us by.   You cannot keep blaming...”

“God mocks us,” said the older man, pacing slowly to the edge of the clearing, feeling the earth suck hungrily at his boots.   “He despises us.   I despise him in my turn.”

Antonio crossed himself.
“He took my wife from me ten winters past,” said the older man, “and left only my boy to remember her by.   All the love I had for her I poured into him.   My hopes.   Everything.   And I gave thanks to the Almighty for him.   And then the Almighty showed his undying love again.”   He spat copiously on the earth.    “The cholera hung over our town like an unseen angel seeking who he might devour.   My boy...”
“My boy!” the old man said angrily, turning and pointing a finger at the younger man.   “God showed his contempt for our lives, our hopes, our efforts!   Should I bear it in smiling silence, as a woman bears the fists of the drunkard who beats her?”   He looked up at the distant sky and bit his thumbnail.     

Antonio did not answer at once.   He would let his neighbour’s anger rage and burn itself out, and what good would argument do for him now, here in this place?   This place cared nothing for words.
“My grandmother’s mother came here,” said the old man more quietly now.   “She was born in Palermo, but she fled north with nothing but the clothes on her back and a bundle of sticks.    The priests called her strega, a witch.   And the Inquisition was still a power in those days.  Strega!”    He wiped his chin, clearing it of the spittle that had flown there when he had raged.
“A slander,” said Antonio
“The truth,” said the old man with no shame in the words, but rather pride.   “She found this place, this very place, and she added her bundle of sticks to the old wood that grew here.   Sticks from the woodlands she’d danced in as a girl.”

A gust blew the lantern a little and the shadows moved and encircled the two men.    Antonio shivered and looked around, the older man closed his eyes as though embraced.
“There are trees as old as Eden,” the old man said, his voice soft, “who drank up the water from the ground when Adam and Lilith coupled in the midnight heat.   Who supped on the tears of Eve who wept when the Almighty’s curse fell upon her,”
“We should go home,”
“Trees who sank beneath the deluge and refused to die,” the old man said, his voice stronger now, “who knew their enemy for what He was and held on fiercely to life and waited for their moment.”
Antonio came slowly toward his friend and took hold of him by the shoulders.
“You’re distressed,” he said in a voice that shook with fear for his friend’s wits, “but you must stop this talk.   It is sacrilege.  Blasphemy.”
The old man’s eyes looked into Antonio’s and did not know him.
“Trees that gave their wood gladly for the crosses on the sullen brow of stone beyond Jerusalem.   Who rejoiced to drink the blood that-”
“Enough!” Antonio shook the older man roughly, hoping to break him out of this feverish rage that twisted truth and the world around an old man’s grief.
“He is with us,” said the old man in a triumphant voice, and above them old limbs, ancient limbs moved and creaked in the wind and something cracked and roared and fell.   Antonio looked up too late and raised his hands too late and felt a thunderbolt of dry and eager weight strike him on the head.
When pain woke him it drove away dreams of whispering voices and replaced those dreams with searing hot agony from temple to jaw.   He was lying on the ground in the mud beneath that ancient tyrant tree and he was tangled there in down-drooping branches and thorny vines that clustered around its roots.   Beneath his wounded head there was mud and bloodied water and his heart was a pounding drum that shook his whole body.
The old man was crouching nearby, hunched over the fallen branch that had struck Antonio.  It was bulbous and fibrous, as thick around as a man’s thigh, and the old man was sawing off the smaller shoots and tendrils that writhed and bled grey sap as they fell to the ground.
“Help me,” Antonio said, his voice a phlegmy gurgle.
“See what he has given me,” the old man said, not looking up from his work.   “He is generous.   He that my grandmother’s mother knew by name, see what he has given me.”   He put away the knife into his belt and grunted as he hefted up the hewn log of ancient gloating wood.   “He will restore to me what was stolen.”

“Help me up, help me get free of these...”  He was going to say ‘hands’ but that would have been madness, surely.  “Of this tree.   My head is split, help me to stand.”

The old man shook his head and tucked the log beneath one arm, reaching up to take the lantern from the branch.
“You remain,” he told Antonio, “You remain.   A gift demands a gift, that is the old way.”  He turned away and the night closed around the trapped young man like water rising over the ground.    Crickets and beetles emboldened by the dwindling light crept, then ran, then danced over the captive.

“Don’t leave me here!” he called.  He struggled, thrashing his limbs, but the limbs of this grove’s old master were stronger still and held him fast.   The lantern light was almost gone now, the old man out of sight.  “Don’t leave me!  Geppetto!”    The darkness engulfed Antonio completely and the wind through the branches above him lamented him in mocking tones, and the crawling things in his nostrils and mouth and ears whispered as they feasted and told him of the mighty deeds that the carpenter’s son would bring to pass.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


A writing prompt from Write on Edge

Blood:  - Trifecta
b : human stock or lineage; especially : royal lineage <a prince of the blood>
c : relationship by descent from a common ancestor : kinship
d : persons related through common descent : kindred
(1) : honorable or high birth or descent (2) : descent from parents of recognized breed or pedigree

“You have to help me,” she said, “We’re of the same blood.”

Three in the morning and she’d shaken me awake, grinning broadly and asked if I would help her hide a body.

I’d  got used to this since moving into my grandfather’s house.   She came with the territory it seemed.   She was gorgeous, pale and entirely insane.   At the moment she was dressed as a combination Girl Guide and Victorian funeral mute.  Mute.  I should be so lucky.

“The same blood,” I said, “What does that mean?”     I followed her downstairs.  She paused to lick a landscape painting.   Pink cherry blossom vivid and glorious.  

“That’s not real,” she said, “Just old oil paints.   And we are.  Kindred.  Kissing cousins”   She looked up impishly, her head on one side.  “Do you want to kiss me, cousin?”

“No,” I said.   “And how can we be… cousins.   You’re in my grandfather’s diary.   A pain in the backside he said.”

“Oh,” she said, “Does that mean you want to..”

“No,” I said as she clarified her question with an indelicate gesture.   “Figure of speech.  Means you’re a nuisance.”

“Oh that,” she said, “Suppose so.   We’re related through his grandfather.   Naughty fellow, Josiah.   Stumbled into mother’s grove and had his wicked way with her.   Took him weeks to get away.   Now help me with this body?”

She’d left it on the floor of the lounge.  Small and ugly, limbs twisted, mouth open, staring eyes fixed on the dusty ceiling.

 “It was him or me.”

It was a ventriloquist dummy.

“Alright,” I said wearily, “I’ll bury it in the garden.”

“Goody,” she said, “face down, with salt in its mouth, or it will come back and haunt me.  You.  Us.  Very bad.”


I picked up the little wooden and plastic figure.   A long groaning breath of freed air rasped from its mouth and I felt warm blood sticky and foul on my hands beneath its back.

Face down, I decided, with salt in its mouth.  Oh hell yes.