Tag Archives: #Fantasy

Lost For Words

We had a really terrible day at work today. The very first thing, as I was hoovering around the offices, was great excitement over an email that came in overnight.

“It’s Stephen King!” Mr X, the boss, literally danced around the office. “He wants us to build the entire infrastructure for his next novel. This could totally put us on the literary map. We can have a whole new marketing campaign. Wordsmyths, book fabricators to the stars.”

I got nosy and read the email.

“Mr X… it says Steven with a V and Kinge with an E.”

“It’s just a typo. Get on with the hoovering.”

“But it says it’s for a parody novel to be called The Gleaming.”

Mr X read the email more carefully, which certainly took the shine off the morning.

“Dammit,” Mr X shouted. “That’s the fourth one this week. A serious outbreak of plagiarists. Right check the spam-traps, stop the devils from emailing us, man the barricades and batten down the hatches.”

It’s a busy job, cleaning up after a bunch of mythical plot engineers, who probably believe that the rubbish gets put out by magic and fairies sweep the floors. Not that I’m knocking it – I’ve had stranger cleaning gigs and the pay is decent, something about problems with staff retention.

I got on with my hoovering and then went to do the rounds, emptying the bins, only to find that the company resource manager had muddled up the store room and the stock room.

“I must be having an off-day,” he said to me, just staring at the tangled mess. Really he should have just taken the day off.

The store room is where they keep the stock lines, stock ideas, stock phrases and stockinged feet. According to Mr X, that latter item was an ordering error, but we keep them in the hope of a Sherlock Holmes revival when the game is a foot.

However, the stock from the store room was now muddled with the twists, holes and ever increasing climaxes from the plot elements in the stock room. The whole mess was now tangled into a complete deadlock, which would have been bad enough but some clown had opened a barrel of laughs at the same time. Really, stock-phrase spillages are a menace.

Mr X took one look and told me to clean it up. “Throw it all out, lock, stock and barrel.”

I took few hours to clean up the mess because it was too big and rambling to move all in one so I had to untangle a plotless incoherent jumble that was all middle, with no beginning or end to get a hold of.

As I returned from throwing out a ring of opening hooks that were leading each other on, I passed the tensioning room and there was a blood-curdling scream. On a normal day it might have been a mild scream but there were still spilled stock phrases that I hadn’t swept up. I know Mr X has warned me about going in there. You have to pay attention because anything can happen quite suddenly, but I opened the door anyway to see if I could help.

A recently spawned plot was on the bench where Miss Y had been trying to put in a dismembered corpse at the end of the first chapter. Her assistant had been careless with a whole box of tenses making the plot explode in new directions. The walls were covered with indefinite articles, gritty particles, burst participles and past participants. Grammatical errors crawled over each other in the corners of the room, like similes on a metaphor.

A barely-formed denouement burst with a mournful pop, no longer able to sustain itself with so much narrative support taken away.

I thanked my lucky stars that the stock-phrase spillage hadn’t reached this far.

Mr X arrived, out of breath, and stared at what was left of the plot. I was more concerned about the dismembered corpse – is it a store item or stock item, and where did we get it from? Best not to ask, I think, in case it’s the last cleaner who asked where we get our corpses from.

“Dammit,” Mr X growled. “Barely any plot at all. Finish up as best you can, and put it to one side and I’ll advertise it amongst the bargain-basement literary novels.” Then he turned to me. “Right. Sweep this up carefully. Don’t want to compound the errors.”

Usually when something goes wrong like that, Mr X tells me all about it, chapter and verse, but I think the sheer number of disasters had exhausted him.

As I was taking out the debris I passed the plotting shed and noticed that someone had left the inspection hatch open on the idea incubator. Several had banded together to make an escape, leaving a detailed diagram on the wall, and a mark on the floor for where a body should go. Clearly the ideas had no idea where we keep the spare corpses.

I shouted for Mr X, who did a quick count and then sat down bone-weary and with a hint of spilled stock-phrases.

“Weeks of work,” he said grimly. “So many ideas gone all at once, even some originals, and we probably don’t have copies. We must have lost several plots.” Then he looked at me. “Have you cleaned out the nest boxes yet? Go, now, and check them over. With so many ideas on the loose there’s no telling what damage they might do. I need to issue a spoiler alert.”

I went straight to the nest boxes, each one with a nearly-developed plot maturing inside a tightly sealed binder, except for number five which was jumping and twitching. It might just have been a particularly fast-paced plot, or one packed with surprise twists, but I didn’t like the look of it. I called Mr X over, who stroked it softly, lifted it carefully to glance at the synopsis, and then laid it down with a smile on his face.

“Perfect,” he said. “We’re about to hatch a plot.”

At the end of the day, Mr X took us all out for a drink. He raised his glass and solemnly thanked us all for our hard work on a day so overwrought with disaster that no-one would ever take it seriously as a plot outline. I blame the stock-phrases spillage.

“Now, let us put all of this behind us. Tomorrow is a new chapter.” And then he drank. “Down the hatch.”

# # #

This punfest was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Hatch.

(Of course, Jasper Fforde does this so much better.)

Images from Pixabay

Illegal Parking

While strolling through the park one day…

Some days I just can’t help singing that one. I came across it when I was first learning the language on this world and it was just so fitting. And now that I live in something almost like a park, that song is just there, in my head, refusing to go away.

I was taken by surprise, by a pair of roguish eyes…

Except I was waiting for them, and there were four pairs of eyes, a group of the local militia or some such, there to tell me again that I was trespassing at Pencarrick Manor. I already knew that. I am a trespasser and squatter, but since the rightful owners of Pencarrick Manor have been off sunning themselves for years, no-one much cared.

The militia hammered on the door and I opened it, because no matter what world I am on, and no matter whose empire, I still remember my manners. Now, if the warlord Arakaro had manners I wouldn’t have fled to this forgotten world in the first place.

“Mr Berto?”

“Aye.”

“I am Mister Green, a High Court enforcement officer.”

He held up identification, as do most who come to see me. It’s a fascinating innovation, one that Arakaro’s men should adopt along with the courtesy, but I couldn’t imagine Arakaro paying artists to produce so many tiny portraits. The picture was not an unreasonable likeness, although as with so many of these identifications, Mister Green was clearly in a state of mortal torment when it was painted.

“Mister Green, sure.” I had to trust his word. I can speak some of their language, but not read it. “While strolling through the park one day…”

That song. It just won’t let me alone.

“Pardon?”

“Sorry, Mister Green. Just a passing… Never mind. What do you want?”

As always, he wanted me to leave. I complied, of course, and stood to one side for them to work on the door and make the property secure. Then they turned their attention to the gardens.

“Are these your elephants, Mister Berto?”

While strolling through the park one day…

“Pardon? It’s not a park… OK, it’s a deer park but…”

“Sorry, Mister Green. It’s just a song. I didn’t know it was a deer park. If I had known that the deer were also granted sanctuary here I would not have eaten any of them.”

“Eaten…” He shook his head wearily. “About the elephants…”

“Yes, they are my elephants.”

“They’ve got to go, mate. All of them.” Mister Green waved at my elephants, and one of his comrades walked over and kicked Kam Dakka, the nearest one. “You made a hell of mess of the lawn bringing them in. No, they have to go. And the rightful owners will want compensation for the damage. If you can’t arrange to move them yourself, we will bring in our own contractors, but we can’t be held liable for any damage…”

“Bill!” The kicker was scratching at Kam Dakka’s leg. “It’s granite. Gonna be a right devil to shift these. Must weigh five… ten tons.”

“This is not a kiddies’ safari park, Mister Berto. You really need to move them,” Mister Green told me. “If we have to do it, the costs will be added to the judgement against you, which currently stands at… wow! That’s a lot of money you owe, Mister Berto.”

I shrugged. “I have no money.” Just elephants. “I will go now. While strolling through the park one day…

I walked away. Mister Green shouted after me, “The road is that way,” but I ignored him, went round the back of the house and walked down to the stream. I have a door down there, hidden in a clump of trees. It brings me out inside the house. Fortunately, the militia know nothing of my doors or the way between worlds.

While strolling through the park one day…”

I watched as Mister Green and his militia searched for me. Once they had gone, I checked that they had not damaged my main door, because I thought I felt it shift. In the early days of my tenure, the soldiers would come, ask me to leave, and seal the doors, but once I was back inside, it was easy to open them again. In recent years, they have changed the locks, and now it requires a token they call a key to release them from the inside. I have simply created one of my doors either side of the timber door at the back of the house so that I may step in and out easily. So, I checked, but whatever it was I felt, there was no damage.

Finally, I went out and checked my elephants. It took time to visit each and release them. Kam Dakka assured me that her leg was fine, but I checked, because that granite transformation is complex, imperfect, and only just enough to confuse hunters.

The matriarch, Poh Mara, thanked me and led the herd through the opening I had long-since made to a farm some miles away. They cultivate a grass native to the lands from where I rescued Poh Mara and her kin. The elephants have a phrase for it – the taste of home. They are careful not to eat too much for fear of arousing the anger of the farmers.

In a few more years I will be able to amass the power to open a proper distant doorway and take the elephants somewhere better. I have read of a far-off land called America with great grasslands where they do not hunt elephants.

That song was in my head again. “While strolling through the park one day…”

Poh Mara rested the tip of her trunk on my shoulder for a moment. Warlords and soldiers are a menace, but I will keep my elephants safe, as I promised them, strolling in parks until I can reach a proper home.

# # #

I’ll just take a moment to talk about the elephant in the story…

I wrote a first draft of elephants ages ago, after a very strange dream, but then the January #Blogbattle prompt of Park popped up. I couldn’t get an old, old song out of my head, and it just belonged with my elephants.

One day, maybe, I will write the whole of the elephant novel.

Images from pixabay.com

Toe-to-Toe

My feet started to itch and I blamed the wet weather. The flooding has been at least ankle-deep for the last few weeks, only easing in the last few days, so boots are essential just to step out of the house. I’m sure that any day now, I’ll need them inside the house as well. When the itch started I immediately thought of trench foot, but that’s probably because our Ted is learning about the first world war at school.

I went to my GP because my toes were red and sore. At least the surgery is on slightly higher ground, above the flood levels.

“I think what you have is most probably a fungal infection,” she said, writing a prescription.

“So, not trench foot.”

“No. Not at all. But come back if it gets worse.”

Every time I see my GP she says that – come back if it gets worse. I never do, because it never does, except this time. I applied the ointment and my toes got worse, a deepening red and maddening itch. I would have given it a day or two, but then my eldest sat at the kitchen table and presented his right foot just when Margi was getting ready to lay out supper.

“Dad. Think I got athletes toe or something.”

I took a look and saw the same red mess as my own toes.

Margi looked.

“Get your feet on the floor where they belong.” Margi set out the plates. “I’ll take you to the GP in the morning.”

Translation. Dad will take you to the GP in the morning. It was a good thing, though, the way my own feet were getting worse.

“I could still be a fungal infection,” the GP told me with all the reassurance of a politician denying a scandal. “But it’s seriously infectious and we are seeing more cases. I am going to prescribe a stronger anti-fungal treatment. Nip it in the bud.”

Honestly, the new ointment stings a bit, but I toughed it out for Ted’s sake.

“You know it’s working when it stings,” I told him and got a derisive grunt in reply.

I dropped him off at the top of the hill to walk down to school because I don’t drive a Chelsea tractor that can handle water that comes part way up my wheel arches. Then I went home to find a different pair of shoes because my feet were being crushed in my wellies.

That was when I rang my boss to say I was taking the day off. My feet were puffed up, my toes so swollen they were no more than a big, continuous ripply blob. I put more of the ointment on, which stung like crazy, and Googled for what to do. The only answer that made sense was to elevate them. I lay on the floor with a couple of cushions to hold my ankles up.

It’s really hard to watch the TV like that.

I had to crawl to the kitchen to get lunch because it was just too painful to put any weight on my feet, which were both the size and shape of a melon. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse my feet literally went pop. I felt a pain like the day I dropped a concrete block on myself and heard a wet snap like an elastic band.

It’s best not to look, not straight away. When something that bad happens, give it a moment or two to settle, let the pain go down. The moment you look, it’s real.

I looked.

My feet were still there.

When I say feet, I mean something more like a duck. The swelling wasn’t gone, just spread sideways. I could see the bones splayed wide, and scaly mottled skin stretched between them. My toes were no more than stubs.

I think I may have screamed. There was certainly a lot of noise, and then I vomited. There is a gap in my memory after that. Perhaps there was more screaming. I’m really not sure. In the end I crawled to the kitchen to get a bucket and sponge to wipe the mess off the carpet.

I had to stand to reach the tap, putting as little weight on my feet as possible, but surprisingly there was almost no pain. Cautiously, I stood properly, filled the bucket and walked back to the lounge.

Or waddled. My feet were too wide to walk comfortably.

Once I had cleaned up, I phoned the GP, but the receptionist said she had been taken ill. I thought about calling for an ambulance, but duck feet didn’t seem like an emergency. I decided to drive to the nearest hospital instead, but quickly discovered that the pedals in the car were mean for a human foot.

Ted came home a bit after four. I was calmer about my feet and showed him what had happened.

“Wow. Greg was right. Duck-foot virus.”

Greg is Ted’s best mate. He’s also trouble and a bit wild where my boy is steady. If Ted influences Greg then I bet they will grow up to be best mates, down the pub for a beer, taking their kids out to the park and all that. If Greg influences Ted, I expect they’ll both end up in prison.

“Duck-foot. Right.” I could hear Greg’s troubling influence. “Just so long as I don’t start quacking.”

Naturally, Ted got his phone out, took a photo and set it to Greg, quacking and giggling alternately. Greg answered almost immediately, and that wiped the grin off my lad’s face.

“Greg’s got it bad,” he said and showed me his phone.

“That’s duck-foot alright,” I agreed. I would definitely be screaming if my feet turned into a plaited mess of stretched out toes all merged into one. “I reckon I’m going to catch the bus. Get myself to hospital. You stop here until Mum gets home.”

Ted nodded. “Right, Dad. Right.”

I rolled my trousers up to keep them dry and stepped outside. Water lapped up over my toes, but my feet felt fine. I walked with a bit of a shuffle because those duck feet were meant to have legs further apart, but apart from that it was fine.

Then I stumbled, half way down the garden path. It was nothing serious, and I managed to not fall, just took a couple of clumsy steps on to the lawn.

Just a matter of practice, I told myself. Just got to take a moment.

I tried to take another step and my feet were fixed down. The water was murky so I got my phone out to get a bit more light. My feet were spreading wider and merging down into the mud. In moments I went from being able to rock from side to side, to being completely stuck. The lawn actually bulged upwards out of the water as my feet put down swelling roots.

I tried to bend down to look more closely, but my knees locked up.

At least I had my phone out. I called for an ambulance.

“I got that duck-foot virus,” I told them. “But it’s not duck feet. I’m turning into a tree.” I looked down, which was a mistake. I was part of the lawn now and my toes re-appeared, growing upwards, five eager saplings. “I am going back to nature. I am the forest.”

My hips seized up and my toes were as high as my knees.

I don’t want to be a forest.

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Merge.

Way To Go Gnome

I turned up to do some general tidying around the gardens at the Duckwater residential care home and noticed that someone had installed a garden gnome over the weekend. It’s not unusual – friends and relatives often do things like that to liven the place up – and someone had spent a bit of money on this one. Every so often, the little fishing rod dipped twice, flicked from side to side and bobbed once more. It was an eye-catching rhythm, bob, bob, swish-swish bob. I couldn’t tell whether it was battery-powered or had a cunningly disguised solar panel, but I caught myself nodding my head in time with it. Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Even so, it was a stupid place to put it, causing awkward wheelchair access right where the path around the pond was narrowest, between the safety rail and a bench where friends and relatives could sit with their resident and watch the ducks on the pond.

I did my job, working round the little statue – all green trousers and a sloppy pointed hat, perched right on the edge of the pond, fishing rod doing its bob, bob, swish-swish bob, but no smile. I don’t like garden gnomes, and their inane cheery disposition, but a frowning gnome with lips pursed into a grimace is even creepier.

That bob, bob, swish-swish bob got on my wick after a while. An annoying movement that kept catching my attention and then got me nodding along to it.

When I was done for the morning, I mentioned it to Laura, the manager, just in case she wanted it moved. Whoever originally installed it ought to be the one to shift it somewhere better, but moving a garden gnome meant being paid for another hour’s work.

“Ugly, grumpy-looking thing,” Laura decided. “Can’t stay there. I mean…” bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Aw, look at that, waving his fishing rod around. I mean, really, it only needs to move a little bit.” She nudged it with her foot. “That’s heavy, John. Is it going to be difficult to move?”

I crouched down to get a grip on Grumpy’s elbows, which was tricky because he was partly under the safety rail that stopped runaway wheelchairs or zimmers ending up in the water. I tried to lift him.

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, BOB, BOB.

“Someone must have cemented him down.” Which was odd because the concrete edge on the pond was encrusted with moss, but there was no sign of anything scraped away to make a clean surface. “I can bring a pry bar on Wednesday and try to shift it.”

“Yes. That would be good. Thank you, John.” Laura shook her head. “People are just so inconsiderate.” She shook her head again. “That’s odd. Where are the ducks?”

I hadn’t noticed their absence. Sometimes, depending on the day, I sit on one of the benches to eat my lunch and throw the odd crust for the ducks.

“Foxes?” I had never seen the pond without a single duck visible. “But there would be feathers, right?” The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “Grumpy probably scared them away.”

Laura sighed. “Something else to deal with. And…”

“Coming through, coming through.” Mrs Patterson announced herself, arriving at a stately pace with her walker, and one of the nursing staff at her elbow. “Well he’s an ugly little devil. Just let me sit.” The nursing staff folded down the seat built into her walker. “Thank you, dear.” She gave me a grin. “Silly place to put a gnome, John. I’ll sit and have a word with him. See if I can get him to smile.”

The fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob, bob-bob.

“Oh look…” Mrs Patterson manoeuvred closer to Grumpy. “Tick-tock, tick-tock, like a little metro-gnome.” She chuckled to herself. “So, what do you call yourself, little fellow?”

Laura nodded, smiled, and made a decision. “John? Could you come and shift that gnome this afternoon?”

“Yeah, yeah, no problem.”

I drove into town, bought a couple of sarnies, and dropped by my lock-up to get a pry-bar, bolster chisel and hammer. I parked in my usual spot and headed down to the pond, and walked into a developing crisis. Laura was there, pink and flustered, and at least half the nursing staff were out and about.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“John? Can you help us look. We’ve lost Mrs Patterson. Her walker is still down by the bench, but no-one has seen her since this morning.”

We searched for probably an hour or more, and I finished up at the bench, where Mrs Patterson’s walker was still parked beside Grumpy.

“Did you see anything, mate?” I asked the gnome because there was no-one else to talk to.

Grumpy’s fishing rod went bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

Laura appeared at the far side of the pond and walked round, shaking her head as she drew close.

“It’s time to call the police,” she said wearily.

“Yeah. And tell them to question Grumpy. Little beady eyes, no fixed abode, fishing at all hours.”

Laura managed a weak laugh. “Except he’s got a very fixed abode until you move him… probably tomorrow now. Don’t suppose the police will want you touching anything.”

Tomorrow became the day after, and then next week, and finally let’s just wait and see, because Mrs Patterson had done more than just wander off. The police wrapped everything in blue-and-white tape, asked endless questions, mounted a major search, and did television appeals which included phrases like possible abduction and very concerned for her safety, because even with her walker frame, Mrs Patterson had a top speed of snail’s pace and coming down to the pond was a major expedition.

The police tape eventually came down, their investigation became ongoing, and I had more than two weeks of catching up on grounds maintenance to do. Not that I mind. They’re paying me by the hour. It’s surprising how much there is to do, weeding, a bit of light pruning, and a couple of barrow-loads of crisp packets, coffee cups, drink cans and miscellaneous rubbish. I’m sure some of it was down to the police search teams, but honestly most of it is from the residents and their visitors.

I divvied up the rubbish into general and recycling, and finally took the weeds, clippings and stray banana skins to the compost heap which is hidden in a clump of rhododendrons. I keep nudging Laura to let me grub those out and plant native shrubs, but the words noxious foreign weed just don’t register with her.

Someone had been messing with my compost. The heap wasn’t just kicked around, but dug up, flung far into the shrubbery, and where it had stood there was now a deep pit showing ripped rhododendron roots.

I called Laura.

“Probably just teenagers,” she grumbled.

Seriously? If I find a teenager prepared to dig a hole like that just for a lark, I’m gonna take them on as an apprentice.

“Thing is, Laura, that hole…”

“You can just fill it in, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s big enough for a body, isn’t it? And see that there, half way up the far end…”

“Bit of stone?”

“I think it’s a finger bone,” I told her, because I’d already walked round and looked closely, so I was very sure it was a bone. “And then there’s the really weird thing…” I pointed to a gap in the rhododendrons where three Grumpy clones were gathered together, fishing rods doing an occasional bob, bob, swish-swish bob. “That’s more than just a prank, right?”

“Um.” Laura stared, fishing rods flicked back and forth, and she just tuned out for a while, lost in the beguiling bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

“Probably ought to get the police back,” I prompted. “Because this is just freaky.”

“Yeah. Right. I’ll go call them.”

She walked away and there was a sudden rustle in the depths of the rhododendron. It was probably just a cat or squirrel, spooked by four Grumpy clones going bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

That movement, it catches the attention. I could lose myself just staring at it.

Bob, bob, swish-swish bob.

I hurried after Laura. I was certain there were only three of them a moment ago.



Way To Go Gnome was written in response to the November #BlogBattle prompt of Hypnotic.

Image from pixabay.com

Still Thinking

My latest project is distilled wisdom, which is nearly as tricky as finding the Philosopher’s Stone. The sort of thing that led Elgin to lose his marbles.

I commenced with suitable raw materials in the biggest sudden retort I could make. At the bottom I put a layer of Emmanuelle Kant, and then for safety, I piled on some religious cant before adding the full works of Descarte, a small hay cart and some fake art. Finally, I threw in some Bertrand Russell, the neighbour’s annoying Jack Russell and enough brown paper to make a serious rustle. I think I may have dropped my thought-a-day motivational calendar in by accident.

I added a tin of peas, such an overlooked letter, and a spoonful of eye’s cream along with other pureed pronouns, because when you’re looking for wisdom it’s best to know who’s who and what’s what, what?

Beneath my sudden retort I stacked Aristotle with Plato and let the debate heat up.

Meanwhile, I built a fractious column, fully exaggerated at ten feet tall, packed it with editorial marks, some Karl Marx, TK Maxx and a sprinkle of typographic details, and finally sealed it to the retort with tight-packed conjunctions, and so.

When you’re distilling ideas, the devil is in the detail, which you don’t want leaking out.

After months of warming to some of the ideas, and watching the slow churn of concepts, I saw the first wisps of vapid wisdom floating up the fractious column. At the very top, tiny drops of the lightest fractions, the high falutin, gathered where I could cream them off and make a little money selling them to Christmas Cracker manufacturers.

I may have drunk a few, just to check the taste.

A week after the last empty idea passed my lips, a tide of bees rose up the fractious column. Be the best you can be dripped into a small, glass receptive audience, followed by be confident in yourself. When a sludge of be true to yourself formed beneath the lighter aphorisms, I realised that it was just the remains of my motivational calendar.

First principles gathered in the condenser, working their way out with nothing else to go on. Being quite unstable, they reacted with trivial problems and condensed into pure solutions. I resolutely scraped off these resolutions and put them in my diary for January.

Pure truth bubbled at the bottom of the column, too heavy to rise, too volatile to stay in the mire of boiling opinion and conjecture below. I was prepared for this when I built the fractious column and had put a light-hearted article near the bottom to draw off anything too dangerously weighty. I pulled up a chair and watched the bubbles, hard and heavy, stark and simple, and like most people, such truth was more than I could stand.

As a final precaution, I took the truth, the whole truth, the utterly unforgiving truth, and buried it in the garden. If you want to know the truth, I can introduce you, but honestly, you may not like it.

Straight and true, but safely devoid of truth, my fractious column got on with the business of refining wisdom, of separating fact from fiction. After eight months, I saw little sparks of inspiration, so I wrapped the fractious column in layers of flannel, because those little sparks can get out of hand and turn into explosions of dangerous ideas.

At nine months I thought I heard ideas chiming, but after I leant, and bent my ear, I realised I was simply fooled by verse, and mere doggerel at that. It was nothing more than the neighbour’s Jack Russell dogging my efforts.

I reached the sticking point, probably fetched by the Jack Russell, when the fractious column cleared completely in a final editorial frenzy. As thin as air and impossible to truly grasp, the purest wisdom rose incrementally toward the very top.

After a year of my life, a single drop of the most rarefied concepts teetered on the cusp, unsure whether to rise or fall, so ephemeral that I had to use the edge of my Occam’s razor to raise it to my eyes and gaze upon my success. True wisdom is so clear that most people see right through it, but through my ongoing efforts to refine the finest of intellectual refinement, I made a bit of a rose-tinted spectacle of myself, just enough to clearly see anything that was too clear to see.

The heaviest fraction balanced on a knife-edge, ready for me to think the unthinkable, drink the undrinkable, and curse the inevitable.

I think.

Their four.

Ay! Yam.

That’s the trouble with distilled wisdom, it’s so easy to get contamination with bitter words, or bits of words, and stray vegetable matter from the paper.


# # #

This was inspired by the #BlogBattle prompt of Abstract.

Images from pixabay

Clean Slate

Dear Hatchling,

Read this first. It’s important.

You are a phoenix but you look like a human. When you go out into the world and meet humans, do not tell them that you are a phoenix. They will not understand, not believe and most likely lock you up. Whatever you do, do not go out amongst humans until you have read all of these notes. Frankly, the inside of the shell is no longer big enough to write everything down.

Humans will tell you that a phoenix is a bird. Ignore them. Do not contradict, because as previously mentioned, it will not go well for you.

When humans tell you that a phoenix dies in fire and rises new-born from the ashes, nod and agree. It’s nonsense, but again, as previously mentioned, just go with it. Apparently when my shell forms it will steam a bit for a few years, and when you hatch out it will disintegrate into fine powder after a few years. Humans tend not to pay attention to fine details like that, so misunderstandings arise.

When it is your time to be reborn, find somewhere really good that no human will find. Best not to let them misunderstand any more than they have to.

For your information, millions of years ago, when you were already old, the dominant creature was something called a dinosaur. Back then, you looked like a dinosaur, but bigger and meaner than any other dinosaur. When these humans were evolving from a monkey in a tree, all phoenix kind got together to decide on a new shape. We discovered that if you want to know what a human has been eating recently, dive at them, screaming, from the sky in the shape of a huge bird, and they will show you their current meal and whatever they ate yesterday.

Back then, the result was an ambitious monkey, frozen to the spot, relieved, and grateful to have not yet invented underwear. However, there came a time when the response was to throw rocks and sharp sticks, so now you look like a human. A very big and aggressive human.

It is for the best.

At time of writing, you are old and immensely fat. At time of reading, you are newly hatched and in need of a good meal. When you get old and fat, you will need to find a convenient cave, or in this new era, an abandoned nuclear shelter.

Just remember, you are immortal, but you only last thirty or forty years before you are reborn and forget everything. Be grateful that humans invented paper, and ink, because it makes passing on the memories so much easier.

When the shell forms around you, write on the inside all of the things you read on the inside of the shell you hatched from. Especially the bit that explains how to read. I know that makes no sense, but word is that even though we must have an innate ability to read, if you leave out the instructions on how to read, you won’t be able to read.

My personal opinion, recorded on the inside of the shell over millions of rebirths, is that this is magic. The instructions on how to read are not meant to be read, but form a spell which works just by looking at it.

At least, that’s what it said on the inside of my shell I read before I hatched.

I also found the bit that said “kick here to exit” pretty useful, so I’ve passed that on to you.

Apart from that, before the shell forms around you, write separate notes on all the things you really want to know in your new life, because you will remember nothing. Put those notes somewhere really safe, nearby, and make a note of that in really big letters on the inside of the shell.

Now, on to the important stuff. Humans come in two distinct shapes. It’s pot luck what happens to you in the shell. Regarding shape number one, on pages ninety-seven to one hundred and twelve, you will find notes on what it means to be a woman. Regarding shape number two, the notes are at the bottom of page one hundred and twelve.

Regarding my choice of location for rebirth, this was not really my choice. My friend, Susan, who is also a phoenix, stepped in front of a bus. For a human this means serious injury and possible death, but as an immortal phoenix, this means a surprise rebirth. You will notice that your shell is next to a pile of dust. That is the remains of Susan’s shell. With such a sudden rebirth, and what with being unconscious after the accident, Susan was doomed to wake up in a blank shell, so I promised to be here to go over the basics.

A blank shell is the worst thing for a phoenix. Everything you were will be lost.

For Susan, I’ve written the how to read spell on the outside. Maybe it will work.

That’s the introduction done. Best of luck with my future. The main notes are typewritten and were prepared some time back, because the modern phoenix needs to move with the times.

Specifically, Times Roman.

Best wishes, your former self.

# # #

Written in response to the BlogBattle prompt Blank.

Image from Pixabay.

Edgewise

It’s a sure sign of a dissatisfied customer when my toes can’t reach the ground. Nevin the blacksmith was at least as big as the battered warrior holding my throat, but he just stood back and watched. No loyalty there, just a business arrangement.

“Broke.”

That’s not my fault. In fact, that is Nevin’s fault. He does the metalwork, I add the magic. That’s how magic sword manufacturing works. The magic can’t stop the steel from breaking, but the really good stuff can make it cut through sorcerers, demons, other magic swords and…

Urk?

“Broke how?” Nevin asked gruffly.

“In battle.” The warrior lifted me higher, which was fine because toes far off the ground hurts just the same as almost touching.

“Broke how exactly? You hit something with the sword, or something hit you?”

The warrior dropped me, turned on Nevin, and then thought better of it.

“Another sword did it.”

Nevin scratched at his beard. I used to think he must have a really itchy chin, but it’s his way with stroppy warriors in the smithy. It reminds them that his fists are big and his forearms are thicker than the average leg.

“Show me the bits.”

The warrior kicked at the rough sack he’d dropped when he first came in – you want to see, you pick it up.

Nevin scratched his beard again until the warrior crouched, rummaged, and held up a sword in two parts. It was one of the really cheap ones Nevin knocks out and calls a Bearkiller, because the sort of fool who buys a cheap sword will always go for something called Bearkiller, or Demonslayer. I’m no expert in this stuff, but I know swords break, and I know that the Bearkillers can snap if the user sneezes too hard.

“Fix it.”

Warriors are like children. It broke, fix it. They don’t ask can it be fixed? With a broken blade like that, Nevin would hammer out the pieces and make something like a chunky dagger, and one of the skinny, flashy blades he calls a Windslicer – cheap, fragile, but makes a really impressive whistling noise cutting through the air.

“Needs magic to fix,” Nevin said, more to me than the warrior. “I’ll get the heat going.”

I don’t do magic, I collect magic. Applying it to the swords is easy, but nothing I’ve got can repair a sword. Like I said, Nevin does the metalwork.

The smithy is poorly lit and once Nevin starts pumping the bellows, all you see is the glow of the coals, unless you know where to look. While the warrior was bedazzled by the sparks, Nevin slipped a freshly-made Bearkiller off the pile and set it close by. We ought to practice this misdirection routine for the next dissatisfied customer, but there’s no real point. Warriors who buy cheap swords rarely live long enough to complain about workmanship.

“Come on, man,” Nevin growled, and he was right – I was daydreaming, whilst the warrior was inching closer to where he might see what we were doing.

“Stand back,” I said, as commanding as I could be, and the warrior inched closer instead.

I picked a jar of whispering prayers off the shelf and tossed two into the fire. I like the prayers – I buy them a dozen the farthing from a decrepit monastery a half-day’s walk away. A sword bound with one of those prayers will tell the wielder how fine and proud they are. You can see it the moment they pick one up in the smithy – yes, yes, I am!

Never burn a whispering prayer. A banshee scream of terror ripped through the smithy driving the warrior two clumsy steps backwards. I already had my fingers in my ears and Nevin – well the big lump doesn’t hear so well after so many years of hammering.

Next I took a sun potion and flicked a drop into the cherry coals and just for a moment a blinding noon light flared out. I usually use a drop mixed with a little brandy and work it into the blades to give them that alluring glint in the dark that says look here, I’m a magic sword. I’m told that glint can attract goblins in the night, but none of our customers has ever complained about that.

“Are you ready for this?” I called out, reaching for the edge charms. “This can be…”

I had no idea what would happen to an edge charm in the fire. When I attach one to a blade, it holds the edge forever, provided you keep the metal out of the sun. I suppose I ought to mention that when we sell a sword.

“Ready,” the warrior grunted.

“Just give me a moment. This third one is tricky.” Instead of the edge charms, I eased the stopper from a jar of whitefire I bought from a warlock. It was supposed to be pure magic – I think he lied, but far safer than edge charms. “Here… third one…”

I tossed a piece of whitefire into the forge and bright, white light even stronger than the sun potion blinded everyone. When my eyes cleared, Nevin was standing before the forge, holding forth a brand new Bearkiller, smoke just curling around the blade. I still don’t know how he does that, but it impresses the customers.

“Your weapon,” he said and held it out.

The warrior took it, almost reverentially, and then tried a few test swings.

“Do that outside,” Nevin growled.

As soon as we were alone, he pulled the broken pieces of the old sword from the forge.

I went to the door and watched. The warrior took a few more good swings, gave me a glare, and then stamped off eastward which is where they say the armies are currently fighting.

“That third one…” Nevin pushed me out into the daylight so that he could see the warrior go. “Was that a charm?”

“No.”

###

I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Charm.

Image from Pixabay

THE MIND SIZE

I wish, I wish, I wish…

Those are the most wonderful words in the world for a psycho-magical parasite like me, although I still think they sound best in Old Persian. It’s not really the words themselves, but the intent and desire behind them, and I am so hungry I could feast on a vague hope, let alone a full-blown wish. I’ve been on lean pickings for a heartbeat or two now, not that I have a heart, but I’m sure that’s the phrase because so many of you mortals die in a heartbeat that it must be quite a long time.

I manifested at my customary size, which was a mistake, and said the words to bind myself to the new host.

“Your wish is my command, Oh mistress mine, what do you wish?”

I thought at first my host was tiny, but that was simply because I was so tall, but I like this size. It looks good on me.

“I wish you didn’t break my fairy palace.”

I’ve been around, seen the world, and I know that fairy palaces are not real. I also know what you mortals think a fairy palace ought to look like, and there was nothing nearby that matched, just an ordinary terraced house, a garden, and some tatters of pink cloth.

I would have ignored the oddity, but my host used the magic words I wish, so I had to do something.

“I see no fairy palace.”

The small human beckoned me close, so I shrank down until we were eye-to-eye. Full grown, you mortals often don’t give me much to feed on, but small humans, they have the sort of wild imagination that can sustain me for lots of heartbeats.

“It’s really just a tent,” the small human told me. “Mommy said I can imagine it’s a fairy castle, so I did. A pretty fairy palace. Like the one I seen on TV. But you broke it.”

Small humans have the sort of wild imagination that sees things other than they are. She said the magic words, and granting wishes is my bread-and-butter, except when they are a huge banquet driven by a small human with a wild imagination. However, she wished for the impossible. I can not go back in time to undo the damage to her imaginary fairy palace.

“I am sorry about your… tent.” The phrasing of wishes can give me some wriggle-room, unlike that damned lamp I was cooped up in for centuries. “If you wish… and say the words I wish, I can make your tent whole again.”

“Please. Yes. Please, please, please…” The small human smiled up at me, nothing but gap, which was odd, because I thought you all had teeth until you got really old. “I really wish I had a real fairy palace.”

There’s no such thing as a real fairy castle, but that wish was more than just a wish. Wild imagination blossomed all around me, a glorious fairy palace in pink and sky blue, adorned with fluttering ribbons and swooping fairies.

And then my host did what you mortals always do after making a wish – she blinked.

Eyelids down, and hold for an eternity, and then open, which is more than enough time to suck the raw magic of the universe through her mind, and make her fairy palace a reality. In fact, I had so much time that I spotted the imminent destruction of her house and worked around it. There were halls and grottos galore, which made more than enough space for one terraced house.

With hindsight, I probably should not have crushed the ones either side. I know I invented terraced houses several heartbeats back when you mortals were still making mud huts, but it’s so easy to forget the small details.

“Weeeeee!” The blink ended and my host saw her fairy palace. “Mummy, Mummy! Come see what the nice genie did for me! I wanna have Sally come round to play. And Louise. And…”

The small human stopped and turned, which in a full-grown mortal can be a sign that something is wrong. She stared at me, so I smiled, which made her take a step back. I really haven’t got the hang of that one.

“Thank you, Mister Genie. Thank you very much.”

“Your wish is my command, oh Mistress Mine.”

My small human smiled, and really I am sure that’s exactly what I do, although I have so many more teeth.

“Mummy says I must always say thank you.”

“Of course.” But let’s not get Mummy too involved. Grown mortals can really crimp a wild imagination. “Is there anything else you want to wish for? Just say the words. I wish…”

My small human smiled again. “I wish there was world peace.”

“Sorry? What?” The wild imagination was blank. “What is world peace?”

My small human shrugged. “Dunno, but Mummy says we should all wish for world peace. So I wish there was world peace. I wish, I wish, I wish…”

I can only do what’s possible. Wishes aren’t magic, you know? They get done by magic, but magic can’t do the impossible. I can decline impossible wishes, but world peace…

I had a hazy sort of idea. It wasn’t impossible. Probably. And I had the bond with my host, so the wish nibbled away at me, demanding to be done. Even the wish knew it was possible…

I felt a pain in my head, and I don’t feel pain.

My feet shrivelled first, then my knees, as the wish sucked at my existence. There’s no rules about this, but a wish is a wish. It’s a part of my fundamental nature. Probably.

“Mummy, mummy, look what I wished…”

I was no taller than an ant when Mummy arrived.

World peace was still happening, but slowly now. Not even my host’s wild imagination had enough sustenance for such a huge wish. I would do it. I had to do it. Just give me a few heartbeats.

“Mummy? Where’d my genie go?”

Here.

Still here.

Down here.

Look closely.






-0-0-0-


I wrote this in response to the #BlogBattle writing prompt of Miniature.

Image from Pixabay.

Outside The Box

Hey, Chazos, you gonna open it, or what?”

Maybe…” There’s a sinking feeling when you realise you’re talking to a god, and you know that never ends well. “I mean… didn’t work out so well for my sister.”

Chazos, man, you gotta have faith… I mean, honestly, your sister has the brains of a mouse. The Gods gave her a box with all the ills of the world in it and… well… I did say…. I mean they did say, don’t open it. I kept telling them that free will is nothing but trouble. So… you gonna open yours?”

It’s true about Pandora, not the sharpest tool in the… never mind. They gave her this jar, not a box, but telling her not to open it… that’s like a big sign, open here. If they’d said, it’s fine, open it any time, she might never have let all the ills of the world loose.

Some hope, but it might have bought a day or two.

My jar is different. It could do with a label to tell me what’s inside, but they never said not to…

Wait… who are you, exactly?”

Hermes. You know, messenger of the gods. Get about a bit. Everyone knows me. I was thinking of changing my name. How does Mercurius sound? A bit pompous, maybe? I was looking for something a bit more low-key, but hey, this all about you… So. Opening the box?”

Jar. It’s a jar.”

Hermes shrugged and did a little shuffle-dance with those winged sandals. “Call it a box. Trust me. Everyone else will. There’s marketing potential in calling it a box. Think of the publicity. Everyone’s heard of Pandora’s Box, but let’s face it, Chazos’s Jar… doesn’t really cut it.”

Apparently, one day, people will say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Tell that to Pandora. She’s never got over being blamed for everything bad in the world.

What’s in my jar… I mean, box?”

Apparently, one day, clear labelling and safety information will be the norm.

In the box?” Hermes did that shuffle again like he wanted to be somewhere else. “Nothing much. Just all the wonders of the world. Go on, open it. It’s gonna be great.”

Gods are tricky at the best of times and when one drops by for a chat, that’s it, your life is basically over. You can’t even say no, go torment another mortal. Once you’re it, you’re it, and doomed.

Or I could choose not to open the box. Just because Pandora was told correctly not to open hers doesn’t mean this isn’t some sort of double bluff.

Maybe if I just open it a crack…”

It was a perfectly ordinary box, that just happened to look exactly like a jar, red clay, nicely fired, decorated with depictions of the gods in black. The cap was a carved piece of wood, caulked with some wax and painted with Hermes’s wings. I gave it a little twist, broke the seal and just lifted it for a heartbeat.

Wowza!

A hurricane blasted past me, wild and hot and yet strangely comforting, leaving me filled with joy in its passing. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and then I looked at the world anew.

Good one, huh?” said Hermes. “We call that one love. A truly great wonder of the world. We had a few false starts, but don’t worry, we put the rejects – lust and greed and obsession – in another box. Oh. Damn. That was Pandora’s box.”

I had never felt anything like it. “So… that was love. Right. So is that it?”

Hah. Of course not.” He did that shuffle dance again and then caught me staring. “I can teach you, if you want. Heel to toe and a little slide… Gonna be all the rage one day… or you could just finish opening your box.”

I was tempted – learn the dance of the Gods – but that wasn’t going to end well, was it? Look at the fella as stole fire from them. Whichever way you cut it, gods are a bloody vengeful bunch. I could just see it – learn the dance and then spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill or having my eyes pecked out by enraged sparrows. When you think about it, gods are not the smartest – why the same rock, up the hill, forever? Imagine the commercial possibilities of people condemned to move an infinite pile of decent building stone to a conveniently placed builder’s yard.

Come on, you know you want to,” Hermes said and I cracked the box open gain.

Oh… my… that is… ahhhh…”

Yeah. I wanted to call that one ooh-ooh-ohh, but I got overruled, so now we call it beauty.”

I wanted some more of that, and amazingly it had already spread out and was all around me.

Right…” I pulled the cap off my jar… box… and let out all the remaining wonders of the world. Except for something small and pale, like a tuft of wool, stuck in the bottom. “What’s that?”

Hermes did the dance again. “Not sure. Give it a poke.”

I did.

Ow. That’s sharp.” I poked more cautiously, and it spooked, leaping out of the box and biting the end of my nose in passing. “What was that?”

Surprise.”

Yes. Very. But what was it?”

No. The second greatest wonder of the world – surprise.” Hermes pointed to a tree where the little tuft of wool was perched. “See… oh. My bad. It’s not surprise after all. Another failed prototype. I was supposed to put that in the other box. But I thought, and it really is a wonder of the world.”

My nose was bleeding.

What is it?”

Stupidity…” Hermes shrugged. “A wonder of the world. It’s out now. Sorry. People will always wonder why you thought it was a good idea to let it out. Anyway, got to dash…”

What did I say?

Never ends well.


“Outside the Box” was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt Liberate.

Images from Pixabay.

Short Fantasy

And for our trusty dwarf… there’s a map to the Orchard of Lyre.”

Locrian of the pointy-ears knows I hate being called a dwarf. I’m not. I’m really not. I just need more time to reach my full vertical potential.

Lyre? Really? Is that a joke? You know I can’t sing.” Which is another point that says I’m not a dwarf, because everyone knows that all the little fellas can sing like a bird.

No, no, it’s just the map says it’s not far, and you’ve got the shortest legs.”

One day I’m gonna rip those pointy ears off his head and shove them up his nose. Instead, I took the map, which looked genuinely old and potentially real, and went to gather supplies. It’s hard to stay angry with Locrian when he waggles his ear-tips, and this was serious stuff – questing time to fend off the latest attack.

This year, Dark Lord Agnion has sent a plague of ravening gator rats. There’s not many of them just now, but by harvest there will be hundreds of thousands, devastating our crops. So, I got the Orchard of Lyre, and the possibility of a magical instrument to tame the gator rats and lead them out of our lands.

I sharpened my sword, took up my walking staff, and strode off westwards towards the fabled Orchard of Lyre. It was a truly uneventful journey, no more than three gangs of bandits that barely slowed me down, a grove of beguiling maidens that took me a week to escape because leaving too soon would be rude, and a really nasty splinter gathering firewood one evening. After barely a month, I found myself in a field of blue bells, graceful stalks higher than my head, and impossibly vast trilling bells that summoned rabbits from all around. Given a heavy cart and a team of oxen, I might have been able to get one of them back home in a year or two.

A ragged wind-chime bush clinked and chinked, and I could have stripped it and gone, but as any magical gardener will tell you, wind-chimes are just noise, not music, and will never tame any sort of beast, let alone a gator rat.

Beyond the blue bells lay the orchard itself, long lines of tall and stately fiddle trees, with bark so smooth I could never climb it, and the windfalls were nothing but smashed wood and broken strings. In the heart of the orchard I found a ring of duets, plump golden fruit in pairs, singing sweet arias, and easy to reach, but picking pairs is impossible – one fruit always comes away first and then they both shrivel and die.

Then I came upon the orchardess, who looked me up and down, but mostly down, and she told me,

Go down the far end.” She gestured and the bangles at her wrist glinted in the dappled light – simple brass bands but powerful symbols of her devotion to the orchard. “You might find something in your size.”

I thanked her and walked on, out of the towering fiddle trees, through a rolling rock garden, and then behind a rough hedge of wild plectrum shedding their flaky seeds, dotted with soulful jasmine and clusters of lively bluegrass. I skirted round a compost heap of faded melody, weedy arpeggio and chord wood, and there were the nursery beds of experiment and improvisation. Hybrid poppies and whistling reeds jostled with wild drum trees, humming reeds of all sizes and grumpy bass staves, but nothing was properly ready or seasoned, or even well-tempered.

In a corner, almost forgotten, was a shrubby piccolo tree, still too tall for me to pluck, and adorned with thorns to keep me from climbing. After all my efforts, my quest was going to end in failure, so I sat under the tree to think. From the low vantage point I saw a shadow, a hint that all was not lost. At the back, barely visible and tangled into a stand of whispering willow, was some wind-damaged wood, a branch slightly bent and drooping. Just in reach, and fully ripe, I found a low-hanging flute.


(This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt for May – Flute.

Image from Pixabay

https://pixabay.com/users/schwoaze-4023294/

https://pixabay.com/photos/subject-musical-instrument-3647587/

)