Here Be

It was the most innocuous of warnings. Nothing more, or less, than an unnatural wind.

Hannah was sat in the garden. The sun was strong, the breeze gentle. But slowly, unnoticed at first, the breeze steadily grew in strength.

The creak of her fence, a sound Hannah had only ever heard during bad weather, was the first she noted something irregular.

She didn’t know it, but it was already too late.

She looked up at an ever-darkening sky. Trees shuddered and groaned, her fence wailed like never before. An unearthly growl roared out through piercing howls.

Then the sky filled red.

Naughty Clarence

It wasn’t the first time Clarence found himself being ridden by a large woman.

She writhed in sun-kissed pleasure above him, wailing like a banshee. Clarence stayed silent, allowing her to enjoy the ecstasy alone.

Flailing feet jabbed into his belly liked needles. Once, twice.

Clarence ignored it. Ladies often lost control of their faculties in his company.

But again, pointed heels poked at exposed flesh.

Clarence offered a shake, a quiet protest. It fell on death ears.

He bucked hard, sending the large woman tumbling to the floor. As he skipped away to the water trough, her wails slowly faded.

Ascension

Ascension

I roll across the cold side of the bed and slam down on the alarm. Unnecessary noise. My hope is that my own dread prevented the Goddess Elona from blessing me with sleep last night. The wet sheets support this notion. Thoughts still race to occasions I may have wronged her, something I may have done to prevent her visit. I can think of none, but this does not squelch the fear. It’s then I remember the reason for its presence in the first place. I hadn’t realised it, but I had just been experiencing those blissful first few minutes a person enjoys when waking up. Apparently it works after a restless night of dozing, too. With these moments swiftly passed the realisation of what is in store today hits me like an enraged beast. At this point I would have happily accepted my mind wandering away again to images of angry beasts chasing humans and alike. Anything but what was actually going to happen. Alas, this did not occur.

It’s Friday the 30th of June and in four hours I will be moving on.

I force myself to the shower to both cleanse and calm. I tie up my long bronze hair and cover it; I’m in no shape to redo it afterwards. I had spent the best part of the previous evening making it in some way presentable, treating it as a chore and a distraction. It had worked. I’d never admit it out loud but I thought it almost looked pretty.

I next slip into my ceremonial gown. All Prospects are given one at the beginning of training. It is expected that you still fit into it five years later. I have always been fairly small and rarely lose or gain too much weight, so I would be fine. I’d heard horror stories of Prospects, unable to wear their gowns or robes, being forced to not only miss the ceremony, but moving on all together. I dread to think what happens to them after. Dread. There it is again. The very words brings my very own version back to my consciousness, front and centre.

I have not the stomach for breakfast or make-up, so I leave the house with neither. I know it will not matter anyway. I call out to mother as I leave, as I always do. She does not utter a reply, simply sits in her chair and stares out the open window across the green expanse of Whitefield, as she always does. I can count on one hand the amount of times she has left that chair since father passed. I can count on one finger the amount of times she has spoken. Soon, none of it will matter.

The walk to the auditorium is long and uneventful. My favourite kind. Numerous other Prospects pass me in the street, on the field. Some say nothing, some say things. I speak to no one and no one speaks to me. Peaceful. Bliss. The auditorium comes into view; the ceremonial music is already playing. Dread. It’s back. I’ll shortly be stood in Greta Hall with hundreds of other prospects. I’ll shortly after that be stood at the front of Greta Hall receiving news of my pass or of my fail. Good news brings your power and passage on. Bad news does not. I guess it’s a nervous time for any prospect, not only me. But the looks on their faces, their happy, joyous faces tells me otherwise. In a few hours time it will all be over.

I reach the auditorium doors having already successfully drowned out the music. I’ll work on the voices once inside. I slip in and find my place without bother, unseen. I’m one of only a handful of Prospects already standing amongst the great relics of Greta Hall. The statues of famous Gods and much-loved heroes. Their weapons, their creatures and their souvenirs from defeated foes. It’s not long before I block all this out too. Most Prospects stay outside for a while, chatting and mingling. It’s a full thirty minutes before the hall is filled. Prospects pass me this way and that without a single eye line being met. How I survived this period I will never know. It was the longest thirty minutes of my short life. The ceremonial music suddenly bounds throughout the hall and The Great Old One enters the stage. I clench my fists and think of home. My real home. It’s the only place the dread cannot reach me. I close my eyes. Only now do I allow myself a fleeting thought of the Earth Realm and everything it will bring. None of you would guess it, but I already know I’ve passed.

Just hold on a little longer.

In one hour it will all be over and I shall leave this place with the one power I did not need any training to obtain.

Animals

I saw the carcass of a dead badger as I walked the dogs this morning. Nice image, I know. Anyway, it made me write this. Enjoy!

Animals

Gordon bounced along the grass with the early morning sun warming his face and the soft breeze gently caressing his hair. It was his day off and he was determined to enjoy it.

It’s going to be a good day.

Safe in the knowledge he had already collected more than enough provisions to sustain his family through the winter months, he had allowed himself this rare day off. He could not remember the last time he was able to stroll along so care free. The food was stored, his wife was expecting again and the children were all well. Life was good.

But, despite this, he was still on his guard. He always had to be. The area was still frequented by the machines which had taken the lives of so many of his friends. Since a young age, Gordon had been taught to listen for signs of their approach. In turn, he had passed on this knowledge to his own children. The hum of their life force was a tell-tell sign. Their attack cry was another, although, if you were unlucky enough to hear the sound, it was already too late. So, even on a day off such as today, Gordon was always aware. It was second nature.

He paused for a second – he’d been walking since dawn after all – and sucked in large helping of clean country air. The best kind. The only kind. Gordon had never known any other, nor did he want to. He had heard horror stories growing up of far-away lands polluted with toxic air and massive machines. His father had warned of these places only days before a rogue machine targeted him. One thing Gordon knew for sure was if a machine deliberately targeted you, you were in big trouble. His father had been notoriously quick, and very nimble, but even that was not enough to save him. There was no funeral.

Gordon allowed the thoughts of far-away lands and giant machines to drift from his mind like the morning’s wind. They had no place in his day off. He refocused on the grass and set off. He usually strolled much closer to the trees, as per his lessons, but he was feeling particularly assured today. Something soon caught his eye. A shimmering object at the foot of a tree, the sun revealing its hiding place. Gordon liked shiny things. They were very rarely edible, but always looked so nice and pretty. Plus, the kids loved them. He could leave them for hours with a shiny new present and they’d be happy. But it was on the opposite side of the Hard Land, an area he was desperate to avoid. He was in quite a quandary. The Hard Land was always dangerous, everyone knew that. But the object was so shiny.

Curiosity got the better of him.

Just a quick peek.

It was the last mistake Gordon would ever make. Despite not minutes earlier recollecting his father’s words of warning, and having been taught so vigorously the virtues of always being aware, the lure of the shiny object clouded these memories far too successfully. He was half way across the Hard Land when the hum of the machine’s life force reached his pointy ears. He didn’t need to hear the attack cry to know it was far too late. He’d often wondered if his life would flash before his beady eyes when this day came. Flashes of acorns and trees and scurrying and scavenging. Of his wife and their many, many children. It saddened him when none of this happened. All that followed was the cold metal of machine and the sudden blackness of non-existence.

* * *

Kaycee folded down the car’s sun visor and began applying a layer of blusher, careful not to spill the can of cider balancing between her fishnet-covered legs.

“Hurry the fuck up, Johnny, we’re going to be late!” she shouted.

Johnny took a swig from his beer can and pressed his foot down on the accelerator a little harder. “Jesus, alright!”

A sudden bump jolted the car, resulting in a spilled beer can and an eyeful of blusher.

Kaycee furiously wiped the powder away. “What the fuck!”

Johnny was too busy muttering under his breath and desperately scrambling for his can to notice.

“Hello? Johnny! What the fuck was that?” she said, focus already back on the sun visor’s mirror.

Johnny glanced up at the rear-view mirror, squinted his eyes at the small shadow on the road. “Nothing, Hun. Don’t worry about it.”

Fallout: Luck

The knife flies past before her body can even muster a flinch. The figure is faceless no more; splattered green blood illuminates the deformed features of an Olifat. Mischievous imitators.

“Lucky.” A recognisably cocky voice reaches out from the casino’s shadows behind her.

She watches as a tall man with long, blackened hair strides confidently into the vault.

“Pass me that, would you.”

She reaches down and rips the knife from the Olifat’s neck.

“How the hell did you…” Her eyes tighten, puzzlement etches across her face.

He slides the knife away and throws her a knowing glare. “Mum…and she’s pissed.”

Joey

A slight change of pace this week. Let me know what you think.

Joey

Max bounds out of the back door with unrestrained excitement. The drizzly afternoon air hits him hard, cooling his red-hot face. He loved this time of day. He takes a second to check over his shoulder, making sure Mum wasn’t watching. She’ll soon realise another three spoons and her best ladle were missing from the kitchen. Then there’ll be trouble.

Carefully navigating the garden path, he makes sure not to rattle the cutlery too loudly. The soft rain, wetting the ground below him, makes the task slightly more difficult than he would like. With the path successfully navigated, he glides under the untamed branches of his grandfather’s tree – in the way only the smallest eight year old boy at school could – soon disappearing from the house’s gaze. Being “Max the Midget” did have occasional perks.

He reaches Dave’s shed and carefully squeezes through the gap behind it. Max’s dad had never owned a shed, but Dave kept a huge one. Every type of garden appliance imaginable sat inside that shed. But it was always locked. On the one occasion he decided to peer inside, he was shouted at and slapped and grounded for a week. Not that anyone noticed. He didn’t try any more.

The shed did have other uses, though. It currently hid a small hole in the garden fence, allowing a secret entrance into the dense woodland beyond. Max slipped through this hole, sat in his favourite spot, and waited.

Nothing but gentle rain and excited breath.

“Joey?” he whispers.

Silence.

“Jo-”

His patience is rewarded.

A small creature, no higher than two feet from the ground, comes scurrying out from amongst the foliage. As it moves out into the open its green and brown skin slowly gives way to a soft blue. Max smiles.

“There you are! Thought you’d gone!”

Joey shakes his head. His two tiny eyes soon find the three spoons and Mum’s best ladle.

Max extends the hand holding them. “As promised.”

He drops the cutlery into the grasp of Joey’s two little arms. Three tiny, blue fingers on each hand curl around the shiny presents.

“Is this enough?” Max asks.

Joey nods.

“That’s what best friends are for,” he beams.

The bond of best friendship had been sealed several days earlier. Discovering Joey could neither speak nor spit, a slightly amended version of the best friend ritual was carried out. A complicated sequence of nods, smiles, spits and dirt rubbing was performed. It was unorthodox, but both parties were happy.

Every afternoon since, Max had brought Joey as much metal as he could find for his spaceship. Max had stopped trying to build spaceships years ago, when he realised they were probably not real. But he saw cars and planes every day and hoped to own at least one of each when he was older. He didn’t have the heart to tell Joey this. That’s not what best friends did.

“Now what?” he asks.

Joey turns and walks back into the denser woodland. He pauses, glances back, and gestures with his head for Max to follow. Several bushes and oak trees later, they happen upon the shiniest looking spaceship Max has ever seen. Joey instantly begins applying the new pieces of equipment to the craft, which is no larger than the TV in Max’s living room.

“Wow! Joey, this is amazing!”

Joey glances up, the slightest hint of smile stretching across his tiny mouth. He might not be able to speak, but he understands well enough.

“Will it fly?” Max asks.

Joey nods.

“Where will you go?”

Joey forces the last spoon into place but does not gesture a reply.

“Joey, where are you going to fly to?”

His head sinks slightly as he points up between the trees. Max looks in the direction indicated by the small, blue finger, where, just visible through leaves and branches, is his house.

“Really?!” he shouts excitedly, an unfamiliar feeling racing through his body. “This is amazing! We’ll have to hide you from Dave, of course. But mum should be OK after a while, as long as she gets her frying pans back. Sleepovers! We can have them every night! I’ve got-” Joey tugs at his leg.

“What is it, Joey?”

He shakes his head.

“What do you mean?”

Joey points back at the house, head still shaking.

“My house?”

Joey extends his middle finger, points it to the sky, his little head rotating left to right.

“Your house?”

Up and down, up and down.

Max pauses his line of questioning, slumping to the soggy dirt instead. Joey bounces over and softly clutches his right leg.

Max lifts his head. “You’re going home now, aren’t you?”

Joey nods.

Max begins to sob. Each new tear carrying a portion of the joy he was only moments ago enjoying.

“W-Will…you…be…b-b-back?”

Joey shakes his head, slowly.

“Please…don’t go,” Max whispers, tears breaching his eye’s best defences, “you’re my best friend.”

Joey stretches out an arm and places a cold hand on Max’s chest. A gentle warmness spreads throughout Max’s body, setting every one of his hairs on end. Joey then steps back and smiles. No words are spoken, but Max hears them as clearly as he used to his father’s.

And now, I always will be.

Joey turns and disappears inside the craft. Seconds later, it rises silently from the ground. It continues to climb, high up into the afternoon sky and beyond.

Goodbye, Max. You’ll never be alone again.

Max wipes a final tear from his face. “Bye bye, Joey.”