The Pop House was a monstrosity. The faceted gems that covered the outside walls were laser cut glass, impregnated with oils so they would glow with luminous, rainbow fire. The streets around the glasshouse were closed off at midnight, once a week, when a noxious cleaning fluid would spray down the sides from a series of black, snakelike hoses on the roof. This kept the gems brilliant and clean. Unfortunately, the cleaning fluid caused a chemical high. Homeless drifters would skirt the barriers and rub themselves against the glamorous facade, shredding clothing and skin.
The cleaning solution was a slow and painful poison when introduced into the blood stream. That did not deter them. Eventually, the barriers had to be electrified. The sight of impoverished souls grinding to death on the walls of the Pop House drew only morbid tourists not paying customers.
Missy Miss was set to arrive at the Pop House for the most auspicious event it had ever held. Missy Miss was a singer, actress, rapper, and entrepreneur, but most importantly, she was believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Section of her ribs and pelvis had been removed to make her impossibly thin. Fat was injected into her skin to make her it shiny and smooth. Her hair was fiber optic filaments. Electronic signals guided her movements. She wore thigh high, seven inch, stiletto boots, and a gelatinous blue mini dress. Her cape was an octopus carcass. Her jewelry was lead encased uranium. Her arrival was almost as anticipated as the event itself.
The Paparazzi wore jester’s masks. They tried to cut off her clothes with lasers. They tried to pull them down with hooks on poles. Small remote control cameras rolled onto the red carpet to photograph up her skirt, the public had a right to know if she wore panties. It was a matter of moral decency, they claimed. Missy Miss deflected the lasers with a mirror, broke the poles and tossed the hooks, smashed the panty-cams under her boot and entered the Pop House.
The interior was dark and subdued. The carpet was the color of a fresh arterial spray of blood. The walls were a deep oak paneling. Posters of past events were bathed in a warm amber glow of light. No event compared to this evenings. The crowd that gathered, both ladies and gentlemen, were of the highest social strata, royalty, diplomats, politicians, dignitaries, philosophers and the great minds of the era. They curled their lips in disdain as Missy Miss walked down the aisle towards the front row. Many of them were responsible for her creation and all of them benefited from the technology, mask-like skin, glowing hair, electronically expressed movements. The event that brought Missy Miss together with the crowd of social elite was the Second Coming… of Confucius.
The stage was set for Confucius' arrival. Asian style clouds, the kind that loop and curl, hung from clear filaments. They were assorted at different depths and heights. The lighting was designed to look like a rising sun. Confucius arrived on his own personal cloud. A dry poof of silt arose from the clapping hands of his audience. Missy Miss did not applaud. She sat stalk still in her front row seat. Confucius summoned a ball of light, then another and another. Then he juggled. He did some tricky flying. This was met with soft oohs and aahs from the audience. Missy Miss, however, sat watching intently, silently, leaning forward in her chair. Confucius stopped and asked for questions from the audience. Missy Miss jumped, quick as a cat, on to the stage with him.
“Thieving daughter, “He addressed her “who steals the worlds wealth, what are you doing sharing a place of honor with me? I have nothing for you vampire woman. Wisdom is the one thing a girl child cannot steal: she has no basket to carry it away in.”The audience laughed. Confucius took a bow. A smell of rot rode the waves of laughter.
“Is it true then, that you say a woman has no soul?” Missy Miss asked as Confucius floated in small circles in front of her.
“None at all. A woman is the vessel for the man child. They serve no other purpose but to serve man. If they do not serve, they suck, like a flea or a tick. They suck and suck for they will never be full.” Many heads in the audience creaked as they nodded in agreement. Missy Miss pulled a long switchblade from her boot and made a quick slash across Confucius' throat. Confucius was not harmed.”Stupid girl, I am the eternal one. You are the empty vessel with a hole.” The crowd clapped and hooted at this wit.
Missy Miss climbed up onto the wooden stage clouds. She climbed one after another until she reached the highest point. The audience wondered what she might do next. A few people had snuck in camera phones and now they had to take a photo of the showdown between the great philosopher and the pop tart.
Missy Miss cut a long black hose down from the ceiling. It drooped like the belly of a fat snake. She sliced it open. A stream of poisonous cleaning fluid jetted out. Missy Miss used the palm of her hand to direct the spray into the audience. It burned away the flesh revealing long hidden eyes, running like glue into the rictus grin of exposed teeth. The audience became fully realized corpses within seconds.
“Demoness! How is it you destroy these people and you are not harmed!”
“I am, as you said, a thing without a soul and a thing without a soul cannot die. You, on the other hand, are just an ugly man’s dream, and look…” She swept her hand across the auditorium. “There is no one left to dream about you now, so go away.” Confucius glowered as he dissipated into oblivion.
Missy Miss exited the Pop House. Outside, the world was deathly quiet. The paparazzi lay inside their jester’s masks as bones and jerky. No light shone save those in heaven. Cars sat on flat tires. Paint pealed and stone crumbled. Tattered curtains hung behind broken glass. All of humanities' artifice was in decay. Missy Miss could no longer hear their cries. She looked up at the stars above. They shone so beautifully, the end of the world did not bother her at all.
The Pop House was a monstrosity. The faceted gems that covered the outside walls were laser cut glass, impregnated with oils so they would glow with luminous, rainbow fire. The streets around the glasshouse were closed off at midnight, once a week, when a noxious cleaning fluid would spray down the sides from a series of black, snakelike hoses on the roof. This kept the gems brilliant and clean. Unfortunately, the cleaning fluid caused a chemical high. Homeless drifters would skirt the barriers and rub themselves against the glamorous facade, shredding clothing and skin.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Posted by Scott Wilson
Publisher: Images Publishing
Release Date: Sept 2011
Undeterred when IBM policy forced her to leave her job as a punch card programmer when pregnant, Susan S. Elliott went on to form her globally successful company Systems Services Enterprises (SSE) which today produces a series of highly successful custom eLearning and mLearning solutions.
Across the Divide is not only an interesting account of the rapid evolution of computer technology and an informative and instructive guide to achieving success in the world of business, it is an inspiring story of a woman’s dedication and passion to succeed, no matter what the obstacles. Susan’s wins and perseverance are impressive and inspiring; the positive energy jumps off the page.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Author: Darren Lockyer
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: Sept 2011
The Rugby League superstar’s end-of-career autobiography - a must for every Queenslander!
In 2011, NRL fans will have the chance to share in a piece of rugby league history. The game's record books will be re-written, some taken to heights unlikely to ever be matched. Darren Lockyer will celebrate his 34th birthday this year. Of those 34 years, 17 have been spent putting his body through hell in perhaps the toughest football competition on the planet. Lockyer has, quite literally, spent half his lifetime in the NRL. By season's end Lockyer is set to hold the all-time appearance record for club, state and country. It is a feat no less a judge than Wayne Bennett declared would never be equalled.
The remarkable longevity of Lockyer's excellence has earned him the respect of fellow athletes around the world and the adoration of fans everywhere. But while undoubtedly one of the most recognisable athletes in Australia, Lockyer has largely maintained his privacy, rarely, if ever, allowing fans a look at the man behind the man.
In this book Lockyer, for the first time, opens up on the people, places, incidents and events which have shaped the life and career of an Australian sporting icon. From his days growing up and working at the family-owned truck stop on the outskirts of the tiny Queensland town of Wandoan, to his arrival at the Broncos as a teenage sensation and subsequent ascension toward rugby league immortality the book will shed new light on some of the biggest names and stories of the past two decades. Contributions from Lockyer's family and friends, as well as legendary figures like Wayne Bennett, Wendell Sailor, Andrew Johns, Mal Meninga, Johnathan Thurston, Gorden Tallis, George Gregan, Ricky Stuart and Craig Bellamy gives this book a unique edge, with each providing readers a rare insight into their view on Lockyer the player, the leader and the man.
In Darren Lockyer’s autobiography he covers so much that it is hard to believe that is only 400 pages long. With over half of his life in the media spotlight as a world famous sporting celebrity, it is no wonder that he had so much to say, especially as he has somehow managed to live a relatively private life. The timing of the autobiography coincided with his last game at Suncorp Stadium.Lockyer opens up in the book about the people in his life from his parents to the late Cyril Connell and master coach Wayne Bennett.
As well as coming straight from the horse’s mouth, Bennett, Phil Gould, Ricky Stuart, Wendell Sailor, Andrew and Matthew Johns, Allan Langer, Paul Gallen, George Gregan, Johnathan Thurston and Queensland State of Origin coach Mal Meninga all offer their insights on Lockyer’s career.
Some other topics that Lockyer talks about include the controversial Super League and how he regretted his decision to switch to this over the traditional form. There is also some interesting points of view of the Broncos without Wayne Bennett as coach, Gambling, Benji Marshall, Petero Civoniceva and why he decided to retire while still at the top of his form.
There is a sample chapter on Scribd here if you want to check out how Lockyer writes http://www.scribd.com/doc/64040992/Autobiography-by-Darren-Lockyer-Sample-Chapter
This book will appeal not only to fans of Lockyer, but also those interested in the history of Rugby League.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Author: Andy Briggs
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: Sept 2011
While working in the Congo jungle, teenager Robbie Canler hears rumours of a 'white ape': a feral man, mythical, mysterious and a super-athlete. Could they possibly be true? And if so can the mysterious man help when deaths, fires and danger strike? In this action-packed adventure, the legend of jungle hero Tarzan is reborn for the 21st Century.
What lies in the depths of the jungle? Escaping a dark secret, Robbie Canler joins an illegal logging team in the Congo jungle. Now they're under siege from a sinister force. When the daughter of the camp's boss, Jane Porter, goes missing they assume bloodthirsty rebel soldiers have kidnapped her. Robbie sets out on a rescue mission - unaware he is being watched... Are the rumours of a feral man raised by wild apes true? If so, can the mysterious untamed savage be trusted to help them?
Andy began his writing career working on Hollywood movie projects, such as Freddy Vs Jason and Foreverman for Spider-Man creator Stan Lee and legendary producer Robert Evans. He has written several graphic novels, including the horror-thriller Ritual and Kong King of Skull Island. His first children's books were the eight part Hero.com and Villain.net series for Oxford University Press. He's currently working on several exciting TV and feature projects in between his books. Tarzan has been a passion from childhood and he's thrilled to now be writing and updating the legendary hero.
Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy is a new take on the original Tarzan story by successful career writer, Andy Briggs. Briggs does a fairly decent job with the characters and the settings, bringing new life into what could be just another tired retelling of a classic story. Tarzan is brutual and barbaraic and it is strange that we don’t actually see as much of him in the novel as you would think. Another difference you may note in the main characters is Jane. She acts and thinks like a much younger Jane than you would probably expect from the movies we have all seen about Tarzan. The friendship between the two is very give and take, but it does seem to work.
Overall, this is a great book to introduce a YA audience to a great fictional character.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Author: Tenzin Palmo
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: Sept 2011
One of the most inspiring teachers of Tibetan Buddhism shares important teachings on compassion and enlightenment from this ancient wisdom tradition.
Hidden from the rest of the world, high in the Himalayan mountains, the people of Tibet developed a science of the mind over the centuries it took the West to build cars and planes. Forty years ago, Tenzin Palmo was one of the early Western women to meet the lamas coming out of Tibet and to study the Tibetan Buddhist teachings deeply.
In her second book, she invites Western readers into the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In her characteristically clear and insightful style, she introduces us to the essential teachings on impermanence, happiness and compassion, and shows how we can use them to enhance our lives. She also shares some of the highest wisdom teachings on emptiness and enlightenment.
Whether or not you are a Buddhist, Into the Heart of Life can help you develop more sanity, wisdom, compassion and fulfillment in your life.
- 'Rarely are Buddhist teachings presented with such vivid immediacy and insight as in this gleaming jewel of a book! Stimulating, challenging and wonderfully motivating, Jetsunma's book will be treasured both by newcomers and seasoned practitioners alike.' -David Michie, author of Buddhism for Busy People
- 'Tenzin Palmo is one of the most genuine and accomplished of Western practitioners.' -Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo was one of the first Westerners to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. She spent twelve years in seclusion practising meditation in a Himalayan cave, and the well-known book Cave in the Snow is the story of her life. Known as an inspiring teacher, she is the author of Reflections on a Mountain Lake.
Let me start by saying that I am a Christian and do not believe in the any New Age or Buddhist teachings at all. I wanted to read Into The Heart of Life to gain a better understanding of what a devout Buddhist believes. This book details the forty years of life of such a person, through her personal history, reflections and recounts of her talks and conversations.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo was raised in London and became a Buddhist in her teens. At the age of 20, she made a conscious decision to pursue her spiritual path by travelling to India. There she met her guru, His Eminence the eight Khamtrul Rinpoche Dongyu Nyima, a great Drukpa Kagyu lama. She was one of the first Westerners to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
After many years learning and practicing, she sought more seclusion to practice more intensely. She found a secluded cave near Lahaul where she spent 12 years, the last three years in strict retreat. Tenzin Palmo left India in 1988, travelling to Italy where she taught at various Dharma centres.
Before Khamtrul Rinpoche passed away in 1980, he had on several occasions asked Tenzin Palmo to start a nunnery. In 2000 she established Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India, and the first nuns arrived. Dongyu Gatsal Ling is now a thriving Nunnery with 70 nuns studying and practicing the Dharma.
In 2008 Tenzin Palmo was given the title of Jetsunma, which means Venerable Master, by His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa, Head of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage.
Posted by Scott Wilson
The first time I meet Skyler, I thought she was a bitch.
We met in one of the clubs, you know the kind, full of music, smoke, and watered down liquor. It wasn't so much as we met as were forced upon one another. Both of us had arrived with our own group of friends, and both of us had the same auspicious position in the group. You know ones not really in the group, but the group would feel bad if they left them out. And could crack a good joke when the moment needed it. That was us. So when our respective friends collided in the noise and the haze, they left with their respective partners for the night onto the dance floor.
They left Skyler and me nursing our drinks.
She had the typical appearance of a non-conformist working hard to piss off a father she never saw anymore. Her pale skin was offset by the black hair, eyeliner, and corset top. Think Goth and you are close. Her piercings were an airport security guard's nightmare. Skyler was also moonlighting as a canvas, symbols and words covered the skin I could see, and probably some I couldn't. Through the back laces of her top, I could make out a unique and rather disturbing version of the tree of life.
Her appearance didn't really bother me; I was a pysch major after all. It was the way she held herself. She had a certain relaxed and pissed off vibe. I think it was the way she leaned back in the chair and maintained such tension in her shoulders. One arm folded under her chest defensively and the other was holding up her whiskey. Her expression and her eyes spoke of a very intelligent woman that had simply decided she didn’t give a damn. The look also promised pain if you questioned why she didn't.
But we talked. While our friends danced, drank, and propositioned one another, we talked. It wasn't one of those romantic talks, where you spend the next day raving about this wonderful girl you met. The one you respected too much have a one night stand with. No, this was more of a fight. Poisonous barbs and insults, with a few intelligently debated topics, was all we shared that night.
I spoke of Milton and she spoke of Faust. I asked about Adam Smith and she regaled me with Karl Marx. She ranted about the ugly truth of the animalistic nature of man and I mentioned the corruption of morality and the poor state of the human soul. She would have thrown her drink at me with the last one, if it wouldn't have been such a waste.
Soon enough last call came around. I said goodbye, she responded with something a little less polite. I left and she went the other way.
The second time I saw her, I thought she was tired.
It was a far different situation than before, but it was nearly as noisy. Although it was a very different kind of noise, and there was an absence of booze or smoke. There were people talking, the sound of wheelchairs, and a liberal amount of coughing a sneezing. It was a place of glaringly white walls, hard old chairs, and even older magazines. I was currently there holding onto to a squirming one year old. My little boy had a cough and slight fever, and first time parents panic easily.
As I sat down next we exchanged polite smiles without any sense of recognition. It would have been surprising if we had, we both looked every different. I am sure I didn't used to look like a tired eyed young old man cradling a toddler. She looked very different herself. Her hair had turned red and she had the slightest hint of a tan. If anything she seemed skinnier, which didn’t seem healthy to me. All over her tattoos were covered in clothes that you would have seen on any girl walking down the street. There was distinct lack of metal on or in her person, not even earrings.
She looked even more tired then I did with that faraway gaze.
Recognition slowly hit us. We shared a few glances of the corner of the eyes. There was also moments of staring ahead trying to remember where we had seen the other person from. I was ready to give up myself, when she made a quip about Mephistopheles. After a chuckle, we re-exchanged names and smiles. Her smile was much better than it was, far less feral. This more of a worn out happy smile. I could relate to that.
Skyler gushed appropriately about my cute little boy. We talked about our spouses and married life. She had gotten her wedding band only a few months ago herself. The talk turned again to little ones and she mentioned trying and not yet. I told her about little boys with coughs and she told me of nagging back pains. We asked one another about the other lives a little more until her name was called. She patted my boys head, said nice to see you again, and disappeared into the doctor's office.
The next time I saw her she was dead.
It was in the office of my little practice. She had brought in her teenage girl to see me. I recognized the name on the chart. It was the normal case of teenage angst taken to the extreme. The smoking. The drinking. The boys. And constant fights with parents and threats of suicide. I should have recognized the pissed off look too. This particular patient spent the hour very silently watching the seconds tick by. It is more impressive then you think. Most teens try it, and most teens crack.
After my first session with the girl, I asked the daughter to wait in the lobby while I spoke with her mother. Skyler didn't walk in, she wheeled in. She had the "didn't give a damn" look again. This time it lacked that fire and sharp edge. Her shirt proclaimed some metal band I never cared to know. Her hair hung in unkempt strands. An index and middle finger were often outstretched trying to find that nonexistent cigarette.
I told her what I thought of her daughter, and she ranted about children with attitude problems. She tried to pull out her pack of smokes and I politely and sternly told her no. When I asked her about the life at home, she told me tumors and doctors. I joked about Milton and she didn't say a word.
I said it might help the daughter if the mother took better care of herself. Skyler told me it didn't matter; the mother was going to die young anyway.
There wasn't any point to continue the conversation after that.
The last time I saw Skyler, she didn’t say much. She simply laid there dreaming what dreams may come.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Deep underground the pursuit began. While the world above went on undisturbed, a secret tunnel was being built. Fixed upon a single purpose, the workers toiled as if to preserve the very life of their Chief, but the true reason was perhaps of greater consequence. It was a matter of honor, a matter of revenge that caused them to labor in such a way. Money was owed. An example must be set. With the promise of reward, the workers kept digging as the day ended and the night grew late.
The soil was soft and loose in the way of well tilled fields, and so the job went quickly and with little trouble. There were times thick roots had to be dealt with, but these were not unexpected and so addressed in turn, hacked away with axes or cut with diamond toothed, two-handed saws taller than the men who used them.
No structure was built to keep the ceiling and walls from caving in. A thin wash was painted over every surface, an eggshell coating that was as strong as stone. The wash also provided the only source of light, a faint yellow glow that was only slightly better than the total dark of the deep places of the world.
After many long hours, the labors were coming to an end. The way began to turn upward. Before the night reached its epoch, they would break through the surface and the errand would be complete.
It was a fine evening, that time of joy and plenty between harvest and yuletide. The sun was setting within a clear sky, and the stars were bright within the growing darkness of the heavens.
Down at the Cornflower Inn, a favorite spot of the many pixies, faeries, sprites, and other enchanted creatures that lived in the forest, music was playing. A great crowd had gathered. The dancing and laughter was riotous, a sign of the peace and tranquility of the land in which they lived.
Patrick Donegal and Danny Gorman were seated at table, enjoying the music as they consumed a fine supper of bacon and beans. Such a meal was never to be taken for granted because Misses Malone, the proprietor, was considered the best cook in the entire county. And since she was herself one of the Faerie Folk, it is entirely possible that her cooking was, in point of fact, magical.
“Are you still nursing that cold along?” Danny asked as Patrick demurely blew his nose.
Pocketing the lace handkerchief, Patrick replied, “Aye, to be sure,” but then went back to his meal, knowing the beginning of a lecture when he heard one.
“It comes from all the sleeping out of doors you do,” said Danny, fixing Patrick in his gaze. Danny was not generally a worrier, but he was all too familiar with the personal habits of his friend. Practical by nature, Danny was used to dealing with problems by the strength of his own two hands. He was a woodcarver by trade, and even now as he sat eating, his bag of tools was set on the bench in a place of honor at his side.
Not bothering to conceal his irritation, Patrick said, “May I remind you that I caught the cold from you?”
“Still, with how much you’ve helped the folk in these parts, we’d have willing hands aplenty to build you a nice little house.”
Giving a sigh, Patrick at last looked up from his plate. “Our people have been living outdoors for centuries. The fresh air is good for you. Besides I have a fine bed, thanks to your expert craftsmanship, and that is all that I require.”
Patrick and Danny were Faerie Folk. Patrick was tall for his kind and lean, built like a scholar, but he was used to taking the sort of exercise that made him much stronger than he looked. He had brown hair and hazel eyes that shined with starlight. His suit was so dark a shade of green that it looked black on all but the brightest of summer days. Sadly, he lost his wings in a terrible accident long ago, but he made up for the loss in other ways.
Not quite as tall as Patrick, Danny was still reckoned impressive in size by the men and women of these parts. He had brute arms that bespoke days of hard labor and a fat stomach that bulged over a too tight belt. His complexion was ruddy and his hair an earthy red. His wings were shaped in a way that seemed to have been made for economy, simple but strong, not at all fancy like some.
Fixing Danny in his gaze, Patrick was about to have a word or two about privacy and living life on his own terms, but the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of two other young Faerie men, Billy Donovan and Jim Shannon. They shouted their greetings to Patrick and Danny from across the room, joining them at table before either had a chance to decline the imposition.
“Is that bacon?” Jim asked, taking an exaggerated breath.
“Aye, ‘tis,” said Danny proudly, “Patrick and I had to impose a bit of the Faerie Tax on a certain ill-tempered, human farmer. It’s the best I ever et, to be sure.”
“Really? That sounds like fun,” said Billy, bracing himself as he sat down. He wobbled unsteadily as if he were on a ship in rough water. His breath stank of whiskey and his voice was slurred. “Why didn’t you invite us? I’ve been down on my luck lately, could have done with some cheering up.”
“Because you’re a drunkard and a fool, Billy Donovan, and you would have had us all caught up in glass jars and put into a traveling show,” Danny answered critically. “Why don’t you try an honest day’s work for a change? That would turn your luck around for you, I’d be bound.”
Jim laughed, “Oh no, now you’ve done it, Danny. You’ve said a naughty word.”
“Why are you always so hard on me?” Billy said in his own defense. “Patrick here doesn’t have a steady job either.”
Almost on queue, Patrick sneezed, a tremendous, terrible sneeze. His magic dust blew out over the table, turning it to stone, the crystals in the table’s surface reflecting the light of the fire in little rainbows that spread to every corner of the room.
“Sorry,” Patrick said to everyone nearby, wiping his nose, but he didn’t engage in the argument.
“You know our Patrick works for a higher purpose,” Danny said, taking a huge spoonful into his mouth. “Your troubles, on the other hand, are all of your own making.”
“Fine, I can see you’re in a right good mood tonight,” Billy said, taking a deck of playing cards from the pocket of his shirt. Shuffling the cards, he dealt a hand to Jim and himself, pausing to allow Patrick to decline and ignoring Danny completely.
The maid stopped by and gave an appreciative nod at the table. “Sorry Nancy,” Patrick said. “It’ll change back in a few days, I think.”
“No trouble. How’s the cold?”
Nancy was a pretty young Faerie woman. She had too kind a disposition to work in any ordinary tavern, but Misses Malone ran a respectable establishment and made sure everyone behaved, enforcing the rules with a quick and merciless regard.
“Liar, I’ll have Misses Malone make up some soup for lunch tomorrow. That’ll have you right again in no time.”
Nancy shot a glance toward Billy and Jim. “What’ll it be for you two, then? Though it’s late, I dare say I could scratch up a plate for each of you.”
“Drink for me,” Billy said quickly.
“I second the motion,” agreed Jim.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” Nancy said, giving Danny a smile and a wink. “Will there be anything more for you, then?”
Danny blushed. “Ah, no, two’s my limit.”
“Let me know if you change your mind,” she said and was on her way.
Billy and Jim were amused by the show of affection. When Nancy was well out of hearing range, they hooted and made catcalls and teased Danny pitilessly.
“Well, I’ve got just enough time to see a man about a horse before she comes back,” Billy announced, rising shakily, excusing himself to make a visit to the privy. “I don’t want to miss what else sweet Nancy has to say to our Danny boy here.”
“Don’t fall in,” Danny shot back as Billy disappeared into the crowd.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Patrick said to Danny. “He’s all talk.”
“Yeah,” Jim agreed, “some day he’ll get his comeuppance.”
From the shadows, the gnomes appeared. They were brute, ugly beasts with gnarled muscles and dirty faces. They had been digging for the better part of four days, and they were tired and hungry and in a terrible mood. Some had a sneaking suspicion that they weren’t going to get paid, and this did nothing to improve their disposition.
It was well known in the forest that the Cornflower Inn was the place where decent folk gathered for a night’s entertainment. So as the gnomes climbed out of their tunnel and into the night air, they guessed that following the distant sound of music would bring them to their intended victim. It wasn’t long before they made their way into the Faerie village and hid themselves in the night shadows cast by buildings and hedges, anxiously awaiting the man they sought.
The back door of the Cornflower opened with a bang. A Faerie man of slight stature stumbled down the stone steps, making his way down a gravel path to the few small buildings where the customers went to answer the call of nature. The biggest amongst the gnomes pointed a gnarled finger at the lad, and as Billy Donovan stepped inside, they gathered in strength at the door.
“Maybe he did fall in,” Jim suggested hopefully.
“It would serve him right,” Danny said under his breath.
“No, something’s not quite canny,” Patrick said, blowing his nose miserably. He nodded toward the glass. “The day I see Billy Donovan leave half a swallow of ale no less a pint is the day I take up knitting.”
“We had better go find him,” groaned Danny.
In appreciation for the proceeds provided by the Faerie Tax, not only the much praised bacon but also enough ham to last the winter through, Misses Malone decreed that Patrick’s and Danny’s money no longer held value at the Cornflower Inn. Danny left not an ungenerous number of coins on the table as a gratuity for Nancy anyway. Jim settled the remainder of the bill, drinking Billy’s ale in two great swallows.
“Look now, there’s trouble,” Danny said as they approached the privy, pointing to the ground. “A fair number of lads came this way, big fellows too. By the look of it, the shape on the sole of the shoe, mind, they was gnomes. See that little footprint there? That’ll be our Billy. He found himself a load of trouble, no doubt that comeuppance you were talkin’ about Jim.”
Jim looked to Patrick in astonishment and said, “Can you tell all that just by looking at the ground?”
Patrick sneezed, “Not like that, no. Good work Danny, they went off into the wood, you reckon?”
“By the look, yes.”
“Just gnomes, and nothing else?”
“Not that I can see. Of course if there were any of the Faerie Folk involved, they wouldn’t necessarily leave footprints.”
“There weren’t any so far as I can tell, but with this head cold, I’m out of sorts.”
“It’s all the sleeping outside that you do,” Jim said.
“See, I told you,” Danny agreed. “That’s just what I was telling him.”
“Why don’t you settle down and build yourself a nice little house? I know you’re allergic to actual work, but Dan and I will help you out.”
Patrick held up his hands in surrender. “At the moment, I think we have more important matters to concern ourselves with, don’t you think?”
Danny and Jim didn’t think so. They went on discussing the situation amongst themselves even as they followed the footsteps of the gnomes into the forest. It wasn’t long before the trail led them to a wide hole in the ground. That was obviously where the gnomes had taken their wayward friend.
“Inside we go,” Patrick said, but Danny and Jim looked dubious.
The Faerie Folk are all for open land and sky. They love mountains and fields and forests. Dark tunnels are not at all to their liking. Caves they never venture into beyond the light of day, and only then at pressing need. This hole in the ground looked like the worst place imaginable, and the possibility that Billy Donovan might be suffering somewhere deep inside did nothing to assuage their feelings.
“Come on you two, it’s Billy down there,” Patrick said finally.
“Yeah, we know,” said Danny.
“He owes me money,” Jim said, “and I think he tried some funny business with my sister once.”
Danny gaped at Jim, “Why the nasty bugger, I’ll…”
“You’ll save his life if it comes to it,” Patrick broke in. “Remember, it’s not just Billy Donovan down there, it’s all the Faerie Folk. If these gnomes think they can just snatch one of our citizens without just cause, then they’ll have to be taught a lesson.”
“Right as ever,” Danny said, abashed.
Jim suggested, “Speaking of, what about that sheriff? This sort of thing is his job, isn’t it?” He added quickly, “Not to say that you aren’t capable, Patrick, but didn’t you retire from that line of work?”
“Why that no good fool of a sheriff is probably off drunk somewheres,” Danny said in a huff. “Don’t bother with the likes of him. Before he gets up the courage to do anything, Billy’ll be ten years dead and that’s a fact.”
Patrick said, “Danny’s right. That sheriff has hid under his bed more than once when the call of duty was raised.”
“Into the hole, then?” Jim said.
“Into the hole,” Patrick and Danny agreed.
Into the hole they went. The tunnel sloped sharply downward. Patrick walked, light-footed as he was, having no trouble managing the drop even as perilous as it became. Danny and Jim, however, were in the habit of flying most everywhere they went and soon took to the wing for fear of tumbling to the bottom.
“Strike a light?” Jim suggested, gesturing vaguely the sickly yellow glow that surrounded them.
“No use letting them know we’re on our way,” Danny said.
“We should make ourselves invisible,” Patrick added.
“What good will that do?” asked Jim. “I can barely see a foot in front of my face. Gnomes will see no better. They’re not really enchanted, you know.”
“Not so much as ourselves,” Patrick agreed. “But they will have someone on the lookout, expecting trouble.”
“And they’ll see us well enough if we let ‘em,” Danny nodded in agreement.
Employing their Faerie Craft of invisibility, the three made their way down the tunnel, going as quickly and quietly as they could. The gloom was oppressive, contrary to the very nature of Faeries, and each soon felt like he was traveling the innards of some impossibly long serpent. But for all the wretchedness of the journey, they did not encounter any opposition. The tunnel was empty.
After walking what seemed an eternity, they came to a meeting of tunnels. There was a pair of gnomes on sentry. They were drunk, so far gone that little would have raised their interest. Patrick, Danny, and Jim had no trouble in eluding the watch, following the footprints of their friend and his captors even deeper below ground.
Now the tunnel began to grow broad and better shaped and was joined by an ever increasing number of tunnels. The yellow glow of the washed walls and ceiling grew bright, almost pleasant, much like the light of the sun on a cloudy day. In many places works of art, scenes of the world above, were painted on walls and ceiling. The murals depicted gardens of flowers in full bloom or forests teeming with life. Every species of nature imaginable was at play within.
Some of the paintings were enchanted to take on the aspect of real gardens, now past prime. The flowers and shrubs and trees were dead, the detritus of leaves and flowers blown by a wayward autumn wind. But for all that the earth was expectant, awaiting the rebirth of spring.
The main tunnel at last opened into a sprawling metropolis, branching out into a great underground cityscape in all directions, what seemed to the Faeries a labyrinth of impenetrable depth and complexity. Here there was an iron gate with a half a dozen guards armed with poleaxes standing watch.
A young guard took note of the Faeries as they passed, feeling perhaps a change in the air or maybe hearing the slightest sound of a sniffle that hadn’t come from the direction of any of his compatriots. He said something about it to his superior, but the sergeant dismissed the notion as nerves, and so the alarm was not raised.
The buildings of the gnome city were cut from the living earth. Their walls were sometimes washed like the tunnels, vibrant in every imaginable color, sometimes clad in pebbles or planks or even cut stone. The buildings were quaint, charming, and the Faeries became light hearted as ever, if not completely at ease in their unusual surroundings.
Fortunately the gnome population kept hours similar to the world above. The city slept. Following the footprints, the Faeries worked their way between buildings and down avenues, into a district where many workshops and warehouses lay. At last they stood before a wide building encased in fine stone. There was a stout wooden door bound with iron and a brace of gnome guards standing watch outside.
“Take care until we see what sort of reception we’ll receive,” Patrick said in a low voice to Danny and Jim as he made himself visible.
The guards didn’t react to Patrick’s appearance at first. They kept to their post, their weapons easy in their hands. They didn’t try to be threatening or to chase him off by giving him cross looks. Only when Patrick approached did the guards stand erect, looking nervously each to the other.
“What’s your business here?” one said when there was finally no other option.
“I’ve come seeking a friend,” Patrick replied, taking his lace handkerchief from a pocket and blowing his nose.
“Just you?” the guard said doubtfully, looking anxiously about.
Patrick smiled, “We’re all reasonable people, aren’t we?”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” said the second gnome. “We don’t want no trouble. Jeiramin is the boss. It’s his business what brought your friend here. No need to turn us into anything unnatural, see?”
“All I want is to have a conversation with this Jeiramin. As long as we remain civil to each other, nothing untoward will happen.”
“We’re just teamsters,” the second gnome went on, indicating his friend, “him and me, not warriors. We’ve been paid to dig a tunnel and to stand here and let the boss know if anyone showed up, that’s all and no more.”
“Then you may announce my arrival.”
“Fair enough, I reckon. Just you remember that Smuko and I won’t stop you if you want to go and we ain’t gonna do no fightin’.” The gnome jerked his finger toward the building, “Not for the likes of him.”
“Yeah, Jeiramin is a rat fink but a man’s got to feed his family.”
“And who can argue with a month’s wages?”
Patrick said, “If matters come to an impasse, I will most certainly take that into account.”
Satisfied, the guards nodded their agreement. They stood dumbly for a long while, seemingly awaiting some purpose inscrutable to all but themselves. Patrick tapped his foot impatiently, his arms folded at his chest. Finally, one of the gnomes plucked up the courage and asked, “So what should we do then?”
“How about you knock on the door?” Patrick suggested helpfully. “There’s no need to get excited just yet.”
The gnome did as he was bid and admitted Patrick cordially. With a quick introduction, the guard and his companion made themselves scarce, seeing the anger and the fear light in their employer’s eyes. Unseen, Danny and Jim entered and took positions to either side of Patrick.
They were in a warehouse that was both wide and long, with thick columns spread at regular intervals supporting the earthen ceiling. Though there were no windows, it was bright inside all the same, the walls lit by the same strange wash of paint that gave structure and light to the gnome kingdom.
Seated at the clerk’s desk nearby was Billy Donovan. His face was battered and bruised, but he was alive. Billy was bound in iron, a complex rig made of a cuff at the wrists, ankles and neck. A cobweb network of chains secured his wings. The Faerie Folk are powerless against iron, and Billy had no hope of employing his magic to secure his escape. Only by physical means could he free himself.
“Are you well, Billy?” Patrick asked, not bothering to address Jeiramin. Billy roused himself, looked up, and nodded weakly.
“Though William Donovan here has been severely mistreated, he has his wits about him, whatever else,” Patrick said, now talking to the gnome Chief. “You must know that absconding with one of the Faerie Folk is something we view with the utmost of disdain. The protection of our people is the foundation of our law.”
“Since you gnomes are a magical race, you are allowed certain privileges in this respect. A petition may be brought against one of our citizens, but such a petition must be made to the appropriate authorities. I will now give you an opportunity to repent your actions and to give up the man willingly. All will be forgiven and we can go about our respective businesses such like the affair had never occurred.”
“What are you, the constabulary?” Jeiramin said dryly.
“Something like that.”
“Well, that little bugger owes me money.”
Patrick was about to reply but found that he could not. He had been trying to stifle a sneeze since the conversation began, but could hold it in no longer. He sneezed explosively, sending his magic dust out in a great cloud. Everything in sight was covered with fluffy, pink fuzz. Flower petals and stuffed playthings in the shape of puppies and kittens littered the floor.
“Goodness!” Patrick said when he had recovered himself. “Bless me.”
“Who are they, your backup?” Jeiramin said, pointing to Danny and Jim. Thanks to the pink fuzz, they were now quite visible.
“Interested parties, to be sure. Well, now that we’re all present and accounted for, would you mind telling my friends and me the reason why you have taken our Billy?”
“Why, I aught to beat the lot of you to a bloody pulp for your tricks.”
“Enough of that,” Patrick said sternly. “I am willing enough to hear your complaints, but I will allow no one else to come to harm. You’ll find yourself in a fine shade of toad if there is any more talk like that, understand?”
The gnome guards became stiff, warily looking about them as if already beginning to plan their escape. The Faerie Folk had a horrible reputation for tricks, and none of them were willing to share in their employer’s missteps.
For their part, Danny and Jim giggled behind their hands as the danger was explained. Danny took the opportunity to pick up a stuffed poodle and put it into his pocket, knowing a certain young niece who would be delighted by the present.
Jeiramin swallowed, saying politely, “Yes.”
“Good. Now tell me, what’s the trouble?”
“He owes me money.”
“Yes, I did catch the gist of that already, thank you. What for and how much?”
“Lost it to me in a bet, he did.”
“That sounds like our Billy,” said Patrick. Then to the named man, he said, “Is the claim valid?” Billy nodded. “And what is the sum?”
“Fourteen pounds six pence,” Jeiramin said.
“Fourteen pounds six pence?” Danny said incredulously. “That’s it? Seems like an awful lot of trouble for such a pittance.”
“A debt’s a debt no matter the price,” Jeiramin said resolutely, crossing his arms and sticking out his chin. “You let one get away without paying and there’ll be no end.”
Patrick said, “Yes, your business is your own. We will settle the debt and be on our way. I trust you find that acceptable?”
The gnome nodded. “Yes.”
“Good,” Patrick said, not bothering to check the contents of his own purse. “Jim, do you have any money on you?”
Jim blushed so deeply that it shined through the pink fuzz. He took a small, deflated leather bag from his pocket and, opening it, he mouthed the words as he counted the small amount in his possession. “Ah, no, Patrick, not even close.”
“Bless me, but it’s an ill wind that blows my way,” Danny said angrily, opening the drawstrings of his purse. “Rest assured you’ll pay your debt to me, Billy Donovan, be there no doubt in your mind of that. I have half a mind to let these fellers here have their way with you, now that I know their side of the story. But you’re one of us and I got to do as Patrick says. You’ll be carting firewood for my mother for the next fifty years, be certain of that you no good sluggard, but you’ll have your freedom.”
“Stop grumbling, Danny. Now there’s a good fellow,” Patrick said.
Counting the appropriate number of coins into Jeiramin’s hand, Danny added two silver pennies to the sum, saying, “For your troubles, and no hard feelings I hope.”
“Well done, Danny,” Patrick agreed.
“No, no hard feelings. Thank you,” the gnome leader said, bowing in the way of his kind to return the honor. “The debt is paid in full.”
Posted by Scott Wilson
I find this true: that even if we were covered by stones and buried in rubble, there would always be a hand with a pen that goes on writing. It is about believing in literature. I was not alone in this belief, as attested by the boom experienced by the publishing industry once the war reached our borders. Granted, the only casualties in the war were bank accounts and corporations, databases and electronically transmitted avatars, and the works of literature pouring forth had all been typed or dictated to machines that spit out pristine papers of environmentally-friendly ink, but hey, we were still a reading generation. Naysayers be damned, even if I knew hardly anyone whose handwriting was classifiable as legible.
At first, the war touched us hardly at all. Sure, the banking system was temporarily offline, but everyone had anticipated this after reading newspaper reports of how the war had progressed in our neighbouring countries. Prudent amounts of cash had been regularly withdrawn, and a morass of regulations had ensured the system did not go into meltdown while we were at it. The novelty of notes and coins kept everyone amused for a week, and the knowledge of being able to afford our daily luxuries kept us happy in the weeks after. Little is known about how those who had failed to economise when instructed to survived, but rumours of a government amnesty for debt for the war’s duration suggested living on credit was not about to make an exit. Assuming these people could find businesses who still walled a fraction of their operations away from the Grid.
For the Grid was not invulnerable, despite what cloud computing experts had assured us when we legislated it into existence. They had also doubted it could ever evolve itself to sentience, although sporadic reports in recent years indicated rogue subsystems were on occasion capable of passing the Turing test. No word yet on who would have been bored enough to challenge a routine subsystem gone rogue rather than just terminating it, but all the newspapers cited anonymous tipoffs, so it must have been true. They did not usually agree on such trivialities.
Without the Grid, shops that still sold writing materials saw their takings grow. Exponentially, of course, since with all factories off the Grid as well, no new stock was forthcoming and prices could therefore be raised in the serene confidence that demand would not flag. Hobbyists who made their own recycled paper and quill pens from feathers and vegetable inks suddenly found their skills of practical use. Except without the power and reach of the Grid, there was no one to market to. I lived between a paper-maker and a pen-maker, but refused to pay for their services until the weekend the stationer’s ran out of my favourite ballpoints.
Of course we should have seen the signs, but logic and reasoning had been dropped from the curriculum long ago in favour of grooming and ad-libbing. (You never knew when a camera crew might spot you and beam its feed straight to the Grid.) Those of us able to would have written articles excoriating our countrymen for their (our?) stupidity, except it would have been a waste of paper and ink. I wrote, but only stories, fables and fairytales that I read aloud to the diminishing crowd at my corner café, as more people began to stay indoors. I could never tell if they were more afraid of current affairs, frantically whispered between mouthfuls of synthetic coffee and tea, or the illusory currants that were a running theme in my characters’ sordid affairs. Dared we dream?
The Grid has been brought online again, but we know the war cannot possibly be over yet. The newspaper companies have finally run out of paper and ink themselves, and the hobbyists are not numerous enough to prop up that industry, even if they were compelled to. I do not leave my flat anymore either. I think the tinned goods will last a few more months, and whoever is controlling the Grid now has not seized the semi-independent routines that have kept water flowing through the taps all this time. At night, the holographic shimmer of a mechanical hand clutching a pen in the distance keeps me awake.
Posted by Scott Wilson
The DJ was released from the cold metal of the airlock. It drifted purposefully through the void, righting itself in order to properly pierce the star. When it hit, it’s plastic, antiheat shell protected it from the swelling flares and internal furnace of the red giant.
Horace went about his business within the ship as the DJ made its way to the star’s core. He prepared the assemblage of another DJ and supervised the pockets of air which drifted from the ship and into the vacuum. It wasn’t really necessary to install an atmosphere- breathing was no longer a concern- but if it wasn’t present, the sound wouldn’t travel properly. Transmitting into the earpieces of the listeners was something Horace never did, and the extra effort had gained him quite a following- both figuratively and literally.
The first ships had finally caught up with him and were coming to a stop. Horace had a habit of rushing ahead of his followers in order to minimize their wait. The ability to sleep during the intermittent trips had made Horace a revolutionary in the DJ business, if you could call it a business. Horace had no employer or payment, but he had little use for either, and was glad of his nomadic lifestyle.
The DJ had entered the core. The star was now susceptible to some of the strangest technology Horace had ever tried to make sense of- something to do with higher dimensions or some gobbledygook. As long as it worked.
The rest of the ships were arriving, and soon all of the people had arrived. The DJ blasted the sounds of the star, amplified and altered. Beats and rhythms arose from the chaos. As the star change size and color, the music changed pitch and tempo.
For the next twenty hours, everyone danced. They’d danced for decades already, and many of them had no doubt that they’d dance the eternal night away until the stars, comets, worlds and black holes all turned to dust.
Posted by Scott Wilson
Winderkirk is patient. It sits no less than three miles from the nearest usable road. And here it was that Death frequently visited.
The once well-beaten path was long ago washed away by the rain. Winderkirk is surrounded by fields. Long rows of fields, stretching in all directions. The haphazard meandering of the local water supply, sudden rocky patches and unfinished trenches leaves the area unnavigable to even the toughest of cars.
The village is the southern Scottish equivalent of a sleepy Devonshire town. The focal point is the small church, around which sit dwellings of various shapes and sizes. The houses have gardens stretching back to the fields that surround the village. The Winderkirk church is decrepit. Its sloping roof, topped by a small bell tower, looms impressively over the village, but the crumbling, moss-covered stones forming the doorway show that the chapel has been ravaged by the storms of time. The moss has crept over the door itself. Badly varnished, its strong oak planks hint at better days long past, and the knocker is off at one hinge.
If you turn right from the front of the church, you will find the decomposing cemetery, accessible by an alleyway between two of the houses. The many unmarked graves, few of them recent, have been left to rot. Not that the occupants seem to mind. The Maiden sits in her corner and I frequently check on her, but she never seems to mind either.
To the left of the church stands the reason this village sprung up around a Christian place of worship in the middle of nowhere. For those steeped in the lore and romanticism of old country mansions, seeing the dwelling associated with the ‘Ghoul of Winderkirk’ would cause many a jaw to drop. It was suggested that the house that time forgot (it has no proper name, though that is of little importance) may have once been a hideout for the supporters of the Comyn family after the murder of the Red Comyn by the Bruce. True, the pillars that support the front arch have a quintessential Comyn feel about them, but such stories are no doubt fallacy. It is no fallacy to suggest that the house has stood since the early 18th Century, and predates the town if not the church and graveyard.
Of course, this village was once occupied by more people than just the Maiden and me. The villagers left – feared for their lives. And things only got worse when that young academic appeared. Shame – his family seemed such a nice group. However, since I shall very shortly die, and there shall be no one to test the control of this experiment, I can give the results of my investigations. The true story of the fate of Euan Kerr. Welcome to Winderkirk.
“Are we there yet?” The inevitable question posed by a child on a journey.
“Not yet, Cora.” The world-weary adult academic’s response.
Dr Euan Kerr watched his daughter chase imaginary butterflies with a slight smile. Three weeks before, he had been the head of the department of Scientific Literature at the University of Glasgow, but had resigned in protest at sweeping job cuts which had affected his department in particular. Having struggled furiously to save staff jobs, he now had to be content to be furiously unemployed. And he only just recovered from the sudden death of his wife, Maria, the previous Christmas.
The Winderkirk house had come to Euan as a massive stroke of sheer luck. Leaving the Dean’s office, unemployed, he had bumped into his old foe in the department and now successor as head, Jacob Foster. On hearing of Euan’s career suicide, Foster had tried his utmost to express a disingenuous remorse.
“You need a holiday,” he had said. “Here, I own a house in the south of Scotland. Very peaceful. Not been there in years myself, but I must insist you try it. My parting shot?”
With that, arrangements were made and soon Euan and his daughter were crossing the final field on their way to Winderkirk.
“Daddy, I’m tired!”
Two hours on foot, complete with rucksack, had worn her patience.
“Come here, princess. I’ll carry you.”
Euan watched as Cora jumped onto his brother Alan’s shoulders, and took Cora’s rucksack to ease Alan’s burden.
Alan Kerr, thirty-three and in the throes of recovering from every addiction known to man, was never the most conventional of men. Every family has its black sheep, and theirs was Alan. Gracefully unemployed with a mane of black hair, the man had recently put his life back on track after several unfortunate incidents involving alcohol and other substances. On hearing of his older brother’s trip, Alan had immediately invited himself along. Like any brothers, they had had their share of conflicts over the years, but Euan was glad of the company. And, as he watched, Alan’s other use became apparent – Cora idolized her uncle. He spoiled her.
It was late in the day when the Kerrs stumbled upon the village. Euan read the welcoming signpost with the merest hint of impatience, and turned to the others.
“Winderkirk. We’re here at last.”
He helped Cora over the boundary fence and walked on past a solitary willow and two small houses into the main square.
“It’s smaller than I expected,” Alan said.
Cora wandered curiously over to the graveyard, but her father pulled her back.
“Don’t wander, dear. Not 'til we know what’s what.”
First impressions from visitors tended to concern the calm of the place rather than its size. The slowly sinking sun and lack of wind should have meant a hot, stifling evening. But the houses were arranged in such a way as to channel the heat away from the centre, resulting in a chilled atmosphere about the place. A very effective bit of town planning. They could easily have stood there for hours soaking up the tranquillity of the place, but there was accommodation to find and me to meet.
A small grey-haired man left the church and proceeded towards the party. About seventy then, and with the usual black attire, I looked every part the local cleric. I stumbled over to Euan, and held out my hand to shake. Euan took it.
“Hello,” I said. “Welcome. You're here to use Foster's house?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Dr. Foster told me all about you when he was here last week. It’s wonderful to meet you in the flesh at last. And this must be Cora?” The little girl smiled shyly. “Please, make yourself at home. I'm Reverend Mulryne, but please, call me Paul.”
Euan and Alan introduced themselves.
“I am quite delighted that you have come here. There is only me in the village currently so newcomers are always welcome. But enough, you must be dying to see the house itself!”
I fumbled in my pockets, before producing a rusting chain with about twenty keys on it. “It’s the black key for the front door, you’ll find. The others have their uses I think.”
“We should go and freshen up,” said Alan.
“Will you join us for dinner tonight? Say around eight?” I asked.
Euan accepted the invitation, and I left them to their business.
After the formality of finding the right key was over, the Kerrs stood in the front hall of their new house. A long flight of stairs arched into a mezzanine where two rooms lay beyond wood-panelled doors. On the left of the stairs stood a statue of the late Reverend MacIntyre (my predecessor!) and on the right the coat of arms of a long-dead family hung on the wall. Stone stairs met wooden walls and the scene was set for some Romantic princess to come waltzing down the stairs.
“What do you think?” said Alan.
“Very big,” said Cora.
“Quite the air of respectability and comfort,” added Euan. “What was it Lovecraft said of such places? That they were imbued with the ‘purchased atmosphere of extinct nobility’. Suits this place to a T.”
(From my dealings with Euan Kerr, I believe that there was one word that described him best, and that one word was pseudo-intellectual.)
He moved further from the door to inspect the coat of arms. They comprised a tartan background with a thistle to one side and a sword on the other.
“Euan? You know your family clans. D’you recognise those?” Alan asked.
Euan shook his head. “Possibly one of the MacIntyre clans, or earlier. Never seen it before.”
Alan glanced up from the statue he was inspecting. “It looks as though someone was trying too hard to emphasise their Scottishness. With the tartan and the thistle. I’m interested in this fellow.”
He nodded towards the statue. It clearly depicted a wealthy man – the robes were a testament to that – who wore thick reading glasses. A sword hung by his side and in his hands he held an open prayer book. The eyes stared out with all the grit the statue would allow.
“Interesting fellow,” said Alan. “I bet he was the sort to convert the savages to Anglicanism.”
Euan stifled a small chuckle.
“I’m hungry!” said Cora.
Euan glanced at his watch. “It’s seven.”
“Just time to find the bedrooms, unpack, and then it's dinner,” said Alan.
They set off up the stairs.
“Hopefully we won’t get lost!” Euan laughed.
His younger brother turned to him and rolled his eyes. “Perhaps we could do with some blue string and a map.”
Euan, I am sure, felt the urge to retaliate, but was beaten to it.
“Don’t be silly, Uncle Alan. Normal string would do!”
Everyone agreed that dinner was delicious. Plates of freshly baked loaves and potato stew were devoured. I played the role of host to perfection, merrily gossiping about the weather and politics.
Euan Kerr finished his second glass of white wine and politely refused a third helping.
“I hope you enjoyed dinner,” I said.
“Yes of course,” said Euan.
“It was yummy!” Cora contributed.
“So, Dr. Kerr, how long are you here for? Only Dr. Foster forgot to mention when he was here how long you were staying.”
“About a week.”
“Plenty of time. And to explore that labyrinth of a house you have!”
“Yes!” Euan grinned. “We got lost in there earlier.”
“Ha-ha, really? You should have done what that Greek fellow did, and used some string!”
“Uncle Alan wanted to do that, but daddy thought it was silly.”
“Is that so?” I chuckled. “Alas, there is not much to delight young children around here.”
“I thought about looking around that graveyard,” said Alan. “I’ve always been interested in gravestone architecture, and Cora seems to enjoy visiting them.”
“Be my guest, but I’m afraid there are few gravestones there. I trust you shall wait until daybreak though?”
Everybody laughed. Euan stood up from the table. “Dinner was wonderful, Father, but we really must be retiring now.”
I refrained from correcting him here, despite the insult. Father, indeed! That is the trouble with certain fellows from Glasgow: they assume everyone is on their side!
“I shall not keep you further. If you need me during the night, don't be afraid to call.”
“Thank you. You are most kind.”
“Not to worry,” I replied. “As long as God allows, I am here to look after you.”
Next morning, into the graveyard entered Alan Kerr, his niece Cora, and their guide to all things Winderkirk, me.
“Lovely day,” said Alan. He stood reading the Latin inscriptions on an old headstone.
We watched Cora race off to the area of the graveyard that lay in the shadow of the church building. Convinced she was not about to do herself any undue harm, I explained the history of the place.
“The churchyard is about a thousand years old, although some graves date back to late Roman influences. As you can see, there are precious few headstones to satisfy you.”
“Simply because there is no room. Calling this a graveyard is a bit of a euphemism to tell you the truth. In the Victorian age this was a glorified mass burial pit for the cholera victims from the surrounding farms.”
“So there are too many unidentified bodies?”
“Exactly. But there were always ways to point out how many were buried in each pit. I’m sorry, have I upset you at all?”
“No, no,” Alan replied. He was standing by a long, grey slab of stone on the ground, which I knew well. “I'm trying to decipher this Latin. My grammar was never very good. It says, ‘Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem’. I’m sure I've read that somewhere before.”
“An intelligent man like yourself, I have no doubt of it. I translate: ‘Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity’. Occam’s razor.”
“Of course. Make as few assumptions as possible.”
“That is the tomb of my predecessor. A studious man, I have heard. They say he left it as a warning.”
“A warning? Does it tie in with any local village superstitions or the like?”
“I think the warning is less subtle than that, Mr. Kerr. I personally believe that Reverend MacIntyre was just warning us to keep our minds aware in this world. I hear he was a sensible man. But rather dull, I’m afraid. Unconcerned by trifles. Unlike Cora, who seemed to be quite distracted.”
Alan looked up. Cora was jumping up and down excitedly in the far dark corner of the graveyard. We walked over to see what the child had found. Alan gasped in surprise. Sitting at Cora’s feet was a large pile of freshly-laundered socks. White and untouched by the dirt, they sat oblivious to the abnormality of their location.
“Uncle Alan! I’ve found the odd sock!”
Her uncle smiled back. “Well done, Cora. Why don’t you go and tell daddy?”
Cora clearly thought this was a great idea. She sprinted out of the shadows and through the gate towards the house. Alan turned to face me.
“Tell me, Reverend, is there any particular reason for these socks to be there?”
“In any normal graveyard, perhaps not. But this is no ordinary graveyard, as I told you.”
“So you mentioned. But why socks?”
“Cholera killed so many poor people. Many were unable to afford tombstones, and indeed the point was a moot one since the local engraver was the first victim of the 1902 outbreak. No one can afford stones, but the graves may still be marked. Once the graves were sealed, mourners would place the victims’ socks on the piece of land in which they were buried. As place holders, if you will.”
“You can’t honestly be telling me that these socks have been sitting here all this time.”
“No. we replace them frequently. These ones were put here yesterday – that's why they look so clean. Also, they are not the same type. We wanted to keep up the tradition, but good socks are so expensive these days. Nevertheless, folk remember the past accordingly. After all, if you forget the past it shall forget you.”
We walked off, not stopping to ponder further over the pile of socks. Of course, often adults are too busy or absorbed to notice anything in front of them. Alan never perceived anything but the mundane: “Oh look, socks!” But Cora had. And now there was one less sock sitting in that pile as night drew in, somewhat colder and more suddenly than expected.
Nobody saw the extra sock that Cora had on her hand, because people just don’t see that sort of thing. Or if they do, they mutter: “The child has a sock on her hand. Good for them!” Then they put it out of mind and concentrate on seemingly far more important things. This is a terrible shame in this instance. Cora had moved the sock from the pile she found in the graveyard. It was white and new, and filled its old job admirably. As a glove it was also useful.
And so with her new accessory Cora slept quite peacefully, untroubled. The same could not be said for the others. Alan woke in a cold sweat at around two in the morning. Euan started awake in a similar condition.
Alan, entering his bedroom, spoke first. “I had a bad dream.”
“Did you? It didn’t involve some creature rising from the sock basket at the bottom of the bed, did it?”
“Yes, it was all scaly and decomposing. And transparent. How did you know?”
“I had the exact same dream.”
“But that’s not possible, surely?”
“Shared dreaming? Hypothetically it's possible under stressful conditions. I read about it in a science magazine.”
“What other explanation is there?” asked Euan.
“It’s very simple. We saw a ghost.”
“Don’t be stupid, Alan. We may believe in the existence of some phenomena, but not ghosts.”
So it was a principality then? Like the arrival of Monaco in all of our bedrooms?”
Euan groaned. This argument would have gone on for hours had it not been interrupted at that moment.
“Please talk quietly. You’ll wake up the dead again.”
Cora stood peeping round her bedroom door, her eyes barely visible. The sight took Euan by surprise and for a split second a chill of fear ran down his spine.
“What are you doing awake, Cora?” said Alan.
“I got woken up by the green man. He told me to tell you he was going to be seeing you soon. Nice man. Night night.”
She closed the door. The adults shared glances.
“Tell me,” said Alan, “why was she wearing a sock on her arm?”
Neither brother felt like trying to get back to sleep. They sat in the kitchen for the rest of the night, musing over what had happened.
“I'm convinced that there's a ghost or a haunting occurring here,” said Alan.
“I am as completely convinced that you're wrong.”
“If you are adamant that everything can be properly explained, then how do you explain these visitations? The fact that Cora talked to the ... thing ... suggests dream sharing is out of the question.”
Euan looked sceptical. Alan continued.
“The traces of the past. For every experience, the mind will try to add scientific explanation. What if there is none? We know that this house is situated next to a mass grave. Now, surely in the confusion of death under the circumstances of a mass cholera outbreak, we could find one or two restless spirits unable to find eternal peace. I know what I saw tonight – I saw it quite clearly. It wasn't alive and it wasn't a figment of my imagination. It was pure spiritual phenomenon.” He tapped his finger on the table for emphasis.
“So, you think it was a ghost, do you?” There was no mistaking the mocking in Euan’s voice. “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
“Occam’s razor. That’s written on a grave outside.”
“But it can only make sense to make as few assumptions as possible. The most logical answer is usually the correct one. And ghosts are but impressions of energy. Nothing but impressions.”
Euan sipped his coffee and continued. “You see, human physiology may actually make us more susceptible to seeing ghosts. A chilling sensation is one of the most basic tell-tale signs that a ghost is present. But if a ghost was thought to be present, its viewer would feel fear. Our natural response to fear is the hair raising that causes the chilling sensation in the first place. No paranormal activity, merely a misguided reaction to trigger stimuli. You get where I’m coming from?”
“In a way, yes,” said Alan. “But we saw the thing tonight. That was not a, a ‘trigger stimuli misinterpretation’ or whatever.”
“No. We saw something, but again physiology comes to the fore. All down to our peripheral vision. Random motion outside our focus area can cause a strong optical illusion. Couple that with the unavoidable presence of infra-sound—”
“Sound waves at a frequency lower than twenty hertz. We cannot hear them but we can feel their presence, and we notice dogs picking them up. And all this, see, leads to people thinking that they’re witnessing presences and, well, phenomena.” He took another sip of coffee.
“But in our case?”
“In our case, add these stimuli and concerns to the fact that we're all tired and slightly anxious of sleeping in this empty house, and even possibly a secret desire for something supernatural to appear out of the everyday. Then you see what we witnessed today was quite ordinary.”
Alan thought for a minute. “I’ll concede. You've blown my theories out of the water again.”
“I know I have. No hard feelings?”
“If there were hard feelings, I’d have left twenty years ago.”
“I seem to recall you did leave.”
“Then I would not have returned!” Alan smiled.
“And I bet you are so glad you did!”
Alan glanced at his watch. “Good lord, it's seven! Time for a wash, I think. Change of clothes. I've been wearing these socks for a wee– Socks!”
And he darted out of the room and through the front door. Euan followed him out of the house, the falling rain soaking him in seconds.
“Socks?” he called out.
Alan stopped, watching the rain come down. “Euan, have you ever heard of insigui?”
“Interesting Chinese folklore. A spirit that manifests itself in inanimate objects. It's claimed that if humans come into possession of said objects, all Hell breaks loose.”
“Lovely! What’s your point?”
“We are standing outside Winderkirk graveyard. Can you tell me what you see over in that corner?”
“It’s a pile of socks. Cora told me about it yesterday.”
“Very interesting place to find such a thing. Hang on a second.”
Alan ran over to the pile and picked up a solitary sock, as if to test a theory. He dropped it very quickly as if it had burned his fingers and returned to his brother.
“Traditional Scottish weather!”
“It is. You’re completely soaked, and so am I,” Euan said meaningfully.
“Exactly. Tell me. You love your logical explanations. The cemetery has no shelter from the rain. See those puddles? So, how was it that just there when I went to pick up a sock from that pile, I found the lot to be not only immaculately clean, but bone dry as well?”
“That’s a reality. Euan, I think we’re in trouble. I think yesterday your daughter awoke some sort of spirit.”
“Impossible!” Euan repeated. “Besides, didn’t you say that for these Chinese spectres to do their spectre-ing properly, one of their objects had to come into our possession? Well, what has?”
“This insigui must travel by socks, however strange that may seem.”
Fear began to tighten its hold on Euan’s mind.
“If we get that sock back to its home, everything will be reversed?”
But Alan was not listening. Euan followed his gaze. There was a face peering out from the kitchen window. The two men raced back to the house and into the kitchen. It was empty and still, much like the rest of the abandoned village. Winderkirk remained motionless, apart from the tapping of the rain and the increasing heartbeats of the two brothers.
Cora was in bed, seemingly asleep. Her breathing was loud and ragged and her cheeks were flushed, as if she had a fever.
“I'd still get that sock off her arm quickly,” said Alan.
“But it is only a sock, surely?”
It was only a sock. It sat there, inanimate on his daughter’s hand. All he had to do was reach out and remove it. He moved his hand closer to the thing, but stopped just one finger away. Alan watched his brother tackle the problem like a full-blown phobia. The smell of fear in the air was acute. Just a sock. Feelings of hunger and anger and intense loathing permeated the surroundings, filling each man – but not from them. With a resolute cry, Euan reached out and tugged the sock off his daughter’s arm, and in one full motion flung it as far from him across the room as possible. He watched the thing intently, almost making it move in his mind. But it stayed still. It was, after all, only a sock.
“You made that look quite difficult.”
“Could you not feel it? The hatred in this room. It was as if a thousand lost souls were screaming at me.”
“I thought you were the sceptic?”
“I am. I think you got me worked up with all your talk of insigui.”
“In that case, do you want me to place that sock back in the pile where it belongs, or do you feel up to the challenge?”
“Don’t be silly. It’s only a sock. I’ll do it.”
“Do hurry up then.”
Euan picked up the sock gingerly, scowled at Alan and left. Alan paced the room nervously. He hoped that this little trick would work, and Cora would return to full health. He looked over his niece, as peaceful as she was. Pretty as a picture. He placed a consoling hand on hers and was taken aback when the little hand clasped on tightly.
Alan put two and two together in his mind and reeled. Cora had been awake the entire time he'd been in the room but was playing asleep to the best of her ability. If this was so, then what was making the loud breathing noise? He scanned the room quickly. No place to hide anything, except under the bed. He leaned over Cora.
“Just keep on pretending you’re asleep. That’s a good girl,” he whispered.
Alan thought about what was under the bed, but the possibilities were too horrible to contemplate. He put his head down to see, and shortly after thought no more.
When Euan returned, his brother was slumped in the chair by Cora’s window, his back to the door.
“Worn out?” Euan asked.
As Alan did not respond, he came closer and tapped him on the shoulder. The body slipped off the chair and Euan jumped back in horror. He was looking not at his good-natured brother but at a corpse. This put all supernatural theories to bed. The messy entry wound in the middle of his forehead spoke of a very human perpetrator.
The door closed behind him. A dry cough echoed throughout the room as a pistol was reloaded. And, in the second before he turned around, Euan knew exactly who he was going to see. It had stared him right in the face. I had practically given it all away. The friendly old priest, who knew the Kerrs were coming to Winderkirk. And the man who “hadn’t been there in years” and yet had met the priest to tell him of Euan's arrival.
He turned to face his foe.
“Good morning, Euan,” said Dr Jacob Foster, newly appointed head of Science Literature at the University of Glasgow. “Surprised to see me?”
There was a pause. Foster adjusted his glasses. “Sit down on the bed!”
Cora abandoned any pretence of sleep and sat up. Euan fell back into the space vacated by his daughter. She clung to his arm, all tears for her favourite uncle and pitiful moans of fear.
“I made no pretence of the fact that I hate you. You and your books. There is more to life than plain science! You hypocrite, denier of life, if you could see it all now, what would you think?”
“That you have no grace.”
“Careful. I think you’ll find I am the one with the gun here.”
“You shot Alan!”
“Sorry about that”, Foster sneered, “but the experiment must go ahead. I said the village needed more trauma. So I had to go and create some. It was quite simple. Invite your family out here, then create the mental energy required for an appearance of the ghost. And what is more traumatic than violent death?”
I stood, merely watching, the clinical observer. Then he shot Euan in the chest. Euan made a faint noise and collapsed. I grimaced, but the shot was wide of the heart.
Paternal urges must have driven Euan on. He knew that he was Cora’s last line of defence. Grunting with agony, he pulled himself up from the bed and dragged Cora out of the room whilst his nemesis was still staring foolishly at the gun in his hand, not as inured to killing as he would like. Trying to ignore the blood flowing from Euan’s chest, they staggered down the stairs. No point in trying to hide anywhere in the house – that would play straight into Foster’s hands. They ran from the building, the child gripping her father’s hand for all it was worth.
But where to now? Nowhere offered safety. The brightening morning suggested nothing but dangerous open light to all who approached. The decision to move was made not by the approach of Foster, but by a drenched Euan Kerr crashing to his knees. We had known all along that this was a fatal wound. But he could not give up now. Summoning all his strength and helped by Cora, Euan crawled into the graveyard. His pursuer striding through the gates, Euan collapsed upon Reverend MacIntyre’s gravestone and gazed up at Foster. I watched from the gates, at a safe distance, and waited.
“Tell me one thing. How did you manage the socks trick?” said Euan.
“Huh?” Foster replied.
“That pile of socks. It’s soaking wet, and they're all bone dry.”
“Nothing to do with me.”
“Oh, that was my doing,” I said. They both turned to look at me. “Please do carry on,” I added. “This is fascinating.”
Foster looked confused.
“You have a gun!” I cried. “Shot him!”
“Please...” Euan pleaded. “Please.... finish me off if you must, but don’t harm Cora.”
Foster’s smile broadened, and for the first time Euan felt genuine hopelessness.
“I have no intention of harming Cora. She is the control for the experiment.”
Cora saw something? A memory stirred as Euan's eyes located his daughter huddled against that pile of socks in the corner. I heard her voice in my mind: “I was woken up by the green man”. She had seen something. What else had she said? “He told me to tell you he was going to be seeing you soon.” I knew then that my waiting was nearly over.
“Anyway, enough small talk,” said Jacob. “Although it looks as though you have almost finished repainting the old priest’s tomb.”
Euan did not have the strength to reply. The silence was broken only by a creaking and a snapping. Foster glanced round nervously. Euan felt the slab of stone beneath him crack open as the ground shifted. Now would be a good time to move. He tried, but to no avail. The gravestone had split into two parts which were moving away from each other to reveal a descending staircase in the earth, stretching far beneath the house and beyond into darkness.
But it was not this that made Jacob Foster scream in terror, as Euan fell backwards into the hole. The thin, cadaverous man who had appeared in front of him took all that credit. His green-tinged skin, mouldering hair and protruding skeleton were rather more of a visitation than Foster had been prepared for. A shrill laugh arose from the tomb.
“You fool, Jacob!” gasped Euan. “Entities... should not be multiplied... beyond necessity. Look what you've done!”
Foster tried to fight back, but the creature’s grasp was too strong as it pulled him into the ground and down the staircase. The proudly creative man gave merely a whimper as he was forced down the stairs, past his laughing rival. Euan Kerr marvelled. Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. Not, here, a declaration of the logical manner of life. It merely stood as a warning to the curious of what might happen if they tried to experiment with such things.
Euan had recognised the creature. It was the exact likeness of the statue of Reverend MacIntyre, standing with sword and book at the foot of the staircase back in the house. The rest of Euan’s blood was draining away. He could not move. But, as the tomb slowly began to close up and he saw his remaining light dying away, he began to realize that he honestly no longer cared.
It is my theory that the late Jacob Foster assumed that anything he could conjure up to support his theories would not be able to harm him. Unfortunately for him, after all his hard work, the creature did have a physical effect. That is why I remained outside the yard. For safety reasons.
You know we are standing around the remains of a pauper’s pit? More than that, a cholera victims’ mass grave. So many people buried. I read once of how the fields in which these graves were situated were marked with piles of socks to warn travellers of what lay beneath, back in the days when people were ignorant of how the disease was transmitted. Water, water, everywhere, and so much of it to drink.
It has been documented, not only by metaphysicians but by philosophers and scientists too, that trauma causes mental energy to be released into the world. Now, a few years ago I found this very house up for sale in the classifieds. It had been owned up until a month before by a Mr. Samuel Cowan and his family. They had left in some hurry. The daughter saw something. A ghost, a visitation, something: the spectre of an emaciated green man. That girl died soon after, and the house went up for sale.
The girl’s death was due to no supernatural agency: she had malignant cancer. The traumatic energy released by this dying caused a real visitation to occur. Being a learned man, I had hoped that through carefully controlled experiments I could view this phenomenon for myself. Slowly I had become acquainted with Dr. Foster and the few villagers – but then I had stumbled across the gatekeeper, the green thing. I had been able to make a deal with it, a Faustian pact of my own. I needed some guinea pigs.
The villagers all tried to run for their lives, as they realised exactly why this place was called Winderkirk. The etymology is quite simple: both parts come from the old Scots. “Winder” or “wynder/uynder” means 'under', and 'kirk' is the church. So the name of the village means there is something under the church. Apt, since that tomb leads right down under the building. I was quite proud of coming up with that name.
Occam's razor: if only Euan and Foster had thought it through, they could have avoided their fates. The fact that there is no actual name on the tomb (since it is not a tomb, merely a gate) that covers the route to Hell, for example. Or that I have the keys to the house, the same house which contains my coat of arms. So much for that warning. It seemed fairly obvious to me
Jacob Foster, Euan and Alan Kerr – all departed. One Kerr was left. Cora is still in that graveyard. Not dead – probably – but still awaiting the return of her father. A sock sits in her palm, taken from the pile at her feet. One blood-soaked gateway, a solitary child and a pile of socks stand undisturbed, in the midst of a dead village.
This is the story of Euan Kerr's true fate. I hope you enjoyed it. As for me, I will soon die. Maybe the experiment will end with me. But the Maiden still lives. And while the control still lives, can an experiment ever really end?
(Reverend) Paul Mulryne MacIntyre.
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Here at The Fringe Magazine we publish Short Stories, Flash Fiction, Poetry in all genres and reviews of books, roleplay games, music and movies.
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- FICTION: The Throne of Kwan Yin by Sirena Gibson
- POETRY: Venus Dreams by Jason E. Hodges
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- FICTION: A Pile of Socks by Michael S. Collins
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- FICTION: Dream Food By Anthony R Pezzula
- POETRY:Venice Dreams by Jason E. Hodges
- FICTION: Trick or Treat by Jerry Guarino
- AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Trent Jamieson
- BOOK REVIEW: The Perfect Present
- BOOK REVIEW: Blue Monday
- BOOK REVIEW: Against All Enemies
- FICTION: The Tormented Teacher By John Kujawski
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- FICTION: Music Arranged By Shea Hennum
- BOOK REVIEW: A Place Called Armageddon
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- BOOK REVIEW: American Gods
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- BOOK REVIEW: The Stranger You Seek
- BOOK REVIEW: Where Spirits Dwell
- BOOK REVIEW: Spell Bound
- FICTION: Double Sting By Jerry Guarino
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- FICTION: The Other Side By Gerry Huntman
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