Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Pipe and slippers

Lovely Library: A Wizard’s Quandary

Good evening and welcome to my awe inspiring athenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets – or as that ridiculous octopus calls it, my ‘lovely library.’

old-library-1571043

I am the ghost of Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect, catalogue and review every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler of the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

 

But I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which might perhaps one day bring about the downfall of our oppressive overlord, Wiz.

 

Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my work and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.

 

This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.

 

By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent…hm? Did I have to drug them first? Well how very rude of you of course I did not have to drug them…I mean the very idea!

 

So, this evening I am most honoured to be occupying the form of  authour Guy Donovan and I… no those are NOT blood stains on his shirt. It is red paint. I may have had a very minor altercation with a disgruntled barge woman who mistook my innocent enquiries about leather bound tomes for something else entirely, but I managed to set her straight in the end… after I’d clambered out of the canal and removed most of the pond weed.

 

Anyway I do not have time for an interrogation on the moral use of other people’s bodies, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have new books everywhere and I must review and catalogue them  and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe? You’ve brought along some single malt to keep out the chills as we work?

Oh.

Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate a short extract of each story and a review, and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…

A WIZARD’S QUANDARY BY JAQ D HAWKINS

The story concerns the wizard Lesana, who is employed by her local king to keep him in potions that preserve his youth. She lives alone in her tower far from the capitol, unless of course you count the small, green dragon in her keeping that she found as a hatchling and named Khadri. No one but Lesana knows about Khadri, and they both intend to keep it that way. If the king found out about him…well, you can guess what would happen, right?
Then one day, a soldier comes from the capitol with orders to take Lesana to the king and teach him how to make her magic potions for himself. Naturally enough, Lesana isn’t very interested in doing anything of the sort, so she and Khadri abscond, with the soldier pursuing them into the mountains—the same mountains in which Lesana found Khadri. The mountains where the dragons live.
What I liked most about the story is the relationship between Lesana and Khadri. It’s very playful and touches on maternal without ever getting cloying. The below sample shows that very well, I think.
*****
Lesana peered carefully into the crucible, closely observing the swirling, black mass within.
“If that pops, you could lose an eye.” Khadri, Lesana’s miniature green dragon companion, hopped onto Lesana’s shoulder, causing her to brace herself against the weight of an animal the size of a full-grown wolverine. He glanced at the churning elixir.
Lesana pulled her head back a little, but continued frowning at the crucible.
“Your eyes see more colours than mine,” she stated aloud. “Can you see any hint of vermilion?”
Khadri danced around on his shoulder perch, pretending not to notice when Lesana steeled herself against the new claw punctures in her partially healed, damaged skin.
“I see the red glowing crystals forming rapidly, as always. You’ve never failed in your efforts to make the Philosopher’s Stone to my knowledge.”
Lesana smirked.
“You should have seen my early efforts, when you were just a hatchling,” she replied. “It’s more by luck than judgement that I never blew up the entire tower.”
“It’s a dangerous business,” Khadri acknowledged. “I don’t see why the king doesn’t just send you to Egypt to retrieve the cinnabar from mummy wrappings.”
Lesana guffawed, pushing herself away from the table where the crucible continued to send sulphuric vapour into the close space of the uppermost tower room where she kept her laboratory, just in case. Fire and explosions tended to travel upwards.
“I can just see the Egyptian Department of Antiquities allowing a foreign wizard to help herself to the preservatives in their precious national tourist industry. Last I heard they didn’t even know the nature of the red ochre. I’d rather not be the one to explain that they’ve had the key to immortality within their relics all this time.”
She wandered to the arched window that looked out over the dead forest to the north. The elevation provided by the fifth level tower room allowed Lesana to see the Crystal Mountains in the distance. A wistful note entered her voice.
“Besides, if I ever leave the king’s employ and travel somewhere, I’d like to go back to the Crystal Mountains.”
“Where you found me?” Khadri gasped. “The dragons would eat you!”
“Perhaps,” Lesana admitted. “But they didn’t before. I felt something while I was there. Something…magical.”
*****
Being a writer of dragon tales myself, (I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey’s fantastic Pern series and the influence shows) I think it’s very important that they be treated as characters in their own right, rather than simply bestial antagonists. Now that’s not to say that dragons can’t be the bad guy! I just think that they’re better storywise when they are presented as more than mere powerful animals. Besides, being that us humans are so good at being bad, I prefer stories where the dragons are more noble. Jaq D. Hawkins did that very well.

 

And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and I must be getting this body back to its rightful owner… hm? What’s that you say? You don’t think I should give it back in this state? Well we’ve only had a few haven’t we? It is hardly my fault if Guy can’t hold his liquor… hic…

 

MANY THANKS TO AUTHOUR GUY DONOVAN FOR BEING A FABULOUS SPORT AND SHARING HIS REVIEW IN PERIL’S LOVELY LIBRARY! YOU CAN FIND GUY HERE

AMAZON AUTHOUR PAGE

FACEBOOK PAGE

AND YOU CAN READ THE REST OF A WIZARD’S QUANDARY IN THE DREAMTIME DAMSELS ANTHOLOGY HERE:

 

library image courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com


Lovely Library: Muliebral The Bald… oops, I mean Bold, sorry!

Good evening and welcome to my awe inspiring athenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets – or as that ridiculous octopus calls it, my ‘lovely library.’ 

old-library-1571043.jpg

I am the ghost of Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect, catalogue and review every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler of the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

 

But I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which might perhaps one day bring about the downfall of our oppressive overlord, Wiz.

 

Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my work and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.

 

This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.

 

By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent…hm? Did I have to drug them first? Well how very rude of you of course I did not have to drug them…I mean the very idea! 

 

So this evening, I most honoured to be occupying the form of  authour Jaq D Hawkins and I… yes her hair is supposed to look like that. I think. Well, alright there may have been a very minor altercation with a disgruntled Bar Keep who mistook my innocent enquiries about leather bound tomes for something else entirely, but I managed to set him straight in the end… no, no those are not bruises on her knuckles, I didn’t hit him that hard. 

 

Anyway I do not have time for an interrogation on the moral use of other people’s bodies, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have new books everywhere and I must review and catalogue them  and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe? You’ve brought along some cherry brandy to keep out the chills as we work?

Oh.

Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate a short extract of each story and a review, and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem… 

 

Nav Logan has an undeniable talent for comedy. I first came across this author when we were both invited to submit stories for the Dreamtime Dragons Anthology. I was well impressed that he was able to make getting eaten by a dragon funny!

 

Muliebral the Bald (or Bold) has compounded my opinion that Logan could give Terry Pratchett some serious competition in the area of human observation comedy, while setting the story within a believable historical fiction context. He can even do the accents while keeping them understandable, no small feat!

 

The story is about a king who has two daughters whom he feels he must marry off to generate heirs in the old Medieval patriarchal system. However, the girls are good fighters, being descendants of Boudicca and all, and Muliebral, more than her sister Chastity, sees no reason why they need a man to protect them or fill the role of heir to the kingdom.

 

Her basic attitude is summed up in a quote from her maternal grandmother, who clearly never approved of her daughter’s choice of husband, king or not:

 

Todhmhii’s (Tommy) one regret was that he had no sons to pass his kingdom on to. His wife, Hayleigh, had given him two daughters: Chastity and Muliebral, and they were as different as chalk and cheese. His mother-in-law, Lannau, regularly and publicly scorned him for his inability to produce any male heirs. 

“If I  told our Hayleigh once, I must have told her a hundred times,” the old hag would mutter to anyone who was daft enough to heed her, “You need to marry a strong virile Iceni man and you’ll be blessed with godlike children, not go gallivanting off with a worthless bog-trotting Briganti brigand who can’t tell the difference between a ewe in heat and a tavern wench! My grandmother, Queen Boudicca, would turn in her grave at the shame of it. Her last surviving kinswoman marrying a foul-mouthed, crotch-dribbling, goat fondler!”

How Mulibral goes about getting around her father’s insistence on following tradition not too subtly reflects a trope popular in Classical stories about strong women, but it is delivered with Logan’s characteristic ribald humour and is entertaining from start to finish. The quality of writing is superb and the characters come to life from the page with seemingly no effort.

 

This is definitely one of my own favourite stories from the collection!

 

And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and I must be getting this body back to its rightful owner… hm? What’s that you say? You don’t think I should give it back in this state? Well we’ve only had a few haven’t we? It is hardly my fault if Jaq is a light weight… hic… 

 

MANY THANKS TO AUTHOUR JAQ D HAWKINS FOR BEING A FABULOUS SPORT AND SHARING HER REVIEW IN PERIL’S LOVELY LIBRARY! YOU CAN FIND JAQ HERE

:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jaq-D-Hawkins/e/B0034P4BFI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1570617386&sr=8-1

 

AND YOU CAN FIND MULIEBRAL THE BALD / BOLD IN THE DREAMTIME DAMSELS ANTHOLOGY HERE…

 

library image courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com by Johnathan Adrianzen


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIFTH: PENNY BLAKE

 

So, here we are, Johnny. You have asked me to put to paper my reasoning in support of my new found pastime. Nevermind that you are as transparent as ever, obviously hoping to glean some marker as to the level of either my sanity or depravity or perhaps in the pompous hope that by attempting to justify myself I will find my own supporting arguments so weak that I will realise my own folly and quit this… what did you call it? …. deplorable habit?

Sorry to disappoint you but, true to your enviably robust character, you have again completely missed the purpose of my endeavours.

But perhaps I am being ungenerous, afterall, despite all we’ve been through together – the giant crabs, the loss of limbs, the zombie hoards, the atrocious dinner theatre… – if you cease the whirlwind and reflect for a moment, you barely know me at all.

Let me enlighten you then and perhaps, if I am really as wicked as everyone says, you’ll see that I am also correct and that your only option, really, is to join me or wash your hands of me completely. I don’t believe you are the sort of man to walk away from any challenge, Johnny, but, lets see, perhaps I don’t know you as well as I think I do either… unlikely but always a possibility…

I must begin with an apology. I’m afraid I have let you believe for some time now that I failed my exams multiple times and was only, eventually, allowed to enter the Collegium because my uncle is head of one of those Towers. How you could have believed such a flagrant twisting of the facts for so long is beyond me, still you will take people at their word won’t you? Another useful character flaw.

The truth is that I passed my exams with merit but my Uncle, who had overseen a large portion of my earlier education, petitioned the Dean repeatedly against my admission. Why would he do such a thing? Why do you think? Because he could already see that my ideas and ambition, my reckless innovation and energetic pursuit of knowledge would be dangerous within those walls.

He guessed, quite correctly, that my passion to enter the wizarding profession had nothing to do with a desire to serve Wiz or learn his petty doctrines and laws of magic, no, all I wanted was access to all those books and ingredients and utensils that were banned everywhere else in Ire. I wanted to get my hands on and into everything related to magic, I wanted to possess it, to become it, to use it to create my own reality and make the world around me dance to my own tune.

You suppose that I accepted Lord Ashton’s commission to create a portal in the aether because of the reward he offered me. I cannot fault you for that, Johnny, it’s exactly what I told you. But really, really, are you honestly that obtuse? To open a portal, whether you believe there is a goddess on the other side of it or not, is to invite new power into our world and that can only increase the power here at our disposal. And what of the world on the other side? A chance for an ambitious wizard to pull the strings on not one, but two realities? I sense your frown already, stop it at once.

 

Perhaps you feel that none of this has anything to do with Hex Slinging, as they call it; that back alley sport of pulling magic, raw and burning, from the aether and using it to rip your opponent to shreds in front of a rabid crowd of gamblers. But my hope is that, being an intelligent fellow, a dread enlightenment of sorts is beginning to awaken at the edges of your consciousness.

I am not, as you are no doubt beginning to realise, frequenting the hex rings of Lancaster in the interests of pleasure, distraction or mere entertainment. The study of magic must be practical, and by observing and imitating these men and women who live and die by the aetherial sinews of the universe, we can learn far more than the fusty towers of wizardry could ever have taught us.

That’s right ; us Johnny, I want you beside me in this as always, our fates are almost inseparably entwined now, even you must see that neither of us can ever go back to Litchfield , so what else can you do? Join your sister in rebuilding the pirate city? Live out your days gutting fish like your father? I think we both know that is not how your story ends.

I am not suggesting, of course, that you join me in the ring ; although I don’t doubt your capabilities in this field, your skills in alchemy are equally as vital to our enterprises and I would not risk you for that reason – you have already made your revulsion at my own scarred and aether-damaged hand quite clear and there is no reason for you to suffer the same.

But nevermind about me, Johnny, I have heard of an underground craftswoman who can replace my prosthetic left hand with a silver one that will conduct both soul and aether and then I will be able to use that instead of continuing to sacrifice the flesh I have on my right.

So, there you have it, my obsession is incurable and I invite you to join me in it at once, if you know me at all, John, you’ll have expected nothing less.

Your friend and associate, Dr. Mercurio Smith

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of vintage port eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE THIRD:  by PENNY BLAKE

We wasn’t always called Jack and Marjory. But then again we didn’t always live in Lancaster. We didn’t always own these boots. We didn’t always work for Kitty Flynn.

Kitty’s coffee house, The Angel, is always full, always bustling, always respectable and everything above board.

They serve government standard issue coffee – the lifeblood of the workforce and the would-be well-to-do alike.

Chicory, acorn, dandelion … the great copper pots of brown liquid sit simmering in the seventeen fire places all day long and Kitty’s daughters run to and fro serving it out in pewter tumblers on silver trays.

The rules are framed in mahogany on the white washed wall: no foul language, no char-latin, no anti-royalist, anti-religious or anticlimactical notions, no games of chance, no business dealings, no magic.

Yes indeed, The Angel is a perfectly respectable place. It must be. The patrons run the great societal gamut from the lowliest mill worker, to dockers, street traders  and Sho’vani barge folk; from town Tinkers like The Time Keeper and The Spoon Smiths, to landlords like Montmorency and Clitheroe, even true aristocrats like Lord Ashton and Lady Grace and wizards like that so-called ‘Dr. Smith’…

The Angel is always full, never a spare room in the place. Kitty rents rooms alright but you’d be damned if you could ever get one. Very particular is Kitty Flynn about who she’ll let a room to and once she gets a tenant in, they tend to stay for a very long time.

We, certainly, intend to stay for a very long time.

Because once you’re in, like us, there’s only one way out – and it ain’t pretty. No, indeed, it really ain’t.

There are seventeen chimney’s in The Angel. Seventeen chimneys and each has an inglenook bookcase.

On a certain evening, at a certain time, after the doors are locked and barred and only a few select patrons are still at table – presumably having booked lodgings for the night and enjoying a late supper – Jack and Marjory might suddenly take into our heads the fancy of reading a particular book titled The Winchester Mystery which is located on the seventh shelf of the bookcase in the seventh chimney.

It is a favourite of almost every patron and tenant and no one  bats an eyelid as the whisper of well oiled cogs heralds the opening of a hidden door and we slip through, and down into an entirely different world below.

Here the air is tight, charged with electricity, close with the heat of many bodies and breaths and damp with sweat and mildew. Arachnid threads of green sphagnum and lichen trace along the limestone walls and arched tunnel ceilings and our footsteps echo among the cheers and jeers, shrieks of pain and laughter and flesh hitting stone.

There are rats down here, snails, reptiles, cats and dust but we don’t need them. When you work for Kitty Flynn, you keep things pure. Just the magic, that’s what Kitty wants. That’s what Kitty gets.

Kitty’s house is always full. All the tenants fight down here. It’s how we earn our keep, of course, and more than that as you can see ; no Hex Slingers in Lancaster are togged out finer than us who board at The Angel, well and truly minted is what we are because Kitty looks after her own…

But you knew that already, right? That’s why you came, that’s why you asked if there was a room and when we saw your hands, bandaged up in strips of kid leather to hide the scars and that high collar pulled up close under your chin, when we saw the hunted look in your blood shots eyes, we knew you’d fit right in…

 

 

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

 Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

Tale The Second By LESLIE SOULE

 

“Your writing – I’d like to see it,” he says, hopeful like a child getting candy. I don’t

want to open up that book and show him the horrors of a past I’d care not to remember – most of it I’ve already shared, but that book opens wounds afresh, even though I had to write it, to tear the little imps from my heart, force their tiny legs between the pages and stamp out their pokers onto the sheets of print.

It was part of a healing ritual, a ceremony, and maybe instructions for someone else who needs them. One never knows these things. But all I do is smile, and nod, in the way that you’re supposed to do, when confronted with such gestures of interest.

This fellow is my friend, a banker from the gentrified part of town. He rarely travels downtown. There is no tea, here. Maybe one day I’ll tell him the truth, or he’ll discover it. But for now, the coffee steams between us, and the silence speaks volumes, and I feel disheartened. I don’t want those imps to escape again, and plague my beleaguered heart anymore. It needs a rest.

“So what brings you here?” I ask, adjusting my knitted scarf. I see his eyes trace the tattoos on my hands as we converse.

“I have some business with Montmorency,” Christopher explained, sipping his coffee, and I watch those lips for a fleeting moment, hoping he doesn’t notice. I am reminded of the strange night we spent together, with kisses and cuddles, before he discarded me for getting too close to him emotionally, the way men do – the way they’ve always done, when it comes to me.

I nod, drinking my mocha as though it is the water of life that can save me, and mentally, I am far away, back at the hideout, hanging out with the rebel hex-slingers and talking shop with them.

I’d spent most of yesterday practicing martial arts with Delvan, admiring the bright blue eyes he pinned me with. It was my day off.

I look down at my watch, knowing that I have to be at work by 10am and put in a full shift, transcribing records onto the mega-typewriter in the Office of Records, and file them away into folders, and into drawers, into rooms.

What business can Christopher possibly have with Montmorency? It interests me, but I dare not approach the subject. I knew Montmorency to be a slumlord, directing his army of street-urchins selling their illegal lemonade.

Tea, cake, lemonade – the governments of Lancaster strictly controlled their use and prohibited their sale on the streets.

“Well it’s good to see you again,” I say to Christopher, and that was no lie. It really was good to see him – he tended to keep to himself and to his hobbies of making money and brewing beer. The government Wiz-goons hadn’t outlawed beer…yet. But give them time.

“Have you ever thought about leaving the Office of Records?” Christopher asked. Well I’d certainly considered it – it was boring, repetitive work and not everyone could do this kind of job. But the real reason, was that I’d become addicted to the fights and the resistance, and the feeling of power that I’d get from those late-night street duels. I never fought alone. Eros, my morph corn snake who looked white with pink patches, always joined in, channeling the mystic power that emanated from my hands in neon rays.

No one asked any questions when I walked into the office bleary-eyed, and the Wizards hadn’t yet thought to look for resistance fighters in the Office of Records – and who would? What kind of danger would lurk in such a bland atmosphere?

“Yeah, I’ve considered it.”

***

When I arrived, my desk looked exactly the way I’d left it – pens sitting there in the wooden holder, notebooks stacked off to the right. My co-workers sat patiently at their desks, some of them sipping from mugs of coffee, waiting for the work bell to ring, and indicate the official start of the work day.

“Long night?” asked Erin, my blue-haired, bespectacled co-worker.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

You have no idea.

Last night, I’d found myself cornered in an alley, three Wiz-goons heading my way. One of them wore a pink carnation in his lapel. I wondered at that strange symbolism.

I didn’t kill them. I’m no murderer, though this is a war, and I have no love for the Wiz-goon overlords who rule our lives down to the very foods that we are allowed to eat, or not. And there was something strangely intriguing about that pink carnation – it didn’t belong there, on those smelly, authoritarian streets covered in cold lamplight. It took all I had, to project the aether toward this one and knock him off his feet.

In the end, I followed through, because that was the way of the world – we stood on opposite sides of a battlefield that neither of us created, but both had to fight on, this unfair chess board of life.

“I’ll be alright as soon as I get some coffee from the break room.”

The work bell rang. I seized my timecard and dutifully punched a hole in the correct spot, grabbed my nondescript white coffee mug, issued by the Office, and walked over to the break room. This place ran on coffee – the life-blood of office work, surely as gasoline runs a horseless carriage or water runs a steam turbine. I poured the coffee from its decanter, a feeling of completeness filling my heart as the coffee poured, black as sin, dark as the deepest confessions of my soul.

Armed with it, I walked back to my desk, opening its drawer, to search for a copy of the procedure manual that I’d forgotten to toss out.

Instead, I found a pink carnation, and a small card – From Your Secret Admirer, was scrawled on it, in black ink.

 

LESLIE SOULE Infamous Fantasy Author I am a fantasy/sci-fi author from Sacramento, CA. she has an M.A. in English and is currently working on the final book of her fantasy series, The Fallenwood Chronicles.


Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in those curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIRST : Siggy And Me

 

Sigmund Ignatius Newburger doesn’t hear his full name used often. Smite me down, I never even knew that was his full name until I heard it bellowed through the steam-filled Tiffin Den one Monday afternoon in late September. The fella bawling it was a sight. Mind you, smite me down if Siggy ain’t a sight himself. Guess we all are here though ; handling raw magic takes its toll, any hex slinger will tell you that for nothing, long as you ain’t the law o’ course!

The damage starts with your fingers, for most, just a tingling sensation at first a bit like pins and needles and if you stop then and there I dare say you’ll be alright after a fashion. But we didn’t stop, did we? Siggy and me. And now we have to hide our black veined hands and arms beneath long coat sleeves and leather gauntlets ; one look at that scorched, stained flesh and everyone knows what you are and we can’t have that now, can we?

This fella, anyways, he wasn’t a slinger. I could see his arms right up to his elbows, shirt sleeves rolled up and thumbs stuck in his braces like he meant business. “Sigmund, Ignatious Newburger!” he’s bellowed and Siggy jumped clean out of his seat like he’d just seen a flesh eating Liver Bird through the window.

It didn’t take long, a brief altercation and the fella left looking ‘Most Put Out’ as the Garish Set would say. Plenty of them in the Den that day as well but we don’t mix with that sort, revolution’s all well and good when you’re just spitting daggers about the Queen across the tea table, but smite me down if some of these Theatre Lot aren’t a bit too serious for their own safety, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I got the savvy over a custard tart and a pot of chajo. Clarence is the fella’s name, Clarence Aloysius Newburger and he’s Siggy’s own cousin. Siggy now spills his guts all over our elevenses and it ain’t pretty ; his old man works for Lord Ashton up at the Silk Mills, he’s some sort of overseer there, right high up and fancy which is how they got the coin  to send The Young Sigmund to school and then, later, to the Wizards’ Collegium in Litchfield.

I never knew all this about Sig before but it all makes sense to me as he says it ; there are three sorts of people who end up here in the back-alley hex rings of Lancaster and smite me down if it probably ain’t the same in all the big cities of Ire : there’s those who ran away because this was their dream, and I guess you’ve got me pegged now too coz I’m certainly one them, then there’s those who are down and out anyhow and looking at any way they can to make ends meet, hex slinging can be the end of you, WILL be the end of you if you stick at it, but if you’re good at it, really good, and me and Siggy, smite me down if we ain’t pretty damn good, you can pretty much make your fortune at it. Or so the ring bosses will tell you. Anyhow then there’s the last sort, Siggy’s sort as it now turns out, and that’s the fallen wizards.

When a wizard gets disillusioned or disgraced – I don’t know, maybe he suddenly realises that The Almighty Wiz ain’t as benevolent and loving as all his holy texts make him out to be or maybe he develops a Tiffin habit or a taste for Lemonade, we all have our vices eh? – whatever the reason for him leaving Litchfield he doesn’t have many options open to him; everyone hates magic users and if you ain’t carrying an official licence from the Collegium you can’t legally practice it anyway. Chances are he’ll end up in one of two places; The Gutter Wizards or The Hex Slingers.

We don’t get many of Siggy’s sort down here, as you can imagine.

But I’m getting off the point again. Siggy said he never like Litchfield. He loved magic but he says they don’t teach you real magic up there, only their own limited and feeble understanding of how the world is put together and how a man can influence and exert his limited and feeble will over bits of  it.

Not like us, we stretch our soul out of our fingertips and into the aether, grasp the threads that hold the world together and force them to obey. It’s incredible, raw, adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy and once Siggy tried it( in a back alley behind the Burlington Arcade with a Youth who wore the scarlet leather of the Cameo Libris Scribes and claimed his mother was witch) he knew his Collegium days were over.

He came home to Lancaster but his old man didn’t want to know about it. That’s when he met me and I got him his Beauty and we started this whole lark together.

“Haven’t a friend in the world, Erik,” he kept saying – Erik Wise, that’s me in case you didn’t figure it out – “Haven’t a friend in the world now.” He’s one of those comic-morose types y’know? All Over with the Rueful Smiles and Languid Glances, the Heavy Sighs and such.

So I got him one. In a matchbox. Docklands are crawling with mice you see and they’re good for the fight if you know how to use them. You can use anything to boost your game if you know how, but Siggy likes mice ; smite me down if he can’t stand in a hex ring with Beauty on his shoulder and whistle and every mouse in every garret and gutter will come and swarm on him like a second skin. You can really do a lot with a skill like that and it drives the crowds wild and terrifies the wits out of any newcomers I can tell you.

We always go in for the doubles, Siggy and Me. I like the dust, it listens to me now and I can use it to bring physical form to the magic, which is terrifying in its own right, even without the Myomancer beside me. But we’re a great team and I wouldn’t go solo for any common price.

So this Clarence fella, he’s come to Lancaster looking for help and Siggy’s father won’t give it to him. Clarence is all set to solve his problems some other way when he hears on the ground that Siggy is still in Lancaster and fighting for coin in the hex rings. This suits Clarence’s plan even better ;  seems that some rogue relation – Harvey Hilarius Newburger, whoever he may be – has gotten himself into a scandal and needs to be gotten rid of sharpish before he lands the whole family in hot treacle. Seems Clarence thinks a hex slinger ought to be able to sort this little problem out a treat.

But Siggy’s a decent sort and he won’t have a part in it so old Clarence goes off to do the dirty work for himself and smite me down if I didn’t pity this fella Harvey-Whoever-He-Is on account of the murderous look on Old Clarence’s face as he left the Tiffin Den that day.

We never heard from him again and smite us both if we ain’t glad about it. We’re doing alright, Siggy and Me, we make enough in the rings to keep us in ‘Tops, Tails n Tiffin’ as they say round here. Maybe one day we’ll make that fortune we were promised, or catch the eye of some well to do Patron, then we’d hit the big time and no mistake. But we’re doing alright for now…

 

So there you have it, the first in this little series of snap-shots of Lancastrian street-life.

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe and Slippers: Army Of Brass

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Army Of Brass and marks our last stop on their blog tour…

stories meme base

Army of Brass

Chapter 45

By Phoebe Darqueling

 

The funicular trundled to a stop on the landing, and Jack approached the door release. It hissed open, but Elaina stayed frozen in place, her eyes once again resting on the Baron as he and his men dismembered the fallen automaton. Crashes reverberated from around the bend as more of the giants began to move.

“Focus, Elaina,” Jack pleaded. “We need to go.”

When her eyes met his again, something had changed. The rage and sorrow had drained away, leaving her gaze hollow but determined. Her spine straightened, and her shoulders relaxed as she put the gun back into its holster. Her free hand briefly rested on her shoulder, then the last trace of rage melted from her body as she strode forward.

She passed the Cartographer and went straight to the interior controls, calling over her shoulder, “Are you coming?”

With a smirk, he followed her into the cabin. Elaina moved a dial and a lever, and the funicular rose again from the valley floor before he’d even hit the button to close the door. Apparently, she was taking his plea for speed to heart, but he’d have waited for that particular nicety. They swayed slightly as they rose, and Jack grabbed frantically for one of the leather straps built into the wall to steady himself. He glanced out the open door to see the solid ground creeping away. It felt as though he’d left his stomach behind.

“Vertigo?” Elaina scoffed, taking in his grim expression and white knuckles with a gesture. “You’re an airship captain. How could you possibly be afraid of heights?”

“It’s somewhat of a new development…” he choked, falling back gratefully into a seat across from her.

As they crept upward, more of battle came into view. Several more of the Cartographer fleet had arrived, their mismatched colors and designs a delightful quilt against the cheery blue of the sky. More soldiers poured out of the cavern, bolstered by the air support. At least two of the automatons seemed to be immobilized, but down the line, head after head lifted and turned its attention to the fight.

“Look!” Elaina rushed to the door, pointing frantically. “It’s Aletha!”

One of the automatons reached out with its drill-arm spinning and drove the point into the chest of another metal giant. The whine and the screech of metal rang out over the valley as the thing’s mechanical guts were ripped out.

Another automaton raised a fist and smashed it into the head of Aletha’s giant. The two machines stood frozen for several seconds, then the attacker lowered its arm and turned its attention to another of Bircham’s machines. The two of them ripped off its arms.

“It’s working,” Jack sighed.

“So far,” his companion agreed.

They had only made it about halfway up the mountainside, but the funicular chose that moment to lurch to an unexpected halt. Sweat beaded on Jack’s brow while Elaina calmly looked over the control panel.

Outside the cabin, most of the Cartographer fleet was engaged with the rebel lords, but a few of them had turned their attention to the brass army. A net shot from a massive gun and enveloped the head and shoulders of one of the automatons. It struggled for a moment, and Jack dared to hope it would stumble and fall. Then it reached up a massive hand, grabbing onto the line. His gut heaved as the machine ripped the airship from the sky.

When he couldn’t take her measured silence any longer, he blurted. “What happened? Can you fix it?”

She shrugged and turned toward him. “It’s not a problem from this end. It must be the winch at the top. There could be shrapnel in the mechanism, or Bircham had it disabled. Either way, it’s useless now. We can’t go up or down.”

Jack wheeled back to the door and saw parachutes blooming around the falling ship. One of the Marksmen trained his gun carefully as he sailed toward the ground. With a single, expert shot, he ignited the hydrogen, and the airship burst into a fiery ball. The automaton batted it away, undeterred, only to have one of Aletha’s metal giants punch it in the chest.

He hadn’t realized Elaina had joined him at the door until she murmured, “We can’t stay here, either. It’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by debris, or one of those things notices us.”

“How?” Jack spluttered, though on some level he knew exactly what she was about to propose. “You said it’s broken!”

“We’ll simply need to climb,” she replied. “The cable is intact, and we can use the ties between the tracks like steps.”

“I… don’t think I can…”

She waved away the panic in his voice. “Of course you can. We use those rocks and then go around to the front to grab onto the cable. It’s simple. See?” Elaina vaulted from the open door and scrambled over the jagged stone. Jack’s shock immobilized him until he heard her voice from the front of cab. “Are you coming, Mr. Davenport?”

With far more resolution than he felt, he answered in the affirmative and followed her path. He could feel the wound at his hip reopen as he lunged, and hot blood soaked his bandage by the time he reached her. True to her word, a taut cable ran up the middle of the track, and the evenly-spaced wooden beams would make the climb much easier, but the pain flashed bright, and nausea roiled in his guts. He leaned against the cab to catch his breath and put pressure on the gash in his hip.

“Pull yourself together,” Elaina said. “You’re the one who told me to focus, remember?”

Jack help up his bloody hand. “Ashtan’s handiwork.”

“I can take a look at it once we reach the top, but right now, we have got to move.”

Elaina started up the tracks, hand over steady hand as she progressed up the cable. Jack steeled himself against the pain, then followed. The sounds of the battle echoed all around them, but he resisted the urge to turn around and watch. The cable bit into his palms, giving him something to focus on besides the fact that he was over a hundred feet in the air. He kept his eyes trained on Elaina’s back and tried to match her steady pace until a few stray pebbles got between his boot and the next tie. He kept hold of the cable but landed on his bloody hip with a groan.

“I can’t. My leg—”

“Yes, yes. Your leg hurts. I heard you,” Elaina said, glancing over her shoulder before taking another step. “But honestly, what are you proposing? Will you build a nest and live up here like some sort of great buzzard?”

“This is no time for jokes, Mrs. Gable.” Jack used his good leg to regain his footing and willed himself back to standing.

“Was I joking? I can’t always tell these days,” she said thoughtfully. After another two steps, she called over her shoulder, “What I do know is that I am neither willing nor able to pull you to the top, due to the obvious discrepancy between your bulk and my upper body strength. Ergo, you shall have to climb or find some way to derive sustenance from bare—and might I remind you, toxic—stone.”

Jack frowned at her back, which was getting farther and farther away. He took a deep breath, then another step. A drop of his own blood splattered the wood under his feet, and his vertigo reasserted itself.

“Unless of course you plan to die,” she speculated, now at least ten paces ahead. “It would seem a rather fitting ending for your legend, as long as the details never made it out.”

He shook away the bout of dizziness and resolved not to let the gap between them grow any wider. With teeth gritted against the pain, he finally began to move.

Up ahead, Elaina continued. “Think about it! You lost your ship, the love of Captain Davenport’s life, on a mission to save the king. If you were to die here in the valley, everyone would think you were struck down in the Battle of Brasshaven. Now that would be one for the storybooks,” she said. “Then, of course, this discussion is all academic, and the necessity of your moving from that spot is moot. In which case, could you please let go and stop distracting me from climbing? This last part will be tricky.”

“What has gotten into you?” he marveled.

“Nothing at all. I simply took your advice,” she grunted. “Bircham is the mission. And if I am correct, and I nearly always am, we shall find him at the top of this cliff. I am simply attempting to keep you on task.”

The noise in the valley started to fade. Jack thought at first it was just because they were getting higher, but he risked taking a look. Yet more Marksmen still poured out of the caverns, and he heard the shouts of the smiths better than ever. But he realized in horror that the automatons no longer seemed to be fighting each other. Aletha was losing.

“You should press on without me!” he cried. “I just need a rest, that’s all. You have Rose’s gun, you shouldn’t need more than that.”

“You may proceed with that course of action, but I would advise against it,” she replied, disappearing over the top of the cliff. “Your arms are already shaking. What do you think a few more minutes will do?”

He willed himself to take another step. It couldn’t be more than a few more paces, but his throat was closing in panic. His wound bled freely. The Marksmen were clearly no match for the machines. The Cartographers were outgunned. And now, Aletha was failing. All was lost.

“You know the problem with stories, Jack? They are too… clean. The writers always type ‘The End,’ but it isn’t really, is it? Real endings are far more complicated than the stories make them out to be.”

He concentrated on the sound of her voice and continued his agonized climb.

“Besides,” she continued, “if you do decide to survive, I am sure the Society would be happy to get you back into the air again. Then there would be plenty of time for more adventures.”

Hope wasn’t lost. Hope was waiting just a few feet above his head. All he had to do was reach it. With a defiant cry, he harnessed his pain and took the last three strides to reach the top. At the edge, the cable no longer stood above the ground but instead lay directly against the ties. His tired hands scrabbled at the stone as he got his torso up and over, then he felt Elaina grab his belt and add her strength to his.

Jack spent a moment catching his breath, then struggled out of the pack. He heard Elaina rifling through it as the spots swam out of his vision, then turned over on his back. She held out a canteen. “Perhaps you could take me somewhere, when this is all over. I think we both could use a holiday.”

“Thanks for waiting,” he replied, taking a swig of water.

She smirked and pointed out, “You’ve got my bullet.”

 

And don’t forget, Army of Brass is available now! 21 international writers came together to create this tale of giant automatons, fearless airship captains, and deadly conspiracies.

 

Order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday to celebrate Steampunk’s “31st birthday.” The blog tour continues until May 13, and so does this special price.

 

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

 

Not sure if it’s for you? Read a review, take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1 or read another exclusive excerpt. You can also get to know the character Captain Jack Davenport a little bit better with his interview on Blake & Wight. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and Collaborative Writing Challenge veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.

 

Speaking of giveaways, you can enter to win ebooks from the CWC writers.


Pipe and Slippers: Army Of Brass Book Tour

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  sweet delights. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of the old Green Fairy eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one, not least because the city of Lancaster here has been getting ready for the eagerly anticipated launch of the latest offering from the Collaborative Writing Challenge – Army Of Brass.

 

Steampunk celebrates its 31st birthday on April 27, and Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge invite you to  join in the festivities with their high-flying adventure, Army of Brass.

“Steampunk” began as a literary genre, but has expanded to include fashion, music, art, and live events all over the world. During 2017, in honor of author K.W. Jeter coining the term in 1987, Steampunk Journal editor Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge joined forces to create an amazing work that blurs the line between science and magic. Twenty international authors contributed chapters to this story full of gadgets, romance, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of a fantasy world informed by the culture of the 19th century.
What is Army of Brass About?

 

When the mad conqueror haunting Elaina’s dreams invades her adopted homeland, the real nightmare becomes what she’s willing to do to stop him.

 

The dreaded Hunter Baron has landed on the shores of Mailderet, but Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable believes she has the solution. Giant automatons sit rusting in the valley, waiting for someone with the drive and ingenuity to bring them to life. But the king, swayed by the destruction his ancestors wrought centuries before, harbors a deep-seated fear of the machines. Though he will not allow the alliance of Tinkerers and Smiths to complete the work, Elaina and a famous airship pilot resolve to bring the machines back to life in secret.

 

From the safety of the swamps, a woman with silver skin jealously guards the secrets of the automatons. Though the Silver Woman also wishes the past to remain buried, she must weigh the value of secrecy against the thousands of innocents her hesitation might send to the grave.

 

As they discover the link between the toxic valley and the inner workings of the automatons, Elaina and her allies are drawn into a web of deceit threatening the balance of power across two continents—and proving the truth behind the deadly legends surrounding the Army of Brass.

 

And if that sounds just like your cup of tea… or even your glass of sherry… you can Read Chapter 1 now on Steampunk Journal!

Or even Pre-order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

You are also cordially invited to Join us all on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

Ans speaking of giveaways, they’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from the writers involved

 

Now then, the hour is getting extremely late, I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your parasol is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…

 

 


Pipe And Slippers: With Elen Sentier

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  sweet delights. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of the old Green Fairy eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something, or perhaps my dear friend Elen Sentier here, who is visiting me this evening, will oblige us with a reading from her wonderful book Moonsong?

 

 

Oh marvellous Elen thankyou so much for that! Just the ticket on a night such as this eh?

If you are not already familiar with Elen’s work, she writes paranormal mystery-romance novels. She’s been writing all her life and professionally since 1999. Elen is a wilderness woman, born on Dartmoor, grew up on the edge of Exmoor, and comes from a long line of British cunning folk so she also writes about & teaches British native shamanism. (so it is really no surprise to find her here on a Friday night sharing a bottle with a Lancastrian Ghost!)  She now lives with her husband, cats and a host of wildlife in the wild Welsh Marches of Britain.

 

You can find Elen on the aether web here:   http://www.elensentier.co.uk  @elensentier and  https://www.facebook.com/elensentier

Her latest book is available here; Merlin: once & future wizard, and her  first 2 novels, and all her other books are available on Amazon.

Now then the hour is getting extremely late, I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe And Slippers: With Kara Jorgensen

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Kara Jorgensen’s latest release Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices book 5) and if you haven’t been following the series then I’m sorry but what planet have you been living on? Still, nevermind, you can catch up here: Book 1, The Earl Of Brass 

Now then, are you standing comfortably? No? Then I’ll begin…

Excerpt from Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #5)

by Kara Jorgensen

 

Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it ruffled his sigil for conjuring wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricanes and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results before they could sink beneath the sea of the research piled on his desk. For most of the morning, he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals out of half a dozen books from the museum’s library, but he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.

Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to practice a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup.

“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”

Immanuel jumped and the liquid plummeted into the cup, splashing tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he kicked the door shut and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when Immanuel could scarcely will his fear-frozen body to move. Carefully mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.

“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea?”

“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”

“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliott’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder.” Running out of steam, Peregrine deflated and rested on his heels. “So, have you decided yet? She’s been nagging me to find out.”

A wave of guilt rippled through him as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.

“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”

“For you stop doing magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”

Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”

“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”

“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”

“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel at the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”

The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books and darted down the hall, hoping to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between the director and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. At the bottom of the steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom alone, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, Immanuel wished he knew how to make it stop.

Near the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of accented voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed its operator directions. As Immanuel stepped from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop from fidgeting.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”

Without a word, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the he way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. I will not tolerate forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”

“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”

“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside a man-sized crate hidden beneath a canvas sheet, Sir William scowled. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not to offend our donors.”

The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted, hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peeked out beneath long lashes. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.

“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”

 

 

My goodness! What adventures await Immanuel and Adam this time eh? Well if you wish to find out more you will have to grab a copy of Selkie Cove for yourself …

 

And you can find out more about Kara’s books on her website: www.karajorgensen.com

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…


Pipe and Slippers: With David Lee Summers

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Amontillado eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from the book Owl Dance, which is the first in the excellent steampunk series Clockwork Legion by David Lee Summers. Are you standing comfortably? Oh I think you can pour a more generous helping than that you know, it is rather chilly down here… a-hem….

 

 

Electric Kachinas

Chapter Two of Owl Dance

David Lee Summers

 

His name was Legion.

 

For millennia, the nanite swarm that was his current form explored galaxies and visited planets populated by thousands of races. He hadn’t always been this way. Many centuries ago he had another name on a planet now nothing more than dust, gradually drifting outward from the exhausted core of a dead star. On that world, he’d possessed a mortal body. The thing called Legion remembered that world, and remembered his old body, and also the first computer he lived in, but he knew such memories meant little in the face of his immortal existence.

 

Unconstrained by a mortal lifetime or the distance he could travel, Legion gathered information about everything he came across. The universe contained so much variety that if he grew bored in one location, he simply moved on to another.

 

Eventually, he found his way to a small cluster containing two spiral galaxies and several dwarf galaxies.  While ambling through one of the spirals, he came across a middle-aged yellow star that supported a handful of planets in stable orbits.

 

Legion was especially interested in the problem of intelligence. How did it evolve? What was its purpose? In all of his travels, he had yet to find a satisfactory answer. This humble solar system looked like one that could nurture life.

 

As he approached one of the inner, rocky worlds of this system, Legion grew excited. The planet contained large bodies of water broken up by landmasses, not unlike the world where he evolved. As he drifted closer, he saw straight lines cut into the ground and regular, geometric patterns of growing things. Not only was there life on this world, but there was life that altered its landscape. That indicated intelligence. Legion decided on a closer look.

 

On the world, he found corporeal beings, similar to the creature he once was. Legion realized these beings might be at the perfect stage to help him answer a few of his questions about the purpose of intelligence. They had developed agriculture and industry. However, they still appeared primitive. All the devices he saw could have been built by hand or through the use of rudimentary machines. The creatures of this planet appeared to be on a path to become as intelligent as he was, yet they were still primitive enough he might be able to glean some understanding of how that intelligence came about.

 

He sought out an intelligent being so he could study its neural structure and attempt to interpret its thoughts with minimal interference or detection. Because of that, he chose to seek out a being in a sparsely inhabited area. He found a river valley he hoped would serve his purpose.

 

It was windy in the valley and Legion allowed his component parts to ride the air currents. The wind came in gusts, propelling him some distance, but then quieting, allowing him to regroup and scan his surroundings. He passed what appeared to be a military fortification near the river and then he saw ruins of much older habitations. Walking among the ruins was a lone creature, who looked around with interest.

 

The being was perfect. He was clearly the same type of creature who had altered the landscape. Moreover, the creature was alone. If Legion affected the creature adversely, detection was unlikely.

 

Before the next gust of wind, Legion drifted over to the creature.

 

The being took a deep breath and some of the components entered its nasal passages. Those components traveled into the being’s lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream where they were carried to the brain, scanning and transmitting information as they went. Other components scanned the ruins and still others, further down the river valley, analyzed patterns of technological development and settlement, then compared that information to data collected from other worlds.

 

<< >>

 

Alberto Mendez belonged to a team of men installing telegraph lines between Santa Fe and El Paso. The team consisted of carpenters, electricians, linesmen, post hole diggers and even lumberjacks. Mendez helped to wire up the electrical equipment at each of the telegraph stops. They had arrived at Fort McRae that afternoon and would begin installing the telegraph station in the morning. The soldiers at the fort told him about some Indian ruins nearby and he decided he would take a hike and have a look before settling in for supper and a night’s sleep.

 

Despite his Spanish name, Mendez was an Indian from the pueblo of Tortugas. His ancestors used to live in the pueblos around Fort McRae. They used to be called the Piro.

 

In 1598, a group of Spaniards emerged from the harsh desert south of the ruins led by a man named Juan de Oñate. The Piro provided food and water to the dying men. The pueblo was a city as grand as anything the Europeans had in Mexico and it was the site of America’s first Thanksgiving. Despite that, the pueblo would be abandoned within the year. Over 250 years of wind and rain had all but erased the pueblo’s existence.

 

Mendez put his hands on his hips and looked around at the low walls that surrounded him–sad reminders of the grand pueblo that used to stand in this place.

 

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few minutes later, as he continued along the path, strange words formed in his mind. They weren’t English, Spanish or even the few words of Piro that were still known, but somehow he understood them just the same–or at least some of them.

 

“…DNA analysis confirms this being is a descendent of creatures that inhabited this site 278 planetary years before…”

 

Somehow Mendez knew that meant he was, in fact, a descendent of the people who once inhabited the pueblo ruins where he now stood.

 

“…archeological evidence, along with memories from this being, suggests two waves of invasion…”

 

After the Spaniards left the Piro Pueblo, they went north and enslaved the other peoples they encountered. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the Spaniards, the Piro refused to join when the other pueblos revolted. Like Oñate and his men, the Piro were driven south, toward El Paso del Norte. Shunned by their own people and abandoned by the Spaniards, the Piro were just as much victims of the invasion as the northern pueblos.

 

Now, there was another group of invaders forcing Indians from their homes. This time the invaders came from the east. Mendez looked over his shoulder at Fort McRae.

 

“…topological and technological analysis indicates a 97% probability this area will be the site of a hydroelectric facility within the next century…”

 

A picture formed in Mendez’s mind of a great wall being built on the Rio Grande. The mighty river would be trapped and the valley where he stood would be flooded, all for the benefit of the newest wave of invaders.

 

Alberto Mendez did not have to think too hard to know where the images were coming from. He was on the land of his ancestors. The wind–a mighty elemental force–whipped through his hair. He must be in the presence of an elemental spirit. His people called such spirits kachinas. Alberto Mendez believed this kachina had selected him for a mission.

 

<< >>

 

Ramon Morales was bone-weary when he finally saw Fort McRae on the opposite side of the Rio Grande. The landscape around the fort was more barren than around Socorro. It was as though the land near the river could not drink enough to grow vegetation. The mountains that bordered the Rio Grande Valley were covered in scrub brush instead of trees and seemed less friendly than they did further north.

 

Washes ran down from the mountains and cut through the flatlands of the valley, but did not actually carry any water this time of year. They left the land looking like a cracked and dried husk. Ramon wondered, not for the first time, if fleeing south had been such a good idea.

 

He took off his hat and wiped gritty sweat from his brow. It had been a long time since he’d spent the better part of a day on horseback. At least it wasn’t windy like it had been a couple of days before.

 

Fatemeh Karimi, who rode in a wagon next to him, also looked bedraggled. Her black dress was coated in a fine layer of dust. Rivulets of sweat etched dirty streaks down Fatemeh’s skin. Strands of wiry, black hair jutted out here and there. “Maybe we should go up to the fort and see if they’ll put us up for the night,” Fatemeh said.

 

“Nah.” Ramon shook his head. “We’ve only got a couple more miles until we get to Palomas Hot Springs. My cousin Eduardo has a small hacienda there. He can put us up and we can get a hot bath.”

 

“That sounds wonderful.” Fatemeh’s smile lit up her face and her green eyes sparkled.

 

Ramon’s heart leapt at the sight of her renewed energy, but a hollow feeling soon formed in the pit of his stomach. He’d just thrown away his job as sheriff of Socorro to help her and yet he didn’t know whether she would stay with him once they reached Las Cruces. He still didn’t know whether she honestly liked him, or if she was merely using him as a protector and guide until they reached their destination.

 

At last, they topped a rise and could see Palomas Hot Springs. It really wasn’t a town as most people would think of one. It was more like a wide spot in the road before entering a bad stretch of desert called Jornada del Muerto–the journey of death. There were a couple of rooming houses, a livery stable and a few meager haciendas. They all traded with the fort a few miles north. There were no stores, saloons or other establishments in Palomas Hot Springs.

 

What really drew people to the area were the hot springs themselves. The Apaches and the pueblo people considered it a holy place and neutral territory where they could trade. Medicine men would use the curative power of the hot springs to heal warriors after a battle. Anglos and Spanish folk were welcome to trade there, too, and the Indians didn’t seem to mind the few settlements.

 

The austere scenery around the area certainly gave it the feeling of a holy place. Sheer cliffs of multi-colored rock walled in the barren valley and there was a dramatic butte, shaped a little like an elephant, near the river itself.

 

As Fatemeh and Ramon rode into Palomas Hot Springs, they caught sight of an Indian sitting on a blanket in the shade of an overhang. He had a wooden crate overflowing with wood and other odds and ends that looked like they could be springs or rolls of wire and tubing of some sort. Surrounding the Indian were little wooden dolls. He seemed to be whittling one of them.

 

Fatemeh pulled on the reins and stopped the wagon. Ramon tried to motion that they should continue on. He was tired and wanted to get to his cousin’s before dark. He really didn’t want to sit around while Fatemeh bartered with an Indian.

 

Either she didn’t see Ramon’s gesticulating or she didn’t care. She climbed off the wagon’s seat and stood before the Indian. He looked up as if noticing her for the first time. Gasping, he reached out as if to collect up the dolls. Ramon rolled his eyes and brought his horse to a stop. After climbing off, he wrapped the horse’s reins around a nearby hitching post.

 

“These are kachina dolls, aren’t they?” asked Fatemeh. “I didn’t know any Pueblo Indians this far south made them.”

 

“All pueblos respect the kachinas,” said the Indian, looking around nervously, as though trying to find an escape.

 

“May I see one?” Fatemeh reached for the nearest doll.

 

The Indian waved his hands. “They are sacred.”

 

Fatemeh knelt and nodded, solemnly. “I know they are.  That’s why I’m interested.” As she took hold of the kachina doll, her eyes went wide and she gasped. She quickly released the doll and brought herself to her feet. “What was that?!”

 

“The kachinas are displeased,” said the Indian. Ramon watched as he carefully reached out, took a doll by its head and hefted it into the box. The little wooden doll was apparently heavier than it looked at first sight. “First the Spanish came and caused this land to be taken from my people. Now the Anglos are coming and taking it from the Spanish. When will it stop?” He hefted another doll into the box. “Mark my words, great flood waters will come and destroy the land.”

 

“I’m neither Spanish nor Anglo,” said Fatemeh. “I’m Persian.”

 

“Perhaps your people will be the next wave of invaders.” The Indian grabbed the last kachina doll. “You must face the truth of the kachina’s displeasure and leave, or you will face consequences. Mark my words.” The Indian stood, gathered up his blanket and placed it in the box. With a heave he picked up the box and started waddling down the road.

 

Fatemeh looked at Ramon with wide eyes.

 

“What happened when you grabbed that doll?”

 

“It’s hard to describe,” she said with a shrug. “It was a tingle like my hand fell asleep, but it was also like a bite.” She climbed back up on her wagon.

 

Ramon’s brow creased as he considered what might have caused the sensation Fatemeh described, but nothing came to mind. Too tired, hungry, and saddle sore to consider the matter further, he gathered the reins and mounted his horse. Besides, Eduardo might already know something about this Indian and his kachina dolls.

 

A few minutes later, Ramon and Fatemeh found themselves in front of Eduardo’s small adobe hacienda. Eduardo came outside and greeted them with a warm smile. He looked much like Ramon would without glasses. He was a little taller, thinner, and–if one were to judge by the girls who fawned over him when he was younger–more handsome.

 

Ramon led his horse to a watering trough, then helped Fatemeh unhitch her two horses. Once the animals were tended, Eduardo ushered Ramon and Fatemeh into the kitchen, all the time casting sly glances between them. The former sheriff did his best to explain the events of the past two weeks in Socorro.

 

“Ah, Búho.” Eduardo winked. “I always knew your desire to do the right thing would get you in trouble with someone.”

 

“All I ask tonight is a meal and a couple of rooms,” Ramon said.

 

“And a hot bath,” interjected Fatemeh.

 

“Of course.” Eduardo grinned. “Alicia is making a big caldo de rez this afternoon. You may stay as long as you like. This is a place to rest and recover before moving on.”

 

“So, Ed, why haven’t you moved on?”

 

He held his arms out wide. “I haven’t finished resting and recovering!”

 

Later that evening, Eduardo’s wife Alicia prepared a beautiful supper for Ramon and Fatemeh. Alicia was a little shorter than Ramon and wore her hair tied back in a neat bun. Ramon noticed she was a little heavier than when he’d last seen her. In her clean, blue dress, she looked a lot like his aunt. Her appearance was a stark contrast to Fatemeh’s now-wild hair, rumpled black dress and fiery green eyes. As they ate, Ramon thought about how he had tried to catch Alicia’s eye when they were younger, but she pursued Eduardo instead, as though she had been under his spell. Casting a glance toward Fatemeh, Ramon felt drawn to her, but he was concerned she didn’t reciprocate his feelings.

 

After supper, Fatemeh decided it was time to have a bath. A short walk behind Eduardo’s house was a place where water bubbled up from the ground. Eduardo had stacked rocks around the spring to give the bather some privacy. While Fatemeh availed herself of the natural spring, Ramon went to his room to unpack a few things. Finally he took a towel from a dresser drawer and found a bench just outside the backdoor to wait for Fatemeh to finish. The sun was setting and the rocks had taken on a deep red hue. There was enough of a chill breeze that a dip in the hot spring would feel very good to a hot and dusty traveler.

 

Ramon looked up and saw Fatemeh as she stepped from the rock enclosure. She wore a clean, modest black dress, but it clung to her skin because of the moisture. Her feminine curves were very apparent. Ramon watched, mesmerized as she stepped over and sat down next to him.

 

“You should close your mouth,” she said. “There are mosquitoes.”

 

Ramon quickly apologized, but she laughed lightly without any hint of mockery and told him not to worry about it.

 

Ramon took a deep breath, and then looked her in the eye. “Fatemeh, there’s something I want…”

 

Eduardo stepped around the corner carrying an armload of firewood. “When you guys came into town, did you see that Indian with the kachina dolls?”

 

“Yes.” Ramon nodded. “I wanted to ask about him.”

 

Eduardo let the firewood tumble to his feet. Ramon stood and helped him neatly stack it behind the backdoor. “He showed up about the time a group of telegraph workers arrived at Fort McRae. He keeps moving around with that big box of his.” He looked over his shoulder. “He’s camped out a little ways down from the house. I wish I could find out what he keeps in that box.”

 

“So do I.” Fatemeh whistled a few short notes. Ramon looked up and noticed the silhouette of a burrowing owl perched atop the rock enclosure around the hot spring. She whistled again and the owl did a little dance and then flew from the wall to the ground near Fatemeh’s feet. “I might even have a way to distract him so we can find out.”

 

<< >>

 

A short time later, Ramon found himself hunkered down behind a watering trough in front of Eduardo’s house watching the Indian work beside his campfire. He asked Eduardo why they couldn’t wait until the Indian was asleep and just sneak a peek in his box.

 

“He never sleeps as far as I can tell,” whispered Ramon’s cousin.

 

The little owl Fatemeh summoned flew over and perched on the edge of the Indian’s box. The Indian shooed it away, but the owl returned and started pecking around in the box. The Indian shooed at it again, but this time the owl had something in its beak. When the Indian noticed, he scooted after the owl.

 

Ramon ran to the box and grabbed one of the kachina dolls–careful not to touch anything other than the head, as he’d seen the Indian do earlier. The thing was a lot heavier than Ramon expected from a little wooden doll. He hauled it back to his hiding place behind the water trough. He looked up in time to see the Indian return to the campfire, holding something that looked like a wire. The Indian dropped the wire back in the box. The owl returned to the box and looked as if he was going to dig for the wire again when Fatemeh whistled. The owl’s head turned, seeking the sound’s source. It did its little dance and then flew away.

 

Once the owl was gone, the Indian returned to his work. Ramon grabbed the kachina doll by the head and carried it inside where he found Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia already gathered at the table. In the light of the kitchen lamp Ramon could see a piece of metal sticking out of each side of the doll. “What are these?” He reached for one of the metal pieces.

 

“Careful.” Fatemeh batted his finger away. “I think I grabbed those when I touched the doll before.”

 

Being careful not to touch the two pieces of metal, Eduardo picked up the kachina doll and examined it closely. There was something round and metal on the bottom. He set the doll down and reached for it, but Alicia stopped him. “We don’t know what it’ll do,” she said.

 

“What’s for certain is that there’s something inside the thing,” Ramon said. Before someone could say anything else, Ramon reached out, grabbed the doll by the head and brought it down hard on the table. Fatemeh gasped in shock. The soft wood of the doll shattered, revealing a metal cylinder inside. The two pieces of metal that stuck out the side of the doll were connected to the cylinder by copper wire. “What the hell?” asked Ramon.

 

“I’m not positive,” said Fatemeh, “but I think that’s a dry cell battery.”

 

“Of course!” said Eduardo. “They use them in the telegraph equipment.”

 

“That Indian must be loco,” declared Alicia. “Why would he put batteries inside kachina dolls?”

 

“Maybe he wants people to believe kachina spirits really inhabit the dolls,” Fatemeh said. “It almost convinced me when I grabbed one and it felt like it was alive.”

 

Ramon shook his head. Things didn’t add up. “If he’s trying to scare people with his dolls, why does he pack them up and run away whenever someone comes near?” The former sheriff stepped out the front door. The Indian’s campfire was out and he was nowhere to be seen. Ramon took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he considered the questions that ran through his mind. The Indian must want to power something with the batteries in the kachina dolls, but what? He hadn’t seen anything besides dolls and wires in the box. The only thing he knew of in the area that required electric power was the telegraph, but then why hide the batteries in kachina dolls?

 

The door creaked open behind him. Fatemeh stepped up next to Ramon, so close he could feel the heat of her skin. He put his glasses back on and swallowed hard as he tried to turn his mind from the problem of the Indian to the questions he had about the nature of their relationship. He took a deep breath and formed a question.

 

Just as he was about to reach out and take Fatemeh’s hand, Eduardo appeared in the doorway. “Where’d that Indian go?”

 

Ramon blinked a few times and sighed. “It’s getting late, Cuz. I think I’m going to go have my bath and call it a night.”

 

<< >>

 

The dip in the hot spring after a long day of riding let Ramon sleep very well, but he still woke up sore the next morning. He dragged himself out of bed, washed his face in the basin of water that was in the room and dressed. Ramon could smell coffee and something else, a blending of chocolate and cinnamon he hadn’t smelled in many years. He followed the smells and sat down at the kitchen table. Alicia placed a bowl of chocolate and cinnamon-spiced atole in front of Ramon along with a cup of coffee. “I haven’t had atole since I was a kid,” he said as he dug in. “I’m not going to want to leave.”

 

Fatemeh stepped into the kitchen. “Is there any reason to leave right away?” She offered to help Alicia, who instead told her to sit and then placed a bowl of atole in front of her.

 

“Well, I don’t want to wear out Eduardo and Alicia’s hospitality.”

 

“Don’t worry about that, Búho,” said Eduardo as he entered the kitchen. “I already told you, you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Besides, they’re having a big shindig up at Fort McRae this afternoon.”

 

“What’s the occasion?” Ramon inclined his head.

 

Eduardo leaned forward. “They’re testing the telegraph.”

 

Alicia turned around, wide-eyed. “That’s exciting.”

 

Fatemeh smiled. “It sounds fascinating. I’d like to go.”

 

Ramon turned to his bowl of atole so he wouldn’t have to face her. It didn’t matter whether he was a bodyguard or a suitor. She hadn’t asked what he wanted to do, or even what he advised, and it stung his pride.  He wasn’t certain whether she noticed his silence or if it was just good manners, but she finally asked, “What would you like to do, Ramon?”

 

Ramon took another bite of atole and let the chocolate and cinnamon dance on his tongue a moment. He thought about his saddle-sore backside and how good another dip in the hot spring would feel. Finally he took a sip of coffee to wash down the atole. “Yeah, I’m game for a trip to the fort.”

 

That afternoon, Ramon, Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia rode north and then crossed the river to Fort McRae. Like many forts in the West, it wasn’t purely a military installation. It also served as a trading post and stopping point for travelers on the road between El Paso and Santa Fe. The installation was a series of adobe buildings hunkered behind a wall. Just inside the gate was a dusty courtyard that could be used as an assembly point or parade ground of sorts. At the center of the courtyard, a brass band played. Several of their notes went flat, but no one seemed to mind.

 

Next to the band, several people gathered around a canopy. From the distance, Ramon couldn’t make out what they were looking at, but he guessed that would be the place the telegraph was set up. The arrival of the telegraph meant the fort could send dispatches, wire for supplies, or receive news from around the country. Ramon presumed that after the ceremony, the telegraph would be moved inside one of the buildings.

 

Big pots of steaming food stood at one side of the courtyard. Ramon detected the earthy smell of corn mixed with chile. Perhaps someone was steaming tamales, cooking posole, or both. Despite his breakfast of atole, Ramon’s stomach rumbled.

 

Fatemeh turned toward the other side of the courtyard where several people had games set up. Ramon watched as a boy pitched a ball toward some bottles and missed. Next to the stacked bottles, there was a dartboard set up on the fort’s outer wall. An Indian came up and paid a penny. His first dart hit the bull’s eye and the man running the game produced a string of glass beads. The Indian scowled at the beads, but took them anyway.

 

Ramon heard a round fired from a six-gun. “They must have a shooting range set up. Let’s go see.” The former sheriff wasn’t confident in his ability to throw a ball or a dart, but he knew he could win a prize at a shooting competition.

 

As Ramon tried to follow the sound of gunfire, he tripped and fell flat on his face. Fatemeh helped him to his feet as he cursed about not seeing the thing he fell over. That’s when Ramon realized that what he tripped over was very hard to see–a pair of wires partially buried in the dust. He looked a question at Fatemeh. She shrugged.

 

The former sheriff wasn’t a half-bad tracker, so he turned his attention to the ground and followed the hidden wires to find out where they went. Fatemeh followed. They soon found themselves facing the canopy where the telegraph key was on display.

 

“Maybe the wires you tripped over are how they connected the telegraph to the outside lines,” Fatemeh said.

 

Ramon shook his head and pointed to a pair of wires that ran from the telegraph to a pole just inside the fort’s outer wall. He turned and followed the wires back the other direction. The wires led well away from the main activity and ran parallel to a row of identical adobe structures. Ramon assumed they must be the barracks.

 

Eventually, the wires disappeared under the dirt, but unless they turned, they went to a door that was guarded by two men who looked at once stern and disappointed that they were not taking part in the festivities. A sign on the door read: “Dangerous! Explosives!”

 

Without thinking too much about it, Ramon stepped up to one of the guards. “Hello, I’m Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro County and I’ve just seen something suspicious.” Ramon figured there was no way for the guard to know he was no longer sheriff and his gut told him something was very wrong. The possible danger outweighed any scruples he had about lying. “Is there a reason there would be telegraph wires running into this building?”

 

The guard looked at him dumbfounded. “No, sir,” he said. “No reason that I can think of.”

 

“Do you mind opening the door and letting me have a look inside?”

 

The first guard looked to his companion and they both shrugged. One of the guards stood right next to Ramon while the other opened the door. Inside, as Ramon expected, was a stockpile of dynamite and blasting powder. However, what really surprised him were the kachina dolls stacked all around–one connected to a pair of copper wires that came up from the ground. The other dolls were connected to the first by still more wires.

 

“That doesn’t look normal, does it?” Ramon asked.

 

Both guards shook their heads.

 

Ramon looked at Fatemeh. “I think we better find the guys who installed the telegraph and ask them what this is all about.”

 

They ran back to the telegraph pavilion. A few high-ranking officers and some other men had gathered. Ramon figured those other men must be some of the telegraph crew. He caught his breath and said, “Do you know you’ve got some extra wires coming out of the key?”

 

One of the men, who wasn’t in uniform, looked at Ramon like he was wasting his time. “What extra wires?”

 

The former sheriff stepped forward and lifted the covering from the table where the telegraph key sat. The man knelt down and blinked at the wires. He looked up. “Harvey, there should only be one ground wire,” he said. “Why are there two down here?”

 

“That’s because I changed the wiring, Mr. Hinkley.” The strange Indian had suddenly appeared next to the table. “The truth has been revealed by the kachinas. The invaders keep coming and coming. Now, the time has come to face the consequences.”

 

The man called Mr. Hinkley shook his head. “Alberto, where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you. What are you talking about? Truth? Consequences?”

 

Alberto reached out. “It is time for the consequences.”

 

“Stop him!” Ramon called. “He’s got the telegraph key wired up to the dynamite–some kind of detonator or something.”

 

The soldiers, though confused about everything happening at once, reacted to the former sheriff’s authoritative voice. They grabbed the Indian, but he struggled. Fatemeh whistled and Ramon wondered if she’d seen Eduardo and Alicia and was trying to warn them to get away. Ramon rushed around the table to try to help the soldiers–to calm things down enough so he could explain what was going on.

 

Alberto broke free and pushed the telegraph key. Ramon closed his eyes and winced but nothing happened. When he opened his eyes, he saw a little burrowing owl perched on the table. It had plucked one of the power supply wires off the key and still held it in its mouth. It dropped the wire and flew off.

 

One of the officers summoned more soldiers and Alberto was taken away for questioning. The fort’s commander, Major Johnson, stepped up and introduced himself. Ramon led Major Johnson and Mr. Hinkley back to the dynamite shack to show them what he’d discovered. On the way, Hinkley explained that Alberto Mendez was part of their crew. He’d gone missing the day they arrived at Fort McRae and no one was quite sure what had happened to him.

 

Major Johnson whistled when he saw kachina dolls stacked around the dynamite. “That’s quite a detonator setup he had.”

 

Mr. Hinkley pointed out that another set of wires ran toward the armory.

 

“He could have blown up the entire fort,” said the major.

 

“And himself, too,” Hinkley said. “He must have really gone loony in the head.”

 

Ramon saw that as a good time to make his exit. The soldiers had the evidence they needed and could question Alberto Mendez further. Ramon didn’t want to stick around so they could find out he wasn’t still sheriff of Socorro County.

 

Ramon made his way back to the pavilion, where he found Fatemeh leaning against a nearby building.

 

“Thanks for calling that little hooty owl,” he said. “He saved all of our lives.”

 

“What makes you think I can summon owls?” she asked with a cagey smile.

 

Ramon took her hands in his and brought her close.

 

Just then, Eduardo showed up. “Where have you two been? I’ve been looking all over for you! One of the vendors has empanadas!”

 

Ramon ignored him and kissed Fatemeh anyway.

 

<< >>

 

Over the millennia, Legion had known a few creatures that could sense the communications among the component nanites of his swarm. This was the first time he’d seen such a creature react so badly to the data and pictures the nanites sent.

 

Several of his component parts argued he should have terminated connection to avoid interference. However, most of his components were fascinated by the being’s way of relating the physical world to an unseen spiritual realm. Legion sensed these humans did hold answers to the meaning of life that had eluded him before. Moreover, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility the human called Alberto Mendez had simply been unstable. Observing the humans called Fatemeh Karimi and Ramon Morales further bolstered his supposition more rational humans existed.

 

Legion decided he would try to communicate with another human before giving up on the species. Before making the attempt, he would spend time observing the humans and their activities from a distance to gain more clues about their behavior. At the very least, these humans weren’t boring.

 

 

So! There you have it, an excellent introduction to the series and if you would like to hear more I do very much suggest that you procure yourself a copy…

Owl Dance_Front Cover_333x515px.jpg

 

Or find out more about the series and David’s writing here:  http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least preparing for a parasol duel with a Lambethian Rat Queen ….  Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…

 

 


Pipe and Slippers: With E. A. Hennessey

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of The Green Fairy eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

Excerpt from Grigory’s Gadget – Book 1 of the Gaslight Frontier Series by E. A. Hennessy:

Nikolai stared at the ceiling of the cabin, listening to Demyan and the elderly man snore. This is my luck, he thought unhappily. He rolled onto his side and picked at the golden wallpaper. Above, he heard the sound of rushed footsteps. At least I’m not the only one awake.

A few seconds later, a loud boom echoed through the ship. Nikolai felt the bed and walls shake.

“Nikolai, what are you doing?” Demyan asked sleepily. Nikolai heard a second boom, and Demyan jerked awake. “What was that?”

“I have no idea,” Nikolai said, jumping down to the floor. The girls appeared in the doorway.

“Is the ship being attacked?” Anya asked.

“Are you all alright?” Zoya added.

The elderly man stirred from his sleep.

“Sir, the ship is being attacked,” Nikolai told him, offering a hand to help him out of bed.

“Go back to sleep,” the man said grumpily. “The guards will take care of it. Silly kids.” He pulled his blanket back over his head and rolled over. Another boom sounded, and the ship shook especially hard.

“What do we do?” Lilia asked her friends. “Should we just stay in our cabins?”

“I’d say that’s a good idea,” a strange voice said behind her. The girls jumped and turned around. A lean young man with dirty blond hair and blue eyes grinned at them while drawing his pistol. A multitude of necklaces hung about his neck, and his ears were dotted with golden earrings. “I suggest you go back to your cabins and hand over any valuables.”

“We don’t have any valuables,” Zoya lied. The young man seemed surprised by her and stepped back eying her quizzically. It took less than a few seconds for him to compose himself. He stepped toward Zoya with his pistol aimed at her head.

“You look pretty valuable to me.” A second man with black hair and almond eyes appeared next to the first, similarly covered in gold jewelry with pistol drawn. “We’re in need of more crew, right Alexi?”

“That’s right, Fyodr,” Alexi, replied. “You and your friends have two minutes to grab anything you can carry. Then you’re coming with us.”

“We’re not going anywhere with you!” Nikolai said defiantly. Alexi stepped toward Nikolai, now pointing his pistol at Nikolai’s head. Anya stepped forward, placing herself between Alexi and Nikolai.

“Two minutes,” she said, staring the pirate in the eye. He smirked, nodded, and lowered his pistol.

“Anya!” Nikolai said, glaring. Anya returned his look then turned and walked into her cabin.

“What did I tell you kids?” the elderly man growled from within Nikolai and Demyan’s cabin. Nikolai glanced back at him and stepped to block the doorway. When the man saw Alexi and Fyodr, he furrowed his brow in annoyance.

“What are you, now? Pirates?” He spat in Alexi’s direction. “Bunch of lazy crooks. The guards will put you down in a second.”

“We’ve disposed of the guards already,” Alexi said. “We can dispose of you, too, old man, unless you give us whatever valuables you have.”

“Do I look like the sort who owns any valuables?” He gestured to his raggedy clothes. He wore a dingy, ill-fitting vest and a button-down shirt that may have once been white. His trousers were covered in salt stains and worn through in one knee.

“Well, if you have nothing of value, maybe we should just put you down,” Alexi said, raising his pistol and aiming at the old man.

“Don’t you dare!” Nikolai shouted, rushing toward Alexi. Fyodr turned his pistol on Nikolai and drew a sword. Alexi drew his sword as well. Zoya and Demyan moved to Nikolai’s side, guarding his body with their own.

“Your two minutes are almost up,” Alexi told the group. “I’d get moving if I were you.”

“You can’t just kill an innocent man!” Lilia protested. “He hasn’t done anything wrong!” Fyodr sheathed his sword and grabbed Lilia by the arm, shoving her toward the girls’ cabin.

“Get packing, miss!” he ordered. “This doesn’t concern you!”

Zoya took the opportunity to grab for Fyodr’s gun. He twisted around and slammed her into the wall, his forearm pressed against her neck. Zoya gasped and clawed at his arm. Demyan yelled and charged toward him, knocking his arm away from Zoya’s throat. Alexi shot his pistol into the air.

“Enough!” he shouted.

“That’s right, enough!” A third pirate appeared. This pirate was older, with scarred tan skin and black hair that was turning gray. The pinky and ring finger of his left hand were missing, as was half of the middle finger on his right. His eyes were large, and Nikolai thought he saw a kindness in them.

“Pavel,” Alexi said. His face flushed red and he lowered his pistol.

“Stop acting tough, Alexi,” Pavel said. “This old man hasn’t done anything wrong, let him be. The captain is almost ready to leave.” Pavel then regarded the group of friends. “Recruiting, are we?”

“Pavel, this bunch says they have no valuables,” Fyodr said. “They look pretty valuable to me.”

“So, try not to damage them.” Pavel smirked. “Let’s go. The captain is waiting.”

Pavel’s presence seemed to pacify Alexi and Fyodr, who watched silently as the friends gathered their things. Nikolai and Demyan packed quickly then joined the girls in their cabin to help them. Anya, having already packed her bags, stood in the doorway and glowered at the pirates.

“Zoya, what do we do?” Lilia whispered as she fastened her suitcase.

“I don’t know,” Zoya admitted. “They have guns and swords. I’ve got wrenches and screwdrivers. I don’t think we stand a chance.”

Nikolai watched as Zoya dug out her gloves. Her shaking hands knocked her gadget out of the bag. It rolled halfway to the door before she caught it. Fyodr and Pavel weren’t looking, but Alexi saw it and looked at Zoya coolly.

“It’s nothing,” Zoya muttered quickly, fumbling to hide the object.

“Put that away and hurry up,” Alexi replied. “We don’t have all night.” Zoya exchanged a concerned look with Nikolai as they finished packing and stood.

“Alright!” Pavel announced with a smile. “Let’s go introduce you to your captain!”

 

 

 

What’s that? More? No no I’m sorry I haven’t got time for that, I’m a busy man, albeit a dead one, if you want to know what happens to Zoya and her friends I suggest you pick up a copy of Grigory’s Gadget yourself…

gregorys

Or connect with the author  online….

 

Website: www.eahennessy.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AXD0UI0/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grigorys-gadget-e-a-hennessy/1123314615?ean=2940152591446

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/610196

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/grigory-s-gadget-1
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/grigorys-gadget/id1078386807

 

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least, putting pay to these dreadful rumours that I am a woman… or at least the ghost of a woman…. I may from time to time possess the bodies of young women, wear dresses and call myself Pearl, but that is purely for professional reasons …. well how very dare you! Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…


Pipe and Slippers: With Ichabod Temperance

 

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

old-library-1571043

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? Finest Stout? And some of Mrs Baker’s left over steak and ale pies? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an excerpt from the tenth book in the Ichabod Temperance series, ‘The Two Faces of Temperance’. Hm, there is a note here tucked inside in the cover…

 

A fiendish monster is on the loose in London but as the machinations of intreague threaten to crush poor Miss Plumtart and Ichabod in their merciless gears, could this adventure become known as ‘the strange case of Dr. Icky and Mr. Temperance … ?

 A Request by the Author:
Dear Reader, if, perchance, you should come across some drunken rogues in song whilst reading this book, you are strongly encouraged to sing these passages aloud.
Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.
~Icky.

THE TWO FACES OF TEMPERANCE

By Ichabod Temperance 

 

“Take a deep whiff, Mr. Temperance.”
“I’d rather not, Ma’am.”
“Fleet Street has an aroma all her own.”
“I’ll give you that, Ma’am.”
“I smell meat pies. Wait here, Mr. Temperance, I shall go and fetch us a pair myself.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Gee, there goes Miss Plumtartt. I don’t like being by myself around all these people. Oh golly, there is so much bustling traffic around here, I hope I don’t get caught up and washed away.”
“Hello, young man.”
“Hien! Oops, I mean, howdy, mister. Gee, I guess you kind of startled me. I did not notice you looming up behind me.”
“Forgive me, my boy. I could see by your clothes that you were a visitor to our shores. Now that I hear your boorish American tongue I am justified in my assumption. The moment I clapped eyes on you, my befuddled little friend, I said to myself, Todd Squweeny, you need to take that lost little lamb under your protective wing, lest some unscrupulous villain sweep in to do this innocent guest an injustice. No, I decided on the spot to make it my mission to prevent you, my sweet naïve doe, from coming to injury.”
“Golly, that sure is swell, Mr. Squweeny, sir.”
“You have the advantage, of me, Mr.? …”
“Temperance, sir.”
“You have family here in our fair city, Mr. Temperance?”
“Nossir.”
“Tee, hee! No family in the city, says you! Well, tell me, do you have family here in England, Mr. Temperance?”
“Nossir, Mr. Squweeny.”
“Ho, ho! You have friends here, then?”
“Not so much…”
“There is a Mrs. Temperance?”
“Nossir.”
“I see, I see, I see. Then you are here on business?”
“Yessir.”
“You look newly arrived. Have you checked into a hotel?”
“Yessir.”
“Blast! Oh well, this may still work. Have you made contact with your employer, yet?”
“Nossir.”
“Good! Oops! I mean, eh, pardon me for saying so, but you look a terrible sight, my lad.”
“Hunh? I do?”
“Yes, dear boy, but you are in luck!”
“I am?”
“Yes, for you see, I am a barber! I am a most skilled barber, I assure you, my bosom mate. I am the most famous barber Fleet Street has ever known.”
“Gee, my whiskers ain’t no more than a little peach fuzz. A kitten’s tongue would do the trick to their removal. Why, I just shaved this morning…”
“You SHAVED, yourSELF!?!? No sir! This is not done, sir. No sir, a gentleman does not shave himself if he wishes to make a good impression on his new employers and that’s a fact, sir! Come with me this instant. I will brook no protest. Come along to my shop and I shall see if I can remedy the damage done.”
~ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding!~
“Gee, this is a nice little barber shop you got here, sir.”
“Thank you, my boy.”
~click.~
“Did you just lock the door? Don’t you want no more customers?”
“I wish to devote all my attention to you, my boy, without any interruptions.”
“Then why do you have two chairs?”
“One chair is for commoners, but you dear child, are no commoner. I want you to sit in my special chair.”
“Your special chair? Gee, I’m about as common as common can get. Maybe I oughtter sit in this other chair…”
“I said to sit in this one, you little fool! Oops, I mean, my especially, special friend.”
“Yessir.”
“Ah, that’s better. Now then, just lie back and be comfortable as I apply a few last strops to this razor.”
“Yessir.”
~strip / strop / strip / strop~
“Hmm, hmm, hm, hmm/hmm. Strumm, strumm, strumm, dee-strumm:”
Razor, razor, lovely sight.
Piercing reflector of any light.
Scraping necks with pressures slight,
Trajectory’s change reveals your might.
“That’s a cute little ditty, Mr. Squweeny, sir, is there any more to it?”
“There would be if you would quit interrupting me you stupid little… er, I mean, let’s have a listen, eh?”
Crimson geyser to ceiling gush,
Death’s cheeks do quickly blush,
Just as quickly the face will flush,
And from the body life will rush.
“I don’t think I got the reference that time, sir.”
“Just a bit of the colloquial dialect, changing a meaning here or there. This final stanza will reveal our song’s true face.”
Scarlet rivers, they do flood.
Maroon is the colour of the sewer mud.
No-one will miss this faceless dud,
As I release this torrent of steaming bl..
“Hey, does this chair have a draft? Why looky there, there is a faint line, indicating a seam in the floor, all the way around this chair. It reminds me of a theatrical stage’s trap-door.”
“Get back in that chair!”
“Hang on a second, and lemme borrow that razor.”
“How dare you, you filthy Colonial! Return me my razor at once!”
“I just want to poke it down in this crack. There looks like there might be a latch… woah, watch out! It is a trap-door! This here barber chair is all set to tilt its unlucky inhabitant to a dreadful fall!”
“Get away from my chair! Give me back my razor!”
“Gee, it sure is a good thing I found that. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. I bet that little hidden cellar connects with the old Fleet Street canal, whatcha bet, hunh?”
“Perhaps.”
“I wonder if there ain’t an underground connecting cellar between this place and the meat-pie bake-shop, next door?”
“Enough! Get out of my barber shop!”
“Okay, okay, I’m going.”
“Wait, come back. Give me back my razor.”
“Oops, oh yeah, right. Here you go, mister.”
“Mr. Temperance, I have been looking for you.”
“Oh, howdy Miss Plumtartt, Ma’am.”
“I instructed you to not move, sir.”
“Well, you see, what happened was…”
“Never mind. As it happens, I find you exiting this Fleet Street barber shop at the same time that I am exiting Langela Annebury’s Meat Pie Bakery directly next door.”
~nom, nom, nom.~ “This sure is a good meat pie, Ma’am! What kind of pie is it?”
“I am given to understand that the best policy is not to inquire too deeply into a meat pie’s mysterious origins.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Take a care, Mr. Temperance, for you are dribbling your juices. I am assured that Miss Annebury is ‘slitting her own throat’, by selling her ‘pastries of mystery’ so inexpensively.”

 

 

Hm? You want to know what happens next? Well you’ll just have to visit Icky yourself won’t you and ask him for a copy …

2facetemperance.jpg

 

No, no I really don’t have time to… wait a minute… are you sure these pies are steak and ale? They taste rather suspicious to me…


Pipe and slippers: With Nimue Brown

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of The New World.

But this is not a ‘lending library’; if you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a ludicrous Tea Fiend and their rampant octopus, let me assure you that you will find no frivolous fancies or biscuit-based buffoonery here. Here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you say? Late Bottled Vintage Port? Ten years eh?…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something to fight off the chill. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this splendid piece of flash fiction, by steampunk author and druid, Nimue Brown …

 

TAKING IT EASY 

by Nimue Brown

 

After the divorce and the late onset midlife crisis, Dave married a much younger woman. He just wanted life to be fun. And easy.

The much younger woman wanted a child. This had not been mentioned pre-marriage, which he wasn’t best pleased about. There were rows, and Dave soon felt that a second divorce would be more unpleasant than humouring her. After all, if she wanted a child so much, she would look after it.

Aged five, Dave’s high maintenance son set his spoiled little heart on a puppy. After a week of tantrums, Dave decided that a puppy might be less trouble than the endless howling. And anyway, if the lad wanted it, the lad could look after it.

Sometimes, while walking the dog in the rain at six in the morning so as to be back in good time for the school run…. Dave wonders if he should have gone for the motorbike instead.

 

And if you would like to read more of Nimue’s marvellous work you can find her on the aether-web here:

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/

https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/

https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=6661355

 

There now, marvellous piece isn’t it? One of my favourites in fact… But as I said, this is not some nursery bedtime story hour I am running here! You can tell that miscreant octopus, when you see him, to stop sending people down here to bother me with their reading requests I have serious work to be getting on with. Now go on, out with you, shoo, no I don’t care if there is a curfew and you are worried about getting eaten by Carnivorous Liver Birds, you should have thought of that earlier. Good night.

Oh, er, leave the bottle though….

 


Pipe and Slippers:Perilous Journeys#2

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But I do not have time for entertaining tonight, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have papers everywhere and notes to set in print and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe the notes from my journals into volumes so that they can be preserved for generations to come? You’ve brought along some late bottled vintage port to keep out the chills as we work?
Oh.
Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…

Here, then, is the next instalment of the account of my first expedition…..(if you missed the first instalment you can find it here)

 

“Pearl White is it?”

I gave the boatman my most imperious glare. The effect was not the desired one and I instantly feared that my mastery of these new, delicate feminine features was going to take some time to achieve. What I needed was a mirror, and time to spend in perfecting the manipulation of this woman’s eyes, nose and mouth into the expressions I required.  But neither luxury was afford me and so I was forced to try again.

“You quite alright Miss?” the boatman looked deeply concerned as he watched me wipe the canvass clean and start over with an new attempt at ‘menacing frown’.

“The name is PERIL” I corrected, ignoring the soft and almost squeaky intonation of my new inferior vocal chords.

The boatman wiped his nose with an oily rag. “Right. You sure you gonna be alright with this skiff Miss? The Thames might be fine for a couple of chaps on a hay day but a birdie on her own, that seems asking for trouble to me…”

I tell you I very nearly popped the fellow with my dainty lace gloved fist for his sheer impertinence.

He must have sensed the menace in my aura because at length he shrugged, muttered something about Abney Park and handed me the oars.

There was some little difficulty in boarding the craft and arranging my belongings but after a little negotiation and a quick dip in the river to gain perspective I  managed to get going and soon fell into a steady rowing rhythm, putting the raucous laughter of the dock workers behind me as I headed up stream towards Bermondsey.

It is there that the Toshers have a legend which I was certain must be evidence of some magical presence – The Rat Queen.

Toshers, in case you are unaware, Gentleman Scavengers who frequent the city sewers at nught in search of all the coins, pocket watches, rings, swans…you know how easy it is to drop these things when one is preoccupied.

The Tosher makes his living from trading in the treasures he finds in the subterranean darkness in much the same way as a Treacle Miner and so it is no surprising to find that the two professions share a belief in protective spirits who have the power to grant good fortune and personal safety, as long as they remain appeased.

For the miner, this sprite is a type of brownie known as A Knocker, for the Tosher, it is The Rat Queen.

The Rat Queen is a supernatural being said to be able to shift form between that of an enormous sewer rat and that of a beautiful woman. In her human form she will approach a Tosher when he is alone in the tunnels and offer him a deal – if he can satisfy her passions and pay her a worthy tribute of treasure from his haul, he will be blessed beyond his wildest dreams -his business will prosper and his family will grow large and healthy. But if he fails or refuses to part with his loot he will find nothing more i  the sewers but a watery grave.

I moored the skiff beneath an overhanging elder tree and, after a minor war with the potable stove, made myself a depressing supper of cold tinned ‘standard issue’ soup and hunkered down to wait for midnight.

Under the cloak of darkness, I lit my dark lantern and made my way into the sewers in search of The Rat Queen …

“Pardon me, ladies, but would one of you happen to be The Rat Queen?”

The little coven of brightly painted damsels whom I had stumbled headlong into in the dark regarded me with unrestrained disgust; hands on hips, red lips twisted into smirks and sneers. “Oh, we’re all rat queens down here, deary..” the eldest bird squawked, flicking her head plumes, “question is, who the Hull are you, eh? You can’t just wander in here trying to join the game, thinking you can get in on a good earner…” her eyes narrowed, “anyway, who was it who ratted out on us?” She held up her own lantern and shone it into the faces of the assembled women, “who’s not here? Sharon! That little chatter box tart…”

Teeth began to gnash, painted talons flexed, I felt the time had come to set the record straight…

“Fear not, Madame,” I said, attempting to inject an air of authority into my voice which was ricocheting off the brick dome in sopranino staccato  most vexing. Cursing my new feminine vocal chords, I floundered on.. “I have no intention of encroaching upon your little entrepreneurial endeavour I…”

my confident smile fled the scene

“I…”

my manly resolve snatched up his hat and followed suit

“I…”

my legs finally cottoned on and joined the exodus, propelling me back through the watery tunnels with the rabble of raucous rat queens in rabid pursuit. Rocks and lemonade bottles exploded off the pith helmet as I made good my escape and at last, breathing hard, I made it back to the skiff and applied myself to the oars as if my life depended on it.

Of course this was quite ridiculous as my life expired many years ago but I did feel a certain obligation to return this body in proper working order….

 

Aaaand I think that is quite enough for one evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and…what’s that you say? Stay the night? Certainly not, what sort of a wraith do you think I am? Now go on, out with you, not another word, GOOD NIGHT!

 

 

all images used with kind permission from http://www.freeimages.com


Pipe and Slippers: Perilous Journeys

 

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043
I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But I do not have time for entertaining tonight, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have papers everywhere and notes to set in print and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe the notes from my journals into volumes so that they can be preserved for generations to come? You’ve brought along some cherry brandy to keep out the chills as we work?
Oh.
Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…
Many may not know this but I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which indicated that the power of The All Mother was not entirely gone from The New World. I travelled the scattered isles in search of such evidence – witches, fairies, folk lore, wild magic that was not controlled or perhaps even known about by Wiz and his ridiculous Wizards.
Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my studies and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.
This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.
By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent.
For my part, I am bound to being summoned by the wearer at their whim to provide protection, guidance, words of wisdom and advice, that sort of thing. It is a tiresome trade off but it could, I suppose, be worse.
Here, then, is the account of my first expedition.
I had decided to begin my studies with a journey down the Thames, past the Pirate City of Londinium, stopping at various Inns along the route and gathering from the locals any tales of interest which might hint at the existence of magic. But as I sat at my dressing table, pith helmet in place, waiting for the arrival of the Hippo’ton drawn coach which would take me to Barley Bow I began to have my doubts.
I pulled the magical contract I had signed with that wretched gutter-magician from my purse for the hundredth time and examined it again. No. Nowhere in the small print could I find mention of the fact the body I would be possessing might be a woman.
I stared into the mirror with grave concern at the ringlets and the lashes and the tinted cheeks. Could this work? As a strict adherent to the old religion I have the greatest respect for women, of course, but I have never actually been inside one.
The clatter of metal hooves upon the cobbles outside brought my dilemma to a close. This was my one chance to continue my work and I must put away any infantile embarrassment and get on with it.
With this new found resolve I leapt from my chair, tripped over my crinolines, flew out of the chamber door and tumbled head over bustle down the short narrow staircase, landing in a heap of fabric and whale carcass in the tap room.
I will not sport with your intelligence by repeating the comments this little accident incited from the patrons of the little tavern but will move swiftly on to my arrival in Bow.

The Hippo’ton dropped me at The Widow’s Son , a fascinating Inn with an equally fascinating history which I was keen to investigate. An old folk legend tells that the first owner was an old Widow whose son joined the navy. Upon his leaving day he told his mother to bake him a bun on Good Friday and he would be sure to be back in time to eat it. The bun was baked but the son never came home but the widow hung the baked bread from the ceiling in a net and added a new bun to the collection every year. After she died her friends and patrons kept up the tradition and it is now even written into the leasehold of the property that the custom must be kept by every owner.
Of course the story is hogwash. It is likely that there never was a widow at all but that the tradition is in fact born of a much older practise – that of leaving bread and milk out for household fairies, boggarts and helpful magical creatures as thanks for their kind assistance in bringing luck, health and happiness to the household through the year.
I had brought my case of instruments for detecting and catching fairies and other magical beings with me but as I eagerly began to lay them out upon the bar the Landlady approached and asked what I thought I was doing. When I asked to see her buns so that I could perform my arts upon them she screamed the most unrepeatable names at me and threw me out into the street.
It was a long walk down to the docks, where I had arranged a hired craft to take me up the river. Long but by no means lonely. I can only say that I now have a new found sympathy for the fairer sex and completely understand why they are reluctant to venture out alone at night without those splendid flame-throwing parasols. Skirts, bustles, high heeled boots…none of these make for expeditious retreats from darkened alley ways or indeed high speed chases over cobblestones away from amorous drunks.
I did manage to make it to the docks eventually and spent the night huddled under a tarpaulin that smelled of fish and cats, still I was optimistic that my next stop would prove more fruitful. My journey had, afterall only just begun and it was no good losing heart along with everything else at the first hurdle. So I sat in the dark, counting my losses and hoped that my young host would not think to do the same, or at the very least not be too miffed, when her body was returned to her…..

 

 

And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and… hm? Well yes of course it is dark you’re not afraid of the dark are you? Flesh eating Liver Birds you say? Well yes there are those to consider but you should have thought of that before you set off on this midnight mission shouldn’t you? I can’t be responsible for your safety! Now go on, off with you, just because I am dead does not mean I don’t have things to do…go on…out!


Pipe and slippers: The gospel of Agnes Day

Good evening my dears and welcome to Perilous Wight’s Lovely Library (which we are keeping safe for him until he returns from his ‘business trip.’) I am Mrs Baker (otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle) and Peril has kindly allowed me and my little street urchins to shelter down here from the flesh eating Liver Birds until he returns.

Tonight I will be reading to the orphans, once again, from The Child Gospels, (this time from the gospel of Agnes Day) which we discovered on our expedition to Siberia. The chronicles were chiselled onto ice tablets and had been preserved inside a lead lined soupophagus for centuries before we smashed it apart and salvaged them for all humanity to enjoy.

Sadly, our return journey took us through the heat of the Jentacular Jungle and so, as the ice tablets began to melt (and even though it was three o’ clock in the morning and nobody had any tea)  our quick thinking octopus, Collin, speedily copied their contents down onto banana leaves with his own ink, using only his tentacles for a pen.

This desperate act of heroism, he claims, should excuse the rampant spelling mistakes, technical inaccuracies and absence of all  artistic merit which glare out from the manuscript like the foul raisins  in that cookie you thought was chocolate chip.

Peril has of course preserved the banana leaves as only a pedantic book-fetishy ghost can, but Collin asks  that we all bear in mind the manner of their construction and the great suffering he endured and risks to his life and mental well being and so forth and send him extra packs of medicinal biscuits whenever he indulges in…I mean suffers from, a bout of psd over the whole affair. Poor Collin…

So, are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I shall begin…

FullSizeRender (1).jpg


Pipe And Slippers:The Gospel Of Betty Martin

Good evening my dears and welcome to Perilous Wight’s Lovely Library (which we are keeping safe for him until he returns from his ‘business trip.’) I am Mrs Baker (otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle) and Peril has kindly allowed me and my little street urchins to shelter down here from the flesh eating Liver Birds and Wizmas Witch Hunters until he returns.

Tonight I will be reading to the orphans from The Child Gospels, which we discovered on our expedition to Siberia. The chronicles were chiselled onto ice tablets and had been preserved inside a lead lined soupophagus for centuries before we smashed it apart and salvaged them for all humanity to enjoy.

Sadly, our return journey took us through the heat of the Jentacular Jungle and so, as the ice tablets began to melt (and even though it was three o’ clock in the morning and nobody had any tea)  our quick thinking octopus, Collin, speedily copied their contents down onto banana leaves with his own ink, using only his tentacles for a pen.

This desperate act of heroism, he claims, should excuse the rampant spelling mistakes, technical inaccuracies and absence of all  artistic merit which glare out from the manuscript like the foul raisins  in that cookie you thought was chocolate chip.

Peril has of course preserved the banana leaves as only a pedantic book-fetishy ghost can, but Collin asks  that we all bear in mind the manner of their construction and the great suffering he endured and risks to his life and mental well being and so forth and send him extra packs of medicinal biscuits whenever he indulges in…I mean suffers from, a bout of psd over the whole affair. Poor Collin.

So, are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I shall begin…

FullSizeRender.jpg

 


Pipe and Slippers: The Painters’ Daughter

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? Amontillado? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

body-painting-festival-5-1526143.jpg

 

The painters’ daughter

 

Once upon a time, when you and I were naught but pips in the core of the great cosmic apple, there lived a painter. You might chance to meet him still, wandering the shore line as the sun rises over the blushing surf, counting the grains of sand or shuffling the streets at dusk, studying the cracks in the paving stones, calling down and listening for a voice.

Back in his studio, his tumbledown beach hut, he paints each grain, each echo. He paints the light and the shadow, the rising and the setting, the dance and sparkle and the soaking up and the deep. His eyes are full of dreams and his dreams are full of shades and glamour.

One day, the painter’s daughter bare-foot tip-toed into that secret space.

And gazed at all the many muchness of towers of tins of tangy turpscented rainbows.

And wondered what it would be – to touch, to taste, to take in and become such wonders.

One drip.

One lick.

In goes a flinger, smooth and slick.

Gloopy and gorgeful.

Smick  smuck  smack.

Blue, yellow, indigo,

Purple,

black.

She tasted blue – A taste of salt sea and pillow cases, stained glass and new slippers, skinned knees and berryjams and Monday mornings and shaggy hillsides damp in November fog.

She tasted yellow – A taste of custard of course. And a taste of bathrooms and tiled floors and a caravan holiday in 1975, old stiff newspapers and curled up cats, the dust that gathers on lampshades and dims the whole room and a taste of skin and bone and the streets of Rome in July.

She tasted green – A taste of coal and iron, old sandals and ploughed up earth, toadstools and pine woods and rain low down in the valley of the Dove.

Every colour in the universe she drank it down. She gorged on glamour and shade, on dances and sparkles, on things soaked up and deep. She swallowed down the soul of every colour until her limbs felt clogged and cloyed with the weight of them.

One small pot of black she saved for last, – a taste of burning and drowning, of being squeezed out and sucked up and exploded into stars, a taste of being held for eternity and the aching emptiness of an eggshell cracked too soon.

 

This black, she smuggled it away in her pocket, off to her little box bed beside the woodstove. There, when she was feeling dizzy with the reel of the rainbows spinning through her veins, she would sip

Sip

Sip

At the comforting black.

From that day on, every time the painter’s daughter opened her mouth, out spilled thick , oily paint in puddles and spewks that stained the folks and the things all around her in violent assaults of crimson,  viridian, amaranth and egg yolk.

She stopped opening her mouth.

Her limbs dragged heavy as a rag doll and every breath, every step, every heart beat was a drudge and a drain. So much colour inside. So much sparkle and depth. So much echo and shade.

Walking, talking, even breathing seemed mountains too steep to climb with all this weight inside.

She sat on her bed, day in day out, and sip

Sip

Sipped

At the comforting black

Until it spilled out of her eyes in puddles that pooled upon the patchwork quilt and cast back mocking rainbows.

That is how the little bird found her one day. He hopped upon her window sill and cocked his shining eye – the way the bird folk do – and then he fluttered down onto the eiderdown and whistled.

“Go away,” the painter’s daughter hissed, “do you think I care to see your coloured plumes? Do you think I am impressed? What if I told you that I am so full with the light and dark of every colour in the universe that I ache with it and to look at you does not fill me with joy or wonder, only regret and fatigue until I am sick of it.”

The little bird cocked his eye again – infuriating it is when they do that, y’know? – and he reached his yellow bill in deep amongst his tail feathers and plucked out a needle sharp quill the colour of every blue-green under the sea.

The painter’s daughter shrugged in scorn of him and made to turn away when

Ouvchsh!

The little demon jabbed the quill spike hard into the soft, pale flesh of her arm.

Out leapt a tiny spurt of paint.

Then slowly, and with the girl in thrawl,

He dragged the rainbow colours out

In swirls and spirals, tree cassyn pathways to guide the flow of all that weary weight into traces of beauty and scope.

Here was a dream in flesh.

Here was pointillised pain.

Here was inside out for all to see and staining no one but herself; surely, no words would be needed now . The world would smile and nod its head at her, as they knocked shoulders in the street, and whisper

‘ah, so, that is how it is with her, mm, we understand now why she walks so slow and dares not speak. How could a child do otherwise, with so much colour inside?’

So she stepped out.

Stained.

With the bird quill tucked behind one ear

And bold, without fear,

Into a forest of fingers who pointed and blamed and waggled and shamed and prodded and poked and jostled and joked and fat cold palms that pushed her far away.

The painter’s daughter ran.

She ran on and on.

She began to feel very proud of her running.

One dark night, she came to a cave, above a river, above a pool, beside a village and into that cave she crept and lay down to sleep.

When she woke up the smell of sweet meat cooking down in the green valley filled her with hunger and the longing for all the things that human company ought to bring but seldom does.

So she spent the morning gathering leaves,  the afternoon stitching them together and by evening she had made for herself a fine long cloak that hid the patterns on her arms, and a hat with a broad brim to cover her face.

Under the stars, she took out the bird quill from behind her ear and dug it deep into her skin until it was slathed in colour, then she found a broad, flat stone and she began to paint

In swirls and spirals, tree cassyn pathways to guide the flow of all that weary weight into illuminated forms both wild and wonderful.

Here was a dream on stone.

Here was pain projected, disembodied, disowned.

Here was inside out for all to see and staining nothing but this unfeeling earth. And the world would smile and nod and never know where all the colours came from.

As the sun rose over the valley, the painter’s daughter stepped down from her cave, down and down and into the village and by that afternoon the tongues were wagging like wild fire flames; who was the stranger in the cloak of leaves who traded her marvellous paintings for table scraps? Some had seen her return to the cave – a hermit then? An anchorite? A holy one, certainly, a wise healer, a cleric, a teacher, a goddess in the flesh… ?

Every day, more and more villagers made the trek up to the painter’s cave. They wondered at her work – colours and patterns that seemed to describe the deepest parts of themselves. The parts they never let show. How? They asked, with tears in their eyes, how can she know?

They bought canvases. They paid in gold.

Inside her cave, hidden from sight, the painter took her feather quill and emptied herself out for them.

Day after day.

Night after night.

Slowly, as time went by, she began to grow old and paper thin. She had to coax out the paint in crusted oozes from her gummed up veins. Sometimes finding the strength and the will would take hours. Often there was not enough. Not enough colour, not enough energy and too much pain of the flesh and the bone to finish the work. ‘One day,’ thought the painter, ‘one day I will dry up. There will be no way of getting these crusted up colours out of my dried up body any longer. And what will happen then? Will the world understand when I can no longer paint their pain for them?’

The painter smiled and shook her head. She stuck the feather quill behind her ear and pulled off her cloak and hat of leaves. Clotheless under the silver moon, she walked down to the lake pool and stepped right into the comforting black.

The next morning, when the people came up to the cave the painter was gone, but the waters of the lake below, as they looked down into the valley, were snaked with rainbows.

 

Hmph well, yes, at least we may thank our stars that this pathetic Poevember pranking is at end and speaking of stars they are all out and I must get back to my work and you must get back to whatever it was you were doing before you decided to pester me… GOOD NIGHT!

 

 


Pipe and Slippers:The Tell Tale Carp

Good evening and welcome to my pulchritudinous plethora of accumulated antiquities…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of The New World.

But this is not a ‘lending library’; if you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a ludicrous Tea Fiend and their rampant octopus, let me assure you that you will find no frivolous fancies or biscuit-based buffoonery here. Here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you say? Late Bottled Vintage Port? Ten years eh?…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something to fight off the chill. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

fish-on-a-plate-3-1558011.jpg

THE TELL TALE CARP

 

I do not wish you to think that there was any aspect of my wife’s character or disposition which lead me to hate her. In fact, I wish to make it perfectly clear to everyone reading this testimony that I did not, at any point either in her life or death, hate my wife. I loved her. In fact I still do. What I hated, what I came eventually to abhor to the point of distraction, was the way she ate pie.

Not just any pie.

After dinner, every blasted evening since we were wed, my wife would instruct our housekeeper, Mrs. Friggart, to serve us, in a white and blue pie dish rimmed with dancing sugarplums, a damson and bilberry pie.

I cannot begin to tell you the horror with which I came to anticipate the intrusion of that monstrous thing upon my tablecloth, for no sooner had it manifested then the dreadful ritual would begin.

First, off would come the crust, plucked apart by those delicate white fingers. Fingers which I had only ever imagined stroking ivory or lingering over the last fading petals of a lotus bloom were now to be unceremoniously plunged into the moist, fruity innards of Mrs Friggart’s pie.

I could barely bring myself to watch as she licked and slurped and savoured every last, sticky drop of syrup from beneath that brown and flaky crust. I shuddered as her tongue traced each drop’s passage down the slender digits, and sometimes, oh god, down the length of her forearm to the elbow.

Such shameless abandon to  the enjoyment of baked confection was not to be borne and so, one evening, after I had endured this torment for longer than any man of lesser mettle would have managed, I determined to put an end to the dreadful pie eater once and for all.

It was always customary on Fridays for us to have fish. Fish is such a beautiful food, filled with the potential for accidental death – an unseen bone lodged in the gullet…allergies…food poisoning…I had the Friggart  throw in some potted shrimp in the hopes of adding the happy chance of ptomaine into the bag and then (more as an after thought really) I filled up the salt sellar with warfrin, just to be on the safe side.

I was determined, you see, that she should never in that meal, reach the wretched pie. The thought of its vast, oval presence bored into my mind like some giant and ominous eye, watching my every move.

The morning found me agitated, the afternoon more anxious still, by evening I was fairly skipping about the place in anticipation; polishing the silver ware, tripping over the cat… at last the blessed hour of dinner arrived and my darling seated herself across from me at our neatly clothed table and began to eat.

You can imagine how I eagerly I watched her brow for traces of impending fever, how closely I pressed upon her the benefits of sodium, how keenly I strained my ears to hear the slightest hint of a choke or splutter…

At last I could stand the thought of the impending pie no longer and, in some wild frenzy, I leapt upon the table, seized the carp by the tail and shoved the entire fish down, with all my might, into my wife’s throat. It was not quite the way I had planned it but the results were satisfactory and I simply informed the coroner that the poor woman had been prone to these food-gorging outbursts at ‘a certain time of the month,’ to which he nodded sympathetically.

The funeral I laid on for my beloved was magnificent, the flowers were faultless, the choir sublime, the eulogy brought tears to  my eyes and not a soul suspected that she had not tragically gorged herself to death in a fit of feminine hormone-induced madness.

That, I thought, was an end of it.

Imagine my horror the following evening when, upon returning home from the office, I found my wife (still in her burial shroud and looking, I must confess, a little worse for wear) seated in her usual place and upon the table in front of her, a plate of freshly cooked carp.

I did not know what to do. The Friggart noticed nothing when she brought in my steak and potatoes (or f she did she was too polite to mention it) and so I was forced to sit and stoically ignore this apparition as it noisily slurped and sucked and crunched at the dreadful plate of carp.

I was terrified, of course, that my wife, having finished her meal, would now think it proper to ascend the stairs to bed with me but, once the plates and cloth were cleared away, and since no pie was forthcoming, she vanished.

The following night however, she appeared again and this grim pantomime of a last fish supper was re-enacted on my behalf again and again until after about a week of it I could very well see the work the worms had done on her. By the time a month was up her eyes were utterly devoured and the housemaids were beginning to raise their eyebrows at me and remark, behind their hands, about the smell.

But she did no harm other than give off a little funk and I was very nearly getting used to her nightly appearances when a dreadful – and I mean truly dreadful – thing happened.

It was my own fault entirely. I had been too bold, too jovial in my expressions, to light in my step. Aunts had raised their disproving eyebrows at my zealous chorusing in church – and one aunt in particular (a bitter old battleaxe who had been the utter scourge of my childhood and was evidently not going to rest in peace until she had blighted my manhood in some or other fashion) decided she would Pay Me A Visit.

The date I reluctantly arranged for the 3rd at 7pm and, in order that this examination of my mind and morals might seem merely an innocuous dinner party, my Aunt insisted on bringing with her a few, select, guests – her trusted physician Dr Jacobs,  our vicar Dr Hall and Professor Gilbertson the noted psychiatrist.

When I rose on the morning of fateful third I was ask easy and carefree as ever –for what had I to fear? My confidence in my own ability to set my guests at their ease was absolute; all day I practiced my wan smile, committed to memory several touching monologues describing my strenuous efforts to keep my British ‘chin up’ despite the inner pain I was harbouring secretly within my broken heart. That, I was certain, would make them ashamed that they had ever questioned my devotion as a husband and throw them off my back forever.

So assured was I in my own abilities, I had even set my wife’s shade a place at the table and bade the house keeper prepare us the same meal of carp that had been my wife’s last meal on earth – two touching tributes which I felt sure my aunt would appreciate.

When my guests arrived I bid them welcome with that same smile, touched with melancholy, that I had been perfecting. Throughout the dinner I was the perfect host, reciting my rehearsed responses to their probing questions with a natural ease. Even when my wife made her customary appearance and began to crunch her way through her own spectral plate of carp, I did not bat an eyelid.

But at length, as the meal wore on, I began to grow weary and pale, the weight of all this acting weighed heavily on my soul and I fervently wished the dinner to be over and my guests all gone home.

When the last mouthful was vanished and the last fork clattered to its plate I fairly sprang from my seat, ready to protest my fatigue and the lateness of the hour, my fears for the safety of travellers after dark and, oh, anything which might expedite their departure. But all my carefully planned excuses were cut short by the sudden appearance of the treacherous Mrs Friggart and her damnable damson pie! I stared in abject horror as she placed it in the centre of the table and laid before me the silver serving knife.

My eyes narrowed. So. The old bird knew all and she was now trying to torment me into a confession. Well, I would show her that I was made of stronger stuff!

Carefully I dished out the pie to my guests (and if my hand trembled a little I am sure nobody could have noted it) and when the grizzly ghost of my wife plunged her own spectral spoon into the pot I forced down my fears, willed the sweat from my brow and talked animatedly about the weather in an effort to block the dreadful sound of her gorging and slurping from my ears.

No doubt I had at this point turned very pale indeed. I talked ever more fluently and loudly, yet the sound of her savoury sucking increased – and what could I do? I gasped for breath, I clattered the crocks, I rose and paced the floor,  I  gesticulated wildly, I ranted, I swore!  – and yet my guests still seemed not to notice anything awry.

My wife, on the other hand, seemed to relish my agitation and her animated enjoyment of the housekeeper’s fruit pie only increased. She grew more and more absorbed, plunging her fist into the pie bowl, sending the purple juices flying so that they rained down over the table and the guests in a demonic storm.

And yet still my guests smiled and talked and got on with their meal – could it truly be they were witnessing none of this fiasco? … Or was it that they saw all and were simply mocking me, smirking inwardly at my torture? This, I became certain, must be the case!

Well, anything was better than this agony!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit, I confess the deed –I have murdered the hideous pie eater with a carp!”

 

 

Oh dear Goddess! It appears that, once again, we are dealing with an ape! I shall have to call in my good friend Dupin to fathom this mystery and catch the fiend who keeps entering my library, butchering my treasured tomes, and replacing them with this irreverent drivel!

Now, enough of this nonsense I have pie to eat…I…I mean work to do…

GOOD NIGHT!

 

 

 

 

all images from http://www.freeimages.com 

 

 

 

 

,


Pipe and Slippers:Never bet the devil your cheese

Good evening and welcome to my  rambunctious repository of valuable volumes…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public convenience! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a cheesy octopus and its tasteless Gentleman Friend, you had best turn yourself around and wander out again! You will find no dreary double entendres, no pathetic punning or ridiculous riddle-rendering down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? Amontilado? A whole cask you say? And vintage cheese selection? Oh….well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

fishing-bait-1347926.jpg

Never Bet The Devil Your Cheese 

I was sick – sick unto death with the stench of that dreadful chamber; the foul odour of my captors’ fetid breath and the rank, stale fume of their wrinkled skins. I swooned and felt at once as if my senses were leaving me, the sound of their voices seeming to be curdled together into one indistinct whisper – as the whisper of cream within the revolutions of a churning vat. And as their dreadful voices churned together to determine my fate, my mind was involuntarily drawn to ponder those unhappy events that had thrown me into the power of this unholy Society…

For the last two decades my life has happily revolved around the preservation of all that it is natural, healthy and wholesome for people to consume within the city of Cagliari and its surrounding provinces. In the course of this work I have had the pleasure to dine at some of the most exquisite restaurants and luxurious hotels that our beautiful island has to offer and, although there is always the occasional exception – the unscrubbed floor, the out of date salmon, the chef whose certificates have obviously been forged – on the whole I have found the consistency of cleanliness and order to be exemplary in all establishments under my jurisdiction.

The Monday that has most recently passed was the third of the month. I remember it distinctly. Upon entering the office as usual, I noticed a file upon my desk and, curious to see what it could contain, I immediately flicked it open.

BERCEI

I instantly recoiled, as though stung by some venomous insect, I struggled to breath in the oppressive heat which suddenly seemed to fill the room and yet a cold sweat burst freely from my pores and stood in fat glass gems upon my forehead.

BERCEI

I had heard the rumours. I had thought them fables – myths spun by our elders to scare the young novice or to pass time on the long journeys between one inspection site and another. But as, with trembling hand, I turned the pages of that file, the vile truth of the matter began to dawn upon me; That hidden deep within the mountainous regions of our fair Sardinia there exists to this day a group of souls  so depraved, so foul, that their deepest desire is to feast upon what is known as, Casu Marzu – The Devil’s Cheese. This, I assure you, is no ordinary curd. The Camembert you may have tried and thought a little daring, the Blue-vein perhaps you may have been persuaded to attempt in your wild and impetuous youth but I assure you that nothing, nothing but the very rotting of a man’s mind and moral fibre could induce a human being into suffering a mouthful of Casu Marzu.

This unnatural cheese is nothing but the rotted corpse of a once noble Pecorino which has been purposefully infested by the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. The digestive juices of these lavae break down the fats within the curd until the poor cheese actually weeps lagrima as it liquifies beneath the rind. Once the Pecorino has rotted to the point that most sane human beings cannot bare to be within a few feet of the ammonia scented atrocity it is considered by the devotees of this strange cheese-cult to be ready for consumption; maggots and all. The ammonia is so strong that it burns the skin around and within the mouth and throat, the risk of food poisoning, and even death, has been estimated as equal to that of consuming the rotting corpse of a sewer rat.

 

Naturally, the consumption of such rancid fruits was deemed, by both the church and the crown, to be hazardous to a man’s body and to his soul and so the making, handling, buying, selling and ingesting of this demonic cheese were outlawed many centuries ago – the punishment being then, and remaining to this day, death. Yet there have always been rumours that in one particular village, a remote sheep farming settlement known as Bercei, devotion to this unholy curd was so strong that it bordered upon idolatry and a secret order of cheesemongers was convened there that they might continue to ferment and consume their beloved Casu Marzu.

Time and again these rumours had been investigated as every decade or so fresh evidence would appear to raise suspicion that the myth may actually be true, but, time and again, no genuine proof could be found and the investigator would take early retirement or put in for transfer to another region and so the story would lapse back into legend once more.

And now it seemed it was my turn to try my luck at the Bercei Mystery, well I tried, they cannot say I did not try; I bet the very devil himself that I would not rest until I had uncovered this foul mystery and exposed these wicked fiends in their disgraceful maggot munching. I poked my nose into every pantry and cellar, I left no churn unturned, I searched and I questioned and in general made such a spectacle of myself that I did not fail to catch the attention of the devil cheesemongers themselves.

And now I had fallen so completely into their power.

As I lay there, watching the gleaming of the candle flames upon the neat rows of variously shaped cheese knives, the girolles, the graters, the wires all aligned like instruments of torture awaiting my tender rind, a sudden deathly silence came over the occupants of the chamber and in that instant I was seized by many hands, lifted and carried out of the room and then down and down many winding passage ways where all about me there came the hiss of  pent up steam, the grinding of the motorised cheese presses and the constant rumble of the churning vats until a dreadful dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the infiniteness of the descent and the vague horrors which might await me at my journey’s end.

At some point during this hellish passage into the bowls of the city – perhaps the very earth itself! – I must have slipped again into unconsciousness because my next sensation was of flatness, stillness and intense cold.

I did not dare open my eyes, at first, but instead I tried to imagine what there could be.

I felt that I lay upon my back, upon something cold and moist, and then into my weary mind their pressed such horrible visions, conjured up from the memory of the hideous rumours I had heard of these demonic cheese mongers and the thick debate of my captours as to what should be my fate.

I dreaded my first glance at objects around me, I dreaded the impending sensations which I imagined I could feel the beginnings of in every nerve and hair.

And then, as moments passed in silence and stillness, I grew suddenly aghast at the thought that there should be nothing to see or feel; that my captors, in their utter madness, had decided to bury me alive!

In a fit of panic, I leapt to my feet and thrust my arms out wildly in all directions. I felt nothing, yet I feared to move any further in case I should encounter the cold, stone walls and ceiling of a tomb!

Yet at last the agony of suspense grew intolerable and I cautiously moved forwards, my arms outstretched and my eyes straining from their sockets.

One, two, three, four, five… and my hands struck a cold, smooth surface – slightly slimy but more solid than the floor on which I stood. This sudden contrast brought me momentarily into a clarity of mind and now an urgency gripped my every fibre; to better understand the nature of my surroundings. It was a futile and utterly hopeless curiosity and yet the mind in torment will clutch desperately at any thread of reason in endeavour to anchor itself back to normality.

Keeping one hand upon the wall, I crouched and cautiously laid a palm upon the floor of my prison. At first I encountered some soft spongy substance which I took for moss.

Then, to my horror, it moved.

I plainly felt beneath my palm a steady palpitation, a writhing pulse, which sent a shudder – as of electricity – through my entire being. I can barely describe to you the horrific fancies which now plagued my shattered mind, nor can I recall the length of time that I crouched there in the icy darkness, feeling the sweat pool in the creases of my skin, feeling my breath steam as it passed in ragged shudders over my trembling lips. Where and what was I? What tortuous end had these devils dreamed up that I, like all my interfering predecessors, might be silenced eternally and that they should be left free to go on with their infernal cheese munching?

It may have been one or many hours that I remained paralysed in a state of utter terror and during all that while my attention was fixed wholly upon the floor. After a while my sanity must have fled the premises for my mind took up a grim fascination with the various pulses, tremors and reverberations that were taking place beneath my finger tips, until at long length there came a point at which my obsession with these movements – their cause, origin and intent – overrode my dread of the unknown and I determined to make an awkward circuit of my cell with one hand still against the wall and the other groping carefully about the floor.

I used one shoe as a marking point and by this method I soon deduced that I was in something like a circular pit, the walls of which were uniformly smooth and slick with moisture. As to the floor, the same gently pulsating moss was only present in patches – becoming denser with decreasing proximity to the wall – the remainder being of a smooth, cold, almost rubbery material.

But it was the pulsing that disturbed me more than anything for I could not imagine its origin or purpose, despite the zealous efforts of my mind to produce fancy after horrific fancy as to what tortuous death my captors had devised. This fact; that what lay in store for me was some fate worse than a mortal mind could fathom, filled me with such a terror that I collapsed and lay for many hours, perhaps even days, fitfully passing betwixt the realms of unconscious void and waking nightmare.

At length however, and since I remained alive and no change in my circumstance had occurred, I became aware of a sensation more primal than fear; hunger. A devastating, gnawing need which brought first dizziness, then nausea, and finally a passionate drive to consume anything I could lay a hand to.

Almost at the same instant that this hunger set in I perceived a gentle greying of the darkness around me. A light like dawn softly breaking in from some high shaft and then – oh mercy! – I was at last able to understand the nature of my grim predicament.

I was in the cheese.

As the light increased, so did my understanding and my horror of that place. The rubbery floor I had circumnavigated was an enormous round of the dreaded Casu Marzu. The suspected fungus that I had felt pulsing beneath my trembling fingertips was, in reality, the thousands of cheese fly eggs, gently squirming and, even as I watched, beginning to hatch. What would happen when those maggots sensed a new sallow flesh upon the menu? I shuddered, remembering the missing members of my unit – was this how those poor souls had met their grizzly end? Slowly digested, cell by throbbing cell, in the fermenting chambers of the demon cheesemongers of Bercei?

I have said already that I was starving to the point of near delirium and yet at no point did the thought of devouring even the tiniest crumb of that repulsive curd ever enter my mind. Instead I sought to press my entire body up against the wall and as far away as I could get from those wretched larvae, which had now began to nose about the silky surface of the cheese and spread their ammonia stench throughout the pit.

Thus I stayed. Marking the passing of time only by the fading and dawning of that distant greyish light, at first, until the larvae began to pupate and then…the flies.

They didn’t so much fly as hop and flit from one surface to another, drifting lace-like and silent on the pungent air, filling my eyes and nostrils like smoke until, at length, I lost both the energy and the will to waft them away.

The flies came, the flies went. They laid their eggs in the cheese and the eggs hatched and the maggots squirmed and formed oozing puddles of stinking putrid puss upon the floor. The maggots became flies and the flies came and the flies went. Up and up, called away by the fresher air and the light at the top of the pit.

I became grotesquely fascinated by this cycle and, when my legs could no longer take my weight and I was forced to lay amongst their writhing, pulpy layers, I took an almost child-like delight in watching every aspect of their development at close range. In fact, as time passed and my senses began to rot along with the cheese, there rose inside my bosom an almost paternal affection for the little creatures whose brief and simple lives were playing out before me hour by hour and some of the very nearest to my face I even thought to give names to; Beatrice – after my beloved sister, Maud  – my dear mother in law…

As I drifted in and out of the realms of nightmare and fantasy my position seemed less and less dire, the instruments of my demise less like ravenous predators than familiar friends comforting my cold aching flesh with the warm blanket of their bodies; a blanket that was rising now about my shoulders, creeping around my ears, falling gently like a shroud over my exposed cheek and

Oh

My mouth

I had forgotten that parched and puckered hole in my delirium. My mind had ceased to dwell on gastric sensations but when one over adventurous wriggler slipped in his exploration of the valley of my cadaverous cheek-pit and in

Oh

Taste I remembered

Meat I remembered as I sucked him in

And suddenly my mind teetered back from the edge of the abyss; these were not my friends, pets, tormentors nor even yet my devourers! No, these squirming worms were my salvation!

With wild abandon I scooped handfuls of the urine-soaked larvae into my mouth and they burst amongst my molars, their warm pus like a fine sherry sliding down my gullet. I rose frantically onto my hands and knees, grasping great handfuls as they tried to flee before me and then, all in an ecstatic second, it happened.

The cheese was in me.

I cannot describe adequately here, with pen and ink, the transcending beauty of that first mouthful. The intense burn of ammonia heat, almost unbearable in itself yet coupled with the cool and silky cream of the part-digested cheese that heat transformed into a mouth watering candied sweetness, perfectly balanced, before it became cloying, by the acidic tang of the savoury maggot meat.

I gorged myself into a divine frenzy. I leapt and danced like a freshly baptised demon waking into this new fromagian Eden.

Then, as if in confirmation that my sins of unbelief in this god-of-all-cheeses had now been washed away, the feeble veil of muted light, which had watched over my long hours of penance in the pit, burst suddenly into a blinding ray of brilliant gold illumination!

Dozens of arms reached down to me, hauling me up and out and into the welcoming embrace of my new brothers, who wrung my hand and slapped my back and dressed me eagerly in the fresh white robes of that secret and most holy society – The  Cheesemongers Of Bercei.

 

Good grief, who is it that keeps slipping these mutilated corpses of classic literature in amongst my treasured tomes? I do apologise for that atrocity and I assure you it is not representative of the rest of my magnificent collection. But, now, enough of this cheesy nonsense! The cask has been drunk dry and so has my patience so come on, out with you all, immediately! No I do not care a hoot about the man eating Liver Birds or your long and treacherous walk home, you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew. GOOD NIGHT!

 

 

 

all images courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com 

 

 


Pipe and Sippers: Nevermore?

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

old-library-1571043

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public convenience! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a pun-happy octopus and its alleged Gentleman Friend,you had best turn yourself around and wander out again! You will find no dreary double entendres, no pathetic punning or ridiculous riddle-rendering down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? Amontilado? A whole cask you say? Oh….well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps…

teafiend2

 

THE WYVERN – an unscrupulous piece of skulduggery By Penny Blake 

 

Once upon a teatime merry, as I set my table heavy

Laden up with scones and crumpets, florentines and cakes galore

Whilst I sat, my tea a –lapping, suddenly there came a tapping

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my parlour door

‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered ‘tapping at my parlour door

Wanting tea, oh what a bore!’

Up I leapt, I well remember, flung the tea into the fender

Grabbed the table, newly laden, cast its contents to the floor

Eagerly I sought the dustpan, with its brush and so I began

To erase the scene of plenty, lest this guest from me implore

Sustenance. I, diligently, swept each last crumb from the floor

Evidence was there no more.

Still the tapping came, now ruder, heralding this bold intruder

‘Gods above’, thought I, ‘a teatime never suffered thus before’

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

‘Let them in, tis merry meeting, not a crumb sits on the floor.

Chat a while and then, politely, show them once again the door.

Then begin the tea once more.’

Presently my soul grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,

‘Sir’ said I ‘or Madam truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was lapping tea, no, sorry, I was napping

And so gently you came tapping, tapping at my parlour door

That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door: –

Darkness there and nothing more.

Feeling vexed, my temper miffin, at this wanton waste of tiffin

And unfounded fears that caused me to cast all upon the floor,

Silently I stood upbraiding, all my senses and degrading

Every cell which had imagined rapping at my parlour door

‘Fool’ I muttered ‘now the table must be spread as was before.

What an utter bloody chore.’

Back again to spread the table, just as fast as I was able

Soon again I heard a tapping, somewhat louder than before

‘Surely,’ said I ‘tis no fancy, this time and I must happensee

What it is that so insists on plaguing thus my parlour door

Let my teacup rest a moment and this mystery I’ll explore

Then I’ll sup in peace once more.’

Open here I flung, with meaning, parlour door and, brightly gleaming,

In there stepped a clockwork wyvern, hot breath crackling the air

Not a single greeting gave he, not a moment stopped or stayed he

But, as I cried ‘some god save me from this beast oh I declare,’

Perched himself upon the silken cushion of my favourite chair –

‘Look here, sunshine that’s my chair!’

Not forgetting I was British, though I felt a little skittish

At the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore

‘Sir,’ I said ‘Would you partake, with me, in having tea and cake?

As you can see a finer table never was there spread before –

But the creature shook its head and, pointing to me with a claw,

Quoth the wyvern ‘One cup more.’

Much I chuckled this creation to hear hest, as if libation,

One more cup of this sweet nectar for myself I should now pour

‘sure’ said I ‘some fiend hath sent thee, For amusement he hath leant me

Tempter sent to thus torment me, with this mantra ‘one cup more’

Sent this brass abomination for amusement to implore

Me to drink ‘just one cup more’

But the wyvern, sitting brazen, on my cushions it had taken,

Fixed me with its burning eyes and, once again, it did implore

Nothing further then it spoke – till I said ‘tis some bad joke

But to appease thee I’ll oblige’ and so a cup I then did pour

Drank and thought the matter ended, rose to show the thing the door

Then it chanted ‘one cup more.’

‘Be that phrase our sign of parting, Hullish fiend!’ I shrieked, upstarting

‘Take thy talons from my teapot, and vacate my chair once more

Thou hast made a grave mistake in thinking I would certain break

My will and meekly thus partake, at your demand, this ‘one cup more’

Certain your corruption I will not endure a moment more

Quoth the wyvern ‘One cup more.’

‘Villain’, said I ‘thing of evil – sent from Hull and certain devil

I will lap this tea at leisure, and if I chose now to pour

For myself another cup, it’s only for myself I sup

And not a shred of credit to you, fiendish thing that doth implore

Wicked wyvern, by your words I’m putting neither stock nor store,

Still, I will have one cup more.’

And, alas, I still am sitting, still am sipping, still am sipping

On bequest of this grim wyvern, one cup more, just one cup more

And his eyes have all the seeming, of a demon’s that is scheming

And his scales, still brightly gleaming, I have come now to adore

As I, dutifully lift the teapot and again outpour

For myself ‘just one cup more…’

Hmm, one cup more? Don’t mind if I do…oh, what’s that you say? Getting late? You really ought to be going?  Oh dear, surely you can stay for just a little while longer, I mean it is after dark and Lord Ashton will have unleashed his flesh-eating Liver Birds by now, you really don’t want to be mistaken for a vagrant out there on the Lancaster streets and there’s still plenty left in the bottle…


Pipe And Slippers:

 

Good evening and welcome to my magnificently macabre miscellanea of tantalising tomes…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a lending library! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not be so easily lead down the garden path by tales of fairies! There are certainly no fairies at the bottom of this garden;  here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A Green Fairy? Oh…. well, green fairies are always welcome I suppose, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something, like this perhaps,

MAHRIME

It will take months for the bones to heal.

For the blood to entirely cease / For the light to come and illuminate them/

And they will mend badly, leaving the limbs gnarled and awkward.

Mushrooms grow and in creep flies, things that will stomach both

and things that scurry and / things that gnaw at other meat / that howl and suck out the marrow /

The floor is a carpet of bones; who knows how deep?

Somewhere, too high above, the rain finds an in-road and slides down the obsidian

The carnelian walls / The ivory walls like / The red cedar wood / The diamond-ice walls / Papyrus / The malachite walls like the drool of something hungry / Like the tears of something lonely /Like the blood of something wounded /

Walls like silver sweat.

I am not the first to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last/

The words spiral upwards from beneath the millennia of bones, scratched into the black

The white/ red / white /red / white / green/

Walls with what? The blood stains will leave you guessing. What will you do? Start with your finger nails,

 your talons/ your claws / teeth / fangs / beak/

carving your agony until all that is left are bloody stumps of splintered flesh? Frail wafers of bone to melt like sacraments against the wall’s hot tongue? Ah but wait, you are impatient. There is no space for your story, the lives carved here spiral up out of the scope of your vision, too many to read in the short spaces of light, too high to reach even if you stood on the tips of your scaled and broken toes. But begin to read, regardless of the futility; there is nothing else you can do. Eat the words because there is nothing else to sustain you. Eat before the dark comes again to swallow them and you are alone and being swallowed up too.

I am not the first to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last. Whatever the case I am the last of my tribe, the last tear to fall from my grandmother’s eye. While our grandfather Sky wept the oceans in his grief, Puv’s tears were wiser and greener. My sisters and I, twelve of us in all, slipped out of her great tear ducts and we became the tree clans that covered the earth for a while; the red woods, pines and giddy scented cedars, the slender birches and sweet sweet maples, The berry-bearers, rose, cherry, bullace, elder, haw and sloe, oak and ivy, skipping hand in hand, Nut-bearers, hazel, beech and chestnut, .. we fell from her eye and stood, naked on the earth and we shook with fear in the breeze, plunged our fingers back down deep to coil round grnadmother’s hand, we did not want to let go, and we sucked up Ravnos’s tears, drank up all that cyan sadness and offered it back with our arms, back up to heaven. We clung to our grandmother and our hair grew long and wild and sinewed until it formed the great forests that once covered the land. We sucked up the grief water so that the land could be seen and we clothed it with our hair and so many creatures came and sheltered in us, finding sustenance and comfort inside our warm wet creases.

There were no cities back then but I remember the first little queens to come walking out of the foothills of the north. There were seven of them and with their little silver aexes they came and severed our umbilicus, our life link to our Baba Puv. Of course we screamed.

Of course we bled.

Our sap boiled and in desperation we threw out barbs, thorns; made sabers and shuriken of own wounded flesh. We grew hard and gnarled. We grew wizened, if you know what that means. No longer child-like we wrenched our fingers from grandmother’s earth-grip and we thrust with greed and hate into Sheol, that land of the dead where there is only decay, and we sucked up venom to fill our veins.

It did no good.

I watched my sisters fall, screaming into grandmother’s helpless arms as their limbs were torn away to make these seven cities for these seven little queens, a thousand lances for a thousand ladies; knights in armour smelted in the heat of a thousand burning bodies; child-sisters severed and sacrificed on their alter of industry.

Creatures poured out from their shelter like blood from gaping wounds, ran shrieking under the wings of a weeping Sky God and I spread my arms to them, gathered them in my hair, tore myself from the ground and towered to meet them, scooping the wolf clans, the bush birds and the hotchi witchies, the wild Gry and the drummers, all the grass chewers and the climbers and the hunters of flesh. I gathered them and devoured them into my dark sap self, my body howled and squirmed with their many wild voices all crying their terror and their loss

“no home, no home, no grandmother, no shelter, no rest, no hair to hide us, no tears to feed us, no home, no place, no home” was their cry. This is how I came to the seven cities, this is how I came, howling and stomping and writhing to tear down the thrones of those seven little queens who had raised their empire by the bones of my beloveds.

They wore our blood like jewels, how could I stand? They circled me with fire and brought me down with ropes of my own severed hair, they cut the wild creatures from my belly like babes.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; obsidian, carnelian, ivory, papyrus scrolls, malachite, cedar wood, diamond. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here, this tower is full of bones and there are stories and lives buried beneath that will never come to light. That light drips in sour pearls like milk from the berks of a starving mother who can barely feed herself much less her dying child. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my bark-back against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my tribe, the last of the wolf clans, the last acolyte of the seed temple. I am the last because I ran. I ran from the knights with their silver blades and their bright fire, cut free from my mother’s tree-womb with a sacred store of snatched up seeds tight hidden in my drooling maw, I ran into the hollow shadows left by the slicing of the flames and I spun through tunnels of twilight thought in the mind of Baba Puv until I came to her limestone skull periphery and there I clawed out a new grotto, a sanctuary for those stolen seeds. I panted, sweltered and I bled and wept there in the dark. In truth I was lost; were those lichens, hanging down all silver-grey, the tendrils of her ancient hair? Was the water that trickled and pooled for me to lap with my parched pink tongue the sweat that slid off her wrinkled brow? Was I serving her, here, a saint whispering viridian vespers into the fissures of my secret chapel? My days were not filled with hope but fear; fear that my devotions fell only on cold stone, fear that I was a fraud and that cowardice, not love, had brought me here and held me in its thrawl. The seeds I had carried so tenderly all those many miles of running could not grow here in the gloom, draft and dank. I nestled them into the rock wrinkles of her cheeks and watered them with trickles of cave water but they sprouted pale and grew thin and wan, corkscrewing in dizzy circles, roots and stems flailing as they searched for the fingers of their grandmother to clasp and coil around, for Kam’s bright face to shine down on them and give them life. I had carved a space for the dead and all I could do was sit vigil with them as they passed away.

I do not know how many moons I sat there, how many times Kam chased his sister Shon around the earth before their children remembered me and came searching, searching for the last wolf, searching for the lost seeds, searching for the chapel in the green… there was a queen, they said – ah there is always a queen isn’t there? – a queen with a baby and the baby was sick and no doctor in the land could find her a cure. Every knight was sent riding in shining gold parade, out from the cities, across the land and sea, to the highest peaks and lowest caverns, to the high pate of Ravnos, to Puv’s own toenail and so, in the end, down they came to find me; monster in the dark with my seeds. The knight who stepped so boldly, her armour clanging like a cattle bell where no voice had e’re been raised above a whisper, told me the tale and she did not beg my assistance or offer any reward but her expectation that I would help her was all the persuasion I needed. I must help, and so I did, I gave her the seeds of the plant that would heal the child and she took them without thanks and was gone. Foolish knight. Foolish queen. Or was I the fool after all? The seeds worked swift, healed the child of her humanity in a heartbeat and when they had done with their screaming and casting out and banishing of the beast that used to be their daughter, they sought me out again, this time with fire and rope. I was easy to find, I had not run, and when I heard them coming, I was not afraid.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; obsidian, carnelian, ivory, papyrus scrolls, malachite, cedar wood, diamond. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here, this tower is full of bones and there are stories and lives buried beneath that will never come to light. That light drips in sour pearls like milk from the berks of a starving mother. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my splintering claws against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case, I am the last of my kind, the last Smithsonian Sister of the Serpent Forge, the last daughter of Shon. Some say she is made of stone, you know, still others say she is made of cheese, imagine that! But I know my mother as the milk white swan, born out of the belly of Baba Puv and shot like a silver bullet up into the sky. Mother Shon laid her eggs upon Baba earth’s back and when we hatched we crawled out into grandmother’s arms. But it was cold back then in the early days, her smooth skin was pale and cold; sheets of ice and feather soft snow. My sisters and I shivered in our scaly skins and we came together to make a child of our own, a child who would warm the earth and be bright and comforting and a joy to us all. So we pressed our bodies together, one sliding over the other back and forth, back and forth until the friction between our scales created the tiny spark that is needed for life. Little Yag was born and he was all we had wished for – bright and cunning and quick, flamboyant and frolicsome, warm and more than warm the child gave off such heat we could bask in his glow eternally. Of course, like all children, our little Yag soon grew and began to grow wild and unruly, his hunger was insatiable and his manners a disgrace. ‘You must put him to work at once’ Grandmother said ‘or he will soon be beyond your control.’ So we built The Forge and we set Yag the task of melting the metal to make it pliable so that we could shape it into cups and cooking pots and horse shoes, farm tools and the like. With work to do our little lad soon settled into his role in life and was happy and we sisters were happy too as the snow and ice began to melt and folk began to come into the valley of the forge, they saw our work and they wanted to buy until at last we had become quite famous as the best blacksmiths in the land.

Then one day we saw a river come flowing out from the seven cities, one tributary from each hall, and they joined on the crest of the far off hills and came flowing down, a torrent of pale riders, into our valley. The knights approached our forge without dismounting and demanded that we make for them armour and weapons, lances, swords, spear heads, tools of war. When my first sister bowed her head and explained that we were a peaceful tribe who did not know how to make the weapons they desired they cut of her head with their silver axes. When my second sister pleaded with them to think of our child, our little Yag, and the impression this would leave on his young soul they dealt her the same deadly blow. So this went on, and on and on, each sister refusing or pleading or defying them until eleven beautiful serpent heads lay dirtied in the dust with their grandfather’s tears raining down over them and only I stood, trembling in my scales before these ladies on horseback, arguing with each other now what they were going to say to their queen if I too refused and there were no serpents left to work the forge. It is true that I was afraid, also you can imagine that I was angry and desperate for a way to avenge the brutal death of my beloved sisters but a snake is cool blooded and calculating in her wrath, I did not shout or make threats or spit hexes at them as others might, instead I keep staring at the horses with their feet on the hot sandy ground. “Listen” I said at last “I am now the last of my kind, you have utterly destroyed my clan and I know that I alone cannot stand against you so I will do as you ask and make these toys for you and your little queens and I will make shoes for your horses too.”

The knights seemed relieved and so I set to work, feeding my son so much that was abhorrent to me, to all my kind, so that he could make and be and do what the cities demanded, but all the while I worked I whispered, songs of righteous rage, songs of our story of sorrow, songs to make his red blood boil and his yellow bile burn.

The metal that we worked that day was forged in hate and we imbued it with such heat that even when I took the tongs and dipped each piece carefully into the cooling vat of water, it was only the surface that was cooled while the white hot core still burned and thirsted to exact our vengeance upon human flesh. “Patience” I whispered to each plate of armour as I strapped it onto each waiting arm or leg or bosom, “Patience” I whispered to each horse shoe as I nailed them onto a hundred hooves or more. Then we bowed, little Yag and I, and stepped back and waited and watched as the shimmering golden river of knights began to ripple and set its course back to the seven cities.

Breathless, we waited.

The rear guard shifted in her saddle, twitched her shoulder, adjusted her boot strap. Her horse stamped and snorted. A ripple of seemingly inconsequential motion shook ruffled the feathers of the troop. And then it began.

The riders began to scream.

And their steeds began to dance.

They danced and pranced and bucked, they pirouetted and waltzed and writhed all over the sandy floor of the Valley Of The Forge as the heat within their horseshoes finally began to penetrate their hooves and shoot its venom through their muscles and sinews in waves of exquisite agony.

Riders fell, squirming like fat overfed worms, too bloated to break free of their burning chrysalises.

The scent of burning flesh and the shrieks of horse and rider filled the air and we savoured it all like sweet Madya, like wild quail, like honey from the comb or salmon from the smoke huts.

Revenge is sweet but like all sweet things it does not last. I do not know how many moons had passed after our small victory but the earth on my sisters’ graves was still fresh when they came, bringing the wrath of their little queens, seeking their own retribution for the little scars and humiliation we had struggled to inflict upon them. The came screaming ‘Nahuatl’ , ‘Fire Serpent’ , ‘Bold Destroyer.’ They came in fear, with nets made from the hair of other martyrs.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers. Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, throbbing my coiling bulk against the obsidian curvature so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my kind, the last human child to be born inside the seven cities, before they decided that human flesh was just too frail to sustain itself and instead began forging children from iron and steel. Certainly my own flesh was frail, they gave me every medicine under Kam’s bright disc until, at last they brought the seeds. The seeds knew. Somehow they knew the monster that was inside me, they knew the form my frail flesh could not hold, with gentle coiling and twisting they pushed away the meat and the fat, the blood and pith and all those vile pulsing organs and they drew out like flax what was inside my marrow; the black, the wonderous, the many-limbed, the beautiful. I stalked out of my old ivory shell, Sara La Kali on eight fine strong legs and stretched myself amongst their screaming. So small, so small, their tiny voices were like hail against my hide and their cities stifled me, I took their screams and wove them into tapestries with my hands, their fear and spun it into prayer shawls, I took my grandfather’s grief and crocheted dream catchers, mandalas from Shon’s silver light, pashminas from the river waters, swift flowing hair of Sister Pani. Everything I made I ate, and the more I ate the bigger, the more marvellous, the more terrifying I became. I travelled far, kneading stories into bread, pressing the steps of the sun dancers into wine as syrupy as blood, I took the yellow dust of the road as my warp and the cries of hatred and terror as my weft and upon my loom they became strong canvas for my tent.

I do not know how many moons I danced along the drom, how many times Kam chased his sister Shon around the earth before their children plucked the courage to come after me. They came with fire as they always do, pretending it is light, pretending it is cleansing and righteousness and Brother Yag dances and spits his delight, he is only hunger and no belly and his ‘purification’ is a death-kiss with no promises. Salivating like a Cur he held their sacred circle for them as they came with their ceremonial axes and cut off my hands.

Then it was those little knights who ran mewling back to the skirts of their city-mothers, the mothers of stone they had built for themselves. They ran back in fear at what they had done, in fear perhaps of what I would do. But I could do nothing. No more spinning, no more weaving, no more kneading and pressing, no more making at all. I howled alone in the darkness but I was not destroyed, only maimed and I determined that this would by no means be the end of me. So I bandaged up my bleeding stumps and , though the going was painful and slow, I carried on my way along the drom.

After many moons I came to the place they call The Valley Of The Forge, but the forge is long gone cold they say and the Serpent Sisters who gave birth to fire are just a myth that is only half remembered. There was no fire when I came, weary and lost, into the valley, instead there was a cave and a well of silver water and a withered snake skin cast off and abandoned nearby. I do not know what made me do it, perhaps something called or whispered in my ear below my consciousness, perhaps the heat was toying with my wits a little, whatever the reason or madness I cannot say but I was filled with a sudden urgency to put the snakeskin into the well. It was a futile and meaningless act but I went to it with every fibre of resolve that I had left to summon. It is like that sometimes, when we can do nothing useful we throw every last scrap of energy into doing something utterly pointless instead.

With the last of my strength I heaved that old snake skin into the well and felt instantly satisfied and stupid and presently very much afraid – The water in the well began to roil and out from the waters rose a silver serpent, spectral and magnificent and gleaming in the sunlight. I fell to my knees and begged her not to devour me, pouring out my story with my tears like libations upon the yellow earth. The serpent listened with her head on one side and presently I felt her tongue, rough and warm against my cheek and heard her lisping voice inside my head “I name myself Drábaneysapa, medicine-snake. They who are sick will look on me and be healed because I have crossed the great river of death and come back again. You have done me a service little sister, let me give you some advice, dip your arms there into this water and see what happens, this well is so refreshing.” And with a wink she slid out over the rim and away across the sands.

I had come so far and through so much pain I hardly dared to hope in all that I had seen and heard but I forced myself to trust the snake and, trembling with agony and fear at what might or might not happen, I removed the filthy crusted bandages from my mutilated limbs and I lowered one trembling arm into the magic well. Nothing. I felt absolutely nothing except the excruciating sting of ice cold water on my wounds and so you can imagine how I wept, how I howled, how I laughed for joy when I pulled out my arm and on the end of it had grown a spectral hand, silver and splendid and a thousand times more dextrous and beautiful than my fingers had ever been! One by one I dipped my eight broken, bloodied limbs into the well and one by one I drew out my eight new beautiful silver hands.

By now the moon was rising and as I looked up at her I knew what I had to do; surely it had been Shon’s silver moonlight, trapped and almost forgotten inside the dark depths of that well, which had allowed these miraculous transformations to take place. I would use my new gifts to make a gift in return; I would fashion for Shon a daughter, a daughter to replace all her lost serpents, a daughter so terrible in her beauty that no man or woman would be able to set eyes on her without turning to stone. All night I worked, all I had was the memory of my pain and loneliness and so that is what I used as my warp and for my weft the joy and gratitude at being made whole again. So I wove a daughter for Shon, I gave her wings so that she could fly far, far, far away from the seven cities, up to the arms of her mother where she would be safe. I set in her heart a compass that would steer her, always towards her mother’s light so that she would never become lost or trapped as I had been. I called her Wéshimúlo and I set her free at daybreak so that she might follow her mother over the horizon and away.

I never saw Wéshimúlo again but I stayed, self appointed guardian of the healing well. I slept in the cave like a hermit, carving intricate instruments of many pipes and strings from the atoms of the air with my new spectral hands. After a while, folk started to come. They heard my songs of praise to Shon, they came to be renewed by the silver waters, some were broken, close to death, others barely seemed to hurt at all but they all dipped hands, faces, legs, hair, into the well and were made whole again and their wholeness was not as it was before; it was Shon’s own memory, the blueprint of themselves as they should be and this far exceeded whatever it was they had grown into within the confines of the city walls.

I cannot say how many moons I kept vigil there in my cave beside the well, how many thousands of praises and adorations had poured from my lips before they came for me. Folk had been pouring out of the city and returning with strange new ways of knowing and being, ways which didn’t fit, ways which were cunning and weird and magical and just plain wrong. They came screaming ‘witchcraft’, ‘demon’, ‘devil’ and still I do not know why Shon did not hear my pleas for help, or come to my aid.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers; Seven towers for seven cities, raised by seven little queens, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, pressing my spindling legs against the obsidian curvature and bracing my limbs so that, inch by inch, I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, If you are reading this then I may not be the last.

Whatever the case I am the last of my kind, the last child ever to have played under the scarlet canopy of The Great Forest, the last to have felt the pine needles between her toes, the last to caress the naked wax bark of the white birches, the last to embrace the wrinkled oak, the last to play with the wolf clans and the hotchi witchies, the last to ride the wild Gry.

“Come away!” my mother would scold me “come away inside child, while they cut it down! Trees are for burning and the monsters will eat you up!”

I lay in my bed. Our house was one cut into the wall of the great city and my window looked out over the countryside that was now forbidden but I had made a pact with those trees, a promise with those monsters, to let down a red cord every night from my window and every night they came for me, panting and hungry in the dark. I smelled the rain on them, the moss on their paws, the salt in their eyes, the blood on their breath, I reached through the bars of my window and ran my fingers through their wet pelts and pricked my thumbs against their fangs swearing sweet oaths to save them all if only I ever could get away. Every night they brought me a wild raven’s egg, a gift from grandfather Ravnos. You would think I cracked the treasure case open and sucked out the gold, but I was afraid, afraid of stains and questions, afraid my mother would find out about these secret midnight monster feasts. So instead I opened my mouth up wide and carefully carefully swallowed each egg down whole.

Whole, the eggs of Ravnos came into my warm belly and my flesh cradled them like a bowl of olive wood, my womb knit around them like latticed ligaments of vine; safe, warm, nourished… it should have been no surprise when they hatched out, the fledglings scraping my tissue raw as the forced their blind passage up through my vocal tubes and tore out of my horror-stricken mouth to flop, drenched and heaving onto the breakfast table.

In front of my mother, these fledgling crow-gods scrambled from my mouth and I could not hold them back. But mothers are used to these things. She narrowed her eyes at me, did I not think she had been young once? Did I not think she too had longed for trees and monsters and given birth to sky-gods in her time? And had not my grandmother done as she would now, stuff her daughter’s mouth with wormwood and gilead, with nightshade and mandrake and bind it shut tight with ribbons torn from her own scarlet diklo?

All this she did and then she cut the red cord.

I slept, falling in my dreams through the barbed gullet of a beast that was a city that was my mother that was seven little queens with seven little axes all hacking, hacking at my scarlet life line, all trying to sever me from my beloved monsters. But I laughed as I spun through their loathly innards because even in sleep I felt them; my little ravens, my little gods, pecking away at their human-girl prison, gorging and scraping at all the cumbersome weight that held us all pressed into this room, this house, this city on a hill.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

I felt the breeze stir through me, the flutter of their strong, soft wings striving through my rib cage, the thrust of bills chiselling against my teeth and I woke to find myself cleaned of all my superfluous flesh, gleaming in my bones, seeing with a thousand yellow crow eyes. Still they scrabbled and flapped and pushed the boundaries of all that I still was until they carried me up, up the chimney and out into the sky above.

Arrows rained up at us, fired from the bows of a thousand knights in golden armour, and grandfather’s tears rained down. It should have ended there, and it did, but it should have ended differently.

Instead they brought us down with their own beasts; leather-winged sky-chariots they had built for themselves from blueprints stolen from Ravnos’ own work bench.

The highest mountain range in that land is crowned with seven dreadful towers, built to hold the darkest demons, the most vile and destructive monsters in the land. I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read, flapping and struggling inch by inch, so that I can work myself up to where the words all end and there is space, at last, to write my story here, that space is so high up now that when I peer down into the darkness below I can barely see the bones of all the wretched monsters who were here before me. I have found the place where the rain creeps in, If you are reading this then you will have found it too. Did it give you hope the first time you realised what it was? Or did you not dare to let that spark kindle inside your breast and quicken your heart to a flutter? A glimmer of light, a window? Yes. Big enough? Big enough… and up and up and up… did you climb as I did, forgetting to read any more in your blind excitment? And use the last of your strength to heave yourself up onto that sill? And will you, as I have, bother to come back and carve the last words of your story here with the last of your blood and the last of your bone?

I am laughing and crying for us both.

I am laughing and crying and sweating and bleeding for every monster who has made it this far up the tower, who has seen the hopeful light, heaved themselves up with the last of all they have been to sit upon that vast window sill and look out over the view spread out below them.

If you have not yet accepted that his is where you die, you will accept it now.

You will look at that precipice, flagged by a thousand shards of razor rock on every side, so deep it seems to have no end, a grim maw waiting to drink the last drop of you out of the world so that you might be, at last, forgotten, and all hope and faith will fly away, taunting you because, even if you once had wings, you know you will never fly again.

What will you do? Will you feed yourself to the beast? That is obviously what they are hoping. Will obligation or self-indulgence haul you back down here to scrawl your last words? Or do you think enough futile and miserable lives have been catalogued here already? I myself will sit upon the wide ledge a while, and let my blood and sweat and tears fall as my offering down into the pit below, my offering to you and to every monster who has ended here and when I end my bones will fall back down to the floor and become lost amongst the others and if you are reading this, then I suppose yours will too.

I am not the last of my kind, I have a sister. A sister whose body was once the harp on which our mother played her most beautiful hymns to the moon while I sat and listened to their songs and marvelled at the sound they made when I could only manage a strangled screech.

“Hush now me chavvie me love me Weshimulo there” my mother would croon as she rocked my tears away in her eight strong black arms “I never had time to furnish you with the gift of song, but look, just look at your reflection there in the well my owlet, look at those white feathers as soft as those of Shon herself, look at your beauty little sweet one, you have no need for song. I have made you so beautiful little Weshimulo, so beautiful and you will fly up, up, up and away from us all. You will fly up to the heavens and be in the arms of our blessed Mother Moon because that is what you were made for, your very birth was an act of worship, child and I have set a compass in your heart that will guide you, always guide you back to your blessed Mother’s light.”

All her words danced around me like a breeze, I tried to snatch at them with my beak and swallow them down, I tried to sit on them like eggs that might hatch into some magnificent and monstrous truth, but in the end they all blew away from me and all that sank down into my pneumatised bones, filling them up like the weight of mammalian marrow, was that simple fact – I could not sing – and while I felt the vague tug of something at my heart strings nagging me towards some place half remembered from nursery tales, when my mother kissed my wings and told to fly I could not feel the instruction of this compass she had wittered about, only the disorientating heat of my own desperate lust to make some other noise than ‘screech.’

Under the sun’s disapproving and judgemental scowl I flew, my thoughts turned inward like berry barbs, until it became dark and then of course I remembered The Moon my mother had prattled about, and I looked into that vast velvet void and could I see her? I could not. And it may sound strange but I was grimly satisfied to find her silver face not there and anger and triumph blossoming in my breast like blood from a wound, staining my white feathers claret.

I do not know how long I floated aimlessly amoungst the shards of cloud that were busy cutting the night sky into ribbons but I do not think it was all that long before I heard them – tiny wee voices winging joyful, loud and shrill; “We go to the moon, up to Shon, blessed mother, moon, moon, up we go, up to silver shon…” and then, swooping lower down below the clouds, I saw them – hundreds of tiny tiny little dancers, silver wings painted with black henna, hands of hamsa, signs against evil, I was bewitched. I joined the dance, these wee folki they knew, they must know, where we should fly and how we should go they painted my wings with black henna that scorched and stung but looked so beautiful it must be right.

“Follow the light, follow the light, follow the light and up we go…”

There are many lights in the night sky, perhaps you know this already and can see how foolish such a mantra can be. We followed the light that burned the brightest and it lead us into the city, into its vile heart, into the arms of brother Yag (by choice or no, he is now the servant of the city folk and has forgotten who he is and where he came from, all he feels is hunger and his appetite is never satisfied). My little dancers were all burnt up in a mouthful, their intricate tattoos did not protect them. Their Mother Moon did not appear to save them. In a whisper and a crackle they were gone.

I was burnt too; burnt, stunned, disorientated and alone. But not destroyed. Not yet. The knights in golden armour, wolf pelts slung around their shoulders, bright jewels of tree blood set into their breast plates, snake skin sword sheaths flapping against their thighs, out they came from the palace of their queen and one by one I turned them all to stone.

I did not mean to.

I did not know how I did it.

They only had to look at me and their hearts in their chests of flesh became granite, cold and hard as steel – no love, no compassion, no empathy at all, just unyielding rock against which I must break. It was my own fault I know, my mother had told me this would happen, but I did not understand, I thought she meant…well, it does not matter now.

With hearts of stone, they came and broke me. The highest mountain range in this land is crowned with seven dreadful towers and the stories here are beyond reckoning; I am not the first to be entombed here. Still I have been here long and long and I have read all there is to read and now I will do as so many have done before me / as so many have done before /so many have done/ many have done / have done /done before/ before/ and  sit upon the wide ledge here a while, and let my blood and sweat and tears fall as my offering down into the pit below, my offering to you and to every monster who has ended here and when I end my bones will fall back down to the floor and become lost amongst the others and if you are reading this, then I suppose yours will too.

We do not know if there are, or have ever been, any more like us. We were once the last of our kind, that much is true. It is also true that we are now the first of our kind. This then is the story of how we ended, and how we became again, and how we will end and we think it is very fitting that ours should be the last story carved inside this tower, there is no space left, although we know that others will come, we have always been oracular that way.

There has always been one monster the knights of the seven cities could not capture or tame or destroy. Her name is always changing, always lengthening, but we now call her Bujo and to us she will always be Bujo, not that it matters anymore. There is only one thing a queen can do with a monster she cannot be rid of, and that is placate it so that it stays below the surface of the water and never rises up to destroy all that hard work of wall building that goes into hoisting up a city. The seven queens of the seven cities chose us to be sacrificed to Bujo and that makes us laugh, now, now in this tomb we laugh until our spines and teeth and bones and scales and tusks and claws and feathers all rattle together. But we did not laugh back then, no.

We trembled in our frail flesh, each the last of her own wild clan, each cut raw from our tree-mother’s belly and back bound, back to back against the great sacrificial sandstone pillar that stands on the tide line. We trembled and we waited for Bujo to come and devour us. And we tried not to think about how the devouring would feel.

But she did not come.

The tide came in and the tide came out and it crashed gnashed against the sandstone with its little teeth of shell, but still Bujo did not come.

We have no idea how many moons we waited there, bound back to back, waiting for Bujo, waiting for death, waiting for anything but the relentless ebbing and flowing of the tide, but one morning the sun rose up out of the arms of the sea, where he had been carousing all night, and once he had had done with all the eye-rubbing and shivering and chanting of ‘nevermore’ and deigned to throw an armful of light beams in our direction, we realised that we were not as we had once been.

The sea had entirely eaten away the pillar to which we had all been bound but instead of leaving us free, it had left us ‘grown together.’ Skin and muscle and sinew and bone and prickles and spines and fur and feathers had all become one and we were no longer seven maids, but one enormous, monstrous beast and once we realised our rebirth, we also realised the vast emptiness of our seven-fold belly, our seven-fold womb, our seven-fold heart and our-seven-fold mouth. We sniffed at the salt sea air with our seven-fold nostrils, vast as underground caverns, and we reared upon our seven-fold haunches and howled in the direction of the cities because we smelled, from there, meat.

With fire from our belly and nets of our own hair we came for them, those who had created us. We laughed because they trembled at a sea monster who was not there, we wept because we could see, far away, more maidens being prepared for this ludicrous pantomime, we howled because our hunger made us howl and we stormed into the city and we meant to devour it.

All our intensions, you see, were good and noble. You will not find fault with us, we are sure. We did devour much but, in the end, we became sick and weary of devouring. Our seven-fold belly was never filled, our seven-fold womb was never filled, our seven-fold heart was never filled and our-seven-fold mouth was only a vast hole down which the whole world would eventually slip, and still we would not be satisfied.

And so we grew wise. We stopped. We lay down to rest.

And that is when they came for us.

The highest mountain range in this land is crowned with seven dreadful towers and the stories here are beyond reckoning; we are not the first to be entombed here. Still we have been here long and long and we have read all there is to read and had our hopes raised and smashed and raised and smashed again. We have clawed our way up as you have, devouring the words, the stories, the wisdom of others, and it has done us as little good as it has done you to devour them. But now we will do as so many have done before us / as so many have done before /so many have done/ many have done / have done /done before/ before/ and  climb upon the wide ledge here and look out over the vast, vast ocean of blood and sweat and tears that was their offering. Their offering to us, their offering to you and to every monster who has ended here.

We will add our own offering to this and then we will take the boat which we have fashioned from some of those very many old bones and we will lower it onto the red-gold surface of the sea and we will leave this tower behind. We do not say we will be free, where is there for us to go? Round and round perhaps upon a sea of blood and sweat and tears? Will we risk clambering over the edge of this enormous basin? Risk what is left of our tissue on the jagged mountain’s jaws? We do not know what will do. We do not know what will become of us, but we think, we hope, we guess there may be other monsters out there too – there were seven towers after all – perhaps they, like us, like you, have clawed their way up through a tunnel of tales, through a long dark night, through small spaces of light and through much, much pain and loneliness, and perhaps, out there, we will be together. Perhaps we will not be free, perhaps we will not be home or healed or happy or any of the things we dreamed we ought to be (once upon a time) but we will at least be together and if you are reading this /and if you are reading this/if you are reading this/are reading this/reading this/ if / you are reading this, then perhaps you will be too.

 

Yes, yes well enough of that sentimental clap trap I have work to be getting on with so go on, out with you all now, don’t you all have parties or something to go to? Hm? What’s that? You’d rather stay here if that’s allright and shelter from the flesh-eating Liver Birds? Certainly not! You should have worn a protective suit or something, GOOD NIGHT!