Short Story: Coal

In his dreams, Coal hears screams and the clink of chains rattling and sliding. Formless flashes of colour resolve into a series of static and disjointed scenes. His mind and body feel trapped in ice, unable to move or affect the parade of images forcing themselves on his mind’s eye. A cold lassitude lies on him, stealing his focus.

He sees the Last War, and the fighting in the streets against the risen dead. He remembers the sorcerous warriors clad in bone. The maniacs who slew the living and commanded their corpses, and the hatred in their eyes. He sees the Titans released. He sees buildings broken, bodies everywhere. He knows them.

Then he sees a face with horns curving from its temples. He hears shouts. He hears metal striking metal and the crackle of flames, and his eyes grow heavy.

Coal wakes. He is in a bed, limbs tangled in blankets and sheets. That alone gives him pause. Waking implies sleep and his kind don’t do that. Yet here he is, in a room he knows but rarely rests in.

Every part of him hurts. The enamels and brass-inlaid surfaces of his limbs are cracked, scorched, and riddled with holes. His joints whirr and crunch as he levers himself upright. His body, forged to fight where flesh would fail, has been greatly abused.

The cottonwool thickness shrouding his thoughts still lingers, deflecting his mind’s streams of awareness. The lenses in his eyes suddenly click and refocus, and with new purpose he pulls the sheet away.

The revealed wreckage of his body leaves him numb. There are rents in the steel plates, and missing panels that reveal damaged conduits, pistons, and cables woven to resemble bundles of muscles. There are scratches and gouges everywhere, and the discoloured blooms of scorching. What has happened?

Coal prods and tests the limits of the damage to his body in the morning half-light. With dispassionate care, he ascertains that he is functional and will heal. The act of assessing his own state allows his mind to start to catch up.

He remembers being restrained by dead things with the faces of friends. He remembers the bite of blades, and tubes being driven into him. He remembers the pale wight directing the corpses, and a man dressed in bones. He remembers the other two figures – warforged like himself – telling the wight what needed to be done.

Above all, he remembers the carcass of the reassembled Titan and what they did to him, and why.

His scream startles a cat-sized dragon snoozing in the rafters and it flees the room as fast as its butterfly wings can carry it.

He hears cries of alarm downstairs. Feet pound on the stairs. He is not alone.

Fiction Fragment: Sassing An Angel

Wrote this recently as a block breaker:

“I know I’m not the world’s greatest theologian,” Paul said, “but aren’t you guys supposed to be pants-wettingly awesome instruments of divine will whose first words are usually ‘Do not be afraid’?”
The freckle-faced teenage girl in front of him blinked and became a towering multi-headed giant with three sets of wings, and a flaming sword. Silhouetted by the sun behind it, the angel leant forward. “When you’ve changed your trousers, we can start again if you like, but time as you experience it is running rather short.”

Plotline thoughts for Nanowrimo

I’ve been using this morning to go for long walks down to harass the bank over money they owe me (seems only fair) and try to go to the library (only to find its closed on Mondays) and along the way clear my head a bit to think about the basic plot of what I’m going to write for Nanowrimo this year.

I’d already decided its going to have a loose connection with the main story I’m working on – in as much as I plan to use some recurring characters and locations so that if I want to I can use this story as unofficial backstory – but that it will have a much more overtly fantastical feel to it without, I hope, wandering too much into pure fantasy.

This got me thinking about what tone I did want to go with – the voice of my protagonist already has a pretty noir feel to it –  a wisecracking private eye of sorts, but a lot of the standalone images and scenes that I’ve mentally scheduled to wander into also range into some quite disturbing territory and it was in search of a way to describe it that I recalled seeing a tv production recently of Terry Gilliam‘s production of Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust that had struck a number of nerves.

By some process that I haven’t quite analysed yet this has become the thought that the way I’m currently writing the story in my head can also be interpreted as the protagonist having only a fairly tenuous grasp on reality – blurring the real with the unreal and the maybe real… and that will, I hope, also help propel me through what may be some pretty stream of consciousness writing for the first draft that the competition is aiming to produce…

It is of course a totally different view and interpretation of the main character than the way I’m currently writing him in the main story – and yet I can already see a way to bridge the gap with debate on reality, mental health, treatment, acceptance, healing and redemption.

I think I’m setting myself some pretty tall targets to hit, but then I’m already trying to write a novel in one month – so if there’s any chance of a failure, why not make it a spectacular thing to watch and learn from the mistakes?

And of course, having had my own experiences with depression in the past, I have some small fuel and sympathy that I can add to the mix for my poor confused creation. I just have to make sure that this doesn’t turn into an open mic therapy session 🙂

Character Sketch – Tomas

One of the joys of having a headcold and a heavy winter duvet on the bed is that occasionally bizarre character ideas jump out to say hello. I’ve just woken this morning to find this character scampering around:

Tomas, the Summoner, lives in a world of his own at the best of times – but his quiet bookish insanities are contagious, with a sly humour that reaches out and slaps you upside the head just when you’re getting comfortable.
Tomas is unremarkable to look at. You probably wouldn’t think twice about him if you met him in the supermarket or while waiting at the bus stop; you would remember his friends though.
We all have imaginary friends when we are children. Most are kind and gentle, some are malicious or mischievous but at the time we believe in them absolutely. Tomas never grew out of that stage – and he can make you believe in them too.
Tomas’ friends will do anything for him, and are often modelled on famous or historical people. They aren’t the spirits of the dead however, neither are they supernatural entities as such – rather they are summoned wholesale from his subconscious, given form in the viewer’s eye through telepathy and substance through telekinesis.
These friends are phantoms of his own mind’s eye, writ large with a childlike incomprehension that perhaps betrays a sly sense of humour.
His Alexander the Great is a giant of a man; his Han Solo looks like his actor does today, forever bickering with a balding and overweight wookie; his Maggie Thatcher is made of iron, sprays milk from her fingertips and is very kind to minors…

There are of course at least two fictional forerunners of this character that I can think of: Madman in Simon R Green’s Nightside novels, and Kid Eternity from DC Comics. The idea of the eternal child whose imaginary friends have substance is one that crops up in the X-Files and any one of a number of Hollywood films such as Poltergeist and with Halloween nearly here perhaps that’s as appropriate a film as any to use as an example.
I think I may have to use Tomas in my nanowrimo effort this year – interesting too that the autocorrect on my phone tries to turn nanowrimo into ‘banished’, so on that note I’ll draw veils across our view of The Summoner and move on.