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: The Approach

The house was in good condition, with well-maintained greenery and a healthy hawthorne bush trained around the length of the front garden wall. The spikes and shoulders height span were neatly trimmed so as not to snag passers-by. He knew from personal experience how painful it would be to push through.

There was a lot of folklore surrounding hawthorne. Depending on who you asked it was sacred to elves, or fairies, or proof against witches or anything else that went bump in the night. When pressed however, even the most ardent occultist would admit it was usually just planted as a very good deterrent against burglars. If the occasional goblin or young child got snagged in it, well that was just a bonus.

Not being either of the latter, Quiller instead opened the gate, and after securing it behind him walked up the garden path to the front door. If he was as paranoid as Dyers had claimed he could have spent more time looking for problems or traps, but he felt that the odds of there being mantraps or tripwires lying in wait for delivery companies were fairly long.

When he reached the porch without incident, or even being blinded by a security light, he felt justified in that belief.

Fiction Fragment: Street Scene

They eased their way out of the tavern’s door in ones and twos so as not to wake anyone sleeping in the common area. Bustling noises from the kitchen area suggested a breakfast would be forthcoming soon, but the prospect of fresh air untainted by sleeping body odours was a strong lure, at least until windows could be opened and more wholesome aromas allowed to circulate. There were benches and tables outside on the pavement, so at least they wouldn’t have to sit on the floor or lounge against walls like louche street thugs.

The bells were ringing in the morning in the distance – from Guildhalls and churches, libraries and public buildings the carillions blended and merged to form snatches of recognisable tunes obscured by distance and the mundane domestic sounds of the start of a new day. Carts were already beginning to make their way to market, or to deliver to any one of the many shops in this metropolis. A half-elf was brushing the road clear outside the bakery next door, his blue apron stained with flour from his early start. A dwarf in the livery of a courier service was directing envelopes from his wheeled case to doorways with a flick of a wand – messages and small parcels flying to letterboxes with quiet efficiency.

A gentle breeze scented with the smell of frying bacon wafted past and lifted the additional warmth of fresh bread from the bakery, and in that moment the travellers knew it was going to be a good day.

Short Story: The Dance

Anna danced in the snow, her heart as light as the footsteps of her partner. Round and round the stones she went, their path weaving in loops and curves. Snow fell, but she barely felt the cold. She was buoyed on delight and a song only she and her partner could hear.

They danced on and on, faster then slower, to no discernible style. Some steps wafted like a waltz, others more sharply akin to the tango. Featherlight snowflakes dusted her skin and settled on her eyelashes, highlighting the growing ruddiness of her cheeks.

She didn’t feel the burn of the growing chill, or pay attention to the growing fuzziness of her thoughts. Her eyes were fixed on her suitor, her mind on the dance that swept away everything else in the world beyond the glorious moment she was in.

They found her huddled body the next morning at the foot of the fallen stone called the long man. Her eyes were still open, twinkling in the frost that glazed her. Her bare feet were raw, blood staining the snows where her feet had passed in intricate delicate swirls that suggested a pattern maddeningly just beyond perception. No one knew where she’d come from, or why she was there, and the locals didn’t comment on how there was only one set of footprints that led up to and around the stones.

Short Fiction: The Briefing

Larellon looked up when the shadow of the new arrival crossed the threshold of his bivouac. He completed the pass of the whetstone along the edge of his hunting blade before speaking however.

“Rest a while if you please, or pass along if you will. I am Larellon of the Windsigh Rovers.”

“Hi!” Came the cheery response. The Moon Elf sighed and put his tools down.

“Good morning Cathedrin, what are you after?” Larellon disguised his irritation with the Summer Elf and reached for a bottle of spirits in the open pack beside him.

“Morning Larellon! I’m off to see Blind Betty up in the caves; I’m already late and the heavies she sent said she was threatening to cut bits of me off if I didn’t go right now, so I was wandering along and got distracted by a tentacle beast in the pond out the back of that old log shaped like a crocodile – and fun though that was for a while I did think I’d rather not lose anything I might miss later -”

“Do you ever breathe, Cathedrin?” He interrupted her characteristic babbling. Like many of her type, Cathedrin was flighty in mind, mannerism, and concentration. Some found it endearing, at least until she’d relieved them of their wallet, possessions, or will to live.

“Hmm? Oh yes.” She grinned. “Anyway I was just wondering – I’ve never met her before, and I know you’re through here on patrol quite often, which -” she stopped as Larellon raised an eyebrow. “Right, yes, anyway – what’s she like?”

Larellon considered the question a moment and chose his words carefully.

“She’s okay, for a human, not someone who likes being kept waiting, probably not someone you want to annoy.”

“Oh, okay! Thanks then! See you in a bit, though don’t think I haven’t seen that bottle of – no, okay, on the way back then, my that’s a shiny knife!”

Larellon refrained from rolling his eyes, and instead went back to preparing his blades for use. His own briefing with Blind Betty had been productive.

After some time, he heard the whisper-scuffle of Cathedrin’s hurried return.

“I thought you said she was human!”

“She is.”

“No she isn’t, she’s got at least six arms and I think she had fangs! She threw a knife at me!”

“Hmm. I thought she was human. She’s not an elf anyway. Did she give you a job?”

“Yes! And you knew about it already! I’m to come with you and steal something called a Star Tear. She threatened to cut my ear tips off!”

“Well she did ask for you a year ago. So, are you ready? I’ve got your bag ready, and some spare candy.”

“Yay! This is going to be the best!”

Short Story: No Bright Ideas Please

Somewhere on the other side of the mirror is a world made of petrified pain; and there The Regent sits on a stool before a picture of his Yellow King’s Palace. He dreams of Carcosa, and around him the distillation of all the pain felt in our world is eroded by ceaseless winds.

There are no other inhabitants of that bleak place, but the dust storms shriek in borrowed tongues. They bear aloft the ground down screams of abraded fear to sandblast new tormented shapes from the landscape; and yet The Regent seems unaware and uncaring of its surroundings.

It’s not even a nice place to visit, and you certainly wouldn’t want to live there. That’s almost certainly why some bright spark seems to keep coming up with the bright idea of hiding things there every now and then.

It never goes well. Even if a passage through to that place can be opened, the scouring winds prevent flight or rapid movement, gumming up and stripping away exposed mechanisms and flesh alike. Then there’s the sheer crushing weight of the world’s pain on the soul of anyone stepping through; and of course there’s also The Regent.

We have an ornate mirror that we keep under lock and key, covered in cloth and dust. Every time some new researcher or poorly briefed civil servant suggests using it we bring them to it and show them the piles of corroded machinery and calcified skeletons in the bleached harshness of the landscape it shows.

Then we give them a business card to keep and contemplate. It bears a simple motto only visible to people who have looked through the mirror. “Thou Shalt Not Feed the Nameless Horrors. It Only Encourages Them.”

Short Story: See What’s There

The first time I met Dorian, I was hiding in the branches of a holly tree, tucked in a space at its centre behind the sharp leaves. I was hiding from the elves who had taken to playing in the wide fields beyond the edge of our garden. If that sounds a wonderful thing, then you’ve never seen elves play.

They are curious about how things are put together, but they define any living creature that isn’t an elf as a thing. While they are creatures that provoke wonder, you don’t want them to play with you. They had, just on this afternoon alone, taken apart a wheelbarrow, the remains of an old bedstead, a family of squirrels, and my pet rabbit when he escaped his cage run and squirmed over the stones of the low boundary wall.

The other problem was that the fields at the end of my garden weren’t always there, so telling my parents or indeed any other grown-ups about the elves was difficult as they weren’t there when I dragged anyone along who would listen.

The elves knew I was there. When my parents turned their backs on the wall to tell me off again about wasting their time I would see their faces in the trees and bushes. They would smile, revealing sharp teeth in wide mouths, and beckon to me. My parents thought I was trying to hide tears of childish remorse rather than tears of terror.

The doctors told me it wasn’t real, and I really wanted to believe them. I tried to agree with them and deny what was right in front of me, but I know they could tell I was lying to them. They wanted to give me pills, but my parents refused to let them, and I wasn’t sure if in that moment I loved or hated them more for it.

So there I was, hiding in the holly bush one afternoon because the elves were right next to the wall and I didn’t want them to take me away to play. I could smell the copper taste of fear, adrenaline, and blood in the air and felt frozen in place.

And Dorian walked into the garden, accompanied by my parents. I didn’t know who he was of course, he was just a tall thin grown-up in a suit, with short hair and a slightly floppy fringe. My parents were talking to him in the serious way they did with the doctors which told me everything I thought I needed to know; and he was nodding in that slow way the doctors did.

He looked straight at me, through the camoflage of the holly tree, and then did something the doctors never did. He winked at me. Then he did something no other adult had. He looked at the elves, and he frowned.

And you know what? The elves looked at him, and took a step back from the wall. They’d never done that before.

My parents retreated back towards the house. They were still in the garden, but far enough away to give us space. That’s why, when Dorian waved to me, I crawled back out onto the lawn and went over to him.

“You see them?” I said, and I couldn’t keep the suspicion from my voice.

“Oh yes,” he said, in a soft voice that made me think of my mum’s voice when tucking me in bed at night, ” and they’re not going to frighten you any more. Promise.” He held his hand out to me and after a glance at my parents, I took it.

The world shivered a little around us as we turned to look at the fields and the elves in it. The sun and clouds looked different on their side of the wall, more like a Summer’s day than the early Spring that kept threatening rain.

“They want to play because you can see them. It’s not something that many people remember how to do when they’re not babies any more. You’re right not to trust them though.”

“They’re horrible. I don’t want to see them any more.” I said. The elves were watching us, hands resting on the hilts of their wicked knives. Dorian crouched down to talk to me, face to face.

I can make them go away, or I can make sure you don’t see them again. Which would you prefer?”

“Are you going to give me medicine? Is there something wrong with me like the other doctors said?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, no. You’re better at paying attention and seeing what’s really going on if that’s any better?” For some reason I just felt that I could trust him. I nodded, slowly.

“They’re scary.”

“Yes they are. Hiding in the holly bush was a good idea. There used to be hawthorn bushes along that fence weren’t there? I’ll tell your parents to plant new ones. Now, how about we tell them to go away?”

“They won’t listen.” I’d tried shouting at them before. It never worked. Dorian smiled at me.

“They’ll listen to me. Trust me.” The strange thing is, I did. I gripped his hand as tight as ten year old me could. He looked across at them. “Hey! Longshanks, Knifenose, and Prettyboy! You know who I am, so go away. The wall’s going back up and you don’t want to get caught in it.”

There was a moment where I thought they were going to come and get us, and I really needed to go to the loo all of a sudden. I crossed my legs. The shiver in the air around us got stronger, making me feel like we were a plucked guitar string.

“Don’t make me call the missus.” I heard him say, and then, just like that, the shiver stopped, the field was gone, and so were the elves and the blood. Rain had started to fall at some point, so we all went back indoors and I was properly introduced to Dorian, who had been hired as my counsellor.

My parents did replant the hawthorn bushes after that, and the elves and the field never came back. Nonetheless, Dorian and I did talk about the elves, or at least about my memories of them and how they had faded like old dreams over the following weeks.

He’s teaching me how to focus on what’s really there and to tell the difference between that and what most other people see, but I’m not noticing the difference much these days. Dorian always seems a little sad around the eyes when I say that, but mum and dad are happier that I’m not seeing things any more, so that’s what’s important.

Isn’t it?

Short Story: Fairy Lights

If you ever doubted the efficiency with which the Department of Metanatural Affairs cracks down on attempts to bring back a Mythic Age, you need look no further at what has become a fashion for draping trees in strings of fairy lights.

While pretty, and in some cases a simple means of drawing attention to features in public spaces, the strings of lights were in fact first used to bind the rogue dryad Belefegene and her sisters when she started devouring students in the Old Great Deer Park Massacre about ten years ago.
People had of course been stringing lights in trees for years before that, but it was typically in Christmas trees or as part of short lived art projects. The modern configuration of lights now widely sold across the country uses some innovative braiding based on ancient Celtic knotwork that combines energy efficiency with supernatural warding.

It was devised under rather tight deadlines by field agents sent to bring the carnivorous coppices to heel, or at least prevent them from ruining Her Majesty’s celebrations and kicking off some unfortunate diplomatic incidents at the events planned for later in the week in the vicinity.

By the time the honoured guests and dignitaries arrived on the scene, the dryads had been contained in an avenue of trees surrounded by delicate lights that gently illuminated the entrance to the pavilions. Casualties on both sides had been minimal – some bumps and bruises, abraded bark and bent branches.

Agreements were made between the Human and Seelie Courts that the dryads would serve their sentences in situ, and the aesthetics of the display inspired decorators and field agents alike. The Seelie Court declined to comment on how they would detain any field agents pursuing an active pogrom against Law-abiding dryads, and so a gentle peace re-started.

So when you’re in a pub garden and see a well tree-surgeoned trunk, adorned with many loops of lights, when there’s no particular celebration due – it may be a plant elemental doing community service, so don’t go carving your name on it.

The Seelie Court is even less forgiving of vandals than human courts

Short Story: The Plan

The stories of the Fae are not so different from the ones we tell our own children, although the focus can be somewhat odd to our eyes. To them, we are invaders to their lands; an alien and brutish form of life that is utterly inimical to their way of life. They feel that we are disconnected from the web that they feel between all natural things; and it is not entirely impossible that they are correct.

Humanity has its tales of terrors in the night, stolen babies, and the flint arrowheads on the chalk downs that bring disease and misery. The Gentry, or Fair Folk, are titles used to placate and ward off attention. Humans would rather believe that a fancy title or term of flattery will make the fae walk by than accept that to many we are as low as any other beast in the field.

The Fae, for their part, spin stories of their fearless resistance fighters who mounted raids, stole away livestock to feed their families, and drove off the invaders who tortured the land with their harsh iron blades. At least, those are the treasured tales told these days as they live in humanity’s shadows. The concrete overlaying what were green fields, and the metal that binds every building and settlement have sundered the fae from their connections.

It would be a dangerous assumption to think that they are defeated. The war has just evolved. Many of the myriad types of entity that fall under the fae banner are incredibly long-lived, and think nothing of waiting a few centuries for the iron to rust, or to change the battlefield. Many of those entities are close enough in appearance to pass for human too, so infiltration is surprisingly easy.

And so, with arcane sleight of hand, and the complex truths that bind the unwary, some fae have moved beyond simply kidnapping children and replacing them with changelings. They have married, mingled, birthed the half-breeds. And over the generations, those families have then spread, and mingled further, and let the blurring of lines between humanity and fae take hold.

Only a select few of these half-breeds have even been taught their heritage, the better to infiltrate the hated enemy. The minds behind the scheme have no compunction against sacrificing a few generations of mixed blood to get their pieces in place to access the levers of power and influence. Let the humans think themselves enemies of other tribes, they think, and steer the world back from the ruins they leave when they are gone.

Short Story: The Last Confession

The old house had been the subject of whispered teenage lore for as long as anyone could remember. Every town seems to have one somewhere: the slightly dilapidated property that somehow carries a gloom in the brightest afternoon, and that everyone swears is haunted.

Everyone of course knows that such a thing isn’t possible, but the lure of a good haunting is like the pull of a good story: your mind just wants to pick it over a little more like that loose tooth you had when you were eight or nine that you couldn’t leave alone.

It was obvious that someone lived there. There were glimmers of light through dirty panes of glass; and every now and then someone hired a gardener to try and tame the grounds, or at least keep the grass and weeds trimmed. You might be forgiven for thinking that this would lessen the mystery – after all, who was paying for the groundsman would be a reasonable question.

When Gary asked his dad about it, seeing as his father was an estate agent, a little digging revealed the grounds were being maintained on behalf of a company who had bought the property quite some time ago from the previous owner: Harold Jenning.

Now, this was a name to conjure chills for people whose families had lived in the area for more than a few years. His greediness and contempt for the truth had been legendary in his time, leading to collapsed court cases, ruined careers, and shattered reputations as the newspaper owner had tightened his grip as his business holdings widened.

Even some fifty years after his sudden fall from grace and disappearance from the public eye, the Jenning name was one that caused scowls and dark muttering if it appeared in connection with case law or business contracts. Every few years, some new example of his dealings seemed to come to light; refreshing the memory of those still living here and caught in the lasting consequences of his actions.

What continued to astonish people and that filtered down even to the young teenagers, was how each fresh uncovering of documents or rumours seemed to create a new scandal, rather than just shed additional light on existing facts. People would find hidden caches in old properties, or filed in strange locations. Sometimes people would seem to spontaneously remember old documents, or would find them mixed in old family papers.

Harold’s mysterious disappearance had been put down to his fleeing ahead of some unknown calamity that had never come to light. Gary said his dad had mentioned problems with a bank and some bearer bonds that had gone astray. Janet relayed half-whispered stories of how gangsters had chased him out of town.

Ken, troublemaker that he was, had leant forward across their campfire that night and said:

“Maybe he’s still up there?”

It was one of those stupid things he was wont to say just to get a rise out of people. Nevertheless, the thought fell on fertile soil, or at least into the imagination of three bored teenagers with clandestinely procured cider in their bellies.

“Don’t be daft – he’d be over a hundred by now – and besides, there’s no power or deliveries there, my dad said so.” Gary was always keen to assert some form of authority whenever Ken started up. If pushed, neither would admit it, but they had reached that precarious age of noticing that Karen wasn’t just one of the boys. Ken was as quick to retaliate as ever:

“In that case there’s no reason not to check is there? Bet you we could slip in there, take photos – or are you scared his ghost will get you?”

“It’ll be locked up, there’s no such thing as ghosts.” Gary tried to act with nonchalance, but there was a catch in his voice.

“Bet you he died in there, and his bones are waiting in there along with all his money!” Ken had a ghoulish grin, mischief written all over his features.

“Ew, no way – if they’re looking after the grounds, they’d have noticed.” Gary wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Then there’s nothing to be frightened of is there?” Ken delivered his masterstroke with maddening calm.

“Come on then,” said Karen, “let’s settle it, it’s only down the road, we can be there and back before anyone missed us!” She smiled like a princess realising she had the casting vote. There was no way either boy would gainsay her, not without losing face or risking her favour.

Buoyed up on nerves, alcohol, and suppressed sexual tension, the teenagers made their way along to the house. Their bottles were clutched under their jackets, and they walked with the exaggerated care that the truly drunk believe hides all trace of intoxication.

The house was as dark as ever from the street, although the street lights seemed to reflect more fully in some windows than others. The grass was freshly mown, it’s scent thick in the early evening air. It was this detail that decided them in the end.

“The gardener’s gone now. No one’ll be back today, and look, there’s no alarm!” Ken jumped the low wall and started to walk around the property. Karen looked at Gary, shrugged, and followed him. Faced with the choice of staying behind and leaving them alone together, he hurried after them both.

By the time he caught up, they were by the back door, and Ken was trying the handle. It was locked. He looked at them and shrugged.

“Well, I had to try. How about that window Gary?” He pointed to a small window that had been left partly ajar. It was higher up, the top frame of a narrow window, but it looked big enough for someone to wriggle through.

They squabbled amongst themselves briefly before Gary was voted as best person for the job. Ken was enjoying taking the lead, and Karen had decided she wasn’t going to crawl anywhere if she could make one of the boys do it instead. So in the end Gary, with a bit of a bunk up from the others, wormed headfirst through the window, and into what turned out to be a downstairs toilet, filled with papers.

This, he felt, was a good thing, as they cushioned his descent to the floor below. The internal door was wedged shut, so after loudly stage-whispering what he’d found to the others, he worked swiftly to clear enough space.

The pieces of paper were covered in scrawled handwriting in a dark blue ink, all seemingly in the same style. He took a glance at one or two while clearing the door, but they seemed to be rambling stories in no particular order. The name Harold appeared on one of them, and he stuffed it in his pocket for later, as proof he’d been here.

Gary quickly got into the next room, a kitchen by what he could tell, but this too was covered in stacks of paper. He tried not to dislodge any, a sudden fear of being crushed nagging at him, and found the key in the lock. He turned it, shot open the bolts, and eased the portal open.

He caught a glimpse of the two of them moving suddenly apart, as if startled, and frowned as jealousy stabbed at him. Perhaps a little more curtly than he intended, he beckoned to them, and led the way back in. Ken was smiling, but that soon changed to disbelief at the sight of the room beyond.

Karen looked into the next room while they got their bearings, and reported that it was the same there. Everywhere they looked, there was the same handwriting and the same paper, layer on layer, in piles and drifts obscuring everything. Ken joked that the only reason half the furniture hadn’t collapsed was that it was still being held up by more papers.

Every now and then, as they moved through the house, they would look at different papers and read out snippets. They all seemed to be about Harold Jenning, or possibly by Harold Jenning, as the tone and style and subject seemed to leap around like a grasshopper. The beginning of a page might discuss some dry technical detail of a transaction of some sort, before becoming an impassioned please to some unknown person.

The light was still sufficient from outside that they didn’t even stop to discuss whether or not they were going upstairs. Mindful of the ever-present stacks of paper, they made their way up to the landing and along to a closed door, under which could be seen a light.

Barely daring to breathe, the trio approached, but couldn’t hear anything above the sound of their own deafening heartbeats. The sudden sound of a voice therefore made them each cry out, ruining any chance of avoiding discovery.

“Come in! It’s not locked! I heard you downstairs you know!” The voice sounded thin but firm, inviting no dissent. It was Karen who opened the door and decided to brazen it out. The boys, after a moment of paralysing indecision, followed in her wake.

The room beyond was beautiful. It was lined with books, and lit with candles that were carefully placed away from the drifts of paper that cascaded from the desk at the heart of the study.

A man, thin to the point of emaciation, dressed in fine but outdated clothing that hung off him, was seated at the desk. He was writing constantly, barely sparing the teenagers a glance.

“You know who I am.” He stated. He finished the sheet of paper and without hesitation switched to a fresh one. The finished paper slid unheeded to the floor.

“Harold Jenning.” Said Karen. She had picked up one of the fresher pieces from the floor and was scanning it.

“That’s right. They promised me life and fame. Write, they said, confess your sins, spin new truths, and you will live forever and never be forgotten.” He sounded proud, but oh so tired.

“Who did? Everyone thinks you’re dead.” Ken had found his tongue again, though the expression on his face suggested he wished he hadn’t.

“The Gentle Ones. They came to me when I foreclosed on my father. He couldn’t face life any more, he was weak. Then they came to me, the three women.” He kept writing, always writing, whatever happened, his pen kept scratching on the paper.

Gary looked at the paper that had most recently fallen to the floor. It was barely legible, a stream of consciousness description that meandered across the page. He recognised all three of them in the narrative in his hand.

“The Gentle Ones?” He asked. Half forgotten stories from Classical Civilisation lessons were stirring in his memory.

“The Eumenides” Harold croaked. His eyes seemed to lose focus. They said my lies had murdered my father, and only my truth could save me. If I write the truth, I live. The moment I stop, I will die, and my soul will be judged.” He kept writing.

“And you’ve been here all this time?” Asked Gary. “Is that where the new documents keep coming from?”

“They come sometimes, and take things away to make space. Is that how you know me? Are my good deeds remembered?”

“No,” said Karen. Her parents still told tales of how their grandparents had suffered for this man’s cruelty. “No, you are a figure of fun, of jokes, of a lesson not to be repeated. Any good you did is long gone.”

The scritch of the pen continued. “Is that true? I had hoped…” His thin voice trailed off. “I’m so tired.”

“Then stop,” said Karen. “This isn’t a life, is it? And your legacy is gone. Just… Stop.”

“Yeah,” said Gary. Then he ran out of words. The old man was nodding.

“I think, I think I’d like to rest now. I haven’t slept, I haven’t eaten, I haven’t moved from this room… I don’t know how long. I’m sorry.” He said this last to the air rather than to the teenagers. “If there is to be judgement, well maybe this is enough punishment.”

The scratch of the pen on paper stopped. Harold bent forward to rest his head on his arms; and as simply as that he was no more. A shadow seemed to fill the room.

“Guys?” Ken said; and without pause they ran, knocking piles of paper aside as light flared behind them, redolent with smoke and blood. They ran as if the Furies themselves were in pursuit, and perhaps they were, or perhaps they ran alongside. When they reached the road and looked back, the house was full of flames.

They stood and watched as the fire consumed Harold Jenning and all his sins, and no one called the fire brigade.