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.

Fiction Fragment: A Taste for Wonder

“The world is a place of wonder that doesn’t care if it is observed or not. Rivers flow and trees fall in woods whether or not anyone is there to witness. Sunrises don’t mind if anyone is awake; and clouds just get on with being part of the water cycle. It’s only when soppy humans get involved that the value judgements start: ‘Oh wow, that rainbow is beautiful’ carries as much weight as how icky it is to see that decomposing animal, or be uncomfortable about the rain trickling down my neck, or ‘how dare that virus kill all my herds and hit my profit margins?’

All of these things may be felt simultaneously by the same farmer in one field in the most breathtaking hillside view – and none of them are mutually exclusive or any more or less valid a manifestation of the complexity and wonder of this world. Wonders don’t have to be, and frequently are not, intrinsically beneficial or pleasant.


Do I sound jaded? A little distant perhaps? I don’t think I am, but I do get tired of hearing the same old exclamations and crying.” The dragon paused to take a sip of his martini and glanced around the bar. Nobody was paying any attention to us. That said, it was a Friday evening in Canary Wharf so not only was the bar packed but it was full of conversations about money and expensive toys. As far as anyone else was concerned we were just a couple more folks in the bar lucky enough to have grabbed seats and a table; and that probably meant we’d been there all afternoon.


I’d better explain. There was a distinct lack of scales, teeth, and fire breathing on view. Craddoc found they got in the way of running a Fortune 500 company, so only let his wings out at the weekend when he flew home to the valleys, or if he’d decided to work from home while moulting. He’d never revealed where home was exactly and I suspect it wasn’t exactly a converted farmhouse. We both left it as something not to be discussed and were both the happier for it.


“Anyway, my dear Dorian, what I’m trying to say to you is that it is a pleasure to see you again, for you are as wonderful to me as the sunlight on the Thames and the shadows beneath Tower Bridge.” His amber eyes seemed to twinkle with reflections of the sun off the skyscrapers outside but I’d long ago learnt to not look him directly in the eye. Just because he wasn’t trying to eat anyone right now, didn’t mean I had to tempt fate more than I usually do.


“Well, thank you Craddoc for putting me in my cosmic place. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s morn or the dew on a rose or would an avalanche seen from afar be a better analogy?” You do have to have a certain lack of regard for your own skin to tease a dragon, but I’d learnt that he did enjoy barbs that showed an appreciation of his wordplay.

Audio Reading Version:

Short Story: The Voice

One of the secrets that both literature and films would have us believe is that magic is a matter of knowing and speaking ancient languages. An extra corollary of this is that any such magical curses or writings will mysteriously be able to be translated perfectly into a modern day idiom and set of rhymes even though all language drifts and warps in tone and usage by way of slang and cultural references.

The secret is that such ancient forms of language are a key for the reader’s brain to process and operate in a correct fashion so as to manifest the expected results. By forcing the brain to process concepts in a given way, shortcuts can be taken in exercising will. Most people reading from grimoires and crumbling texts are therefore effectively using a fixed “off the shelf” means of creating an effect.

This is where the concept of the classics enters – your fireballs and magical missiles, spells of invisibility and illusionary faces, and the summoning and banishment of ghosts, ghoulies, and other things that go bump in the night.

With familiarity comes assumption and, dare I say it, laziness. Everyone ‘knows’ you use dead languages like Latin to make things happen. They rarely stop to wonder why Ancient Rome wasn’t consumed in fire or by demonic forces during the course of day to day conversation in the average marketplace.

Here’s where the second part of the puzzle clicks into place. Rome didn’t implode because there was no intent behind the words to create magic effects. Well, largely because they thought you had to read from the secret texts of the Egyptians, Sumerians or Scythians. Are you spotting a trend yet?

So that’s what brings me back to the look of surprise on the mugger’s face when he found himself instantly obeying my command to “Drop it!” His knife was already falling from suddenly splayed and arthritic fingers before the pain registered. Magic gave the push to the voice of command.

He may have even dropped it in surprise without the curse’s bite. That’s one of the fun things about applying some common-sense assertiveness training and attitude. The hours spent practicing the mental gymnastics so that I could invoke the curse just add the sting and make it easier.

It’s one of the reasons that people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m a wizard, and I will never tire of being underestimated. Magic, as I keep telling people, is the art of lying – and I’m very good at it.

A Filthy Mind Is Good To Find

I was chatting about internal lives recently, especially where it comes to issues of attraction, and fantasy, as you do. Innuendo and sometimes not even single-entendres feature heavily in many of the conversations I have with partners and friends – so this always means keeping at least half an eye on boundaries.

You might think that this is particularly true with regard to some of my older colleagues, but as they spent some time trying to see if I was shockable I consider them fair game for as much veiled near-bone ribbing as possible. One of the great joys of getting older has been finding people generally not being particularly precious, or at least being more thick skinned. So while still remaining within the bounds of decency, the jokes and conversations and can and do get a little pointed.

So far so normal in general, but the real debate was around recognising the internalised tensions that some people have about recognising and owning attraction and boundaries. The conversation then meandered around the differences between ethical non-monogamy and cheating and how this informs mainstream representation of relationships in the media, such as the ubiquitous love triangle that always has polyam viewers wanting to throw things at the screen.

This belief that someone who is polyamorous will uncritically listen to and support someone in an affair is one of the major annoyances that I and my partners have encountered again and again.

Even with my hyperactive brain and ability to fall in love several times a day, I have no guilt over crushes and attractions – and I’m lucky enough in my dynamics that I can even mention them and it becomes a source of amusement or sometimes mutual quiet agreement where we fantasise out loud for a brief period before getting on with the day.

I long ago accepted that I have a filthy mind, and that fantasy is a strong element of my internal life. That’s just who I am. But breaking trust and hearts? Causing hurt? Why add to the cruelty of the world? It’s selfish and destructive.

It generally boils down to this: even if you can’t pin down where the line in the sand for your relationships is, you know when you’re crossing it. If you don’t know, then you need to have some sober conversations to check in and make sure you’ve agreed where those lines are.

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.