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: A Seer’s Lament

I miss the old days sometimes. I’m not talking about the current mess that is modern life, because let’s face it there’s always something new and frightening. I’m harking back to before I stepped through the veil and saw the world as it is.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again in a heartbeat: looking out over the estate from my balcony and watching air sprites chasing each other round the rooftops and drainpipes will never get boring. I just sometimes wish I could hear something fall and clatter somewhere in the flat late at night and believe there isn’t a lonely ghost begging for some attention.

I know, woe is me, talk about spirit-world problems (do you see what I did there?) I hear it all the time from my peers and close ones: just get on with life and accept that you just have a view of a world that is infinitely weirder than most would ever credit. I get all that, I just sometimes long for it all to be a bit simpler. If nothing else I wouldn’t be up and down so much in the night.

For a while, I reckoned myself something of a magician with all this insight. I mistook being able to see things and take to them for being able to push the universe along the paths I wanted. I thought I knew it all, and on reflection that got people hurt when the universe pushed back.

The problem with being a seer is that it doesn’t preclude the requirement to take a good long hard look at yourself every now and then. It’s kind of implied in the job title.

Fiction Fragment: Quiet Please

Few places are as simultaneously comforting and intimidating at once as a good library – or indeed an evil one, come to think of it. The shelves of books are an immovable presence radiating both the call of old friends, and the uncertain promise of new people met at a rather sedate party. Either way you’re not entirely certain as to what will happen next.

The bustle of libraries, full of children, has been firmly quenched in these covid lockdown days, and more’s the pity. Instead we have a return to the deep silence that has always underpinned these places. Despite the faint traffic noise that sometimes murmurs and hisses in the background there is now a quiet and stillness that some find unnerving.

Those who remark on it sometimes say that the silence is expectant, and it makes them want to fill that awful void in an otherwise frenetic soundscape. I think that tells us as much about how uncomfortable they are with their thoughts in the quiet as any statement by the librarians; even if that statement is a simple “Shhhhhh!”

Fiction Fragment – Construction Blues

Grinding noises filled the air before he even arrived at the library. A large scale building project seemed to be doing its best to envelop and absorb the older brick building like some predatory amoeba. The concrete bones of the towering new buildings were in the process of being dressed in brickwork similar to that of the library in anticipation of their windows and doors being installed. Scaffolding was liberally draped around everything in sight, and even buttressed against the older building across flattened roof spaces visible from the road.

The library building definitely seemed to be enduring the outrage with a suppressed eye-roll expression. Sounds of metal grinding through brick and concrete dominated everything and echoed off the surrounding buildings. Below that you could hear the thrum of generators and the hiss of compressed air escaping, while loud steady beeping noises told of reversing vehicles somewhere nearby.

The hope that this would ease as he walked through the doors was quickly dashed. Even inside the walls of what should have been a haven of peace the loud rattle of metal overlaid everything else. He was surprised not to see any cracks in the walls or visible vibrations in the shelving. Perhaps, he mused, the books were acting as a shock absorber, protecting their housing the only way they could. A glance out the nearby window gave the context to that noise at least: caterpillar tracks on diggers as they ground and inched their way around the site. A sign could be seen fixed to a nearby wall. It read “What is reading if not a silent conversation? – Walter Savage Landor” Librarian humour.

He paused and and took in the pinched expressions and weary smiles of the staff in the face of the encroaching construction noise. It wasn’t stopping them from engaging with their customers with what looked like genuine enthusiasm.

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.

Fiction Fragment: Border Time

Gerald Thorne sat in his study, running the thin silver chain links flow between his ink-stained fingers. He was aware of the soft rumble of the traffic outside, but it was the patient ticking of the clock that held his attention. The clock itself was on the marble mantelpiece behind him. It’s mechanism ran smoothly with gentle winding every week or so, and it had travelled with him everywhere that it had been practical to take it.

It had been a present upon his graduation decades ago. It’s simple ornamentation was classic in its beauty. It had always kept perfect time, except for under certain esotoric conditions.

With the thick drapes excluding the outside world, and the only light coming from thick candles either end of his desk, the scene had a timeless quality that seemed gathered and layered, condensed even. The steady ticking of the clock continued to slice that timelessness into even segments that fell away into eternity.

He looked and trickled the chain links from one hand to the palm of the other slowly, back and forth in time with the clock. The silver gleamed in the candle light like water catching the evening sun. The moment of dusk was near: the border time, the boundary of night and day. The procession of seconds continued, each as unremarkable as the next as Gerald’s awareness of the outside world faded and focused on the moment.

The clock skipped a second. And then another. All was silent. Gerald gripped the silver chain, and then he heard the click of a dog’s claws on the vinyl flooring outside the door.

Fiction Fragment: Shapes

The shapes and shadows flowed round and through each other. They twisted and built, circling and lengthening before unravelling and contracting in a constant rhythm. Even in the contractions there was a promise of growth as the eye came to expect a new explosion of evolving complexity with each breath and cycle.

Intimations of an organic centre began recurring in the shapes within moments. They suggested limbs, then the curve of musculature before the next collapse and intricate new pattern’s birth.

Then, without warning, there was a humanoid form standing there in the space; the patterns of shapes still wildly mutating and shifting from moment to moment but now always to reinforce the base pattern of two arms, two legs, a torso and a head of indeterminate form.

Fiction Fragment: The Carving

It was so out of place that it somehow blended into being totally unremarkable. Among the general clutter of folded chairs and awning material, small tables and gardening tools it stood proud against the house wall. It was five foot in height, of which half was essentially a rough-hewn if polished stand, and then a life-like wood carving of an eagle in repose that emerged from the log that formed the whole piece.

It gazed serenely across the sloping lawn toward the treeline, past the grazing sheep. Every feather was detailed finely enough that you might almost expect the breeze to ruffle them on its way up from the valley. Only the wood’s natural colours and grains shone through, and yet they matched what you might expect an eagle’s brown plumage to be so well that when it turned its head to look at me there was no shock beyond an instinctive sense of wonder.

The living carving regarded me with an unblinking stare, seemingly more curious than alarmed. Nonetheless I decided against getting any nearer than I already was either to it or to the door handle and lock next to it.

All in all, it was the most beautiful and subtle magical alarm I’d ever seen, and all I needed to work out now was if its owner and its creator were the same person. All without getting my hand bitten off, for preference. Perhaps there was another way in.