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.

Fiction Fragment: Misheard

“I’ve got a cracked sole” Ben heard Roger say, behind him.

“There’s a place on the High Street can fix that”, he said. He turned to ask how bad it was.

“I think you misheard me. I’m not sure a cobbler’s going to be enough to sort this out”, said the wavering hole in space, as tendrils began to write through the gap.

Ben started to back away, and heard the door open. A new voice said “Hi! Oh! I guess I’ve come at a bad moment – shall I come back later?”

“No”, said the void-that-used-to-be-Roger, “this won’t take long.”

Fiction Fragment – Meltdown

We watched through sound-proof toughened glass at the prisoner while the speakers inside the cell played. By the third iteration of the Cassilda-Zahn melodic progressions his internal skin structures were already starting to rupture and break down in hazy overlapping layers that obscured his features the more he struggled with the restraints. The Hyadic interludes that came shortly after acted as a mild paralytic that made the prisoner’s dissolution into undifferentiated plasma and slime laced with bony spheres all the more disturbing.

The sluices came on shortly after to wash the sludge away, and the bony remnants rolled into gulleys at the edges of the room like billiard balls. The implied threat wasn’t even particularly implied as we were marched on our way past the gallery with its rows and rows of bone decorations on shelves.

Fiction Fragment: Seer

My mind is paralysed. Too many variables and possibilities flood through me, each pushed aside before they can fully form by the pressure of what is trying to clamour for my attention before it too is pushed aside.

Phantom chills and warmth, shocks and peace, all wrap around each other like a dark tunnel constricting my thoughts in a silent stillness behind my aching eyes. I should be panicking, but the calmness threads through like veins pulsing in the storm with my heartbeat and the whole feels strangely familiar.

Then I blink, and move, and breathe, and try to shake it off as quickly as it arrived. The future is clear and laid out before me like a roadmap – or at least the stepping stones are clear, even as the details are fading as soon as I pay attention to them. I try not to focus on the traitorous details to keep the sense of certainty for as long as possible.

I pick up my phone and key in a number I’d forgotten I knew, because the person at the end of the line has the answer I need to change things. This is what being a seer is.

Fiction Fragment: Best Laid Plans

I’m sitting in a coffee place, and this little fragment that may end up in the book came tumbling out:

I phoned Kay to see how she was getting on with the grimoires, and to let her know we were going to try our luck at the house. As ever she was the voice of reason and pointed out it was “the middle of the bloody night,” and asked “what part of Powers of Darkness is failing to register” in my plans.

If you ever wonder why I love that woman, I give you Exhibit A in her continuing struggle to get in my way of becoming a horror story case study.