Friday, 31 October 2014

Pictonaut- Oct 2014 - Dance, Devil! Dance!

Another month, another pictonaut. This is the time of ghosts and goblins, and good old John the Crazy has given us a picture appropriate for the time of year. As ever, I started writing and then never stopped. I have so many ideas for this one that I think I'm going to NanoWrimo it (because I hate sleep!). Anyway, here is my story for this month, part 1 of a much larger project. Enjoy.


"Dance, Devil. Dance!
To Old Nick's pipes.
Don't look, don't look,
At his face of ghostly white.

Dance dance, Devil!
Hear hooves clip clip.
Don't look, don't look,
At the body made of stick.

Devil! Dance! Dance!
On eve hallowed.
Don't look, don't look,
Or he'll take away your soul."


Pound, pound, pound! Roland's heart thumped against his chest in rhythm to his tugs on the wooden board nailed firmly across his door. He had done all he could: the doors were boarded, the windows blacked out, the children in a peaceful, drug induced sleep, the luckily little bastards. Still, there was nothing he could do to quieten the anxiety, that open tap of adrenaline pouring straight into heart and brain. He would not sleep tonight, nor would anyone in town. With everything prepared and checked and checked again, Roland slumped his body, alert yet fatigued, against his barricaded front door and did the only thing he could do now, the only thing anyone with any intelligence in them would be doing tonight, and listened for the pipes.

In this eerie silence before it all began, Roland thought he could feel the hearts of all the village beating with his own, sounding out a tattoo to keep the pipes in time. All he was for this one night was his heart, his breath and his will. This was the same as ever, he supposed, but the reallisation of it now was immediate and raw, stripping away the hopeless fantasies of self importance, of power and control, which we protect ourselves with everyday. Breathe, eyes shut tight, stay alive; that was the whole world.

Sound began to creep its way through the cracks in Roland's walls, and he pushed his ear against the solid pine of his front door, made icy cools my thus autumn evening beyond. Don't look, he repeated to himself, don't look, just listen. Don't look! Roland listened for the pipes.

Something was wrong. At first, Roland refused to believe he own senses, and pushed his ear hard into the wooden door to prove his mistake. He strained to hear the pipes, he should have heard the pipes. For the first time in his entire life he found himself desperately wishing to hear the wretched pipes. But wish as he might, there was no denying that's not what he heard.

"Hello!"

It was a man. An ordinary man from an ordinary place. A dead man.

* * *

The mist had seemed to stroll into town along side Mr. Utland, keeping pace with him, clinging to his ankles as he dragged it through the streets; the far too empty streets. Mr. Utland glanced up the road, a valley between sloping gardens topped by pleasant rural houses; and down it, into foggy blindness. There wasn't a soul or a sound beyond himself and his footsteps.

"Hello!" he called out. There was no response. Mr. Utland tried to peer into the windows of the houses as he passed them, but they were all too dark to see inside. Or so he had thought at first. When he caught the glint of a streetlamp across the front bay window of one house, he saw that rather the pitch black penetrating deep into the building, it did in fact form a skin across the interior of the glass. They've blacked them out, Mr. Utland thought, every one of them.

Mr. Utland was struck by this decidedly odd behaviour and stopped to consider his situation for a moment. The fog paid no heed to his change in momentum, and rolled on at the same gentle pace, off towards the bottom of the street. Puzzlement was not all that impeded Mr. Utland. He had been walking a good long while now, looking for somewhere to rest his head for the night. He was moments from giving up, dusk falling and robbing him of his sight to travel by, when he had come across this village, a minor miracle for which he sent out praise to any minor deity who mightbbe listening. But now he was done, this was the end of his road. Mr. Utland sat on the side of the road and took of his shoes, exposing his overheating, sweaty feet to the cool evening air. He took out a silver case from his breast jacket pocket and flicked it open to reveal the cigarettes and lighter inside. Lighting up, Mr Utland breathed the smoke in deep and listened hard to the barely audible peace of the countryside, calm and silent.

Except that it wasn't silent. Mr. Utland thought he might he going mad, but he was certain he could make, just on the edge of his hearing, a sound of something out of place. He strained and cocked his head and, yes, he was sure, he could hear pan pipes softly playing on the breeze.

* * *

Roland had heard the pipes so many times before that he felt attuned to them, as though he could feel the sound in his mind, his soul, before his ears truly caught sound of them. And Roland knew, he knew, that the pipes had begun the minute the stranger had called out. A handful of moments later and this was confirmed by his more conventional sense.

Whoever this outsider was, he was done for, already beyond help as the pipes grew clearer. The Devil take him, Roland thought. At least the village, my children, will be spared. But he was an innocent, vulnerable and unaware. Could Roland really live with himself if he just allowed this man to be taken? Wouldn't he be culpable? But then he had his kids to think about, and anyway, there were plenty of other people who could help. But they weren't helping and weren't likely to. Who would?


I would, Roland found himself thinking, taking himself completely by surprise. Without giving himself time to hesitate Roland grabbed the nearest piece of cloth to hand, (and old woolen scarf) and a small switch blade from the table in his hallway and, after prying the boards off his front door, threw it open and hurtled headlong into the street.

* * *

Mr. Utland took one last, long drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out on the curb he was perched on. Slowly, he exhaled and watched as his tobacco smoke swirled and mixed with the fog, until he couldn't tell what was water vapour and what was poison.

He could hear the pipes clearly now, and was listening to them. with fixated pleasure when the attack came. Perhaps, had he not been so enthralled by the mysterious piper's tune, Mr. Utland would have heard the hurried steps that came towards him. But he could hear nothing but those magical pipes, and when the hit came, a full body's weight being smashed into his own, it knocked all the wind, and all the fight out of him.

"Don't look!" his assailant cried. Mr. Utland, reeling from the shock of the impact, just caught a clumped of a length of woolen material before it was wrapped tight around his head and eyes.

"Get up!" he was ordered. "Don't look!" There was little he could do but comply. "Move!" came the final command. This seemed a step to far to Mr. Utland.

"I can't..." he began, but a strong shove proved to him that he most certainly could, and the knife he felt to his throat a moment later demonstrated that he most certainly would. All the while the pipes grew louder.

Mr. Utland half staggered, was half dragged up the banking garden he had sat beneath. More than once in the brief but difficult journey he stumbled and the blade at his neck nicked his skin. He cried out when he fell to his knees finally when they reached the top of the lawn and he tripped on the bottom step leading up to the porch. His captor put his hand around Mr. Utland's mouth and leaned into him.

"Shut up!" he demanded and Mr. Utland complied. They stayed like this for a while, Mr. Utland blindfolded and gagged, the man behind him almost motionless, as though he were waiting for something, or listening for it.

Mr. Utland listened too, and again he was caught in the spell of the pan pipes. He felt a desperate, illogical need to see where such a sweet melody was coming from, like he was hoeing his breath and all he wanted to do was give in to the natural impulse to breathe deep, cool lungfulls of air. Mr. Utland's hand went instinctively to the scarf around his eyes.

"No," his captor hissed into his ears. "Don't look. Don't look." The attacker pushed the cold steel against Mr. Utland's face to emphasize his point, all the while repeating his mantra under his breath. Don't look, don't look.

A new sound floated down the empty street and into Mr. Utland's conscious, as feet tapping against the tarmac. Not feet though, the sound was too hollow, more a pair of clicks than thuds, like hooves, Mr. Utland thought, but there were definitely just the two of them, so that could not be.

The assailant's chanting increased in speed. Don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look. For what felt like minutes, they remained like this as the clip-clop, clip-clop got closer and closer. In a moment it would be right on top of them. Mr. Utland and the knife man both tensed.

The noise stopped. The assailant slouched down to his knees, the knife slipped from Mr. Utland's throat. Then came the scream, loud and high and echoing from every building, every tree, every car, every wall, such that it was a few moments before Mr. Utland realised that it had stopped before the second echo, cut short at the height of its crescendo. The echos faded and the village was silent again.

"What..." Mr. Utland began, barely able to speak. "What was that?"


"Someone looked, " Roland said. "Someone always looks."

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pictonaut September 2014 - Soulful!

Here we are again, I just scraping by to get a pictonaut done in time, feeling it unfinished and wanting to come back to it later, but I know I never will. But here it is for you, and before that, the link to John's blog where he posts these little challenges every month. One picture, one thousand (well, three thousand for me this time) words. It's fun. You should do it.

This month's picture...






... and the naut.


Soulful



It was my eyes. But then, it always is. They're a dead give away, aren't they. Never trust a person who doesn't smile from the eyes. Look me in the eye and tell me that. When it comes to betraying secrets, the eyes always have it. Even from before, I couldn't hide much of anything from anyone.One look would blow my cover.

I used to get a lot of compliments for my eyes. The most vivid green, men (and women) would compare them to emeralds, oceans, the sun through the leaves. The things people would say, the words they used, were kind, but their eyes told a different story; lust, jealousy, indifference.

I remember being sat at a bar. People thought me pretty, and in my harder days (at least, I had thought they were then) I could generally guarantee a few freebies from hopeful lads, looking to show off their wallets and whatever else they had stashed away. I never let it get that far though. I'm no one's whore. It was a dangerous game to play, some of my more concerned friends would tell me, but I was quick and careful. I always looked them in the eye before I took their gifts, always sought for their intent, their limits. That's how I survived then, and it's how I survived after, too. Quick, careful, observent, no one's whore.

That night had not been a successful one, and I had been nursing my tap water long enough for the bar staff to be evicting me with their gaze. I remember thinking it a shame, this had been my favourite hunting ground, safe-ish and reliable. I had hoped it would never come to an end. Eventually, I gave up hope and got up to leave and it was at that moment a cold, clammy hand came to rest on my own and arrested my departure.

"Your eyes," he started and I thought here we go. I was careful not to roll my eyes, however. They were the ticket after all.

"They shine to me, like beacons through an abyss." He was poetic, this one. Corny as balls, but he didn't speak like it was a play. There was a far off quality to him, something other I couldn't place. I held his gaze and went looking for it while he continued.

"They're perfect," he concluded, tritely. Nothing. I could get nothing from him. I looked him over quickly. Suit, grey and bland; hair, short; stubble, minimal. Normal, normal, boring, normal. So why did he send a shiver down my spine?

"I want them," he let out. It took time to register what he said to me. At first I giggled, playing my part. 'I want you,' I had thought he had said. That's what they always said. Eventually, the truth of the situation sank in.

"What?" was the only pathetic response I could manage in the moment.

"Give them to me!" At that, I switched gears. Be quick, I thought, be careful. Run! I did, spilling my water behind me, out of the club, into the street, past the bus stop, all the way home.

It didn't take long, with my glad rags discarded for a onesie, every lock on my door done up tight and a very Irish cup of tea in my hand, for me to shake off the strange man's spell, and I began to laugh at my own foolishness. For a few moments, I was so messed up by the encounter I had considered calling the police, but for what? To tell them what? A man sat down next to me at a bar so I ran home, he's clearly a dangerous psychopath? 'Sure,' they'd say. 'He's crazy!'

Even if he had done anything, even so much as touched me, I didn't feel as though I could be a useful witness. Those eyes as cold as his hands. What colour even were they? I'd seen eyes like that many times since, but I still couldn't answer that little enigma. Laugh it off girl. Just some creep looking to put the willies up some little girl (probably literally). Don't give him the satisfaction. But I already had, hadn't I? You could see it in my eyes.

Whatever the case, be it creeps, losers or psychos, that well had run dry. And not just that one. Over time, and not much of it, one by one, the bars all closed. Not to regular customers you understand, but to me. The gentlemen stopped coming, so I stopped going. But it was more than that, more than mere disinterest in me. I was not losing my looks, my eyes shone with all the splendour that they ever had, I had not aged overnight. It was not that men did not come up to me, but they actively moved away from me, seemed repulsed by me. I had the stench of something on me, what I never knew, but it was something that I could not purge. I was pariahed. Oh how things change.

I blame myself, in part at least. I've always been a creature of solitude, having taken little interest in current events. I do not own a television, do not watch the news. I never saw the missing persons reports, never heard the stories of people changing, did not notice the rise on the reality shows of 'my partner won't make love to me anymore', 'you're not the man I married' and 'my wife is an alien!'. I might have seen things if I'd looked, seen the patterns with these wonderful eyes of mine. I'm good at patterns.

They had come for us.

At first they took little people. I don't mean dwarfs, I mean nobodies. People who wouldn't be missed, who were easy to replace. I might not have seen the pattern, but I definitely saw the change. Those eyes, grey (or white? Maybe silver?) and cold, started staring out at me from people on the street. One to begin, and at first I thought it was him again, all I could see were those eyes. Then more and more and now they're everywhere, and the game has really changed. One night before then, however, they finally came for me.

I was walking away from another hopeless night, sober and dejected. My belly by then had become pregnant with self-conscious doubt and I finally swore I was done; done with freeloading, done with drinking, done with men. I think I meant it, too. I really do believe that, even had that night been different, even if they'd never come, I was about to find myself a track all of my very own and get on it. My footsteps echoed around the street surrounding me, each one tapping a tattoo of resolution. I listened to each repetition intently as my feet beat out self-promises with glee. But this next sound did not bring joy. A new sound, similar yet distinct brought its own solemnity and my dread.

Careful. Quick. Run. They weren't expecting me to rabbit so soon and floundered a while before they gave chase. A few quick turns and I heard their hurried steps diminuendo in the wrong direction. That had been the first time, an easy escape. Soon there were more, and then they were most.

I didn't even consider going to the police the first time, nor the second, but by the third I'd had my fill. The constabulary proved as helpful as I had expected them to be.

"I'm sorry miss," the bland, blue uniform said to me through some poor puppets mouth. "If you didn't get a good look at them then there's not a lot we can do."

"If I'd have gotten a good look at them then I wouldn't be here to tell you about it," I countered. I was aware of the futility of the gesture, but I wanted this underling to know my logic was more powerful than his system's.

"Nevertheless, without witness or crime..." He let the sentence hang in the air. I was about to rebut once more when his superior officer walked into the room from the office door behind the desk. She looked like every other officer in the place excepting her insignia and her garnered respect. Like the plod who failed completely to deal with my accusations, she seemed aloof and disinterested. But there was more to her coldness than 'professional detachment', and while she could bear to hold my gaze for but an instant, that was more than enough for me to recognise those eyes.

Now I began to watch the news. I couldn't well afford a TV, and so I took my opportunities where I could, looking into the windows of electrical goods stores, hoping a 24 hour news station would be playing. It could not have been just me. Surely others had seen these changes, were being hounded, or was it ignored? I no longer knew which worried me, which was frightening and which a relief.

It had not been just me, although it seemed I was the only one who saw it for what it was; something alien, something other. The rest of the world were doing their usual trick of rationalizing away what made them uncomfortable, ignoring facts, compartmentalizing, denying. I stared, blank faced in amazement as parents blamed drugs and sex for their distant children, children alcohol or stress for their loveless parents. Religions saw godlessness, politicians saw a lack of citizenship, scientists saw ignorance. No one seemed to see the change, no one saw their eyes.

I watched as a minister waxed lyrical of the state of society, the duty of all people to their community, the strength in confidence in their leaders. It all amounted to the same thing: 'Do as you're told. Do not question.' He filibustered without passion or conviction, clearly reading a prepared speech and not particularly well. I remember feeling amazed that anyone could fall for such obvious insincerity, at the audacity of this man who thought he did not even need to try to convince us. And then there they were again, and I knew I was lost. Those lifeless and alien eyes.

After they had begun to infiltrate government they became more bold, their attacks more frequent. I spent most of my time running, could not answer the door. Shortly I found what limited interaction I already allowed myself with mankind was dwindling away to nothing. I have to admit, I was amazed at just how significant an affect this had on my life. We are none of us truly alone. Even in something as simple as grocery shopping, even if I could have done it online, there would be people bringing it to my door. Eating out, ordering in, drinking. No one drinks alone; we all have a bartender at some stage in the process.

Soon enough, I was driven from my home. I was scrounging, foraging for scraps and fleeing form derelict to derelict, living in the dark, moving on whenever I felt the first hint that I had been discovered. Why me, I thought, why can't they find someone else to chase down? Am I the only one left?

I wasn't, I soon discovered, as for a short time I found a friend in a young girl who showed me how foolish I had been, and just possibly saved my life. When we first bumped into each other, each hurrying the opposite way down a dark back street, she gave me such a dumbfounded look she could only possibly be a person, complete and whole.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed as she stared aghast at me. "Cover your eyes!"

With this, she swirled the bright orange shawl she wore, covering her face, from around her head and onto my own in a single swift movement of protection and love, things that I hadn't experienced for almost as long as I could remember, and certainly had never been favoured with by a stranger until that day. I was in awe, the girl's expression transferring to me with her property. Like some incoherent fool I tried wordlessly to return to the girl her property, but she pushed it back onto me.

"I'll be alright. You need this more than I do." Her eyes had the spark of real, human life, but they were grey like theirs (or were theirs blue?).

We could not stay together, but we met when we could, secretly at night and all too briefly. She shared her childhood with me and I broke an age old vow (one which I hope you'll forgive me keeping now) and shared mine with her. I would not have believed, soaking myself in sour mash in night clubs, that I might have had such a warming reaction from simple human interaction, that I'd have ever felt the need for a friend. Indeed, I had not been aware of quite how much my solitude had started to sting until she came into my shattered life.

Do not misunderstand me; these were not 'coffee shop moments'. To meet at all, we were forced to squat in hovels, crouching behind the crumbling walls of burnt out buildings, or cowering like junkies under bridges in the rain. It was a miserable existence, but it was shared and halved for that. And it made escapes easier at times, splitting our hunters along different paths, although together we attracted more attention and so spent much of our time apart.

I went to meet her one night at our favourite haunt (how pointed that term has become as we become as ghosts in the world). It was the cleanest of lonely places, the best of the forgotten, which was how we had begun to see ourselves; sturdy, surviving despite the odds. We had met there many times. Perhaps one too many.

I had arrived first. I always did. I wondered if perhaps I needed this more than she did, of maybe she just found more to do than I did. Most of my day was spent waiting to see her again. I watched out from our hide to the street beyond and there it was, her silhouette, unmistakably human in its swagger. And behind it was something more purposeful, and wholly less pleasant.

Be careful, I wanted to shout. Be quick. Run! But the words would not come. I would be lost if they had, perhaps I was anyway. My friend struggled against the grip of her assailant but it was too late, she was caught. Two more of them appeared and started moving towards my hiding place. I would suffer the same fate as my erstwhile companion if I did not think fast. With a motion borrowed with great shame, I placed my shawl, her shawl, over my face and calmly walked out into the street. I walked past the one clutching my now unconscious saviour as though the scene were as little to me as dust in the wind, and with my eyes covered, they paid me as little mind.

Later, I went back to that place. I tell myself that it was to find her, to rescue her, but I know it not to be true. She was gone and beyond my help. I hadn't chance and chose myself, as I had always done. The building no longer appeared the haven to me that it once had. The walls were black with soot, the ground brown with droppings, the glass in the windows gone or broken. It was squalor of the lowest kind, it always had been.

It was then I decided to leave, to move and keep moving. I stole a car; it wasn't hard. Nothing flashy, something nice and inconspicuous. For a while I could keep mobile on my credit cards, so long as I always found 'pay-at-pump' stations, and after that I could steal the fuel I needed just as easily. This was better, this was safest.

So I drove. I had a grand plan of roaming across the country, maybe finding others like myself, and living out my final days as a wizened old nomad telling tales of the old times. When it came down to it, however, I found it hard to tear myself from the city and progressed little further than the sprawling suburbs, driving around in circles, covering my eyes and watching theirs.

Everywhere I looked, I could see them, staring blankly ahead with their cold, dead eyes, making the motions of life but certainly not living. I tried to give them as little attention as possible, wishing to draw none to myself, yet still, overtime I found that there were dull, lightless spheres staring out at me more and more as I circled estates or dove back into the city to lose myself in its labyrinthine ways.

Before long, I was panicking, surrounded by the enemy at all sides. They began lining the streets, watching me like living surveillance cameras - no, just like surveillance cameras. And then they began to move into me, narrowing the streets, pushing the walls of the great garbage disposal towards my impending doom.

I should have gone through them. I should have run them down and headed for the hills, it wouldn't have been murder, not really. But that's not how it happened. One stepped out in front of my car. I only saw him for a second, but he seemed different to the others, in charge somehow. I've heard his voice since then, recognised him for who he is. I saw him too late, hit the brakes, swerved and hit a lamppost, scattering onlookers as my car wrapped itself around the metal pole. The world went black.

I wasn't seriously injured, my car didn't explode, this isn't a movie. And so, inevitably, I regained consciousness sat up with my back against the walls in the corner of a cold room with a stone floor. There was a blindfold wrapped around my head and, in my hand, the shawl my friend had given me. I didn't even try to stand, just gripped tightly onto the shawl for comfort.

"Awake then?" a male voice asked me. I instantly recognised my captor, the government minister.

"I take it I'm out there right now," I croaked, my throat dry from the accident.

"No, no. There was little point. You’re not that important a presence in the world. Bigger fish to fry." He was mocking me, so cruel!

"Then why," I struggled. "Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"

"I told you once before, I must have your eyes."

Shock silenced me and he continued.

"There is still resistance, you see.  Small pockets but big risk. The plan was to infiltrate, but our eyes, well, you know." I did. "We had hoped to use yours, so vibrant, so alive."

"Bastard," I spat. "You'll have to cut them out first!" I could not say where this misplaced bravado had come from, but I was incensed. He merely chuckled in response.

"It is no matter. We cannot do it, cannot replicate them. It would seem we miss some vital piece, something other we cannot find. We failed."

My turn to laugh. You're damn right you're missing something, you alien freaks. Humanity! Life! I said nothing, but merely spat in what I thought was the minister's direction. There was a beat.

"You may keep these." The words seemed to spring from pure coldness. "They are no good to us."

The minister placed something in my hand, two small objects, round and wet. Before he left, he removed the blindfold - no, the bandage from my head. I opened my eyelids as my cell door shut behind the minister, and though the darkness did not recede to the light, though I could not see what I held, these facts alone illuminated me. It was my eyes.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Another late pictonaut!

As the terrible human being that I am, I am posting this month's pictonaut far too late! And it is so short as well. And it's fanfic! I feel all dirty. It is called Rise, rise, rise!

----------------------------------------------

The swell receded, the pure white foam bubbling away, dissolving back into the sea and Milo stooped down to discovered what had been washed ashore. Many - indeed most - feared the ocean now. Mankind has retreated in waves from the shore, swifter, they hoped, than the water rose to swallow them. Evil had come from the sea, rising up from the depths to wreak destruction on the land as it had beneath the waves, and just as suddenly had floundered and died, unable to survive outside its natural habitat. Debate still raged as to what they had been. Like people built by crazed gods, they craved and killed and broke and begged for something that did not exist, and when they could not find it, they died - mostly by their own hands. That time had passed, but the shore was still a cursed place to most.

Actually, Milo thought to himself, 'shore' is inaccurate. It wasn't like he stood upon a golden, sandy beach, surrounded by sea shells and crustaceans. Junk yard would be more accurate. For after monsters, other things started to come from the sea. Glass things and concrete things, metal things and stone things. It was all so alien to Milo, so exciting. It was sure to make his fortune, as he alone was brave enough to explore the water's edge.

He hadn't found much so far, but he knew the time would soon come when his patience would be rewarded. Last time he had seen syringes and vials. All broken, empty, worthless, but if he could get some intact he might make millions selling the world its next great dream.

Today did not yet look as though it would be his day, however, as he picked through the usual assortment of chipped brick and twisted metal. Still, he scrutinized every nook he could find unscrupulously. Another wave would hit in a second, and Milo knew that the future could be changed by something small, far more easily than it might by something big; something he might miss; something that might get swept away by the next swell.

The next wave broke and Milo looked up in time to see a soft toy bear be taken up and out to the boundless ocean. It looked man-made - human-made, he should say - enough and probably came from the discarded refuse of some other city.

The wash of the breaking wave moved over Milo's shoes as the sound did over his ear, a great crescendo finally fizzling away to a soft hiss, and then... the hiss did not fade. While the sea had grown silent, something unidentified still remained. Milo's keen ear picked it out and he began moving to the source. Every strike of wave on refuse scrambled his sonar, forcing him to stop and wait but, little by little, he approached the prize, growing in his imagined estimation as he grew nearer to it.

Finally, Milo knelt down amongst the flotsam and pressed his ear to the box that was hissing at him, whispering to him promises and dreams. The sea heaved once more and the sound changed to piercing feedback, forcing Milo to move away from his prize. Nevertheless, he was rewarded for his caution as the whispers of the deep began to take form.

"Thi... apt....er."

Milo waited, listening for more.

"Thi... apt...  er," the box repeated, and again. Milo investigated closer, searching for whatever might be supplying power to this mechanical voice. Somewhere, an ancient power source, rusting on the ocean floor, was breathing these dying half words to the surface. Milo discovered the cables, somewhat exposed and sparking concerningly, on the back side of the box. He pulled on the wires, but something beneath the sea into which they trailed was holding them fast.

Milo pulled with all his force. A large object in the murky waters shifted and rose, sending its own microtides spreading across the civic graveyard. Bubbles rose and grew and shattered to reveal - bubbles; a great metal dome, three times a grown man's head worth, punctuated with dark glass bubbles, smaller hemispheres spread over its surface.

There was something else attached to the dome, just as it curved under the water, pink and loose, some kind of fabric. For a second, the light fell in such a way as to convince Milo that the clothing was occupied. He fell into a panic of altruism and waded out into the ocean to rescue the poor soul trapped beneath the Atlantean waste. He pulled ferociously at the rags floating before him as soon as he was within reach, but his efforts were in vain. The cloth came away easily enough, and had indeed once been a dress, clearly belonging to a very young girl, but these garments had not contained a child for countless years. Only the shadow of her life remained.

"Thi... a... apt... mi... er."

The box spurted out its broken message with renewed vigour, now permanently audible over the sound of the waves, causing Milo to turn his attention from his new discovery. He stood and waited for more.

"This... a... aptur... minder.
"This is a... apture... minder.
"This is a Rapture reminder. This is a Rapture reminder."


The great bubbled dome beneath him sprang to life, red light spewing forth from within the blistered windows. To Milo's left, water began to run off an object that rose from the waves, a large gloved hand, and to his right, something big and metallic, a large conical drill, began to spin, spraying the suds of the tide into Milo's face. The monster beneath him shifted and threw him down onto his back. A hulk of a man in some kind of terrible suit, which sustained its life beneath the waves, rose out of the water and let out a horrific moan that shook the buildings around them. The monster saw the cloth in Milo's hand and screamed, bearing down with its terrifying spinning drill.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Pictonaut - June 2014 - Forbiddon!

Another month rolls around and another pictonaut challenge comes to an end. Here was this month's:

And it was a doozy. Way way waaaay open. Could do almost anything with it. My first thought was, 'Nah, skip this one. Too many options.' Then inspiration stuck and I bashed out the below fairly sharpish. Then I sat on it for days on end and still didn't manage to upload it in time.

Anyway, here it is, only a little late.

Forbiddon!



Sand, dry sand, and even drier blood caked around the moistureless lips of The Walker, the trudger, the endless wanderer towards his final, shining goal. It had been longer than he could count which, while his formal education had been little to speak of, was still considerable in the grand scheme of things. His life had been trained to this task. Not just his mind or his body, but his circumstance, his home, his surroundings had all been finely tuned to allow this moment to come to pass. He knew nothing else, he wanted nothing else. Before him lay the great sandstone gates to the city that contained within it everything about his soul that made him who was. The gates were large, featureless and foreboding, and he enjoyed that deeply.

But what of his journey? What of those people he left behind - his own, others? What of his deeds or the path that he trod? And what of them indeed, thought he. Those things that have past, he had been taught, had died. More than that, these people, places, events, were obliterated from existence by the ever destructive passing of the present moment, the only one of consequence, an immense guillotine cutting through time, leaving only oblivion behind it.

And now the blade was poised to swipe away the closed gate before him, revealing an open portal to the city beyond. Time would clear his path just as it had always done, all he need do was wait. So he waited, and in a moment a sentry appeared, and in a moment a question was asked, and in a moment an answer was given, and in a moment the gates were swung wide.

Any other observer at this point would have been consumed by the busy bustle of the city that lay beyond. Great sandstone monoliths played host to endless infestations of human beings, forcing themselves in, or being unceremoniously sprayed out. The dusty track ways that made up the roads were swarmed with falling feet, stamping them down wherever they dared vary from the uniform parallel they were designed for. Everywhere, trade was to be had, the whole city was a thriving commercial venture; everything was for sale. Any other observer might have drowned, but not this man.

The Walker did not see the motion around him, he did not follow step with step. All the wanderer saw was the change. And nothing changed in this golden city. Oh, many things moved around, many people grew richer, some grew poorer, but in the end it achieved little. Things changed hands, nothing changed. And so The Walked saw nothing, nothing but his prize.

It called to him, a shining jewel in a vast plain, a glistening red beacon of all that he had been promised. He would find it and, it was prophesied, the prize would be given to him freely, he would consume it and find enlightenment. The wanderer closed his eyes and felt for the power of his grail through the moments in time.

The crowd around him parted as he moved, trance-like through the city hunting, homing, drawing in to the glorious jewel. A brightness filled The Walker's mind, a brilliant red light that engulfed his thoughts entire. He opened his eyes and he knew he beheld his prize.

Before him, a jolly old hag with wisdom behind her eyes, the wisdom of many sights seen, held a basket of rosy red apples. People, old and young, man and woman, black and white, all people thronged around her. They crowded her and she smiled, they held out their hands and she handed them apples, laughing as she just gave away her precious wares, his prize by right, as though she did not even know what she had in her hands. And the prophesy would be proved true; she gave freely of her wondrous gift to all.

The wanderer moved into the crowd and pushed aside the hopeful masses standing beneath the hag with the purposeful arrogance of the righteous, caring not for the petty needs of the heathens who sullied his great reward. As the beggars around him had unwittingly revealed, he performed the ritual for her, raising his two hands together in hope, in need. And she passed apples. She handed them to The Walker's left and to his right. All around him, sun red fruit was carelessly tossed and hurled, but not to him. Each time her hand went to the basket his hopes swelled in his breast and were shattered, as fragile as dreams, as she passed him by once and again.

Frustration began to cloud the mind of the wanderer, thoughts and feelings he had been trained against beating at the chinks in his armour, once as tough as steel, now as fragile as shell. Physical changes began to come over the man - rising temperature, increased heart rate - that told The Walker the time was near, he could wait no longer. As the hag's hand fell to the basket, The Walker could see it would be for the last time, a soul ruby left to gift.

The hag held the precious jewelled apple aloft and time slowed for The Walker. It was a deeper red than any that had come before it, it held a crisper shine. The apple luminesced with the brilliance of a wisdom and knowledge that none but The Walker could comprehend. This must be his prize, he had waited so long and been promised so much. None other may touch her! The hag's hand moved out from the basket... and away from the wanderer's reaching grasp!

The Walker could contain himself no longer. He lurched forward and snatched the apple from the old woman's palm. The poor lady screamed at this presumption, but The Walker paid no heed. He had his prize. A great grin spread itself across his face and he bit down hard into the succulent fruit.

The Walker breathed out a mighty sigh of relief as the sweet, cool juice slid down his throat. His prize was everything it should have been; it was clear, pure, intense, brilliant, radiant, wise, whole, glorious, mystifying.

Poisoned.


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Doorway - Pictonaut Feb 2014

So another month has come where I have found time and inspiration to post a story for Crazy John Steele's Pictonaut challenge. This month, the picture was quite a simple one, and as such gave me pretty much free reign to come up with some proper weird stuff. This is what I manage, a cautionary tale of the problems with too much power. Remember, with great power come even greater bastards!

30 - Feb 2014 - Barrow Door

Mud, blood and sweat. This had been the life of the Last Warrior King for almost as long as he could remember. Fatigue had long since left the King behind, it was as a near forgotten memory now. He was propelled forward by habit, a well learned muscle memory to put one foot in front of the other and push, without aim, without will, moved on by some power other than his own. He had all but forgotten his quest, the great purpose that had allowed him to overcome adversity for how many long years? More than he could count certainly. The King tried to recall his final goal now, yet he struggled. He had been walking, searching, but for what? He had fought, but against whom and over what? The King clutched hard against his sword. That was important, but why? It had gone, decayed over time until only the memory of a memory remained, or was it the memory of forgetting? The King had no more an idea of where he had come to than where he had been and felt uncertain that he had ever known where it was that he would ultimately arrive. Then it was over. He had failed, although he knew not at what. Without aim, without a goal, without a quest he was nothing and could be nothing. He would crest this final hill and let the end come to his frail and failing body.

The Last Warrior King rounded the crest of the mound on which he trod and gently guided himself down the opposite slope before coming to his knees and resting his back against the gradient of the grassy bank. Yet his rest was perturbed, for his back did not fall against the softness of dew laden grass, but against a rough cut wooden frame. With what strength the King could not tell, he lifted himself once more and turned to face this singular object, a door set in the side of the hill in this deserted woodland many many miles from anywhere and anyone. He stared upon the wooden gateway and he began to remember.

Taking his mighty sword in both of his hands, he lifted the heavy point towards the door and struck it, not to destroy but to knock it, a request of entry. Yet as the sharpness of the blade scratched against the soft, rotten wood, the door gave way and cleft into a prefect pair, cleanly splitting along where the weapon had drawn across and the two halves fell away to reveal the passageway that lay beyond. Staggeringly, the King proceeded into the darkness before him. As he went, what strength that remained within him faded. Each step down into the earth along the tunnel he now walked was like a step onward towards his own grave, for such it was.

The Last Warrior King came to a vast cavern, familiar to him and yet alien. Where once the slain bodies of his victims had lain, he was surrounded now by his kinsmen and women, his predecessors. The decaying remains of those proud Warrior Kings and Queens that bore the sword at his side before he had were strewn all around the chamber. Three of these he recognised from the offerings with which they lay. He had seen all three interred hundreds of miles and a life time ago, yet here they were now, to lead him to his rest. He stepped on, over skeletal heads and limbs, over rusted armour and shields, over riches and the dust of long gone garments. The last Warrior King found a small hollow along the single encompassing wall of the cavern and secreted himself within it. In a last moment of pride, he drew the hilt of his sword up to his chest and pressed it against his heart. He had succeeded, he had prevailed. The sword had been returned to its home and the curse had been lifted. No future King would wield this dreadful weapon at such great consequence to himself. No future Queen would suffer the torment of the rule of the Warrior Blade. For there would be no future King, and no future Queen. The dynasty would end. With the loss of the sword, his kingdom would fall, but for the best, he knew. For the best.

The Last Warrior King lay back and closed his eyes, allowing darkness to come to him - his final sleep in the living world, a world he left at last free from the tyranny of the sword, a world he left to change - for the best. It was always for the best.

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Doctor Claire Cooper did the best that she could to wipe the dirt from her hands to her already soil stained overalls, achieving little more than the redistribution of filth, before taking the hand of the reporter who had just gotten on-site. The newspaperman shook it willingly despite its state, a symptom of trained diplomacy, and smiled warmly at the eminent archaeologist.

"So, this is a big one?" he asked, as he took pen, paper and recorder from the satchel at his side.

"The biggest," Claire Cooper answered. "At least for many decades, and easily the most important find science has ever had out of this region."

"I can quote you on that?" said the reporter, pen now at the ready.

"Honey," Cooper condescended to the reporter - a bad habit of hers that she made sure to take full advantage of. "You can quote me on anything. I want an open book here. Everything is to be recorded, documented, understood. That last is most important. I don't want this turning into some sensationalist rumour mill. You've got all access available to the site, so long as you stick my one rule."

"And, what is that?" the reported queried, not hiding his suspicions of what might be hidden in the other shoe.

"I thought I made that clear, mister..."

"Jeffreys. Mark Jeffreys," Mark offered.

"Right. Honesty, Mark. That's all. Just tell the truth and we'll get along fine. This way."

Claire led Mark through the forest that made up her dig site, along a dense region that carried with it a looming silence - the ghost of all the sounds that once played out there, but never would again. It was certainly, Mark thought, the atmosphere for discovering ancient secrets, and also for inflaming the imagination. A reporter's dream. He switched from his notepad to his camera and took a few picturesque shots of the locale.

"Nothing of interest here, Mr Jeffreys," Claire said. "Just some trees. Save your memory for what's to come."

"Oh, don't worry, I've got plenty of cards with me," Mark offered.

"We'll see," Dr Cooper said, smiling to herself.

The reporter was led to a small clearing made up by a bank of grass that raised itself up out of the ground like an oversized mole hill. The trees seemed to clear themselves away from the hillock, almost out of respect, bowing away from it, leaning radially outwards from its centre in reverence. The human element showed far less of such a humble countenance. Bodies crawled all around the place, boots stomped up and down the mound; the grass was already being worn away in a path from the operations base at the north edge of the forest round to the southern face of the mound - a path now followed by the reporter and his guide. As they rounded the clearing, Mark could see the focus of attention of the site in the form of an opening into the side of the small hill, at which people passed in and out of the ground like so many ants. Claire exchanged pleasantries with most the people who passed her by before motioning Mark over to the side of the excavated entranceway to the mound.

"So, things start to get interesting straight away with this site," she began explaining to the reporter, who she was fully aware would not even begin to share her enthusiasm for the minutiae of the external surroundings, but she wanted to tell him away. Make them squirm a bit, get them bored, then they're all the more impressed later on.

"It looks like a burial mound," Mark suggested, and was answered by a saccharine grin from the archaeologist.

"Quite right, well done," she said. "But it's not quite like any other I've worked on. See here for instance," she pointed out an area of soil that had been cleared away at the floor of the entrance. "You see these patches here and here," she continued, taking up a nearby trowel to mark out in the soil the areas she had meant. "They're of a slightly different shade. There would most likely have been wooden posts to hold a relatively light wooden door here. We can see similar markings in the soil around the walls of the mound, which is remarkably flat just in this area, again indicating a doorway that has filled itself in over time."

Mark saw nothing of this. It all just looked like dirt to him, but he wasn't about to let on and make of fool of himself so he nodded sagely and attempted an intelligent question.

"And that would be unusual, to have door on a grave like this?" he tried.

"Generally speaking, in this area, yes. At least, one so insubstantial," Claire explained.
"You see, they'd normally be large stone coverings to ward off grave robbers from the treasures within. Or be covered over entirely with soil."

"I see," Mark said, which was true, more or less.

"And then there's the position of this tomb," Claire went on. "We are near no known settlement from any age, at all. Let alone a period where burial mounds were commonplace. This is out in the middle of nowhere and yet, apparently, very important."

"Important?" The reporter's curiosity was piqued. "What makes you say that?" He'd suffered enough, Claire decided, and her impatience to get to the true wonder of the sight was getting the better of her. The media bomb primed and ready to go off, Claire indicated she would escort Mark down into the belly of the beast with an open hand motioning towards the doorway. Mark nodded and went ahead first.

"The first real surprise of this place," Claire said, whispering perhaps out of respect, but more because nothing greater was required in the cramped passageway that the pair now found themselves in. "Is the scale of the thing. I mean, it's... Well, see for yourself."

The couple came to the end of the passageway and into the hall beyond. The rather rapid slope of the path they had followed told Mark that they were significant meters beneath the ground already, yet still, the sheer expanse of the cave that lay before them now seemed impossible to the reporter. And the floor, a rough circle that must have been a mile in circumference, was covered with the neatly laid out remains of hundreds of human skeletons.

"My god," Mark Jeffreys exclaimed, dropping his pencil.

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Blackness greeted the New King when he awoke, and silence. Somewhere there was the glint of sun on steel, somewhere there was the crash of metal on bone, somewhere there was the smell of iron, somewhere there was the warmth of blood, but not here. Here it was dark and quiet and still. Here the King was, though he knew not where.

The great leader lifted his mighty armoured body slowly from the ground. He had been lain out on his back, though he knew not when or how. His sword was still at his side, now in his hand as he raised himself with its support, the sword of the true Warrior King. He felt powerful with it nestled in his gauntlet. Yes, he was King, this he knew well. He had slain the usurper just moments before and now the kingdom was his. But it did him no good lost in the dark.

The King tested his full weight and strength against the floor at his feet, once, twice, thrice, hearing the ringing of his spurs echo around his head. Dark and damp and hollow, he was certain to be in some cave, and it rang out large - very large indeed. The Warrior King could see little - a sketch of dull, diffuse grey - but what he could see at least gave him a target and, with uncustomary caution, he stepped out towards the light.

As he approached the hazy charcoal lines that made up his whole current world, the King began to make out something of the form before him. A rough hewn circle of jagged lines, undoubtedly the entryway to a tunnel, and as he came up to this portal, the tunnel that lay beyond came faintly to his vision, with what appeared to be the outline of a doorway, away and above him at its end. With no other action apparent to him, the Warrior King headed for the doorway, intent on finding some enlightenment, his clutch on his sword tightening as he went.

The Warrior King did not allow himself to stumble as he moved through the darkness. Presently, he came to the door and, placing his outstretched hands gently against its knotted wood, he slid his fingers over the planks until he came to the cool smoothness of a metal handle. The Warrior King twisted and pushed and the door gave way without resistance.

As the light of the world beyond flooded into the cavern, the Warrior King shielded his eyes instinctively and grimaced in pain. His retinas burned as though he had been trapped in the darkness of the cave for decades. The King moved his hand aside. He was aware of the figure before him before his eyes had fully adjusted to the brightness of the naked sun, and his sword was raised in an instant. Soon, the cloud of formless colour around the King sharpened into true forms. Green turned to grass and leaves, grey to rock and brown to soil and bark. And tan turned to muddy, blood soaked flesh as the vision of the former Warrior King, thought slain in battle, now stood before the true King, bold and upright. Without a thought, the New Warrior King brought his sword down in a wide arc upon the head of the pretender before him. The blade of the Kingdom is mighty indeed, and the solid stone was hewn in twain without a shiver from the sword which passed right through the apparition of the dead King.

"Foolish!" the once King cried. "Fool! You will doom my kingdom with your rule."

"It is my kingdom now, ghost!" the King replied. "And it has no place for the spirits of dead kings."

"Your kingdom, true enough," the once King said. "So long as you hold the sword. But I have my place within it, as the king before me still has his."

"You speak in riddles, ghost. Where am I?"

"Please, allow me to be more plain." The spirit King lowered himself onto the rock split by the mighty Warrior Blade. "You are King so long as you hold that sword. But the sword shall not suffer the King to rest."

"More riddles!" the Warrior King expelled, swinging his sword in pompous outrage.

"This shall be your home in resting times," the spirit King spoke over him. "As you sleep, so shall your soul be transported here, into this cave. The door will not give out a second time. In the cavern you must remain." The spirit King was up on his feet now and pacing around the true King.

"Your body shall sleep but no rest shall your soul know. It shall reside in this cave until you awake."

"Then I shall sleep here," the Warrior King retorted.

"I did not. And neither shall you! Sleep does not come here. Sleep is of the body and your body is not here. Not yet. But it shall be when you perish, just as mine is now." A vision flashed across the eyes of the Warrior King as these words were spoken. The King saw his adversary slain on the battlefield. He saw his body displayed with reverence for the people to see before it was finally interred in its grand tomb; the tomb of a King. And he saw within that tomb, an empty casket and now a flash, and the body of the once Warrior King, laid out to rest in the dark belly of the cavern in which the true Warrior King had awoken not moments before.

"Impossible!" the true King spat. "Lies!"

"The truth! And as your soul is left to suffer through your sleeping hours, know you this. You shall not be alone. For every body that comes to be from you, every corpse created by your rule, shall lie there with you. And I shall be here always to tell you of wherefore they come to lie with you."

"I grow tired of your madness," the Warrior King announced wearily. Unable to vanquish his ethereal foe, the New King walked off into the forest beyond the cave, leaving the dead Warrior King ranting to himself.

"I will see you again, Warrior King. I'll see you in your dreams!"

As the true King walked, the forests around him grew dark. He had at first believed night to be falling, yet he could still make out the sun high in the sky, fading into grey with the rest of the world around him. Soon all was blackness and silence once more.

Then there were sounds - metal on metal, the slicing of flesh and bone, the rallying cries of a victorious army. The Warrior King opened his eyes to find himself on the battlefield once more, his enemy slain at his feet, the victory, the sword and the kingdom his. The King led his army to clear away the remaining resistance and take residence in the great castle of the capital. He drank heavily of the store of the wine cellar, ate heartily of the beasts of the land, and bedded enthusiastically the women of his people. That night, he laid his head to rest on goose feather pillows, wrapped himself in silken sheets and he slept.

The Warrior King awoke and he despaired as he saw around him a great rock cavern, not dark this time, but lit by an unearthly light; the light of justice, the light of the dead. Around him were strewn countless bodies, bloodied and rotting. The stench that rose from them was overpowering. But beyond all this, above the horror of the corpses at his feet, more terrible than the death stares of the faces that would not turn away from his gaze, the spirit King rose high, standing above him, taunting him, laughing at him.

The spirit of the slain Warrior King led the living Warrior King through the chamber of the dead, pointing out this one, whose wife caught the eye of a thug in her village and whose only protection in an uncaring world was her husband. Of that one, a mother, whose daughter would seek revenge for her death; more than likely he would see her here soon. Of this one, who suffered for hours at the hands of a quack surgeon, trying to remove his gangrenous limbs, before finally coming to a terrible fever and dying. Of that one, pregnant as she died, the child the last hope of redemption for a useless and alcoholic husband. He too would visit the cave ere too long.

And the Warrior King was forced to listen, to hear every terrible story of every terrible death that was by his hand or by his order. He suffered and he groaned with each more terrible tale, a sad lament for himself, for those dead around him, for every king there had been that had gone through this awful torment, and for all those that were to come. And thus, he came to decide there would be no more, his one quest would be to end this cycle of pain and fear, to give freedom to himself and to his people, to finish this terrible curse. He would be the last to wield the Sword, the Last Warrior King.

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With the reporter gone for the day, Doctor Cooper was enjoying herself, getting grubby, putting the feel of soil amongst her fingers. She loved field work, and despised when her heightened station took her away from it. Now she was one of the few left on-site, the light failing, not that this was an issue as the site was covered in electric lighting. Claire was digging away with a small trowel in a concealed nook in the cave. The soil was of a different quality here, and offered the tantalising suggestion of a further chamber beyond. As she dug, her trowel struck against something solid, metal. Dr. Cooper swapped the tool for her hands, fearful of causing any damage to the object she had discovered. It was the work of ten minutes to reveal to her the hilt of a sword. Excited by her find, Claire threw her usual cautious, scientific character to the wind and dug furiously, wrenching at the handle of the weapon until it came away, in one clean motion, from its earthen grave.

What Claire saw astounded her. The blade of the sword glinted in the electric torch light as though it had been just forged, the gleam playing elegantly of an edge as sharp as a fresh razor. And it felt magnificent. Claire could feel the power of the weapon in its weight; hear it in its ring as she swung the sword through the air. She watched the reflections on the pristine metal of the blade. They faded slowly as she cut through the atmosphere, as though she were severing the light itself from the aether. Looking up, she realised that the light had indeed faded. That the glint she took for a reflection seemed now to be emanating from the sword itself, and that she was entirely alone in a cave now devoid of bodies, of artefacts, of electric lights. She glanced around in the oppressive gloom and saw that she was not, after all, alone; that she was visited by a ghastly apparition, a haggard and beaten old man, translucent and with horror in his eyes. He merely stared towards her in fear and disbelief. Steadily, Dr. Cooper took a few steps towards the spirit of the Last Warrior King, until he held his hand out to stop her and opened his mouth to speak. And when he did, he whispered the dusty quiet of the long, long dead.


"What have you done?"