Monday, 29 June 2020

The Immortal Kings - New Short Novel

My epic new short novel, 'The Immortal Kings', is now available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

It is a story that spans thousands of years, told from the point of view of an immortal man onboard Earth's first generation starship as it makes its way across interstellar space on a colonisation mission.

As the centuries and millennia roll by he uncovers revelations from his long-forgotten past, and makes an astonishing discovery a thousand light-years away. But to his dismay darkness soon falls on Earth’s civilisation. Will his ship’s colonisation efforts be enough to secure humanity’s survival?

Read an extract from the first chapter below:

'The Immortal Kings' - cover image
'The Immortal Kings' - cover image

I find it hard to remember the first century of my life.  The memories of those times seem mostly vague and disconnected, and devoid of order. But I was someone of some importance, I believe. 
I do have two quite vivid memories from that time. The first is my attendance at the coronation of His Majesty King William VII, the last British monarch to be crowned. I remember the pride I felt that day as I watched the crown lowered onto the head of the young king, although I’m not exactly sure why I was proud. I have fleeting recollections of talking with the prince, and of his residences which I seemed to have visited from time to time, so perhaps I was proud because of some deep involvement with him or his family, or with the coronation proceedings. Or perhaps it was simply patriotic pride. Whatever the reason, it was a glorious occasion of great pomp and ceremony, something which England had always excelled at. 
It was shortly after the coronation that I was selected for the Treatment. That is my second clear memory of that time. The selection process had been extraordinarily strict, though I cannot recall in what way, but I passed and very soon afterwards I was taken away to begin the procedure. It was painless but long, and I remember spending a significant period of time in a rather remote but stately hospital surrounded by fields and forests. There were many others undergoing the Treatment, over a hundred in total. King William was one of them. For what must have been a year or more we watched ourselves grow younger until our physical ages settled in our twenties, and then, having been returned to our physical primes, all of us, apart from the King, left the Earth.
We became known as the Immortals; those that were to oversee sixty or more generations of travellers, and those that were to provide a direct link to our point of origin and to maintain its values and civilisation during the voyage. We were to be the continuity of thought and leadership and culture that would bind the multi-generational community together and ensure its survival in the sterile void between stars, and to ensure the ultimate success of the mission. 
We were not truly immortal, of course. Our ageing was initially reversed and then slowed dramatically, but it was not halted. And we could still die due to accident or infection, which is why we were largely kept separate from the thousands of normal humans on-board our great ship. Except to the initial generation of mortals, with whom we had relatively close contact during the years of preparation and boarding, we must have seemed mysterious and distant to those fleeting souls; detached and almost god-like. Always there, never changing, never ageing, and with direct knowledge of things buried deep in the vaults of the past. 
As new generations were born and raised and older ones vanished our relationship with the normal humans grew more and more detached. By the third century of our voyage direct communication with them ceased almost completely. We had nothing of substance in common. We were now invisible overseers, cocooned in our separate and secure section of the ship, watching the mortals as they carried out their brief phases of existence.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

What if the Moon fell?

I was wondering the other day how it would be if the Moon was knocked out of orbit somehow and began to get closer and closer to Earth. I decided to write a short story about it - a very short story.

And here it is; my epic tale of the Moon approaching our planet, told in about 350 words:

It's now eight years since the object smashed into the moon, a glancing blow that hit the far side, gouging out a five hundred mile wide scar. It was the most spectacular event those of us watching had ever seen, and over the following months a ring of debris coalesced around the Earth, creating a bright misty arc from horizon to horizon. It was, and still is, quite beautiful.
But the moon was deeply wounded; it was no longer Earth's stable companion. Slowed by the force of the impact, the moon had begun to spiral towards our planet.
Scientists and governments had known about that long before we did, of course. And they knew that nothing could be done about it. The news finally broke just a day after the centenary celebrations of the first moon walk.
Society started to break down. There was panic, looting, and stock markets soon crashed completely. Pointless wars broke out. As the moon grew ever larger in the sky the tides became more extreme, eventually wiping out low-lying cities and farmland, and driving survivors onto higher ground. Most of us left in the USA are now here on the plains of Colorado, a mile above sea level.
And so the final day has come. Within the hour the moon will reach the Earth. It is filling almost the whole sky now. The sun, on its way down behind the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, is casting long shadows across the hills and craters of the vast landscape moving above me. Strangely what I feel is not fear as I watch the immensity of the moon above, it is awe; complete and almost overwhelming awe.
All around me the camp fires flicker and shimmer, painting amber the thousands of faces that are gazing up. Only the youngest of the children seem oblivious to what is happening as they dance and play to the rhythm of the flames.
The peaks on the moon are starting to glow now. There are fluffy streaks, like thousands of contrails, being etched across the sky.
It's all happening in perfect silence.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

The Drabble about a Mountain

I've been reading and writing some flash fiction recently. It a very brief form of story writing, usually around 1,000 to 1,500 words long, but often much less. There's very little room for character development or scene-setting. The writer just has to get straight into the story, which is no bad thing. One particularly short version of flash fiction is known as 'drabble'. It's exactly 100 words long - no more, no less.

Below is my first attempt at this very short story format. It's actually three 'drabble' stories which work on their own, or together to tell the same story from three different points of view. See what you think...

The Mountain

Mount Yamantau, Russia, located at the southern end of the Ural mountain range

On the Mountain 
Another goat was sick now, just like the one that had died last week. Nicholai sighed, and then bolted the barn shut. He should really separate it from the others, but he had nowhere to put it, and leaving it out on such a cold night would finish it off for sure.
He grabbed his stick and headed back down to the house, his boots crunching on the thin covering of snow. The lights of Mezhgor’ye were visible in the blackness of the valley beyond. Something caught his eye and he looked up. Some slow shooting stars were heading south.

In the Mountain 
Luka watched, his stomach tightening further, as the screen showed the tracking details of yet more objects, all inbound from over the Barents Sea. “Confirmed. Three more.” He said into his mouthpiece, unable to hide his breathlessness and shakiness. The tracking of the objects was now on the big screen: a simplistic and clinical view of the attack. 
He knew that the president was here now, with his family; the announcement a minute ago that the facility was finally sealed had confirmed that. They were all safely accommodated. They would all survive. Luka knew that his own family would not.

Near the Mountain 
As soon as Mama had left Nina got out of bed and crept behind the curtains. On a clear night like this she couldn’t help looking out towards the mountain were Papa worked. He was a kind of soldier, but the kind that just sits down. Not the hero kind. That confused her. 
As always, she looked up at the stars. Tonight some of them were moving towards the mountains. Maybe Papa can catch one for me? She smiled and looked back at her bedroom door. Maybe I should tell Mama about the falling stars. The room filled with light. 

Monday, 1 January 2018

Aliens - Maybe They're Just Playing With Us?

How humans treat lower life forms is probably a good example of how we are likely to be treated if an alien species more advanced than our own ever visits us.

We could be treated like pets: kept in comfortable conditions, well fed, and played with, but without any true freedom. Or we might be used for sport and entertainment: hunted down and captured or killed as spectators watch. Maybe we would be viewed as annoying pests: something to be eradicated to make life more comfortable for those coming to live on our planet.

Or maybe we would be generally ignored, but sometimes toyed with and killed for fun when we are encountered, such as when a child with a magnifying glass follows ants around burning them to death without a second thought about the pain and suffering caused. The child does not relate to the almost insignificant life that it's extinguishing. And so it could be when we are encountered by an advanced alien life form.

My short story, 'Thing in the Sky', illustrates that last casual form of treatment. The alien entity in the story seems to be just playing with the military pilot that encounters it. It's hard to see any other reason for its actions. But maybe there is?

Read the entire story below and find out.

Donald Jenson heads for home. Will he make it?

“Wolf One. Control. Patrol completed. Return to base. Set heading two-six-four. Over.” 
Flight lieutenant Donald Jenson signed with relief. The lone patrol had been long and uneventful. He eased the control stick of his Typhoon fighter to the right. “Control. Wolf One. Affirmative. Returning to base.” He watched his head-up display, glowing pale green against the blue midday sky beyond, as the heading indicator changed. He brought the stick back to the centre. “Heading two-six-four confirmed. Over.”
It would be a straight thirty-five minute journey home, so Donald engaged the autopilot and let go of the controls. He flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles and then glanced down at the thick blanket of cloud that was shrouding the North Sea 10,000 feet below. It would be another gloomy day for any fishermen down there. He looked at his radar display. There were several large contacts on the surface, all matching the profile of the trawlers that sailed out of Aberdeen and Fraserburgh. Despite the boredom of the last couple of hours he would much rather be in a warm cockpit bathed in sunshine than rolling around on a stormy grey sea smelling like an old unwashed fishwife. 
Something glinted in the corner of his eye. Donald looked to his right and to the north. It looked like another aircraft, a very small one, at least two miles away.  And it was approaching. Strange, his Typhoon’s warning system should have already alerted him to that. He looked down at his radar display again. Other than a couple of high altitude civilian passenger aircraft more than thirty miles away it showed no other air traffic, and certainly nothing as close as the one he had just seen. He looked north again. It was still there, and it looked no more than a mile away now. He decided to call it in. 
“Control. Wolf One. Unidentified contact one mile due north at 10,000 feet.  Confirm. Over.” 
“Wolf One. Control. Negative. Unable to confirm. Do you have a reading? Over.” 
“Control. Wolf One. Negative. Visual only. Contact now less than five-hundred feet away. It’s pulling alongside. Over.” 
“Wolf One. Control. Can you describe it? Over.” 
As a precaution Donald switched off the autopilot and took control. He kept his aircraft steady as he looked at the object. It was now right alongside, less than a hundred feet away. A tinge of fear passed through his mind as he examined it. “Control, Wolf One. It’s oval, about six feet long, and coated in a translucent and reflective shell. There appear to be no discernable wings or control surfaces, and no identifiable propulsion system.” He noticed something else, his fear deepening. “And there’s something moving inside it.  Over.” 
“Wolf One. Control. Confirm. Have you seen the pilot? Have you made contact? Over.” 
“Control. Wolf One. Negative. I have not seen the pilot or made contact.  Something is moving inside the object, but it is not…” 
There was a loud bang and the Typhoon rolled suddenly to the right. Donald corrected the roll. An alarm warbled. The plane was shuddering. He looked out and saw the unidentified object rising up over his aircraft. Red warnings had appeared on one of his screens. He immediately looked out at the starboard wing. The wing tip had been sheered off. “Control. Wolf One. I think it rammed me!” He silenced the alarm and read more data on his screens. “Damage to the starboard wing. Fuel is leaking.” He pushed forward on his flight stick. “Taking evasive action. Over.” 
“Wolf One. Control. Acknowledged. We are still unable to confirm your contact. Over.” 
The cockpit darkened as the Typhoon descended steeply through the dense clouds. And then the aircraft seemed to jerk upwards. There was another loud bang. The alarm sounded once more. The shuddering increased. 
The cloud cleared revealing the murky grey vista of the North Sea. And more importantly, the port wing, which was now also missing its wing tip. The unidentified aircraft was matching the Typhoon’s course and speed just a few feet beyond the wing. 
“Control. Wolf One. Port wing now damaged.” Donald said; his breathing now rapid. He banked to the right, skimming below the clouds just 2,000 feet above the dark foaming waves below. “Controls are sluggish. Ailerons damaged.” 
Levelling off, Donald looked all around. For a moment he thought he had lost the object, but then there it was, right above and just behind the cockpit canopy. “It’s matching my every move.” He pushed on the thrust control.  “I’m going to try and outrun it. Accelerating to…” 
Another bang and a tearing sound. Airspeed began to drop dramatically. The engine failure warning sounded. Donald struggled with the controls. The nose dropped. The almost black sea, speckled with white foam, filled the view ahead. 
The Aircraft spoke a warning, its voice female and stern. “PULL UP.  PULL UP.”
Donald tried, but the controls did not respond. “Mayday mayday mayday.  Control. Wolf One. Twin engine failure. Controls unresponsive…”
There was another bang. The aircraft pitched forwards into a vertical dive. The view ahead began to spin. 
Instinctively, and with adrenalin coursing through his veins, Donald sat up straight, tensed, and then pulled on the handle between his legs. An intense roar filled his ears and he felt crushed into his seat. And then an instant later he felt light. The roar was replaced with noisy gusting wind. Rain lashed against his visor. There was bang, and then a jerk, and Donald found himself, feeling dizzy, hanging beneath a wide white and red canopy. As he swung too and fro he looked down and noticed a round white section of the sea a couple of hundred feet below: the point where his Typhoon had impacted. As he watched the sea quickly erased all evidence of his aircraft from existence.  
There was a splash right below as his seat, separated from him only seconds ago, hit the water. The reassuring yellow disk of a life raft rose and fell nearby. He almost laughed as the realisation of what he had just done hit home. He felt momentarily exhilarated.
And then he saw it: the object, approaching from below. It rose up quickly, drawing level with his head, and then circled him slowly, its translucent surface reflecting almost shimmering images of the sea and clouds. Something inside was moving around.
And then it shot upwards. 
Donald gasped as he felt his stomach lift. He looked up. The chute had been torn; its domed shape was tearing and collapsing.  He watched as the object made another pass, shearing through several of the cords attaching the chute to his harness. The chute collapsed completely. 
Without even a moment to think Donald hit the sea. His lifejacket inflated, sending him up to the surface through a mist of bubbles. He gasped and looked around, quickly finding the life raft. He began swimming towards it, the deep swell of the sea making the going slow. Despite his suit’s insulation the chill of the water was already noticeable. Reaching the raft, he pulled himself up and rolled inside, propped himself up against the side. He breathed deeply, attempting to relax a bit. The life raft, as well as his suit, would have activated a homing beacon by now.  A rescue helicopter would arrive within an hour, and had probably already been scrambled. He would be back at the base for dinner. Yes, all he had to do was lay back and wait. He looked up at the clouds, taking more deep breaths. 
And then he saw it, dropping towards him. The object hit the life raft, tearing it in two and dragging most of it underwater. The raft deflated almost instantly. Donald found himself back in the sea. There was very little of the life raft left.  
The cold penetrated his suit once more. 
Donald tried to calm himself and control his breathing. He still had his lifejacket and his insulated suit with its beacon. That would be enough. That would ensure his survival in the sea for at least a couple of hours: enough time for a successful rescue. He lay back, keeping his face up for a moment, and then glanced around as the swelling sea lifted him tens of feet up and down. The object was nowhere to be seen. It must still be under the water.  
That thought filled him with dread. It would be less than an hour now until rescue, he thought. I just need to focus on that. Soon a helicopter would appear on the horizon, and then it would be right above with someone coming down to...
Something slammed into his back. His lifejacket deflated and he felt himself sink. He kicked hard to keep his head above surface. 
The object rose slowly out of the water a few feet in front of him. Once above the waves it hovered there. Despite just emerging from the sea not a single drop of water dripped from it. 
Donald was struggling to keep his head above the water. His suit was heavy. His legs were weakening. 
The object hovered. Something inside was moving. 
“What are you?!” Donald yelled as he sank. He coughed and spat as water sloshed into his helmet. 
The object hovered, not moving. 
Donald watched it, utterly bewildered, until the murk of the sea above cloaked his view. 
It was so cold...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Vigilante Justice in London

Can vigilantism ever be justified? Perhaps it can in a lawless, corrupt or anarchic state where the 'authorities' cannot be relied upon. But in a civilised first-world nation such action is unlikely to be of much help. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Fiction generally glamourises vigilantes, showing that taking the law in one's own hands is the most immediate and satisfying way to punish those that have committed the most heinous crimes. The most famous fictional vigilante is probably Batman. But his methods are far from subtle, and he leaves an incredible amount of destruction in his wake. A better idea may be to entice miscreants to meet their justice in a surreptitious manner, making them walk willingly into an irresistible trap. This would avoid involving innocent bystanders, and also the attentions of law enforcement agencies.

In my short story 'The House on Park Street' a man does just that, quietly and efficiently dispatching violent thugs in Mayfair, London. Read it in its entirety below:

They watched him as he left the Jeroboams wine shop and headed up the street, his tweed clothing almost monochrome under the pale street lighting.  He walked swiftly, swinging a heavy-looking dark fabric bag. 
 “That’s really expensive drink he’s got.”
Ant nodded, and then looked at Kev.  “Let’s get him.”
They followed the man, matching his foot steps, as he turned left on to Grosvenor Street.  It had started to rain.  With his head down the man picked up his pace considerably, quickly reaching Grosvenor Square and cutting across it.  Ant and Kev struggled to keep up.  The man passed by the American Embassy.  With the rain now heavy the man turned right into Park Street.  It was quiet, and very late. 
Kev was breathing hard.  He caressed the blade in his pocket.  “I’m sick of this walking.  Let’s do it now.” 
“Yeah.” Ant said. 
The man had stepped up to a door and was standing under the shelter of its white-columned porch.  He put down his bag and fumbled though the inside of his jacket.  Kev took his blade out of his pocket but kept it down at his side.  Ant followed suit.  As they were about to step up to the man he turned and grinned. 
Ant and Kev stopped, startled. 
“Awfully bad luck, what?” the man said with joviality.  “The one time one forgets one’s umbrella it absolutely pours!”  He looked them up and down. 
“Happened to you chaps as well, I see.  At least you have hoods!”  He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up.  It glinted in the light of the nearby street lamp.  “Ah ha!”  He turned towards the door and unlocked it. 
Kev nudged Ant and frowned.  Ant took a step forward, and then stopped.  
The man had turned and was grinning at them again.  He picked up his bag and gave it a quick shake.  The chink of glass bottles was heard.  “I say, would you chaps like to join me?” 
Ant and Kev looked at each other, and then back at the man. 
The man continued.  “I was planning on getting rather merry on my own tonight, or ‘on my tod’ as they’d say in Bethnal Green.  Being on one’s ‘tod’ can be frightfully dull, though.”  He opened the door, flooding the porch with warm light.  “It would give you two a chance to dry off.  You’re both positively drenched!”  He beckoned.  “Come on in.  It would be awfully decent of you if you did, and such jolly fun.” 
Ant stepped forwards. 
Kev grabbed his shoulder and whispered.  “Do him, now!” 
Ant shook his head.  “Inside.  Look at his pad, man.  Jackpot!” 
Kev looked through the doorway and then nodded.  They both followed the man through the doorway.  Inside, the hallway was lit with soft ambient lighting, and furnished with dark wooden side tables and upholstered chairs. The carpeting was deep blue, and soft. 
The man took off his wet jacket and headed past the staircase on the right towards the back of the house.  “Follow me!”  He said, throwing his jacket onto the banister.  “Oh, and be so kind as to close the front door.” 
Kev grunted and slammed the door shut.  There was a whirring noise, and then a click.  He frowned at Ant. 
The man appeared at a door way.  “Don’t mind that sound, security and all that.  Can’t be too careful these days, what!”  He waved.  “This way.” 
Ant and Kev walked to the back of the house and into an expansive kitchen. 
The man was at the back, already unpacking his bag of beverages.  When he finished he held up the largest bottle, dark green with a deep red and gold label. He grinned.   “Krug Vintage Brut!  A fine one to start us off, don’t you think?” 
Ant and Kev looked briefly at each other and then nodded.  They gripped onto their blades, still held close by their sides. 
“Excellent.”  The man said, opening a cabinet door.  He pulled out three tall champagne flutes and placed them on the dark marble worktop, and then he started twisting the bottle’s cork.  He turned and nodded towards the centre of the kitchen.  “You’d better stand there.  This could splash.”  He laughed.  “Not that you could get much wetter after that downpour!” 
Ant frowned but then decided to play along.  He nodded at Kev.  They stepped to the left. 
The bottle popped open and a gush of champagne fizzed out.  The man chuckled.  “Such fun!  Dreadful waste, though.”  He poured a glass and took a sip.  He swallowed, letting out a sign of satisfaction, and then reached into his right trouser pocket.  He pulled out what looked like a small mobile phone.  “There’s a large round button on this which I must press now.  Hope you don’t mind.” 
Ant and Kev frowned.  They watched as the man made an exaggerated motion with his thumb and pushed the button.  With a muffled clunk the floor fell away. 
They dropped. 
Ant gasped and instinctively reached out, managing to grab the edge of the hatch that had opened up beneath him.  He heard a scream from below, a fading yell of desperate profanity, and then a distant thud.  Breathing hard he looked down, but could see nothing but darkness.  He felt a tap on his right hand and looked up. 
The man was crouching next to him, almost silhouetted against the bright halogen lights on the ceiling beyond.  He was still holding his glass of champagne.   “Well done.”  His voice was deeper now, less refined.  “You’re the first one to manage this.” 
Ant felt sick.  He was sweating.  His heart raced.  “Pull me up, man!” 
The man shook his head. 
“We weren’t gonna do nothin’!” 
“You were planning to rob me, and quite probably kill me.  And I have no doubt that you’ve succeeded in doing that to many others.” 
Ant felt his fingers slipping.  “Come on, man!” 
The man ignored him and stood up.  He was still holding the device he had used earlier to open the hatch.  He pushed another control and held it to his ear.  “… Yeah, there’s another.  He’s hanging on to the edge...  I know.  He’ll be on the way in a moment.”  He put the device back in his trouser pocket and looked down at Ant. 
Ant was shaking, his eyes wide.  “Please!” 
The man took a sip from his glass.  “You take from society, but offer nothing but pain and misery in return.”  He seemed to focus for a moment on the bubbles in his drink, and then looked back down.  “You contribute nothing of value.”  He stepped forwards.  “You are worthless.  Pointless.” 
Ant’s grip was failing.  “Help me!” 
The man brought his right foot forwards and nudged Ant’s fingers. 
Ant fell.  He gasped and watched in terror as the light above receded, and then an incredible force hit.  An unusual pain, deep and widespread, consumed him, and the iron tang of blood filled his mouth.  
He tried to breath, but nothing happened.  
He gazed, weak, faint, at the square of light far above.  The man was peering down.  After a moment he moved away, and the square of light began to narrow.  
Ant tried to yell, but nothing happened. 
The light narrowed to a sliver, and then vanished. 
In the darkness, something tugged at his arm…

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Tales of Nuclear Armageddon

There are many stories about nuclear war. I find them utterly chilling, but irresistibly compulsive. To me they are probably the most frightening books or films that have ever been written. The scenarios of most are, or were, almost entirely plausible. And that is were their power lies.

Such powerful stories are what motivated me to write the very short story below. Titled 'Three Ancient Trees', it features a nuclear holocaust from the point of view of an unusual extra-terrestrial infestation that is feeding off the human cadavers that are brought to them by generation after generation of the local children. When the unthinkable does eventually happen the infestation, unlike the humans that serve them, has a means of escape.

The story is short enough that I can include it in its entirety below. Enjoy:

The offspring always played beneath the three ancient trees.
In the spring, despite the smell of decay, they would laugh and giggle with joy, the bitter cold of previous months banished from their thoughts.
During summer they would gather the large spiky seed pods from amongst the bones, tearing them open to reveal the hard seed inside.
When autumn came they would pile up the fallen leaves and then kick them high into the chill and strengthening wind, spreading the now sodden bones far and wide.
And when the gloom of winter returned they would place the bodies of their offerings at the base of the wide trunks of the trees, packing them tightly with snow, preserving them for absorption when the thaw finally came.
And they did all that without remorse and hesitation.  The dew-like droplets above made sure of that.
The droplets watched, all-seeing, as the bipedal offspring performed their tasks below, occasionally dropping onto them and sinking into their skins to motivate and persuade, to instruct and reward.
Functioning as one and as many, the droplets had for millennia feasted on the remains of those brought to them by the thousands of generations of offspring that had played below.  Once the trees had extracted the nutrients from the putrefying corpses at their roots the droplets would suck the nutrients from their leaves, euphoric in their effects.
Occasionally the parents of the offspring and others would come, and they would run from the sight of the bones and decay.  Some of the droplets would follow, riding the air as mist, reaching into those that would try and stem the flow of their sustenance.  The larger bipeds were always subdued.  They would not object to the work of the offspring, and they would never return.
As the centuries passed the number of offspring grew, and so did the number of nutritious bodies for the roots to absorb.  The dew-like droplets thrived.
But then the lights and the burning winds came.
Just after dawn one day, as the first of the offspring approached dragging a large nutrient-rich body through the deep snow, the horizon all around lit up.  Dozens of lights, like new suns, rose and swelled, erasing the clouds from the sky and sucking up immense swirls of hot dust.  The offspring scattered, many burning as the heat of the lights bubbled and blackened their skin.  Gusts, long and hard, blew away the snow.
The trees burned.
The droplets, airborne, swirled in the violent winds, before coming to rest on the scorched branches of the trees.
The offspring were gone.
The trees were dead.
Snow soon returned, speckled grey by the dust that now darkened the sky.
The offspring never returned.
The droplets were hungry.  They had no choice.  Rising through the frigid air as mist, they headed up to where the air was no more, and left.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Stench of Eternal Life

Stoors - stinking bison-like animals that decay like the dead when exposed to sunlight - would not be thought of as likely to hold the secret of eternal life.

But it's believed that they do. And Oornu and Uurna know that.

In the short novel, 'Bone Pit', Oornu and Uurna capture two and attempt to return them to their village. If successful they will be the first to do so, and will receive the praise of the elders and have their story told to the generations that follow. The danger, though, is immense, and both of them have underestimated it. As they travel home on the stoors' backs their suffering becomes tremendous and nauseating:
The sun was bright and high and the air thick with heat and humidity.
The tension and dread Oornu felt was growing.  He knew that the thick fronds of tall grass would provide protection for only another hour, barely enough time to reach the safety of the tree line that still seemed to be no closer than the horizon.  But reaching such safety in time seemed more unlikely with each passing minute.  Even without the direct stimulation of sunlight the stench of the putrefying hides of the stoors was close to becoming overwhelming.  His mate, Uurna, had already passed out twice, requiring a precious dose of jell each time to bring her round.  And she looked like she was on the verge of passing out again.
Uurna spoke, her voice weak and wheezy.  “Please.  We must stop.”
Oornu looked back at her.  He shook his head.  “We’d never make it to the trees.  We must continue.”
With a moan Uurna vomited.  The head of her stoor was sprayed liberally once again with semi-digested food, and this time blood as well.  It hissed and snorted as it tried to shake Uurna’s stomach contents from its face, its big black eyes blinking furiously as red-stained bile dribbled into them.  Weakened, Uurna struggled to stay on the creatures’ decomposing back.
She would not survive much longer.
“Please…”  She said, feebly, spitting more blood and bile.
Grassland that Oornu and Uurna must get the stoors across before midday

Despite Uurna's desire to give up, and despite their deepening weakness and pain, Oornu insists on continuing, especially when what he'd once known only as a legend seemed now to be absolutely true:
As his vision cleared he could a see wash of movement beneath him as the ground rushed passed – a blur of green and brown and grey.  For a few seconds he could not remember where he was, or why he was moving so fast.  Or indeed what the clattering and grating sound all around was.

And then something touched his face.

Oornu turned over.  Kneeling over him was Uurna.  She looked sick, and her expression seemed consumed with pain.  Somehow she managed a brief smile.

Oornu looked around.  The stoor, which had previously been a mass of rotting muscle and entrails, was now almost a clean skeleton, with only few strands of flesh and cartilage still attached to its thick spine above.  The stench of decay had almost gone.

Uurna pointed ahead.  Straining, Oornu sat up and turned, resting his hands on the creature’s heaving ribcage to steady himself.  There, a few strides in front, was the other stoor.  It too was nothing more than a stripped skeleton, and it was running with remarkable speed through the tall fronds of grass.  It was a remarkable sight.

As their own flesh starts to decay, and as they realise where the stoors are heading, they fear their lives are soon to end, without achievement or glory. They will be forgotten, their story never to be told to those that follow:
Oornu touched his lower leg.  His finger sank in through the skin, releasing a putrid dull green flow of puss.  He pushed harder.  The muscle on the front of his leg fell away revealing the white surface of his tibia.  He tensed up, his stomach tightening.  “This can’t be happening!”

Uurna sniffled.  “We are infected.  We cannot return to the village.”

Oornu looked at her.  “We must.  The medicine charmer will...”

“We will be killed.  You know that!”  Uurna said.  Her head sank.  “And the medicine charmer only brings comfort to the dying, nothing more, and only then to those of great age.”  She looked up.  “You know that, too.”

Oornu nodded once.  He closed his eyes for a few seconds, trying to focus his mind to find a solution.  But his mind was already consumed with anguish, and deep despair.  He felt breathless, nauseous.  “What can we do?”

Uurna obviously had no answer.  She looked ahead.  The tall fronds of grass were thinning, and the landscape was becoming open and rocky.

But, the hideous effect that capturing stoors has had on their bodies has an incredible, if possibly unwelcome, side effect. Their story may not be forgotten after all. In fact, it may well become the most amazing story every told...

Read 'Bone Pit' now and find out why.

Could the 'Bone Pit' be down there?