Category Archives: Free Story

The East Cave

Time for a new story, don’t you think? And today, I’m turning my hand to a little bit of political comedy with orcs.  In a world that in no way resembles ours, the new leader of the orcish administration is having a few problems settling in…

The East Cave

Balkus paused at the door and hastily rubbed the toes of his boots against the backs of his trousers. He was in enough trouble, without looking for more. He looked down at his feet, trying to decide if it had helped. Orc boots did not naturally take a shine. Continue reading The East Cave

The Deadline

Bit of a departure today.

As I think I’ve mentioned I currently live in Finland, and I am struggling to learn the Finnish language (an experience that has inspired other stuff on the blog, like A Lesson in Feldok).  I’m slowly beginning to make progress, so I thought I’d celebrate in the only way I know how, with a story!

Presented here then, in (bad) Finnish, is my story The Deadline.  It posits Mikael Agricloa and Elias Lonnrot working against the clock to complete the Finnish dictionary.  (Yes, I know, in reality these two ‘fathers of the Finnish language’ lived centuries apart).

Normal service will resume shortly, with a new episode of the podcast coming later this week!

Viimeinen palautuspäivä

Agricola: Meillä ei ole aika!

Lönnrot: Mitä jos…

Agricola: Voi ei.

Lönnrot: Ei, odottaa.  Meillä ei ole aika, se on totta.  Sinun täyttyy lopettaa sanakirjaan   huomenna, eikö?

Agricola: Tiedät että teen.

Lönnrot: Mitä jos jätämme pois paljon sanoja?

Agricola: Mitä sanoja?  Verbit? Kuinka voisimme tehdä asioita?

Lönnrot: Ei, ei, ei.  Pidämme verbejä, tietysti.  Vaikka minulla on idea siitä verbejä myös tulevaisuudessa.

Agricola: Meillä ei ole aika murehtia tulevaisuutta.

Lönnrot: Tarkalleen!

Agricola: Mitä?

Lönnrot: Mitä?

Agricola: Ei verbit sitten.  Substantiiveja?

Lönnrot: Substantiiveja jäädä.

Agricola: Emme voi menettää adjektiiveja. Pidän adjektiiveja. Ne ovat hauskoja ja älykkäitä ja värikäs.

Lönnrot: Ne ovat, ne ovat.  Ei.  Jätämme prepositiot.

Agricola: Prepositiot?  Mutta… miten sanoa, jos olemme sisään jotain?

Lönnrot: Substantiivi loppua.

Agricola: Substantiivi… loppua?

Lönnrot: Kyllä.  Lisaa -ssa sanoa olemme sisään jotain.

Agricola: Pidän -lla.

Lönnrot: Voimme käyttää sitä myös. Joskus. Ehkä.

Agricola: Ei että hämmentää ihmisiä tulevaisuudessa?

Lönnrot: Fiksu mies sanoi ”Meillä ei ole aika murehtia tulevaisuutta.”

Agricola: Totta.  Totta.

Lönnrot: Niin.  Prepositiot?

Agricola: Mene pois!

Lönnrot: Mahtava! Tehdään tämä asia!

A Lesson in Feldok

classroom-381900_640Today’s story was originally written for the 2016 Halloween episode of the Word Count Podcast.  You can hear my reading of it here.

But if you want to study the language of Feldok yourself, you might find this version more approachable.  If you’re absolutely sure you want to…

A Lesson in Feldok

The woman at the front of the class stood straight up, fixed a plastic smile on her face and waved.  “Prub-dush,” she said.

We looked at each other, confused.

She waved again.  “Prub-dush,” she repeated.

“Prob-dush…?” tried a guy in the second row.

The teacher’s smile broadened.  “Prub-dush mul-brin ‘Prob-dush’.  Heilan twor-bid twook.  Prub-dush, lon-rik.”

This time we all gave it a go, all fifteen of us echoed her “prub-dush” back at her.

She gave us a round of applause.  “Twor-bid, lon-rik.  Hasta twor-bid.”  She pointed to herself.  “Aba-dosh ‘Susan’.  Qui-dosh bord?”  She pointed at the girl on the far left of the front row. 

The girl giggled.  “Prob-dush?”

The teacher shook her head.  Pointed at herself, then at the girl.  “Aba-dosh ‘Susan’.  Qui-dosh bord?” she said again.

“Oh!” said the girl.  “Aba-dosh … Michelle…?”

The teacher clapped her hands in delight.  “Hasta twor-bid, Michelle.  Prub-dush.” Then she moved on to her next victim.

I did some mental arithmetic.  It would be a good few minutes before Susan got to me.  While she worked her way through the group, I had a flick through the course textbook; we each had a copy, hand-me-downs from the last group, it looked like, as my copy was a little beaten up.  It wasn’t a quality book, the binding was loose already and the paper and print quality wasn’t much better than photocopied.  All in black and white.

I’d taken the course on a whim.  I didn’t know the language, by which I mean I wasn’t even sure which country it was spoken in, but the flyer suggested that the new techniques taught in the class would help with all language learning, and Finnish was kicking my ass right now.  Figured I could give it a try at least.  This taster session was free, so I wasn’t losing anything if it was bad.

A flicker of red inside my book caught my eye as I paged through.  Curious, I backed up and saw that the previous owner had written the word ‘RUN’ in large red capitals across the middle of page six.

I turned to page seven, more of the red writing, but this time all in the language we were learning.  I didn’t understand a word of it.  Or… well, one thing caught my eye, as it seemed to be about the question Susan was asking.  My predecessor had written ‘Qui-dosh aba’ a half dozen times at the end.

Susan had reached me.  “Aba-dosh Susan.  Qui-dosh bord?”

“Aba-dosh Tony.”

“Hasta twor-bid, Tony.”

Once she had completed her circuit of torture, she gave us another smile.  “Hasta twor-bid lon-rik.  Well done, everyone.

“There are actually very few native speakers left of Feldok left,” she said.  “I like to get out there and spread the word, when I can, because it keeps the old tongue alive, but of course it can be useful for you too.  Why learn a language that so few people speak?  It’s a good question.  But Feldok is so old, it predates English, Latin, Greek.  It’s a fundamental language, one of the building blocks that underpins spoken languages the world over.  The sounds in it can be found migrated into many, many forms; what you learn here can be useful in learning other languages.

“It’s not without its quirks mind you.  There’s no native word for ‘computer’ of course, but technology aside there are words we use in English every day that have no equivalent in Feldok.”

She picked up a whiteboard marker and wrote ‘Lort’ on the board.  “This means ‘old’, but it’s also used to indicate seniority, and superiority, so you can call your boss at work Lort, or strictly Lort-ek because… well perhaps that’s a lesson for another day.”

“Feldok has, on the other hand, a lot of words for things we only use a handful for.  The original speakers of Feldok were perhaps a little closer to their fight-or-flight roots than modern man, and have eighty-seven fairly nuanced words for ‘fear’.  All the way from ‘sarp’, which is a mild unease to ‘bwanik’ which is abject terror.”

There was a nervous laugh around the room; it seemed an odd topic to focus on.

“And there’s sarp,” said Susan.  We laughed politely, but I was still quite sarp.

She moved around the room, distributing handouts.  “We’re going to try something today, if you don’t mind.  This is something I normally leave for lesson five, but I think it might be useful to do earlier in the course, just to give you a flavour of how the language really sounds.”

I looked at the paper she handed me.  There were three short paragraphs written in, presumably, Feldok, although the alphabet used was English.  I caught some words, or at any rate some sounds I had heard listed there.  Including Lor-tek and bwanik.

“This is just a bit of a nonsense poem,” said Susan “you don’t need to understand it, just cappa los worden, listen and repeat.

 “Aba-dosh your name,” she began.

Dutifully we all murmured the phrase.

“Rulpa aba gorv, lor-tek bwanik.  Again, but give it some oomph!” 

We all tried harder.  Susan was right, the language seemed almost familiar as we all parroted back.  I didn’t know the words, but of all the languages I’d ever tried to learn, the sounds of this one seemed to come more readily.  We got to the end of the page, and I was feeling pleased with myself.

“Hasta twor-bid lonrik,” said Susan.  “Worden.”

We started at the top again.  I think all of us were getting it now.  Where the first reading was sarp and droskin, this wolt morpik fot.  I mean, it was much morpik fot.

“Worden!” Susan shouted.

Worden.

As I felt myself slipping away, and the portal to the realm of Lort-ek Bwanik opened… I lose England-speak. 

Qui-dosh aba?

Armchair Armageddon

shedA piece of flash fiction for you today, my attempt to combine the character styles of Stan Lee and the monologue style of Alan Bennett.  Quite how well I did, you can decide, but I had a lot of fun writing this one, and a lot of fun reading it too.  You can hear that, silly voices, evil laugh and all in episode 59 of the Word Count Podcast.

The Armchair Armageddon

“I’m just going down to the shed, dear!”

Louise gives me a distracted wave, too busy on the phone to notice me.  Gossiping with that awful Wilson woman again I expect.  The keenest journalistic mind of our generation, confined to scandals at the village fete and scribbling for the local rag.

It’s a victory of sorts.  I take them where I can.

I get asked all the time, at those interminable dinner parties ‘we’ throw, how did Doctor Deathray end up married to Captain Supreme’s ex-girlfriend?  I laugh, ever the genial host, and talk about mind control radiation.   The guests are all horrified in that middle-class, Middle-England kind of way, until she throws a tea towel at me, to break the moment. 

The truth is much simpler, really.  I used to kidnap her so often in the sixties, we spent more time together than she did with Captain Supreme.  Even if you include his time as mild-mannered photographer Ken Cooper.  So when the good Captain evolved into a being of pure energy and ascended to become the ruler of the Realm of Otherwhen … don’t blame me, it was the seventies… but… it was the most natural thing in the world, I reached out.  We bonded over our loss.

Nothing happened overnight.  We got older.  We grew together.  The world rather got over super-activity.  I hung up my Deathray.  She hung up her typewriter.  And here we are.  Two normal people living out our golden years in rural splendour.

I have my shed to escape to, thank god.

She thinks she knows my secret.  I tell her I’m going to sit in my armchair and read the local newspaper.  She thinks I’m sneaking off for a cigarette and a glass of whisky… well, except, she calls it scotch.  There are times when she is still dreadfully American.

Aaah. 

I do love her very much, you know.  And I do hate to disappoint her.

But I am no longer content to sit and idly await death.  Turn on a television.  Go to a cinema.  Superheroes are big again.  But it’s like they have forgotten we actually existed.  This is all some special effects fantasy land to the children today.

But we did important work. 

And they don’t remember us at all.

Well I am not content to fade to some forgotten myth.  It has taken time; I had to empty all of the bank accounts I hid from the authorities.  But I have rebuilt it.  My super laser is complete, better than ever, a weapon worthy of a new millennium, and the world will cower… no… the world will tremble in terror… better… ah… the world will tremble in terror once more to the name of Doctor Deathray!

And there will be no “Captain Supreme” to stop me this time!

MWUHAHAHAHA

Oh.

Wait.  What’s this?

“In a recent council meeting, delegates from the Chamber of Commerce petitioned… agreed to an increase in parking… more on page seven….”

Who wrote this?  My… but… I *told* her.  That’s a nesting area for the lesser crested… and those idiots on the council want to… They can’t be allowed to…

“Louise!  Louise!”

She can’t hear me of course, up in the house.

No, but this will not stand.  I am Doctor Deathray, and they shall not brook my will.

I shall write a sternly worded letter to the councillor, and if that doesn’t work, then my MP will be hearing about this, mark my words.  And there will be nobody to stop me.

Oh where is Louise?  I think I’m out of stamps.  She probably has some in her handbag.

I was enjoying the summer holiday when…

tTRLEpisode 58 of R B Wood’s Word Count Podcast took a bit of a diversion from its normal three word challenge, instead giving us the start of a sentence “I was enjoying the summer holiday when…”

After playing the ‘Pirate Rat Island’ episode fairly straight (as you can read here) I thought I’d go a little more out there for this episode.  You can hear the result on R B Wood’s site, or if you’re more of a reader, you can find it below!

The Time Rigger’s Lament

I was enjoying the summer holiday when the first wave hit, great sticky globs of anti-time, that attached themselves to my moment, twisting and distorting it.  Suddenly it was winter.  Fall.  Summer again.  I was distraught.  Confused.  Relieved.  And then I was someone else entirely.

I fell back to my training, concentrating on the mundane, the ice cream cone in my hand, I steadied the flavour, then the colour, let the smell of it fill my nostrils, felt fragile friable wafer alliterate on my fingers.  One by one, I picked the anti-time from my moment and fed it back upon itself.

Darla looked worried.  Had she been with me before?    The anti-time was gone, but fragments and echoes of the other can linger afterwards. 

It hardly mattered, this was a holiday, and she was beautiful.  I grinned, and pulled her close, let her taste the moment upon my lips.

The beach was deserted, I had chosen it so, or so it had become, in time.  Even the ice cream vendor had elected to move on, his part complete.  So we walked in the sunset, Darla and I, clothed in the warmth of the dying day.

I reached for her, but she laughed, slipped between my hands, ran and dived instead into the sea.  I threw down my ice cream and gave chase, just as the second wave hit.

This one was worse, thundering dioramas of other when, crashing against me. 

Sunshine.  Moonscape.  Earthlight. 

Pain.  Love.  Despair.

Fire.  Cold.  Void.

I feel cold metal and plastic in my hand, and I pull the trigger.  A line of possibilities erupt from the chest of the Anachronism, and I snatch at one in which he dies.  He slumps to the deck.  I don’t stop to check the body; he won’t even be born for centuries.

The ship judders, and I topple sideways, tuck in my chin and roll.  I half fall, half jump through the hatch to the bridge.  I see bodies on the floor around me, it takes all my self-control not to look, but that is almost the first lesson.  If you see people you know dead, their fate is sealed.  If you don’t know, there are loop-holes.

I focus on the controls instead, gesture through the control field to bring up damage reports and threat assessments.  The engine is phasing; the inevitability compensators are shot.  Time and anti-time pulse through the ship.  It will be destroyed a week ago if I haven’t prevented it.

I feel the next wave build, I feel its approach… it was minutes ago… it’s here… I have seconds before it arrives. 

Something pierces my chest, rubies scatter across the console, my mouth fills with warm wet iron.  In desperation, I cast myself forth.

I stretch across eternity.  My death is the big bang, my birth, the universe’s heat death.  Countless infinities of me spread between the two poles.  I am time.  I am its servant, its tool, its play-thing. 

I am nothing.

I will be standing on a beach, with Darla pressed against me, she will carry the sea with her, her skin will be smooth and slick with it.

“Stay,” she will say, but even as she does, I will know I cannot.

This will be a moment I cast for myself, a moment stretched between life and death.  But each stretch brings it closer to snapping.  I will have to go back.  Find a different path.  The moment will be a trap, sweet and toxic.

I will tear myself away, I will have no choice.

The moment sours and fades.

Fire and smoke. 

Urgency. 

Present tense. 

The sound of alarms. 

Metal beneath my feet.  Against my back.  The ship forms around me once more.

This turn I am ready.  As the Anachronism charges through the hatch again, my tachyon blaster is up and braced.  I empty the clip, possibility becomes certainty, becomes history.  No sudden comebacks for the Anachronism this cycle.

I ride the roll of the ship, head to the engine room, not the bridge.  I know what’s wrong.  I don’t know if I can fix it.  Time stands askew, spiralling, swirling, rolling in and out of the universe.  I have never seen it so far gone, not to remember anyway.

This is why I’m here though, I am the ship’s rigger.  I set time to move us the way we want.  All I have to do is to set time such that we move away from this.

I take a breath.  Reach into the maelstrom. 

I need to find it.  I need to rig this to be different.

Modify time’s path.

Alter…

“Your change, sir?”

The ice cream vendor was patiently holding out a handful of coins.

“Oh.  Right.  Yes.  Thank you.”

“Sir?  Are you okay?  You look suddenly very sad.”

I looked out across the crowded beach, children running and screaming, discordant, contradicting music played from a dozen stereos.  Hell on a holiday.  But for all the people around, it still felt as though someone was missing.

“Sir?  You looked to be having such a good time before?”

I looked back at him, confused.  “I was enjoying the summer holiday?  When?”

 

Pirate Rat Island

As I mentioned last time, a story of mine was recently included in the Word Count Podcast from R B Wood, it was a lot of fun to do and you can listen to the episode here.  It includes three other great stories, including one by @MariaHaskins who will also be contributing to the upcoming Tales from Alternate Earths from Inklings Press.

“But,” I hear you cry, “I want to be able to read along to the podcast for full effect!” 

“Ah-ha,” says I, “then ye be in the right place.  For below ye can find that self-same tale, inspired by the words Pirate, Rat and Island, I present for you:

100_0125

The Legend of Redhook’s Gold

We all watched as the rat stepped from its cage onto the beach.  It twitched its nose at its new surroundings.

“Is that it?”  I asked.

“How do you mean, Captain?”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to be ‘arrowing in on old Redhook’s treasure’, does it?”

“I expect he’s by way of gettin’ his bearin’s.”

“And I can’t help but notice, in the warm light of day, that the distinctive red stripe that marked it as an ‘island rat’` is beginning to flake off…”

“Aye well it be moultin’ season.”

“My congratulations, Mr Hobbs, your story was a fine one, and has bought you three more days of life, but I told you what to expect when your ridiculous tale proved false.”  I drew my sword.  “Truly, it saddens me to deprive the world of such a talented storyteller, but a deal is a deal.”

“Captain!  The rat!”  the bosun shouted.

I looked.  “After it men, don’t let it get away!”

“Ayeaye!”  “Yarr!” “Get it!”

We took after the creature as it made for the cover of the jungle at the top of the tide-line.

“I told you, Captain!  Like an arrow!”

But the time for conversation was over.  The rat was fast, and as it darted into the undergrowth it was all we could do to catch up, galumphing into the jungle like idiots.

Of course, we lost the bloody thing instantly.

“Spread out!  Find it!”

“Ayeaye!”  “Don’t step on it!”  “Yarr!”

“Here!  I see it!”

We gave chase again, for though it seemed unlikely, perhaps the rat was leading us to wealth beyond our imaginations, just like Hobb had told us.  And we would feel more stupid if we ignored it.

The bosun caught a foot on a tree root, tumbled over and was out of the chase.  Hobb blundered left, when the rat cut right, and we lost him too.  One of the ratings managed to run off a low cliff, another ran headlong into some thorn bush, snaring and scratching himself badly.  I left him behind, gingerly picking himself clear.

By the time I found myself running along a stretch of sand up along a rising cliff-line, I was the only one left in the chase, just me and my rodent guide.

“Stand, you mangy beast!” I roared, but it seemed disinclined to respect the chain of command.

Instead, it disappeared over the crest of the hill; I dug in and ran faster, sand slipping under my boots.  I crested the hill, and had to throw myself backwards, as the ground dropped away from me, into a stream far below.

I was going too fast to stop, my feet dug into the soft sand, but my body kept going.  I windmilled my arms to try and catch my balance, and my hand chanced upon a tree-limb.  I grabbed, and clung on for dear life, as I swung wildly out over the precipice.

The tree branch bent, bowed, and as the ground swung wildly beneath me, I found myself hanging over the far bank.  I let go, falling heavily on my shoulder, my face ploughed a furrow in the sand, but when I came to a stop at last, I seemed to be still alive.

I looked up, and there was the rat; it flicked its whiskers at me.

It had stopped its flight in a small sandy hollow, there was nothing remarkable about it, other than a rat and a battered pirate captain.  “You never had any intention of leading me to untold treasure, did you?

“You’ve led me on a merry chase, my rodent friend, I respect that,” I scooped up the creature “but if I find Hobb, I will be feeding you to him.  Fair enough, mate?”

I stuffed the rat in my coat pocket, buttoning it safely in.  I brushed myself off, and looked around, by way of getting my bearings.

The beach, and my ship were to my right, but as I took a step to return, I caught a sound from the other direction, some distance off.  Stone, ringing on metal.  Curious.

Slowly, carefully, I picked my way through the trees, following the sound.

I arrived in time to watch Hobb smash the lock on a chest open.  He didn’t see me, as he opened the lid, but I saw the glint of gold therein.

I stepped forward.  “Mr Hobb, what have you there?”

Hobb startled, and the chest slammed shut.  “Ah Captain!  As promised, the rat led my right to it!  Good and proper and true.”

“I see, and where is the much celebrated rodent now?”

“I let him go, the poor mite deserved his freedom after serving us so well, I was thinking.”

Wordlessly, I pulled the rat from my pocket.

“Ah, and I see you found him again, no escaping you Captain, right?”

“Quite right, yes.  You played me for a fool, Hobb.  I don’t know what you hoped to gain… but whatever it was, you’ve lost.”

“Treasure enough to buy my way off this island captain, even your men would leave you here and take me safely home for a fraction of this, I warrant.” He stood, and as he did, he had a pistol in his hand.  “And I see this more by way of an opportunity than a loss.  If you’re dead, the crew’s loyalty will cost me less, I’m thinking.”

Fast as I am, I couldn’t draw my cutlass and cover the ground before the cur shot me, but I had … other resources available.

With a flick of my wrist, I tossed the rat at him.

The beast squealed in surprise, and for reasons best known to Hobb, he chose to fire wildly at the rodent in flight.  The retort of his pistol echoed across the island, but even as the echo faded, my sword was out and driven into Hobb’s chest.

I sat next to the dead storyteller to catch my breath.  The rat considered the view from atop the treasure chest.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  “Welcome to my crew, my friend!”