[Insert Empathy Statement Here]

Something disturbing has happened lately. I normally restrict this blog to my own project updates and thoughts on writing, but I had to take a moment to share this story.

I am an independent author. I do not work at writing full time, and I have a “day job”, but writing is something that is very important to me, and getting exposure as an independent author is hard work, especially when you don’t have the time to invest in marketing and promotion.

A few years back, Craig Groshek of Chilling Tales for Dark Nights reached out to me for permission to feature some of my horror short stories on his website’s podcast. Three of my stories were given a fantastic treatment by veteran storyteller, Otis Jiry, and Craig was very respectful and courteous as we correspended about the permissions involved. The folks over at Chilling Tales for Dark Nights are a respectable and admirable group, and that has made it hard to witness what they are dealing with right now.

Earlier this week, their youtube channel was the target of a hacking incident. The hackers changed the channel’s name and privatized most of their videos, in essence erasing their brand identity and destroying their subscriber base in one foul swoop – all in an effort to post fradulent bitcoin videos.

The incident itself is awful, but the worst part is how YouTube is responding to the incident. As a result of posts made by the hackers, there were multiple community strikes made against Chilling Tales’ channel and they have had monetary losses as a result. This incident happened days ago and as of yet all that the channel has received from YouTube as a result of their many pleas for help are automated (bot) replies [insert empathy statement here], and generic messages telling them to await appeal.

This is a time where many are trapped at home, or unable to socialize with friends and family as they wish to. We are divided by a global pandemic, and one of the things that helps bring people together during these times of need is art. Art, and exploring creativity. The team at CTFDN not only promotes an interest in horror fiction, but promotes artists and authors in all that they do. They deserve better than this.

To help, please tweet @TeamYouTube regarding the strikes against Chilling Tales for Dark Nights (their YouTube channel name got changed to Tesla by the hackers). Thier official twitter handle is @ctfdn_official and they need all the help they can get.

Can I do this?

In 2012, I started writing a fantasy novel titled The Keeping of the Light – a story focussed around three point of view characters trying to survive in a post-war country where ancient magic seems to be coming back to life, with dangerous implications. The tale follows their personal journeys as they are forced to leave their homes and try to make sense of an unfamiliar and unfair world.

Pretty vague, I know, but if you’re looking for details, the rough drafts of the first 19 chapters or so are available on this website.

The thing that bothers me is I never finished writing the novel. About 3 years ago I reached the 50000 word mark and just… stopped. I ran out of steam. The tale had grown too large, too overwhelming, and looking back, I found that there were many errors and blunders that would need to be reworked and rewritten in irder for the story to be cohesive and clear. Also, my writing approach and ideas had changed, meaning the atory that I wanted to tell wasn’t the same as the story I had set out to tell. I didn’t feel like I was ready to tackle this task, and because I was focussed on my personal and professional life, writing came to a standstill. Since then, I have yet to write another word of the book.

I think I lost my drive.

Lately, though, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the story. I have always known the ending that I wanted to work towards, but I became overwhelemed with how to get there. Now, though, I’ve spent some time re-evaluating and I think I know where I want to go with the story.

I’m going to try to finish it.

I don’t know if it will be good, and I don’t know if anybody will like it, but I have to try. I want to finish this book, even if it is a peice of hot garbage because at least then I can say that I’ve done it. Then, if it takes me another 8 years to write another draft, then so be it – this is the story that I set out ti write, and It’s what led me to create this blog in the first place. It’s what got me writing, and I owe it to the story and these characters – and most if all, myself – to make it complete.

Happy writing.

The Great Migration (a short story)

Oh, I remember it well, the great migration, if that’s what you insist on calling it. That’s not the name they were giving to it back then, but these things change, I understand. Back then they called it an “opportunity” and that sounded better than “resettlement” so that’s what we called it. I guess there wasn’t enough opportunity for financial growth created by our little town of fishers so the ones in charge of things took the opportunity to stop providing shipments of food, goods, medical supplies… you get the idea.

The way up was out – or in, rather. In was where they wanted us all to be, not out. Goodness knows, out there on the fringes of everything, on the coastlines and shorefronts we must have cost the the folks in the city quite a bit of money. Those outside places – “outports,” they say nowadays – were a risk to a bigger and better and more comfortable way of life. The only trouble was for the boys in charge to get us in on the whole idea, and people tend to agree to things with a few extra dollars in their pockets.

And with that business sorted out, out, we must go.

The problem with resettling a settlement is this: settlements are more than just the people that settled themselves there, they are also made up of all the things that those settlers settled around themselves. We – being the sure set folk that we were – had naturally settled ourselves quite solidly into the setting, and to reset ourselves and our settlement was to set for ourselves a detestable task. One that we were sure to solve, though, having set ourselves to start.

So it was, then, that the entire community started to pack its things up and prepare to vacate the premises.

First? No, no, no. Goodness no, we weren’t the first to be resettled. That being said, I like to think that we approached the whole situation with a level of creativity that the others could only dream of. Yes, our little town wasn’t about to go quietly and simply disappear into the crowd. We didn’t want to go – of course we didn’t – but we had taken the money and we had agreed to vacate the premises in search of gainful employment in the city and we were – and I like to think, still are – true to our word.

Commotion? Well, I don’t recall us being difficult about the situation, but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? I guess you could say we were stubborn, but that is to be expected when you ask – or tell, rather – a community of people to just go away. You see, most would take an instruction like “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate yourself from the premises.” That’s mincing words, in my humble opinion. My neighbors and I – being the very literal folk we were – took “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate the premises.” Doesn’t seem that controversial to me.

We started with the houses, thinking to tear them down and rebuild in the city once we could find some empty lots. This, however, presented a challenge. The ones in charge had only given us a month to leave in the contract, and to tear down a town’s worth of buildings for repurposing would take much longer than that, even with all hands on deck. It was old Aunt Islay, who came over from the old world, that suggested we avoid the trouble of tear-down altogether. So we decided to drag the houses behind us, floating them over water and sliding over land to resettle them in the city. Great barges, floats and skis were constructed to prepare, and like a circus caravan for giants, our homes were fitted to coast, slide and roll through the miles to the city. It wasn’t easy work, but we were used to that.

Some folk might have stopped there but we had spent years cultivating the land for our needs – sowing crops, growing hedges, stacking great stone walls – and it felt wrong to leave it all behind. After all, hadn’t we agreed to vacate the premises? We took them too. All of it. Every fence post, every wall, every woodpile leaning against an old rotten stump – it was all carried with us. The trees whose shade we had rested in, the nests of birds whose music we enjoyed, the fertile patches of garden soil, the spring that brought forth cold fresh water perfect for drinking, the rabbits and foxes and mink who we often trapped for pelts (they made such fine hats for winter, you wouldn’t beleive), the old log in the cove where we’d sit and watch the sunset, the swimming hole with the deep pool and waterfall that fell down from the mountains above and oh, the mountains! Goodness, we couldn’t possibly leave those mountains behind! The cemetery with all its tombs and monuments. The hollow in the woods where young lovers were apt to visit. That hillside overlooking the harbor with the most perfect, enchanting view. We packed it all up, and made our way into the city.

And what a sight we must have been. Ha! How those city folk must have laughed and shook their heads at us as we moved our things in, laden with the premises, the settlement and all that. How they must have turned up their noses when we couldn’t find a lot big enough for it all in that rolling expanse where the buildings chafe when the wind blows at night and neighbors stare out of windows, into windows. While the boys in charge had requested us, it became clear very soon that they hadn’t bothered to make room for us and our resettling of everything.

“There,” old Aunt Islay pointed, “by that bus stop. That’s as good a spot as any.” It was there that we laid our burdens down.

I suppose I can understand the fuss. Once we had unloaded our things we took up quite a lot of space, and naturally things didn’t fit quite right. There were houses atop houses, gardens on government buildings, woods growing out the tops of intersections and museums – there was a particular commotion that arose because we had set down our harbor in the middle of a city park, but we thought the place was much improved by the seabirds gliding and the marine sunsets in summer. The locals didn’t much share our thoughts on the matter. A difference of perspective, I suppose.

Despite our differences we lived with the cityfolk for a while. Days went by. Months, years. After a while the locals seemed to grow a fondness toward our way of life. There were times when we’d find teenagers climbing up the streetlamps into our market to haggle prices on pelts and fresh fish, offering to trade in their pre-torn jeans and hamburgers. Other times we would catch sight of passersby gazing up from the busy streets, goggling dreamlike at our simple daily tasks in the town above the city. A few of the locals even went as far as to settle themselves on our native land, raising homes and clearing land amongst the woods and grassy hillsides of our patchwork neighborhood. Things became, in time, rather good.

And, yes, we grew to enjoy the city life as well – I’ll be the first to admit it! After a hard day of hauling traps or fishing it made life easier being able to board our canoes and paddle downtown to pick up a pepperoni pizza for supper that night. We’ve always been a folk to enjoy a good party, and what a good many times we had with those city dwellers – kitchen parties, cocktail parties, festivals, raves. Over time we changed the way they lived their lives and, undoubtedly, they changed us as well.

The one thing that hadn’t changed, it seems, was the opinion of those in charge of life around the city. As it turns out, our stubbornness had thrown what one might call a wrench into their plans of economic development. We had angered the boys in charge by tangling up their idea of a bigger, better way of life by dumping our setting over the top of theirs, and they weren’t about to let us get away with it. I mean this in the most literal sense.

The day came when those politicians and investors came marching to our doors and – without as much as a day’s notice – evicted us from the premises.

“Out,” they said, “out!” And what choice did we have? We’d be painted as criminals, outlaws, disturbers of the peace and wellbeing of the city. Our town above the city was messy, unsightly, in the way. They weren’t having it. We hauled up our boats, gathered our children and animals and belongings. We scrambled to collect everything we’d brought with us but by then it wasn’t so easy as that. The roots of our trees had taken hold in their soil, and the branches of theirs had brought forth fruit from which we ate. Our worlds had become not quite one, but together. We had become settled.

We found our way home, or back to the place where home used to be, at least. Our flight back over land and sea was a hard one, plagued by sickness and danger and terribly dull reading material, and once we had set ourselves back down at our space by the sea, we set ourselves to making things the way they once had been. The mountains were slid into place, the harbor positioned, the houses and trees and fence posts restored. Our memory had faded over time, so it became difficult to get things just right, and even when we called to our elders – the ones with the greatest knowledge of our home – they had lost interest. Old Aunt Islay said “Just put it over there. There, by that… whatever you call it,” and waved her hand dismissively when we asked whether it was right before going back to her tabloids.

Some of the city folk had come with us, I think, but they were nice enough and took the places of those that must have hidden away and stayed behind. We tried our best to put it all back – every rabbit, every field, every subway station – but it seemed impossible to make it all as it had been. We came to accept that, and in time even came to forget the things we left behind. Slowly, with some reservation, our setting became settlement again, and whether it’s the same as before or not, that sunset is just as beautiful as I can ever remember it being.

Oceans Under Oceans (a short story collection)

I’m excited to announce that I am working on compiling a collection of short fiction, entitled “Oceans Under Oceans.” This will contain a selection of nine short stories, including “The Town That Moved,” “The Water’s Edge,” “The Definition of Fog,” and six more that have not been published anywhere online. This collection of non-horror short fiction will follow a common theme of nautical life and serve as a sort of faux folktale compilation. I can’t wait to share more, but for now, here’s a working cover design:

The Definition of Fog (a short story)

fog(1)

noun

1. [common noun] A thick(2) cloud of moisture in the atmosphere at low altitude near the earth’s surface that restricts visibility to less than 1km.

‘the flight was delayed due to thick fog’

2. [well that’s an understatement] Thick? You’re damned right it’s thick in these parts. I’ve got a sample of it sealed up in a jam jar around around somewhere that I could show you if you like. Thicker than frozen peanut butter, it is. I chipped it off the corner of a fog bank back when I was a bachelor and held onto it for safekeeping, just in case inquisitive folks like yourself came around and had questions. You can guarantee I like to be prepared for these sorts of things, being the expert that I am on the subject. The problem is getting it out of the jar to show it off, though. The bloody stuff is stickier(3) than wet glue. Now, it’s not quite as bad as it used to be in the old days, but it’s still enough to trip you up if you don’t mind where you’re walking when it rolls into town.

3. [that’s just the thing!] Nobody considers the stickiness of the stuff. My goodness, I remember walking back from the cobbler or the market on a damp morning and having to wash my hair three or four times to get all the fog out of it! It was like syrup – all gloopy and stringy – and sometimes you’d get it all jammed up behind your ears or clogged in the corner of your eye and it would take a dog’s age of digging around with a wet rag to get it all wiped off. I recall more than one embarrassing moment where I got caught with a finger halfway up my nose while I was trying to hook the stuff out. I shouldn’t have felt ashamed, though, because everybody and their mother-in-law was doing it in those days. It wasn’t uncommon to see – during a bought of particularly heavy fog – a crowd of your neighbours strutting down the road with one hand covering their eyes and the other picking away at their nostrils with wild abandon. It was a constant irritation – not that any of us had any time(4) to complain about it in those days.

4. [we just got on with our lives] Consider this: you are a fisherman who works every day. You want to get out on the water (assuming you are not an underwater fisherman) before daybreak to make sure you find a good spot. You could get up at 5 o’clock, dress yourself, eat, and make your way down to the harbour. By the time you loaded your lunch, your bait (all prepared the night before, of course) and yourself into the boat and rowed out to sea, you could probably get in position and be ready to start by sunrise at around 6 o’clock. Sounds reasonable, right?

Now, consider the following: in order to get yourself from your house to the harbour, you need to accommodate for the bank of fog that rolled into town the night before. You spend 10 minutes trying to shove the door open (and many people switched to inward-swinging doors to avoid this) only to be faced with a blinding-thick, sticky mass of fog all piled up against the side of your house and blocking the road downtown. What’s a sorry fisherman to do but grab the axe and shovel and dig yourself a tunnel(5) to get to work in the morning? And then, upon reaching the harbour an hour or so later, you find your boat piled 10 or 12 feet high with wet, sticky fog and need to dedicate another hour – at least – scooping the blasted thing out so it doesn’t capsize with all of the added weight. Most folks had to get up as early as 2 o’clock in the morning to make it out on the water on time, and some became partially nocturnal to accomodate for the extra planning and preparations.

5. [and it was dangerous work, mind you] Oh, I remember one poor fellow who – in the process of digging a tunnel from his front door to the market – found himself in a very unfortunate situation. A pickle, as they say. He had made it about halfway to the market – about 50 yards deep into the fog – when the wind picked up. Now, the wind is a wonderful thing when it’s foggy because it will blow the stuff away, but a seaward breeze can be a frightful thing when you’ve got yourself burrowed into a bank of fog the size of a small mountain. As a result, the whole mighty pile of fog – with that poor fellow trapped inside – blew itself about 10 miles offshore at 8 o’clock in the morning. Visibility being as poor as it was, he didn’t even notice he’d been carried away until he finished digging his way out the other side of the bank and nearly fell overboard. Luckily, another shift of direction in the wind carried the fellow to a small island, where he was treated to some fine hospitality by the local lighthouse(6) keeper. By the time he was able to hitch a ride back home, we’d given him up for dead. He was always bitter about that, and argued that a week was hardly enough time for his wife to remarry and sell the house in the process.

6. [the lighthouse keepers had it hard back then] Those poor souls had their hands full, that’s for sure. My great uncle – I’ll call him my grandfather’s brother from here on, to avoid confusion – used to work as a lighthouse keeper back in the day. He moved out there at the young age of 14 to work and stayed there until he was too old to look after himself any longer. At that point my father and my father’s cousins made arrangements and had the poor fellow put in a home so some nice nurses would blend up his food for him and give him a sponge bath once in a while. Before he went senile he used to tell me stories about things that happenned out there at the lighthouse. They would spend much of their time tending to the fog cutters as they used to call them – great, long blades that would be hoisted up on masts along the shoreline surrounding the lighthouse. These were used to slice up the fog bank as it rolled in and stop it from piling up against the lighthouse and blocking the beacon altogether.

According to my grandfather’s brother, sometimes sea creatures would get tangled up amongst the fog banks and be carried for days at a time through the air. The fog, you see, would graze the surface of the ocean and if a creature was near the surface of the water it ran the risk of being sucked up into the fog and whisked away with the wind. Taking advantage of this, my grandfather’s brother and my grandfather’s brother’s wife used to set up great butterfly nets behind the fog cutters, all in an effort to catch the fish as they fell out of the sky. It was not uncommon to see a school of mackerel or a sea turtle or even monstrous sharks gliding through the air on a particularly foggy day, basking on the wind like paper kites.

People today will tell you that much of the sea life has disappeared but my grandfather’s brother would disagree with their argument. In his final days of clear-headedness he would tell us stories of the many creatures that were lifted up by the fog. Fog, as we all know, rises away in time. Those thick banks that we used to curse did eventually lift up and drift off into the clouds, and the fishes and creatures trapped within must have risen up with them. My grandfather’s brother believed to his final day that after the many years of drifting and rising fog there was now a second ocean floating in the sky, above the one we know, and that if we were to explore above the clouds with a keen eye we would find the creatures that had been spirited away – the schools of fish, the turtles, the jellyfishes, the seals, the auks, the krakens, the sting rays, the schools of capelin and bait herring, the swordfish, the tuna, the great sea birds, the megalodon sharks, the long-necked sea reptiles, the last of the great whales – all safe, all still swimming and thriving and breaching on the wind under yet another endless sea of stars and constellations, far from the hooks and lines of fishermen far below. “Oceans under oceans under oceans,” he would say, staring out the window of his sterile little room. He would watch for hours on end at the long clouds rolling by, every now and then chuckling to himself and nodding his head, though I was never quick enough to catch whatever it was that he had seen.

All nonsense, I’m sure.

Everwander (teaser prologue for a new fantasy novel)

Just off the coast of Hreyn, the Byrgena fought its way through the storm. Her sails buckled and snapped in the wind, sending sheets of rain slapping down onto the deck where the crew worked desperately. The harbour was not far away now, and their long journey was nearly at an end, but the storm was pushing them wildly off course, toward the breakers that threatened to drown them all.

At the helm, the captain tried his best to command a safe route, but things were quickly falling apart. They’d already lost a deckhand to the waves, and he shuddered at the thought of what might happen should they sink and lose their secret cargo. He could hardly believe their luck. They’d been sailing for a fortnight and three, and had so far not encountered more than a stubborn lull in the wind for a day around the halfway point. But this… this was unexpected. And so close to the end as well. It was as though something didn’t want them to reach land. Curses, he thought savagely, now the gods have given up on me. He shook his head for thinking it – he was a pious man, for the most part – but a storm like this made you wonder…

The sun was still far below the horizon. The only light came from the moon and the lanterner’s lamps tied to the centre mast, but the reddish glow they cast over the scene was beginning to make things look worse. His crew were being thrown about like some child’s playthings, and he could just barely maintain his grip of the helm. Then, like a scream, the wind came in a great gale that nearly knocked him over the side. The sail ripped like a sheet of parchment and came tumbling to drape over the bow of the Byrgena like a cowl. They were headed straight for the breakers now.

The captain could hear his crew shouting, praying, looking for a command, but there was nothing he could say. He’d spent his whole life on the water, and had faced many storms before. He’d returned from pirate dens with kidnapped duchesses and a hull of treasure to boot. He’d single-handedly slain the leviathan beast that had besieged Gyrtown when he was just a teen. He’d slept in the jungles of Iri’kh and heard their nightmare tales of the dreaded Ga’bhak, the shadow demon. In his home country they sang songs of him in taverns and halls, and his name was listed among the great heroes of ages gone by – heroes the likes of Ithel, Alwin, and Uhlohi.

But, nodding, the captain agreed that there was little and less that he could do. There was a creaking and rumbling from below deck, and he knew then that their cargo had broken free. Grimacing, the captain removed his satchel and passed it to the first mate, who accepted it relunctantly.

“Abandon ship,” he commanded. The crew looked at him oddly – they would never have expected this to happen. Surely, they thought, he must know some way out of this. But the captain’s face was grave, and he commanded them again, in a quiet growl that was only just audible above the roaring of the wind,

“Abandon ship.”

“But, Captain,” insisted the first mate, “the lifeboats… we’ve lost them.”

The captain looked to his first mate who he’d known for years – whom he considered a worthy leader and a brave man. He considered him, above all else, a friend. He would trust him with his life, and had done so through many perilous journeys into lands unknown. He heard the rumbling sound from below deck again. The Captain looked to his friend of many years, then to the rest of the crew. He nodded. “Then swim. There is no hope here. If you stay onboard, you will die, and I will not have it.”

The crew still didn’t move, so the captain drew his sword from its sheath. It was curved and terrible, and seemed to reflect no light other than the light of the lanterner’s lamps, making it glow a blood-red in his hand. It cut the wind in two where he held it aloft, and the crew – even the first mate – shuddered when they looked upon it. Its name was as sharp as most blades themselves. The captain’s face grew dark, and he pointed his sword at the crew. “I command you to get off my ship. Jump over the side, or I will be forced to slay you myself.”

The crew listened. Fearful of the captain’s blade and his sudden change of character, they turned and leapt from the ship into the boiling waters below – even those of them who did not know how to swim. The last to jump was the first mate. He stopped and turned to look at the captain face to face. He knew the captain better than anyone else, and when he looked into his eyes, he could see that the anger was not true. The captain would never harm his crew – they were a family to him, and more precious than any treasure or praise.

And looking closer still, the first mate saw, with horror, that the captain was afraid.

“Go,” said the captain, and the first mate leapt from the bow.

Alone on his ship, the captain turned and descended the stairs to the deck below. In the darkness of the hull, he could faintly see the door of the great iron cage swinging back and forth with the swaying of the ship. Several chains lay broken on the floor – their links twisted and torn apart. The prisoner was loose, and was hiding somewhere in the ship.

The captain lifted his terrible blade to his face, thought for a moment, and whispered something to it. With a sudden vividness that put the lamps above to shame, the blade of the sword grew alight with a glow that illuminated the inside of the ship. Standing near the bow end was the prisoner, staring him down with a face like smoke. All that could be seen of the prisoner’s identity was their eyes – cold and silver, like scoured steel below the rust.

Moving like lightning, the captain dashed toward the prisoner, who was armed with a pair of swords from the rack. They met in a clashing of steel and light, and with a powerful slash, the captain cut the prisoner’s blades clean in two – their deadly halves clanging to the planks. The captain took his chance then, and plunged his own glowing weapon into the prisoner’s chest, nailing him to the wall. But the prisoner laughed, chanted some words, and the broken blades flew through the air to slice at the captain’s back.

Wounded, the captain rolled out of the way before turning to look at his opponent. With a scream like a hurricane, the prisoner grabbed at the blade buried in his chest. There was a creaking as it slowly loosened from the wood, but the captain knew he had a little time.

He staggered to the weapons rack and took the largest axe he could find. He whispered to it, and the axe head began to glow like the sword. He stared at the prisoner’s hidden face. The two met eyes for a second.

“Fool,” said the prisoner in a voice like venom, “I cannot be killed by steel and strength alone. You will meet your death this night.”

But the captain did not falter. Fear was past him now. He knew what he must do. He was a legend. He was a hero. He was brave. “Aye,” he growled at the prisoner. “I will.”

He ran and swung the axe with all the might that his bloodied shoulders could muster. In mid-swing, he chanted a word that seemed a thousand times louder than the raging storm. The axe crashed into the hull of the ship with an immense force. Cracks ran through the wood, sending splinters flying and water spouting into the ship. The captain yanked it free, and a great stream of water flowed through.

“Fool!” the prisoner shouted, but the captain did not listen. He stood back then swung the axe a second time, his chant slicing through the night like some greater thing than the weapon he wielded. The hull creaked and groaned as more splits ran through the wood. Water was gushing into the ship now. The captain was up to his knees.

As he pulled the axe free once more, the prisoner’s glare intensified. Through the smoky illusion that hid his face, the prisoner’s eyes were like chasms. Their lunar hue deepened, and the captain felt that he was not looking into the eyes of a man, but through a window into nothingness.

Then, raising the glowing axe high above his head, the captain chanted a final time. The axe in his hand and the sword in the prisoner’s chest glowed white-hot, filling the ship with an impossible light, and when the captain swung it was with a speed and strength that none had ever seen.

The axe struck like lightning, square in the prisoner’s chest – the force was so great that the hull behind him gave way to a yawning blackness. The water came rushing in.

In the early morning darkness, the first mate dragged himself onto the Hreynish shore and coughed up the briny water that had nearly drowned him. He looked out to the sea, and saw the Byrgena shudder with a sound like thunder. There was a flash. A scream. And then the lamps went out.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 19 – Guardian of Histories

“Will you help me with these histories, U’luk?” Krikka Kol I’khir’s seven foot frame was hunched under the weight of the massive load he was carrying. An enormous chest, made of leather and dark wood and large enough to serve as a youngster’s coffin, was strapped to his back. Under each arm he held a toughly woven basket, both filled to the brim with books, scrolls and even a number of tablets that looked to be carved from stone.

“Yah. Here,” said Rory. She accepted one of the baskets and was surprised by how heavy it was in her arms.

“What are you going to do with all of them?”

“Do? I do nothing with them. Only carry. And look after.”

“Well, where are we carrying them, then?”

“There,” Krikka said, nodding his head toward the High Keeper’s tower. “High Keeper wants to read the histories. Wants to learn about the old days. Learn for bad times, I think.”

Rory struggled to keep up with the Iri’khul, whose every step equalled two her own. “Whaddya mean, bad times? What’s happening?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, U’luk. Could be war. I hope not. Krikka hope for be gone before that comes.”
War. Rory glanced at the pale stone monolith and shivered. The orange-red beacon seemed as bright in the day as it had in the night. “Last time there was war, my people suffered.”

“All people suffered. My own too, U’luk.”

“Aye, but mine suffered here.”

It took them a while to make their way up out of the maze of the harbour. Before turning out on the cobble street, Rory glanced back at the water far below. The Cormorant was being tied to the docks, and she could see some of the city guards talking with her father. It puzzled her why he had sent her off with Krikka when Lhorrenhelm seemed such an easy place to get lost.

At a corner there was a man in ragged clothes selling pickled herring, two for a shim, and Rory bought a couple for Krikka and herself. Krikka’s face puckered when he chewed the whole little fish. He forced a smile and thanked Rory anyways, and they walked on. They passed other stalls. Two women with freshly spun wool. A one-eyed fletcher who promised his arrows would pierce even the oldest swile’s hide. An old crone selling charms carved from wood, stone and formed with clay. The streets were swarming with people of all ages, from children toting baskets of fish to elders shuffling three-legged on their knobbly canes.

Rory mapped out the city as they walked. On the seaward side of town, nearest the harbour, the streets ran crooked and narrow, and buildings in between were leaning almost haphazardly, like trees on a harsh coast. Here, the cobble was scarcely wide enough for a cart to be pulled in places, and there were points where Krikka had to stop and squeeze through openings that came almost to a point.

Everywhere where the sounds of life: children screaming and dogs barking and dishes clattering and breaking, followed cheers or shouts from pubs and miniature squares were merchants and beggars alike gathered and made themselves heard. There was a sort of healthy dirtiness to it – becoming unhealthy from time to time – that felt alive. And everywhere was the stink of smoke and fish. It reminded her a bit of a larger, more bustling Koppet, and Rory’s unease lifted gradually.

After making at least two complete circles, they found their way out onto the tower road. It was a straight way, and wide, that ran from the fields in the foothills right to the High Keeper’s tower at the cliff’s edge. From here Rory could see that the buildings on the western side of town were stronger, older, but no less weathered than the teetering structures on the harbour side. As they continued walking the tower road Rory noticed many of the buildings had foundations of solid carved stone that were older still.

At last, they came to the front steps of the Tower. A guard stepped forward, clad in oiled leathers. He was armed with a spear.

“Who are you, and what is your business?” he said. The guard looked at Krikka with disgust.

“How many of my people come to you in a year, guard?” Krikka frowned.

“Who are you, and what is your business?”

“How many in ten years, I wonder?”

“Who are you, and wh-”

“Krikka Kol I’khir, of Ohnk-bal. Of Iri’kh. Guardian of histories and left hand for La’k Kol Kha’zik, Hi’h Ka’yn of Ohnk-bal.” The guard looked at Rory and she nodded, pretending to know who or what a Hi’h Ka’yn was.

“Left hand?” the guard asked, raising an eyebrow.

Krikka smiled, smugly. “La’k Kol Kha’zik is left handed, guard.”

After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded. “And the girl?”

“This is my U’luk. Companion for today. She is daughter for Captain-”

“Captain Alvan Halk. Here at the request of the High Keeper,” said Rory. She was getting tired of introductions and something about the guard’s attitude was making her uncomfortable. She started for the door but the guard snapped the butt of his spear down hard in front of her.

“Yillon,” he called to another guard who was standing nearby. “Take these two to the Court Hall.”

“Follow me, then,” said the guard named Yillon, and he lead them through the giant doors at the tower’s base.

The first room they entered was long and narrow, and seemed more like a hallway than a room to itself. Still, it was larger on its own than any building Rory had ever been in, save for the dry dock at Hammerfall where she’d been in her youth. The only window was above the main entrance – a narrow slit carved into the pale stone of the wall. The long side walls were lined with smaller doorways, some open and some closed, and here and there were stairs that led up or down into shadow. They were heading towards the opposite end of the hall, where an open doorway led to a brightly lit room where it seemed many people were talking. Her attention wasn’t on where they were heading, rather on the surface of the walls and ceiling. There was something strange about the look of the place.

Here and there were pockets of air or protrusions of stone that didn’t seem to belong. The carved walls were more than rough – they were completely irregular. It was as though whatever people had been assigned the task of mining out the rock kept running into sections of stone that refused to be cut, like running a knife through meat and bringing it up in a bone. The more she stared, the more Rory felt as though she were not walking through a hallway, but into the gullet of some unfathomably large beast. She struggled for something to take her mind off of it.

“Do you know the name of the cliff?” she asked Krikka.

Krikka shook his head.

“Reef Head.”

“Part of me thinks I used to know this,” said Krikka.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a really old name. It comes from the war.” Rory stared cautiously at the back of the guard’s head walking in front of them. “They used to reef ships here. Light up the tower with mast lamps and lure them into the shallows. In low tide or a storm they’d break up on the rocks and then the city folk would go down and drag for goods. Collect the rest that washed ashore. You know what they did with survivors?”

The guard snorted.

Krikka drew a finger across his throat.

“Yep.”

They were nearly at the door when the guard named Yillon stopped and turned to them. “You will remember your place as guests of the High Keeper. You will speak only when requested. I’ll ask you to turn over any weapons before entering the Hall. Are you armed?”

Rory and Krikka both looked at each other before shaking their heads. Beside the guard on a sturdy table there was already a large pile of axes, knives, spears, a number of hunting bows and full quivers, and what looked like a pair of crude wooden crutches.

“Very well.” The guard stared at them for a long moment before finally stepping aside and snapping his spear down hard on the floor. “You may enter.”

The Court Hall was crowded. Four individuals who, Rory supposed, must be figures of authority were standing at the far end on a raised platform. In the center of the Hall was a group of very tired looking people. Some were holding toddlers or embracing, and more than a few were teary-eyed. Among them were an old man clutching a sack of maps, a triplet of women who must have been sisters, a young boy holding the hand of a crippled blonde woman, who looked only a few years older than Rory, and a man who could almost have matched Krikka in height. A few of the folk turned to look at them when they entered the Hall, but most went back to their conversations right away. All except one.

He was young – perhaps twenty – and was standing next to the crippled woman and another man of about the same age. He looked cold, tired and hungry. His heavy winter clothes were tattered and torn, his beard wiry and untrimmed. He had the slightly stunned look of somebody who had just been slapped in the face, and he was staring straight at Rory as though he knew who she was.

Tempest (a poem)

pilgrims, nomads, sentinels against the fury of the coast:
backs bent sidelong,
straining, still,
they sway with loving ease under the eye of that relentless ghost.
the ocean draws its breath.

that salt-stained silhouette of shore under a frosted glow:
a mirror pool,
watchful gaze.
thunderclaps of memory accost the tidal mouths below.
she smiles in her sleep.

in dreams aquatic, giants, titans cry their hopes and fears alike:
the air collapses,
crystalline.
the column pauses, dreading, waiting in anticipation for the strike.
and yet, the dawn arrives.

The Water’s Edge (a short story)

My grandfather showed me a trick, when I was a youngster, that he used to become the most successful fisherman in the world (so he claims). We were sitting on the end of the dock one hot morning while he sipped at his black tea and I asked him how it was that he caught so many big fish (and only big fish) when all the other fisherman used to bring home a wide variety of sea critters of many varying sizes. My grandfather only ever brought in cod, and no less than a half-fathom from nose to tail. They were always plump, strong-looking fish as well – the sort that were prone to untying jiggers and biting off lines and breaking the hearts of many young and boastful fishers.

The problem with fishing (he told me) is you can never get a clear enough view from the boat to tell where the big fish lie. To make things trickier, codfish like to lie near the bottom when they get lazy (as big, fat codfish are prone to do) and smaller, jumpier fish tend to get to the hooks before they have a chance to reach the big fish down below. What he would do first is go looking for a sharp stick. It had to be quite tough but also flexible, and needed to have a very particular wedge-shaped point. He would then walk down to the water’s edge and (very carefully, I might add) pry it up with the pointy end of the stick.

You had to be very patient, because the water’s edge is very slippery (an effect of it being so wet) and this made it very tricky to hook the stick under it, but if you drive it in at just the right angle with just the right amount of force, you could get some leverage and flip it up, creating a gap between the ocean and the ocean floor. The next step (and this part is key) is to work the stick in bit by bit (being careful not to break the surface tension) until you have an opening bug enough to slide into, and then drive the pointy end of the stick into the ocean floor to hold up the water’s edge like the flap of a canvas tent. Once you’d finished that step you were laughing, and the rest was child’s play.

My grandfather would get down on his back and wriggle his way under the water’s edge, sliding himself out under the ocean in search of deeper waters and bigger fish. Now, it was hard work crawling out under the water with all if that ocean pressing down from above because (as I’m sure you can imagine) it was very heavy, and also because the ocean floor could be very scratchy at times (I recall my grandfather often coming home at the end of a long day of fishing with friction burns on his forearms). You had to be careful not to get caught up on little pointy rocks or pieces of coral, because one could easily get one’s clothing torn or pulled loose while crawling and not be able to fix it while working in this awkward (but mostly manageable) environment. I recall my grandfather wriggling his way out from under the water one day with his pants across his ankles (much to the delight of his fellow fishermen, who laughed heartily at him and never let him live it down) after getting them snagged across a particularly jagged sunken log.

The view from the ocean floor was much clearer than from above, because there was no wind or waves to stir up the view, and everything was backlit by the brilliant sun from above, making the entire viewing experience quite pleasant indeed. Finding the schools of fish was easy, and once you had wriggled your way underneath them, it was as simple as pulling out your pocketknife, slicing a little cut in the oceans surface, and sticking in your arm to pull out whatever fish you desired. This little technique made picking out the biggest and fattest fish a walk in the park (a peice of fishcake, as they say), and once you had pulled the fish out (being careful not to get too wet in the process) you would simply lick the edges and stick the cut back together. One didn’t have to waste too much time licking the edges first because water (as a general rule) is already rather damp.

This practise served my grandfather well for most of his career, and he was able to retire at a young age while he still had his mobility and use of his faculties (for the most part), however, he did tell me about one experience he had that gave him a bit of a nasty shock. What you need to understand is that it’s very easy to lose your sense of direction down there under the water once you get away from the shore. Another thing to keep in mind is that codfish are very slippery when they are pulled fresh out of the water, and will even skip along quite well on the tricky and scratchy ocean floor when dropped. My grandfather found both of these points out when he dropped a prize fish in a moment of excitement and it went skidding and sliding away under the water off into a deep undersea ravine.

My grandfather (being the perfectionist that he was) couldnt bear to lose his catch of the day, and started off after it, crawling and scrambling along the ocean floor, occasionally stirring up confused flounders and scaring schools of sardines and generally being a nuisance to the variety of critters that lived in the area. Once at the ravine, he stopped to peer over the edge and could see the big fish down below, sliding at top fish speed over the rocks and bumps, deep, deep down into the darkness below, before promptly throwing himself in after it.

Now it’s one thing lying awkwardly under that big blanket of ocean at a depth of 15 or 20 feet, but it’s quite another thing when one finds oneself at a depth of 1000 feet and the weight of the water makes it impossible to move at all. This was the predicament that my grandfather found himself in, and lying there, staring across at his prize codfish (just out of arms reach), he decided that he might have bitten off a little more than he was capable of chewing at the present time, as they say. Lying down there, stuck in place, many brave fishermen would have given up and resorted to living under the water permanently, but my grandfather was a resourceful man (which is obvious, considering his discovery of the trick with the pointy stick at the water’s edge) and, seeing the jiggers of other fishermen bobbing up and down above him, he thought himself up a plan.

Taking his pocketknife and cutting a little hole in the ocean, he planted his lips firmly on the water surface and began to blow bubbles, sending up a little stream of Morse code to the surface where his fishermen colleagues intercepted the message and got to work in sending down a weighted rope. And so it was, on that memorable day, that my grandfather came to be pulled to the surface, holding the rope with one hand and his prized codfish with the other, and cursing gratuitously at his discomfort of having to get so terribly wet (the irony of the situation being he was much dryer and more comfortable when he was under the water than after he was rescued).

My grandfather carried on fishing the way he did for years and continued to be successful, but upon returning to the shore on that particular day, he couldn’t find the spot where he’d propped up the water’s edge, and that was disappointing to him because it had been an especially good stick (good sticks are hard to come by). Most people agree that the stick must have gotten kicked or blown over in the wind, but my grandfather was confident that he’d made sure it was good and sturdy before he went in.

So, if you find yourself walking the shoreline on a romantic excursion, and you should happen across a spot where the water’s edge has been propped up, it would be best (assuming you are not an experienced underwater fisherman) to avoid going in. And, if you and your date should happen to crawl in, in search of scenery that offers dramatic atmosphere and absolute privacy, always remember to carry with you a quality pocketknife (just in case).

Well, hello there.

Hi, readers. It’s been long time since the blog was last active, so first of all I’d like to say thanks for being patient. I’ve been working on a project that has taken up most of my time but now that I have a little more availability, I’m going to be posting on mmo ore regular basis.

Some things to watch out for in the coming months:

  • More short stories, both horror and otherwise
  • More poetry
  • More book reviews

Also, the thing I’m most excited about, which is…

More chapters of my novel in progress, The Keeping of the Light!

All of this, plus more, coming soon. Thanks all and, remember,

Keep writing.