The Lazarus Curse – a dark fantasy story

by Jon Cronshaw

Jacob sits on a throne of shattered bones. His shroud hangs black and red, hooded and flowing. A single gas lamp flickers behind him, casting shadows of dancing bones along the abandoned station walls. An empty beer can rolls from the platform’s edge and clatters against the tracks. His court of rats scatter.
“Angelus.” He holds out a pewter cup for Angelus to pours his wine and runs a curled finger through his long red hair. “Israel has betrayed me for the last time.”
Angelus sighs. “You betray each other. You are both driven by a lust for power.”
Jacob sips the wine, considers Angelus’s words, and places the cup on the arm of the throne. “I am the one.” Turning to Angelus, he narrows his eyes . “I have many followers. It is only a matter of time.”
“You both have many followers. You are moving towards a war that Lazarus will not tolerate.”
Jacob closes his eyes and steeples his fingers. “Israel’s wings need to be clipped. Lazarus must know that only I can lead.”
Angelus offers him another sigh and pours more wine.
“Do not sigh at me, Angelus. Say what is on your mind.”
“You’re the same. You and Israel are two pieces of the same puzzle.”
“We are not the same,” Jacob spits, slamming a fist down, bones splintering against his strength.
“You will only end each other.”
Jacob stares ahead and crushes the cup in his hand, feeling the metal bend to his will. He goes to stand.
“What is it?”
Jacob gasps. “I have been summoned.”
Jacob waits in silence, eyes downcast. He is on his knees, his nose touching the tiled floor. Unable to move, he listens to the scratchy rasp of Lazarus’s breath surrounding him.
Israel appears to Jacob’s left. They both bow and wait, no words, no greetings.
“We exist when we understand that we are one,” Lazarus says. Each word is clipped, stifled, pained, each vowel like shifting soil, each consonant like scraping stones. “Your pettiness has worn my patience to a gossamer thread.”
Jacob tries to wriggle, to squirm, to run, but he is paralysed, held fast by Lazarus’s will.
“We are one. We are dependant.” Lazarus spits the last word, punctuating each syllable with a click of his skeletal fingers. “It is time for your fable, time for your lesson.”
Cold fire engulfs Jacob’s body. His flesh quivers and curls as the flames bury into his being, tearing at his the last threads of his soul.
Then, the pain ceases.
“Jacob. Israel. You are cursed to end. You will expire if you do not feed on each other. You must learn the value of our brood.”
The smell of refuse and insects drifts by. Bones splinter between Jacob’s fingers when he grips the arms of his throne. “We are going to war. We cannot live together like mutually-dependent parasites.”
Angelus frowns. “If Lazarus’s curse is what you say, then you will both end. Your talk of war and conquest will be for nought.”
“Lazarus.” Jacob spits out the word. Something nudges him at the back of his mind, a pull towards his brother. He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His expression softens as he looks up at Angelus. “No one tastes sweeter than you.”
A sudden urge grips him. He lurches forward, takes Angelus by the wrist, sinks his teeth into his flesh, and feeds. “What is this?” he growls, choking on the blood. He jerks away and drops Angelus’s arm as trails of blood extend along the platform, pooling near the edge.
“What is it?”
“I…” Jacob rests his head in his hands. “Your blood is wrong,” He shoots to his feet. “I have to find Israel.”

Maggots swarm at the throne’s base while Israel’s flesh teems with buzzing flies. Drained and rotting corpses lie around his throne. Human skin stretches across its back and sides, dried pinks and browns twisted in strands that bow and stretch with Israel’s every movement. A fluorescent light tube flickers in the tunnel leading to the platform, casting a cold blue light over the scattered dead.
Jacob stands before Israel, his arms outstretched, his wrists gaping and dripping with blood. “Brother, Lazarus’s curse is our only enemy now. I offer a truce between us. Let there be no blood spilled, save for our mutual feeding.”
The throne creaks as Israel sits back. A cloud of flies darts this way and that, eddying in a macabre waltz. He hold’s Jacob’s gaze with an icy glare. “Agreed. Mark my words, Jacob, there will be a truce, but only until this curse is lifted.”
“As you say, brother.” Jacob bows his head in assent.
Silence hangs between them like a shroud. After a long moment, Israel stands, tears at his right wrist with his teeth, and offers it to Jacob. “Together.”
“Together.”
They lean down to each other’s gaping wounds and feed, sucking the blood with silent gulps as the flies hum around them.
“You taste…” they both say, their words trailing off as the faint hint of a smile creeps along their faces.
Jacob stirs when Israel crawls into his bed. The flies hover outside the chamber, waiting with the rats. “Send your thrall away,” Israel says, pushing Angelus aside with a shove.
“He is no thrall.” He makes no further protest when Angelus skulks away.
They bite into each other’s wrists again and feed.
“I hate this,” they say.
Jacob and Israel meet on neutral ground, a tunnel used by rats as a graveyard. Rodent corpses carpet the ground, some still bloated and crawling with maggots, others no more than dusty husks. Bones shatter beneath their feet as they walk. They take a moment to feed on each other and then stand back-to-back.
“We must fight this curse, brother,” says Jacob.
Israel says nothing.
“We should test the curse.”
Israel turns to him and meets his gaze in the gloom. A rat enters the tunnel along the track opposite Jacob. It stands on its hind legs, sniffs the air, locks eyes with Jacob, turns, and scurries away.
“Well?” Jacob asks.
“Well, what?”
“Well?”
“Do you have a plan?”
Jacob nods.
The air changes when Angelus nails down the final sheet of thick wood. Gone are the ebbs and flows of rushing air that mark the rhythm of the underground trains. All around is dry and still.
Jacob curls into a tight ball and feels Angelus return to his bed.
“Do you wish to feed?”
Jacob gives a weak nod and Angelus offers his wrists. Leaning forward, he tries to feed. He pushes down the urge to gag, to vomit. He turns away at Angelus’s hurt expression. “I…it will pass.”
Angelus says nothing.
The pull to Israel becomes an obsession, a twitching, a yearning twisting at every facet of Jacob’s mind.
“Jacob?” Angelus whispers.
“What is it?” Jacob’s hands and feet are heavy and stiff. He looks down to see they have turned to granite. “Summon Israel. Now!”
Israel’s arms and feet are the same bluish-green stone as Jacob’s when he arrives, limping. The flies avoid his hands. “Send away your thrall.”
“Go,” whispers Jacob.
Angelus leaves.
Weak and gasping, the pair finds flesh halfway up each other’s right arm and feed.
An iridescent glow surrounds them for a brief moment, and they find themselves bowing before Lazarus, their noses pressed against the floor and their stone arms anchored to the tiled floor as if bound by chains.
Lazarus lets out a rattling, wheezing laugh. “You dared to defy me? You thought you could lift the curse?”
“No.”
Lazarus clicks his fingers. “You were supposed to learn a lesson, but instead you worked against me.”
“No!”
“Do not lie to me. You instructed your thralls to keep you apart. And now you are here.”
A luminous green light pulses around them and starvation floors the brothers. Pain tears through their insides, a boiling, searing pain that writhes and contorts from within. Their screams do not leave their mouths, cannot.
All Jacob and Israel can do is feed. Jacob calls to Angelus for wine, but before he can utter a single word, the petrification returns and spreads across his limbs like setting ice.
“I hate this,” says Jacob, his voice muffled as he feeds.
Israel agrees, mumbling though Jacob’s armpit.
“We should end.”
“Yes.” Israel stops feeding for a brief moment. “We should end Lazarus.”
With their bodies half-petrified, Jacob and Israel summon their minions. Stone crackles along their skin as they move from feeding to giving short blasts of orders.
Jacob leans up and eyes his lieutenants. “We are in alliance…” A tendril of stone crawls along his thigh, twisting like ivy, and stops only when he returns to feed. “You must end Lazarus.”
Israel repeats the words to his own lieutenants and returns to feeding.
Jacob lifts his head weakly. “Take us to him.”
An army of rats and flies carry Jacob and Israel to Lazarus as the battle rages. Flames and arrows fly in all directions, arcing in and out of time, extinguishing everything.
The minions fall by the thousands as Jacob and Israel crawl towards Lazarus, their knees and elbows scraping, stone against stone. All the while, they still feed.
“What is the meaning of this?” Lazarus gasps, his flailing arms rendering him powerless.
Jacob and Israel drag themselves forward and separate. They lunge at Lazarus with a deafening scream and sink their teeth into his arms.
Lazarus writhes as they feed. They pull on his centre, tear at him, his bones bending and splitting. Their arms and legs turn soft, fleshy and bony, the stone retreating along their bodies like the first thaws of spring.
“Fools! You may end me, but I will make the curse stronger.”
A brilliant burst of black light emanates from Lazarus, filling the chamber with the screams of a billion holocausts. The walls around them shatter and crumble. Lazarus falls to dust as a beam of sunlight penetrates from above.
Jacob and Israel share a smile as a gust of air blows Lazarus away in a cloud of ash. “We are victorious. And now the curse is lifted.”
They look around at the scattered corpses of their armies, their crumbling empire, and the swarming flies and rats returning to their masters and share another smile. Jacob looks down at his hand and offers it to his brother. Israel’s smile falls away.
“What is it?” Before Israel can answer, Jacob’s eyes widen at the petrification spreading along his body.
“The curse.” Israel raises his stone hands.
Their bodies stiffen as the petrification moves up past their thighs.
A grim smile passes over Israel’s lips. “I fear this will not end us. We will be trapped in stone for— “ His words stop as his jaw becomes granite.
Jacob nods. “Angelus. Take us to the light. End us, before it is too late.”
Angelus crawls over to his master, his lover, his body wrecked with contusions and fractured bones. “As you wish.”
Jacob’s body stiffens as the petrification continues up his spine, engulfing his ribs and twisting his shoulders. Angelus drags Jacob and Israel towards the sunlight, towards their end.
The flies retreat and the rats scatter.
As they reach the light, they remain trapped in stone.

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Clockwork Titan – a fantasy short story

by Jon Cronshaw

The ancient titan stood in silence, facing the Braun Sea, its shadow etched against the passing glow of Nebel Hafen’s lighthouse. Heinrich Graf strode towards the statue, his head craned back as he gazed up at the steel limbs and clockwork joints. Tiny alchemical lanterns lined the path towards the titan, curving in a gentle swoop across the Meerand Gardens. Heinrich glanced to the side as clouds eddied across the moon.
Heinrich stood before the ravenglass plinth as a hand-sized black wyvern landed on top of the titan’s foot and stretched out its wings. “Waage,” Heinrich said. “Where have you been?”
The wyvern surveyed her surroundings, black eyes glimmering against the lanterns. “Lord Graf, forgive me,” she said, turning to him. “Do you have what I asked for?”
“Are you sure this will work?”
Waage hopped down to the plinth, folding in her wings. “I am confident, my lord.”
Heinrich leaned back, his gaze shifting towards the titan’s mechanical head, its stern brow fixed. “Are you sure we can control this thing?”
“The archives were very specific.”
Stepping back, Heinrich reached into his overcoat and carefully removed two balls of cloth.
“Well, unravel them, then,” Waage snapped.
Heinrich’s eyes narrowed as he unwrapped the cloths, revealing a pair of black orbs. “They’re lighter than they look,” he said, offering them to Waage.
“They are pure ravenglass?” she asked, examining the orbs.
“I…They drink in the light.” He gestured to one of them. “Look how it seems to glow with black.”
The edges of Waage’s lips curled back in what might have been a smile. “Excellent.” She grasped the orb in her mouth, threw her head back, and swallowed.
“What are you doing?”
Waage made for the second orb, but Heinrich snatched it away, bringing it to his chest.
“Answer me, wyvern.”
“I need to carry the orbs, my lord,” she said, dipping her head. A shudder spread across her spine as she coughed up the orb, letting it roll along the ground, sending with it a trail a black saliva. “If we are to do this—”
“Yes, yes,” Heinrich growled, waving a hand. “It’s just…” He shook his head. “We have spent so long—”
“You can trust me, my lord. I want to see you rise to power just as much as you do.”
Heinrich stared down at Waage’s slumped body, her wings spread out from her sides in a submissive gesture. “Of course.” He raised his chin. “Forgive my trepidation. Please, continue.”
Waage bolted forward, her jaws snapping closed over the first orb. Swallowing, she looked up expectantly.
With a slight nod, Heinrich let the second orb roll from his palm and into the wyvern’s mouth. She swallowed, eyes twinkling as she stretched out her wings, black and leathery, flapping them until she rose from the ground, disappearing into the darkness.
“Good luck,” Heinrich muttered. He paced and squinted up at the titan’s head. Waage’s shadow passed as the lighthouse’s alchemical glow flickered by. He rubbed his beard, hands trembling. “Gods be damned.”
After several moments, Waage returned, landing on the titan’s foot.
“Well?” Heinrich asked.
“I placed the orbs.”
“And?”
“My lord, they are ravenglass.”
Heinrich frowned. “Do not talk in riddles, wyvern.”
Waage bowed, flattening her wings. “Ravenglass requires the blood of its creator.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“My lord, I require your blood.” Waage looked up with one eye open, her wings still flat.
Heinrich let out an incredulous snort.
“My lord, it is—”
“Wyvern, do not deceive me,” he snapped, raising a hand. “Return the orbs and I will let the blood myself, and then you can return them to their place.”
“Please understand, once enchanted, the orbs will be hotter than a thousand fires. I will not be able to carry them.”
Heinrich held her gaze for a long moment then sighed. “Do it.” Holding out his wrist, he squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his jaw as Waage drove her teeth into his flesh, swallowing his blood, lapping around the wound. “How much do you need?”
Waage did not respond, but kept drinking.
Groaning, Heinrich flicked his wrist and brought his arm up to his mouth, blood streaming from the tiny puncture wound.
With slow steps, Waage unfurled her wings and rose into the darkness.
Heinrich watched, the blood-flow slowing around his wound. He staggered back as the titan’s eyes glowed dull red.
Waage landed on his right shoulder, her claws sharp but delicate. They stared up as the titan’s gears started to turn.
Unable to sleep, Anna Halter gazed across the Braun Sea as the second sun emerged, red and dreamlike. She leaned on her folded arms, idly stroking the mane of a carved unicorn figurine, her fingernails tracing the etched lines that suggested hair. The light from her father’s lighthouse swept across the coastline, the palace shimmering white and green, the giant standing sentry, the harbour’s taverns and shops, the moored ships, and the chain stretching across the bay.
She followed the sweep of the light again, her gaze lingering on the giant. Blinking, she leaned forward, mouth falling open. The giant’s eyes glowed bright yellow. She blinked again, rubbing her eyes.
Pulling the window open, she shivered against the chill breeze, staring at the giant. She waved and the giant’s arm waved back.
Slamming the window shut, she ducked beneath the sill with her back against the wall, as deep, shuddering breaths erupted from her body. She closed her eyes, shaking her head, and peeped back over the ledge.
The giant’s eyes still burned bright and brilliant. She waved her hand again, her arms and legs tingling when the giant moved.
She dropped down to the floor and bit her bottom lip. Grabbing her unicorn, she got up and ran over to the door, taking the spiral stairs up a level, and banged on her father’s door. “Father,” she called, reaching up and rattling the door’s handle. “Wake up.”
Restless grunts came from the other side of the door.
The lock clicked and her father leaned out, led by the spluttering light of a tallow candle, its smoke smelling of cooked pork. “Anna,” he sighed. “Why do you never sleep, child?”
Anna looked down at her unicorn then up at her father, his blond moustache drooping past his lips. “The giant waved at me.”
He shook his head. “Anna, please. Go to sleep.”
“It’s true. It waved at me.”
Looking behind him, he crouched to one knee and reached out to stroke her hair. “I know things have been difficult since your mother died.”
She pulled her unicorn close to her chest. “It’s real.”
He raised a finger, pressing it against her lips. “Shh,” he said. “It was a dream, or it was in your mind.”
Anna looked down at her unicorn and shook her head. “I can show you.”
Yawning, her father ambled back into his chamber and shifted the drapes away from the window. “The first sun is rising soon,” he sighed. “Show me what you must.”
With tiny footsteps, Anna walked to the window, standing on her tiptoes as she pointed towards the giant. “Look. You can see its eyes glow.”
He leaned over her, gazing through the glass for a short moment before turning back inside. “It is but a trick of the light. Perhaps a reflection of the second sun, or the light of the lighthouse.”
“But it waved, father. Look.” She waved her hand, grinning as the giant returned her gesture. “See?” She turned to her father arranging his day clothes on the bed.
“Anna,” he sighed. “Please get ready for the day. I will make us breakfast.”
“But, father—”
“But, nothing,” he snapped.
Anna flinched, staggering back as she pulled her unicorn close, tears welling in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice softening. He crossed the room and kissed the top of her head.
Heinrich paced before the plinth, rubbing the back of his neck, squinting up at the titan’s glowing eyes. He turned to Waage, a deep line creasing his brow. “I had no part in that.”
Waage swooped in rising circles around the titan before diving towards Heinrich, squawking.
Staggering backwards, Heinrich flapped his hands wildly. “What are you doing?”
“It extended its arm thrice—do not lie to me.” Waage hovered in the air a few feet above him, her wings beating down, slow, bat-like.
The wyvern pecked at his hair. “I warn you. Do not lie to me, my lord. I have your blood in my bones. I can control you if you are lying.”
“Treacherous wyvern,” Heinrich spat. “Why did I trust you?” A quivering passed over his body as the wyvern tugged at his mind, bending his will, twisting his thoughts. “What…are…you…?”
“You are linked and you lie.”
“There is no link,” Heinrich said, shrinking back. He stumbled on an alchemical lantern, the tiny ball shattering into smoke. “I have no control over that thing.” He fell to the ground, head smacking against stone.
Waage looked up at the titan and stopped. “You are not linked. I misjudged you. Forgive me, my lord.” She tilted her head. “But there is a link to someone.”
Eyes widening, Heinrich shifted away from the wyvern, his arms out in front of him. “I promise you, there is no link.”
“Look,” she said, pointing a scaled wing towards the lighthouse.
Heinrich followed her gaze, shaking his head. “I see nothing.”
“Of course,” the wyvern mused. “You do not perceive enchantment as I.” She hopped down to Heinrich’s side, flattening her wings against the ground, her head held low. “The thread extends towards the lighthouse.”
“Do not speak in riddles, wyvern. Say your words.”
“My lord, I feel the titan has latched onto another host, like a duckling latching to the first thing it perceives.”
“But a lighthouse? How can that be? How can a lighthouse exert control? It has no will.”
Waage raised her head and met Heinrich’s gaze. “We must seek the keeper of the lighthouse.”
Anna ran her finger along the unicorn’s mane in an absent motion. She stared at nothing as her father stood over the cooking pot, stirring porridge, flames dancing around its base, sending flickering shadows along the stone walls. Pans hung around him and a sack of turnips sagged half-open at his feet. “Things will get easier, Anna,” he said, looking back at her, his feet shuffling. “These past months have been difficult—for both of us. I am sorry that I haven’t been as close to you as I should.”
“You have the lighthouse, father.” She looked to the window as the first sun soaked the Braun Sea in its yellow glow, its light filling the sky, washing out the second sun’s gloomy brown.
He raised a wooden spoon to his mouth, tasting the porridge.
Anna moved over to the window, gazing across the sea towards the giant, its eyes still fiery, even against the first sun’s burgeoning light. A warmth pushed against the top of her head, pressing down like a hand. It sunk into her, filling her, spreading through her—a tingling, electric sensation passing across her skin, stiffening the tiny hairs on her neck.
Her father’s words came out as an echo, distant.
For a moment, she looked down at a tiny cowering man. A wyvern flapped around her and pecked at her eyes. She stepped forward, her head turning with a slow metallic screech.
She jerked back, tumbling to the floor.
“Anna,” her father said, standing over her. “Anna?”
“Father…I…” She glanced at the window.
He took her by the hand and led her back to her wooden stool, smoothed by time. “This is why you should sleep more,” he said, shaking his head. “Here.” He handed her a clay cup of watered-down ale.
“I…I’m…” She rubbed her head.
“You do not have to eat now. Perhaps you should return to bed. Close your drapes. I will keep the porridge warm and stirred.”
Anna rose to her feet and let out a deep breath. “Yes, father.” She walked over to the door, avoiding the window.
“Your toy,” he said, gesturing to the unicorn.
“Thank you.” She took it and shouldered her way through the doors and up the spiral stairs. With a sigh, she stumbled into her bed chamber.
She dragged a leather shoulder bag from between her bed and side table and tipped its contents onto her blankets.
Turning, she glanced over to the window. A twitching sensation travelled along her arms and legs, running up her spine, the pressing, tingling warmth settling around her forehead. She shook her head as if freeing herself from a spider’s web, and reached for her tabard and leggings, pulling them on before stuffing her unicorn into the bag.
The giant called to her.
Breathing heavily, Anna ran down the stairs, bolting through the door before her father noticed.
A gust of wind from the east struck her, blowing hair across her face. She ran along the cliff’s path, winding down towards the harbour, thick clumps of grass making way for barnacle-coated rocks, their sides slick with seaweed. Foamy waves brushed against the sea wall as tall ships rocked in time with the tides.
Reaching the harbour, she skipped over an iron mooring, ducking past the shopkeepers and innkeepers opening their shutters for the day, and avoided the sailors staggering out of brothels.
The warmth around her head increased, surrounding her with a low, insistent hum. She saw herself from across the harbour, a tiny red-headed girl running through the crowds.
“There,” Waage snapped as the titan’s foot rose and fell, crashing to the ground, freeing itself from the plinth. “It is moving.”
Wide-eyed, on his back, and frozen in place, Heinrich stared up at the titan, his elbows poking into the soil. “I can see it moves,” he managed through gritted teeth.
“Not the titan,” she said, gesturing with her nose towards the harbour. “The enchantment. It moves.” Waage beat her wings, rising into the air.
“What do you see?” Heinrich asked, wobbling to his feet, dirt cascading from his overcoat.
“People are coming. Hundreds of them.”
“Gods be damned. We should leave before questions are asked.”
Waage swooped down, landing on Heinrich’s shoulder. “My lord,” she whispered as the first few men and women entered the gardens, their eyes cast up in wonderment. “Being here will only increase your status in the eyes of Nebel Hafen’s citizens.”
“And what of Count Schultz?”
The wyvern stretched out her wings, raising her chin. “What of him? Only last night—” Waage’s words stopped abruptly.
“Well?”
The titan’s head turned and the crowd gasped. Waage rose into the air, circling above Heinrich. “I see the source of the link.”
Heinrich’s fists clenched. “Show me.”
“You see that little girl with the red hair?”
Anna’s focus drifted from the giant to the flickering wings of a black-scaled wyvern. She tilted her head as the creature stared at her with its deep black eyes, its wings holding it in midair like a marionette.
“The statue has come to life,” a thin man with bright green eyes said, smiling at her. “Let it rise and protect our shores from the Ostreich invaders.”
Reaching into her bag with trembling hands, Anna retrieved her unicorn, holding it close as she made her way through the crowd. She looked between the giant and the wyvern, her teeth biting into her bottom lip, breaking through the skin. The taste of blood filled her mouth.
“What is she carrying?” Heinrich asked, watching the girl as she approached the titan.
“It is inert,” Waage said.
“I will take it.”
“You would take a child’s toy in front of all these people?”
Heinrich tugged at his beard. “I am at an end, wyvern.”
“Perhaps we could take her to your manor, imprison her, and force her to command the titan to your will.”
“You vile, wicked creature.” Heinrich raised a hand to the wyvern. “Wait,” he said, hand dropping. “Take her blood. Control her with your enchantment.”
The wyvern landed on Heinrich’s shoulder, and brushed against his ear. “I can do that. She already has blood at her mouth.”
Anna stopped at the giant’s feet, placing a hand on the front of its big toe. “Hello,” she whispered as floods of warmth washed over her body.
With creaking joints, the giant leaned forward. The crowd jerked back. Some people ran away, while others stared, petrified.
Anna dropped her hand as the black-winged wyvern darted towards her, diving through the air, its wings swept back. She swung the unicorn, missing the wyvern as it tried to land on her head. Brushing it away, she cowered behind the giant’s foot.
She covered her ears, cringing at the wyvern’s squawks and screeches. The creature spiralled into the air and flew at Anna again. This time she crouched low, thrusting the unicorn around her in broad circles, missing the wyvern as it dodged and weaved her attempted strikes. “Leave me alone,” she cried. “Please.”
The sound of tearing metal echoed around her as the giant pivoted on its feet, swung a fist, and connected with the wyvern.
Anna cringed as the wyvern shot across the gardens, rolling into a crumpled, trembling heap in the dirt.
When the hand rested in front of her, she climbed onto its palm, hugging the little finger as the giant lifted her from the ground, raising her to its right shoulder.
Her breath caught in her throat when she looked down at the tiny faces staring up at her as a gust of wind tussled her hair and blew across her skin. She gazed across the rooftops, mouth agape, eyes lingering on her lighthouse across the harbour.
The giant stepped to the right and into the sea, waves crashing against its knees. Anna gripped the giant’s neck as it swayed with each step, seagulls circling around them as the lighthouse grew closer. She held her breath, trembling as she swept her eyes across the bay, taking in the boats and buildings, the shimmering stones of the palace, the crowds gathered on the lawn of Meerand Gardens watching in awe, a smile reaching her eyes. She threw her head back, loosening her grip. “This is glorious,” she cried.
Heinrich moved through the crowd, Waage perched on his shoulder. “Where am I going? This is not my will.”
“Your will is my will, my lord.”
“No, wyvern. You said—” His arms flailed uselessly as he stumbled onto the harbour wall, legs moving without consent, shins and toes stubbing against carts and walls.
“Enough,” Waage snapped. “I have a plan, but I am weakened.”
Sailors regarded him with confused expressions as he moved in fits and starts, feet jerking with each step. A woman selling shellfish jumped backwards, dodging his erratic movements. “Where are you leading me?” he groaned.
“To the lighthouse. That girl is the keeper’s daughter. We must use that knowledge to our advantage.”
Heinrich lurched forward as if being yanked by a rope, toes stubbing against the emerging rocks. “Wyvern, give me my will.”
“We must take that girl.”
“I will come voluntarily,” Heinrich pleaded. “You are hurting my feet and legs, and my shins are bruised and bloody.” He staggered forward, rolling to the ground as the wyvern released the enchantment. “Gahh! You wicked, deceitful creature. I should—” His words stopped, his mouth slamming tight. He mumbled inaudible curses as he clawed at his mouth, trying to pry it open.
“Voluntarily?” the wyvern asked, voice tinged with irony. “You must promise me that you will not try to hurt me.”
Heinrich nodded then gasped as his mouth unsealed. “Vile creature,” he spat.
“Keep your words. We have work to do.” She gestured to the titan striding across the bay, the waves crashing up to its waist. “It appears the girl is taking the titan home. I would like us to be there to greet them.”
Heinrich rose to his feet and brushed his overcoat down. “Why did I let you talk me into this?”
The wyvern marched ahead on spindly legs, following the curve of the rocks towards the lighthouse.
When they arrived, Heinrich rapped on the door with a fist, watching the titan’s approach.
“Yes?” A man with a drooping blond moustache leaned from the door.
“Let us inside. I must speak with you as a matter of urgency.”
The man glanced towards the wyvern and back to Heinrich, a frown knitting his brow. “I am very busy. We have nothing to discuss.”
“Do you know who I am?” Heinrich spat.
“Why, of course. Lord…I’m sorry. You’re the count’s nephew.”
“I am Lord Heinrich Graf.” He raised his chin. “And you are?”
“I am Karl Halter, keeper of the Nebel Hafen lighthouse.”
“You have a daughter?”
Karl’s eyes narrowed. “What is this about?”
“Your daughter has taken something that belongs to me, something very important.” Heinrich cleared his throat.
“My daughter is in her chamber.” Karl brushed his fingers along his moustache, shifting his gaze down to the wyvern. “I’m sorry. I must wish you a good day.”
Heinrich wedged his boot between the door and its frame when Karl tried to close it.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“I am Lord Heinrich Graf—”
“And you have no domain over this lighthouse.” Karl held Heinrich’s gaze, his face growing red. “What is it you believe my daughter has taken?”
“That,” Waage said, pointing to the titan with an outstretched wing.
Anna clung tight as the giant stepped from the sea and onto the rocks, its feet dripping with water and seaweed. Circling gulls called out with desperate squawks.
“There,” she said, pointing to the lighthouse. “You must meet my father.”
The giant followed the path to the lighthouse and Anna froze. “It’s that man,” she said. “And his wyvern.”
Creaking, the giant’s hand rose to its shoulder and waited as Anna clambered on. She laid low, spreading out on all fours as the giant crouched, lowering her to the ground. “Father,” she called, running towards him. “I have a new friend.” She came to an abrupt halt at the sight of the man with the wyvern, breath catching in her chest.
Heinrich grabbed Karl’s throat and thrust him head-first onto the ground.
“What—” Karl gasped.
Placing a boot on Karl’s back, Heinrich folded his arms and smiled at the girl’s approach. “Little girl, we meet again. I trust you remember my wyvern?”
“What are you doing to my father?”
“Anna, run,” Karl called.
“You had no right to take our titan,” the wyvern said. “We slaved over research and sourcing ravenglass, only for you to steal it from us like some common thief.”
Anna glanced behind her and cradled her unicorn. “It chose me. I did nothing.”
Waage hopped onto Karl’s back and frowned at Anna. “Perhaps you need—”
“Waage, Waage,” Heinrich said, his voice softening. “The girl wasn’t to know of our plans.” He turned to Anna. “Were you, Anna?”
“The giant saw me and talked to my mind.”
Heinrich smiled. “You see? All this can be resolved.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to command the titan.”
“I don’t know how it works.”
“You brought it here. All I ask is that you control it on my behalf and…” His voice trailed off and he shrugged. “I suppose I won’t kill your father.”
Anna stared up at Heinrich, wide-eyed. “What should I ask of the giant?”
A broad grin spreads across Heinrich’s face like oil on velvet. “My dear, it is very simple. I need the giant to retrieve Count Schultz from his palace and drop him into the sea, beyond the chains.”
A sharp breath caught in Anna’s throat. “But he will surely drown.”
“Indeed. But I must rule.”
“Anna, don’t,” Karl managed before Heinrich booted him in the side.
“What will it be? Help me or watch as I disembowel your father?”
Anna turned and walked to the giant’s feet, placing a hand against the warm metal.
“Do not agree to this man’s requests,” her father called through gritted teeth. “He is not to be trusted.”
“Father, please. I…I cannot be alone.”
“Where is your mother?” the lord asked. “Perhaps we could speak to her too.”
Anna’s bottom lip trembled. “She has passed on. All I have is my father.” She blinked away a tear.
A mirthless smile curled across the lord’s lips. “You see, Anna? Listen to what your heart is telling you. You do not want to see your father die. How could you live with yourself when you knew you could prevent it? Do you know what happens to orphans?”
A long silence hung in the air before she spoke. “I will assist you,” she said, finally. “But you must release my father.”
“I am a man of my word. If you help me, you will be lavished with gifts and you and your father will want for nought.”
She swallowed and dipped her head. “I agree.”
“Anna, what are you doing?” her father groaned.
Crouching at his side, she placed a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t want you to die.”
“There, there,” the lord said. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”
The giant bent to one knee and rested the back of a hand on the ground. “You should climb on,” Anna suggested, rising to her feet. “It will take you across the bay to the palace.”
The lord glanced at the wyvern. “I’m not so sure—”
“I did it,” Anna said, interrupting. “It was…it was amazing.”
“You’re not afraid are you, my lord?” the wyvern said.
The lord pursed his lips and raised his chin. “I have no fear. This is the day I go down in history.” He clambered onto the giant’s hand and gestured to the wyvern. “Are you coming?”
Anna’s father sat up, rubbing his jaw. “Anna, what are you thinking?”
“I’m doing as the lord asked. I didn’t want to see you hurt, father.”
The wyvern swept its gaze across the sea and waddled with the lord towards the giant’s hand.
“Command this titan,” the lord said. “Take me to the palace.”
Anna licked her lips, pulling her unicorn towards her, knuckles turning pale. She reached out for her father’s hand, watching as the giant lifted the lord to its shoulder. Her father got to his feet, standing at her side, staring at the giant, shaking his head.
The warmth filled her mind and she saw herself through the giant’s eyes.
“This is really quite high up,” Heinrich said, clinging to the titan’s neck. He called out a curse as the titan turned and stepped into the sea. “Gods be damned. We are going to fall.”
“Just hold on,” Waage said. “We will be at the palace before you know it.”
Heinrich let out a deep breath. “It really is high. Very, very high.”
The titan waded through the water, the waves sloshing against its knees.
“This swaying is making me feel woozy.”
“I hope she adjusts the course, we seem to be veering away from the palace.”
“I’m sorry I lied to you, father.”
“You know to tell me if you plan to leave the lighthouse. I thought you were still home.”
“My thoughts were not quite my own.” She glanced up at him and smiled. “You are safe now.”
He tugged at his moustache. “I’m afraid this is only the beginning. Lord Graf is a man who craves power above everything. With that monstrosity at his command and that wyvern whispering in his ear…” He shook his head. “I fear for our future.”
Waves crashed against the titan’s shoulders, sending jets of foam across Heinrich’s feet. “Turn, you foul thing. You’re going the wrong way.”
Waage swung her head around and gestured to shore. “We should make for the harbour.”
“We are too far away. We will both drown.”
Waage stretched out her wings, testing them. “I can glide.” She leaped from Heinrich’s shoulder, catching an updraft and shooting into the air.
“You cursed, retched thing. Come back.” Heinrich scrambled onto the titan’s mouth, clambering up its face as the water rose around him.
He climbed to the top of its head, sobbing as the waves washed over his legs and arms and chest, throwing him beneath the surface and deep beneath the sea.
Waage shuddered when the enchantment between herself and Heinrich snapped. “Cursed imbecile,” she muttered.
Turning in a slow loop, she scanned across the Braun Sea, bubbles marking the titan’s descent.

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Jon’s Author Diary – 035 – June 3, 2018

Jon had much of the week off. He joined Pinterest and edited his short story for the Morecambe Steampunk Festival.

As a bonus, you can listen to the live recording of the story as performed today at Morecambe’s Winter Gardens theatre.

Email your questions to Jon (at) joncronshaw (dot) com.

Get your free copy of Addict of the Wasteland, the prequel to his Wasteland series, by visiting tinyurl.com/addictofthewasteland.

You can find out more about Jon Cronshaw and his work by visiting joncronshaw.com or Jon’s author page.

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Follow him on Twitter @jlcronshaw.

If you want to help the show, please consider telling a friend or leaving a review on iTunes.

Basilisk on a Yellow Field featured on the 600 Second Saga podcast

My short story Basilisk on a Yellow Field is now available on the 600 Second Saga podcast.

The story was first published on this website and features in my collection Her Name Was Red.

Listen to the story on series 2, episode 16 of the podcast here:

Preview: Wizard of the Wasteland – Chapter 1: The Wizard

The wizard rolls into town at dawn, his cart rumbling through the gap in Trinity’s towering fence. Scores of residents swarm around him.
Abel squints at the sun’s orange glare as it rises over the rooftops. “Come on, Pip,” he says, patting his thigh. A brindle-haired dog looks up at 1him and runs in a tight circle, her tail wagging. He looks around at the huddled shacks, at the curls of white smoke dotted across the settlement, and the people gravitating towards the wizard.
Abel follows the gentle sloping dirt track towards the entrance as Pip trots at his left. Chickens run in haphazard zigzags, confined by a line of wire mesh to his right, shedding feathers as they avoid the dog. The looming crucifix beyond the fence spreads shadows across the rooftops. Children duck past him, laughing as they chase each other.
A brown and grey mule lumbers forward, its head bowed as the wizard brings the cart to a halt. The cart rocks on four rubber tyres. Its sides are painted in garish daubs of blue and gold.
Engulfed by dusty blue robes, the wizard drops down from the cart, reaches behind his seat, and pulls on a blue point hat. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he booms. “I am the Great Alfonso. They call me the Wizard of the Wasteland.”
Abel joins the edge of the crowd as Pip sniffs around behind him, unconcerned by the new arrival. He looks around as people step aside for Sal. She moves past him and through the crowd to speak to the wizard, her dreadlocks hanging loose from her hooded robe behind her.
“My good lady, am I correct in assuming that you are the Sal these good people have been talking about?” the wizard asks.
“That’s right,” says Sal, folding her arms. “And you are?”
The wizard removes his hat with a flourish and bows his head in a single, fluid motion. His skin is darker than Sal’s, his hair an explosion of twisted curls, streaked in black and grey. He raises his bloodshot, yellow-tinged eyes and meets Sal’s gaze. “Madam, if you please. I am sure my reputation precedes me. I am the Wizard of the Wasteland.” He lifts his chin, offering her a toothy smile as he spreads his arms wide. “I am the magnificent, the splendiferous, the incomparable, Great Alfonso.”
Sal shakes her head, letting the silence hang in the air for a long, awkward moment. “Sorry, I’ve never heard of you.” She examines his cart, running her fingers along the whorls of paint. “Are you a trader?” she asks, turning to him.
“Yes, yes,” the wizard says, raising his voice and a finger. “But more.” He smiles again and sweeps his gaze across the gathered faces. “What I offer is the wonder of the Great Alfonso’s magical extravaganza.” He thrusts his arms out.
Abel smirks as a few titters spread behind him.
“Magical what?” asks Sal.
“What I have for you today, ladies and gentlemen, is the culmination of many years of tireless research into the arcane arts of magic and alchemy, glimpses into our once great past, now long lost to dust.” The wizard reaches down to the soil, grabs a handful, and lets it fall between his fingers.
“I still don’t understand,” says Sal.
“My good lady, you strike me as an intelligent and learned woman, which is why I will ask you to be my first volunteer.”
She looks around and shrugs. “Okay.”
She makes a face as the wizard moves around the side of his cart, unbolting a series of locks. An oak panel swings down on a pair of hinges, bouncing for a moment against its supporting ropes as it rests perpendicular to the cart’s side.
The onlookers move in closer as the wizard arranges apparent pieces of junk along a series of shelves — an ancient television set with a curved grey glass screen and wooden casing, a fish tank, a hand-generator in black and brass, and a toy car.
The wizard lifts the toy car from the shelf, its red paint faded to a cloudy pink along its edges. He takes a metal key from a pocket inside his robe and makes a show of putting it into the back of the car. “This,” he declares, “is an ancient and magical key. With this key, I can bring power to this otherwise inanimate object.” He places the car flat on the panel and winds the key, the mechanism clicking and crunching with each turn. The wizard mutters an incantation, closes his eyes, and wriggles his fingers over the toy. He lets go, smiling as it shoots forward, hurtling over the edge before landing in a clump of soft grass. A few people clap their hands.
“Thank you, thank you. You are all most gracious,” the wizard says, lowering his head. “What you’ve seen here is just a mere hint, a mere glimmer of the extent of my magical powers.” He leans down and takes the car and wipes away the dust with the corner of his robe before placing it back on the shelf.
He takes something down, turns to the crowd, and raises a pair of binoculars above his head. “Behold! These magical eye lenses allow their user to see objects that are far away, as though they were right in front of your very eyes.” He hands the binoculars to Sal and shows her how to look through them, gesturing for her to point them towards the spherical form at the top of the water tower behind her.
A hush drops over the crowd as she looks through the lenses. “These are wonderful,” she says. “Where did you find these?”
“That, madam, is a secret.” The wizard taps a forefinger against his nose. “Please, pass those round, let the other members of your wonderful community experience this glimpse into the possibilities of alchemy and magic.”
People take turns looking through the lenses. Abel smiles at the gasps of awe and the occasional burst of laughter. When they reach him, he looks through the lenses and focuses on the wizard rifling around one of the shelves. He looks down at a tug to his elbow. A kid jumps up and down with eager excitement, clapping his hands and staring at the binoculars. He hands them to the boy, takes a moment to show him what to do, and turns his attention back to the wizard.
“As you will observe,” the wizard says, holding up a light bulb, “this is a simple globe of glass. I would offer to hand this round, so you can witness for yourselves my ingenious design. But, because the magic is so powerful and so very dangerous, I will instead ask that you all take a few paces backwards to give me room to perform this most incredible and delicate of spells.”
He places the light bulb on the panel and checks the wires are connected to the hand-generator. He steps over to the dynamo and mutters an incantation with a raised chin and half-closed eyes. Smiling to the crowd, he winds the handle.
A low hum and the sharp crackle of electricity emanate from the generator as he turns the handle. A scattering of gasps spread around the wizard as the light bulb glows a brownish-yellow. “As you can see, with this ancient magic, I have created fire within this glass. I’m sure you will agree that this might be the most marvellous, magnificent, magical accomplishment you have ever had the good fortune to witness.”
He stops abruptly, sweeping his gaze across the faces of the crowd, now rapt. He raises his right forefinger with a sudden jerk. “Oh, but there is more.” He makes a dramatic turn, his robes billowing in an expanse of dusty blue.
The crowd moves forward with tiny, hesitant steps as they strain to get a closer look. The wizard disconnects the wires from the light bulb, places it in a pot filled with cloths on the middle shelf, and then connects the wires to the television. He turns back to the crowd, spreading his arms wide. “I must ask again that you take a few steps back. This is very ancient and powerful magic. What I am about to show you is the most amazing sight. Where are the magical lenses?” He waits a few moments for the binoculars to return to him. He looks through them, smiles again, and places them on a shelf. “With those lenses, you were able to make objects far away seem as though they are close enough to touch. Using the same principles, I have devised and constructed a magical box that allows you to see over great distances to lands to the west, beyond the edges of the wastes.”
He reaches for the hand-generator and cranks the handle again. The belt hums, crackling and sparking as the smell of burning rubber fills the air. He leans over to the television set, mutters a spell, pushes a button, and keeps turning the handle.
White noise hisses from the television’s speaker as the screen comes to life in a random array of white, blacks, and greys — a dead signal. “As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, what we are witnessing is a window into another land, another land shrouded in —what is it?” He tilts his head and rubs his chin. “A dust storm, perhaps?” He drops the handle and turns to the audience with a dramatic shrug.
The white noise drops to silence, the screen fading to black. The gathered crowd applauds. The wizard makes a deep bow. “Thank you, thank you. You are all too kind.”
“What I am about to show you now may be my greatest miracle, the pinnacle of my magical achievements.” His face drops to a grim expression. “I warn you all that this is ancient and powerful magic and urge you again to stand back.” He reaches up to the fish tank on the top shelf and takes it down, placing it carefully on the flat panel.
He reaches into the tank and pulls out a green frog, holding it up by one leg for the audience to see, its body squirming as its free leg flails wildly. Stepping over to Sal, he dangles the frog before her. “Madam, please do me the honour of telling the members of your wonderful community what you see before you.”
“It’s just a frog,” she says.
“It’s just a frog,” the wizard repeats. “Never has a truer phrase been uttered. So you will agree that this is a living, breathing frog? You agree there is no trickery, no shenanigans? It is, as you say, ‘just a frog’?”
She nods, looking around. “As I say, it’s just a frog.”
Without ceremony, he swings the frog in a downward arc, smacking its body against the panel. He waits with his back to the crowd for several seconds and then raises the frog’s lifeless body for all to see. “As you will observe, the life of this frog has been taken.”
He turns his attention back to Sal. “Madam, would you like to take a moment to examine this frog, assure the ladies and gentlemen gathered that this is the same frog?”
“You killed one of God’s creatures,” she says, shaking her head. “I wouldn’t call that magic.”
“And you would be correct in that most astute of observations,” he says, giving a slight bow. “There is no magic in killing a frog, but as much as it pains me to do it, as much as it pains me to take the life of an innocent creature, it is unfortunately a necessary component of the Great Alfonso’s most important magical discovery.”
The crowd looks on in silence as the wizard lays the frog flat. He takes the wires from the television, attaches the crocodile clips to the frog’s torso, and mutters the words of a magic spell, making complex shapes and symbols in the air with his fingers. He turns to the crowd, gives a solemn look, removes his hat, and gives a deep bow. “Observe,” he says, looking up, his voice little more than a whisper. He steps over to the generator and turns the handle, building up a rhythm until the belt hums again.
The frog’s right leg twitches. The wizard winds the handle faster, smiling when the frog begins to convulse, its arms and legs quivering spasmodically. Dropping the handle, he places his hat back on his head and turns to the audience, triumphant. “As you have seen, ladies and gentlemen, the Great Alfonso has brought this frog back from the dead.”
He turns back to the frog, now limp, and drops it into the fish tank. He faces the crowd, taking in the applause. “Thank you.”
A few men shake their heads and walk away. Children run over to the wizard, jumping up and down as they ask him questions. The wizard closes his cart.
Abel weaves through the crowd, making his way over to Sal. “What did you make of that?” he asks.
“He’s clearly a charlatan.”
“Yep. But he certainly knows how to put on a good show.”
“It’s just technology from before the end times,” she says. “There’s no magic to it.” Her eyes narrow as she watches a few residents leading the wizard’s mule away to be fed and watered.
“I know,” says Abel, rubbing his beard. “But you got to admit, pretty fascinating stuff.”
A frown spreads across Sal’s face. “You’re not seduced by this fraudster are you?”
“I’m intrigued,” he says, shrugging. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything with real electricity.”
Sal nods. “Perhaps.”
A tall lean man with pale skin and dark hair wanders over. “Jacob,” says Abel, dipping his head in greeting.
“You look healthy. I take it you’re still keeping clean?” Jacob asks.
“Yep. I’m a full-time trader now, no plez for me.”
Jacob nods and turns to Sal. “What’s the plan for this guy?”
Sal shakes her head and sighs. “I don’t know. The residents are clearly taken with him. Might cause friction if we ask him to leave.”
Jacob casts a cursory glance towards the wizard then nods his agreement. “What do you say? We treat him like any other trader and hope he goes by the morning.”
“I don’t trust him,” says Sal.
“Come on, Sal,” Abel says. “It’s hard out there. He’s surviving. It’s different, I’ll grant you, but he’s not raiding, or dealing. He looks like he’s probably clean.”
She raises her hands. “Okay, you’re probably right. But I still don’t like it. This promotion of magic and mysticism doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Just a different kind of magic to what you’re used to. You’ve got God, this guy’s got…” Abel’s voice trails off at the sight of Sal’s glare.
“He can stay for breakfast, but then I want him gone,” she says, turning to Jacob. “Hopefully, we’ll see the back of him.”

The communal hall rattles with the noise of chatter and movement. Abel takes a tin plate from a pile being passed along the central table. The plate has a blue rim. Occasional chips in the enamel expose the tin beneath. He sits at the end of a long pine bench. Jacob takes a seat to his right, handing him a clay cup.
Abel passes the plates along to Sal. She sits to his left, leaning back on a chair at the head of the table. Pip rests against the front of his legs, warming his feet with her body heat. The wizard vaults the seat across from him.
Abel takes a boiled egg from a tray and watches with anticipation as fresh slices of bread make their way towards him. “Where are you from?” he asks, smiling at the wizard.
The wizard gives half-shrug. “My travels take me far and wide.”
“You ever been by the Grid?”
“The Grid?” The wizard pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes. I went there once, had half my stuff stolen.”
“Yep. That’s about right.” Abel takes two slices of bread when the tray reaches him, drops them on his plate, and cracks open the boiled egg, its orange yolk soft and steaming.
“Where do you get the items for your show?” Sal asks.
The wizard shuffles in his seat, raising his chin. “Many years of exploration, painstaking research, and alchemical experimentation.” He makes a wide gesture with his hands. “Understanding the ways of the ancients, understanding the inner workings of magic is something I’ve made my life’s work.”
Jacob gives an incredulous smirk. “You may have most people believing what you do is magic. That’s fine. You’re a showman. I get it.” He raises a silencing hand when the wizard poises to speak. “You’ve obviously found a haul of technology from before the end days and worked out how to use it for your little show.”
The wizard gets to his feet. “I have never…”
“Sit down,” Jacob snaps. “You can eat with us and trade, or you can leave now. Either works for me.”
The wizard hesitates, drops to his seat, picks up a slice of bread, and pouts.
“Jacob, please,” says Sal. “That’s no way to speak to our guest.”
Jacob nods and raises his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “You’re right.” He turns to the wizard, offering a handshake. “Great Alfonso, if that is your real name, please accept my apologies.”
“Of course. I understand that my work can sometimes leave some people feeling…” the wizard hesitates, reaching for the word. “Uncomfortable.”
“My issue is that you’ve found this important technology, the ability to generate electricity, but instead of doing something for the betterment of everyone, you waste your time on a frivolous magic show.”
The wizard gets to his feet again, grabs another slice of bread, stuffs it into his mouth, and storms out, his dusty blue robe flapping behind him as he leaves.
“What did you do that for?” asks Sal, her lips pursed.
“He is only walking away because I told him the harsh truth.”
Abel turns, leans away from Jacob, and rests on his left elbow. “I’ve got a lot of respect for you, Jacob, but Sal’s right. You say what that wizard guy does is frivolous, that it’s not for the betterment of others, yet I saw the faces of the people watching. There’s not much in this damn world to smile about. You’ve got your God, but a flesh and blood man showed these people something real, something miraculous.”
Jacob sniffs. “It’s just old technology. There’s nothing magical about it.”
“It doesn’t need to be magical. It’s still something marvellous. I feel sad for you that you can’t see that.” Abel stands and turns to Sal. “Are we okay to go to the trading house? I need to get on the road.” Pip jumps to her feet, her tail wagging.
“You ready, girl?” He leans down and pats Pip’s back.

The trading house stands dark and musty. A cocktail of smells hang in the air: old clothes, damp leather, paraffin, and bread. Abel’s eyes adjust slowly to the candlelit gloom. He walks around tables scattered with shoes and clothes, car parts and cutlery. He steps over to a sagging table piled high with books, scanning the familiar titles. “Anything new?”
Sal shakes her head and folds her arms. Pip sniffs around the bottom of her robes. Sal looks down, smiling.
Abel leaves his backpack on a table, reaches inside, and takes out a few office supplies: a pencil and a ruler. He reaches farther and pulls out a copy of the New Testament. “I remember you saying you’d offer me top trade if I ever found any Bibles,” he says, handing her the book.
“This is in wonderful condition,” she says, turning the leather-bound volume in her hands, its embossed gold title flashing against the candlelight.
“Yep.” He walks around the tables, examining the goods. He picks up a child’s doll, pink and naked and grimy around the fingers and toes, its hair a tangle of matted blonde. He shakes his head and puts the doll back. “I’ve not seen anything great around here to trade though. I don’t think I’d be able to carry the amount of tins I could get for this.”
Sal nods. “There is something that came in. A piece of old technology, something electrical.”
“What am I going to do with something electrical?”
“This is different,” she says. “You’ll see.” She opens the door at the far end of the room, hidden by shadows, and emerges a few seconds later holding a black cylindrical object, a little longer than the length of her palm.
Abel takes it, feeling its coldness and weight. There’s a glass lens at one end, and a handle at the other. “What does it do?”
Sal takes the object and winds the handle. A broad grin passes over her face, illuminated by yellow torchlight.
Abel’s jaw drops. “How?”
“You think this will be enough for the Bible?”
“Yep. Throw in a few tins, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Sal flicks through the Bible’s pages again, smiles, and shakes her head. “Fine, fine. You win.” She walks over to a pile of unlabelled food cans. Taking four tins, she drops them into Abel’s backpack. “What are you going to do now?” she asks.
He shrugs. “Get back on the road, I guess. Head back east.” He swings the backpack onto his shoulders and adjusts the straps. “Hopefully, I won’t bump into anyone from the Family again.”
“You’re past that part of your life.” She places a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s still hard though. It never leaves you.”
Sal offers a gloomy smile as she leans forward for a hug. “You look after yourself, and look after this one.” She gestures to Pip.
“Thanks, Sal.” He pats his thigh, makes a clicking sound with the side of his mouth, and heads to the door. “Come on, girl.”

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Telling the Story

Everything was normal before the incident. You heard a knock at the door, a call to adventure. There was hesitation. You weren’t sure you could do it. The incident was an incitement, a catalyst.

Life was normal, too normal. The incident meant you could never go back to the way things were. The choices were death or adventure, but there was still time for doubt, for debate.

The choice was made and you took up the quest. You met a love interest. They didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear – they told you what you needed to hear.

You made preparations. Events passed in the form of a montage. You chose a 1980s hair metal track to convey the passage of time. A mentor showed you your potential, but you were still not ready – you could never learn the forbidden secret.

You thought you had everything. Your confidence was your demise. A major event happened. The love interest kissed you. The clock started to tick. The mentor was killed. You vowed revenge, but still blamed yourself. You were told: “Something has to change.”

The antagonists closed-in. They chased you around. Things fell over. There were crashing sounds and a jazz-funk soundtrack. It was all very dramatic.

You were hurt by your own hubris. The love interest left you, perhaps forever. You had to face up to a harsh truth about yourself. That was the hardest lesson of all.

Wandering the city at night, neon signs flashed around you. Garish faces gurned at you, cackling and screaming as you clawed at the last threads of sanity. You had dark thoughts, but they led to fresh ideas. You knew you could never go back to the way things were. The love interest returned, pushing you towards the final confrontation.

You worked out the antagonists’ weakness. You had the knowledge all along. You knew you could win – but only if you really, really tried.

There was a battle and you almost died. The ticking stopped, and not a moment too soon. The love interest kissed you. You realised you knew the forbidden secret – it was inside you all along.

You won. You won.

You returned to the place of origin. All was normal, but it was a new normal.

You tried to ignore the hand reaching out of the ground – the promise of a sequel.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.