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.

The Lady of the Mound

The Lady of the Mound settles like dust between certainties, holding court on the boundaries of life and death. There’s a lantern, more ancient than time; its light is brighter than a thousand suns. The lantern guides her, comforts her: ever-present, endless. She draws her wisdom from its warmth, her sense of time and space from its inexorable glow.

She squints through the light at the Dark Lord’s approach. His wings shroud all in blackness: endless dark horizons twisted by hate.

“You have become complacent,” he says, his voice echoing beyond time. “You linger in light because you are weak. Embrace me.” His voice is a command, seductive and spiteful.

The Lady of the Mound turns away from his foul breath, sulphuric and bilious, the stench of billion corpses. “Never,” she says.

“Then you leave me no choice.” The Dark Lord swallows the light of the lantern, engulfing it until it is no more than a fragile shell against the infinite. The lantern shatters like a dried petal at the beat of wings as the Dark Lord takes his leave.

The Lady of the Mound becomes a shadow, deep and smooth. She closes her eyes, creates her own darkness, mourns for the light. For millennia, she holds in the loss, shielding herself from the infinite nothing with the infinite reality of her grief.

She trembles, opens her eyes, scans the emptiness, chokes down a tear. The shadow of the Dark Lord, somehow blacker than the blackness, approaches vulture-like as its wings ripple against the heavens.

“You have opened your eyes and I am here,” the Dark Lord says. “Embrace me.”

The Lady of the Mound turns. “Never,” she whispers.

The Dark Lord growls and rises through the infinite, leaving the Lady of the Mound with only her sorrow as reality.

In the silence, she sees the faintest of dots, a tiny glow darting like a dragonfly across the emptiness. She draws hope from its flight, watches as it bobs and whirls, iridescent against the eternal. There’s joy in that light. A second orb emerges, then a third and a fourth. Before long, the void is teeming with swarms of eddying lights, burning with love and happiness.

She draws from them, feeds into them. They expand and grow with each century. The lights drift towards her, coat her in brilliance and warmth. The void floods with her tears.

Time unhinges from itself when the Dark Lord returns. His wings bristle. His voice is filled with the pain of a thousand holocausts. “You have defied me,” he screams.

The lights flicker out with fear and the Dark Lord brushes their husks aside with his wings, returning everything to darkness. He offers his embrace, but the Lady of the Mound turns. The Dark Lord sighs a storm, then leaves.

“All is lost,” the Lady of the Mound says. “All is lost.”

She holds herself and listens for the Dark Lord’s return, watches for the lights. Neither come.

“I beseech thee. Return to me. I beg you to return. I will protect you.”

Centuries pass until the first light twinkles, dim at first, then bright white as it embraces the Lady of the Mound. More lights emerge and coil around her, filling her with love and brilliance.

She shudders as the Dark Lord returns.

“You dare to embrace light? You embrace me,” he says, spreading his monstrous arms.

The Lady of the Mound faces him, breathes out her light, brilliant and white. Its beam tears through the Dark Lord’s body, ripping off his limbs, slicing through his torso, searing his flesh and wings to nothingness. He falls into the light, nothingness in nothingness in nothingness, an infinite fractal shattering beyond the dust of dreams.

The lights embrace the Lady of the Mound. They warm her, protect her, become her.

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

The Speed of Boredom

I hold the yawn in my mouth, swallow the boredom. I look up at the clock while the lecturer talks and talks. How can time crawl like this? I fall into my mind, dividing time into the objective and subjective, the measurable and the personal. Time dilates at the speed of boredom. A minute seems like five, an hour an eternity.

The thought occurs to me: what if I push the edges of my own subjective time? What if I strive for boredom? They say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. They say ‘live fast, die young’. I say slow down, make yourself a mug of warm milk. Live slow, live forever.

I walk home, take the blandest route. There’s no scenery, nothing of interest. The journey feels longer than it should. I gain several minutes.

Enthused by my revelation, I throw out all the things I love: my books (the good ones), clothes, videogames, movies, music, the wife.

I search online for videos that will extend my life; an hour-long documentary about the history of buses in Wolverhampton from 1972 to 1976 pushes me beyond the edges of boredom. I gain so much, so many hours squeezed into one.

My mum calls me. She’s telling me about her new decking. The temptation to hold my phone away from my ear is almost unbearable. But I think about all the time I’m accumulating. I ask again about Mildred’s hip replacement. So boring.

I tell her I’ve kicked out the wife. She’s not happy. She gets upset. This drama is eating into my life, accelerating my experience of time. I hang up, drop the phone in the toilet, flush.

The lights around the house cast interesting shadows on the walls. I take them out, flush them down the toilet.

There’s a knock at the door, loud and insistent. It’s the wife. She looks sad. She’s been crying. She says she’s worried about me, that I need help. I try to ignore her, turn her words into a drone. That way I’ll gain more time.

I sit in the dark for weeks, eating only crackers and custard creams. I read junk mail, copy the letters out into a notebook, catalogue their contents, make an extensive archive. I watch a video on YouTube about Belgian politics, but turn it off when it’s a bit more interesting than I’d predicted.

There’s a knock at the door. The wife’s back. She’s crying again. My mum stands next to her. She’s crying too. There’s a policewoman, a concerned-looking doctor and an ambulance outside.

I try to explain that they’re stealing my time. They don’t listen. They say it doesn’t work like that, that they can help me. I don’t need their help.

I focus on a beige patch on the wall when I’m strapped down in the back of the ambulance and smile. They can’t take away my time that easily.

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

Reaching for a larlun

Joster fell limp onto warm stone as she pushed free from her cocoon. Ice peeled along her spine as she breathed and streched. She listened to the drip-drip-dripping of distant liquid.

She smelled gold, and iron, and five types of stone. Straining, she moved her outer eyelids, still frozen shut. Reaching out, she sensed a mind – the mind of a larlun – clean, slippery, wide.

Joster was weak. She was tired. She slept.

The larlun’s mind prickled. The pangs of hunger prickled. Joster unfurled her heavy wings. Their surface cracked as chunks of ice tumbled to the warm stone. She licked the water pooling beneath her and reached for the larlun. The larlun was slippery, but cleaner and wider than before.

Her tongue was dry and her eyes were still sealed. Joster uncurled her claws and pulled them along the warm stone, scraping, sharpening.

She closed her mind and slept.

Joster smelled life as she woke. She reached for the larlun, he was taut, was wide, was open and clean. Silent, she called to him, reached to him.

She waited. The larlun was close. He brought grass in a container made from dead trees. The grass crunched as it froze hard in her mouth.

The larlun shivered. His teeth chattered. She reached to his mind, but he was not afraid. She searched – his mind was wide and wide and wide. His mind told her he was cold. She cracked her icy wings.

Joster reached and asked the larlun why he was cold. The larlun said it was because he was cold. The stones were warm under her belly, so she drew the larlun close. She felt him shivering more. She smelled his blood and fear. His mind told her he was colder than before.

Perhaps she could kiss life into him like her mother did for her. Perhaps she could make him a cocoon, then he would become more, then he wouldn’t be cold. She reached with her mind and breathed her icy breath.

Joster heard the larlun cry out with his voice and his mind. She breathed into him, filling him with the life kiss until he stopped crying out. She kissed and breathed, making a cocoon for the larlun. She knew he would become more, become like her.

She reached out. His mind was thin, stretched, liquid. Then something snapped.

Joster reached and reached and reached, but the larlun was gone.

 

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

Eating

Grandma was delicious. It was probably the paprika that gave her that extra bite. Her funeral was boring, but once the vicar had finished telling us about a woman he’d never met, the eating was wonderful.

It’s a tradition in our family to specify a recipe as part of your will. I’ve opted for a rosemary crust and three-bean salad.

To share yourself with your neighbours and loved-ones brings everyone closer together. It’s nice.

It’s when things get impersonal that I start to feel a bit weird about it. Take today: I had a great conversation with my cousin while we were working on the marinade. The last time we’d spoken was at uncle Jeff’s eating. He went for the full-on cajun-spiced, flash-fry. He was probably terrible for you, but he was so tasty. It was a real treat.

There was a woman who lived near my mother who died. She had no children or relatives. She was isolated, very lonely. It was sad.

Once the pathologist was done bagging and tagging, and the coroner released the body, she was sent in small parcels to the food-banks around the city. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but there’s something lost. It shouldn’t just be about recycling.

It’s like when there was the fire at that nursery. You couldn’t tell one toddler from another, and no one really wants to be eating some stranger’s kid. So they were shipped off to feed prisoners. I get that this is a good thing. I’m probably just being a snob, but I just find it a bit creepy.

I found out recently that my great aunt Maude is dying, and she’s opted to be stir-fried in walnut oil with garlic, chilli and ginger. I hope she hurries up: I love Chinese food.

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

The Dead Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop

“That was wonderful wasn’t it? Such a talent.” Helena loaded the next reconstruction workshop as her students looked on. “Even if you’re not a fan of his work, I think we can all learn something about writing from Iain Banks.”

Helena looked at the display as Robert Heinlein’s face came into focus: a static image frozen between expressions.

“What works so well with the reconstructions is the advice comes straight from the authror’s writings,” Helena explained. “They aren’t mediated by those so-called rules of writing.” She made a small zig-zig gesture and Heinlein’s image blinked to life.

“There is a secret to selling good fantastical fiction,” he began. “Writing a good plot helps, of course, but it is characters – always characters – that we remember.

“The best characters are those that fulfil the wishes and fantasies of the reader. This is all you need to know.” Heinlein’s portrait gave a slow nod.

“You’re an old engineer, an old physicist – why shouldn’t the old man get the sexy schoolgirl?”

Helena gave a knowing shrug to her students, most of whom looked on with raised eyebrows.

“I like pretty girls – all men like pretty teenage girls. All men want is for a pretty teenage girl to notice them – to notice them as an object of desire – an object of raw, sexual desire.” He paused and pursed his lips as his eyes seemed to fix longingly on some distant point.

“The best characters will be the ones you fall in love with. In the Door Into Summer I wrote about a man falling in love with a ten-year-old girl. This is illegal, but it is something I can explore in fantastic fiction. The old engineer used time travel to marry the girl when she was of legal age. This is good. This is sexy.

“Of course it’s not all about young girls – it’s important, but not everything.”

Helena rolled her eyes and smiled, miming a exaltation to the heavens.

“You can dig deeper. We all love our mothers, we all want to make love to our mothers – our mothers are sexy. In my novel Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long went back in time to have sex with his mother. This is very sexy.

“So you see, you can take a trope of fantastical fiction such as time travel and use it to fulfil your reader’s deepest desires: to be with young girls, to be with their mothers. This is what time travel is for. It is very sexy.

The portrait of Heinlein licked his lips. “Let’s talk about how much fun rape can be. If the woman makes an effort to enjoy it then–.”

Helena gestured frantically toward the display. “I’m so sorry,” she said, turning to her students as her cheeks flushed, “this one’s clearly just a pervert.”

Heinlein’s portrait froze between expressions.

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

Transmission

TRANSMISSION 2421-11-24-013-US32B

I’m going to die. RIght. Okay. This is my last message. <static> Something has breached the capsule. Fuck. There’s a lot of junk out there. Oxygen levels are <static> minutes.

I know I’m too far away <static> to be picked up in time and by the time this message gets to Earth, I’ll already <static>.

Control: please relay this to my wife and son. Gloria, I love you <static> our wedding day – you were so beautiful. I wish <static>. The truth is we can’t look back – regrets will only destroy you and you’ve got nothing to be sorry for. I forgive <static>

Josh, I need you to be strong for your mother – you’re going to be the man of the house now, which means <static>. You can do it. I know you can. I love you.

I know there’s no God. The universe is more vast and wonderful than we could ever begin to comprehend. This doesn’t make me sad, doesn’t <static> it means there’s more to appreciate and find <static> would only undermine that. <static>

I’ve been trained for this. I’m prepared, I’m at peace with <static> I won’t be in pain, it will be like falling asleep. I won’t suffer, you need to know that.

I’m just trying to remember what it was my father said before he died. He said it’s not about <static> and that’s always struck me as getting right to the truth of all this.

<static> for over a month now and this is the first time I’ve really taken in the view. It really is beautiful. <static> that the final thing I’ll see is. Wow. <static>

Love is. Love is so important – it’s the most important. I’d say I’m going to miss you, but we know <static> happen. I know this is cold, but it’s true.

Didn’t someone once say we’re still alive through the people whose lives we’ve touched? The smiles and <static>. It sounds corny, but there’s some truth in that. At least I hope there’s truth <static> so please try and hold onto that, try and keep that in your heart.

Fuck. You can do this. You can do <static> do this.

Josh, please. Gloria.

Oh man, that was. Starting to feel a bit.

That <static>

I <static> definitely running out.

Oh God. Please Lord. Forgive <static>

Thank you. Thank

TRANSMISSION ENDS

 

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