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.

Bound to the Seelenfalle

The sea was calm against her side as she stirred the stew and her footsteps creaked on the deck above. She looked out across the Braun Sea from the top of her crow’s nest, adding a pinch of salt to the stew as she pulled in a net brimming with silver and green fish.

She leaned and pulled against twenty-four oars as the net spilled out onto the deck. She looked back west to land from the crow’s nest as she added coals to the kitchen fire.

The Seelenfalle turned, adjusting its course as she awoke. Slipping down from a hammock, she rubbed her eyes and ladled stew to taste. Pulling the oars, she scanned the horizon from the crow’s nest and pulled on a pair of leather boots.

A ship poked over the horizon to the east. Wrapping a kerchief around her head, she heaved the oars in perfect unison. Emerging from below deck, she stepped out into the sun as she moved the stew pot to simmer.

Thin white clouds hung in the sky above as she tied the Seelenfalle’s sails to the mast, useless. She climbed the steps from the kitchen as she dragged a barrel along the deck. Stopping next to the fish, she locked eyes with herself for an instant, her blue eyes and blond hair, her grey eyes and brown beard. She dropped her gaze and turned to the fish, scooping them up in her arms as she held the barrel at an angle.

Looking across the Braun Sea, the ship was fast approaching. She adjusted her course to north-east, and pulled hard on the oars. She tipped a bag of salt into the barrel and sealed its lid as she frowned at the ship from the top of the crow’s nest. The ship turned to match the Seelenfalle’s trajectory.

Letting go of the wheel, she ran along the deck to the bow as the ship matched the Seelenfalle’s speed as it lined up against the sides, its rowers pulling their oars in.

“Ahoy there,” she said, trying to keep her tone steady, amiable. The ship’s captain was thick and bearded holding a sword and pistol.

She scrambled from her hammocks and pulled on her boots as she sought her own swords and pushed gunpowder into the cannon.

“I say, ahoy,” she repeated.

“Are you the captain of this here ship?” the captain asked.

“The ship,” she said. She stopped rowing and slid down from the crow’s nest.

“Sir, I’m afraid to say this is not going to be your lucky day. Prepare to be boarded.”

She fired off a pair of cannon as she drew her sword and burst out from below deck. The ship wobbled in the water as men slid down ropes with hooks. The ship’s captain fired his pistol and she fell to the deck, grasping at her chest and pulling her daggers from beneath her seats.

A rapier stung her arm as it cut through her flesh. She fired off another trio of cannon as she charged from the bridge and the bow to meet another group of boarders.

The water hit her with a cold shock as she tumbled headfirst into the sea, tackling a thin man to the deck as blood filled her lungs. Swinging from a sail, she kicked the head of a boarder as she pushed a shot into the cannon.

Falling into the water, she felt a sword pass through her stomach as the wild-eyed captain strangled her.

Footsteps creaked along the Seelenfalle’s decks as the sea splashed against her hull.

Her eyes and ears were gone. She was blind. She was deaf. She was helpless.

The souls bound to the Seelenfalle were no more.

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.

Basilisk on a Yellow Field

I wore green on the day I performed my first kill. I stood on the edge of a large stone room lit by alchemical orbs casting soft white light across the faces of two dozen children as they danced to the drummers and pipers performing a traditional Ostreich folk song.

The adults looked on in their green finery. The men wore matching coats, tailored from silk. The women wore long hooded dresses in a darker green than the men. They were cut low along the bust and pulled tight at the waist, with wide skirts extending to the floor.

My dress was in the style of the other women, though, there was a hidden slit which allowed me to reach across with my left hand and easily grasp my blade, the Feuerschwert.

A red-faced dancer stared at me as she swayed from left to right, turning and twisting her hands in time with the music. I smiled, but my smile was not returned. There was fear in those eyes.

The Feuerschwert was cold against my skin. Though secured to my waist, I feared the ravenglass might cut into my flesh, bringing out its dormant power.

The scent of roasted pork hung in the air as I examined the revellers’ faces. I took care to note the features of each person in an effort to remember. There was a woman whose face sparked a memory when I saw her from the side, but when she turned to me with an unsure smile, it was clear we shared no recognition. Just one smile, just one nod of recognition was all I craved. Someone to tell me who I am – to tell me my name.

I moved left along the wall as the beat continued. Though the festivities were held in honour of Jorg Shultz’s fiftieth year, the Viscount had retired to his chamber during the final course of the feast. I stepped around a stone bust of my target, staring expressionless from a marble plinth, and skirted past a colourful tapestry that was fifteen feet across. It showed a knight bearing the Ostreich sigil of a black basilisk on a yellow field thrusting a lance into the belly of a green-scaled wyvern.

Reaching the end of the great hall, I slipped through a half-open door. The alchemical glow faded as I made my way along a bare stone corridor illuminated by wall candles. The handle of the Feuerschwert brushed against my side as my steps grew urgent. I found my way to a spiral stairway.

I ascended the steps until I reached a thick door in varnished oak. I placed my ear against the door and listened. Hearing nothing, I turned the handle. I held my breath, pulled up the hood of my dress, removed my shoes then stepped through the door.

The corridor was dark and the floorboards cold beneath my soles. A faint glow seeped out from beneath a door at the end of the passage. I reached into my dress, removed the Feuerschwert and felt a trembling as I held it my hands. Its ravenglass blade was a deep black, a much deeper black than than darkness of the passage.

I unhooked the skirt from my dress and freed myself from the corset, dropping them in a heap next to me. I stepped towards the door and teased its handle. My heart thundered in my chest as I pushed the door open.

A fire burned in a hearth at the far right of the room. Above it, a portrait of a long-dead Viscount looked on with a dark, vacant gaze. Thick green drapes hung in front of the windows overlooking the Braun Sea. I heard a shuffle to my right – it was Jorg Shultz. Our eyes met.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

I said nothing and pricked the index finger of my left hand with the Feuerschwert. The Viscount’s eyes widened at the blade turned from deep black to a glowing red as it consumed the blood.

“Ravenglass,” he whispered, his eyes bulging.

I jumped back on my toes as he tipped his chair towards me. Jorg unsheathed a blade, longer and thicker than my own. With a fluid motion he rolled up his sleeve and sliced the blade across his left forearm. His blade too glowed red.

A wolfish grin rose beneath his thick blond moustache. Nobody had warned me about this.

My hands were slick with sweat. I danced on my tiptoes, feinted left, then right, trying to draw him into dropping his guard, to making a mistake.

“Who sent you?” he growled.

I shook my head. I was not going to answer him. How could I answer him?

He swung his blade in a broad vertical arc. I hopped to the right and stabbed forward with a twist of my wrist. He jerked his shoulder to the side. We both straitened up, regaining our stance.

We circled each other, his blue eyes locked with my own. I dived forward, struck the back of his leg. He let out an agonised scream as the blade hissed, its magic tearing through his flesh, burning him from within.

He swung and I moved to parry, but instead of the expected ricochet, his blade went through my own, like two jets of water crossing each other’s paths. His blade nicked my arm and I felt its fiery heat swell inside.

Neither of us were bleeding from our wounds, but I sensed Jorg’s pain as it spread through his body. He fell backwards, looked up at me in terror. “What do you want?” he managed. His words were weak, his breath shallow.

I stood over him. His blade returned to black as it dropped from his convulsing hand. I pulled my hood down and pushed my blade into his chest.

“It’s you,” he gasped. “What–.”

I pulled the Feuerschwert from his chest. “Wait,” I said. “Who am I?” I leaned down and shook him. “Please,” I pleaded. “Tell me who I am.”

But he was already dead.

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

No Rehab for Wizards

I cut off one of my eyelids today. It was definitely worth it.

“Now why on Earth would you want to do something like that?” Mum asks.

I shake my head, tut. “So I can control manatees,” I say.

“And what do you want to control manatees for?”

I shrug and turn the volume up on Match of the Day. Mum never gets me. She was banging on the other day about how I need to go into rehab. “There’s something not right about you, boy,” she said. “You’re always chopping bits off yourself. It’s not right.”

I tried to tell her there’s no rehab for wizards. Magic always has a price: a sacrifice of flesh always has to be made. A chunk of skin off your arm will give you control of a mayfly, but what’s the point in that? At least manatees have got a half-decent shelf-life.

I was telling her the other day about these wizards around Birmingham way who kill dogs and badgers for their magic. I asked if she’d rather me do that. She just cried.

The thing people don’t realise about using animals is that if you want to take control of dog, you have to kill about thirteen or fourteen of them. And even then, you only get to control one of those shitty little yappy ones. Seems pointless to me.

When Mum had a go at me for lopping off my little toe a couple of weeks back, I made a joke that I’d sacrifice her if she carried on having a go at me. She cried at that as well, and I really only meant it as a joke. Thing is, though, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.

I’d have to work out how strong the magic would be if I did it, though. I’m assuming it would be a bit like with the dogs. Kill a whole bunch of people to take control of a shitty one? I’d get in trouble for sure. But I’m thinking it’d probably count for a lot more if it’s your own mum. It must do.

I turn off Match of the Day and go upstairs.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Mum asks. “You’re not going to chop any more body parts again, I hope? What would your father say if he could see you now with all them bits hanging off?”

I turn back and smile. “I’m just going for a wee,” I say. “Stick the kettle on will you?”

When the kettle starts to boil, I reach behind the toilet and pull out my blade. I run my finger across its edge and grin as a small cut opens along my fingertip.

“Your tea’s on the hearth,” Mum says, shouting up the stairs.

“Coming.” I tuck the blade under my hoodie.

Limping back downstairs, I see Mum has put Eastenders on. “You don’t mind me watching this on catch-up do you?” she asks. “You’d turned your football off.”

“It’s fine,” I say.

I stand behind her and look down at her grey-streaked hair. I take the blade and bring it across her throat. She makes a weird gurgling noise.

I panic and run to the kitchen to grab some tea towels and kitchen roll. I try dabbing at the blood, but it makes a right mess.

Mum always said that when I started to get into one of my panics I should stop, take a deep breath, and have a nice cup of tea. So I sit down on the opposite sofa and sip my tea, my eyes half on Eastenders and half on my mum bleeding out all over her nice cream carpet.

If I let her keep bleeding, it will stop eventually. Then it will dry and be easier to mop up. I really don’t want to ruin any more tea towels, so it’s probably for the best to wait.

Then I remember: I’d forgotten to do the incantation. What a complete waste of time.

I turn Match of the Day back on. At least I still had my manatee.

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

King of the Trees

Emily was King of the Trees. A little boy gave her the title – he was King of the Train.

She didn’t know the species names. She called her tree Paramine. It was the big one in the centre. She sat in its branches and surveyed her kingdom.

The other trees were short and thin. They were no more than twigs strapped to stakes with black rubber ties. She called them Paranagents. They weren’t impressive, but this was her domain. This was her realm.

Her trees bore no fruit so she ate burgers and chicken wings left as offerings by passing visitors. They respected her.

She looked for monkeys, but there were no monkeys. She told a half-remembered joke to those who passed beneath her tree. Something about a monkey being stapled to a dead monkey. Emily laughed as she told the joke, but always got lost in the words. She gave no punch-line, only a statement of fact.

She shouted at those who refused to pay tribute or pledge allegiance. A man from the council told her she was trespassing. She told him she was the King of the Trees.

She wore a dress made of leaves and fast food wrappers, and wove sticks and ladybirds through her hair. When she wasn’t performing her royal duties, she worked as a receptionist. Her boss smiled at her and her customers smiled at her. It was a tattoo shop, so people thought she was being alternative. She wasn’t being alternative – she was King of the Trees.

The day came when the man from the council returned – this time with police and a court order. They did not offer tribute or pledge fealty. They told her a complaint had been made.

She told them to bend the knee and to respect her kingdom. They did not respect her.

Emily shouted and spat as the police dragged her away by the armpits. She told them she was King of the Trees. She told them her brother was King of the Moon and her mother was King of the Bears. But they did not listen.

They told her she could never step foot in that car park again.

Emily vowed vengence. Emily declared war.

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