Charcoal and Ice

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, shivered and wrapped her cloak around her body. The fabric was turquoise. She’d never favoured the traditional black.

‘So,’ said the King, indicating the body in front of them, ‘bring him back.’

Jori stepped closer to the corpse of Malek Angevin. His skin, once a warm brown, was now ashen, almost grey. His eyes were closed, arms by his side. The King’s aides, since dismissed, had packed ice around his body. Easy to do, given that he’d helpfully collapsed in his own icehouse. She inhaled the crisp, metallic air and her breath clouded in front of her face when she exhaled again. ‘He died an hour ago, in here?’

‘Yes,’ said the King, ‘he came in here for some sort of foodstuff apparently. Heaven knows what. Probably something for that wretched animal.’ He added, glaring without heat at the brown cat currently winding around Jori’s ankles. She bent and scratched its head, letting her professional awareness flow over Angevin’s body.

He was dead, there was no doubt. His heart had stopped—it happened without warning sometimes—but she thought he could still be reached, largely thanks to the King’s orders not to have him moved. The King liked to play the role of buffoon, but the truth was that he had a mind sharp enough to fillet the steaks stacked on the wooden shelves in the chilly room. He employed experts, and he paid attention. He had an experienced, and extremely discrete, physician on standby, and she had been quickly informed of her very urgent appointment.

‘You understand, Sire,’ she said cautiously, ‘that bringing someone back to full consciousness isn’t always possible? Even if the death is recent.’ And she had never done it, although she wasn’t about to admit that. It was rare that the conditions were right. Usually the body was too badly broken, or its organs too damaged by illness or age, or too much time had passed and the spirit was simply gone.

The standard necromantic trick of raising the long-dead was different. That was merely pushing a little energy into the right place. A simple matter of animation. The things that rose had no ability to think for themselves. Once she let them out of her mind’s grip they fell back to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. She had worked that dark magic for the King on both small and large scale, several times.

He had never asked her to try this before.

The King looked at her, eyes as icy as the blocks stacked around the room. ‘Can you do it or not?’

She dared to avoid his question. ‘May I ask why? You’ve lost plenty of good people before.’

He stared at her and for a moment she thought he would snap that it wasn’t her place to question his motivation. Then he seemed to deflate, looking away from her to Angevin’s body. When he did speak, his voice was surprisingly soft. ‘I need my Vertex Minister back, Castroflame.’

Something about his tone and use of the title tugged at her. Her mind whirled.

He turned his head to look at her again. Jori couldn’t help noticing his fists were clenched at his sides.

‘No one lives forever, Sire,’ she ventured, quietly. ‘His heart stopped once. It might again. Even with the care of your physician.’

‘Dammit! Get him back!’ The King pushed his hands through his blonde hair, a gesture she’d never seen him make before. ‘Do, do…’ he stuttered over the words. She could almost feel him changing tack. ‘There was an expensive election. I gave the people a vote. It was decided. The will of the people was done! I will not have it undone by an inconvenient death!’

He stopped speaking and silence spread uneasily through the small room. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the wet noises of the cat cleaning itself.

‘I had the right man. In. In place,’ the King said eventually, eyes turned away.

Jori reached out and touched his arm. It was an action that went against protocol, but they were alone and the King was, after all, just a man. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ he said. Her hand dropped as something in his demeanour changed. The mask that had slipped falling back into place. His voice became crisp and formal. ‘Hurry up and get on with it. I may not have your talents, but I am aware of the theory. The more time that passes the more difficult this becomes.’

She nodded. ‘Best you wait outside, Sire.’

To her relief, he didn’t question or argue. She watched until the heavy door closed behind him, then she shook herself and reached into her leather bag.

She rejected the pouch of salt, knowing what it would do to the ice, and instead opted for charcoal. It didn’t matter, really. Salt was traditional, but power was more important than props. Ten minutes later, she’d created a sequence of sigils around the body, and a larger, unbroken circle around that, the black standing out sharply against the frosty granite floor of the icehouse.

She stared at the black symbols for a few long moments, gathering her focus. Then she glanced thoughtfully at the cat.

Jori stepped into the circle and closed her eyes.

All humans are inherently close to death. She had more power than most, but this part actually required very little. She wasn’t trying to go far—it was like looking through the window before you decided to throw your shoulder against the door.

Jori felt a jolt, not unlike the sensation of jerking awake as you start to fall asleep, and she opened her eyes.

Everything looked much the same, except for a slight purple hue, as though she was looking through tinted glass.

Malek Angevin sat up. At least, something of him sat up. A dark shadow remained on the ground, a man-shaped, oily pool that glinted in the dim light. He looked down at it, and then up at Jori, eyes wide in question.

‘Your heart stopped,’ she explained.

‘Ah,’ he paused. ‘My father died the same way,’ he added after a few moments.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jori.

He sighed. ‘You’re the necromancer.’

‘I am. And you’re Vertex Minister Angevin, and the King wants you back.’

‘Malek,’ he said. ‘No point in formalities at this point, is there? And I suppose he would. Terribly inconvenient I imagine, my death.’ There was a trace of bitterness in his voice.

‘I won’t force you,’ she said.

‘But you could.’

‘I could,’ she agreed.

‘It felt… peaceful,’ he said wistfully, looking down at the oily pool.

The cat jumped carelessly over the edge of the circle and into Malek’s lap, which seemed to be solid enough, for the cat at least. He scratched its ears. ‘Hello, Cinnabar. I’m sorry you never got your dinner.’

Jori looked at the animal. ‘I voted for you,’ she said to Malek, not really knowing why.

He laughed. ‘Thank you?’

‘The King said he had the right man in place.’

He looked at her. His eyes were translucent. She could see faint lines of shelving through them. ‘Did he now?’

Jori bit her lip, wondering how much to say. ‘I think… I don’t think he meant just… politically.’

Malek raised an eyebrow. ‘Not like him to make his feelings clear.’

She felt a pang of relief that she hadn’t entirely misjudged the situation. ‘Well. You were dead. Are dead. Sort of.’

He sighed. ‘It won’t change anything.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘I suppose you’ve had a lot of conversations like this.’

‘No, not really. Usually they’re long gone by the time I get involved.’

‘Special case, am I?’

‘He went to a lot of trouble to make sure of it.’

Malek rubbed Cinnabar’s head again. The dark man-shaped pool on the floor began to shimmer, glittering white and red. A soft humming sound started up. Or perhaps only became loud enough to hear.

‘It’s your choice,’ said Jori. ‘I don’t know what lies on the other side, truly. No one does. I know what’s here, though.’

‘Oh? And what’s that?’

‘A man who has found his priorities suddenly clarified, I suspect.’

Malek gave a small laugh.

The humming sound became louder. Ripples flowed across the surface of the pool, creating patterns where they hit the edges and rebounded. Jori looked at it, thinking. ‘Life is a fire that burns and scars us from the moment we’re born,’ she said eventually. ‘But it’s also bright and warm, and it gives us the chance to see and feel.’

He looked up. ‘And will I be truly alive? Not some kind of… zombie?’

‘No. Your body is undamaged and well-preserved. The King has a healer on standby. Think of it as more of a second chance.’

Malek looked wistfully and the rippling pool.

‘I suppose someone has to feed my cat, eh?’ he said with a weak smile.

‘Absolutely.’

‘He pretends not to like her,’ said Malek, nodding at Cinnabar, ‘but I caught him stroking her the other day.’

Jori smiled. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure you can count on the King to take on cat-caring duties.’

‘Ha. No. This is going to hurt.’

‘Yes. Sorry.’

He set his jaw. ‘Like you said, price of life. Pain.’

She pressed her lips together in agreement.

He sighed. ‘Very well, necromancer. Do your worst.’

Jori threw her metaphysical shoulder against the door.

The King pushed past her when she used her somewhat less powerful physical hand to open the door of the icehouse. She let him, but found herself blocking the path of the physician. ‘He’ll be fine for a few minutes,’ she said.

The healer, who was after all very discrete, smiled thinly. ‘I don’t approve of necromancy,’ she said, glancing over Jori’s shoulder. ‘But… well done.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, returned the smile, somewhat more warmly. Then she pulled the hood of her turquoise cloak over her head and walked into the dusk.


Author’s notes
I meant to write a creepy story about my favourite necromancer. I accidentally wrote a slightly soft and fluffy story instead. Oh well. Stories are what they are.


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Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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© Kat Day 2019

Excerpts From the Browser History of Item 662-70519MP, Location 2

1) https://www.healthline.org/health/insect-bites#pictures

“Bites appear as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives […] try to avoid scratching […] It is safe to use over-the-counter anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or to take mild painkillers such as paracetamol […] If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor.”

2) https://www.healthline.org/health/paleness

“Paleness, also known as pallor, is an unusual lightness of skin colour compared with your normal complexion. It may be caused by reduced blood flow, or by a decreased number of red blood cells.”

3) https://www.sleepfoundation.net/insomnia/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

“If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in some other relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Avoid brightly-lit screens.”

4) https://www.medicalnewsnow.co.uk/loss-of-appetite

“A loss of appetite can be physical or psychological […] It can be caused by infections or digestive issues, in which case your appetite is likely to return once you have recovered.”

5) https://www.livelong.com/article/allergic-reactions-to-silver-jewelry/

“The skin around and beneath the piece of jewellery can become inflamed, itchy and dry […] Allergic reactions to silver jewellery can take years to develop, however once sensitivity has developed it is best to avoid further contact with silver, as the reaction may become more severe with time.”

6) https://www.harvard-health.edu/sun-allergy-photosensitivity

“A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight […] Symptoms are commonly mild, but can be more severe, for example hives, blisters or even small areas of bleeding under the skin […] It is important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.”

7) https://www.yorkest.org/do-you-have-a-garlic-allergy/

“People with garlic allergy can suffer from rhinitis (runny nose), skin problems such as urticaria and dermatitis, and even asthma […] In very sensitive individuals, garlic may result in anaphylactic shock, but this is very rare.”

8) https://norapax.net/why-cant-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror/

“If you find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, you may be struggling with low self-esteem.”

9) http://www.phobiasinfo.org/hierophobia-an-exaggerated-or-irrational-fear-of-sacred-objects-or-priests/

“Hierophobia may manifest with the following symptoms:- irrational worry of sacred objects; feeling of panic; feeling of terror; feeling of dread.”

10) https://www.wikidinfo.com/Know-if-You-Have-Renfields-Syndrome

“Throughout human history, people have consumed blood for nutritional and ritual purposes […] However, if you have a strong psychological desire to drink blood, you may be suffering from another condition.”


Author’s notes
This piece won the Writers’ Forum Magazine flash fiction competition, in issue #213, July. Hurrah! The prompt was simply to write a story in the form of a list. By the way, none of the links are real, but I cannot persuade WordPress to ignore them — if you click on them you will get ‘not found’ errors, which is pleasingly ominous, in a way…


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© Kat Day 2019

By the Edge of the River

Athanasia sat heavily in her chair, her joints creaking along with the cords of the seat. She took a few deep breaths, and the room settled back to silence.

The labour had been a long one, and there had been rather more blood than she would have liked, but the child was strong and its mother would, if Athanasia was any judge, recover well. She had assisted in many births over the years. Even the ones that went smoothly – and they often didn’t – were a little frightening. Standing at the boundary to life itself, doing everything she could to make sure that the child would be welcomed to the world whole. And that the mother would stay on the right side.

Athanasia tucked some loose strands of grey hair back into her braids. She was relieved, if tired. Her arms and back ached, but that was surely to be expected after a long night with little sleep. She felt a little short of breath, too, but she probably only needed rest. She closed her eyes.

***

When she opened them again, she was dead.

She knew it, because she found herself on the bank of a great river. The water was green yet remarkably clear, putting her in mind of the pale green bowl filled with peaches and pomegranates in her quarters. A bowl that, she realised, she would neither see, nor touch, again.

The air was still, and filled with a faintly sweet smell. Silver things flashed below the surface of the river, moving too fast to see. She stood on smooth, pale stone and looked across the water. The river stretched as far as she could see in either direction. In the distance, Athanasia thought she could see a small boat, although there was little against which to judge its size. It might, she supposed, become a larger boat as it drew nearer.

She put her hand into the pocket of her tunic and found a single coin. The metal was cool on her fingers. She let it fall back into the folds of the material and sat down to wait.

Athanasia had no family left of her own, and her thoughts drifted to the new mother and child she had left behind. Had the child been feeding well? Had the mother regained her strength? And there had been another woman with a baby due, she had thought, around the next new moon. She sighed. There was nothing to be done about that, now.

A sound made her turn. She had been entirely alone a moment ago, but now there was a young girl, bare-footed, dark hair falling in messy twists around her face. She looked up at Athanasia with bright, wide eyes. Tears streaked her cheeks.

‘Oh,’ said Athanasia, instinctively crouching down and reaching out. The child put her arms out, in that way that children do, and Athanasia lifted her and held her against her chest, noting that she felt too light. The child rested her head on Athanasia’s shoulder and continued to cry.

‘Shh,’ said Athanasia, rubbing the child’s back.

The girl pulled back. ‘I want to go home. I don’t like it here.’

Athanasia tried to make her voice soothing. ‘I’m not sure you can,’ she said.

The child wriggled then, pushing her legs and arms against Athanasia so that she was forced to put her down. ‘I want to go home!’ she repeated.

‘I know, but, I think you have to go on the boat,’ said Athanasia, pointing across the river. The boat was nearer now, and it did indeed seem larger.

The child stared at her defiantly. ‘I like boats,’ she said, eventually.

‘I’m sure it’ll be fun!’ said Athanasia, pulling her face into a smile and hoping that it would be.

The child nodded, and ran to the edge of the river to watch. Athanasia bit back the urge to tell her to be careful because, after all, what was there to be careful of, now?

She rubbed her cheek, and then realised that others had arrived. A young woman, her belly distended but empty, a man with a dark hole under his left shoulder and a stump where his right leg should have been, a woman with elaborately-styled white hair, her body and face unmarked.

Athanasia had spent her life helping others, and she found she could not stop now. She greeted the arrivals, offered words of comfort, and helped them to the edge of the river. Some were confused, and some were angry. A few wept. She did what she could, and took small joy in being useful.

In time, the boat arrived. It was the long, narrow kind, designed to be propelled by a boatman wielding a pole, and indeed there was such a man. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and he wore robes the colour of glowing embers. They matched his eyes.

He stepped lightly ashore. The child Athanasia had first met looked curiously up at him, and then scampered into the boat, darting back and forth until she had decided where she wanted to sit. Athanasia smiled, and helped the one-legged man to also step aboard.

The ferryman’s face was dark beneath his hood. His voice, when he spoke, reminded Athanasia of thunder and freshly-turned earth. ‘Thank you,’ he said, looking at the orderly chain of people. ‘It is usually more… difficult.’

Athanasia nodded. The last of the other passengers climbed aboard and sat, waiting.

The ferryman looked at her, and then at the boat. She didn’t move.

‘What is on the other side of the river?’ she asked, quietly.

The ferryman shrugged. ‘It is not for me to say.’

‘Will those that I’ve lost be there?’ she asked, looking across the expanse of green water. She could see only shadows on the other side.

‘Perhaps.’

‘Perhaps?’

‘Death is a big place. I only take souls from this edge to that. I cannot say what is beyond the point where I leave them.’

Athanasia paused. ‘Why do you do this?’

His eyes glowed in the depth of his hood. ‘Someone must.’

‘What would happen… if you didn’t?’

He shrugged again. There was a moment of silence between them. Then he said, ‘will you come aboard?’

Athanasia crossed her arms. ‘I don’t think I will.’

‘Then you must stay here, by the river. There is no way back.’

‘I understand. But you cannot tell me what is on the other side. And perhaps if I stay here, I will see some of the people I’ve left, in time.’

‘I cannot say that is so,’ he warned. ‘Not all souls pass this way.’

‘Nevertheless,’ said Anthanasia, ‘I think I can be useful here, and I would like that. It is always best to make the most of what you have.’

The ferryman’s eyes glowed again. ‘Very well,’ he said, after a moment.

Athanasia watched the boat as he pushed it away from the bank and she waved at the little girl, who was holding the hand of the young woman with the empty belly. Athanasia smiled and turned around. Already there were others to greet.

***

And there she remains, on this side of the river, comforting those whose time has come, and helping them to be in the right place at the right time.

It is said that there are some who arrive at the wrong time, their presence too faint as they hover between this world and the next. Some even find their way back, and have told a story of a woman who waits by the river to greet those who must cross, and when the ferryman asks if she will cross, as he always does, she always refuses, her arms folded across her chest.


Author’s notes
I wrote – and read! – this story for an event called ‘Mythmaking: A night of new stories for old objects’, organised by Science Communicator Brian Mackenwells. The idea of the night was to take objects about which we know very little, and which currently have no mythology, and give them new stories. There were seven of us, and we were each allocated one of three objects. Mine was a ‘Cycladic female figurine‘. These are very old – over 5000 years old – and were often buried with the dead, although some have also been found showing signs of repair, suggesting they were also used in every-day life. In this story I tried to tie those ideas together by creating a character that might go on to be represented by these figures. I hope I succeeded!

The other acts were:
Robert Holtom
Calum Mitchell
Holly Bathie
Jack Brougham
Charvy Narain
Laura Theis

And they were all amazing! I really hope there are more events like this in the future.

I also want to say a quick thank you to the talented Matt Dovey, who helped me out when I had a beginning and a end but was struggling with the middle!


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© Kat Day 2018

Magma on the Inside

Content warning: violence, abuse

***

Don’t cry. If you cry, your lamina won’t form.

Adamite the troll forced the sting from his eyes as he stared at his damaged knee. He had fallen on the scree, and the sharp stones had bitten hard. There were specks of dirt and ragged pieces of torn skin in the centre of the wound, but its edges were already beginning to darken. Streaks of red, like veins of ruby running through rock, glinted in the sunshine. His leg burned like a stone left in the noonday sun.

He was young, and his skin was still soft. For now.

In time, a scab would form, and then it would fall off leaving a new surface of smooth rock, and the warm softness would become hard and cool to the touch. It was called a lamina, and it was how trolls became stone. It was how they became truly trolls.

Don’t cry.

The air in the mountains was crisp, almost crystalline. It chilled his skin and, just for a moment, he felt sadness that he might lose that sensation, soon.

Adamite took a deep breath and stood up.

#

It was not long after that day that his grandfather was broken. Men had come to the mountain with their red tubes which hissed and made smoke that smelled of overripe fruit. The men looked harmless – too fragile to harm a creature such as a troll – but humans could be remarkably, surprisingly destructive.

His grandfather had been too old to move much, preferring to sit and let the thin sunshine warm his rhyolite skin. The men’s sticks called the thunder and focused the lightning, and the old troll’s head had shattered into a hundred thousand pieces.

The men had taken his calcite eyes. Amazingly clear, they said.

Adamite and his father studied what was left of the broken remains.

“We must be the trolls he can no longer be,” said his father, quietly.

Then he scraped the flint-sharp side of his foot down the back of Adamite’s still-soft legs. The pain was excruciating, but he didn’t cry.

“You must be strong,” said his father. “This will make you strong.”

#

Shattering stone. Breaking skin. Adamite cried out as Psilomelane’s fist slammed into his cheek. His mouth was full of wet copper. His father had left his face untouched, but other trolls had no such hesitancy.

The rock beneath his back was too hard, and that was wrong. A real troll marks the ground, not the other way around.

“Stupid baby,” hissed Psilomelane, through amethyst teeth. “You’ll thank me for this.”

Psilomelane was mostly stone. There were, Adamite noticed with a strange sort of detachment, only a few patches that were still unchanged. One was around his neck. The matt skin there contrasted sharply with the dark grey that covered his face.

Adamite wondered how it would feel to lock his fingers around that soft neck.

It wasn’t only the outside of trolls that changed, of course. They had to become stone all the way through.

#

It was a summer day when Adamite first broke his own son’s skin. Harebell flowers were scattered over the landscape, and the air was full of grass and sunshine. Adamite’s lamina was long complete. He glittered in the sunshine, smooth stone which almost seemed polished, dotted with flecks of silver and green crystals. His eyes were perfect ovals of green chrysoprase. His teeth were shards of yellow corundum.

His son was still soft and warm to the touch. When Adamite looked at him, he felt a twinge of disgust.

He had to do it. His son had to be strong, as he himself had become strong.

And so he picked up handfuls of sharp gravel, circled his son’s arm with his own hands, and forced the small stones into the child’s skin. In, and down.

Dark fluid welled in the wounds. The young troll didn’t cry out, and that was good. His eyes, though, were too bright.

“Don’t cry,” said Adamite sharply, “it will stop your lamina from forming. Trolls must never cry.”

The child nodded. “I know,” he said.

His voice was full of the determination of youth. Somewhere inside, Adamite felt the heat of molten rock. The energy could not escape; it was locked in by his cool, rocky surface. The fires inside roared, and swelled.

He looked away from his son, and his chest burned.


Author’s notes
I wrote this story 9 months ago and it has nagged at me ever since. It was difficult to write and it is still, even though of course I know what it says, difficult to read. And I’m agonising over the submit button even now. But it’s here because I feel it’s imporant. I’m a woman and I fully support women’s rights, but I also understand that it can be hard to be a man in modern society, particularly if you are not a man who fits traditional male stereotypes. When you force someone, anyone, into a box that doesn’t fit them, they have two options: to defy and break the box, or to become misshapen. Both of those options involve pain.

Perhaps, as a society, we could decide to stop forcing people into boxes in the first place.

If you need support, please know that there organisations who can help. One is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM. Follow the link for more details.


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© Kat Day 2018

Will you Dance with Me, in the Pale Moonlight?

‘Will you dance with me, in the pale moonlight?’ asks the Devil.

I laugh, then, but I take his hand and let him lead me onto the dance-floor beside the marquee. His skin is warm, of course, but it no longer smells of smoke, as it did the last time.

That was so many years ago. But still the same time of year, late April, when the evening chill is softened by the smell of newly-cut grass and drifting cherry blossom.

The moon is full. A ball of silver and grey in an indigo sky. It seems to twirl with us as we sway and step to the band’s music.

‘Beautiful,’ says the Devil, and I’m not sure if he means the moon, or the music, or the bride, who whirls past in a blur of crystals and silk. He surely does not mean me. Life has marked me. There are lines, now, where once there was smoothness. My hair is thinner, my waist thicker. There are long-healed scars too, although they are mostly hidden. I wear these marks with pride, but it would be fanciful to claim they make me beautiful.

‘Yes,’ I agree, drawing closer. We are almost the same height, the Devil and I, and his eyes are liquid brown, so dark it’s hard to tell where iris ends and pupil begins.

‘Come with me,’ he says. ‘Be with me.’

It’s not the first time he’s asked. The last time I had a whole life ahead of me. There was more to do, more to experience. I couldn’t give myself to him. It would have been foolish.

Sometimes I think that we all end up losing ourselves, one way or another. It is only a matter of whether we choose it, a moment’s decision, or whether it slips away over years. Either way, one day we look back and realise that that person, the person we were, is gone. A memory. Did she even exist? I surely would not do the things she did. Perhaps I have acquired someone else’s memories; someone who once looked a little like me.

The music begins to fade. The Devil grips my fingers. ‘This time,’ he says, ‘come with me.’

I look around at the people drinking and talking. At the other dancers, laughing and glowing. Would they miss me, really, any more than the silvery moon, eternally dancing across night skies?

I know the answer to my question. And so does he.

‘They’d get over it,’ he whispers, his voice a cool breeze on a hot night.

‘No,’ I say, a touch wistfully.

He lowers his thick eyelashes and dips his head in the slightest of nods. ‘I should have persuaded you the last time,’ he says.

‘Perhaps,’ I murmur, glancing at my daughter, the bride. ‘But if you had, this wouldn’t have happened. And who knows what’s still to happen?’

The Devil laughs, then, and drops my hand, and walks across the dance floor, into the night.


Author’s notes

I suspect this is one of those pieces which will cause some readers to say, “eh?”

But I don’t care. I love this story.


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© Kat Day 2018

Scribble-Eyed Girl

Xartimon skipped across the pavement, finding little to amuse him. It was night by name but not by yet by nature; the sky remained the colour of bloom-dusted blueberries.

A dog-walker who’d paused to study her phone yelped as she realised her dachshund had decided to warm her shoe. The imp giggled and let the animal’s mind go. Then he sighed. Scents of warm dog and tarmacadam filled his nose, making him want to do something different.

That was when he found the clear rubbish bag outside a house with amber light dripping from its windows. It was full of a child’s paintings.

Xartimon’s eyes glowed as he sliced the plastic with a fingernail. A rainbow. Handprints. Something, perhaps a whale, drifting in a black ocean.

A door slammed in the house but he didn’t turn, engrossed in the treasures.

He flicked a hand and a swarm of jewel-bright butterflies lifted from the paper, scattering into the night. He watched them for a while, their wings gradually becoming monochrome as they flittered further into the orange light cast by the streetlamps.

Xartimon turned his gaze back to the torn bag and absently clicked his fingers.  Seventeen puffs of dust fell from the air. The dog-walker cursed and brushed at her arm, then frowned as the glittering residue faded under her gaze. She looked around but saw nothing, of course. People rarely see anything that doesn’t fit into the world as they know it.

The imp continued flicking though the papers in front of him. The next picture he stopped at was recognisably a girl. The image had wild hair and black scribbles for eyes. A straight smear of pink formed her mouth.

A moment later she was sitting up, flexing her stick wrists and wriggling her fingers.

Now, something for her to do…

Paper on the ground caught Xartimon’s eye. Brown and gold on a black background. Red fingerprint eyes. A wolf, maybe.

The scribble-eyed girl looked around as the newly-animated creature made a crackling, crunching sound. She took a step backwards.

Xartimon sat on the low wall that bordered the garden of the amber-windowed house, balanced his left foot on his right knee and tipped his head to one side.

The wolf snapped. The girl dodged and made a whistling sound like someone blowing across a piece of paper. The wolf dropped back, tail low.

Xartimon clapped.

The girl picked up a stone and threw it awkwardly. The wolf caught it in its jaws as though it were a ball.

Xartimon shook his head. Stone never beat paper.

The beast charged, gaping mouth revealing sharp, white triangles. It caught the girl with an unpleasant tearing sound. She squealed and pulled, losing her left arm. She lurched to her right and grabbed for the wolf’s tail.

It slipped through her fingers and the creature snapped again, catching her head. She pushed and kicked, but it was no use. This time there was no tearing. The beast pulled her into its mouth, chewing and mashing the paper until it dissolved into fragments.

Silence fell and the wolf looked at Xartimon, hopeful expectancy in every dry breath. As one, they looked up at the perfect half moon. There are those that believe that full moons are magical, but there’s nothing magical about something which can only go one way.

A high-pitched sound emanated from the house behind them. Not quite a scream. Not quite.

The imp pointed a finger at the child’s monster.

The jet of blue flame left nothing but specks of ash drifting in the air. Xartimon glanced at the amber-windowed house.

His game was mischief. Evil, well.

That was the business of others.


Author’s notes

This first version of this dark little tale was written for the 2017 Podcastle flash fiction contest. It didn’t win, but it did get a good handful of votes. There were some truly amazing stories, by extremely talented writers, in that competition, so any votes at all was an achievement! You can listen to the winning stories here. At the time of writing there’s still time, just, to enter the Escape Pod flash fiction contest for 2018 – you need to submit your up-to-500-words Science Fiction story by the 30th of April. If you’ve missed the deadline, never mind, sign up for the forums and come and vote for your favourites anyway. See you there!

If you’ve enjoyed this story please considering buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com. The more coffee I have, the more likely I am to write more stories! 🙂
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© Kat Day 2018