The Two Teenagers Truculent, or Why You Shouldn’t Throw Stones Under Bridges

Free photos of BridgeMisty had had many jobs in her life, including several years as a secondary school teacher in a school in central Oxford that was, in official paperwork, described as ‘challenging’. As a consequence, she had developed the knack for that particular clear, penetrating kind of voice that is definitely not shouting, but which nevertheless causes everyone within earshot to freeze.

So when she called out to two teenagers apparently caught in an altercation with a bridge troll, everyone involved did, indeed, stop.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked, walking along the path and closer to the group. She felt a moment of nervousness – she wasn’t going to be able to take on two teenagers and a troll if they decided to join forces. Come to that, she really wasn’t dressed even to run away from two teenagers and a troll.

Oh well, in for a penny.

The bridge they were standing on was humpbacked, made of old, water-stained stone. The well-established trees on either side of the path that led to and from it threw everything into dappled, cool shade. In the sudden silence, the repetitive, shrill call of a woodpecker could be heard.

The troll, despite being only slightly larger than the average human, was looming over the teenagers and did not look happy. Their – Misty never liked to assume gender – skin was mottled in dark blues and greens, and matched the water of the small river so that, Misty imagined, in the pool of black shadow under the bridge they’d be very nearly invisible. The two teenagers were fairly young, she thought, perhaps fourteen or so, and wearing jeans and hoodies and far too much attitude. The one closest to the troll, and thus being loomed at the most fiercely, had long, dark hair tied in a ponytail. The hair of the other was short, spiky, and dyed a caustic shade of pink.

The troll looked up at Misty. ‘I was minding my own business,’ they said sharply, ‘when these two started throwing stones at me.’

‘We were just throwing stones in the water!’ protested pink hair. ‘We didn’t know it was down there!’

‘My name,’ said the troll, eyes glinting in the uneven light ‘is Imenta.’

‘It’s a bloody troll!’ said ponytail.

‘I’ll thank you to be polite,’ snapped Misty, her voice belying the fact that the grumpy, but nonetheless reasonably articulate, responses were reassuring.

Ponytail looked at her defiantly. ‘A troll! They hide under bridges and stop people crossing and scare people on purpose. Why’d we have to be polite to trolls? They ain’t people! This is stupid!’

‘I live under the bridge,’ said Imenta, a trace of weariness now audible in their voice. ‘I’m not hiding, I’m minding my own business. And I don’t scare anyone on purpose. You startled me, that’s all.’

Pink hair looked guilty.

‘It’s stupid,’ muttered ponytail sullenly.

Misty carefully adopted the most neutral expression she could manage. ‘Imenta may not be human,’ she said calmly, ‘but as you can see – I’m sorry,’ she turned to the troll, ‘do you prefer particular pronouns?’

‘Oh ffs,’ muttered ponytail, actually pronouncing the letters. ‘What next?’

‘It’s polite to ask,’ said Misty, not looking at the teenager, ‘no one likes it when someone gets that wrong, including you, I’m sure.’

‘She,’ said Imenta, ‘and thank you. Most humans assume trolls are male. It’s refreshing to be asked.’

‘You see,’ said Misty, turning back to ponytail. ‘As you can see, she may not be human, but she is a thinking, talking person. You’ve trespassed on her home, caused a disturbance, possibly even injured her, and somehow,’ Ponytail’s mouth opened, and Misty’s voice developed a tone with distinct harmonics of: you’ve lost this one. Don’t even think about arguing with the ref, ‘Inexplicably, rather than apologise, you’re apparently trying to find reasons that you’re entitled to be annoyed by the situation.’

Misty looked at the teenager, and silently sighed. She’d been young and stupid once, too. ‘What’s your name?’

‘I ain’t telling you my name!’

The youngster with pink hair, who’d been studying the floor with the intensity of a detective hunting for clues, finally looked up and said, quietly, ‘It’s Charlie. And I’m Bri. And we’re both he, just so you know.’ He glared defiantly at Charlie, who glared back. ‘Oh, come on, mate, get over it. She—’ he paused and looked at Misty, who nodded. ‘She’s right. We were chucking stones. I’d yell and get annoyed if someone lobbed a bit of granite at my head, too. And you do freaking hate it when people call you she ’cause of your long hair, so just shut it.’

‘Yeah but—’

‘Mate. Seriously.’ Bri turned to Imenta. ‘We’re sorry. We didn’t know you were down there, and we weren’t thinking. Next time we’ll be more careful.’

Misty considered saying that merely throwing stones carefully might be missing the point, but decided against it. If she’d learned anything in her life, it was that when you sense an oil tanker of an argument shifting in the right direction, it’s often better to let it get there slowly than to risk oversteering.

‘Thank you,’ said Imenta, graciously. ‘Perhaps I won’t eat you, this time.’

‘What? See! See! I told y—’ Charlie started.

‘Oh jeez. She’s joking. Honestly, you’re an idiot,’ said Bri. ‘Uh, you are joking, right?’

Imenta made a sound like water running over pebbles.

‘Lads,’ said Misty, pointedly, ‘I think it would be a very good idea if you were on your way now, don’t you?’

Bri nodded and, looking somewhat relieved, grabbed Charlie’s arm and dragged him past Imenta and onto the path on the other side of the bridge.

The human and the troll watched the teenagers as they disappeared around the bend. ‘Thank you for that,’ said Imenta, after a few moments.

‘You’re very welcome.’

‘Obviously I can defend myself, but, well.’

‘You’d rather it didn’t come to that.’

‘Quite so. I really should have ignored them, but the little monsters caught me right in the ear.’ She rubbed the side of her head. ‘I’m afraid I rather lost my temper.’

‘And without a witness…’

‘Precisely. We have a bad reputation as it is. Two teenagers crying wolf, so to speak. Well, you can imagine. I like this bridge. I’d hate to have to move.’

Misty nodded.

‘We didn’t ask your name,’ added the troll.

‘Misty. Misty Fied.’

Imenta’s face quite literally cracked into a smile. ‘How wonderful. It’s lovely to meet you, Misty. I have tea, under the bridge. Would you care to join me?’

‘Oh, thank you, really, but if I get under there in these heels, I’ll never get out again. Perhaps another time, when I’ve got my jeans and wellies on?’

‘I shall look forward to it,’ said Imenta, extending a hand.

Misty took it. It was cool, and surprisingly dry. ‘Me, too,’ she said.


Author’s notes
A gentle little low-stakes story that reminds us, I hope, to be kind.

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© Kat Day 2022

8 Things I Learned From the Discworld

April 28th is Terry Pratchett Day – in honour of the late author’s birthday – and on the day itself I wrote a little thread on Twitter.

Now, of course, it’s May, and the lilacs are blooming. Remember the smell of lilac? You thought about those who died.

So, here’s that thread, reproduced for posterity…

~~~
For #TerryPratchettDay, here are some writer things, and life things, that I learned from Discworld books. There are 8. It was my favourite number before I ever found Discworld. 7? Yuck. It’s all… prime and sticky. 8 is all factorable and curvy. Octarine? I love it.

Let’s go…

~~~
Learn the bloody rules. AND THEN break them, if you must. Break rules deliberately, knowingly, because you want to. Not, if you can possibly avoid it, by accident. This applies to spelling, grammar, story structure and, most importantly, life in general.
1
~~~
There are few things more delightful to read than a sharp left turn. Why not write a beautiful, literary description of, oh, say, dragons, and then segue to sardines? And finish with a gently implied threat? It’s jolting, and it’s wonderful.
2
~~~
People are never one thing. No one is all bad or all good. Everyone is a complicated, messy mixture. Everyone is capable of causing pain, and of doing amazing good, and they might not always choose the course of action you’d like. But that’s people for you.

Thank you for your enquiry re: Management of the Adoption of Gifted and Ingenious Cats

Hello!

Thank you very much for your enquiry! We do have a number of cats available for adoption, and it is extremely important that we find good homes for them as soon as we possibly can.

Owning a cat can be very good for you. Some studies have even suggested that just watching cat videos is enough to boost your energy, but physically interacting with a cat is even better. MAGI furry friends tend to be particularly irresistible (but really, there’s no danger there – their magnetic personalities are for your own good, honestly).

With that in mind, I thought you might find this list – which we compiled a little while ago with the help of our customers and partners – useful as you consider your options.

1) There’s evidence that playing with a cat can lower blood pressure. In addition, cats, especially ours, are pretty low maintenance. Provide them with fresh food and water and they’ll largely take care of themselves. Don’t worry if you lose sight of them for a while – they have things to see and places to do. They’ll be back.

2) Playing with a cat releases soothing chemicals in the brain: they lower stress levels, and can actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease! And of course, there are other risks to the heart beyond disease. They can help there, too.

3) They help to build healthy habits. You have to get up to feed the cat, and, and the same time, you’ll be prompted to feed yourself. Just don’t be tempted to eat anything you find in the house that you don’t remember buying.

4) Cats improve sleep quality. A cat that sleeps in the bed with you provides a sense of comfort. Also, if they spot a hag creature sitting on your chest in the night, they will attack it and chase it off. Unless you have bad allergies: you’ll actually breathe more easily with a cat in your room.

5) Speaking of allergies, exposure to potential allergens when young has actually been shown to have a preventative effect. So don’t believe those stories about cats jumping into cots and suffocating babies. We suspect those were started by the fae – cats are excellent hunters and will chase and catch fairies (which, admittedly, doesn’t tend to end well for the fae). You many want to bear this in mind when it’s time for the tooth fairy to visit. Or not. We’ve never trusted that little hammer.

6) Generally, cats are fantastic predators and keep vermin, such as mice, rats and boggarts, under control.

7) Research has shown that cat owners tend to be trustworthy, modest and kind-hearted. This is because cats actively consume negative attributes. They lap up guilt, grandeur and selfishness. This can result in a bit of excess weight gain for the cat, which may cause your vet some consternation. But the good thing is, you won’t feel bad – you’ll trust that your vet knows what they’re doing, that they’re a lovely person and you’ll pay for the special feeding regime and feel perfectly happy about it.

8) Owning a cat can actually help with your relationship skills! It’s been demonstrated that people with pets find socialising less stressful. Plus, cats are really good at identifying vampires and other undesirables that look, well, human. Remember to take your cat to the door with you before issuing any invitations. Although, actually, if someone, or indeed something, like that comes to the door, you’ll usually find your cat is already there.

9) Cats save lives! Literally – in much the same way as humans save money. This is where the “nine lives” thing comes from, and explains why different myths state different numbers – some are more fastidious investors than others. Look after your cat, and they’ll look after you: cats have been known to negotiate with the Grim Reaper for an owner they’re particularly fond of.

I hope you’ve found this useful! As I said, it’s extremely important we find good homes as we possibly can. They start to reach critical mass if we have too many in once place for too long – we almost had a Portal Incident the other day. We have to do something; we cannot just allow creatures from the screaming, endless void to just wander in. So if you could take one, or even two, it would really help! If you’d like to arrange a visit, please give me a call!


Author’s notes
Some of this is true. Really.

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© Kat Day 2022

The Terribly Pretty Glass Shoes

‘Come with me, come with me!’ said the prince after one of his footmen had helped Cinderella out of the carriage. The footman was tall and gangly, but he had kind eyes and a reassuring smile. She would have liked to talk to him, but there was no time as the prince strode into the castle, apparently expecting her to follow.

She suddenly found herself grateful for her old leather slippers. The glass shoes she’d worn during her last visit had been terribly pretty – with emphasis on the terrible. She was unused to any sort of heel and dancing in them for hours had pushed all her weight onto her toes, which had been crushed against the slippery, unforgiving surface.

And as if that weren’t enough, she’d ended the night running over rough ground with just the one shoe.

Her feet were complaining a little still, even in more comfortable footwear, but she managed to keep up. Which was all for the good, because the prince was clearly not in the mood to match pace with a sedate female companion.

Eventually they arrived at the ballroom. It seemed somehow smaller with its chandeliers unlit and without the noise and vibrations of hundreds of people talking and dancing. Cinderella looked up at the high windows and noticed, in the crisp daylight, that they were immaculately clean. She was just wondering how someone, or possibly several someones, got up there to carry out what must surely be a weekly task, at the very least, when the prince interrupted her train of thought.

‘Just look at this floor!’

Her gaze snapped down. The floor was made up of pieces of different coloured wood – pale hexagons tessellated in a regular pattern with darker, six-pointed stars. Each piece perfectly cut, the gaps between so slight that you couldn’t fit a hair between them. It was absolutely beautiful. Except…

‘Oh,’ she said, crouching and running her fingers over what should have been an smooth surface, but which was speckled with small, round dents.

Dents about the size of the heel of a lady’s shoe.

‘I told everyone,’ said the prince, ‘I was absolutely explicit. Flat slippers only. No heels. They ruin the floors! It’s really not that much to ask, is it?’

‘I didn’t know…’ said Cinderella, softly, straightening up.

‘One cannot easily tell,’ said the prince, apparently not listening, ‘under those ludicrous long ballgowns. If I’d noticed before you lost your damn shoe on the stairs I’d have had you change!’

‘I’m so very sorry, your highness, I—’

‘Who is going to pay for the repairs, that’s what I want to know? When I started looking I assumed this would be the work of someone from one of the most wealthy families. None of them would willingly admit to anything – they lie about what they eat for breakfast – but they’re so vain and gossipy I knew they’d love the idea of the prince seeking a mysterious lost dance partner. I thought once I had the right woman I’d seek reparations. Oh, honestly, who wears glass slippers, of all things? Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.’

‘I’m afraid I have no money, sire. Really, it was a misunderstanding. If there is anything I can—’

‘Yes, yes, I know, I know. I knew your father. He was a good man. And your stepmother is thoroughly obnoxious. Goodness knows what he was thinking there. If this had turned out to be her work I might’ve taken the opportunity to throw her, and her vile daughters, in the dungeon. But it wasn’t, was it? I have no idea how you managed to rustle up a gown and shoes, never mind a hairdresser, but given she had you locked in the attic, it wasn’t with her help. Was it?’

‘Ah, no, sire.’

‘You’re not going to tell me, are you?’

‘I… don’t think I can.’

‘Oh, very well!’ The prince pushed his hand through his fair hair. ‘As I say, I liked your father, and you seem decent. I don’t have the heart to punish you for what seems to be an innocent mistake. I suppose there’s nothing more to be done.’ He paused, giving Cinderella an appraising look. ‘Although… she had you cleaning for her, did she?’

‘My stepmother? Yes, sire.’

‘Hm. It will annoy her no end if she has to actually pay someone to wash her laundry and sweep out her fireplaces. Her spoiled daughters certainly aren’t going to do it…’ He looked thoughtful. ‘Would you like to work here instead? You’ll find I feed my staff well, and you get half a day off a week. What do you say?’

It wasn’t exactly the proposal Cinderella had been expecting, but, she’d think some years later, it actually turned out to be rather better.

Especially since she did, in the end, find time to talk to the kind-eyed footman.


Author’s notes
This story is especially for my friend Krystyna, who has had more reason than most to want to throw 2021 into the bin. Let’s hope 2022 is a little brighter!

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© Kat Day 2021

An Irredeemable Supervillain

CS: Okay, I know what you said. I respect it. But please, just this once, I need your help.

MM: Oh come on, Cal.

CS: I swear I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t really, really need your… your kindness. And wisdom. You’re good at those things, Mel. This is bigger than me.

MM: SIGH. Okay. What is it?

CS: terfs have decided I support their cause.

MM: What?

CS: On Chitter. My name is trending! Go and look.

MM: I’ve only just picked up my phone.
Hang on

Oh
Wow
I can’t believe someone said that!
Good lord, they really are awful.

CS: You haven’t seen my DMs

MM: Yuck. Can you block them all?

CS: It’d take me all week to block ALL of them!
But anyway, that’s not the point! I have to DO something! I know I’m an irredeemable supervillain who lives in a hollowed out volcano, but I’m not a monster, Mel. Besides, if I don’t say something Jason will never forgive me. What if he leaves? It’s not easy to find a good henchperson!

MM: Well, why haven’t you chittered something?
Your account has 2.7 million followers.
It’ll soon pick up speed. Nip it in the bud.

CS: I don’t know what to say!! What if I get it wrong and say something a bit ambiguous and they twist that?

MM: Doctor Calamity Shade, you’re a supervillain.
Monologuing is what you DO.

CS: Yes, right, yes, I can monologue when I’m, like, pointing a gun at someone and it’s time to explain the plan I’ve been working on for months before I lock some hero in a ridiculously over-complicated, perilous situation, giving them just enough time to escape. I can’t just come up with a pithy 280 character chit!

MM: I don’t believe you sometimes.

CS: You’ve always been better at words than me. Please, Mel? Tell me what to say? Please?

MM: Argh! Fine.
Don’t think you’re going to make a habit of this.

CS: I promise I promise!

MM: Okay, let me think.

CS: Thank you thank you!

MM: I haven’t done anything yet!

CS: I’ll shut up 😀

MM: You do that.

All right…
How about…
I may live in a volcano & own a zettawatt laser. I may’ve done things that were… not ideal. I’ve stepped back since my battle with Ms Flamingo. People do change. Everyone has a right to be who they are & everyone deserves unconditional love #TransMenAreMen #TransWomenAreWomen

CS: Oh
That’s lovely
It’s so lovely I’ll even overlook that mention of you beating me in our last fight 😉

MM: It needs that.
Gives me an excuse to rechit you.

CS: Of course 😉
Does it definitely fit?

MM: Yes, I checked! Just paste it in and press send.

CS: Okay! I’ve done it!
Thank you xxx

MM: You’re welcome.
There. I’ve RCed. Between us, that should sort it.

CS: Thank you. Again.
So
Everyone?
Really, everyone?

MM: Yes, everyone.

CS: Even…

MM: Especially irredeemable supervillains, you enormous twit.

CS: I miss you.

MM: I need to go. This has to be a one-off. Boundaries.

CS: I understand 😦
Bye bye x

MM: Wait
Hang on
What do you need Jason for if you’ve retired?
Cal?

CS:


Author’s notes
A little piece of flash that I wrote for Codex‘s Flash, Saviour of the Universe 2021 contest. If you’re a published author of speculative fiction, and you’re not a member of the Codex writers’ group, why not pop over and join? January’s Weekend Warrior flash fiction contest will be here before we know it…

I’m also an associate editor at the horror podcast, PseudoPod. General submissions open on 1st September. Send us your stories!


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© Kat Day 2021

‘Twas, by Samuel Poots

It is a strange fact that any story about Christmas worth its cracker should always start with “‘Twas.” There is no reason why this should be; if anyone were to use “‘twas” in conversation you would know there is no hope for them beyond a swift ding around the head with a frying pan. But such is the convention and so…

‘Twas the night before Christmas. And two elves were standing on a rooftop. You could tell they were elves, because they had pointy ears and pointy hats. They would have had pointy shoes too, but you had to draw the line somewhere. Currently, they were both staring down the house’s capacious chimney.

“He’s late,” said one.

“I know.”

“He should have been back out ages ago.”

“I know.”

“You don’t fink he’s…” The first elf made a glugging motion.

“Nah. I made sure he didn’t have his flask on him.”

The two continued staring down the chimney for a moment.

“What if he’s –”

“Jesus Christ, Bill, let it be will ya? You’re making me nervous.”

“Alright, Mick, no need to—”

“Hide!” Mick cried. He grabbed his companion’s head and shoved it down behind the chimney. A second later, there was the crunch of tyres on gravel. The still, winter night was broken by the brief flare of a siren.

“Is it the police?” Bill asked.

“Well, those lights on their car don’t look like bleedin’ Christmas lights, do they?”

A door slammed shut. Moving cautiously, the two elves peered down over the edge of the rooftop. They were just in time to see a man, dressed all in red, being led out of the house. He was bundled into the car, which took off down the driveway, its blue and red lights painting the night in disco colours. Bill thought he caught a glimpse of a mournful expression looking back at them through the rear window.

The still of the night flowed gradually back into place. Bill looked over at his companion. “Well… shit.”

“I guess that’s it then,” Mick whispered.

Bill started to nod. Then froze as a thought occurred. “’Ere, did he have his sack with him?”

Mick frowned. Then horrified realisation spread across his face like a sunrise. “Oh. Hell.” They both peered back over to the chimney.

Mick could feel a certain inevitability forming about his near future. It loomed ahead of him like… well, like the chimney stack stretching up towards the night sky. He could already feel Bill’s eyes on him and it took all his will not to push the bugger off of the roof. “No.”

“I didn’t even say –”

“Doesn’t matter. I am not going down after that sack.”

“Oh, so you want them to find it all, do you?”

“You go and get it then.”

Bill stretched dramatically, both hands pressed into the small of his back. The gesture set the stupid, little bell on the end of his hat to tinkling. “What, with me bad back? And me asthma? And me dicky tummy? And me—”

“Alright, I get the picture.” Mick looked down once again into the blackness of the chimney. The knotted length of rope they had lowered was just visible in the gloom. But it was as Bill said, they really didn’t have much of a choice. He shuddered to think what would happen if anyone opened that sack and found everything in there. He swung his legs over the lip. “You better pull me up sharp, you hear?”

“Yeah, yeah. Get your arse down there.”

Mick pressed himself up against the sides of the chimney. Everything stank of smoke and toasted sparrow nests. It was a bit of a tight fit and the brick-work was crumbling a little, but if he just jammed his foot up like so, and his elbow like so then he could –

The brick gave way.

Mick had just enough time to yell “Oh, bugg—” before he disappeared down the chimney in a cloud of coal dust and profanities. He landed in a heap in the fireplace, looking for all the world like the angriest yule log that had ever existed.

Trying to smother his coughs, Mick stood up and brushed the soot from his pointy hat with his sleeve. Since it too was covered in soot, this just succeeded in moving the soot about a bit for a change of scenery. After a while he gave up and looked about him. The living room looked like something out of a Christmas movie. Tinsel hung from everything, somehow endeavouring to sparkle in complete darkness. Little comedy reindeers with idiot grins sat upon every surface, fighting for space against snow globes, Christmas cushions, and, for some strange reason, a giant stuffed pig wearing a santa hat. At the centre of it all lay the tree.

It was easy to see how their guy had got caught, Mick thought. He wasn’t exactly known for his grace at the best of times. Three households with three accompanying glasses of whiskey; it had been a miracle he made it down the chimney at all. A large tree standing on its own had apparently been too difficult an obstacle for the big idiot. The thing now lay on its side, shedding baubles and strings of lights everywhere. And there, tucked down beneath the branches, was the sack.

Mick made a grab for it, but just as his hand closed around the rough hemp a light flicked on upstairs. A shadow appeared. “Hello? Anyone there?”

Footsteps. Mick looked around. Despite all the clutter there wasn’t anywhere to – Ahah!

“If it’s another of you buggers, be warned; I have a gun!”

A torch beam cut through the dark of the room. It passed over Mick, just as pushed himself into the fallen tree’s branches.

The footsteps started again, the soft slip-slap of slippers sounding like the tread of doom. “I swear, if I find anyone in here the doctors will have to feed them via suppository!”

The sack was right up against Mick. He could feel its reassuringly full weight. The chimney beckoned, his one way of escape if only this bastard would leave him alone!

“Come out, come out wherever you are.” There was the click of a gun being cocked. “I’ve got some nice Christmas cake for you.”

A branch kept poking Mick in the back. He tried to move a little and the bell on his hat gave a treacherous jingle. At once, the torch beam swung towards him.

Slip-slap came the slippers. Mick could barely hear them over the hammering of his heart. Desperately, he scrambled around for something, anything he could defend himself with. His hand closed on something round.

“Let’s take a peek behind here—”

Mick threw the bauble. It bounced away, setting up a satisfyingly loud clatter. The torch beam swung around to follow it and Mick was away, scrambling up the chimney as fast as he could, the sack dragging behind him. There came a loud BANG, followed by the splintering of brick, but Mick was free. He flew up the rope so fast that he shot out of the chimney like a cork from a champagne bottle.

“Mick!” Bill hurried over to him. “Did I hear a gun there?”

Mick spat out a mouthful of soot. “No, it was a bloody big Christmas cracker, what do you think?”

“Oh, that’s alright then.”

“Yes, it was a bloody gun!” Mick hissed. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”

“Right, right.” Bill pointed at the sack. “It is all in there though, yeah?”

Mick opened it up and peered inside. “Let’s see…TV, radio, blu-ray…Yup, looks like he got it all.” He threw the sack at Bill. “Get this down to the van. And if you ever come to me with an idea this daft again, Bill Hackett, I will stick you on top of the damn tree!”


Author’s notes
Something a little different for Christmas: a story from a guest author – thank you, Sam! And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our lovely readers.

Samuel Poots is a writer from N. Ireland who communicates primarily through Pratchett quotes. He can usually be seen clambering around the north coast muttering about dragons. If found, please give him a cup of tea and send him home via the nearest post office. Follow him on Twitter at @pootsidoodle


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Aural Fixation

Humans have been imagining creatures from other worlds for years. They were usually grey. Metallic ships. Spindly, grey lifeforms. No one expected something shimmering with all the colours of the visible spectrum, plus some only visible to mantis shrimp—who were, ironically, largely oblivious: tucked into the burrows they had carved for themselves in the ocean depths.

Humans have also long been fascinated by lights in the sky—devoting a lot of energy into reproducing same in the form of fireworks and the like—so most of the world’s population turned their faces upwards and gasped. And when it comes to communication, much of humanity has an aural fixation, and there’s no appropriate verb for ‘concepts transmitted directly into every human’s angular gyrus.’

So, let’s say that the alien invaders spoke.

‘This,’ said the voice, which to some sounded like heavenly choirs, and to some sounded like endless screaming, and to others sounded a parent who’s just watched their child do something unspeakable and is twenty-five seconds away from infanticide, ‘is a perfectly nice planet. Lots of water. Really, lots. Do you know how unusual that is? Not to mention all the plants. Photosynthesis is fucking amazing.’ (Powerful alien sentiences don’t swear, as such, but there was something there that implied emphasis, and most human minds filled in the gap.)

‘And here you are,’ it continued, ‘literally setting fire to the place. Never mind all the wasted metals. And the helium. You do understand that you can’t make that? If you keep putting it into thin-walled polymer-based containers and launching it into the sky you will run out.’

By now, some humans who’d convinced themselves they had power had started to collect in brightly-lit rooms with very thick concrete walls, where they were arguing.

Some said they should attempt diplomacy. They were naturally ignored in favour of the ones pushing for their own, rather more destructive, version of shiny lights in the sky. Missiles were shortly launched, plus some weapons the existence of which was only known to the humans huddling in heavily-concreted buildings, well away from the consequences of said weapons.

They all passed through the aliens harmlessly, like sand through a sieve, or neutrinos though miles of rock.

‘You’re ridiculous,’ they said. ‘The resources here are excellent. There are multiple intelligent lifeforms who’d be so much more grateful.’

‘What does that mean?’ thought several billion humans, more or less as one.

‘You’re toast,’ said the aliens. ‘But don’t worry, we’ll be selective. Some of the other primates are probably doomed, but most lifeforms will carry on. Maybe the next half-smart one to evolve will be less destructive.’

There was rage. There was frustration. There was helplessness.

And then, there was something else.

Something ancient.

It uncoiled itself from the depths of the ocean, inconceivably huge, a slick body covered in spines, each taller and thicker than ancient redwoods. Where the aliens had all the colours, this had none. It was blackness. The void. The absence of all light. It lifted a head the size of an island and spoke with a voice of thunderstorms and crashing waves.

It said: ‘Bugger off.’

The aliens considered. ‘What,’ they asked, ‘are you?’

‘What I am,’ said the great beast, ‘is here already.’

‘But,’ said the aliens, ‘it’s just them we object to. ‘

The creature rumbled. Huge waves rolled across the surface of the ocean. And the beat it created resolved into something that became…

Mozart’s Requiem, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang’s Butterfly Lover’s Violin Concerto.

The sounds twisted into more recent pieces. I Got You, Bohemian Rhapsody, Experiment IV, too many others to recognise. There were words too, and not just songs: words of poets, playwrights, scriptwriters and novelists. Every beautiful sound the humans had ever created, compressed into a few minutes.

The final chords drifted away, wrapped around words:

 

But, spite of heaven’s fell rage,

Some beauty peep’d through lattice of sear’d age.

 

‘Oh,’ said the aliens. ‘That is interesting.’

‘They like sounds,’ explained the oceanic monstrosity. ‘Bit of an aural fixation.’

‘Fine,’ said the aliens, ‘all right. We’ll leave them to you. But do have a word about the fires and the ice caps, would you?’

And with that, they left, and the Earthly sky returned to its normal shades of mostly blues and greys.

The great beast rumbled again, but gently. ‘Sort it out, you lot,’ it said. ‘Else next time, I’ll join them.’

And with that it sank, far beneath the blue-black waves.


Author’s notes
June 2020 has been a bit rubbish, hasn’t it? Here’s a little something to brighten it up. Roll on July.


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© Kat Day 2020

The Trickster

Said the trickster, here’s the game, if you’re able,

remember all the things upon the table.

I’ll take one and hide it away, he explained,

and if you can tell me what I’ve obtained,

then you’re the winner! And I’ll return it,

and I’ll also give you this nifty outfit.

 

He held a dress, midnight black and glitter,

belonged to a witch, he said–never fit her.

I admired it, imagined how it would look,

And if I lose, I said, you keep what you took?

That’s it, he replied, are we in accord?

Very well, I agreed, consider me on board.

 

It was my desk, after all, I knew it well:

Skull, wand, phial and ball. Cards, scroll, mirror and bell.

Turn your eyes, then, said he, and I’ll make my choice,

and I faced away, only hearing his voice.

A handful of moments, he bade me return,

Well, he said, eyes flashing, what do you discern?

 

Skull, wand, ball and phial. Cards, scroll, bell and mirror.

Seemed untouched–moved neither further nor nearer.

He was a trickster, though, and so I thought hard.

What was gone? A drop from the phial, a lone card?

A word from the scroll? The swirl inside the ball?

The blank smile of the skull? The bell’s ringing call?

 

It was none of these, and I heard his laughter.

He had me, I’d lost, and what would come after?

I looked in the mirror and saw my own face,

bright, sharp and clear and… it fell into place.

My mouth curved then, and his attitude shifted,

cursing as he understood he’d been grifted.

 

I reached out my hand, nails sharp, pale skin blistered,

Give me what you took from the glass, I whispered.

He tried to argue, deny, make demands and lie,

I gestured; he produced the walnut with a sigh.

Cracked it and nestled within that dark, dry space,

my fingerprints, took from the mirror’s surface.

 

Did you expect to bind me, foolish trickster?

I’m older than old, and my blood’s a mixture,

my magic is human and infernal, too.

Now begone, before I use your bones for glue.

And he ran, but of course I did keep the gown.

Monster I may be, there’s no need to dress down.


Author’s notes
One last poem from the Victory in Verse contest at the Codex Writers’ Forum (check out D. L. Davitt). I enjoyed playing around with rhyming couplets, and I think we could all use a bit of fun right now. Speaking of which, if anyone would like to see any particular type of story over the coming weeks, hit me up. I’ll do my best.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2020