300 Word Writing Challenge # 49 -- VICTORY TO YOZH!

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The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest
The inspiration image for Challenge #49 is:

Bath light.JPG

Image credit: ChrisG


To write a story in 300 words or fewer
by the image provided above
in the genre of

Science Fiction, Fantasy, or other Speculative Fiction

As well as receiving
the Dignified Congratulations/Grovelling Admiration of Your Peers
the winner
has the option of having his/her story published on the Chrons Podcast


Only one entry per person

All stories Copyright 2023 by their respective authors,
who grant the Chronicles Network the non-exclusive right to publish them here

This thread will be LOCKED until April 10th 2023

As soon as the thread is unlocked, you may post your story

Entries must be posted no later than April 30th 2023 at 11:59 pm GMT

Voting will open on May 1st 2023 and will close on May 15th 2023 at 11:59 pm GMT
(unless moderators choose to make an extension based on the number of stories)

We ask all entrants to do their best to vote when the time comes

But you do not have to enter a story to vote
as we encourage ALL Chronicles members
to read the stories and take part in choosing the winning entry!

You may cast THREE votes

NO links, commentary or extraneous material in the posts, please
The stories must stand on their own


For a further explanation of the rules see Rules for the Writing Challenges

This thread is to be used for entries only
Please keep all comments to the DISCUSSION THREAD

** Please do not use the "Like" button in this thread! **

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“You have to understand, Skallahen wasn’t always like this. I grew up in a thriving spaceport. Then the incident took it all away.”

“I browsed a documentary on it. Something about Governor Phebes?”

“Yeah. Back when it happened, we knew him as ‘Butcher’. Led the Jaseen Crew. Ruled the undercity.”


“Grew up in the shanties around the spaceport. A leader before he turned twenty.”

“There was a war?”

“Not so much. The Goson Crew were led by Eddy, and he wanted to be ruler. Trouble started when he called Butcher out. They spent a night duelling through the industrial zones. In the end, Butcher beat Eddy barehanded. There wasn’t any room for doubt.”

“I’m guessing this Eddy didn’t take it well?”

“Went for a win by default: if Butcher died in an incident, Eddy could just step in.”

“Incident… You don’t mean?”

“I do. He reckoned even if a reactor leak didn’t kill Butcher, the disgrace of it happening on his shift would do for his reputation.”

“Eddy wasn’t clever?”

“Delusional, too. Every failure was down to something else, never him. His last failure ruptured a containment vault. The reactors we had were Benthusian. They were nothing like the human designs his grandad had worked on. Eddy died, along with a million others. The implosion devastated the spaceport. Secondary effects turned the area toxic. Still is.”

“How do we know about Eddy?”

“One of his crew recorded a confession before killing themselves in shame.”

“How did Butcher survive?”

“It activated while Eddy was setting it. Should have happened the next day, during Butcher’s shift.”

“Without a spaceport…”

“All we’ve got left is fancy architecture like this doorway we’re leaning against. It’s got the only light for ten blocks, but the door goes nowhere.”

“Just like this city.”
The lost Friend

I approached the black doors of the abandoned dwelling, the last place my cousin was seen. Its large threshold lamp hung like an alluring bait for the unsuspecting patterns of the local pubs, frequented by my cousin, a trap in disguise. My revolver in hand was loaded with undead rounds; LED lamp was attached and ready. I put a gas mask on, due to the stench of rot and opioid vapors, and checked my satchel; extra rounds and a few glass flasks to lighten the party. With a deep breath, I knocked.

The door closed behind; the lamp lit a clear but narrow view of the blackened, marble interior room stained in filth. Opium smoke blurred piles of corpses on display. Nauseous anger filled me when a disfigured form arose from a pile before the stairs.

“You seek me?”

I drew a flask and lit it.

“I crave your fear!” It crawled forwards.

I fired a heart shot and threw the flask, igniting the pile and it in flames. Screaming, it withered like a dying spider. The flames illuminated the room, so I paused and planned my next move. Cousin, where are you?

Then a macabre figure maliciously clapped from the top of the stairs, “Bravo, bravo! Now, try for me.” Touching its bracelet, corpses reanimated as I charged the stairs firing. All went dark as its voice clouded my mind with confusion. You will fail.

“Cousin, reach out!” His hand came forth. I grabbed him and light filled my very being, the sound of the threshold lamp shattering could be heard.

Save me!

We were outside again in the street before the fallen lamp, safe from harm. I pulled him away and removed the control collar. Ghoulishly he looked up. “I am thirsty, cousin. Feed me.”
The Door

Rydon really wanted to go in; something just beyond his comprehension compelled him. It was a strange sense of urgency to get off the nighttime street, away from . . . something. A decrepit light flickered and buzzed, casting creepy shadows about, adding another layer of anxiety to the already bizarre setting. Invisible hands nudged him and he opened the heavy, creaky door.

A vast emptiness overcame Rydon, like all his guts had been ripped out, leaving only a skin and bone carcass. An unholy reek surged up his nose and into his mind, threatening to rip it out too. He tried to let go of the doorknob, but it grasped his hand tighter than he could hold any sense of normalcy. It was too late to turn back.

But was it? The old man had told him this could happen. He’d told Rydon how to fight against it. But what had he said? It all seemed so long ago, lost in the fog of age and time. Leave it. Yes, that’s what he’d said. Leave it. Leave what? The only thing Ryden had left was his sanity. So he let go.

Falling, Rydon plummeted into the depths of despair. It swirled around him, choked him, burned his skin. Ghostly shapes of the past — the good, the bad, love and hate and regret swarmed him, tugged at his arms and legs and hair. He tried to scream, but ice cold air froze his lungs. Death was near.

Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. Birds chirped and bright sun shone on his neck. His hand rested on the door handle, but it was still closed. A shudder rose up his arm as he let go. The old man had been right: some doors are best left unopened.
To Turn or Not to Turn

Above the door of the building read, in black letter, THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE. Picketers were there, shouting to her and saying she should go back to her coffin. She went inside.

It was dim. The vampires turned towards Millie. She noticed that the crowd was mostly male, felt a bit intimidated.

"Bon soir," said a tall vampire. He sniffed the air and his pupils faded in with his irises.

"You're a mortal. Turning?"

She nodded.

The vampire offered his hand, which Millie daintily took. He led her through the haze, noticing the crimson liquid that filled everyone's glasses. She gulped.

"I'm Seth," by the way," he said.


They came to a red door. Seth knocked, found no one inside, and led her in. The room was bare and light inside the room was red.

"Before we do this," Seth said, now serious, "I need to know that you really, really do want to do this. Remember, you'll never experience hunger for anything but blood again. No cheeseburgers, no pizza, etc. Understand?"

Millie nodded, but her stomach rumbled.

"Your body won't show up anymore. No reflections, no photos, not even paintings. Understand?"

She nodded again, but recalled that she'd looked in the mirror several times in the past few days.

"But nothing's as bad as the social isolation you'll feel. Even with vampires, you'll constantly have to prove your worth to everyone."

"No!" Millie blurted out. She began to cry a little.

"You see? It's not for everyone."

"I think I'd better go," she said, feeling nauseous. The vampire nodded, and she went out of the room and towards to exit as everyone watched her lustfully.

After leaving the club proper, she was surprised by a man.

"Bloodsucker!" he shouted, and plunged his knife into her mortal heart.
The Room at the Drago Volante

After a fortnight occupying an uncomfortable couch as it crawled from Florence to the Adriatic, I came within sight of Serenissima. The Drago Volante, a quaint rustic inn, stood upon a hill just outside the city, where I hoped to discover antiquities of an unusual nature.

A brief argument ensued between Signore and Signora Morelli, who served as my hosts. I was unable to determine the meaning of their disagreement, the local dialect differing somewhat from my schoolroom Italian. Nonetheless, I secured the inn's single guest room. It was small but comfortable, and after a simple meal of heavy brown bread, soft white cheese, and sour wine, I retired.

During the night I awoke from formless dreams to discover a young woman, her nightdress glowing in the moonlight entering the room's narrow window, standing over me. Her uncombed ebon hair brushed against my face. Before I could speak, or even raise my head, she seized my throat. Fingernails like the talons of a hawk bit into my flesh as she moaned like an injured beast.

My hosts burst into the room and, with no small effort, pulled the woman away from me. I sat up and gasped for breath as they led her away. A moment later they returned, apologizing for the disturbance. Their daughter Donatella, it seemed, was quite mad, and kept locked in a room not far from my own. Never before had she been able to escape, but apparently the preternatural strength that sometimes visits the insane allowed her to break down the heavy door of her prison.

The next morning, as I rambled through the surrounding countryside in search of respite from my frightening experience, I discovered a small gravestone, far from the consecrated ground of the local churchyard, inscribed Donatella Morelli by an unskilled hand.
The Rounds of the Semi-skilled

One autumn day, in the year 1879, I had arrived at Baker Street and found my friend, Sherlock Holmes ensconced in his study, lounging in his chair. A hypodermic needle rested upon its broad oak armrest, demonstrating the cause of his malaise.

“Watson, my dear fellow, pray come in,” said he, groggily.

“Cocaine? Your seven percent solution, Holmes?”

“I abhor problems, analysis, busyness! Give me the pleasure of some peace.”

I hastened to reply, when a sharp knock came from the door. Two men entered. The taller man’s face conveying arrogance. The shorter, frustration.

Holmes rose lazily in his chair, addressing them. “I gather no doubt, that you have come with a problem of great import?”

The taller man spoke with a strange accent. “A pleasure sir. And yes, we have indeed.”

“Precisely,” said Holmes sarcastically, slithering lower in his chair. “What of it?”

“The world is in danger. Only you can save it.”

“This is our last chance!” barked the other.

Holmes gazed hard at them. “Very well then. I shall dance to your discordant tune. First, come closer so I may take your measure.”

The tall man, relieved, cajoled his partner to move, who in turn, acquiesced with a shrill retort, “That’s my job is it?”

Holmes started, confidently. “Your clothes are of splendid manufacture - suggesting you have a good tailor. Your watch sir, bears the words ‘Timex’ across its dial, suggesting it is meant to tell the time. And finally, your serious bearing communicates a satisfying life in the travelling circus.”

“By golly Holmes. You’ve done it again!”

“Elementary,” said he.

The men did not share my enthusiasm. The shorter asking, “Is this the right Sherlock?”

Dreadful realization dawned on the other man’s face. “Did you calibrate the multiverse probability drive?

“That’s my job is it?”
Room 27

I return to the hotel every year; it's like a pilgrimage for me. And it's always Room 27; the one my wife disappeared from fourteen years ago. The staff don't fool me; I hear them sniggering behind my back: 'Mister Twenty Seven is here again'. At the front desk the receptionist offers me a perfunctory flash of teeth before handing over my key. But I see beneath her mask, between the cracks in her painted smile; her true face cold as stone.

The hotel itself isn't a safe place. It isn't right. A lantern hangs above the entrance, beckoning like the glowing protuberance of an anglerfish, luring unwary travellers into its gaping maw. It's said that anglerfish form a symbiotic relationship when mating, the male's body fusing into the female's so that they become one.

I enter my room and collapse onto the bed, recalling the first time I slept there, my wife in my arms. When I awoke she had gone, yet taken neither clothes nor personal belongings with her. None of the hotel staff witnessed her leaving, and there had been no sightings of her since. Yet... somehow... I still feel her presence in this room, as though she never left.

Falling asleep I am suddenly awakened; the receptionist has entered my room, closing the door behind her. "Come join with me, my love," she whispers. As she approaches my vision blurs; or is it the receptionist herself that becomes blurry? Now she is the receptionist, now she is my wife, now she is... the hotel itself? As we embrace I struggle, I resist; but it is futile. I am flesh and blood. I am bricks and mortar. We are one.
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The most unmotorious place in the Universe

The city of Zetlank is unmotorious in its isolation.
  • Carved into the Scrumtollian hills.
  • On a rocky moon.
  • That nobody ever leaves.
  • Or visits.
I began to recall the previous night’s partying. I’d been celebrating the night before my wedding. Everyone was telling me that I had to drink the léargas, that all Zetlankians drink it once.

It took time to find somewhere that sold some, but I eventually found a spot down a narrow side street.
‘They told me you’d be calling. Come in. Take a drink’, croaked the crone who answered the door.
I did:
  • And my head began to spin.
  • And I fell to the floor.
‘Wake up maggot!’

The command was barked by someone in uniform.
Behind them was a large window revealing the most amazing display of stars I’d ever seen.

‘I hope you’re not talking to me’, I said.

Their reply was to aim a kick at my ribs.
I grabbed the extended leg and yanked them onto the ground. I hopped their head on the floor until they stopped moving. I stood up and looked around.
There was a gaunt figure cowering on the other side of the room.

‘We’ll be killed when they find the body’, said the crouching figure.

‘Where am I? What happened?’, I asked.

‘Onboard the IGS Triumph. You were shanghaied. To fight in Andromeda.’


‘How can you not know? There is no why. Life is short and brutal. The entire universe is at war and it has always been so.’

I could tell from the tone that it was the truth.
  • My head began to spin.
  • And I collapsed for a second time.
‘I take it you’ve had enough’, laughed the old woman.

The city of Zetlank is unmotorious in its isolation.
  • Nobody ever leaves.
  • Or visits.
Natural Light

First on our tour today, you will see to my left one of the earliest examples of living building technology which we all depend on today. The building itself dates to the nineteenth century, and had featured dangerous gaslights and then electricity from coal in the fossil-fuel era. The door you see here is not original, however.

In the mid-twenty-first century, researchers at the local university made the very first living building materials, using gene snippets from the emperor penguin to create endothermic coatings for naturally warm walls and genetic materials from anglerfish to create bioluminescent lighting. This building was the very first to be retrofitted with these revolutionary bioenergetic materials, powered by a compost digester in the basement.

Of course we all have penguin walls today, I don’t need to tell you what a smashing success they have been providing low-carbon ambient heat. The anglerfish lighting, well, that had some problems that maybe should have been foreseen, and you won’t find anglerfish used in any modern living buildings.

Which brings us to the door you see before you—sir, please keep your children behind the safety barricade. No really, sir, do not sit the little one on top for a better look. The barricade is there for a reason, hence all the signs. Just take a step back, thanks.

As I was saying, the door you see before you with the lantern appeared beside the compost digester about six months after the systems went on line. Best we can figure, it appeared during the holidays when the building was put on low-power mode. It was the building custodian who first noticed the door and unfortunately stepped through. Many attempts have been made to seal it, but the building always grows a new one.
The Song of Our People

Day 1.
I’ve been chosen to travel down the great river, into the infinite forest, to awaken a plant our ancestors sung about. I’ve studied the languages and the ancient rhythms of the forester tribes. Today I journey into lands unknown, in search of the plant named Asheninka.

My passage downriver was challenged by foresters. They demanded I sing the song of our people. Do they know of its power??
I altered our song just enough to render it impotent. They were fooled.
They told me that Asheninka sleeps in a cave named “Forest’s Womb”.

I shelter with the Witoto tribe. They call me Urutatani which means “semen of God”. They believe I’ve come to impregnate their forest with my voice.

Last night, the Witoto women attempted to trade sex for our song. I refused. So they drugged me and forced the song from me.
They are unable to sing, but now its rhythm is theirs.
What have I unleashed?

The rhythm of our song travels before me. When the forest is still, I hear its constant drumming in the distance. Each tribe I pass welcomes me as Urutatani and celebrates my passage to Forest’s Womb. One drew me an image of Asheninka: a black vine with black leaves.
Why do they aid me so eagerly?

I write from within Forest’s Womb. Thousands have gathered outside, drumming our song. The rhythm awoke the Asheninka. The vines ensnared me, tendrils pushed inside me, pulsing ancient wisdom through me.
Now, I understand all.
As the rhythm outside continues, I know I must accompany it with my voice. Only then will our song be complete, only then will the Asheninka be truly alive.
I was chosen to sing to Asheninka. And this will be my final song.
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A Blunder of Dodos

The murmuration of starlings sculpted the sky, fluidity, rapidity, instantaneous pulsations of density-direction-acceleration.

My gaze shifted between the living vortex over the shoreline, and the version of this same murmuration on the android’s laptop. The birds' sculpting happened on-screen moments before manifesting live, seemingly no wing askew that appeared first on-screen.

“Predictive algorithms?”

The android nodded. “But more sophisticated than you'll attain for years. I've created similar algorithm-predictive analyses foretelling flight patterns of susurrations of swallows, and the misfortunes plaguing a blunder of dodos.
"In practical considerations, I could provide worldwide stock-pricing variations hours in advance.”

"This 'blunder of dodos' – there's a recording?"

The android opened a file; a dozen chubby birds wandered afield, pecking around with their oddly hooked beaks. One approached a riverbank's edge, then stumbled over. Each after another, all tumbled down.

"Wonderful, except dodos are extinct in my world. But they're not, in yours."

The android closed the laptop.

"You've not perfected predictive algorithms, you've discovered a way to slip between dimensional realities, correct? With perhaps a component of time manipulation, too. You recorded this murmuration elsewhere, yet somehow it's the same in every dimension. But why not just tell me, why lie?"

"I've been lost ages," it answered, "10,000 dimensions of time. Everywhere I've traveled I eventually find myself talking– lying to you. I'll soon move on, but before I do, before it begins again, you ask me the same question. Go ahead."

"Do you think you could love me?" I blurted.

Our eyes met; the android shook its head. Then I laughed, realizing our doom.

"Why would I ask that? I don't fancy your kind.
"And you say this will happen again, soon, with another me in another place? Is the universe so pointless?"

It started to answer, then disappeared.
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A Crime of The Flesh

Neuroscrape practitioners line both sides of the street in Pegasus IV’s entertainment district, their pink lanterns overwhelming the greens of envibro pads and the blues of whiffer bars. There was a time when those pink lights were red, marking where travelers could buy sins of the flesh. But such depravity - the intimate touching of skin on skin - was long ago outlawed in the waking world. And anyway, who wouldn’t prefer a good neuroscrape? A pill, electrodes slapped on the skull, and there you are, enjoying any experience in the Galaxy. Choose from a menu or, for a few more credits, have them make one specially. Sure, it’s a simulation, but who cares when you can’t tell the difference?

On what we knew was our last night I went with Liane.

“What’ll it be?” asked the man at the front. “We have specials tonight. Fly on the back of a winged marmilan through the canyons of Leucosia, or spend an hour enjoying the harem of Emperor Zigran of Epharium. And for the lady, perhaps a tamed barbarian warrior from the mountains of____”

“No,” I said, “Just a beach back on Earth. Sandy. Deserted. At sunset. Put us in together!”

The neuroscrape vendor could barely hide his contempt at such a mundane request, but he set it up without a word and left us to it. I reckoned by now the Patrol would be at my place, faces clenched in disgust at the damning evidence of physical love. We hadn’t bothered to hide a thing! Our neuro traces would lead them here soon but, with luck, we would feel the sand between our toes, together, for a few minutes. I looked across at Liane and saw a single tear run down her cheek as her eyes closed.
The Unused Door

One day, while out walking to the museum with my grandchildren, Harry and Sally, as we were passing the boarded up side-entrance, Sally suddenly stopped. "Grandad, why doesn't anyone use that door anymore?"

"Do you remember Tommy Jenkins?" They both shook their heads. "No? Well, about a year ago he went through that door and no one has seen or heard about him since. He just disappeared. Ever since then no one is allowed to use that door."

"Oh yes. I remember now, " said Harry. "What happened to him?"

"Well I heard when he went through the door he found himself in a land where he'll never grow up, he can fly and has battles with pirates."

"Oh grandad," laughed Sally, "that's Peter Pan in Neverland."

"Oh is it? Then it must be that he lives in a land where he met a White Witch, made friends with a lion and became king with his brother and sisters."

"Oh grandad," laughed Harry, "that's Edmund in Narnia."

"Oh you got me. I know, he stepped through the door into a hole in the ground where he joined a band of dwarves and went on a journey to steal a dragon's treasure."

"Oh grandad," they both laughed, "that's Bilbo in Middle Earth."

"Oh you got me again. Do you really want to know what happened?" They both nodded vigorously. "Well the truth is, when he went through the door he found himself back in time, about 60 years ago, where he lived a boring, normal life, grew up, got married, had children, who gave him grandchildren."

"But grandad," frowned Sally, "you said that no one has seen him since. How could you possibly know what happened?"

"Well, you see, his grandchildren's names are Harry and Sally."

Go to the place of light on Hope Street, an old woman told me.

Only one light shone, from a little lantern high on the wall. Below, a dark staircase led out of sight. I was desperate, so I climbed steps set at a horrid angle, small box in hand. Small windows gave light through spider’s webs; ominous black legs dangled from the corners.

At last, a door. I clutched the box, and pushed. The door opened with a creak. My boots sent up dust as I crossed to a table with an inlaid box holding a gemstone. Burned into the wood, an inscription: touch the stone and request your miracle.

I set the box down, the tiny body inside stilled forever. Ruffles wouldn’t run behind me, or curl up at night, wouldn’t beg for my breakfast egg, even as I left myself hungry.

Before, it had seemed easy: ask for Ruffles to be made whole, stay with me and never die ….but, one day, I would die and he’d remain, a ghost-dog, alone forever as I was now.

Still, I could not stop myself; the loneliness was too much. I put my hand on the gemstone and made my wish.

The box stayed shut, no yip or movement. I made my way to the Bone Yard, a fool for believing the old woman, and buried Ruffles. I should bury myself, and have done with it.

A yip stopped me. At the other side of the courtyard, a pup waited, a familiar patch under one eye.

“Ruffles!” He was whole, not a dead thing brought alive but a pup once more, only his dog-years still ahead. I drew from my pocket an egg. “Here, Ruffles. Good protein.” He ate it down in one. He’d always liked an egg.
A Flame in the Dark

Hendrik whirled down the lamppost. "Empty," he confirmed, joining the others. After school, a few children decided to scour lamps and lanterns for a flame vættir. In their twilit, frostbitten city, sorcerers paid handsomely for those rare spirits that hid in warm places. So far, not a lick of luck. But just dreaming about what they might do with the coin kept morale high on that wintry night.

"With my share," Sigg said, balancing on a low wall. "I'm going to buy skolebrød every morning!"

Hendrik and Halle laughed, but Tor couldn't. "I'm going to get medicine for Ann," he added, and that made them all feel bad; poor Ann had been sick for weeks. They continued silently until they came to the next lantern hanging over a church door.

Halle wiped his flushed nose and moved on. "Better not. 'Sides, it's too high up." The others agreed, except for Tor, who had a weird, squiggly feeling about that lantern particularly.

"I'll check it," he decided, and then scrambled up a timber column and leaped onto the lintel where the lantern hung from a rimy pole.

The others watched, horrified but plainly impressed. "You're crazy," Halle cried. "You'll crack your skull!"

Tor shinnied along the pole. It was worth the risk for Ann. One swipe, another swipe. Whoa! Nearly lost balance. One more try and . . . he got it! But then he slipped and tumbled off, plummeting toward the stone street below. Everyone gasped, Sigg screamed! Lucky for Tor, he landed on a pillowy mound of snow.

The others rushed over. Tor popped open the lantern, and they squeezed their little pink faces together to see inside -- a glittering flame vættir shied away from them. How they whooped and hollered! Except for Tor. He only grinned, thinking of his Ann.

To sport as of kings​

It is an apt spot this. One I chose well. The wall upon which I lean exuding a comforting heat built from the day. The steps up to this porch allowing a fine view of the hoi polloi below.

They scurry back and forth upon this well-to-do street.

Filthy kids running errands, ill-mannered men shoving carts, coarse women singing their wares. Even those that promenade for the pure enjoyment of wasting time. Ladies with their parasols, arm in arm with top hatted gents tapping their way with silver tipped canes.

Scurrying vermin one and all.

I watch from this urban pulpit as the hunter that I am, the shiv in my pocket cold with anticipation. Who today he whispers. Which fool’s blood will thaw my cold steel heart.

Him, I say. The old man. The one bereaved of company, bereft of purpose. No one will miss he. I’ve marked his path; I know the route. Within that alley, that covered lane, I shall make our introductions.

I follow, closer and closer.

My shiv pleads to sink into a succulent new home and I bring him forth with a genteel cough of greeting.

The old man spins with a dancer’s grace.

“My, my,” he declares with honey-soaked tongue. “You’ve taken your time. I’ve trod this street, day after day, casting my lure with nary a nibble from your kingfisher perch.” Heavy lidded eyes drooped down to my hand, my shiv. “And now that I’ve landed you, such a pitiful thing you pull forth. Tsk tsk.”

His eyes return to mine. Dark, deep, an abyssal depth from which I cannot or want to escape.

“I should toss you back.” His mouth stretches; cruel cracked teeth sliding from grey gums. “But, I believe, you, my minnow. You will make a fine hors d'oeuvre.”
Stone Snitch

Childhood memories often come complete with a hazy, nurturing comfort, but even the best ones carry a burdensome, bittersweet aftertaste.

I’d forgotten all about that summer in Kent at the Bloemfontein House, and the foul drinking water. What I do recall is Rex Bloemfontein’s diaries. Slick, greasy things bound in a cheap, ersatz leather; wild cursive loops and bowls exalting his strange beliefs on stonemasonry.

And other “wisdom”:

“When stone achieves a certain age, it becomes self-aware (and, it seems, spiteful),” went one such treatise.

At Bloemfontein House, mundane things became fantastical in my child’s mind: the trio of wych elms standing on the expansive lawns, more Boer defenders than trees (or, perhaps crosses atop Golgotha is more apt); the purple stains of laurel on the concrete of the garden’s colonnade, after falling prey to blackbirds (or my nine year old feet); the inspiring crenellations, cupolas and gables that turned Bloemfontein’s stately pleasure dome into a wizard’s castle.

Not that I’ll ever be asked back, bearing in mind what happened to old Rex’s carved portrait atop the portico’s lintel…

The carving was a monstrous thing, berating me whenever I passed underneath.
‘Bed-wetter!’ it once shrieked at me, when Ma and I returned from a Broadstairs trip.
‘I know who broke the sherry glasses!’ it screamed another time.
Once, Bloemfontein’s stone face stretched down to bite at my hair, interrogating me through gritted teeth whilst I dangled inches from the porch flagstones. ‘Shall I tell them, O, Thomas? Shall I tell them why the water’s foul?’

But Rex’s portico forgot: we can put the likeness of men on pedestals, but statues fall. A child’s hammer is enough to obliterate even granite…

Yet still, I hear it scream in my mind to this day.

Silent justice

The President of Malestan announced, with profound regret, the death of his vice president, though others would say henchman, Gregori Kaldrov. This was the third minister he had lost in the last six months.

With the deaths of key founders, and the difficulty of replacing them with people he could trust, he didn’t feel too great himself.

Despite his powerful oratory skills he was losing weight over it all and ordered the TV cameras to show only his head and shoulders for his daily broadcasts.

Nevertheless, people could see his decline and were becoming restless. There were murmurings in the markets and bars.

He ordered a round-up with show trials, and a few executions, for distributing anti revolutionary leaflets.

He always knew the older citizens would resist, but the schools were the seed of the future. Indoctrinate the children and they would be turning in their dissident parents to the regime. He just had to hold it together long enough to establish the new order.

A week later his foreign minister reported persistent headaches. Scans at the party members private clinic exposed a brain tumour.

This was too much, he went to the men’s room and puked. Not something he, the great patriarch, was prone to do. This malaise was overcoming his leadership. The food in the building was checked for poisoning but nothing was found.

His weight now down to fifty kilos, there was no denying his decline.

The surgeon general, with faltering step, entered the cabinet building to give the president his terminal diagnosis. Checking the time on his wristwatch, as he walked through the doorway, he noticed the luminous hands sparkling brightly, even in broad daylight.

The block of cobalt 60, secreted in the porch by the Peoples Counter Revolutionary Movement, had done it’s job.
Post Tenebras Lux

Bryn and her companion had walked for weeks. Her makeshift shoes were long gone, and each step burnt misery into the soles of her feet, the cuts and blisters mocking her, reminding her how much further there was to go.

"Almost there," Cal said, over and over, the breath of his lungs evaporating in the dry air. "We're almost there."

And then, one day, they were. The ruined city congealed on the horizon, and the scorched, barren wasteland gave way to crumbled buildings, burnt out vehicles and the debris of war.

Despite the exhaustion, their pace picked up. Hunger and fatigue lay forgotten. Bryn fixed her gaze on the ashen skyline with grim determination.

But the city was deserted. No guards accosted them, no hungry faces peered from darkened alleys. Only the occasional wild animal slipping furtively through the wreckage disturbed the silence.

"He said he'd be here," Cal assured her, his eyes bright with resolve, and probably fever. "He wouldn't leave without us. He promised."

They made it to the innercity without incident. Bryn could feel weakness creeping over her; the edges of her vision were starting to blur. She hadn't eaten in… was it days? She hardly knew anymore.

The final corner rose up before them. Bryn stumbled around its edge, her breathing haggard, and nearly collided with Cal's back.

There it was. The stately white building, house of their childhood, its frontage proud and unbroken amidst the rubble. An old lamp overhung the porch, just as she remembered. The air left her lungs as she looked at it, and she heard Cal's own whispered prayer, before they both stumbled forwards.

The light was on.
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