Thursday, July 16, 2015


A lot of my newer stuff is going to be gang-related, at least for a while, because I've sort of immersed myself in that media. I find myself really interested in counter-culture organized crime: not the small time stuff like street gangs, but stuff like the Triad, Yakuza, big motorcycle gangs, Mafia, or Real IRA. Combining that with my somewhat fading interest in fantasy, and I struck upon the following proof-of-concept. A fantasy world that's progressed socially, martially, and technologically about five or six hundred years. Spell-casters doing covert operations, giants working as security and police officers, humans running large organized crime families, elves driving lamborghinis or shooting up casinos, dwarves running illegal weapons across the borders, high elves paying off city council members, goblins cooking drugs in basements. This juxtaposition is interesting to me. It may be interesting to you. 

            With a shriek, the hospital elevator ground to a halt. Roland swore and unslung the TK-33 tactical automatic rifle from his back, did a brass check, and then nodded at the dwarf. The dwarf slipped brass knuckles on and smashed the elevator panel. Wires splayed like guts, and he brushed two together with a sparkle of electricity. The doors popped open halfway.
            “The Obsidian Brothers have an agreement with us,” Salder, the dwarf, said. “They wouldn’t want to see eighteen K coming after them.  He unslung his shotgun and slapped the drum to make sure it was locked in place.
            “Let’s just get in and out,” Roland said. “They must have contracted Tom Farthing as security.”
            The floor was halfway up the open door. Roland checked the hospital hallway before sliding up onto the tile on his belly. The lights were off except for a few security lights blazing silver in the corners. Rainclouds, tethered to wall sconces, swept sheets of indoor rain over the floors, trying to put out whatever fire they believed to be there.
            At the end of the hallway, three distinctly elven shapes, despite their oversized hoodies and loose jeans exited a darkened doorway. Roland pursed his lips before leaning the rifle barrel on a surgery cart in the middle of the hallway. He flicked the switch to semi-auto and sent a round through the chest of the nearest one. Blue blood sprayed out as he fell. Before he hit the ground the other two elves, 9 Ravens affiliated by the look of it, yanked Uzis from their hoodies and sent bullets hammering into the wall near Roland’s head.
            “Grenade,” he whispered to Salder. The dwarf pulled a frag grenade from his belt and flicked the pin out with his thumb before lobbing it down the hallway. It exploded with a concussion loud enough for Roland to feel in his bones. He couldn’t tell if it was quiet after the blast or his hearing was shot, but he rose to a crouch and flicked on the flashlight on the barrel of his TK. The elves were blown to hamburger at the end of the hall, leaning against the walls, blue blood everywhere. Roland slid the hood back and checked the face tattoo the largest one wore.
            “Nine Ravens,” Roland growled. “What are they doing here?”
            “Well, Father Fear isn’t going to just roll over and let us do what we need to, stubborn old coot.” Salder switched off the safety. “Let’s get this over with.”


Thursday, June 11, 2015


Another short story.

            At seven fourteen P.M. the first man to ever come back from the dead after an extended period was interviewed on the scene. A mother and daughter, laying bundles of blue chrysanthemums and black tulips on the grave of their recently deceased mother and grandmother, had watched in terror as a man crawled out of the May-warmed earth, white suit smoking at the shoulders and hem and caked in clay and topsoil. Blue embalming fluid mixed with the dark red of fresh blood poured from under his clothes and soaked into the earth, the way someone freshly drenched in a bucket of water might shed the water. They had immediately called the police and the Channel 5 news.
            “My name is Charles Hubert Griswold. I am fifty-one years old, a neurochemist, and I have returned from hell.”
            It made every headline. In a fit of jealousy, Iran declared nuclear war on North Korea and nobody even showed up to watch. In the crowd at the first press conference stood Quentin Looper, a chemistry student and student journalist. Charles Griswold sat, clothed in a less sulfurous outfit, and explained the process.
            “I have been addicted to chemical substances since I was eighteen, and my career fed my dependence through easy access to the most potent, concentrated chemicals known to man.”
            The crowd of nearly a thousand, as one, ceased all sound until they nearly absorbed it. A crying child was roundly slapped. The sound engineer turned up the PA.
            “In my studies, I’ve found that the more pleasurable an experience is, the more destruction it causes to the brain. A single beer can kill thousands of brain cells. Narcotics such as cocaine and methamphetamine can kill millions per use. Autoerotic asphyxiation, coupled with orgasm, can caused permanent brain damage. After years of substance abuse, trapped in a well-paying but incredibly dull and joyless job, I decided to kill myself. Not in the way that one normally might: by hanging, a pistol shot, or drowning.  Instead, I decided to create a concoction of the quickest acting, deadliest poisons I could acquire.”
            Quentin felt himself tensing. This had a point. The man had obviously arisen from the grave, christlike, after forty one days. On stage, the recently-dead man crossed his legs, leaning back in the chair. The mic rustled against his lapel. The room smelled sweaty.
            “I assembled an injection of brodifacoum, batrochotoxin, botulinum, and tempered this with the pain-suppressant qualities of hyper-concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol, the high from cannabis. This injection, at one point five microliters, was injected into my femoral artery at one fifty seven a.m. At one fifty eight a.m., I died.” Griswold leaned over, sipped from a glass of water sitting on a nightstand next to his chair. “That one minute—less than that, actually—began the most incredible high of my entire life. Every muscle in my body clenched and relaxed as one. I orgasmed, I hemorrhaged, I bled, I died. That one minute felt like hours, like it would never end. If a single orgasm were a candle, this was a supernova, the implosion of a supercritical black hole. I have never felt anything like it.
            “I awoke in Hell. This was not the Hell of which you have been told. It was a grassy meadow, dotted with pampas grass and leaning trees. To the north, a deep valley carved into the mountains held the most luxurious, inhabitable rainforest unlike any that could grow on earth. A brook ran nearby, the air smelled of animals, of fresh open air. I was alone in Eden.
            “I wandered the plains and jungles for several years, building myself a home. I never saw another person. My yurt was safe and cozy. During the long nights I would lay in the grass and listen to the jackals giggle in the distance, letting the long sky spin overhead. Finally, one day the solitude grew too much. I found a tree, wove a strong rope from leather I had tanned, and hung myself. The pain was intense, but tolerable. I awoke to find myself back in my body, in a coffin. I felt invincible, indestructible. I didn’t breathe, because I didn’t need to. My hands swam through the earth as though I were stirring loose flour. The concrete of my vault gave way like gingerbread. And now, this is where I am. I plan to kill myself again, using the same mixture, and return to the peace of Hell, or what I should like to rename Griswold’s Plain.”
            The mixture was suddenly and circumspectly patented. Experienced professionals bought substantial quantities of the virulent poison and opened shops along major interstates. Not just the weary and heavy-burdened sought solace, but young and old, happy and sad, came to the shops for their dose. A new type of graveyard was created: corrugated steel longhouses filled with refrigerated drawers where sleeping corpses were interred after their dose of the drug, commonly called Golgotha. A glowing blue button installed in the side of the drawer allowed the newly awoken to eject himself from the drawer like lettuce arising from the crisper.
            On average, thirty percent of the dead decided to return. The high was so potent, so ardently and rapturously received and evangelized that before any government could enact regulation a good half of their population had voluntarily self-annihilated.
            Quentin himself avoided Golgotha. A few of his braver classmates either took the injection as an experiment or tried a riskier, but less permanent method and distilled the drug into crystals that were then vaporized in special lounges. The fumes induced months-long comas that were cured by time and a careful drip of antitoxins.
            Christmas, seven months after the initial appearance of Griswold, Quentin’s mother gave him a gift certificate entitling him to a dose of Golgotha.
            “You’re young, honey. It’s okay to be a little foolish. You have the rest of your life to be responsible. Do something crazy.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Think of it as a late graduation present.”
Uneasy, but unwilling to waste a gift certificate (I mean, he practically had to) Quentin got his body storage in order with the certificate, went down the nearest Boneshop, and after stripping down to a pair of absorbent underwear, settled into the comfortable reclining chair. A latticed drain was set into the seat, recessed in the soft black leather padded manacles on the arms of the warmed chair opened for Quentin’s wrists. A technician sat in a rolling office chair next to him, snapping a surgical mask over his mouth.
            “How’s it going, buddy?”
            Quentin stared up and into the oval ring of the muted surgical light hanging over his chest. “Okay.”
            “Relax, it’ll be fun. We’ll immediately take your body to the storage facility. From recalled maps of Griswold’s Plain, there is going to be a hot spring in a cave about two miles south of where you’ll wake up. In the hot spring are some long stalagmites. Simply throw yourself onto those when you’re done relaxing and you’ll return. The average time exchange rate is one year there for every day here. Your certificate is good for one week, so you need to leave the plain by six years and three hundred sixty-four days. We clear?”
            “Yes sir.” Quentin was trying to keep this clear. “Will I remember this when I wake up there?”
            The technician was drawing a milky substance into a slender syringe. He was wearing teflon hazmat gloves. “No worries,” he said, somewhat distantly. “This will cause a tiny sting, and then the ride, and then the vacay. If you don’t come back, we cremate your remains. Since no one has come back from cremation, we aren’t sure what happens, but we believe that your consciousness ceases to exist; basically you die for real. You good?”
            Quentin nodded. A glass shield dropped between Quentin and the tech, and the guy stuck his arms through holes in the glass, still gloved. “Hold still.”
            It went on for years. Unending, impossible pleasure. Unadulterated joy coursed like insanity through every fiber of Quentin’s existence. It was sleeping in late on the first day of summer; it was a five-beer buzz floating on a still lake; it was every orgasm rolled into one; it was the first bite of a cinnamon roll; it was fire and pleasure and profound satisfaction and love and contentment and peace.

            For nearly seven years, Quentin was wild. He was an animal. He wore no clothes, spent his time rolling in the grass, shitting where he pleased, slurping lukewarm water from standing pools. His home was a nest he built in the trees, his television was the gemlike beetles skating across the tumbled surface of the stream. He ate firm, sweet, luminescently colorful fruits in blue and violet, orange and green and pink and scarlet from the rich rainforests to the north, swung in a hammock of soft vines while the jungle sang him to sleep. During the day he splashed in lagoons like liquid diamond, lost himself in the misty roar of waterfalls, lounged in the cool of moist-smelling mossy caves. No thorns existed to step on, predators stalked past without heed.
            After six years and eleven months, Quentin reluctantly plucked a staff of hardwood from the rainforest and trekked through the jungle to the plains, and then further to the tiny quarry where the mouth of the return cave lay. Inside was uncomfortably hot, and sticky sweat ran in rivulets down Quentin’s bare back and shoulders. At the end of a short walk lay the open mouth of a pit, so dark it might have ben a pool of shadow. Steeling himself, Quentin worked up his nerve and flung himself into the darkness. Spikes of hot stone shredded his body. Pain screamed through every pore in his body. A blade of stone had gone through his throat, and Quentin couldn’t scream. He kicked helplessly.
            He awoke suddenly in his drawer. It was quiet and cool, the steel was icy against his back. Quentin wriggled, suddenly uncomfortable in his nudity, and reached for the button. His newly awakened nerves missed the button, smashing a huge dent in the steel wall. Quentin retracted his hand and delicately pressed the button, cracking the blue face. The drawer popped open like a bagel from a toaster, dumping Quentin onto the ground and back into his life.
            School wasn’t the same. Joy wasn’t the same. The taxi drive back to his mother’s house tore at Quentin. Colors seemed dim. Clothes itched on his back, his eyes hurt from the harsh light. When he stalked into the foyer of his mother’s home, her surprised-happy yelp did nothing to shake him from the mood. He stomped to his room and lay on his rough comforter on the bed, staring at the blank white ceiling, seething.
            Three jobs; ninety hours a week, Quentin saved his money for a longer stay. It was two thousand dollars a week to stay in a storage facility, and if he set it up just right, Quentin thought, he could have an interest bearing trust fund that would keep his body stored and totally safe to let him be free for one year, earth time. That’s 364 years, Hell-time. After saving enough money in two long years, Quentin kissed his mother goodbye, jumped in a taxi, and strutted into the Boneshop on southern sixty third.
            “I need Golgotha, please.”
            “One dose? It’ll be a minute.” The tech disappeared into the back wearing a clean blue smock, returned fifteen minutes later bundling the filthy paper into a plastic Ziploc emblazoned with a bright orange skull, and glanced at Quentin.
            “Initital dose is three thousand, plus two thousand per week.”
            Quentin filled out the paperwork, wrote the check for one hundred and seven thousand dollars, and laid back in the chair. The needle took him, the trip was again immense, and he awoke in another place.
            This was not the plain. It was a canyon. The earthy redness of the walls created fear unlike that that Quentin had ever felt. In the distance, something howled, lonely and hungry. Quentin began to run, and whatever was in the distance heard his bare feet slipping against the rocky floor of the canyon. Sulfurous black water splashed underfoot as Quentin fled. Something hulking, stinking, covered in matted black fur appeared at the neck of the canyon ahead. Quentin turned to flee but it was already too late. Hot fangs sank into his neck.
            Quentin awoke, still in the chair. Covered in his own excrement, semen, piss. The surprised tech had barely withdrawn the needle.
            “Bad trip?” He asked.
            Quentin nodded wordlessly, then, “let me go again, please.”
            “Since it was a bad trip I’m entitled to give you a second free dose. Lay back.”
            The trip, less intense this time, perhaps because Quentin was used to it. He awoke in a black stone cavern. The smell of carrion and rotting garbage floated through the hot, damp air. Quentin dashed down the hall, urgently, desperately, trying to find the paradise he had spent so many years in. The tunnel opened into a huge pit, so far across the other side was hard to see. Above, there was no sky, just more black stone, more stench. Quentin’s feet began to burn, as though he were walking across a hot tarmac in July. Desperate to escape, Quentin leapt into the blackness of the pit and awoke in the chair.
            “Damn, buddy. What’s going on?” The tech had halfway lifted Quentin onto a gurney when he awoke.
            “It’s not where I was the last time.”
            “Well, no one else came back from a second trip.”
            “Let me go again, please.” Quentin felt a sob rising in his throat. His stomach felt acidic. Where was he going? Where was the plain? For an instant, he considered staying in the real world, but stopped himself. Another instant of misery in this gray and bland world, away from his personal paradise, was inconceivable.
            The tech came back in the room with a suited manager. The guy sat by Quentin’s side, ignoring the filth that caked Quentin’s pale body. “What’s going on?”
            After explaining it, and a long conversation on the phone with someone from corporate (“yeah, uh-huh, yeah, sure. Okay, thanks Jan. I’ll let him know) the man smiled and let Quentin know that he was free to have one more dose. “If this one doesn’t take, I’m afraid that we’ll give you a refund and admit that it’s not working any more.”
            Quentin dove into the pleasure, seeking respite, seeking his peace. He awoke suspended in the air. His skin burned, heavy chains wrapped around his wrists, weighing him down. Quentin sobbed, was sick across his chest, and then began to stumble, dragging the heavy iron chains through a long hallway. The rough floor was like walking on a skillet, shrieking noises assaulted him from all angles. Quentin stumbled miserably through a door to see an ocean of lava. Floating twenty feet out on the ocean was a cleaver. With something like laughter Quentin dove into the lava. The pain was extreme, tearing at him. It was hard to see, impossible to breathe. After wading chest deep through the molten stone, Quentin seized the blade and slashed his throat to leave. The pain was there, coupled with the roaring blaze that slowly devoured his mind, but when he raised his hand to his throat, the gash sealed itself bloodlessly. Quentin tried again, desperately, but the gash, though mind-numbingly painful, sealed again. Enraged, desperate, sobbing in pain and fear, Quentin slashed every artery in his body. Blood gushed into the fire, steaming in pungent jets. The cuts sealed. Unable to take the agony, Quentin turned to leave and was unable to move. The chains held him back, locking him into place. Quentin, weary, sank into the lava, unable to fight any more.


The following short-short story is an excerpt from a work-in-progress anthology of weird, dark short stories. 

You remember the moment clearly; wide awake, drunk, floating in the light of the TV screen in your living room, reeling from whatever recent heartbreak had stolen your sleep, you watched the nice lady demonstrate what looked like a phone booth on a stage somewhere in California. Another booth was set up in Times Square, New York, and the screen feed split to show the sunny beach and the east coast sidewalk. A lady walks up to the phone booth, waves to the crowd and viewers like you, and steps into the booth. The door closes. It opens in New York, and be damned if it isn’t that same girl. The presenter opens the first booth, and by now, you’re leaning forward, mouth dry. It’s empty, predictably, though you don’t know why or how you predicted that.
They made you uneasy, for some reason. Breaking the body down into millions of particles and transmitting them as a long wave before reassembly. The people who did it said that it felt halfway between a tickle and an orgasm, and you woke up fully assembled in your new booth, a little woozy, perhaps, but understandably so. started delivering through longwave blink. Order something, get it less than sixty seconds later. Don’t like it? Send it back, get a refund, get something else, all in less than five minutes.
Unions demonstrated, sure. The postal system collapsed when people installed blinkers the size of microwaves into their walls. Roads crumbled. No one used planes anymore. The car industry shrank to five percent its original size, purely reserved for hobbyists and those rich enough to afford an ostentatious car and a track to run it on. You still didn’t use them. People laughed at you, called you a weirdo, said there was nothing to be afraid of.
Things started to get sticky. A guy when to jail when he blinked his girlfriend a puppy. The legal case was convoluted; no one could figure out if it was animal cruelty or not. They decided it wasn’t, and then to celebrate that same dumbass decided to blink himself to his same girlfriend holding the puppy. Something went wrong, he came out with puppy ears and half a dog attached to his chest, still kicking its feet. He went to jail that time. Class action lawsuits followed, people got mad, PETA spent a joyous day in the city reaffirming the need for their existence by smashing blinkers with sledgehammers and baseball bats until they clashed with riot police and six people died. Christian fundamentalists called the devices “of the devil,” or “a crime against nature.” A couple got married in a blinker and then blinked off to their honeymoon in Aruba.
Vacation prices fell. Now the only cost to get to a foreign country was five bucks, if you used a public blinker, just the electricity if you used your own. Illegal immigration skyrocketed. It was impossible to measure all the time. The US blocked all blink signals coming in to the United States from Mexico and Cuba, until they realized that like all signal disruptors it was merely breaking up the signal, which in this case was a human being. The loved ones on the Mexican or Cuban sides thought “no news is good news” and piled in bootleg blinkers. A hundred thousand people died before they figured out what was happening. As penance, the US had to build a field of granite monuments to the immigrants who sacrificed themselves to the wall of static.
You remember the first time that you saw a family member use it. Your little brother. The blinker sat in your living room. This was a new model, with a screen on it so the person on the other side could wave to you when they hit wherever they were going. He stepped into the blinker, closed the flashguard, and punched in the destination code. The seams around the door flashed deep, retina-searing purple, and then the door automatically slid back open. In Washington, your brother waved on the screen before walking off to his new college, luggage in tow.
You remember the first time something went wrong. Grandma confusedly trying to figure it out and your whole family shouting instructions into the screen to make sure she didn’t accidentally pop into one of those one way blinkers in Afghanistan or Yemen. She finally figured it out, stepped into the booth, and something like Grandma stepped out the other side.
She didn’t remember you. She didn’t remember anyone. It was Christmas, for Christ’s sake, and she was lost in her daughter-in-law’s home. You took her to the hospital. Blink-induced amnesia. “Could be temporary,” the doctor said. You all took her back the house, only the youngest in your family eyeing the yet-unopened presents. Mom cried. Dad tried to comfort her, blustered a little bit about the damn blink companies and their faulty technology. No one in the family made fun of you for a while. No one in the family used the blinker for a while.
A few weeks later a spokesman for the company wearing a mock turtleneck rolled out the new design. No more blink induced amnesia (super sorry about that, by the by), people could blink with luggage in the same trip, multiple people could blink together (up to four), it took less than a tenth of a second, the booth looked more like a shower, and cost half as much. The people rejoiced. Lowe’s had a huge event where people lined up six times around the building to get the new blinkers. The Apple store started carrying them. The same couple that got married in the blinker made a porno where they had sex in a blinker and tried to blink during it. The camera on the other side was showered in ichor and entrails and then a metal band stole the footage and made it a music video and the family of the deceased filed about fifteen lawsuits and people got nervous about the blinkers again but it was just so easy. You can try to not blink, if you really think it’ll help, but when the store is fifteen miles away and you don’t want to drive your old, expensive car to the store, fill it with expensive gas, drive it on the rotting roads back home, and carry the groceries into the house, it’s so much easier to blink to the store, pick up the fettucine, wine, and French bread, plug the basket into the store’s complimentary blinker and be home in time to put away the groceries and catch a Parks and Recreation throwback marathon.
Then the sickness started. Amnesia, dementia, and psychosis tore through minds. Hospital waiting rooms flooded with screaming, howling, staring patients. Children smashed their heads against walls. Fathers fell asleep on grills during memorial day, melting their faces to the burgers. Dogs drowned themselves in ponds and rivers. Newscasters came on the air to urge people not to panic, though they themselves had been the ones to stir up panic at the early stages of the pandemic, though they themselves went mad on air. A stage magician cut his throat at a children’s hospital. They laughed in glee until they realized that there was no trick and the spreading pool wasn’t corn starch and dye. You wanted to feel smug, but when the world was quietly melting down, it’s impossible.
Scientists couldn’t explain it. Religious leaders tried. They bombastically pontificated about the existence of the soul, how man should not meddle with the stars and the human body, and then they themselves went mad on their television shows and in the sanctuaries of their churches, exposing their hypocrisy.
A government branch patrolled the streets with tranquilizer guns, subduing the people that showed signs of madness. They stationed themselves at college graduations (a college president had his neck broken by a raging sorority girl), at birthday parties (a six year old set himself on fire with the candles, his parents watched and laughed), at sporting events (a home run king started slugging straight into the bleachers) and they covered up grand central station, which looked like a telephone booth showroom and often the travelers would stumble out, completely mad, dancing in a hail of toxic darts and dragged away like a wild animal.
People stopped using them, but it was too late. One by precious one, their minds left their bodies. Families tried to bury them, but there were no cemeteries left. Eventually an industrial-sized temporary crematorium was set up in Waco, and refrigerated trucks would unload canvas-wrapped frozen bodies to be thrown into the flames. The ashes were mixed with concrete and shaped into bricks, stacked behind the crematorium (no cameras allowed).
You found yourself at your parents cabin, sequestered in the green mountains, hidden among the cedar and pine. The air was rich and smelled of earth and rain, and you could almost forget what lonely madness the world was sinking into. The TV broadcasts grew less frequent, but you still listlessly watched. Sometimes you’d open a cabinet to find a can of food your mother had put away for a dinner, or peel away a crackling sticker one of your nieces or nephews had put on the walls. After a while, you took the pictures down. Finally, you covered the hulking menace of the blinker in the corner with a sheet from what had been your parents’ bed, unplugged it from the wall so no one could blink in. One day, you turned on the TV to find that there was no broadcast. The station fed static in a loud wave through the room, until you turned it off. You felt like going down the mountain, but rust had fused the bicycle chains in their stable in the garage. You didn’t want to walk.
The cans of food dwindled slowly. You tried to forget how your brothers looked when they smiled, what a full restaurant on a Friday night sounded like, the way a crowd at a football game would roar and rise as a runner broke free. You missed the rumble and smells of a mall food court on a Saturday morning, you missed the hiss-whine of a jet pressurizing before the sudden pressing weight of acceleration pushed on your chest.
You would sit outside sometimes, nursing one of the last sour beers you had, straining for human sounds from the empty city far below. The silence cascaded over the mountain, leaving a few birds to whistle and whirr overhead. You were never one for peace: you never found solace in solitude.
One day, you whipped the taupe sheet from the blinker. You plugged it in, letting the machine hum to life. The screen lit up through the dust; a dead bug fell from the top and clicked on the floor. You stepped into the blinker, punched in the code for a surf shack on Miami beach, and closed your eyes.



Just like Da Vinci, Dali, Raphael, and other great artists sometimes did sketches and studies to get a better understanding of color, lighting, or themes, sometimes I'll try to narrow my writing in a certain way to better understand a facet of a genre. The following two excerpts are just studies on the differences between light and dark fantasy. They will never be full stories. 

Light Fantasy

The knight awoke late into the morning to find Gill grinning at him, squatting atop a nearby rock. The man groaned and tried to sit up, instead finding the thick ropes wrapped around him and woven like a rug through the knotted roots of the broad magnolia. He was a stinking thing; looked like he’d been living in his mail and cuirass for the better part of a month. The plate on his shoulder held the rampant stag of the Iron Fathers.
            “Cut me loose, and I’ll forget you ever tried this,” the knight growled.
            Gill grinned and held up a dull, rusted longsword. “With this? It couldn’t cut cheese.”
            “It would split your skull were it in my hand.”
            Gill dropped to the ground and walked towards the knight. “Cut you free? And then what? You run to the village and say that a boy took you prisoner? You tell your pals camped on the berm that you found Witches Lowgarden?
            “It’s not how it seems.” The knight was fairly young, Gill could see. Perhaps thirty, maybe younger than that. A thick, ropey scar ran across his jaw and down his throat, latticed and fingered like it had been poison, or a burn.
            “The Lowgarden? You’re a warlock?”
            Gill grinned again, letting marbles of fire orbit his fist before extinguishing them. “The most powerful warlock the world has ever seen. Sometimes they call me The Chosen One.”
            Something or someone snorted on the rock behind the knight and he craned his head as best he could, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever had made that sound. A girl, maybe two years younger than Gill, squatted as he had on the rock behind the knight.
            “Selice, really.” Gill sounded petulant.
            “I’m just watching,” the girl whined.

            “I really must insist that you release me at once,” the knight said.

Dark Fantasy 


            Far across the howling moors, untethered from their chains, the dogs roamed wild in the deserted keeps that spined the Fellhorn Range. Inside the largest of these, away from the bone-cracking cold, a monk sat, scratching glyphs into the paper. His roughspun robes, dark though they were, couldn’t hide the stretching stain of fresh blood. Nearby, the bodies of the elder monks lay, twisted into unnatural positions like frozen branches. A guttering tallow candle lit his final work.

The Unchained have returned. We have no other options but to find Frith the Eternal, the Inexorable, the Vile, and return him to the world. He was imprisoned to protect the mortals, and he must now be freed to protect them again. When greater devils roam the earth, when Helfast of the Stolen Song rides again, we have no choice but to turn to greatest devil.

A trembling hand lifted the candle and spilled milky yellow wax across the bottom of the page. His fingers could barely close around the stamp of the father, but he managed to bring it down in the pool of soft wax. The monk stumbled to the window where an owl sat, unblinking. A bit of red twine secured the message to the owl’s leg, and the bird flapped noiselessly into the winter storm.