Friday, October 30, 2009


My corruption has colored the tales you call history, devastating nations and sending paupers and princes alike to their graves.

When the men of Alexandria fell to their knees, clawing at the pustulant boils that disfigured their faces and bodies, it was my caress that laid the curse upon them. When London lay decimated by the "Black Death", it was my dark gift of flea-ridden rats that choked the life from them. When the great flu claimed one hundred million souls, my choking cough started the infection, virulent spittle on the faces of a thousand disgusted travellers.

And as I take your alms my hand leaves the mark of death upon your offerings. My deadly touch lingering to claim whoever next samples your wares.

Hey, sour gummies, neat!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Great Snow Bear Hunt

The last of his servants had fled the night before, joining the porters from Conall's Valley who'd abandoned him two days earlier. They had laughed and dared him to come retrieve the fees he'd paid them. He would have his revenge on them all, but first he must slay the great snow bear and could afford no deviance or wasted resource until his plan was complete. Even now the plan hung in the balance for if he were to find the bear and slay it how was he to transport the carcass back to the temple in Stygia unaided?

First things first though. Slay the bear and harvest the more easily preserved and transported organs, then stash the rest of the beast until he could fetch it later. At this time of year the body would not spoil, buried in the frozen earth, and it was still several months until the partial thaw of Spring.

Having hidden the bulk of his alchemical equipment and whatever loose items around the camp which might prove of interest to wandering beasts or human pilferers, he hoist his pack high on his back. The massive holdall was stuffed with preserving jars, provisions and a selection of poisons and potions which were very much the tools of his trade.

Legend had it that the great snow bear roamed a broad step like plateau in the mountain range, reachable only by a treacherous path and it was this that he now hauled himself along. Even the easiest going was fraught with peril and taxed every last muscle and sinew as he fought his way up sheer inclines foot after foot. With each agonized step he muttered an invocation to bolster and enervate his sinewy body, slowly finding himself closer and closer to the summit. Then, no more than ten feet from the top, his foothold faltered and he tumbled wildly down the steep slope, futilely grabbing at shrivelled weeds for handholds only to have them pull free in a shower of frigid dry soil. With a crash he jammed against a stunted bush that stubbornly clung to the jagged path.

Now the weight of the massive pack threatened to tilt him back towards his head over heels tumble to a certain death, so without a thought for the consequences he shrugged himself out of the straps which now cut into his shoulders and ached to tip him over to his doom. With relief he was at last free of the pack and after a brief rest and some arcane ministrations to his scuffed and bloodied limbs returned to his climb.

By the time he pulled himself up onto the plateau's floor it was midnight and he was totally spent. He lay oblivious upon his back until the call of a night bird shocked him back to sense and, warily, he looked about. Lit only by dim moonlight the plateau had an eerie quality and the hairs on his neck stood to attention as an unfamiliar wave of hopelessness wrung him out.

With a curse to olden gods he shook himself from these feelings of despair and attended to a closer inspection of the plateau by whatever light there was, for even had he dared to without his pack he goodn't strike a light. The plateau was, as to be expected, almost perfectly flat with just a single gnarled old tree standing very close to the edge where he was. A hundred yards or so across the plateau was the mouth of a terrific cave, decorated about with tumbled boulders and rocks apparently fallen from the mountain range which continued ever upwards towards the grey skies that framed the mountainside beyond the plateau.

Eyes fixed upon the massive cave mouth, he patted at his clothes as though entered in some compulsive ritual. He stroked his hair, rubbed at his chest, felt along the seams of his pockets, at the belt at his waist and finally checked the tops of his boots. Then just as he prepared to head towards the cave a movement from the tree caught his eye and he spun to face it.

Until now he had not seen it but a great shadowy figure perched within the branches of the tree and with a start he realised that he was looking at a vulture, its wings drawn up about its scrawny body. What did this weird vision portend? There were no vultures to be found in this cold country and the carrion bird could mean only one thing. Tonight someone would die but who would it be?

"You'll not dine on my flesh this night graverobber!" he raged.

"I had not wanted to eat you," came a gruff reply in awkward stilted Stygian.

"Who's there?" cried the Stygian, switching to flawless Cimmerian, reckoning this to be most appropriate. Now, as the figure became clearer he could see that this was no vulture but simply a man wrapped in a ragged fur cloak. But the Stygian was still wary for even now that he could see no trace of vulture in the man's appearance, he was yet sure of what he had seen.

As he drew closer he saw a weathered Cimmerian, as he had correctly guessed, garbed for war.

"I said who's there?" he said sharply. "What do you want?"

"Plain to see that I am here, stranger," said the Cimmerian. "as to my purpose, well... I hunt the great snow bear."

"Pah!" spat the Stygian. "You hunt squirrels and birds if you choose to clamber amongst them. Why else would you be up there?" Then after a moment's thought he said, "What can you see from your lookout?"

"Why, I do believe I see the great snow bear," said the barbarian and he nodded his head to indicate that the priest of Set should turn and look.

What the Stygian saw was even more imposing and fearsome than he could have imagined. It would have taken a team of elephants to haul this beast home. Padding from the cave's mouth on all fours its shoulders stood taller than a man. Its head alone was almost two feet wide with raging pink eyes that shone bright against pure white fur. It stopped and sniffed the air letting out a low rumbling questioning groan that seemed to shake the Stygian's bones loose in his skin.

He turned back to the barbarian in the tree. "You will not interfere with my business here. You will not cross me and you will not aid me. I hunt the great snow bear and I, and I alone, will slay it."

He turned sharply and strode towards the bear. He felt no fear now and indeed a feeling of bloodthirsty elation was bubbling up from his gut spreading warm rage to his very fingertips. This beast was huge but it was just a beast and no match for a priest of Set.

He flung his hands towards the mighty bear and at once it was haloed in bright blue light as sparks leapt about it's shaggy coat dancing from ear to ear and front to rear. When the dazzling show was done the bear lazily turned to regard the priest, apparently none the worse for the magical assault. With a curt word the priest sent another more focused blast of lightning directly into the face of this king of bears, landing a terrible smoking ruin directly upon its soft pink nose.

With a roar that surely shook the very mountains to their roots in the ancient earth the bear launched itself with horrible pace towards the priest, who stood momentarily frozen by the blood-curdling sound. With only inches to spare did he throw himself to one side before the bear could land upon him and instead it charged past him towards the edge of the plateau.

With familiar ease the bear turned with uncanny agility before the precipice and hurled itself back towards the Stygian who was now back-peddling furiously to create some distance between himself and the moving wall of death.

Plucking a brooch from his chest he flung it at the bear and as it arced through the air it grew and twisted until it landed on the bears head as a spider as big as a cart. The evil many-legged creature scuttled about the bears back but the priest could see it could find neither purchase for it's spindly legs on the thick stiff bristles of the bear's hide nor opportunity to sink its fangs into the great beast's flesh. With an irritated swipe of a paw the bear turned it to sickly orange pulp and continued in its mission to rip the Stygian to pieces.

Simultaneously the priest pulled a long needle from the top knot of his hair and a glass-bladed dagger from his boot and hurled these both towards his nemesis who simply batted them aside in his fury. Stymied for now, the priest dashed once more past the hurtling monster and swung about, pulling a folded parchment square from his belt. With feet to spare he flipped this at the bear's head unleashing a cloud of powder directly into its face but its steamy breath clouding the frigid air harmlessly dissipated the threat of the black lotus dust.

Then, certain his fate was sealed, the priest felt a strange sensation as though the weight was lifted from him and he suddenly found himself hauled up into the tree beside the Cimmerian. A moment later the tree shook and shuddered but it did not fall.

The barbarian leaned in towards the Stygian and said. "And NOW do you see why I'm up here?"

Perhaps But Not Today.

Marcus looked at Talosh and wondered what thoughts ran through that head of his.
"I watched the sun rise this morning," he said.

Talosh roused himself from his daydream and turned to regard Marcus, keeping his back pressed to the rock where he crouched. "Did you not sleep last night? he asked.

"Oh, I slept well enough," said Marcus, "but I've always been an early riser." He shifted uneasily against the rock, vainly trying to find a confortable spot. "I never really paid that much attention to the sun's rising. This morning was different. I lay awake in the dark and actually noticed as the sky began to pink and as the first rays crowned the horizon. I watched as the shadows fled along the grain field yonder and saw the light halo the black smoke rising from Ganderhome. I don't know why but it made me feel better. Stupid notion... It felt like the light makes everything better, drives away the uncertainty, expose the things you didn't want to see. Forces you to confront them. Does that make any sense?"

Talosh nodded slowly. "I understand." He said nothing for a while, as though gathering his thoughts then continued. "Once I was travelling the desert to Samaland. It's a small desert, not like the Great Yarosh or even like the salt flats hereabouts. It's just a sandy thumbprint in the grand scheme of things and easily crossed though the going is unpleasant enough. I was making my way to the festivities they hold each year in Samarkhan, the capital. There's singing and dancing, many sacrifices and much in the way of fleshy delights. They are a wanton people but fun if you're of a proper mood. Improper mood I should say. In any event I was not. In fact I was beset by a most melancholy despair, nor could I even put a finger on why I was so disposed."
"I was travelling at night, when it is cooler and the sand is not so likely to whip at your eyes, and as I trudged towards my goal I took notice of the moon. It shone bright and clear and full that night and the stars themselves were dulled to insignificance by comparison and a curious notion struck me. It was as though a great black blanket was hung across the sky and the moon a peep-hole through to a lighter, brighter, happier place. I stood and regarded it, and because my breath clouded the cold night air I held it in as long as possible, just staring up at the moon and wishing myself to be in that better place which I could only glimpse. Eventually I was forced to take a great gasp of air and the moment passed but that thought has stayed with me since."

They sat awhile in a silence. interrupted when Talosh said, "I should like to see the sun rise this morning. Like your self of old I have never paid much heed to dawn but with your words in my head perhaps I will take it into my heart. Will you wake me when it's time?"

"Certainly," said Marcus, "and when next the moon is full I will look at it and see if I observe that better place of which you spoke."

"I regret to say, but that is most unlikely," said Talosh. He stood and stretched. From cloven hoof to wicked claw he stood ten feet tall, barely half the height of the rocky ledge on which Marcus was perched.

Craning his neck, Marcus looked down at the demon, surrounded about by the heavy vines Marcus had used to reach his sanctuary but which had torn free when the demon pursued him.

"You're going to have to come done from there eventually," said Talosh levelly.

Marcus plucked a few berries from the straggly, lop-sided bush that clung to a crevice beside him. "Perhaps," he said, "but not today."

Old Miscellaneous

Doughnut Holes

When Tony O. lurched into my room, a paper bag clenched in his fist, it made me wish I'd gotten the lock fixed. This was the third time it had happened this week and it was only Tuesday.

"What's in the bag this time, Tony?" I asked him.

"Doughnut holes." He sounded really pleased with himself.

"That's a myth," I said, feeling pretty smug myself. "When they make ring doughnuts they don't punch out the centres. There's no such thing as doughnut holes. They're just lumps of fried dough."

"What kind of punk you take me for?" said Tony, his voice rising. "These aren't doughnut centres, these are doughnut HOLES!"

He handed me the bag and I opened it. It was empty. I turned it upside down and shook it.

"It's empty," I said.

Tony O. fell on his knees. "You dropped them!" he wailed, scrabbling at the carpet.

"Who sold you the holes, Tony?" I asked.


"And what else did he sell you?"

"Maybe a little acid."

An Abbreviated Diary


Woke up and got out of bed. I headed straight to my kitchen for a cup of coffee but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the lid off the coffee jar. I twisted it and twisted it but the jar just skirled noisy circles on the marble counter top. Went back to bed.

Day Two.

Woke up and got out of bed. I was gasping for a cup of coffee so I went straight to my kitchen. The coffee jar was where I'd left it. Nothing I tried would get the lid off. Went back to bed.

Day Three.

Woke up and got out of bed. Hopped to the kitchen and glared at the coffee jar for a while. Went back to bed.

Day Four.

Stayed in bed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weak Will and the Small Bottled Woman

On his way from here to there Weak Will came upon a fair sized hill on the top of which he found a bottle, fully seven feet tall. Inside the bottle was a small woman, standing slumped against the inside of the glass.

Weak Will tapped the glass politely and said, "Excuse me, miss, but may I be of assistance?"

"I've been trapped in this bottle by an evil giant and he will soon be back!" said the small woman, her voice distorted and faint because of the thickness of the glass.

Weak Will just hardly managed to clamber up to the neck of the bottle and, fixing himself with an arm wrapped about, he tried to work loose the giant cork that sealed it tight, but it had been driven home far too tight and would not shift.

"You will suffocate," said Weak Will, distraught.

The woman shook her head. "I sucked in a puff of air before he corked it and I have been breathing hardly at all ever since." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, wedged too tight to turn about. "See that tree at the bottom of the hill?"

Weak Will nodded.

"Give the bottle a push and it will roll down and strike the tree!"

Weak Will was sceptical, but concerned by the lack of air he heaved the bottle over and began to push it towards the steep downward slope, from where down below he could see the old tree with its thick trunk. A stranger's voice hailed him.

Weak Will turned to see a man in a fine suit, wearing a tall hat. "What are you doing there?" said the man, sternly.

"I'm going to roll this bottle, and the small woman therein, down this steep slope and into that tree yonder!" said Weak Will, indicating the tree in question.

"Out of the question!" said the man. "Do nothing. I will fetch the people from hereabouts."

Weak Will thanked the man and said, "but do hurry! She has had only a little puff of air and will soon expire."

The well dressed man ran off down the steep slope, but eventually returned alone.

"Where are the people to help?" asked Weak Will.

"To help?" asked the man. "The people are down by the tree, ready to watch. You may proceed forthwith."

Weak Will looked down to the tree and saw it was surrounded by a great crowd of people, busy erecting stalls and generally preparing for a terrific festival.

Looking from the spectators to the small woman inside the bottle, Weak Will wasted no more time on words and gave the bottle a tremendous push so it clattered and rolled down the hill, building speed, leaping into the air as it struck each bump, and landing with a crash to keep on rolling. The mob of people around the tree hooted and hollered with excitement. Weak Will ran after the bottle, unable to keep pace with it so that it steadily drew away from him until it crashed into the tree.

Arriving at it just seconds later, Weak Will saw that the bottle was intact, the small woman inside it conscious, but dazed and bloody. "Again..." she croaked.

Weak Will struggled mightily to push, haul and roll the bottle back up the hill, his pleas for help falling on deaf ears. When, after an absolute age, he had managed to return the bottle to the top of the hill he checked once more on its occupant.

"I've been trapped in this bottle by an evil giant and he will soon be back," she said. Weak Will shook his head, kicked at the bottle and sent it tumbling back down towards the tree. The crowd cheered, very nearly as loudly as before, but once again when he arrived beside it, Weak Will found the bottle was still intact.

"Again..." said the small woman, so once again Weak Will crawled back to the top of the peak with the enormous bottle, and once more he sent it careening down at the tree. A few stalwarts in the crowd managed a weak shout, but most of those gathered about were busy eating or chatting and had lost interest in Weak Will's efforts.

For a third time the bottle hit the tree, and for a third time Weak Will found it to be intact when he caught up to it.

"I fear we will never get you out!" wailed Weak Will.

The small woman looked at him blankly through the thick glass. "Get me out?" she asked, confused.