I pulled the hood over my face as the guards rode past for the third time. Children wailed as the group of us migrated away from the burning village. Fury raged through my veins, but I tried to show myself as nothing more than a cowering villager sauntering on to look for shelter somewhere else.
I saw Franklin’s wife ahead and shuddered as I remembered her husband standing definitely between the king’s guards and the town. He lost his head for the trouble. Guilt was a deep burden and I’ve felt a lot of it over the past ten years; ten years since I’d left; ten years since I left him behind.
Henry walked over to me, his eyes were red and his hand shook as he spoke. “What are we going to do Harold? Everything we’ve built is gone…our homes…”
I knew nothing I said would comfort my friend so I just put my hand on his shoulder as we walked. After a while, I gave his arm a squeeze and stopped walking. It was time. I felt the old familiar weight of my scabbard against my leg, and even though it had been years since I’d worn it, I still practised out of sight every week.
Once the group had passed by me, I turned west. I could almost see the king’s castle spire in the distance.
* Winner of the 2015 Story of the Year Award *
George found the rip in the fabric of space on a Thursday morning, some time after elevenses. He leant over to throw away his empty packet of rich tea biscuits and there it was, a tiny hole hanging in the air behind the long-dead hydrangea the HR people had put in his cubicle in an attempt to pretty up the place.
After a quick look around, George cautiously stuck the tip of a pencil in the hole. The pencil slid in halfway, the tip disappearing into thin air. George left the pencil hanging there and went back to work on the Masterson report, after carefully moving the hydrangea a little to disguise the hanging pencil.
Next day, the rip had torn a little wider and the pencil had disappeared. George bent over and peered into the tear. It was now wide enough to see into. On the other side he saw white sand and gentle waves of the clearest, aquamarine blue. The sun shone and trees rustled softly on a distant hilltop. The pencil, disturbed by the growing hole in the fabric of space, lay on the sand.
George looked sideways out of his cubicle, to where he could catch the barest glimpse of the grey office block across the street. The hum of London traffic was audible even above the ordinary office noises. From the rip, a soft breeze blew and the salty tang of the sea beckoned. Continue reading
As a rule, George Paleologus hated the Christmas party. Pretending to like people whom he knew solely because they shared a workplace was loathsome. But this party was different, because, as far as he was concerned, the cause for celebration was not some carpenter’s birthday but his own promotion. Besides, he had a little business to finish off. It had only been four months since he joined HexBank, London’s foremost boutique bank for the magically inclined, and he was already executive vice warlock. At this rate, he’d be running it by next Christmas.
The floor numbers drifted by, until the lift reached the seventy-seventh storey and its doors opened. It was usually where they entertained idiot sorcerers with more money than sense, but on Christmas Eve it hosted HexBank’s festive frolics.
George stepped out of the lift and raised his hand in greeting to the three dozen other attendees. Most of them returned the gesture, and he made a mental note of those who did not. All were human, more or less, save Barry, the chief of security. A pair of deep gouge marks above the doorway betrayed where the minotaur had forgotten to duck sufficiently.
Chief Executive Warlock Julius Andronicus wandered over and handed him a glass of nectar.
“Thanks,” George said, taking a sip. “I’m surprised Barry’s here. Can’t say I’ve ever seen him before.”
Julius nodded. “Aye, he usually dwells in the security HQ, monitoring the cameras and eating intruders. Can’t stand the place myself, it’s a bloody labyrinth. Come on, I want to have a quick word.” Continue reading
It was 1983, and we were on a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. My buddy George and I drove the six hours from Dallas to the French Quarter in my – 76 Chevy Nova. We were excited to party it up in the streets now that we were finally twenty-one. I drove into town in the middle of the afternoon and it was hotter than we were expecting. I don’t recall much from that trip. Between the booze, and the fact it was thirty years ago, I only remember the heat…and the gypsy.
Her, I remember like it was yesterday. I’d stumbled into her tent and when I saw the elaborate set-up, I called George in to check it out. She sat at a round table and told me she would tell me my future. She was wearing a pink and orange dress, and bracelets; a lot of bracelets. I remember the sound they made when she moved her arms and still hear it sometimes when I close my eyes. Incense burned in the corner; the smell stuck in my nostrils.
She turned to me and told me it was ten dollars to know my future. I was a slightly twisted young man so I gave her ten bucks and asked if she could tell me when I was going to die instead. I swear the candles dimmed when I asked. Her eyes narrowed, and she told me it was a dark art, but for another fifteen she would tell us both how we were going to die. George shrugged and pulled out his wallet. We were a few beverages in at this point so this strange event had us snickering as she reached for my hands. Continue reading
Do you see that little star, just by that big, blinking one? Yes, I know the blinking thing is a plane, but there, right by it, see? So small, so lost in the sky. A new star. It was in the papers, you know? I tried to show them, it was proof… But there, now, they’ve made up their minds. I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t believe me, either.
They think I killed my child.
Leonie, that’s her name. My baby girl, my little star. She was only seven. I don’t know how old she is now. Do stars grow old? Do they count their age in light years? That was a joke. You can smile, you know. Doctors are allowed to smile, I think.
She had a thing for the moon, you see. Ever since she was a tiny babe. I would feed her in the rocker, pulled up to the window for the summer night’s breeze, and the moonlight would shine softly on her little head. And she would stop feeding and gaze up. Girl and moon, loving each other.
I thought it was sweet, then. I didn’t know the moon was poison, whispering sweet promises in my little one’s ears.
Waddling. That’s one of the things no one told me. I bet they were lying about everything else, too – that it wouldn’t hurt and an epidural is a piece of cake.
I followed Ken down the mall, and tried my damnedest not to look like a duck. And the whole time I was scanning for a café, or somewhere I could go to the loo. Because that’s the other thing no one tells you about being 30-odd weeks pregnant – you pee all the time. Honestly, one glass of water and I was in and out for an hour. So that’s what I was thinking – that it was going to hurt getting the baby out, no matter what anyone said, that I made ducks look sexy and that I really, really needed to find a loo soon. Those were my last normal thoughts. I wish they’d been bigger ones. More important. About love and Ken and looking ahead. About all the things I’m going to miss.
The explosion came from somewhere to the left of me – a bin, they reckoned, packed with plastic explosive and sharp, sharp nails. Designed to kill, and to maim. To cause chaos. They were never sure how much explosive; the figure on the media was a best guess based on how far the damage went, and how far through the air people were sent. Enough, I could tell them.
It hit me without a sound, a blast that took me off my feet and put me down against the plate window of a café I’d have earmarked for a loo if I’d seen it earlier. There was no pain, not then. Just a vacuum of shock and I-don’t-know-what-happened stunned, slow thoughts. Continue reading
Con saw through the buffalo’s eyes as she charged towards the door. Women cried out and moved out of her way – the door, already almost open, fell before her and she trampled over it. Guards and carers pressed themselves back against the wall of the stairway as she passed – those behind with their wits intact followed her.
She ran on, a half-amble-half-run down the corridors, until, lowering her head to barge open the door, she emerged outside. Somebody screamed but she ran on towards the dome.
Christ, I better be right about this!
The wall shimmered – an odd thing to see with a buffalo’s eyes – and she threw herself at it, half-expecting it to knock her back. Instead, she passed through the dome and carried on. She picked up the speed, cantering into the forest.
Could she take the buffalo all the way to Francis? She needed another animal. A bird. And fast. Continue reading
Paula woke to something wet and warm on her hand and she opened her eyes to see Buffalo licking her skin. The floor beneath her was cold and hard and the room had an overwhelmingly clinical smell.
People were talking. Excitable low chatter filled her ears. She grabbed the thick fur on Buffalo’s face and he pulled her to her feet. Her head spun so she clung to him, frowning at her surroundings.
Where am I?
The last thing she remembered was the guard telling her to sleep and shooting her with what she presumed was a dart. And they’d taken her here? It was like something out of a sci-fi film. A cold room full of pods – some of which still had people trapped inside. They looked dead though it must have been suspended animation. She hoped they weren’t dead…
“Hey.” She reached out for the nearest person – a middle-aged woman with dark skin and greying hair. “What’s happening?”
“We don’t really know,” the woman said. “Some people said they saw a mouse just as they woke, I think maybe it’s one of us – a girl with an ability.” Continue reading
All Con had to do was find Paula and then somehow get the news to Francis and get him to get them as far away from that place as possible. Easy.
The keys she’d managed to get hold of were of little use. The door to the ominous sounding ‘basement’ was opened by typing a code into a keypad – not by any sort of traditional lock or bolt – and this information she had gathered from Mia, who’d heard it from Carlos, the chef, who couldn’t possibly say where he’d heard it from and who, in Con’s opinion, was being obstinate because he was frightened of some sinister faction probably running the facility.
There had to be another way. She’d seen guards around the stairwell to the basement and seen the ‘staff only’ signs on the wall, so there was definitely something going on. She’d been steered away by a smiling carer when she’d ventured too close and she’d had to apologise and blame her newbie status for her lack of direction.
Just as she was about to admit defeat and take the keys back to Dora before anybody realised they were missing, she stopped outside a classroom – two glass tanks at the back of the room caught her eye. She looked over her shoulder, tried the door, and then went through the keys until one fit the lock.
Dora had hoped to surprise Chris after her lessons but instead of bursting into the staff toilets, she lingered outside listening to his voice as he laughed and joked with another of the janitors. She leaned close to the door, knowing she shouldn’t really eavesdrop but she had heard her name. Twice now.
“…blonde bird. Nice one, mate.”
“Yeah, bit thick but nice tits.”
Both men laughed and Dora sucked in a breath. She clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. There was the scrape of a metal bucket across the floor and Chris’s voice came closer to the door.
“You seen that mate of hers with the fat arse? I’d love a go on that.”
Dora turned and marched down the corridor, quietly fuming. People winced and turned away as she passed, blinded by the light coming from her body. She didn’t care to control it. Screw them – she just wanted to get back to her room and scream into her pillow.
She’d almost made it when somebody snatched her arm and pulled her into a room. Mia’s bedroom, she quickly realised, and Mia and Con shielding their eyes before her. Dora made no attempt to relax. Continue reading