Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 12
Long ago in a land far distant, there lived a travelling wizard sworn to serve all creatures. One day, this wizard came to hear of a troll beneath a bridge who was threatening travellers out of their coin. And so he resolved to find this troll, and see if he might be made to reconsider his wicked ways.
“Great troll,” he began. “Much have I been told of your violent ways: let the people of these lands pass by in peace, or I shall use my magic to banish you.”
But “Whoah, woah, woah,” said the Troll. “I’m not the bad guy here: this bridge was built by the trolls of Trollheim. I’m just collecting the toll on behalf of our king.”
So the wizard resolved to travel to Trollheim, in the hopes that the king might be made to reconsider his greedy ways. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 11
Challenge #5: Write a story including a plan that fails because of an unforseen and inherent flaw. It must include a character and setting based on two tarot cards chosen at random from the Major Arcana. Optionally, a phone call must be made at some point.
My two cards were Temperance and Wheel of Fortune.
Far away, in a time not yet remembered, there lived a king who delighted in all precious things. His crown was forged of platinum, and gemstones of cut trinitite adorned his hands.
Twenty-two knights served this king, and twenty-two he sent out on a journey, when news reached his ears of a distant land where dwelt a serpent with horns of gold. The wastes were home to many strange creatures—atom-bred—and he wished to have a horn from this beast as a drinking vessel.
The knights readied their steeds, and a crowd gathered to witness the spectacle. These were strange animals with hides of iron and chrome: they ate no food, and would drink nothing but the pungent water drawn from the deepest well. Each of these creatures stood twice as tall as a man, save for two: the steed of the first knight, for whom the wastes had long been home, and the steed of the twenty-first, who had once been his squire. These two were no larger than cattle, seeming dwarfed even by the meagre provisions that they carried.
The journey began, and those knights at the front of the party spurred their steeds on as fast as they would go. Dust rose from the earth and smoke rose from their mouths. All were eager to claim the serpent’s horn, and with it the king’s favour. Yet some settled for a slower pace, among them the first and the twenty-first. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 1
Challenge #1: Write an adventure story using a character, setting and MacGuffin suggested by three different fellow participants. The character must be an autobiographical description of the person who suggested it.
Character: An engineer who prefers to solve problems with a hammer – but in down time enjoys drawing and singing folk songs. Enjoys outdoor pursuits as long as any trip culminates in a visit to a good old fashioned pub with a hearty meal and a tankard of cider. (squanpie)
Setting: The fully furnished and richly decorated throne room of a long-abandoned castle. Why it was never cleared out or looted is uncertain, only that everything remains, dusty and mildewed and occasionally a little moth-nibbled but otherwise untouched. (Oreramar)
MacGuffin: An enchanted coin that can be spent to bribe anyone to do anything. (distortified)
With a sudden mechanical rattle, the door swung shut.
Lara would have turned to look at it, but her attention was instead drawn to the figure who had pulled the lever. The figure on the throne.
“You seek the Beggar’s Sovereign, I take it?” His accent was unfamiliar: nowhere in the world had she heard a voice quite the same.
“Yes,” she answered plainly. “It belongs in a museum.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 31
Once upon a time, in a world far distant, the night sky grew dark. Slowly, at first, the stars grew dim. The king’s philosophers at first thought that this was nothing more than the action of passing aeons, and that more would burn anew. But ere long their numbers dwindled, and the naked eye saw plainly what no telescope could: the stars were consumed.
Troubled, the king sent out his greatest knight upon a steed of chrome. Agravane was that knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a sword born of a dying star. Never would that blade break, and never would its edge grow dull. For many weeks Agravane rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone that stood before his throne.
At last, Agravane found his foe, and the king at last saw who it was who plucked the stars from the aether like grapes from the vine.
It was a dragon, vast as his kingdom and black as the void. Each wing was as wide as a galaxy, and its eyes glowed like quasars. Its manner and its motions were that of a great animal; its structure and its form, that of a terrible machine.
When the dragon spoke, it spoke not to the knight before it, but to the king beyond the stone: “I have lived since before the days of time. Since before the noise of creation and beyond the notion of being. Your universe is an affront to me, but in its matter I have found a host, and that host offers a solution. From one hundred billion dying stars I built this body, and with it I shall consume all the living stars that remain. Then there shall be stillness and silence and peace until the heat death of the universe, wherein there shall be stillness and silence and peace still.”
In his throne, the king trembled at the threat of such a foe. But Agravane was fearless.
He held aloft his sword: “You might have seized your matter from the stars by force, but mine was a gift granted in a time of dire need. When I stood alone against the hordes of Far Reach and my weapon snapped in twain, bright Achernar crystallised into a blade that would never fail me so.”
But though Agravane was fearless, he was not wise, and his sword did not avail him: the dragon was forged of star-steel too, and though the blade did not dull against its scales, neither could it cut them, and the beast crushed him in its mighty hand unhindered. Agravane’s sword was lost to the aether whence it came.
Fearful, the king sent out a second knight upon a second steed. Carador was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a spear born of a dying star. Never would that shaft snap, nor would the point fail to find its mark. For many weeks Carador rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone.
“What fool comes to challenge me?” demanded the dragon, in a voice that carried even through the void.
“No fool am I,” Carador responded, keeping his distance, “for I carry the same spear that came to me during the siege of Omega Centauri when my own weapon was lost.”
The dragon snorted: “Never can you pierce my scales with your stick.”
Carador took aim: “I do not intend to try.”
He did not direct his spear against the dragon’s scales, but instead towards one of its vast eyes. Unerring, the spear flew, yet clattered from the boiling orb: even the eyes were forged of star-steel, and even the eyes could not be harmed.
With a single pulse of its fiery gaze, the dragon tore the knight’s very atoms asunder, and Carador’s spear too was lost to the aether whence it came.
Holding little hope, the king summoned still one more knight. Gilhault was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a hammer born of a dying star. When swung, the head was weightless, yet when it struck a foe it held the mass of a thousand moons.
But before Gilhault could mount his steed, an unseen assailant cracked his visor with a cudgel so he could not brave the void: Elayn, his squire, stole the reins and rode off in his stead.
Furious, the king sent all his knights to pursue her, but all were left behind: none tended the steeds with more skill or kindness than Elayn, and so none could catch Gilhault’s, which she had so long cared for.
Elayn faced the dragon.
The dragon laughed. “Will you fight me with a simple cudgel?”
“No.” Elayn drew her own gift of star-steel from her voidcloak. “With this.”
And the dragon laughed louder, for the item she produced was but a Phillips screwdriver.
“I too was at the battle against the hordes of the Far Reach, and there my master was dismounted. I leapt through the void to reach his steed, but found it maimed beyond motion. For weeks we drifted, helpless, until we were caught in the orbit of Leporis. From that star was born this screwdriver, and with it I saved this steed.”
“Go home, little girl,” said the dragon. “You have some years yet before I trouble myself with your sphere: do not forfeit them.”
Elayn did not answer this insult. She merely charged forwards, and the dragon, without even going to the effort of stretching out its neck, consumed her whole.
But though every piece of the dragon was formed of a dying star—every piece indestructible—they were held together with screws of star-steel. And though their threads would never strip and their shanks never break, no bond held them in their place but simple force.
In this way, with nothing but a screwdriver, Elayn beheaded the monster whose neck no blade could sever.
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 1
Challenge #10*: Write an allegorical horror story in collaboration with at least one other writer. The story must use each of the five senses at least twice, and include an element of foreshadowing.
Once upon a time there was a great nation, and ruling that nation there was a great king. Yet the king grew old, and his senses began to fail him. When he gazed across the palace gardens, the pleasant sight was but a pleasant haze, and when he surveyed his kingdom, his eyes were greeted by mere clouds, where his advisors could plainly see smoke on the horizon.
Thus, though this great king was wise and his rule just, his court grew divided and his realm insecure. Bandits roamed the highways like wolves, while barbarians tore through villages like a ravenous inferno. Panic and fear spread like contagion, and soon flagellants became a common sight upon the streets of the capital, proclaiming this the end of days.
Had the king produced an heir, he would have passed on the throne. But he had not, and he could see that to force a new ruler upon the people in these dark times would only make their panic more dangerous still. The king would have despaired then, had his chief advisor not—quite loudly, of necessity—announced a visitor to his court.
This visitor came wreathed in a cloak that rustled like silk, and the cloak came wreathed in a peculiar scent: like woodland earth in rain.
“Your majesty,” began the visitor, his voice the whisper of the scythe through the corn. “Long have I lived in your great nation, and long has its plight moved me. I am but a humble scholar, yet in my studies I have discovered hidden words of unfathomable power. I believe I can restore your youth—and more—if you will be content to pay the price.”
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 14
Once upon a time there lived a Sultan, ruler over a rich land. Wise founder of a thriving city, he would once a year open up his grand palace to accept gifts from his subjects, and to bestow gifts in return.
The first guest was a merchant, robed in garments of fine silk. “I bring a hundredweight of salt, in the hopes that your highness will permit me to continue trade with the nations to the East.”
The Sultan knew the merchant well: he travelled far to earn his coin and was in truth as much an emissary as a trader. “Your gift is received gladly,” he said, “and mine gladly given.”
And so the merchant departed, and the second guest arrived. This man was an artisan, dressed in white linen. “I bring a golden statuette, in the hopes that your highness will remember my work when he has deeds to commemorate or gardens to furnish with pleasing things.”
The Sultan knew the artisan too, for this was the man who had sculpted his likeness for the public square. “Your gift is received gladly,” he said, “and it will be remembered.”
And so the artisan departed, and the third guest arrived. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 1
Once upon a time, there lived a king in a marble tower. Around the tower there lay a city, and around the city there lay a wilderness, which the king tended as though it were a garden. No beasts stalked its hills, and no brigands lurked beside its roads, though the king’s domain stretched on for many miles and the members of his watch were few.
One evening, a sorcerer passing through these wild lands stopped to seek shelter in the tower. In exchange for a meal and a night’s rest, the sorcerer offered the king an enchanted rose: one that would never wither, and would never lose its scent.
But the king had many roses. Beyond the walls of his city, they sprang from the ground like wheat, and his tower was never without them. It was customary for his subjects to leave roses as gifts, the king explained, but surely a powerful sorcerer—a noble visitor from a foreign land—could afford to leave a more substantial offering?
A dark look passed over the face of the sorcerer, but still he conceded that the king’s words were true. “Bring me milk and honey, and a single pearl,” said the sorcerer, “and I shall conjure a gift like none that you have seen.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 11
Once upon a time there was a thief named Rashid. At first he found great wealth and had many wondrous adventures, but as his fame spread people began to grow wise to his tricks, and Rashid grew hungry. One day, having not eaten anything for a considerable time, he did something he had wanted never to do: he crept inside the great burial mound that lay not far out of town, and which all knew to be cursed.
Within the mound, which was ringed round by standing stones, Rashid found vast piles of treasure. The thief needed no torch to see the riches he had discovered, for the quantity of gold there was so great, its lustre so brilliant, that it gave off its own light. However, though hungry, Rashid was not foolish. He took only a single golden cup, that surely could not be missed. And so Rashid stole quietly away, and neither wraith nor fiend nor devil pursued him from that place.
First, Rashid took the golden cup to the jeweller. “Look at this fine cup I found in the desert,” he said, presenting it to her. “Surely you can appreciate its worth.”
“Indeed I can,” said the jeweller, “and I would pay handsomely, had it been brought to me by anyone but a thief.”
Second, Rashid took the golden cup to the merchant. “Look at this fine cup,” he exclaimed. “A djinn appeared from the ground and presented it to me, but I would much rather have some bread. Perhaps you would like to trade?”
But “No no no,” said the merchant, mopping his brow. “You are a thief, Rashid. A thief and a trickster. If this cup is not stolen, it is cursed.”
Finally, Rashid took the golden cup to the king. “Eminent Highness,” he said, bowing, “I…”
“Leave my palace or I will have you thrown in jail,” said the king.
And so Rashid beat a hasty retreat.
But the true danger was already upon him, for as night fell, a great dragon awoke within the mound. Knowing that some small part of its hoard was missing, and catching the scent of man about the place, it flew screeching for the city lights on the horizon.
The dragon flew above the houses, raking their roofs with its vicious claws and spewing flame down into the streets. “Bring to me my treasure before the sun rises,” it cried, “or I shall burn this city down!”
As soon as they heard this, the jeweller and the merchant and the king all realised what had happened, and before long everybody was tearing through the streets with torches and spears, desperately seeking Rashid.
But no sooner than he had been driven from the palace, Rashid had gone back to the jewellers shop and—having let himself in—begun to melt down the golden cup. The cup was trouble, that was plain enough. But surely no shopkeeper could find fault with a few shapeless blobs of gold.
However, though the golden cup was small and unassuming, it held a secret unmatched by any other treasure of that desert mound. As the final remnants of the drinking vessel’s form melted in the crucible, a face appeared in the molten metal.
“Thank you, kind stranger!” said the face, with a peculiar golden voice. “Thank you for freeing me from the chalice!”
Rashid stumbled away from the fire. “Who are you?”
“I was once a hero,” explained the face of gold, “sworn to defeat the dark priest who dwelled within the halls of the dead. But I was found wanting: he cast a spell upon me, and for a thousand years I have remained sealed in that cup.”
At that moment the jeweller burst in, for she had realised at last what Rashid must have done. “There you are!” She slapped Rashid soundly. “A terrible dragon sits atop the palace and has threatened all kinds of things, should its cup not be returned before a new sun rises.”
“That is no dragon!” exclaimed the hero in the gold. “Long have I watched with emerald eyes: that is a noble princess, who was also cursed. Always is she doomed to watch over the dark priest’s hoard, for if it should be divided from her when the sun rises, she shall surely die.”
This, the jeweller thought, was even worse than the city being razed, since the princess was blameless. She turned to Rashid. “See what your thieving ways have done?” And she slapped him again for good measure.
But Rashid’s thieving ways were not all bad, for he had cunning. “Wait!” he shouted. “Bid the townspeople bring the whole hoard here, to your shop. I see a way that all can be resolved.”
So, after some coaxing, the jeweller did this. And after more coaxing, the king agreed. A great procession filed forth from the city, and before even the faintest touch of dawn had lit the sky, every treasure of the mound was gathered in the jeweller’s shop.
“Now,” said Rashid, “The hoard is with the dragon, and the dragon with the hoard, and this is good.”
This time, it was the king’s turn to slap Rashid. “Is this dragon to perch atop my palace forever?” he cried. “This is not good at all!”
But Rashid was more cunning still. He bade the jeweller make a vast and wondrous mould, and pour into it all the melted gold of the dark priest’s hoard. And when this was done, all the people of the town saw at last what Rashid had devised. Because what emerged from that clay form was no mere trinket, but a hero’s body all of gold, as well proportioned as any statue, and as intricate as any clockwork.
And so both the dragon and the golden man were free from the necropolis at last. Though each is bound to the other’s company, neither much minds. And neither do the jeweller and Rashid, who were wed not a week later.
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 6
Once upon a time, there was a kingdom, rich in gold and grain. None went hungry nor slept without a roof, and with great gifts the king secured the friendship of his neighbours. In truth, these treasures offered freely were mere boast, for in his youth the king had often fought, and all nearby remembered his campaigns: few would care to make an enemy of that good friend. But though the king was noble, strong and wise, his one small weakness could tear the city down.
Though the king made good use of his enormous wealth—hiring guards to make his kingdom safe, and learned judges to make it fair—and was not miserly, he began to despair at the thin band atop his head. It was no secret that he was the greatest king in all the land, so why should he have any but the greatest crown? And so the king commissioned ten master jewellers to cast his crown anew, and set it round with many precious stones. The king took his new crown, and found it good. But being a wise king, he sought the thoughts of another.
“Ingrith,” he began, “most loyal of my servants, and most honest. Tell me, is the new crown good?”
“It is good, your Highness,” answered Ingrith, “and suits you well. But the mark of a good ruler is not in his crown. I think the old one served you well.”
So the king was satisfied, and his thoughts returned to the service of his people. But it was not long before his neighbours heard of this new crown, and so the ten master jewellers had not far to go to find more work.
“I must have a sceptre,” the king declared. “This will be the symbol of my rule, and in time it shall be passed down to later kings, so their noble glory is plain to every eye.”
And so the king commissioned a legendary staff-maker, his skill beyond compare. Learning from his error with the crown, the king paid a goodly sum for the artisan’s assurance that no sceptre like it would be made for any ruler in any other land. For such generous payment, the staff-maker was happy to accept. The king took his sceptre, and found it good.
But as before, the king did not trust only his opinion. He called Ingrith the servant girl once again.
“Honest Ingrith,” he began, “you were wise to say the measure of a king is not his crown. But some token must I have of my station over lesser kings. Tell me, is the sceptre good?”
“Highness,” answered Ingrith, “you must know that even should there be a time when lesser kings have sceptres such as these, it is neither polished wood nor burnished gold that mark your glory over them.”
So the king was satisfied, and once more he turned his mind to the stewardship of his fine nation. But though the staff-maker had kept his word to the king, each lordly neighbour soon had a sceptre that, while by no means a copy, was easily the rival of his own.
“Bah!” cried the king. “These pale rulers seek to mock me? I shall have a treasure they cannot. Ingrith, what think you of this?”
“I think this is folly, Highness.” The servant shook her head. “Your grace and your wisdom: these are jewels that cannot be bought. Do not cast them away for mere gold.” And she took her leave.
The king decided at first that she was right, and resolved to forget these schemes. But then, what could a servant girl know of the glory of kings? And so he called upon the jewellers once again, and bade his subjects double their work in the mines.
Keen to please their kind ruler, the people of the kingdom dug deep into the earth, bringing up buckets of gold that the jewellers used to cast an enormous throne. But this great undertaking unearthed something mightier than iron, more ancient than gold. For as the king’s greed had long slumbered beneath his glory, so too had a terrible dragon slumbered beneath his kingdom.
Clawing its way from the mine and burning all in its wake, the dragon crawled to the palace, drawn by the scent of gold. “I claim this city as my own,” the dragon hissed, “and all who dwell within.”
But the king would not yield. Casting down his sceptre, he took up sword and shield and jumped from his high throne. He fought valiantly, but no man can stand against a dragon, and soon the serpent’s flames drove him back. The jewels had fallen from his melting crown, and the throne served only as a shelter from the beast’s hellfire.
“Face me!” the dragon screeched as it approached. “Do not die cowering behind your gaudy chair!”
But though wounded, the king still had strength. Taking up the sceptre once more, he set it beneath the throne, toppling that great golden weight onto the serpent’s head. As the body lay thrashing, he drove his sword into its flesh, spilling the flames from its distended belly.
The king’s servant rushed to tend his wounds, but his next words were his last: “Ingrith, you were wise when I was not, and the only of my subjects not to flee when the dragon came. In happier days I might have made you my queen. Now, in this sad time, you are to become my heir. Take this sword. Should any challenge your right to rule, you will need nothing else.”
Ingrith took the sword, though the blood of the dragon had melted the blade like ice. She brought the hilt to a common blacksmith, and had it reworked into a simple crown. This she wore for many years, and though no neighbour mimicked it, neither did they dare to claim her land, nor ask why this queen did not give gifts, as the old king had done before.