Peculiar Customs

The world is full of weirdness, full of things that could be injected (without modification) into a Fantasy/New Weird novel or short story without breaking stride, and by using customs like these a world becomes fleshed out, and far more real.

The past is a foreign country, as they say, and while the world is a weird place now, it used to be even weirder…

Creeling the Bridegroom  is a good example of weird customs from the past. Coming from Medieval Scotland (and practised until the beginning of the 19th century), creeling the bridegroom was a custom where the husband-to-be was tested by his future parents-in-law – by carrying a sack of rocks around their village until his bride decided he had had enough, and told him so with a kiss. The bride could also be ‘creeled’ but in a different fashion – a chamber pot was filled, with salt, coals, and a piece of silver, which may sound useful to us, but were useful to the Scots for other reasons…salt was not only used to bless the home, and to keep out faeries and the like, but also as an aphrodisiac (Old Scots saying: Fond o’ salt? Fond o’ the lasses!)

The Scots give us other wedding rituals that might seem strange to us, such as the tradition of getting married at Grenta Green (an estimated 1 in 6 Scottish weddings take place in this town) – Grenta Green became such a famous site for weddings because, after a change of laws in England, people under the age of 21 required parental consent to marry, whereas in Scotland you could marry from the age of 14. So you would run away there, to get married, usually in front of a blacksmith, rather than a priest.

Another weird old thing from Scotland – these dolls, found in a rocky outcropping near Edinburgh, now known as ‘fairy coffins’. They were found, in various states of undress, all the clothing hand-stitched. They remind me of votive offerings.

Scotland, eh? Weirdos.

I’ll be coming back to more peculiar customs around the world, soon.

Tagged , , , ,


Old tongues whispered, gingerly moving in tomb-dry mouths, dead languages spilling forth in a surrusation. Their absent-eyed – literally absent, just sockets, skeletal, sunk-back in rotten-flesh faces – meanderings begun to take shape, to take form, their feet tracing arcane patterns in the dust, shuffling shoggoth dancing.

Their voices grew stronger – long aeons passed in that cramped corridor, long aeons measured in microseconds, shadow-voiced creatures gaining strength – the skin relatives finding one another in the darkness, cooing and whistling, their voices growing stronger with each breath – that I am forced to take, oh God, trying, trying, desperately not to breath, they can hear me, they can hear me. They can’t.

The walls close in, slick-wet-screaming.

Slick-wet-screaming, voices-whip-and-whisper, shadows stroke the back of my neck.

Bumble bees kiss flower beds, and the wind whispers – flesh-blood-bones-marrow-suck-slurp.

The crooners surround me, violent promises spill out, not-spoken, but still heard.

The fields open around me, and the sun is hot. Too hot. It splits on the horizon, cracking egg-yolk flooding my mind.

I too thirst.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kingdom Came

She covered my mouth, and pulled me into the darkness.

Her lips touched my ear as she whispered.

“Shhh, it’s coming…”

Her breathing, slow.

My heartbeat, pounding.

The smell came first.

Rank, overpowering, wet-dog and fungus.

Kingdom came. Loping down the corridor, thick ropes of saliva, heavy, grunting breath.

His dead feet shuffled across the sandy flagstones.

I held my breath.

She muttered, unheard.

Kingdom stopped, carving some intricate scrimshaw into the wet wall.

Kingdom left, and she released me, into confusion.


Written for this week’s BekindRewrite prompt –

Kingdom Come.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sorcerers, Magicians, and Warlocks – What’s the Difference?

We are a bit spoiled for choice, in the English language. When we need a word, and another language has one that’ll do the job, we’re quite happy to appropriate it – words like schadenfreude, or (my personal favourite) l’espirit de escalier (“the spirit of the staircase”, which is the French term for that moment that you come up with a cunning riposte, moments (or hours) after it’s too late.

But, crucially for the discussion I’m about to have with myself, and that you can see right here, right now, on the screen of the device of your choice, is about synonyms. And then we’ll get into the cool stuff people should put into their fantasy novels bit. That’s coming, I promise. And this little bit about synonyms leads directly into it.

It’s not much of a tangent.

Now, the synonym group that I want to talk about in particular are words that are related to practitioners of magic.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spring-heeled Jack

This is the second post in a (currently) short-running series on weird things from history that I want to see in Fantasy/New Weird/Steam Punk stories. Get on that, ok?

Here’s the first: SPANKO!

And here’s the second: Spring-heeled Jack.

We are continuing the theme of weird assailants from London – Spring-heeled Jack sprung up during the Victorian era, rather than the Restoration, but he was much more elusive than the Whipping Toms. He was probably much more invented than those three men though…

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Swift Justice


“Define ‘divine’.”

The man scratched at his head, ran his fingers through the stubble on his chin, the downy fluff on his cheeks that passed for sideburns as he searched for an answer that might make sense to someone with no knowledge of six thousand years of mythology, unstained by organised religion.

“Um…” he trailed off, losing steam. “Well…”

She stared back, in naked innocence – he diverted his eyes, taking in the room surrounding them.

It was immaculately clean – a stark contrast to his own dishevelled appearance – the spines of books stared out at him from their shelves, and he could see a murky reflection of himself in the polished stone-mirror floor. She smiled, in gilt-edged guilt, both her and the room showing a taste of her life, ultramoderation.

“You don’t understand it either, do you?”

Her question settled into the fabric of the room, hollowly echoing from the walls, like the call of the tame, forcing its way into his wild life.

She moved slowly toward him, her smile now uncertain, shy.

She was a trap. He understood it now. His uncertainness turned to steeled determination, a call for swift justice rang out inside him.

“Are you human, madame? Or a trap, a temptation sent me by the Devil?” His eyes roved the shelves. Books on computing and engineering. Books of heresy. His hand reached for the Bible, bound to his chest. He touched it, reverentially, as his other hand sought the pistol at his hip.

He delivered her swift justice, and left the smell of cordite gun-smoke and sparking electronics on the floor.





Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


So, I’ve had an idea – been nursing it for a little while.

The idea is to try and put together a list, of things that I find interesting from history, things that I’d like to see in a New Weird or Steampunk or Fantasy setting. History is an interesting place, one that you can drop in and visit, but one that (fortunately) you cannot live in. For all those people out there who just started thinking about how swell it would be to live in a Steampunk setting, in Victorian London, I’ll just point you in the general direction of some history books, and this article I wrote a little while back about what I like to call Slumpunk. Some of them I’ve already seen in those settings, so, when we come to those, I’ll point you in that direction.


To give you an idea of what, exactly, it is I’m talking about, here’s the first in this little series of demi-articles:

Gustav Dore – “Over London”


The Whipping Toms

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

She had cold fingers

tracing their way

along my sides – like a flash of

false pain.

There was an

unanswered knock

at the door

and an

unanswered knock

in my chest.

The shadows

raced through the room

as I waited.

Written for this week’s 

BeKindRewrite prompts:

Unanswered Knock


Cold Fingers

Quiet Time


Hey guys and dolls – some of you may have noticed a drop off in posting here on ChrisWhiteWrites.

I’m still alive and kicking, just overwhelmed with uni work (Ancient History/History, for those of you playing at home).

So I’ve not done much here – but I’m planning on more fiction writing soon, I promise!

The Elevator Club

“Welcome to the Elevator Club.”

As greetings go, it wasn’t all that ominous. I mean, I’ve heard worse; “I’ve been looking for you”, or, “We need to talk” are pretty terrifying ways to start a conversation. But the Elevator Club was different. It was almost funny, a group of men in well-pressed, well-fitted suits that you could tell were expensive, just by looking at them, standing together in the elevator.

They just carried on their conversations, which was also weird – people usually fall silent when someone walks into a lift, but the hubbub of the Elevator Club just kept murmuring, mingling into the sound of the elevator’s motors.

It didn’t stop – the elevator that is.

Level 27 flicked passed, the light behind the number still illuminated. I turned around, and the man who spoke to me just shrugged.

“I was level 14,” he said, waving his hand toward the doors.

The fluorescent lights overhead just hummed, beating down on us with oppressive, ultraviolent light.

“But when you got in I felt the urge to leave just disappear.” His blue tie seemed to glow.

At level 47 one of the men twitched, he was older, and seemed distinguished, stepped forward, his hand extended.

He stopped, and the elevator began to descend, counting its way back down through the floors.

“I don’t know how long they’ve been here,” he said to me, indicating the men pressed against him.

“They won’t talk to us late-comers,” Blue-tie said to me.

The older man studiously ignored him, examining his fingertips.

“You should feel special,” he said. His voice cracked as he whispered.

“How long have you been here?” I asked him.

He echoed me, his face twisted into a sneer.

I can’t remember. It can’t have been long.

“Level 27,” the elevator said.

I didn’t want to get off.

The light behind the numbers flickered, on-off, on-off, on.

The elevator kept going down.




The Elevator Club was written for this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts:

The Elevator Club


Ultraviolent Light

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Relics from the Stone Age of Aviation

Hey, y’all! My latest piece is up on Atlas Obscura –

Before Radios, Pilots Navigated by Giant Concrete Arrows –

a little piece about an oft-forgotten piece of history.

The Emperor’s Old Roads

Hey hey! My latest piece on Atlas Obscura has gone up – The Beautiful Network of Roman Roads.

Let me know what you think!


My latest piece on Atlas Obscura explores 10,000 years of Artificial Cranial Deformation, an ancient practice that still goes on today – a link to humanity’s past.

Tagged , , , , ,

The Lane of Unusual Traders

Hey, I’m back in the Lane! My flash fiction piece “The Changed One” has been selected for Lot 56, in addition to my previously accepted short story “Goodbye, Sweet Angus”.

Did anyone here submit anything?

For those of you not in the know, the Lane of Unusual Traders is a world-building project by the Tiny Owl Workshop, a Brisbane-based ‘publisher-in-training’. They take work from anywhere in the world (provided it’s in English), and pay professional rates!

The Lane of Unusual Traders is a fantasy/steampunk/new weird/horror (we’ll just say speculative fiction) project, and I believe there’ll be another round opening up soon!

If any of you guys/gals are in the Lane too let me know!

Or if you’re interested in writing for it, check the website!

Tagged ,

They Dug the Graves in the Sand, Shallow Graves

I suppose it’s my grandmother’s story, more than mine.

I’m famous – because of something a young woman did a lifetime ago.

It’s my grandmother’s story, but it’s also mine, because without it I wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be here, and you certainly wouldn’t be talking to me.

It’s my grandmother’s story. But she gave it to me. So it’s mine now, too.

You can’t call it re-entry, can you, if it’s the first time you’ve crashed through that particular planet’s atmosphere. That wasn’t really a question. I do wonder what that sensation is called – when the dull roar begins, and you feel it, rising through your bones, and it threatens to shake your landing capsule apart. When you see a planet swell and grow in front of you, and you feel so important – we are the first! – yet so infinitesimally small.

What do they call it, that feeling, when you know that somewhere, beneath you, waiting for you, lie the smashed lander and the wind-picked, sand-scoured bodies of the first crew?

What do they call that? Because, it seems to me that words like ‘dread’, or ‘terror’, or ‘gut-twisting-agony-mixed-with-excitement’ don’t quite make the grade. Like none of the words we have can really even come close to those types of feelings. What’s the word for that feeling you get when the voice of Master Control finally comes through, riddled by the static of having to cross two hundred and twenty five million kilometres, give or take a few, their voice pulled apart by the gulf of distance between you, delayed by twenty minutes? You manage to – eventually – process the fact that those men and women who left the safety of wide-open horizons and air that you can breathe and trees and other humans three months before you did are now gone, smashed to pieces and martyred on the surface of Mars?

What do you say to news like that?

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Footprints in the Dust

She traced her hands along the labyrinth’s walls, feeling the same cold, smooth stone against her fingers, counting the locked doors along the path – she always walked in the same direction, the red carpet beneath her feet soft and pilling, following the same twists and turns through the corridors, the path she had left in the dust. The fluorescent lights hummed overhead.

Sometimes repetition is meaning.

Fine particles of dust rose up with each footstep, like little clouds, swirling around her.

She coughed, and the dust devils danced away, catching the light. Her trail meandered out in front of her, when first she walked these corridors she was in a daze, stumbling. Now she took care to walk in her footsteps, trying not to leave another trail. That could be confusing.

Zala stopped, and watched the doorways ahead of her intently. Her footsteps stopped not far from here, and she knew she was supposed to go on. Usually one would hum open, the lights inside pulsing white-blue-green in invitation. She could wait.

The lights behind her began to switch off, a slow series of thuds, echoing her heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud, thud-thud-thud-thud-thud. “No!” she screamed, and began to run backward, into the dark. No doors slid open, no lights beckoned. Her fingers groped for the doorway that she had come from, the solid silver that had kept her safe and guarded the room where she had woken up, nestled in a cloak of wires and tubes, bathed in dull, orange light.

Her knees gave out from underneath her, and she slowly sunk to the floor. “I’m not ready yet,” she whispered into the blackness. It seemed to understand her, and the low hum of the electric lights echoed again through the labyrinth. A lone light glowed just ahead.

“No,” she said again. “I’m not ready yet.”

But she was. She knew she was.

Eventually she got up, and trudged toward the light. The dust beneath her feet was scattered, and her footprints were no longer visible. The lights hummed on as she approached them, and thudded off behind her. A door slid open to her left. Zala kept walking, each step leaving a fresh imprint in the dust.

“How long?” she asked. No one replied.

She kept walking, until the lights no longer switched on before her, and another door opened to her left. This one pulsed white-blue-green. Stepping through the doorway she devoured the food left for her, and with greasy fingers swiped at the button to close the door. Tomorrow she would ask her questions again, even if she would never get answers. Because sometimes repetition is the meaning.

“How long?” she asked, in the middle of the night.

“How many others?”

There was no reply.

The computer banks hummed beneath the sound of the electric lights, and Zala kept walking, each footstep dislodging new clouds of dust.

Each night a new doorway opened in the walls, always to the left, always to the left.

Each night she asked the same questions.

Each night until she came to a darkened door, open on her right.

She had noticed the footsteps in the dust.

“How many others?”

The doorway yawned, with night behind it. The room it opened onto seemed cavernous, with wire stalactites dripping sparks and smashed glass glittering like diamonds. There were no others, not anymore. The skeleton hung dead-straight in the still air, and she disturbed the dusty footprints as she ran. The computers kept the air free of microbes, and still, still as vacuum.

“You must not enter darkened doorways.” The computer voice leapt out at her through the darkness. It still refused to answer her questions. “I cannot protect you there.”

“How long, dammit? How long?”

The lights went out, and new ones lit up before her.

She left her footprints in the dust.

“Twelve years.” She had lost track of how many days she had been walking, of how long it had been since the computer had closed off the med-bay and sent her on this forced march, this migration. “You were in cryogenic hibernation for twelve years.” It was the only night that stood out in her memories; it was the only one that was different.

“Twelve years,” she replied. “How many others?”

The computer stayed silent, content only to turn off the lights behind her as she passed.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Department of Divination and Diviner Control

It was a dark matter.

That the subject painted it in rainbow hues didn’t change the tone, which was surprising in itself. Bright green paint entwined with crimson (the world serpent, the blood of its victims), vast swirls of cerulean blue (for the sky, the day before it burned).

“So…what, exactly, is this?”

His partner gave him an blank stare, before turning her gaze back to the walls, covered in thick paint and thin finger-marks.

“Ok…dumb question. But where is it?”

That was another dumb question. But it was an excusable one.

They were an odd pair, but that was a given. The Department of Divination and Diviner Control tended to attract the peculiar. He was short, and some might describe him as ‘swarthy’. She was tall, ‘willowy’. Her powerful, him diminutive. They didn’t attract as much attention as you’d expect.

The little boy had been in their care for some time – it took a while before little ones made helpful predictions; it could take a while before they were even noticed to be prophets. After all, to a toddler, the fact that the sun was going to rise tomorrow is pretty big news.

The sun would come up tomorrow.

But the Department would have to work hard to ensure it came up the day after that.



Written for this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Fingerpaint Prophecy, Dark Matter, Blank Stare and Odd Pair. Let me know what you think! 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Red Froth

She looked down at the ticket in her hand.

The rain beat down, drumming a tattoo on the windows, and she understood why, really, she did.

But he had to understand too.

She wasn’t finished making him understand.

“So, Hong Kong – nice this time of year.”

He nodded, whimpering through the gag – it was crusted with his snot – he must have been having trouble breathing by now.


“Shame it’s monsoon season.”

Panic flitted across his eyes. It wasn’t the same anymore. The great game had changed, what with outsourcing and the lowest common denominator. College kids and tech nerds.

She punched him, unexpectedly, let him drop to the floor.

He struggled again against the ropes that bound him to the chair, but she was listening to the voice in her ear.

“Can’t you hurry it up? It’s pouring out here.” She chanced a look out the window, he was still there, the only homeless man on the street, seemingly muttering to himself in the rain. She wondered where he got the little dog from – but realised that she probably didn’t want to know.

“So. Hong Kong. Why?”

His eyes rolled back in his head, and red froth erupted beneath the gag.

She needed someone else to answer her questions.




Written for this week’s Flash! Friday writing challenge.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,


Sunday Sketch - Terry Whidborne

Sunday Sketch – Terry Whidborne

Mother was right – their fur was so soft, and the creatures just seemed so trusting…like they’d never seen a human before.

Well, Mother always has been a crafty hunter – they’d never seen her before, hidden. The shot rang out. Blood-stains marked the russet fur. But it would wash out.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Lane of Unusual Traders – Stage II – is Open for Submissions!

The Lane of Unusual Traders – an ongoing, collaborative world-building project by Tiny Owl Workshop – is open for the second round of submissions. They are looking for both flash fiction and for short stories up to 3,000 words. Those Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, New Weird kind of words you’ve been saving up. They pay (better-than) professional rates, and Sue (Tiny Owl) is a fantastic editor.


Flash Fiction: 1 May

Short Stories: 31 May

%d bloggers like this: