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!

Headspace

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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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! 

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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.

Good.

“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.

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Hugs

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.

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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.

Deadlines:

Flash Fiction: 1 May

Short Stories: 31 May

Real Life

I was going to write a short story for the blog today – to take a break from the novel (which is going swimmingly, thank you for asking), but the most interesting story I can tell comes from real life. I found it funny, so hopefully you do too.

 

I got bitten by a tick last week. A paralysis tick. There’s a beautiful shortcut to the shops from my place, that cuts across a babbling little creek and passed a pond. I saw a beautiful old Joe Blake (snake) sunning himself on the rock – he looked languidly at me before slithering away.

Anyway, long story short, I got home and decided to take a shower (it’s still stinking hot in this part of the world.) That’s when I noticed my little parasite. Grey-black and menacing. I went through my “Dangerous Animals of Australia” (all of them) book, and read the section on tick removal. Then I went to the Queensland Health Department’s page and they basically contradicted everything the old bushie who wrote the book said.

Solution? Doctor’s office.

Now here in Australia we’re very lucky. My doctor ‘bulk bills’, which means they don’t charge me anything, just the government. And they could see me in the next ten minutes.

So I zip up to the doctor. And wait. My normal doctor (Dr Price, a man in his 60s) was there seeing patients. The other doctor who works there is an equally old Indian man, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, I had no qualms about seeing either of them, whatever, just get this damn bug off my leg.

I should have mentioned where, exactly, the tick was.

It was right next to my testicle.

Anyway, I keep waiting. Both Dr Price and the other Doctor are wandering in and out, seeing the patients who were waiting there before I was. That’s fine, waiting is a skill I’ve spent my life perfecting. Out comes a doctor who I’ve never seen before. She’s in her late 20s, early 30s. She calls my name.

Into the office I go, and she asks me what the problem is.

“I’ve got a tick,” I say.

She replies, “Well, let’s see it then.”

I make some fumbled reply, waving my hands about, trying to explain (delicately) where the tick is (somewhere delicate.) Then my brain goes Don’t be a dickhead, Chris, she’s a fucking doctor. So I say to her, “The thing is, I noticed it when I was getting into the shower, so I pulled my trousers on without putting any underwear on. I didn’t want to disturb the thing.”

She told me to stop being ridiculous and just show her.

Which I do. She takes me into the examination room and has me wait.

When she eventually comes back she’s got those lovely blue gloves on, and instructs me to move my testicles out of the way.

Which I do.

And then as she moves in to remove the tick, it turns out that it had gotten tangled in my pubic hair, and as such had not been able to puncture my skin and dig its way in.

She then complimented me on my thicket of pubic hair, which it was twisting itself in.

Thanks, doc.

Angel Watch

“Why do they call them Angels, then?”

The old man spat, a lump of phlegm quivering on the dirt beside him – he turned his attention back to the gun he was cleaning, eyeing down the barrel.

“It’s the look of the beast, boy – great white wings, you see?”

Of course, it wasn’t just wings. Their language sounded like heavenly choirs, and their faces glowed with beautific, serene smiles as they slaughtered.

“Well, we’ll be ready for them,” the boy said, sighting along the muzzle of his pistol, winking at the sky, “won’t we, Uncle?”

The old man grimaced, and turned his head – he couldn’t look the boy in the eyes.

He knew the bullets weren’t for the angels.

 


 

 

Written for one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Angel Watch

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What’s the Oldest Still-Operating Company in the World?

What’s the oldest, still-operating company in the world? The answer might surprise you…just how long it’s been operating definitely will. My latest piece for the Atlas Obscura has the answer.

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Busy

A chimpanzee seated at a typewriter – image by the New York Zoological Society c 1906

I know I haven’t been writing much. Well, not writing much here.

Hey, I’ve been busy.

I’ve been working on things.

There’ll be some new non-fiction this week, and probably some new fiction up here too.

I mean, obviously I’m still writing my novel. It’ll take forever, but once it’s done, I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

 

Valentine’s Day

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day! Here’s a special e-card for that special person in your life:

B9zCx8fCQAId30e

You’re welcome!

Great Worqs

So, I received an email the other day, out of the blue.

The company it came from is called Great Worqs, and they were asking me to share their concept around, and see if you guys are interested. Basically, they are a company that links writers (that’s us, you guys!) with film makers (that’s some other people over there). Seems pretty cool – I know I’ve got something I’m considering sending over. They’ll be launching their new website in March, at SXSW.

They’ll be choosing a film (or three) to win a £100 prize, so there’s that, too.

Short films are cool.

Go check out their website: www.greatworqs.com

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The Great Old Ones

Pando aspen grove at Fishlake National Forest (photograph by J Zapell/Wikimedia)

My latest article, on Atlas Obscura, asks the question:

“What’s the oldest living tree in the world?”

If you’re thinking of some Californian Sequoia, you’re only off by around 75,000 years…

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Super Tasty

The burger was fracking delicious.
Verity couldn’t help herself.
Another! Her super-metabolism kept rising, as did the crime rate.
But she’d get around to it.


Another 25 word story for the weekly writing competition on reddit – 25 words, based on one of their story-teller cards (like the one above.) Head here to check it out!

The Sun is Here!

“The Sun is here! The Sun is here!”

.
She came without radiant armour, without her heralds and hangers-on.

.
“The Sun is here!”

.
My neighbour sneered over his fence. He didn’t believe me.

.
She glared at me! At me, of all people!

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“Quiet down boy.” (she said) “I don’t want everybody to know.”

.
She looked exactly like her engravings – but without the halo, and the silver, fish-scale armour. She came without the Butcher, her bronze machete, whose blood-gutters had so often run with the blood of her enemies.

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The Sun is here!

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She came into town, to stay at my Mother’s inn!

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I was collecting vegetables from the garden when she came in – I saw red leather boots on the loose gravel path and looked up at her – the setting sun was behind her, like an egg breaking on the horizon, shining over her shoulders like a halo. That’s how I knew it was her. There was no way I could mistake her for the travelling salesman she hoped to pass as.
She’s sitting in my Mother’s kitchen.

.

Mother sent me outside to collect a chicken for the cooking-pot, mangos, onion shoots, mint, basil, chilli – soon she’ll run out of things for me to collect. The smell of Mother’s cooking filled the yard, the herbs and spices unleashing their fragrance as I readied my axe to swing.
The chop-sticks look so delicate in her hands, delicate yet deadly, as she twirled them between her fingers.

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“I just want some peace, just a few days of peace,” she said.

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“I understand,” my Mother said, nodding (how could she understand?). “I’ll send the boy away.”

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The road to my Grandmother’s house is muddy, and the sun beats down on my shoulders, while the Sun sleeps in my Mother’s house.


Written for this month’s r/fantasywriters Writing Challenge – to write a story of 1,000 words or less from the perspective of a mundane character encountering their hero or villain in an unremarkable location. I also used one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Travelling Salesman. It’s very short, but hey, that’s how we all like it, right? Let me know what you think! 

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Wait Up!

 He picked the lock on his manacle. The door slammed behind him, loud enough to wake a sleeping dwarf. “You nearly left me behind again!”


Another 25 word story for the weekly writing competition on reddit  – 25 words, based on one of their story-teller cards (like the one above.) Head here to check it out!

I also used one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts:

Wake a sleeping dwarf.

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Drowned Towns – Cities Lost to Progress

Hey, my latest piece is up on Atlas Obscura! Drowned Towns: Cities Lost to Progress is about some of those towns we’ve drowned in our quest for more electricity, for more water. Let me know what you think!

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