[Fiction] Trouble at the docks

haunted chapel

Image credit novtilus (DeviantArt)

This story is a small fiction following the events of my group’s first session of Blades in the DarkJohn Harper’s excellent haunted industrial roleplaying game. 

Watch Sergeant Renata Laroze, ranking officer in the Duskvol City Council’s Lawful Cohort (“Bluecoats” to the rabble, so-called for their distinctive navy blue jackets), rubbed her tired eyes and tried again. This night was proving far more taxing than her Myst-addled brain could handle. She kept getting flashes of some ghost’s desperate longing accompanied by a shooting pain through her sinuses. Blasted low-grade stuff from a street hawker, nowhere near as good as Riven’s.

“So let’s go over this again,” she said, surveying the bloody, quivering scoundrel sprawled on the cobblestones before her. “What exactly were you up to tonight then, cully?” The pale man closed his eyes and groaned, pressing a scrap of torn cloth to the ghastly wound near his shoulder. Run through by his own blade, she recalled. “Well?”

“I – I didn’t see anything. Please,” he rasped, painfully. “I need a physicker. Let me go, I swear, I didn’t…” His mumbled pleas broke off into a scream as Renata leaned forward and gripped his injured shoulder firmly, curling her fingers into a malicious claw. Around her on the dock-front, the other Bluecoats didn’t so much as look up from where they were combing through debris or castigating witnesses. Only the small, rotund Inspector with their strange glinting eyepiece glanced over knowingly. Renata shivered a little, and it wasn’t from the Myst. Something about this Inspector creeped her right the kelp out.

“Look, numbskull. It’s one in the morning, we’ve scraped about six of your friends off the boardwalk and you have a hole in you bigger than Lord Strangford’s Leviathan Six, Immortal Emperor protect him. So how about we cut the crap and you tell me just what you saw, hmm?”

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[Fiction] Dark coffee gods

dark coffee god

Image property of Trudi Castle (www.trudiart.com). She’s great! Check out her art and support her!

This world teems with tiny gods.

A paper tiger bares its teeth, guarding a crack in a library wall in Delhi. Lights flicker strangely beneath the surface in Scarborough, Rhode Island, as reverent freshwater cod trace restless runes of devotion through never-frozen water. Beatific grins adorn the faces of seventeen matryoshka dolls in a Ukrainian museum, each wooden form home to the fragment of an inconsequential deity.

They say that if you close your eyes and open yourself to the universe, divinity is never far away. I once knew a man who through the use of certain arcane powders and stutter-step-stutter breathing exercises could attune his mind and commune with whatever divinity came knocking. But there’s the problem – when the knock comes on your door, you don’t know if it’s the pizza you ordered or a couple of proselytizers hawking boxed sets of bibles. Me? I prefer to rely on less uncertain methods of communion. And so the cave.

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[Rainy day flashfic] Small and technical horror

haunted_hallway_by_sinbawii.jpg

Image remodelled by sinbawii on Deviantart

This story is based upon a dream described to me on Twitter. And Sam – one of the small tiles is indeed named Smegmantha, as discussed.


Somehow, the worst part is the clicking. Tiny white tiles clack in mindless modularity and they are everywhere. I run through corridors that only resolve themselves when I draw near, clattering into existence as tiles rush to fill structural voids. It’s as if they ran out of materials constructing this place and left self-assembling tiles to make up the lack. An architect’s plans ebb and flow in my wake.

There are others trapped in this place, just as I am. Sometimes I can see a surprising distance ahead when the architecture allows, a vast white empty space stretching on without end. On these occasions I will sit or catch my breath against a wall – hairline fractures scarring the surface in perfect tessellation – and gaze out upon the inchoate domain I inhabit. Always in the distance tiles ripple in concert as they pursue another poor unfortunate locked in a quest to escape.

And behind? I no longer look behind. Not anymore.

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[Fiction/feminism] The Truthtellers

me at Vees house

I am a Truthteller: doomed to insinuate certain facts about the world with words and motion.

Sartorial truths are among the hardest of all. My existence in public spaces is mediated by ineluctable subtext draped across our perceptions like a shroud. It’s impossible for me just to be, save in those dark and dusty spaces where society’s tendrils have begun to rot: dank music halls with shitty speakers; my friend’s bedroom (where the rent’s gone up the owner grins unable to hide their glee at a housing bubble that will not burst); Newtown and dim indie theaters in cancerous symbiosis with more successful mainstream venues. The Truthtellers always have existed in the interstices, tolerated or not.

These interstices are cramped and overwhelming, packed already with the moldy human crusts society has thrown out with childish pique. Thoughtlessness is always far worse than intention.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ella Enchanted, that patriarchal wet dream of feminine subservience. Cursed at birth to always obey orders, no matter what they may be and no matter who has issued them, she is tugged through life by puppet strings dangled by a mother who only wants the best for her.

Always these orders are couched as what is best for us, but society’s real success is in its subcontracting out (what a triumph of capitalism!). Its manifesto is absorbed by osmosis into human immune cells guarding against invasion with homophobia, racism, intolerance. They repel attacks by Truthtellers that threaten to undermine the whole. It’s an allergic reaction, leaving the skin of our society red and swollen in self-destructive violence.

Humans pine for change only in abstractions.

To become a Truthteller is very easy. Simply undergo years of social conditioning and allow yourself to be molded into the ideal worker drone: anxiety-ridden; sleepless; always yearning for something better so long as that happiness can be purchased or stolen from someone else. Then wake up one morning and realize – naked and shivering before your mirror – that dressing yourself has become a political act, that leaving your house has become a political act, that your existence in a public space has become a political act against your own volition.

Cultivate a voracity for veracity. Wallow in it. Congratulations!

Safe spaces are a threat, not a luxury, and our society will not tolerate them. The upper-class white blood cells, aged as they are, must be allowed to wander where they will. Otherwise the Truthtellers will think themselves accepted and poison our society one mind at a time.

[Rainy day flashfic] Under the influence

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Image credit spiky-summer-girl on DeviantArt

Creatures crouch beneath the eaves. They are there when I look, still and passive, but when I look away their teeth grow long and sharp and their eyes dark. They’ve never overtly threatened me or made so much as a move in my direction. Like demented lawn gnomes, they just sit and stare with vaguely off expressions into the middle distance.

Their teeth breed anxiety. It’s like when you’re sleeping but your eyes are open and the wardrobe door is open, too, but you just can’t move, because sleep paralysis is a thing that 10% of people experience in their lifetime. It’s the feeling of knowing the danger is there but being unable to do anything about it. And worst of all, the wardrobe door is open only because you forgot to shut it, and not because Mike Wazowski is lurking there, evaluating you with his cyclopean stare. Tension resolved by mundane explanations is tension left unresolved.

When I approached the creatures crouched beneath the eaves, they reverted to their non-peripheral form, all malevolent grins and stifled mocking chuckles. So I kicked one, right in the face. That got the attention of the others, and they started exchanging stilted whispers and worried expressions – were they going to have to rise to my challenge and reveal themselves? Understand that their dilemma was decidedly non-feudal. It wasn’t a matter of besmirched honor or letting slights go unpunished, but something far simpler. Having kicked one and seen its teeth grow sharp in feral anger, would I proceed to apply my unprotected foot to the others? Their self-interest compounded into a far greater sum, until levees burst and fear flooded through.

The under-eaves are deserted now, the creatures left to go inhabit some other poor sod’s lawn. Did I defeat them? Not really. At night, there is still the chance that I will wake up and experience the terrifying lack of movement of a body held captive by REM atonia even as my consciousness fights against the suffocating hallucinations that so often accompany these waking nightmares. A loss of agency is one of the most horrifying fates imaginable – to look on helpless as your captor’s teeth grow long and sharp around you.

[Rainy day flashfic] In the trees, part of the trees

Menacing Forest by Adam Varga

Weaved in the whorls of our bark is a pattern. Poe’s purloined papers were placed in plain sight, but we lack even that meager pretense — these knots and knobs, these dents and depressions; these grave imperfections delicately nurtured over hundreds of years scream out for attention. Their presence is not subtle. Journals and treatises have been written about them until the shelves creak and groan with their back-breaking bulk.

And still, scientists and experts — the accumulated brains of all six vast continents — have failed to divine their true purpose. They think that they signify, yes, but in ways quite oblique to their actual meaning. They claim that these whorls and wandering runnels carved into our skin are markers of age, or accidents of nature, incidental inscriptions arising from chance and the privations of seasons.

Competing theories (equally wrong but pleasingly metaphysical) contend our whorls are the markers of trauma visited upon our corporeal forms in previous lives long since passed. Yet others proclaim them to be earthly finger-prints of celestial beings, as if such care to toy with man’s mundane mind!

Reality is much simpler than this; rarely does it require us to jump through such hoops. After all, humanity’s woes are largely self-imposed. In fine X-Files fashion, the truth has always been out there, but they just didn’t know.

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[Rainy day flashfic] McGruff the Crime Dog

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Oh, McGruff! We loved you despite your flaws.

When I saw you crash-tackle that grim-jawed TV thief on prime-time television, I blanked out, lost track of my conversation momentarily. Just for a second; long enough to see your victory repaid with a flick of the coat and a smarmy smarting remark to the would-be burglar lying stunned on the ground.

I saw you as other than you were. Like a giggling slouching hipster I’d slide up to friends and tell them how I knew you best, better than those moribund consuming slackwits picking propaganda and greying chunks of chicken from their teeth. We shared a good dynamic, even if you knew nothing of our partnership: you the most convincing, I the unconvinced. Your anthropomorphic barks and dogged insinuations were merely affectations. I saw your lolling tongue for the rough-faced lie it was, and it grated me like sandpaper.

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