Saturday, 2 March 2019

Fic: At the Gates of the Underworld

Thor frowned at the flowers on the path, at the cryptic inscription, and at his fellows, each disappearing in turn through the forbidding gates.
  They'd explained the way in, yes; eat the poison flower, die. Or something. But there'd been talk about the meaning of the second verse, an antidote to allow your return to the living. Those who'd understood it had gone on ahead and the solution had not been passed back to the group with any great clarity.
  He was not afraid of death, he'd demonstrated that enough. Nor was he afraid of what lay ahead within the underworld, though surely many of the denizens of Hel's realm would bear him a grudge. However ... it was not his wish to be separated from his love, so soon after finding her, for the want of a flower or a whimsical rhyme.
  Looking back on the path, he saw one other - the skald, Scheherazade, standing proud and alone with a golden arrow tucked in the folds of her cloak.
  "I shall remain to protect the lady," declared Thor, and she smiled; her Robin nodded in appreciation, and passed on.
  The god and the word-weaver stood at the gates, in silence for a moment. He rocked forward on the balls of his feet. She looked around, regarding their surroundings. As a master storyteller, perhaps she was aware that they had not been described in particular detail by the narrative, the reader's mind left to conjure their own image of Hell's antechambers. If she was, she chose not to draw attention to it.
  Nothing continued to happen.
  "So," said Thor after a time. "How did you first meet Robin?"
  "Ah, well there is a tale to that," Scheherazade said with a smile.
  "We appear to have time," he shrugged.
  "Very well, then," she began. "It is related that there was, in ancient times, a King of the countries of India and China..."

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Fic: Identity

James wrapped his hand around the hammer's handle, and his world exploded.

"Thumper," said Officer Haynes, and James' sullen demeanour was split by a reflexive grin. Almost nobody used his real name, these days, bar the few local coppers who'd got to know him in their professional capacity, Haynes among them. It was always an obscure pleasure, but the thrill only lasted a moment before his frown returned. Smiling made his bruised eye ache.
  Haynes crouched down outside his patrol car to address the fourteen-year-old ragamuffin in the back seat. "What was it this time?" he asked.
  "They said I wasn't real," James replied sulkily. "They said I didn't have a mum."
  Haynes clicked his tongue and looked over at the other boys, being tended by his partner and a first-aider. Between the four of them they had something like a decade and four hundred pounds on James, but they'd somehow still come off worse. Picking on a kid, though? They were asking for it.
  "It would be inappropriate of me to say they were asking for it," the policeman said carefully, with a stern nod. "Come on then, you scamp, let's get you home."

In the milliseconds before it lit up he felt the atmosphere charge around him, and his perception of time slowed to a crawl. His hand was fused to the strange metal, almost magnetised. It fit like it was made for him.

"I just - I don't think you're as invested in this relationship as I am," said Fiona.
  "Um," said James, staring back at her with that benign expression that she wanted to hug and slap at the same time. It wasn't that he didn't care, she knew, he just hadn't quite worked out what she was saying and knew that if he waited she'd explain it better, or it would become apparent, or it wouldn't matter any more.
  "I like you, I really do," she continued. "But we're both young and - it feels like you're somewhere else. With someone else. Like, I don't know, an ex, or...?"
  "I don't think so," he said brightly, and she immediately felt bad for suspecting, or even for pushing. Of course he would never run around on her. He was too ... loyal. Too trustworthy. And besides, he didn't have the imagination. She wanted to take it back and melt into his arms all over again. Instead she laid her hand affectionately on his face and looked into his eyes one last time. He looked back at her, but as always, she felt like he was seeing someone else.
  "Goodbye, James," she said.

Twin white snakes slithered up his arm. A third leapt directly for his chest. His life flashed before his eyes.

"No, but if I'd wiped out my memories, and became - I don't know - Frank the bartender," said Robin Hood, "And then we brought back Robin, what happens to Frank? Does he die?"
  "I don't know," replied Scheherazade. "With my memories gone, I was still myself, only with parts I could not remember. Restoring them filled in the blanks. To remove a whole persona ... is it right?"
  She glanced over at James, who smiled back. He wasn't really following the conversation. It sounded important, but his mind kept slipping off the big concepts. Nobody seemed to immediately need any help, so he was content to simply listen.
  "It may be necessary," said Lindy, firmly. "You heard what she said, he has to remember who he is..."

The energy surged upwards, through his body, lifting him off his feet.
  A bolt of lightning has, broadly speaking, two stages: First the invisible leader, a charged pathway formed of ionised air. Then the visible discharge, the white-hot energy that surges along that path.
  The return stroke.

"I don't know why we're bothering," said the weird boy who smelled of childhood as they walked towards the testing ground. "We all know it's going to be the dickhead from the Civil Service."
  James looked around. Was there someone else here from the Civil Service? Surely he'd have been told.

His eyes caught fire and his brain lit up. He remembered: a childhood in the forests and mountains of home. A beloved sibling, a father and mother. A land of gods and monsters and a woman with hair of gold. A life of adventure and, ultimately, sacrifice.
  And he wondered: What happens to James? Is this the end? Is he cast aside like an unwanted stand-in? Was he only ever a god, dreaming he was a man?
  But as he arced through the air, as his life poured in, nothing faded. The life of James Foster was still a part of the whole, the latest chapter in this hero's journey. He remembered every Avengers movie, the show with the dogs, the stupid, overlong jokes he could somehow never get straight. Only now he remembered all of himself, filling in the blanks.
  Thunder echoed in the air, and Thor Odinson fell to Earth, whole once more.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Fic: A Summer Storm

There was a tension in the air.
  James Foster navigated the baking, crowded streets of London in June with an ease borne of decades of experience. Of course, it helped that he was a man over six feet tall and notably broad, and even in this notoriously self-involved city the crowds naturally parted before him. Not that he was particularly aware that this was unusual. As far as James was concerned, this was just what crowds did when you walked towards them - this bubble of personal space into which nobody would dare trespass. That's simply how crowds work! Otherwise people would be walking into each other all the time.
  As the sun beat down on the crowds James could feel the familiar pressure of a building storm, the clouds gathering above the tower blocks determined to reach critical mass and turn the winding roads into a mess of new rivers. It was always a distraction, like the clouds were gathering inside his head, squalling and clamouring for attention. He squinted up as one of them excitedly brushed the edge of the solar disk. He wasn't sure exactly how far it was back to the office but he knew, as much as he loved the breaking of a summer storm, as much as it cleared the air and his mind, he didn't actually want to sit the rest of the afternoon in a soaking wet shirt, and was fairly sure this would be his immediate future if it started raining now.
  "Not yet," he said quietly, shielding his eye from the sun with one big hand. It wasn't quite a prayer, certainly not a plea. Just a thing he said.
  Quite by chance, at the same moment, the clouds rumbled with frustration, but no rain fell.
  James smiled, satisfied, and resumed his walk.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Fic: Meeting Alexei

Alexei sat on the rough stone cot. Even though there was no one to see, he sat with elegance and poise; back against one wall, leg up on the bed, arm stretched out to the knee, forming a delicate equilateral triangle of disdain, silently announcing to the otherwise empty cell that he held it personally responsible for his lack of entertainment.
  “I’m bored,” he declared. There was no immediate response, which only served to remind him that no-one was listening. He rolled his eyes in disgust, his head falling back against the wall. What was even the point of witty commentary without an audience?
  Presently there was a soft shuffling noise outside the solid metal door - a click - and the door swung slowly open. A hooded figure leaned into the room, looked around, apparently caught sight of Alexei, and nodded in a “follow-me” gesture before ducking back out into the corridor.
  Alexei remained still.
  Shortly the hooded figure reappeared. “Hello?” it asked quietly.
  Alexei languidly turned his head to face his visitor.
  “Are you room service?” he asked flatly.
  “Wh-? Um,” replied the stranger, drawing back his hood to reveal a beard and long, matted hair. “No, no. I’m egress. Your way out. Come on.”
  The stranger disappeared again before, after a further moment of stubborn inactivity from Alexei, returning to step fully into the room.
  “So, not in a hurry?” asked the stranger.
  “Congratulations on noticing a thing,” said Alexei.
  “Hm,” said the stranger. “Well, I know that you don’t want to be here.”
  “Really. And how do you know that.”
  “The door’s open,” said the stranger. “Wouldn’t be open if you wanted to stay, now, would it?”
  Alexei looked at the man properly for the first time. He had the stupidest smile on his face, as though he’d just made a hilarious joke. And he was old, really old. Like thirty. What the hell was his deal.
  “So, well,” the stranger continued. “I’m going to leave. And, you should know, whatever it is you did to get put in here, the people upstairs are talking execution. So. I mean, you’re free to do what you want.”
  The stranger raised his hand noncommittally and slipped out of the cell as easily as he’d arrived, leaving the door open behind him. Alexei waited a little longer. Then he rolled his eyes again.
  “Ugh,” he moaned loudly, before slipping off the cot and padding gracefully out of the door.
  He was definitely not following the the strange, strange man. He was just heading in the same direction. For now.

Fic: Introductions

Sam effortlessly disengaged from another conversation, circulated around the crowds in the grand lounge, and found himself standing in front of the couch. Best get this out of the way early, he thought to himself, grinning his friendliest grin.
  "Oh, hullo!" Weasel was saying, relaxing into the upholstery next to a character who appeared equally out of place in this high-class establishment. "We was just talking about you, Egr-"
  "Sam! Yes, it's Sam, hello Weasel," Sam interrupted. "I'm Sam and this is my friend Mel, I want to say Mel?" he added, gesturing to the lady next to him and pausing for her confirmation.
  "Um, yes, Melinda," confirmed Melinda. "Hello, nice to meet you?"
  "Hello and yes this is Weasel," Sam introduced in turn.
  "Yeah me and Dagger here, this is Dagger," continued Weasel, gesturing to his own companion, "We was just talkin about how a gentleman such of your talents might be of use around here..."
  "Oh?" Sam prompted, suddenly focused. His brow furrowed with concern, though the smile slipped only slightly. "Is there, um. Is somebody in trouble?"
  (In fact at that very moment, three floors down and in an entirely different wing of the Palace, someone very dear to Sam was indeed in trouble. Sam did not learn this until later, by which point it was too late.)
  "Oh no no," Weasel flashed an easy grin of his own. "Not yet anyway. But we was just thinking, nice place like this, so many shiny trinkets and silverwares - a body could find themselves in all sorts of trouble."
  Sam blinked a couple of times, the amiable smile still plastered across his face. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should really feel so responsible for the things people did after he helped them out. They were free to do as they would, of course, and he would hesitate to tell them otherwise. But he was equally free to advise, to suggest, to let them know how bad he'd feel to see them locked up or otherwise inconvenienced, especially when it could be easily avoided.
  "Please don't," was his simple, cheerful suggestion.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Fic: Coming Home

Sam slipped away during all the hubbub of the Naylor estate welcoming their master home. He let himself into the stables, quietly closing the door behind him.
  The horses were all new, of course, after more than two decades away. But the building itself was largely unchanged. Stabling was not an area that invited rapid innovation, after all. Sam hooked his hand around a familiar wooden beam, worn smooth by generations of stable hands taking a moment's pause.
  He found he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so at home, more than simply bedding down for a night or two. No, he quickly corrected himself, he could; here, with Rich and Ros, before he left. But it wasn't the building. It wasn't even the estate. He'd been home long before they'd crossed the boundary, before they even began the long journey. He could, in fact, pinpoint the exact moment he'd felt that rush of belonging, of returning to the place that would always be home, no matter where it was.

"Where did you get this?" he'd demanded, pushing up against the so familiar stranger, a knot of emotion tangling his insides. Fear, rage. Hope.
  "I've always had it, Sam," the other man had replied, and that was when Sam knew. The crease of his brow, the flat calm of his voice, the angle of his jaw. How had he not seen it sooner?
  Home.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Flash Fiction: "Don't...

"Don't go out there!" she cried.
  He looked back over his shoulder reassuringly: "Hey. This is me," he said, shouldering his shotgun and securing the door firmly behind him.
  She heard him moving softly away. Minutes passed in silence. There were sounds in the distance. A scuffle. A gunshot.
  More silence.
  Footsteps returning. She moved behind the bed, wary.
  The door pushed slowly open and - to her relief - his familiar face appeared, spattered with blood. He smiled, reassuringly.
  "Hey," he said. His eyes blank.
  "This is me."