Writing project, August 2019

This month’s word is pocket, meaning “a shaped piece of fabric attached inside or outside a garment and forming a pouch used especially for carrying small articles” or “any pouchlike receptacle, compartment, hollow, or cavity”.


[start of file]

I put pockets in everything. Not just clothes, but in the sofa, in my mattress, in the curtains. I’m obsessed with them. It’s kind of like a magic trick: anything could be in there.

I like to fill them with random objects that I come across. Right now I have the following items in my right sofa pocket: a small pair of scissors, a penny, and two packs of chewing gum.

I spend a lot of time on my pockets: perfecting the size and shape, experimenting with different materials, trying out different types of closures. My favourite pocket at the moment is big enough to get my entire hand in up to the wrist, made of suede, and closes with a popper. It’s a curtain pocket, so I have to be careful what I put in it, otherwise it drags the curtain down on that side.

I spend a lot of time thinking about pockets, is what I’m saying. So it was inevitable that once I heard about the concept of pocket dimensions I would become obsessed with them. I kept wondering if it would be possible to put one into an actual pocket, so that you had infinite storage. Retrieval would be an issue, of course, but consider the possibilities!

I had many sleepless nights thinking about it. I repeatedly contacted cosmologists, astronomers and physicists with queries, to the extent that I’m banned from every university in the country. I tried, and failed, to create one on my own, but I did successfully cause a massive explosion, and that is why I’m now writing you from a secret government facility. It turns out that I somehow invented a new kind of explosive. Not as cool as a new pocket, or a workable pocket dimension, of course, but pretty good for someone who is entirely self-taught.

I will put this note in the portable waterproof, fireproof, unshreddable pocket and drop it in the bin so you can retrieve it from the incinerator, as arranged. This message will be the last; they’re moving me elsewhere tomorrow.

I hope all is well with you, and say hi to everyone for me. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. After all, they need me.

[end of file: text found on desk of [redacted] at [redacted] after sudden cardiac arrest. “pocket” referenced could not be found.]

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, July 2019

This month’s word is grinding, meaning “to perform the operation of reducing to fine particles” or “to rub harshly; grate”.

I’m not especially happy with this one, because I wrote myself into a corner and couldn’t really resolve it in the time I had, but then the point is quick work rather than polished.


I can hear it all the time: the terrible, deep grinding of the earth. It rattles my bones, vibrates through my teeth. I feel it too, a slow motion back and forth, a constant queasiness inside.

Nobody believes me, of course.

It’s simply not possible! is the kindest response I’ve received when I’ve told someone.

Usually they resort to impugning my sanity, maligning my intelligence, or questioning my honesty. But I know it’s real. I know something terrible is going to happen. I just don’t know what. Or when, exactly. But the sound is getting louder, or closer. And I feel an awful urgency, as though I need to stop the coming catastrophe.

And I would, if I knew what it was, or how to prevent it.

I’ve been hearing this noise for a long time. Years. So I do understand why people dismiss me. After all, I’ve been going on about this for a while. It would help if I had any idea what was going to happen. I guess it’s probably an earthquake but I really have no idea.

I dream about giants grinding their teeth and wake up sweating, convinced I’m about to be devoured. I’ve lost all my friends, my family think I’m crazy, and I haven’t been able to leave the house for months now. The feeling’s even worse outdoors.

I just want it to stop. I want to sleep without dreams, to walk outside without fear. To live. I just don’t know how to get there, to the place where that’s possible.

So I’ll continue to dream, to hide, to hate my life, until whatever is going to happen, happens. Then they’ll know I was right.

Assuming there’s anyone left to know.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, June 2019

This month’s word is energy, meaning “the capacity for vigorous activity; available power”. It’s going to be a short one.


I’m fast-moving, high-octane; I never slow down. I barely sleep, just pace my room, mind racing, ready to spring into action at any moment.

Or that’s how I’d like to see myself. That’s how I imagine myself.

In actual fact, I’m slothful, lethargic. My imagination is active, but I am not. I drape myself over an armchair, and dream of action.

I desire heroism, and feats of derring-do; I crave the one perfect moment when I’ve saved the day, rescued the princess, and defeated the villain. I yearn to stand on a mountaintop, sword in hand, clutching a beautiful person to my chest.

But I will only ever have that in my dreams.

Because I am too damn lazy to put in the effort to get it. Just the thought of all the work required, the exercise and training and practice needed to become that hero, wearies me.

So I dram big dreams, and live a small life. It’s easier that way.

And easy is my middle name.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, May 2019

This month’s word is truth, meaning “the true or actual state of a matter” or “conformity with fact or reality; verity”.


I always speak the truth; they always lie.

The two of us guard two doors: one leads to death, the other to your heart’s greatest desire. You know this story: the hero comes up to us and tries to ask the one question that will tell them which door to take.

Of course, rumours got around quickly about the right question to ask*, so it got pretty boring for us. And our boss had to grant loads of wishes; she hated that. So she came up with a twist: the correct door changes randomly, and when it changes, only one of us is told. This lends a certain randomness to our answers, and an element of confusion, sometimes. For example, if door A is now death, and I know that, but they don’t, then my answer to the question should be whichever the death door was on the last occasion that they knew the answer. This is extremely hard for me to keep track of, because I actually have a terrible memory. I usually go with the correct answer for what the doors are at now, but sometimes that means I’m not telling the truth.

This is causing me a lot of stress. If I’ve told a lie, even inadvertently, then I am not who I always thought I was. I’m not the one who always tells the truth, but neither am I the one who lies. I’m just somewhere in the middle, like one of you. And if I’m not the one who tells the truth, then who am I? Why am I here?

I’ve tried asking the one who lies about this, but they don’t seem to care. I shouldn’t care; I never used to. But something about the new rules unsettles me. I keep thinking that it’s not right. I don’t even understand the point of it now. We’re just randomly killing people. The boss should just replace us with a random number generator. Or come up with a different test. Maybe this is just outdated.

In any case, it might all be over soon. I heard that someone is suing the boss. Apparently their betrothed asked the right question, but got the wrong answer. So we might have to shut down. I don’t know how I feel about that. What does an archetype do when they’ve lost their function? I asked the one who lies, but of course their answer only ever tells me what they don’t think. And I’m realising now that some questions have more than one right answer.

I don’t know what to hope for. I don’t want to do this any more, but I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do. I have to stop talking now; the boss is coming. If you don’t hear from me again, assume the worst.

*The right question is: “if I asked the other person which door to take, what would they say?” and then you take the other door.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project: index

This is a post to list the words I’ve used for this project. It will be updated monthly.




© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, April 2019

This month’s word is voice, meaning “the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.”.


I have an amazing voice. Everyone says so.

Sorry, I know that’s not what you asked. How did I first realise my talent, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I’d really call it a talent! It’s just a feature of me. I think, though, it was when I started going to school. I always thought that everyone reacted to children’s voices the way my family did to mine. I mean, you do, don’t you, when you’re little? You think everyone’s family is the same as yours. I thought everyone gathered around to listen adoringly to their children.

When I went to school, I suppose. I noticed that the teachers responded differently to the other children. And after a few weeks someone contacted the authorities and I was taken away from my family.

For my own good, they told me. They said it would be safer. Although they never made it clear who for.

After that, it was testing, testing and more testing. And then they decided to train me as a diplomat. Well, you know how that turned out! Accusations of undue influence, a UN resolution passed banning the use of people with “special abilities” in diplomatic positions, and of course, the Search.

Yes, I wish the Search had found someone else, anyone else, who was like me. It’s lonely being the only one. It’s lonely being me. I can’t even date, because I can’t turn it off. Why do you think I have this speech-to-text setup? Why do you think you’re in a separate room?

Because nobody trusts me, that’s why. Nobody wants to hear me speak any more. Because they’re afraid – you’re afraid – that I’m the monster. And I’m not useful any more, either, so why not lock me away? Can’t trust people like me, even if there are no other people like me. Can’t let me go, don’t want to kill me, just in case.

In case of what? That’s obvious, isn’t it? Never throw away a potential asset, right?

I don’t want to talk to you any more.

What do I want? I want to be normal. I want… I want to be able to have a conversation where the other person disagrees with me. I want to have a conversation where the other person can disagree with me.

You can’t give me that. Nobody can. So please go. And tell them I won’t give any more interviews. I’m tired, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be here any more.

Just leave me alone. It’s the only thing you can do for me now.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, March 2019

This month’s word is scar, meaning “a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn” or “a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma”.


I have a lot of scars. It’s the first thing people notice about me. I run very warm, and I live somewhere hot, so I don’t wear much in the way of clothing. Anyway, it’s good advertising for me. Makes some people uncomfortable, but my job does that anyway.

I didn’t set out to be in this line of work. It’s not the kind of thing you dream of as a child. I mean, on the one hand, people come to you and bring you everything you could ever need, but on the other… Well. You lose all your friends, all your family. You live alone, because you can’t have even the appearance of favouritism. And most of all, everyone who sees you knows what you are. You can’t hide, you can’t be incognito – not with the brand on your face that cannot be removed or covered up; it shines through even if you wrap your head in cloth.

So how did I end up here? The same way most of my colleagues did: a lifetime of bad decisions, and a final choice of the “or death” variety. I’m not a truly evil person, or I’d’ve been summarily executed. But I’m by no means a good person either. Just your regular petty thug, really, and so I get to atone for my sins by eating those of others.

It’s not, as you might think, to ease those others’ burdens, to save their souls or send them to some heavenly reward. No, my job is to reduce the amount of sin in the world by eating it, taking it into my body. When I die, they’ll burn my body and offer the ashes to the gods, and that will destroy all the sins I’ve consumed. Or so they tell me.

It’s one of those things that seems very simple, but is actually very complex if you think about it. Essentially, someone comes to me, tells me their sin in as much detail as possible, I write it down on special edible paper, and then I eat it. Sounds ridiculous, right? I left out the part where the priests performed the ritual that turns a person into a sin eater, mostly because I don’t really remember it, and I also don’t like to think about it. It was extremely painful, that’s the main thing I recall. And of course every time I eat a sin, I get a mark on my skin, to indicate the sin’s been consumed. Those hurt, too. I guess they want to make sure I remember that this is a punishment.

Sometimes, if it’s been a busy day, I try to remember that I chose this. I chose to live, no matter how painful it might be. It doesn’t always help. But there’s no running away from this. If I leave my temple, I’ll die. So I carry on, day after day, and just wait for it to end.

What, you were expecting some kind of redemption? There’s none of that here, just pain. Deserved, true, but if I’d truly known what it would be like, I might not have made this choice. There’s no going back now, though. I have to live with it.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, February 2019

This month’s word is winged, meaning “having wings”.


How do you tame a winged horse?

Some people say you tame it with kindness, befriending it gradually. Those who believed that died, flung off in midair by a beast they thought was their friend.

Some say you tame it by force, capturing it in a net or bridling it in its sleep. Those, too, are dead, trampled by the enraged beast.

The truth is that you don’t tame a flying horse, but if you are brave enough, perhaps you can make a deal with one.

First you need to locate a flying horse. They tend to live in remote and isolated locations: high mountain plateaus, for example, or rocky islands.

Once you’ve located the horse, you learn its habits, where it drinks, what it eats, and so on. Some flying horses are carnivorous, and some not. Some are nocturnal, and some are not. All are intelligent, and none are friendly. You try to discover something that will please it – food is often acceptable, although some winged horses enjoy small items that can be woven into their manes.

Then you approach, slowly and carefully, but also openly. Winged horses do not like being sneaked up on. Show no fear, because they will not make bargains with cowards. Carry your gift in your hands so they can see it, and do not carry any weapons. If you are armed, they will kill you. They may, of course, kill you anyway; that’s the risk you take.

Ensure you look at the horse you are trying to bargain with, but do not make sustained eye contact. They don’t like that; it reads as a threat.

Hold your gift out on your outstretched hands, and state the terms of the deal you want clearly. Ensure to include stipulations such as “no intentional injuries to be caused” and “to be delivered to the agreed destination within the agreed time period”. Winged horses will exploit any loopholes you leave.

If the horse agrees to your bargain, it will take your offering and allow you to mount it. If it does not, it will take your tribute anyway, and if you are lucky, it will let you go. If you’re not, well, I think you know by now what is going to happen.

Because of the slow and convoluted process involved, nobody has successfully ridden a flying horse. But perhaps you can be the first. If this is really what you want, don’t let me dissuade you. Go chase your dreams: at your own risk.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, January 2019

This month’s word is improve, meaning “to bring into a more desirable or excellent condition”.


When it came right down to it, most people were willing to bargain with demons. The chance to improve instantly, to become the perfect version of themselves, was too tempting to resist.

And it wasn’t like the demonic bargains you read about in myths. There was no loophole, no hidden fine print, no catch. You got what you asked for. More than that, you got what you wanted. Of course, you were going to be eternally tortured once you died, but there’s a downside to everything. And most people managed to ignore that part, anyhow: the general feeling seemed to be “I’ll probably go to hell anyway, might as well get some benefit from it”.

So demonic bargains were common, is what I’m saying. If somebody’s life suddenly improved, most people assumed they’d made a deal with a devil. After all, why struggle to do it the hard way, and possibly fail, when success could be guaranteed?

There were some who railed against it, saying that the chance of heaven was worth pain and failure here on earth, but most people ignored them. Once their life started going downhill, most people would go to their nearest demonic summoning station.

The process was simple: you took one of the small needles available, pricked your finger and put a few drops of blood in the receptacle. A demon appeared and you negotiated for what you wanted. Very simple, practically foolproof. And yet, Tod managed to mess it up.

He didn’t mean to, of course. Whenever he caused catastrophe, it was never deliberate or malicious. He was the giant puppy of destruction. And he nearly ruined the demonic bargaining system forever.

He didn’t like needles, you see. And you can already tell how this is going to go. He brought a friend, and used a few drops of the friend’s blood to activate the receptacle, and then made a bargain in his own name. This worked fine – until, a few years later, his friend decided he too wanted to make a bargain with a demon.

Because, as it turned out, the bargain is actually made with the person whose blood is used, and so a number of beings were extremely angry:

  • Tod’s friend, because they couldn’t make a bargain of their own, and because they were now doomed to hell
  • The demon Tod had bargained with, because they’d been tricked
  • That demon’s superiors, because it made them look bad
  • The angels, because they hadn’t noticed the issue either

Those who thought it was no big deal:

  • Tod, because he had died and somehow ended up in heaven, from where, it appeared, you could not be ejected even if you didn’t really deserve to be there.

At this point, a number of changes were rapidly made to the system, the main one being that a demon was stationed in each summoning station to watch people give their blood. This was an unpopular, because boring, job, and the majority of the demons doing it spent their time coming up with special punishments for Tod, should they ever get their claws on him.

Tod was fully aware of this, because he liked to people-watch back on Earth, but he wasn’t worried since he knew that there were no take-backs for heaven: once you were in, you were in. He did feel a little sorry for his friend, but mostly he felt smug. Somehow he, Tod, an average individual, had outsmarted hell. He was actually kind of proud of that.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, December 2018

This month’s word is unicorn, meaning “a mythical creature resembling a horse, with a single horn in the center of its forehead”.


Everyone knew there were no more unicorns. The last known unicorn had died in a zoo, in 2025. No wild unicorns had been seen for decades before that, despite extensive searches.

And yet, the rumours persisted.

T was convinced they were true. He spent hours scouring all corners of the Internet, following up leads in obscure forums and repeatedly viewing blurry videos which claimed to show unicorns. He even met furtive strangers in dingy pubs to get his hands on hardcopy evidence. He’d plotted alleged sightings on maps, and was saving up to visit the area where the most encounters had been reported. He was not the most prolific poster on the unicorn forums, but he was one of the most persistent.

T knew that if there were still unicorns, he would find them. How could he let all that beauty, that wondrous power, remain hidden? It never occurred to him that the unicorns, if they existed, might have their own ideas about that. There were those who felt that if there were unicorns still, they should be allowed to live in peace, and PowrCorn882 was one of them. They would often argue for hours online with T, trying to change his mind. It never worked; both of them always ended up more entrenched than ever in their original positions.

Although the search for unicorns was the driving passion of T’s life, he still had a day job, doing data entry for a widget manufacturer. It wasn’t exciting, but the pay and hours were reasonable. He had just finished his shift and was on his way home when a van pulled up ahead of him and several masked people piled out. They grabbed him by the arms and hustled him into the vehicle where they blindfolded and tied him up.

T was so surprised he didn’t even struggle. Secretly, he was thrilled. He’d read about this kind of thing happening to other people, but he’d never expected to be on the receiving end himself. He regarded it as vindication, really – if he wasn’t on to something, they wouldn’t have kidnapped him, right? He hoped he was going to meet someone high up in the conspiracy, and not just henchpeople.

As a result of this thought process, T was surprisingly chipper when he was dragged from the van and into a small room. He was pushed into a chair and then the blindfold was removed. T blinked a few times, his eyes adjusting to the light. He was sitting at a table, with a masked figure seated across from him.

“You have to stop trying to find unicorns,” the figure said.

“You’ve proved me right,” T replied. “I must be on to something or I wouldn’t be here.”

The figure sighed. “I thought you’d say that, but I wanted to give you the chance.

“I’ll never stop now,” T replied.

“As you wish,” the figure replied. They gestured to the people who had brought T in, and two of them stepped forward, grabbing T’s arms and dragging him to his feet.

“Wait!” T cried. “Don’t I get to know who you are, or your plans, or anything?”

“It’s not a movie, T, it’s real life. I’m not going to monologue. You had a chance, you chose not to take it.”

T stared angrily at the figure as he was dragged away.

“Who are you?” he shouted. “At least tell me that much!”

The figure shook their head, standing up and walking away from T. They vanished through a door on the opposite side of the room.

T was dragged out another door, along a featureless corridor, down several dimly-lit flights of steps, along another corridor with rough-hewn stone walls, and into a small cell. He was dropped unceremoniously on a small bed. His captors cut his bonds and left the room, locking the door behind them. T stood up and rushed to the door.

“You’re just going to leave me here?” T asked incredulously, peering out through the slot in the door.

“Yup. You’ll be fed regularly.”

“Yeah, we’re not animals.”

The two exchanged a glance, laughing.

“But… But…” T stammered.

“You’re going to die here,” the first explained. “That’s the end of your story.”

They strode away, laughing. T let go of the bars and slid down, burying his face in his hands. So this was how it ended. He hadn’t seen that coming. The rest of his life, in this tiny cell.

“And I never even got to see a unicorn,” he sighed.

© bardofupton 2018