Writing project, October 2019

This month’s word is dark, meaning “gloomy; cheerless; dismal” or “evil; iniquitous; wicked”.

This is going to be a short one, because I am kind of behind on writing it.

————–

It had been raining for weeks. Everything was damp, or wet, or flooded. The sky was a constant grey, making everything gloomy and dim. The perfect weather for a slow, creeping kind of evil. Nothing flashy, nothing too noticeable, just something that spread and spread like a cold, bringing misery to as many as possible. The conditions were ideal for a small, unimportant demon like Xel.

Almost too good, Xel thought to themself. Perhaps it’s a trick.

After all, they did have a number of enemies, despite their insignificance. Other demons were constantly clawing for any advantage. Or perhaps a senior demon was amusing themself by baiting a trap for a minor demon.

That’s not unheard of, thought Xel. I need to be cautious.

Besides, if a senior demon had set things up, they would get the credit, and Xel would have put in a great deal of work for nothing. It was probably better to wait.

Yes, Xel muttered. I’ll wait. Better to wait than to let someone else take credit for my work. Yes.

So, once again, Xel did nothing, for fear of doing the wrong thing or of someone else benefiting. They received neither blame nor praise and as a result, had risen high in the infernal hierarchy, an occurrence which had caused anger amongst those demons who did take action and work to spread darkness over the earth. Xel was aware of this hatred, but was unconcerned by it, as they now outranked all of them.

Although Xel’s fear of doing the wrong thing was an innate trait, they had begun to deliberately cultivate it once they realised how successful it was as a strategy. Xel had, in fact, managed to hack the system, something they were secretly smug about.

Pretty good for a minor imp, they thought to themself. My plan is working.

Xel gave a demonic laugh, breaking off suddenly as Pek, another demon, appeared in their doorway.

Lucifer wants to see you, Pek said.

Xel swallowed. That was never good news. They took a deep breath, stood up, and went to meet their fate.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, September 2019

This month’s word is doll, meaning “a small figure representing a baby or other human being, especially for use as a child’s toy”.

————–

I’m a floppy kind of thing, sprawled across the bedroom floor. Wool hair, button eyes, skin made of different scraps of fabric: I’m a unique creation.

I lie on the carpet, looking helpless, immobile. You think I’m inanimate, just an object to be moved around at your pleasure. But every night I crawl into your dreams and save you from monsters.

I’ve been with you since you were a baby. That was almost ten years ago. You think you’re too old for me, but somehow you never get round to throwing me away. I’ve been relegated to the floor, however, but it’s fine. I know how this will end: one day you’ll finally throw me out or give me away or, best case scenario, I’ll end up in a box somewhere. And you’ll wonder why your nightmares have gotten worse, but you’ll never put it together.

Humans never do.

© bardofupton 2019

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, 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

Inkwarriors, part 4 (Fiction)

Meril gazed thoughtfully out the window, wondering how she could contact her wizard.

She already thought of them as hers, although she had no idea if they had any interest in her, or even knew of her existence. When she thought about it, which was rarely, she realised that she knew very little about them.

Wizards were traditionally ungendered, but Meril wasn’t bothered about that. Gender was a complicated business in the little kingdom of Azoudar: priests were always considered female, for what Meril had been informed were important historical reasons that could not be explained to her. (She had long ago worked out that this meant that nobody remembered the real reason.) The King was always the King, and always male even if he was not. (The current King was called Emily, and had given birth to two children.) Meril was aware that other places did not do this; she had read of places where, for example, only men could be kings, but it seemed ridiculous to her. It was only common sense that the best qualified person become king, surely. The only problem she had with the way her kingdom did things was its insistence that a person follow the career path of their parents.

“Because it’s not like breeding horses,” Meril said to herself. “My parents are both highly regarded inkwarriors, and I can’t even write basic glyphs properly.”

And of course, wizards had no names: it was thought to be something to do with the source of their power, but no non-wizard knew the truth of it.

Meril knew she couldn’t leave a note for her wizard, as wizards were illiterate: the written word belonged to inkwarriors – and priests; wizards passed down their secrets by word of mouth and during strange occult rituals. Since wizards were even more insular than inkwarriors, the only rumours that circulated about said rites were extremely vague.

She would have to contrive a meeting, somehow. That would be difficult, since technically she was not allowed out of the house alone. Inkwarriors were very paranoid about their secrets getting out, and hence no inkwarrior went anywhere alone. It was said that this was to avoid kidnappings, but Meril was fairly sure that it was more about not giving anyone the opportunity to sell their secrets. And to be fair, that was a real issue: even Meril, who was not yet a qualified inkwarrior, had had people slide notes into her hands offering her quite surprising amounts of money for her knowledge. She’d never acted on these notes, of course, but then she’d never had the chance. The accompanying inkwarrior had always taken it from her.

“This is going to be difficult,” Meril said to herself.

She brightened suddenly – perhaps there was a way. She would just have to be very picky about who accompanied her on her trip out. She needed someone older, and slower. And she would have to time it perfectly.

Two days later, Meril put her plan into operation. She had been noting her wizard’s travels, and knew that they always passed her house at three hours past noon. She therefore arranged her trip out so that she would be returning home at that time.

Meril ensured that she was ahead of her escort, a slow-moving, easygoing inkwarrior called Bari. As they were nearly home, Bari wasn’t too worried about Meril striding ahead. Meril saw her wizard approaching and sped up a little, so that she bumped into them just after they passed her door.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Meril said quickly. “But I just need you to know that I love you.”

The wizard stared at her.

“But… you’re an inkwarrior.”

“I know that,” Meril said sharply. “I’m fully aware of that. I just…”

“Meril!” Bari shouted. “Are you talking to that wizard?”

The wizard stepped around Meril and strode off quickly down the street. Meril sighed as she watched them go.

“Just apologising for bumping into them,” she replied.

“Well… I suppose that’s all right. Just don’t make a habit of it.”

“I won’t,” Meril promised. After all, the wizard clearly hadn’t been interested. Maybe it was time to give up on love and concentrate on her studies, like Paro had told her.

© bardofupton 2019

Inkwarriors, part 3 (Fiction)

Meril sighed, putting her chalk down and staring glumly at the glyphs she had attempted to draw.

“I swear I actually get worse the more I practice,” she muttered.

She grabbed a cloth and quickly erased her writing. Even though it was just chalk, and not ink, the habit of destroying any work that was unintended for permanence was ingrained. Also, she didn’t want anyone to see what a bad job she’d done. She knew what the glyphs should look like, but somewhere between her brain and her fingers that knowledge seemed to get lost.

“Precisely why I should do something else with my life,” she said aloud.

“Like befriend that wizard?” Paro inquired quietly from the doorway.

“No, I was thinking of a job,” Meril explained.

“Didn’t you read that book I gave you?”

“Yes, but I’m a terrible inkwarrior. My glyphs are misshapen, so they don’t work. What’s the point of keeping me?”

“You know our secrets, though.”

“I wouldn’t betray you!”

“What if this wizard you’re pining after asked you to?”

“I… I wouldn’t.”

“Easy to say, Meril. But not so easy for us to believe. And we can’t have wizards knowing our secrets.” Paro sighed. “And it’s not just up to us. Even if the guild would let you go, the priests would not.” He patted Meril’s shoulder. “You’re not the first to want something different, Meril, but that’s not the world we live in. You need to make the best of it.”

Meril sighed again. “I know,” she said sadly. “I know.”

“Keep studying,” Paro told her as he left the room.

Meril nodded, but stared out the window instead. Maybe her wizard would walk by. It was around the time they normally did.

She’d first noticed them a year ago, rushing past in the bright pink robes of a wizard’s apprentice. The robes were meant to make them stand out, and they did. It was the pink that had attracted Meril’s attention that first day, as she was staring aimlessly out of the window. And then they had dropped an item, some kind of glass container, and it had broken. She’d seen the look of horror on their face, and felt a pang of sympathy. She too had destroyed important objects, and paid the price in increased chores and angry scolding.

The wizard had looked around furtively, not seeing Meril at the high, narrow window, and had muttered a quick spell. The shards of glass crawled back together, and Meril felt a strange thrill at seeing something forbidden. She knew that if she’d had that power, she’d have used it for the same purpose. She also knew that she should report the use of magic, so that the inkwarriors’ guild could check for cracks in the real, but she had no intention of doing so. It would be a secret between her and the wizard.

After that, she’d looked out for them every day, and gradually come to feel that she knew them. Loving them was a simple step from there. She had still not actually met them or learned their name, but she was determined to make that happen. Somehow.

© bardofupton 2018

Inkwarriors, part 2 (Fiction)

Meril stared at the book. It was extremely thin, more of a pamphlet, really. She hesitated, then flipped it open. At least it was a change from studying.

Elise was the child of a soldier and a weaver, and would therefore have the choice of either career. Her father hoped she’d choose to be a weaver like him, and stay close to home in safety. Her mother had no opinion on that or any other matter, having died in battle when Elise was only four years old.

“At least she got a choice,” Meril muttered sulkily. Inkwarriors always married within their community.

Despite her father’s best efforts, however, Elise had no interest in weaving. Even as a very young child, her only interest was making people laugh. And she was good at it. Her original repertoire was silly jokes that were mainly funny due to her age and the way in which she told them, but as she got older she developed into a true comic.

At this point, her father realised that they had a problem. Somehow Elise was convinced that she was going to be an entertainer. He spent many days and nights trying to convince her that she could be either a weaver or a soldier, but never a performer. Elise refused to budge. She pointed out that she had neither aptitude nor interest in either career, and that she was a talented comedian and it would be a waste of her skills to take up any other calling.

“Besides, it’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” Elise argued. “I’m too old to start learning those skills.”

Her father sighed. “It’s my fault. I should have insisted you choose one or the other years ago, I know, but you were so happy. And you’re all I’ve got since your mother died. I just wanted you to be happy. But now I just want you to live.”

Elise laughed. “Who’ll know?”

“Everyone,” her father said. “Soon you’ll have to register your choice and start working.”

“Why can’t I just register as an entertainer?”

“Because they’ll kill you!” Her father stopped, took a deep breath and tried to speak more calmly. “It’s forbidden.”

“But when they see how good I am,” Elise began.

“Nobody will see how good you are if you’re dead!”

Elise rolled her eyes and laughed. “When was the last time that happened? It’s just a threat they make to keep us in line.”

“It’s not a threat, Elise.”

“Have you ever seen it happen?”

“No, but…”

“Exactly! I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care if they disapprove.”

“But…”

Elise ran off, confident that her father was being overprotective once again. Her father was equally confident that he was not, but could think of no action he could take. Even if he had known who to bribe, he had no money, and he doubted anyone important could be bribed with the poorly-woven blankets that were his main output. He decided to focus his energy on convincing Elise to change her mind.

He failed.

When the census takers came to the village for the triennial registration, he begged Elise to lie and say she was a weaver. Elise refused, laughing off his protests.

“As if they’ll care,” she said. “They just want something to put on their forms.”

And off she went to the town hall.

Her father followed her, waiting outside the town hall while she registered, for registration was considered a private affair, even though it was a foregone conclusion in virtually all cases. He waited for a long time. All the other young people had gone in, registered and left, but there was no sign of Elise. At last, when night was starting to fall, he gathered his courage and entered the hall.

An official was seated at a table, writing. Servants were tidying the room, and a couple of large men who were clearly bodyguards lurked at the side of the hall.

“I’m looking for my daughter, Elise,” he told the official.

“She’s gone.”

“Gone?”

Meril sighed. “So she’s dead, right?”

“Executed,” the official replied.

“But… But…. Didn’t you let her explain?”

“You know the law. So did she, even if she thought she could flout it. Why waste time with a trial when she’s clearly guilty?”

Elise’s father stared at him.

“Where’s her body?”

The official gestured, and a servant brought a small box over and handed it to Elise’s father.

“What’s this?”

“Your daughter.”

Elise’s father opened the box. It was full of ash.

“Due to the nature of her crime,” the official continued, “she cannot be buried on holy ground.”

“What did you do to her?” Elise’s father screamed.

The bodyguards grabbed him and began to drag him from the room. The official stared coldly at him.

“I merely carried out the sentence prescribed by law. It was your responsibility to teach your daughter the law and ensure she followed it.”

Elise’s father sobbed as he was removed from the hall. He knew the official was right, that he had failed his child, that the true crime was his.

Meril rolled her eyes. “Oh please! What blatant propaganda. Like anyone would be convinced by that.”

She tossed the pamphlet on the desk, and picked up her slate and chalk. Maybe she should at least practice her glyphs.

© bardofupton 2018