Writing project, December 2019

This month’s word is conversation, meaning “informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.”.

————–

“I don’t know what you want.”

“I just want to talk.”

“About?”

Sigh, shrug. “Oh, I don’t know.”

” You’re the one that wants to talk!”

“Well, you know. Since we’re stuck here til the fog lifts, might as well get to know each other.”

“Why? We’ll never see each other again; it’s just a waste of time.”

“Do you have anything else to do?”

“Yes, I’m going to sit here and wait.”

“You can talk and wait at the same time.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Of course you can.”

“No, I can’t. Waiting is a very active process for me, you’re just distracting me.”

“But I’m bored.”

“Not my problem. Just met you, don’t really like you.”

“Huh. Well, that’s rude.”

“Like I said, I don’t like you.”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, I’ll just leave you alone then.”

“Great, thanks.”

Pause.

“I’m still bored, though. Please talk to me. Please please please.”

“No.”

“Please please please please please please please please please please.”

“I am walking away from you now. Do not follow me.”

Pause.

“So, I bet you’d like to talk to me.”

“Uh …”

“Great! So, let me tell you about my life. I was born in….”

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, November 2019

This month’s word is wall, meaning “any of various permanent upright constructions having a length much greater than the thickness and presenting a continuous surface except where pierced by doors, windows, etc.: used for shelter, protection, or privacy, or to subdivide interior space, to support floors, roofs, or the like, to retain earth, to fence in an area, etc.” or “an immaterial or intangible barrier, obstruction, etc., suggesting a wall”.

————–

Walls make me feel safe. It’s always been that way, as long as I can remember. I’m never happier than when I’m indoors. The best, in fact, is sitting inside a closet. Two sets of walls, even if one set is wooden. I’ve occasionally considered putting up a tent within the closet, to maximise the number of walls, but I can’t find one small enough.

It’s not that I never go out. I go out regularly, in fact. It’s just that I’m never happy or relaxed when I am. And as soon as I enter a building, any building, I feel a weight lift off my shoulders. Home is best, of course, but anywhere will do.

When I was a kid, I used to build walls. Walls within walls within walls. Entrances offset from one another, so more of a maze, I suppose. Sometimes they’d be indoors, but more often outdoors. They were never high enough, barely kneehigh usually, but they filled a need – I did always have to start from the outside and build in, though. I’d be too scared otherwise.

All of that, I suppose, explains why I became an architect. Now I can design walls for a living. And I can do it inside.

All this is a prelude to explaining why, when I got an enquiry about designing a labyrinth, I jumped at it. I’ll admit I thought it was an odd request, but how often was I going to get a chance like this? To build walls, and walls within walls?

It was by competition, so others were submitting plans too. I knew I had to outdo them all, so I made the effort to travel to the proposed site so I could adapt my ideas to the location. I made my labyrinth a multi-storey structure, spiralling deep within the ground.

And I won.

At the time I was delighted. I felt like all my dreams had come true. I even supervised the construction in person, because I couldn’t bear to miss the sight of my ideas becoming reality.

But it turns out I was working for a modern-day King Minos, and once this labyrinth was finished, he had all the workmen killed. One of them managed to get out a scream, and that gave me enough time to flee into the labyrinth, but now I’m stuck here. I daren’t leave, because he knows who I am, but I’m afraid to stay. It feels wrong in here. I hear strange noises, and I’m reminded of something I once heard, about how all labyrinths are the same, that there’s only one true labyrinth, and all others connect to it. I laughed at the time, but now I’m not so sure it’s fiction. It’s easy to believe strange things, down here in the dark.

The walls that used to comfort me don’t anymore. I can hear them moving in the darkness, sliding from place to place, changing the layout until I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to. And it feels like there’s something else in here with me, something alive, something angry and malevolent, but there can’t be. Can there?

I don’t know anymore, but I’ve gathered my courage, and I’m going to travel further in. Maybe there’s a way out. Maybe I will end up in the one true labyrinth. Maybe I’ll die here. But whatever happens, I want to find the centre of the labyrinth. I can’t help but think there’s something worth finding there.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

© bardofupton 2019

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