Writing project: index

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

  • Inchoate – November 2018
  • Unicorn – December 2018
  • Improve – January 2019
  • Winged – February 2019
  • Scar – March 2019
  • Voice – April 2019
  • Truth – May 2019
  • Energy – June 2019
  • Grinding – July 2019
  • Pocket – August 2019
  • Doll – September 2019
  • Dark – October 2019
  • Wall – November 2019
© 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

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

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