The Power of Words

Book of Power

Carl was on a mission to right wrongs. He had been set the task of restoring the balance of good and evil in a far-off province. To enable him to do this, he was armed with decades of training and a singular weapon, magic in the form of a book. He travelled long and hard to reach his destination, as he neared the heart of the disturbance he prepared himself for the task ahead. Something had broken through reality and skewed the levels of evil in the surrounding area. All sorts of abominable things were happening as evil set about good with horrible consequences for all involved. He gazed upon the city plagued with an imbalance of evil trying to identify the source of the trouble. There… an abandoned building near the centre, perhaps once a religious place. That was the nexus, in some indefinable way it looked wrong. It wouldn’t hold steady in his vision, it was as if it was shimmering, subject to some kind of heat haze. He untied the leather thong holding the book closed and perused its pages for the right words to say.

The Book of Power was a curious volume. It had a wraparound cover of tooled leather, secured by a thong. Only those with knowledge of the ancient arts were permitted to untie the thong and unfold the cover to reveal the codex within. But to be allowed to actually open the book itself… well, that required countless years of tuition under the supervision of a master before that privilege was granted. What secrets lay within the tome were known by few and were never discussed lightly. This particular volume was a one-off, small in size it was a portable abridged version of the text. All other known editions were monstrous volumes and kept securely chained in their respective libraries to prevent access by unqualified scholars. That and to prevent them escaping into the wider world, whether of their own volition or by human agency.

This Book of Power had been designed to be easy to carry. Its function was to allow an adept access to the words of power as he or she travelled abroad. If there was a disturbance in the balance of good and evil a suitable adept could be chosen, given the book, and sent out to reset the status quo. This had rarely happened in its long history. Usually it was kept locked up in a metal case and chained up alongside its weightier siblings in the sacred library at the heart of the order. It owed its existence to an unfortunate incident that occurred almost a millennia ago when the balance had been disturbed. An adept had been sent to correct matters but had been unable to recall the precise wording required and had almost perished as a result, an entire kingdom was lost in the ensuing conflagration. Because of this great tragedy it was decided that a more mobile version of the book was needed. Creating and editing the new version was difficult and took many years of work and experimentation. At least two adepts lost their lives during the creation of the abridged volume, and numerous others were injured. It was discovered that editing the text was a tricky task, omitting the wrong word could easily result in an unstable book that could explode, or worse, turn on its reader.

The right words, said in the correct order, could have a remarkable effect. Depending on the words chosen they could banish evil or increase good, whichever route was followed the results were the same, a restoration of the balance. Carl chose his words with care. As he studied the Book of Power different combinations of words came to mind. He decided that the most effective way of dealing with the imbalance was, in the first case, to rid the city of evil. Once that was done he could then consider whether good needed a boost to bring the situation back to normal. He found the phrase that fitted the circumstances towards the end of the book. As he read the words and rehearsed them in his mind, he felt the book vibrate in his hands. The book wanted release. It wanted the words to be spoken aloud, not just read. It was only when spoken that they could attack the problem. But Carl had a slightly different perception of what went on as he studied the words in advance of speaking them. He felt that the repeated reading of the words of power increased their power, strengthening them, so that when he finally uttered them that the result would be that much more effective.

At last Carl was ready to unleash the words of power. An eerie silence settled over the city. When he eventually spoke the sound of his voice was overpowering. All who heard it cowered in fear. The words themselves were indistinct and sounded like no language known to man. As, indeed, they were in a language known by none except those adepts trained to read them. They were words that came from beyond our reality. Words belonging to entities beyond man’s understanding. Were they gods or were they demons? None could tell. They were words that had been studied for aeons by a select group of scholars. Painstakingly learnt, it was only in recent millennia that they’d been laboriously set down on vellum. As his words faded away the silence returned only to be broken by the sound of collapsing masonry. The build that had earlier caught his eye ceased its shimmering and came into sharp focus. Abruptly it collapsed into itself becoming a pile of rubble. For a moment it appeared as though it was on fire but what looked like smoke soon settled as a cloud of dust. All was quiet again until the sounds of people, laughing and crying, began to be heard. All was well again.

Carl, his mission complete, turned and set off back the way he’d come. His journey home was at a more leisurely pace. As he travelled he reflected on a job well done and the power of the book. He was looking forward to returning it to its rightful place, locked up in the library. As these thoughts passed through his head, he felt the book move around in his satchel as though fluttering to be free. It seemed to him that the book would rather not be returned to captivity. Well, it wasn’t his decision to make. His only remaining task was to see it safely back in the library, ready for the next time it was needed.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink July 19th writing prompt competition

 

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The Longest Eclipse…

It was April 2024 and the world’s scientists were getting increasingly worried. Although the day’s solar eclipse had started on schedule it was going on for far too long. It was an unprecedented event. How could the moon overstay its presence blocking out the light of the sun? Astronomers around the world were at a loss to explain how this simplest of celestial manoeuvres could have gone awry. One of the most prominent researchers came up with the theory that the moon had developed consciousness. As it had become suddenly aware of the billions of people staring up at it, it had become frozen in embarrassment and ceased moving across the sky.

World leaders called out to their people to look away, hoping that by averting their gaze the moon would feel less self conscious and complete its transit across the sun. As mankind heeded the call to look away the moon slowly overcame its bashfulness but not before setting a record for the longest period of totality.

2024 became known as the year of the solar ellipsis in honour of the eclipse that went on for far too long…

 

Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 127 with reference to the prompt: Researcher; Solar Eclipse; Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Ridin’ the Rails

railyard

Two lines of stationary freight cars stretched out into the distance. In-between them a brakeman could be seen inspecting the individual cars. Just my luck, I’d been hoping to board one of the cars out of sight of any watching eyes. Fortunately, I was behind him, unseen. I slipped back, hiding behind the nearest car and hoped he didn’t look back and see my feet. Just to be sure I clambered up onto the rear of the car. I couldn’t get into it from here but at least it hid me. I waited for him to finish his inspection. If I was going to board this train, I needed to find an unsecured boxcar. I’d seen one a few cars back but had dismissed it on instinct. Cautiously I looked around the edge of the car to see where the brakeman had got to. I was in time to see him disappearing out of sight somewhere round the front of the train. I jumped down and made my way back to the open boxcar. There was a powerful smell coming from it probably the reason why I’d dismissed it in the first place. Oh well, needs must, as they say. I struggled with the door and managed to get it open far enough for me to slip in. My timing was perfect, no sooner was I on board than the train gave a shudder and started to move.

Hopping a train was no longer a common way of life and with today’s trains it was only possible to do when stationary in the marshalling yard. This made it a far riskier business than in the days of steam but it also made for a far more satisfactory challenge for the modern hobo. Modern hobos? Was that a thing? It sounded like it should be said in the same breathe as freegan and be up there with practices such as dumpster diving and urban foraging. Me? I’m an old fashioned hobo. The train gets me from A to B, even though I’ve generally got no real reason to travel to these exotic places, other than having worn out my welcome wherever it is that I am. Life is one big holiday for me. I’ll work if I need to but only when I want to. Otherwise nature provides. The odd chicken here and there, a common commodity thanks to today’s urban chicken farmers. Apples on the tree, blackberries from the hedge, maize in the field and, if things get desperate, there’s always the Salvation Army… or a job.

What had I gotten myself into? The smell was strong but not overpoweringly unpleasant. Then I heard the grunts. It was a pig wagon. I was lucky; they were all crated up not running free. I found myself a place to settle down and made a kind of nest out of some clean straw I found spilled onto the floor. At least it looked clean in the half-light of the wagon, more importantly it smelt fresh and helped dispel the porcine odour permeating the boxcar. One good thing about the smell though, it would put the railroad workers searching the train for hobos of the scent, literally. No one in their right mind would travel in these conditions. But then again, it was surprising what one could get used to and how quickly one adapted. After an hour or so the smell stopped bothering me and the straw still smelt fresh. Pigs… when you came to think of it the smell of a bunch of pigs was no worse than that of a bunch of hobos between baths.

I awoke to a lurching movement. I guessed that the train had reached its destination. Time to get ready to disappear in a new rail yard. As I cautiously peeked out of the boxcar, I listened for the sounds of railroad workers… nothing. Things were looking good, the railings surrounding the yard were in need of repair. Plenty of gaps there to squeeze through. If I was to make a clean getaway, I needed to avoid detection or, at the very least, make it to the railings before someone caught me. I waited until the train had come to a halt, double-checked for railmen, then made my move. I jumped down from the boxcar and, instead of making a run for it, strolled gently in the direction of the railings. If you look as though you belong, people usually ignore you. If you do something out of the ordinary, like running, you draw people’s attention. I arrived at the railings and then I was through them safe and sound. A new town, a new adventure, my holiday had resumed.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink July 5th writing prompt competition

 

How many… does it take to change a light bulb

How many mad scientists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer can be a surprisingly large number. When infamous mad scientist Doctor Hans von By Von was working in his lab late one night, the main light high up on the ceiling went out. As his assistants had all gone home, he had to consider how best to proceed. The doctor was a lazy man, but he came up with an ingenious idea for changing the light bulb. Instead of doing it himself he’d use his newly invented cloning machine to provide him with workers to do the job.

The cloning machine worked by his walking into a one of a pair of cubicles and pulling a switch, a clone of himself would then walk out of the adjoining cubicle ready to receive his orders.
When clone one emerged the doctor gave him his car keys and wallet and asked him to go and purchase some new light bulbs. Clone two was instructed to go and find a ladder, while clone three was ordered to help clone two, Having successfully created three clones of himself he couldn’t resist producing more to take the place of his absent assistants.

Clone two got the ladder and propped it up where he could reach the bulb. Clone three steadied the ladder while two removed the failed light bulb. Clone one returned after about forty-five minutes laden down with new light bulbs. Gleefully watching, the doctor encouraged his clones to replace the bulb with a new one so that he could continue his work. Once it was in place yet another clone switched it on.

It just goes to prove the truth of those old proverbs that we learn as a child, in this case: many Hans make light work.

 

Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 126. This time the   prompt was to base the story around a well known proverb or saying.

The Deserted Castle

Castle

They’d been walking through the mountains for days. A ragged band, hungry and ill-clad, running from the nameless evil that had destroyed their homes what seemed weeks ago. Hoping to find safety, food and comfort they had persevered, ever keeping a watchful eye to their rear. They all had the unsettling feeling they were being followed. They remained positive, surely they would find sanctuary before long. Two days ago they’d spotted the soaring towers of the castle they were now nearing yet reaching it had been hard. Now the castle loomed above shrouded in mist, its reflection mirrored in the flooded approach road. Even though no guards were visible, they advanced with caution. There were four of them, two male, two female. They scanned the walls for signs of life, there was no one to be seen, the place seemed deserted.

Their leader, Bran, cried out, ‘Hello the castle!’ they listened but there was no response. Reaching the gate they found it to be unfastened. They entered the courtyard with caution, holding their weapons at the ready yet hoping to hear greetings of welcome. The castle seemed empty but given its size it would take time to confirm that impression. Urgency led them to seek out the kitchens, they’d not eaten for a day and a half and even then only sparsely. They found the main kitchen, empty of life yet full of food. They set about a simple feast of cold meats, bread and cheese, washed down by small beer. Revived, they continued their search of the castle but there were no people to be found, reassuringly there were no bodies either. It took days to search the castle from top to bottom but the mystery remained, where had the inhabitants of the castle gone?

Having recovered from their initial ragged state they were now well-fed, rested, and properly clothed. They pondered what to do next. They chose to search the adjacent village and surrounding farms for people, surely someone must be out there?

The village was as deserted as the castle. No one, not man, woman, or child, was to be found. The inns appeared abandoned with unfinished meals and drinks set out on the tables. As though the customers had walked out in the middle of their meals. They split up to search in more depth and found the same story repeated in the homes they entered. Food laid out ready to eat, meals hardly touched, drinks left unfinished.

As they went from farm to farm the story remained the same, a complete absence of inhabitants and the same unfinished meals. Curiously, livestock remained, it was just the people that were absent. What sort of an invading force would clear the region of people yet leave valuable provisions behind? There were no signs of struggle and none of the usual destruction associated with conflict. It was as if the population had just upped and left, leaving all their possessions behind. If that was the case where had they gone?

They returned to the castle to consider their options and ponder the situation. Should they stay or should they go? But where would they go to? If they stayed what would happen to them? Would they too disappear? Then there was the question of the food and the animals. While the food that they’d been eating in the castle was largely processed to last, the meals they’d found left uneaten should have shown signs of decay, but did not. Similarly the animals they’d seen seemed to be surviving unnaturally well without human care. What was going on?

There was one last place that they’d not searched, the old chapel on the hillside above the village.
They were unprepared for what they found there. As the opened the chapel doors the stench was overpowering. The chapel had been turned into a charnel house but instead of a store of disinterred bones, these were fresh. Unlike the food they’d seen the decay was obvious, as was the presence of flies and maggots.

‘I see you’ve found the remains from my once plenteous storehouse. It’s been a lean winter. I’d hoped for more in the way of replenishment by now but you four will have to do… for now.’ A voice boomed out behind them and they turned to see an ogre blocking the doorway. The ogre advanced into the chapel, licking its lips as it surveyed its next meal.

‘Why are these remains decaying while the food in the village remains fresh?’ Asked Bran, as he fumbled at his weapon.

‘The old religion of the chapel prevents my magic from working here.’ Replied the ogre.

Realisation spread. The others, also reaching for their swords, moved to surround the ogre, One of them edged behind, ready to close the doors, ready to trap the ogre inside.

Surrounded, the ogre realised his mistake. Without his magic he was at the mercy of the humans. And, as the doors clanged shut, four swords rained blows about his now vulnerable body.

The monster dealt with, they retired to the castle. Now their castle. It was a time to rebuild, a time to invite other refugees to share in their good fortune. Two would stay behind to look after the animals and clear up the now decaying foodstuff, while two would leave to spread the word of a new beginning to the surrounding countryside.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink June 27th writing prompt competition

Read It and Weep

It was just another Friday on an out of the way space station and it was time for the weekly flash fiction contest. Oh the horror! It was widely accepted that those authors who participated in the contest would give the notoriously bad poets of a certain race of intergalactic highway constructors a run for their money in the category of worst poetry and prose in the universe. Although said race were rated the third worst poets in the universe, for some unaccountable reason – possibly linked with the workings of the probability drive – their prose was nowhere near the dire standard of that of the space station Macrocosms’ enthusiastic authors.

It’s a curious fact that there are far fewer readers of flash fiction than there are writers of it. This might be explained by the lengths that people, especially those inhabiting a certain space station, would go to in order to avoid being subjected to short stories of three hundred words which inexplicably seemed to go on for far longer than their allotted length.

Talk about never getting the hang of Thursdays… Here people wished Fridays had never been invented. The compulsory reading out of participants’ stories over the internal comms system resulted in countless injuries as listeners were forced to stop their ears in increasingly inventive ways in order to avoid being exposed to material which, if heard, would inevitably result in madness.

How the writers themselves managed to avoid permanent brain damage was open to debate. They were amongst the few who read each other’s prose yet they were able to come back week after week to participate. One conjecture was that once you’d written this stuff yourself that you developed an immunity to it. Either that or you were so insane that it no longer affected you.

 

Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 124 with reference to the prompt: Author; Space Station; Horror

This piece was First Runner-up:

This piece also caught me because of its creativity. I loved how the author took our contest and turned it into a “horror” story, although this was more irony and sarcasm than horror, actually. Kudos!

A Midsummer’s Celebration

A Midsummer's Celebration

As the sun vanished below the horizon on the longest day of the year, the high priestess began to swing the golden censer. As she did so fragrant aromas filled the air. The censer would continue to swing throughout the night, only halting at dawn with the rising of the sun. This signalled to the gathered crowds that it was time for the midsummer bonfires to be lit. The night was to be given over to feasting and merrymaking in celebration of the summer solstice. Men and women, the young and the old, set about the laden tables with gusto. This was a time of celebration.

Over the course of this short night much wine would be drunk and much food eaten. For those with energy, those who had neither eaten too much nor drunk to excess, there was dancing. Music rang out as small bands of musicians struck up tune after tune and wild shadows were seen projected by the light of the bonfires as people cavorted to the music. Every so often couples would be seen drifting off into the surrounding darkness, the occasional giggles and laughter were heard and, half an hour or so later, figures would reappear to rejoin the festivities.

As the night wore on the children would be set to sleeping by the tables, even those who swore they were old enough to make it through this shortest of nights would eventually succumb to tiredness. It was a mark of maturity, a rite of passage, to celebrate the night away for the first time. The adults continued their dancing burning off the wine as they did so. The food and drink fuelled them through the night. Musicians took turn and turn about to entertain and be entertained. All had the chance to enjoy themselves. Jugglers, gymnasts, and fire-eaters put on shows of skill and daring do, giving the revellers a break from their exertions while they watched somebody else’s.

Nobody could remember why this night was celebrated. It had always been so. Just as when winter came they would celebrate shortest day and the return of the sun. There would be an event much the same as this one only there would be more fires to make up for the colder weather. It was all part of the wheel of life, the short day, the long day, in amongst the ever changing seasons these were days that stood out and deserved to be celebrated. As were the equinoxes. The two days, six months apart, when day and night were of equal length. These four days spread over the year gave mankind something to wonder about.

As dawn approached the celebrants energy flagged but the majority of those participating in this special night were awake to welcome the returning sun. The children were woken ready for the moment. As the first rays appeared above the horizon so the censer slowed and stopped. People cheered then hugged and kissed each other. Another mid-summer had been and gone.

 

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink June 21st writing prompt competition