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.

#

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

 

Advertisements

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.

#

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

 

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.

#

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

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

 

Fallen Angel

It was another smoggy day in Neo-Victorian Britain and I was on a shopping expedition. Not just any shopping expedition, but one essential to my self esteem.

It was some time since that unfortunate incident that had resulted in the loss of my wings but today I was to meet with the finest steam miniaturisation expert in all the land. I arrived at an anonymous trading estate and glanced at the name boards at the entrance. There it was, “Icarus Fabrications – Engineers to the Gentry.” As I entered I was astounded by the merchandise on view. There was a steam-driven elephant, larger than the real thing, for hunting tigers out in India. Leaning against it was a clockwork ordinary, one of those bicycles often referred to by the hoi polloi as a penny-farthing. But up in the rafters were what I’d come in search of, wings. There were wings of all description on display including a very nifty pair attached to what looked like a gentleman’s vest.
I asked the proprietor to show me them and he climbed a ladder and brought them down.

After a brief negotiation I left the premises wearing my new wings. Outside I checked the buckles on the front of the vest were tight, extended the wings then, reaching behind me, lit the candle-powered motor. Unlike the more usual engines this reached operating temperature almost immediately. I was ready to take to the air once more! With a mighty flap I soared into the sky and reached towards the dimly seen sun. I was flying again.

As I flew through a black cloud I became drenched by rain. My motor faltered and I was falling.
My last thoughts before I hit were the ground were, ‘Oh bugger! The wick’s gone out.’

#

Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 122 with reference to the prompt: Angel; Trading Estate; Steam Punk.

Honourable Mention

Ah yes, nothing like a bit of steampunk re-telling of Icarus who flew too close to the sun. And a nod to the wax reference of the Greek Mythos but instead ending with “Oh bugger! The wick’s gone out.” Well played!

A Close Encounter

Prompt - light

It was one of those heavily overcast midwinter days where it was impossible to tell the time of day by looking at the sky. Even though it wasn’t far off midday, the streetlights were coming on early. As I walked through the park dressed warmly against the cold, I saw a young woman staring upwards. I wondered what she was looking at so I stopped and looked upwards too. At first I thought I was seeing a streetlight that had just switched on then realised that the light was moving. It was further away than I had thought, higher than the lights but too low to be an aircraft. As I continued to watch I saw the light grow as it came closer. The woman noticed I’d joined her and moved to stand next to me as if for comfort or protection. Slowly the light descended, growing in size as it did so. I wondered if it was a drone but who would be out flying on a day like today, a day with no visibility? Finally, it landed a few metres away from us, a large sphere, perhaps five metres in diameter, rocking slightly as it touched the ground.

There had been a surprising absence of sound as we’d watched the craft, for that’s what I supposed it was, approach and land. Was this a real life manifestation of a UFO? It had been flying and, so far, remained unidentified. But we all know what I mean… was it some form of alien craft? Were we about to be witnesses to a close encounter of the third kind?

A weird humming noise began to emanate from the sphere and a kind of door began to open. The woman moved closer still and huddled against me, grabbing my arm for reassurance. All we could see though the open door was a dark void. As I steeled myself for whatever was going to happen, I fumbled for my phone with my free arm. Holding the phone at arms length I fired off a shot. I briefly saw motion, but the flash didn’t last long enough for me to determine what it was I’d seen.

Immediately after this the door started to close and the sphere left the ground. It rose back up into the sky, slowly at first, before accelerating away and disappearing into the gloom. We looked at each other as if to say, ‘did that just happen?’ and breathed a sigh of relief in unison. She let go of my arm and I worked at my phone with both hands. I was curious to see what my attempt at photography might have revealed. The result was an image of a creature with two massive eyes, open mouthed, staring aghast.

I showed the woman the photo on my phone and we discussed it for a while. What had scared the creature and its craft away? Had it been the sudden flash from the phone or had it been the sight of the two of us clinging together? Were we such a hideous sight as to frighten it off or did it even see us given the glare of the flash? I’d like to know the reason for its sudden departure but, unless it returns, we’ll never know. To this day I continue to watch the skies in hope.

#

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink June 7th writing prompt competition

Love Locks

Room for Rent

 

I was looking for somewhere to stay when I noticed a hand-lettered sign saying Room for Rent. It was positioned above a piece of rusting red latticework in the shape of a heart. What drew my attention was the collection of padlocks attached to the latticework. It used to be common to see padlocks attached to gates and the railings alongside bridges where they crossed the river, at least it was until the authorities decided to clamp down on the practice and remove them. There had been an outcry at the time, mainly from those of a romantic disposition, but it had not been enough to save them from the depredations of council bolt-cutters.

These padlocks seemed to have been in place for some time given their rusted state. I counted them, there were ten. Curiously they were all of an identical make and model. It almost suggested a local street vendor selling padlocks specifically for the purpose of providing lovers with a memento of their love.

I couldn’t figure out the connection between the romantically engaged padlocks and the room for rent. Was it for rent by the hour? Perhaps somewhere for the privacy deprived to enjoy a brief moment of passion? I mused on whether each of the padlocks had a significance connected to the room and its rental. Did each padlock represent an assignation? Were more than one pair of lovers involved in recording their trysts or was it just one couple? It occurred to me that the reason for the padlocks being all the same was that they might have been bought in bulk, a trade deal perhaps. Did that suggest a single protagonist recording his love for multiple girlfriends, something akin to keeping score through notches on a bed post?

Or was the room available for long-term rental? If so, why the lover’s keepsakes? So many questions. I noticed that some of the padlocks had writing on them but it was so weathered or covered by rust stains as to be almost illegible. Presumably a record of the lover’s names along with the date of their romantic encounter.

I was reluctant to make enquiries about the room for fear of embarrassment. I didn’t really want my musings about short-term rental being proved right. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never know the story behind this room for rent and its associated display of love locks and moved on to continue my search.

#

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink June1st writing prompt competition