Migration

Tel A’Har called a halt when they came to the edge of the meadow. They had moved cautiously but swiftly through the long grass, as the meadow was large, open and exposed compared to the woodland that preceded it. The crossing had been a terrifying experience, despite the shrouding provided by early morning mist and the long grass. The summer migration was at least better than the winter one, when the grass was much shorter and the monsters hungrier.

Before Tel A’Har stretched the worst part of the journey. It was a smaller crossing than the meadow, but it was so much more exposed. There was nothing to hide behind, under or inside on its unnaturally regular stone-like surface. This was the trail left by the speed-monsters. No-one had ever actually seen one and lived to tell because they moved so fast and were so fearsome. On the occasion a young, brave buck managed to see one and survive, their thunderous roar and hot stench left nightmarish and fragmented memories.

Still, they had to reach the other side, and scouts had never found a way around the trail. Tel A’Har sat up on his haunches and scented the air thoroughly. It smelled safe, so he gave the signal and the small group cautiously stepped onto the hard, black surface.

Rehabilitation

The first time I got in trouble, I was made a Fox for two weeks. I didn’t mind that so much because the fur was soft and silky, even though I couldn’t talk or eat properly. Also, I could hear and smell really well. It gets old really fast, though, when the fleas discover you. I never knew they liked fur so much!

The Fox was for messing up Jane’s art box and project. I was just curious and a bit clumsy, but that didn’t matter. I broke one of the special rules. You never know which rules are going to be special; I think they switch them around, because Susan didn’t get the Fox when she broke Alan’s vase in art class and I think that’s the same as what I did.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at following rules. I try really hard, but I get distracted easily and the last thing that comes into my head when I’m interested in something is the rule I might be breaking. At the Pig hearing, they said I had a delinquent lack of impulse control.

The Pig thing happened about one week into my Fox sentence. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I got midnight munchies – I woke up and was SO hungry I thought my stomach would eat itself. I had to find some food.

It turns out that there is a special rule about eating after bed-time; they even have cameras in the kitchen to make sure we obey it. So, Fox became Pig, my sentence was doubled and here I am.

Saving souls

“I should be the one to go. I am strong, fast and skilled. I can get in and save them, and I can get out. Nothing can stop me. I have faced far worse terrors than this, and always won. This challenge was made for me!”

“These people need moral and spiritual succour and support. I have trained my mind and body for over fifty years in accepting the little surprises and interesting events that life throws at us. I should be there to help these people embrace their circumstances.”

The custodian gazed down at the two men standing before him: the magnificent Nordic soldier and the slight old man. This really was a most bizarre situation. The two great men had argued all night or rather ‘had enlightening discussions’ since brave soldiers did not argue with old men, and wise gurus did not argue with anyone. Each wanted to be the one to give up his life on a desperate quest with no reward except reputation.

The earthquake hit two days ago, causing utter chaos. One of the worst-hit areas was the mountain school of Manxia, which had become a symbol in this tragedy. The earthquake had cut it off from all communications. Now the slightest tremor would bring the mountain down. The chances of anyone having survived were slim, and chances of a rescue party making it in and out were even slimmer.

“Gentlemen, your help is not required. I have recently been informed that a group of concerned relatives snuck into the mountains early this morning to be with their loved ones. We cannot allow another group to go in, so let us pray that they achieve peace and possibly safety without your aid.”

Blue genes

Only if both parents carry the gene….

Tom Petersen slowly placed the knitted bookmark against page seventeen, closed the magazine and very carefully put it down on the table. The bookmark had been a present from his daughter, Karen, for his forty-third birthday. It was green with pretty blue polka-dots; they popped strikingly against the green background but were much less bright than Karen’s blue eyes. His wife Rachel’s eyes were almost as blue as Karen’s, but not quite. They always joked about how his own bronze-brown eyes had zapped the mist out of Rachel’s powder-blue eyes to produce Karen’s perfectly azure ones.

To the repeating mantra in his head, Tom turned off the lights in the study, took the trash outside for the Tuesday morning collection, checked that the front and back doors were locked, and started up the stairs. To the mantra, he paused outside his daughter’s bedroom, softly opened the door and silently crossed the room. And to the mantra, he picked up a discarded pillow and gently placed it over her face, so that he would never have to see those beautiful azure-blue eyes again.

Downstairs, the lights of a passing car swung past the house, briefly illuminating the scientific magazine on the table in the study. Emblazoned on its cover in brilliant yellow text, below a picture of a beautiful blue-eyed child, was the phrase: “Defined by DNA: Find out what your genes say about you.”

Emerging Market

I pushed myself up against the rock, lifted my gaze to the horizon, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and blinked against the salty sting. By squinting, I could cancel out some of the glare from sun glinting off hundreds upon thousands of tiny white sand crystals…or was it hundreds of millions? Either way, I could just about make out the line where brilliant blue-white sky met brilliant gold-white sand. It couldn’t be as straight and mercilessly empty as it looked, could it? When the sun lowered I would be able to see more clearly, find some point of reference.

It’s strange how things work out. One moment I was about to close the deal of a lifetime and the next it all collapsed, like a seemingly perfect cake whose middle suddenly and unstoppably sinks before your eyes. I had even precisely followed every step of the Manual this time. It’s not supposed to get you robbed, beaten and abandoned in the middle of nowhere.

Oh well, no sense in brooding. We travelling merchants are made of sterner stuff than that. And it was important to get back, so my experiences could be analysed and added to the Manual.

I decided to rest against my rock until sunset. Then maybe the horizon would reveal more. If not, I’d use the stars to follow a consistent direction. Walking at night should keep me alive longer. I had to believe that I would see a different horizon before it was too late. It was all the hope that I had and it was what the Manual suggested.

Standing up

Just open your eyes and sit up. That’s all you have to do for now. Don’t think about what comes next. Just summon enough effort to raise those eyelids, lever your back off this bed and sit up. That’s the first step done, and the rest will follow. You’ll see; it will be easy after that.  Don’t think about it too much. That’s the way of failure, the way to sink back down into the safe place.

But is it really safe? If it were really safe, then you wouldn’t have to get up at all, would you?

Shut up! That is exactly what I’m talking about – I don’t have the time or energy to start in on negative philosophising. The inescapable point is that you have to get up, so FUCKING SIT UP!

Okay, you’re sitting. That’s an achievement. It’s the first step.

Just make sure you don’t lie back down again or all that effort will be wasted.

Oh shit…why did you even let that thought enter your mind. Do you know why? Because you’re a negative, self-pitying idiot who’s desperate to make herself fail at even the most ridiculously simple thing that millions of people do every single day. Now don’t compound it, don’t even think about it. You’re half way there. All you have to do is stand up.

Vessel

Tommy Marchand smiled to herself as she leaned on the ship’s railing and gazed out to sea. Her present job was so beautifully meta. Here she was on a ship, being shipped like the cargo in the hold; at the same time, she herself was shipping cargo – her own body a vessel that mimicked the ship’s function. Except that the ship was still under the control of the captain…

As this thought crossed her mind, she felt herself slipping and knew that soon she would lose control again. Strangely enough, this did not scare her. Even the first time it happened had been pleasant. That was yesterday, three days since the hump had been extruded and filled. She had been resting in her cabin when the previously ghostly consciousness living inside her (the one that should have stayed under until well after the ship docked at the other end) suddenly became one hell of a lot stronger. Even as she felt herself becoming the ghost and the child rising, it was almost a relief to lose control.

When it was discovered that a passenger and lifeboat had disappeared, a search party was immediately organised. It was a couple of days before she was found drifting off the coast of Malaysia, far outside the projected search area and almost dead from starvation. It took a little longer than it should have done to identify her, since along with a surprising amount of weight, she appeared to have lost the hump which was listed as her most distinguishing feature.

The path to silver

Where water and moon meet,

Where the waves lap at your feet,

There, distilled from salt and brine,

The path to silver you will find.

Moonlight turns things into silver; everyone knows that. What everyone doesn’t know is that it runs deeper than appearance. I didn’t know it until I came to the young witch. Normally I would never have gone there, and I still feel somewhat foolish for following her instructions, if that’s what you would call the rhyme she gave me. But I’m desperate. I need pure silver and it is surprisingly hard to find here. Or perhaps it is not that surprising, given who owns the land.

And that is the root of the problem. The only way to deal with them is pure silver and things go very wrong if there is any impurity. I looked everywhere, examined countless antiques, coins and household goods, but none of them was right. So I went to the witch. That was another surprising thing: I knew she was young, but she must have been about twelve. That’s what made her really creepy, and that, oddly enough, is why I think this will work. It takes power and knowledge to be that creepy, even for a child.

So, I will collect the things that wash out of the sea when the next spring tide and full moon meet. Then I will boil them down under the moonlight over a covered flame until all I am left with is pure silver. Then I will act.

Krismass

I always love this time of year. Some argue that the traditions are no longer meaningful, that they are suited to a different place and culture. Some even compare them to the rats and other pests that we unwittingly brought with us; seeing them as something to be exterminated so that we can prosper here. I disagree. I think Krismass has survived changes in place and time because it fulfils common needs in all of us.

It’s about getting together with loved ones, eating a lot of rich food and trading presents. Who can claim never to have needed any of these things? If there was ever any other meaning to Krismass, it’s lost. I could argue that we’ve made it our own tradition and moulded it to suit us by forgetting irrelevant bits.

The only problem I have with Krismass is the heat. It makes doing all those lovely traditions a lot harder. With each hour, tempers fray and loved ones look a little less lovely; as each sun clears the horizon, appetites wither a little more; and with each scalding gust of the wind everyone becomes a little less happy to swop presents graciously.

I don’t know why Krismass must be celebrated on the hottest day of the year, but I have some ideas. Maybe the celebration isn’t all about fun and eating well. Maybe it’s meant to be difficult – like a test of one’s patience and temper. Maybe it’s meant to show us how even the best things can require work. Maybe we’re meant to realise the fundamental similarity of all things under the right conditions. We’ll never know now, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?