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.

What I Did On My Holidays

It had been a very quiet summer until July 17th, when the Fish People sent that letter.

The fish people have no post offices, so they are forever inventive with their letters. Last year it was the rain of frogs I told you about. The year before, those cryptic messages spelt out by sea snails. But it’s always the same message, the Fish People getting in trouble again, and Dad and I have to help every time.

This year, they sent the Pirate Captain Barrabossa with his motley crew of cutnecks and adventurers. Their galleon tore up the pond something frantic, Mom set the Labradors on them so that shows you how bad. But there was nothing for it, and Dad and I were sailing West even before the day was out.

Early next morning we had reached the Horizon. Being so close to it, the ship had shrunk something frightful. Dad was right at the front, so he had shrunk the most, so tiny he fit in my pocket where he stayed while we fell over the edge of the world, into a secret underground land. The lizard warriors who lived there took me for the Captain, so I had to help them in their fight against the seahorses before they gave me the Watery Sceptre that would drive off the Ghost of Atlantis that was terrorising the Fish People.

It was a whole adventure getting back to the Horizon, but the assignment said only one page. I’ll just say that the new ship we won of Barrabossa at the end can go invisible at will, so that’s how we got safely around the Shark Leeches on the way home.

I still haven’t figured out how to make Dad the proper size again though.


Three years it has taken you. You hope it will be worth it. You hope they will be worth it.

You tweak the equations on your device and the sigil on the floor glows a little brighter. As you stride towards the bow of your boat, your foot catches on a scuba mask. You pick it up. It belonged to Nikos. He lasted the longest before deserting you. Jumped ship in Siciliy, cursing your name and your obsession.

At the bow, you close your eyes and take a few deep breaths of the crisp morning air, lick a few crystals of salt from your lips. The air around you crackles as the elements of the sigil start to twirl and spin like the cogs inside a watch: you’ve found them.

You toss the mask overboard as you bound down the deck to the mast and the coil of nylon rope you’ve had sitting there since you set out three years and seven shipmates ago. You throw yourself against the carbon fibre and start lashing yourself to it in a bluster; you can’t be sure how much warning the sigil gives. As you pull the last knot tight, burning your shin, your hear them. Hear their song.

Beautiful. The most beautiful thing you have ever heard. Tears form in your eyes. You have found them.

Wings and lithe limbs form out of spray and twinkling reflections. Their faces are radiant, smiling beatifically at you. The spray whips against your cheek, harder, then forms into claws and teeth; their smiles turn. You realise your mistake. You are glad to be alone as the claws start digging into your flesh. Your screams do not drown out their song.


You look like a nishe girl. I mean nice girl. Buy you a drink?

Nice girl… but that’s a one of them new crystals round your neck, yes? All turning and shining and chiming, bing! Like magic. Ours don’t do that, they shuck. Suck.

Sorry. Had a few myself.

I used to be a moscologist myself. Cosmologist. All the big sky up there full of lights, suns, planets.  You know what sucked about being a coshmologist? All the empty. Great big wide universe, only lil’ ole us in it. Fermi bloody paradox. Sad. Have ‘nother drink.

Then they arrive. Great big shipsh. Ships.  Watching us for years. In hides like duck hunters. Like we’re ducks. They were there all the time, they just hid. Warped basic physics. Impossible. Bastards.

And the ships. Couldn’t believe what they could do to spacetime. Makes no sense. Still makes no sense. Like Amazon tribesman with an Ipod. Hopeless.

And now they’re everywhere.  All the diff’rent kinds, fur and scales and twelve legs and tentacles. God I hate tentacles.  Aliens, and alien stuff. All the pretty thingsh, your crystal – bing! Beads to the natives.  Barman! ‘nother whisky.

See, it’s like this. It’s like you’re in your world, an’ it’s big. Stretches to horizon. Full of things you made, things you use, things you unnerstand. Works. You’re king of it. An’ then one day someone takes off the sky dome an’ you realise the horizon’s a wall, and outside the wall great big creatures stand around the table and watch you, like a rat in a maze. And all you know about the world and the stars is a lie, and you’re nothing. A dot, a speck. Can’t even see the horizon.

Where you going? Oh, that’s your boyfriend? Damned octopus. Tentacles. Hate ‘em.

Barman? ‘Nother one.

Making an Escape

I begin to walk. From the lake to the moss forests and the bordering Plains of Wynch, up into the highlands where fog and hills accompany me and reeds grow beside bare paths. A ferry takes me across the Winnow Gulf into small Gasting’s Town.

I do not spend the night.

Down into the Gravellings I carry no water, but what are heat and haze to me? I notice this: no paths, no creatures, no birds.

On the twentieth day shrubs appear, firming the shifting sands beneath my feet. By the 22nd day I walk beneath stunted trees just taller than my person, with thin foliage and acrid fruit. Between them, on the horizon, a tower.

It is abandoned, too long exposed and unmaintained, breaking. Spending the night, I whittle a walking stick from a fallen branch.

This odd, dappled forest spreads into the foothills of a mountain range — following the westering sun I walk upwards; the air chills, the view expands. Beyond this nameless mountain is yet another, and taller, and colder. The horizon, once a smooth line, is now a jagged beast of turmoil I have set my heart upon.

Each night I carve people I’ve known into my stick. My hand is unsteady and untrained, but who would recognise these memories made real even if carved with perfect grace?

Onwards I reach the sea; on the horizon a ship with sails in a foreign, triangular cut. But then I am no sailor — I only guess at their foreignness.

I have reached the sea, and where to now? Behind me so many miles and yet my stick remains incomplete, my memories keen, and the horizon before me still so wide, open and uncomplicated.

I will build a signal fire.

Generation Gap

“Between two worlds life hovers like a star, ‘Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge, how little do we know that which we are!”

Instructor Black lifted her eyes from the tablet to see if Byron, across centuries and unfathomable distance, had reached her pupils: they looked bored. The space-born always looked bored, only when they gathered after hours to chat quietly in their private cant did they show any animation.

“Now this was written by a great poet before the migration, before the ecolapse, before the information revolution – yet it still speaks to us today. Now I know there are some words you’re not familiar with: ‘night’ you’ll remember is the dark part of the planetary rotation and ‘morn’ indicates the beginning of the exposed phase. ‘Horizon’ is an easy word: on earth I remember great open spaces where one can stand and see the curve of the land fall away, perfectly joined by deep azure skies towering above. That beautiful shimmering line between earth and sky, separating the living from the infinite, is the horizon.”

Her monitor noted students were accessing data-stores to verify her definition of horizon – one had already tagged the definition ‘relevant to historic poetry’. This curriculum was supposed to drench the new generation in human richness; bind them to us; make them part of our story and show them they are not alone. It had failed. Instructor Black realised now it was always doomed to fail.

Blinking back tears, she read on as her students gazed impassively: “Of time and tide rolls on and bears afar, Our bubbles; as the old burst, new emerge, Lash’d from the foam of ages.”


The Lost Horizon

Evan stood in a desert.  It wasn’t any desert he had seen with his eyes; it was the desert of his mind.  And no matter where he looked all he saw was the horizon.

He had no thoughts in this desert, no inner contemplation or wondering of his situation.  He was content to stand in his desert of peace and tranquility, it was part of his being.  Eventually he would wake in the morning and go about his daily tasks without giving a thought to his dreaming wanderings.

However that all changed when he saw the fire.  He didn’t notice it at first but when he did, he couldn’t stop looking at it, thinking about it, wanting to control it – to make it his.  All he had to do was walk toward the horizon, toward the wall of flame but he was scared.  Scared because he knew the life he was living would be forever gone and he would have a new life – one of flame and power.

He had tried running away but couldn’t.  His horizon was burning closer every night, enclosing him in his own power.  The closer it came the faster it burned.  He would be powerful, that he knew.  He would control the burning element and he knew he should walk to his lost horizon.

He wasn’t going to.  It was coming for him but he wasn’t going to it.