Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Short End of The Stick

With growth of electronic media - not just e-readers, but iPods/pads, androids, PSPs, etc. there is a growing demand on our time, taken up by media.

The question being, how much can we expect to consume? Naturally we will digest whatever we find appealing, but if competition for time becomes a factor, then the length of time required to consume your media will be of critical importance.

I enjoy a story that is direct, that can show me something in as few words as possible. I would say Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is a good example of this. However is the future for media facing a more dramatic curtailing? Will flash fiction be flying off digital shelves, like pop singles....? Yes, I would expect so! 

In an age where there is so much competition for our attention, keeping it short and sweet may be the only way forward.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Part 1 - The Magician In The Forest

Itzli chose his moment well as he waited waist deep in the stream, frozen with spear in hand, like a statue in one of the great cities. He didn’t move until the fish passed just before him, and then he sprung, launching the spear down, slightly beneath its refracted image in the water, perfectly impaling it. It was a big catch, enough for breakfast, and hopefully enough to do away with the troublesome thoughts on his mind. Itzli waded to the bank of the stream, and after depositing the fish with the rest of his catch set off on the quick run home.
        Home was a small hut, built into the side of a great tree. Other than the carefully built fire, concealed with a shelf of flat stones, there was nothing to indicate the place was inhabited, let alone the young man’s home for as far as he could remember. But home it was. Itzli checked for the sun as he slowed to a panting walk. There was a time when the journey to the stream would take from morning to midday - now he could get there before even noticing the sun had moved.
        As Itzli dropped the fish by the fire his father yawned good morning as he stepped out of the hut. “…I would have preferred a boar,” he said as he began to stretch his limbs.
        “Well there are no boars in the stream. Where’s Tenoch?”
        “Still asleep, why? More dreams?”
        Itzli took out his knife and began gutting the fish.
        His father began to slowly swing an invisible sword around him, gradually increasing the pace of the unseen weapons movements as he warmed up, “You should have taken the guts out by the stream. Now we’ll have all sorts digging around here.”
        “Then I’ll go back and throw them in the stream,” Itzli snapped. He grabbed a fish from the basket and stabbed it with his dagger. “I have those dreams every night now. I’m in a palace or temple, there are warriors everywhere, trying to attack Tenoch. It’s like no matter how many I cut down they still keep coming, and I can’t protect him. They get him, and then they catch me and I can’t do anything!” Itzli looked to his father, “You think I am weak, don’t you?” Itzli waited for his father to respond as he hollowed out the remaining fish.
        “Itzli, you are my son, you are not weak – far from it. I know that no matter what you will always do your best. You have been given mighty gifts from Teotl, but even still you must accept that what happens tomorrow is the business for tomorrow. Be grateful for everyday we spend alive.”
        “I am grateful. But what does Tenoch have to be grateful about? Teotl has blessed me with strength, and cursed him with illness. And that’s what I think these dreams are telling me. I have to use my strength to protect him - my strength is his strength. Otherwise what good am I?”
        Itzli’s father stopped his exercise, and grinned with his forehead already gleaming with sweat. “Good words, boy. But at my age you realise that whatever Teotl wills, usually comes to pass. Now, how about getting some wood, I’ll need a big piece if you still want me to make that canoe.”
        Itzli sighed before getting up and going to retrieve the chopping axe from the hut. Inside he saw his older brother asleep by the wall. The wrappings that usually covered his legs had come loose and the corruption that haunted his body could be seen, as if his flesh had been boiled from underneath and left to wither into rotten meat. His dressing was filthy and Itzli knew the sores underneath would start to corrupt if they weren’t changed soon. Tenoch’s body was no greater than a small child’s, and his limbs too feeble to have ever been used. Itzli wondered how his father lived with the knowledge that his actions brought about this curse on his first born. Grabbing the axe Itzli left, unable to calm the anger he felt inside.
                It was not until the sun had passed its highest point before Itzli felt his anger ebbing away, each cut from his axe diminishing in vigour. He had butchered his way into the woods near the hut, making a miserable clearing – enough wood for a fleet of canoes and several nights of fire. He squatted down and rested against the back of a felled tree. This was the forest he had been raised in, and he asked it to calm his mind towards the answer to his dreams. He listened, slowing his breath until the woods became a concert of calling animals and a hall of rustling leaves. Amidst this, he could hear a sound as unfamiliar to the forest as the moon was to the sun. The gentle clamour of jewellery jingled above the hush of the wind, and Itzli instinctively reached for the axe.
                From the surrounding foliage crept an old man with a face deeply carved by age. His ears were lengthened with the weight of the magnificent jade he wore and his robes were of fantastic colours, as though he had found his clothes at the very end of the rainbow. “Greetings, no need for arms, boy. No need,” the man stepped forward with his hands raised.
                “Who are you?” Itzli poised himself to leap and swing with axe in hand.
                “Not used to strangers, eh boy? Well, I am a magician… and I am lost. Can you help me find my way?”
                “Not even if I help you?” The magician gestured to the logs. “Even one as strong as you will need to make several journeys to move all of this. If I save you the burden, will you help me then?”
                “I don’t believe in your magic,” Itzli said as he walked over to the logs. Tying the axe to his waist, he scooped up two, one under each arm and set off without even once looking back. The logs were each about the length of a man but Itzli carried them with ease. He was raised to never trust strangers, and if the old man was still there when he returned for the other logs, then it wouldn’t be the first lost traveller he would help find a route to Mitclan.
It wasn’t a far walk to the hut, and Itzli set off without looking back at the old magician. He was never to let a stranger see his face more than once. Outside their hut, he could see his father already busying himself with the day’s tasks. He was sorting through a pile of logs as Itzli approached, rolling those for cutting and those for fire to different sides of the hut. “Hey, where did you get those from?” Itzli asked.
                His father shrugged, “Didn’t you put them there?”
                Itzli dropped the two logs and untied the axe from his waist. He was about to run back to the clearing when the voice of the magician came from behind him. Turning quickly he saw the old man there again, strolling towards them. “Ahh, I see all your wood has arrived. Isn’t that fortunate.”
                “Who is this?” Itzli’s father hissed as he seemed to harden into stone.
                “He said he’s a magician. I think he moved the wood I cut.”
                Itzli’s father called out, “Magician, did you move these logs here?”
                “Of course, but I only did so in exchange for some help.”
                “What help?”
                The magician strolled forward, jingling all the way as his jewellery knocked together. “I heard there is a great city not too far from here. One ruled by the vassal of the empire, a lord Huemac. And with this lord, there is a high priest, Momotzli and the great warrior Necalli. Is that true?”
                “Nearly. There is a city near here, and Huemac rules it, with Momotzli as his respected High Priest. But Necalli no longer lives there.”
                The magician peered forward, “Then where does Necalli live if not with his brother in the great city?”
                “They say Necalli is dead.”
                The magician laughed, “Dead? Well, let me tell you what I heard. I heard the once great warrior Necalli lives in exile in the forest, in a hut with his two sons. And I heard, he is cursed,” the magician ended with a penetrating glare.
                Itzli’s father, Necalli, clenched his fists, “Let your business be vital. I don’t want to kill you, but I will if I have to.”
                The magician clapped his hands, showing off his well worn teeth as he grinned. “Well you have helped me just enough, Necalli. But you have no need to threaten me, your weapons couldn’t hurt me anyway, and besides, you know very well it is a bad omen to have the blood of a magician on your hands. It’s getting late, won’t you invite me in?”
                “Why?” Itzli snapped. “I don’t trust him. You can never trust magicians. Let’s see if his curse comes true when he’s dead!”
                “Itzli, shut up, I don’t think we have a choice,” Necalli turned to his son, “Tenoch and I have lived with one curse, I do not need you to live with another.” Necalli waved for the magician to follow him into the hut. Itzli felt as though he could have crushed the axe handle in his hands as the old man passed. As his father and the magician went inside Itzli followed - determined to keep a suspicious eye on the man for as long as possible.
                Inside, Tenoch lay awake with the fish Itzli had caught in the morning cooked and laid upon leaves on the floor. The magician took seat, followed by Necalli. “Come, Itzli,” the magician said, “no need to be so apprehensive.”
                Itzli kept his face stern, wondering how the old man had read his mind to discover his name. Slowly he went to sit, positioning himself by the door and keeping his eyes fixed on the guest.
                “Necalli, tell me about your curse,” the magician asked.
                Necalli cleared his throat and sat as firm as stone, refusing to move his eyes from the ceiling. “When my wife was pregnant with Tenoch, many years ago now, me, my brother and lord Huemac were in a village. We were warriors then, we did what warriors do – and we all paid the price. It was a curse that has failed to remove itself, no matter how much I ask to be forgiven. And it was the same for my brother and lord Huemac. We are all suffering now, for something done with as little regard as taking a breath. Of course, when Tenoch was born the way he was, Momotzli thought the only way to lift the curse was to sacrifice him. But I couldn’t. I begged to be allowed to leave, so that my curse can stay with me and me alone. They promised that they wouldn’t follow me as long as I had no more children. But, I was weak. My wife died giving birth to Itzli. And I have made sure that no one from the city can ever know. If they did, they will come for Tenoch.”
                The magician sighed, nodding in a show of understanding. “And this curse, you are sure of it?”
                “My eldest son is proof.”
                “And what do you make of this, Tenoch?” The magician peered forward as he asked. “Do you believe you are cursed?”
                Tenoch groaned, he always struggled to speak, but he managed to nod, mouthing I am sorry to Necalli.
                Itzli despaired to see it, it occurred to him how little he actually watched his brother. And why should he? Every move Tenoch made seemed agonising, every groan in his sleep a desperate cry for help that not Itzli or his father could soothe. Itzli knew all too well that whatever Teotl wills always comes to pass, but the fate delivered to his brother just wasn’t fair.
                Itzli held his thoughts as he realized the magician was studying him. “What?” Itzli barked.
                “Nothing,” the magician said. “I can’t help but notice how you feel for your older brother. You would do anything to protect him, that’s good. But tell me, has it never crossed your mind to sacrifice him, offer him to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and lift the cloak of darkness and solitude this curse has covered you in?”
                “Never!” Itzli surged to his feet with the axe ready. “Never. Father told us about what you do in the city and I’ve seen it - sacrificing the innocent, and even your loved ones to jealous gods. We’ll never sacrifice one of our own. I’ll sooner draw a dagger across my own neck before I let anyone even touch a hair on him!”
                The magician laughed as Itzli heaved angry breaths above him, “Good, good, you have helped enough for now. Well, it is getting dark, you all should eat, keep yourselves strong. I will remain here for the night and then be on my way in the morning. Come, sit, eat, don’t mind me, I am a quiet guest.”
                Tenoch seemed bemused as solemnly Necalli began to eat. Breaking some of the fish apart he fed Tenoch while the magician silently sat against the wall.
“Father,” Itzli raged, “how can you eat with this demon in here? You may be afraid of curses, but I’m not.” Itzli went to draw the axe.
“Itzli!” Necalli growled, freezing his son still. “Raise that axe again and I’ll make you regret you were born. Now eat.”
Itzli had no desire to satisfy anything other than his thirst for the magician’s blood. He stormed outside and dropped himself beside the fire. He couldn’t care any less for curses. If that was what Teotl willed for him then it would be worth it to see the magician’s head hacked from his neck.
Sitting defiantly outside, Itzli kept watch, waiting for the slightest noise or sound of commotion, ready to rush in with an excuse to swing for that smug old git. But nothing came.
As the night wore on, Itzli pensively paced around, still too angered to go inside. He walked back to where he first saw the magician, to the make-shift clearing which now had no felled trees. He then walked back to the hut, scanning as best he could in the darkness for any tracks, any kind of trickery. But there was none. In the end, Itzli returned to his place by the fire where he slowly fell into an uncomfortable and troubled sleep.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

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The Unwanted Child, a prelude of what's to come.

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Watch out for part one of The Third Sunset next Sunday

The Third Sunset - A prelude: The Unwanted Child

Below, their defenders huddled together as they discussed their final plans. Necalli held his breath still, like the tree against which he clung. Looking down he could see already there was not a warrior amongst them, which meant that today would be a blessed but uneventful day. And as he faintly heard their pitiful strategy, a flicker of sorrow passed through him.  For when Huemac gave the signal, 60 Eagles would descend on this quiet village, and by the end, every male would be well on their way to Mitclan – and the most challenging aspect of it would have been his climb of this tree.
        Below him, he watched as his brother and his group slithered almost invisibly along the forest floor, until perfectly poised on the cusp of the clearing. All warriors, even Necalli, were jealous of the way the forest loved Momotzli; he could pass through it with no sound as if he were born of the wood and leaves himself. It was obvious why he had found so much favour with Huemac, and with the gods.
        Necalli checked for the sun in the sky; it had just gone past sunrise and he prayed to the spirits of darkness that they wouldn’t chase the sun away, that they would let Tonatuih stay high in the sky so that the killing of this day could go on and on, until arms grew tired, and mouths full of the splatterings of enemy blood.
        On the soft air came the eager call of a bird of prey - they were close. Necalli called back, letting them know he was ready. And then he watched as the poor villagers only too late realised the forest was coming alive from all around them. Below him Momotzli surged out of the clearing like a lethal spear, his dark frame like the obsidian at its tip. Carried over the chaos below, the village erupted in screams as Huemac rushed out from over the surrounding ridge on the other side, completing the jaguar’s teeth that were snapping and soon to tear the life from this piece of earth.
        Necalli now couldn’t resist the call of the fire in his blood as the attack began. He watched Momotzli hack into the defenders with unrivalled jealousy and couldn’t scale down the tree faster. Momotzli may be Huemac’s favourite, but Necalli was still the older brother.
        His feet had barely touched the forest floor before he had unfastened the sword tied to his back and was bounding forward furiously into the wake of Momotzli and his warriors. His heart was a joyous war drum as he met his first target, a man clumsily holding a spear. Necalli dodged to the left while swinging the obsidian edge of his sword into the man’s skull. A villager came at him from a hut that was being set alight, Necalli whacked the man’s thighs with his sword, splitting the flesh and shattering the bone above the knees. He struck another across the throat, disappointed he wasn’t able to take the head off.  A bloodied villager, with the skin of his forehead flapping over his eyes, came with spear in hand but it was too easy for Necalli to knock the thrust away and hack the dying man’s arm from his torso.
        Necalli knew he couldn’t get carried away. Momotzli and his men were deeper in the village, fighting with the last of the defenders, and although his heart lusted to share in the bloodletting he set his mind to task. The screams from the other end of the village had ceased, which meant Huemac had already begun taking his captives.
        Necalli called to a group of young warriors at the back of Momotzli’s charge. They hadn’t yet seen the thrill of battle up close, but they would be good enough to help. “You three! Come here.”
        They scurried over, smiling in such a youthful manner that Necalli felt like cuffing them. “Follow me, you little shits,” he barked over the awful screaming of men being cut down not too far away. “Catch anyone I don’t kill.”
        They followed, and Necalli soon had their young smiles melting into quivering grimaces. The young warriors struggled to keep pace as Necalli dived into a hut full of women and children, sending them fearfully into the waiting nets and clubs outside like fleeing mice. Without even checking to see how many were caught and how many slipped by, Necalli rushed into the next one.
Just as his head passed the threshold, the veteran warrior was forced to bring his sword above him to block a heavy club. The women and children fled just as Necalli pivoted to his right, blocking another swing before smashing the attackers face apart. Just as the man fell Necalli drop-rolled on to one knee as a toothless elder loosed a black shaft from the back of the hut. The arrow skimmed over the warriors head, meeting a piercing scream as it flew out the door. Necalli sprung forward and using his shoulder speared the old man senselessly through the other side of the huts brittle wooden structure.
Quickly finding his feet Necalli dragged the old man up, whacking him across the face to sedate his writhing before dragging him to front of the hut.  One of the young warriors lay dead with the old man’s arrow buried within his skull. The old man began to speak, but Necalli brought his sword down with a murderous two handed swing to the back of the head, spilling blood and bone across the forest like a shattered jug of water. The timing was perfect as the captured women and children saw the killing and were instantly silenced. Necalli bared his teeth to them as the old man’s blood dribbled off his nose and chin.
With his heart still beating a menacing rhythm, Necalli swung his head around looking for the next catch. All around him women and children ran here and there as homes were set alight and husbands and fathers hacked down like nuisance vines.  This was only a lightly defended village, but the strength of the cities warriors that he had trained was evident. A man carrying his little girl sprang out from a bush to the left, running head down for freedom. Necalli took a step, suddenly alert and ready to hurl his sword, but the man was struck with an arrow through the neck and the child taken by another party.  Necalli cursed, looking to the sky, he could see the day was still young but it seemed like the killing had already come to an end.
        The cry of an eagle rang out over the sobbing of the captives and screams of the wounded, forcing its way past the excited throbbing of blood in Necalli’s ears. From behind him he heard the clamour of Momotzli’s men as they came forward at a gentle run. Momotzli’s smile could have been seen from the other side of the village, and it grew wider as he saw Necalli’s catch.
        “Brother, you did well. Five women and eight children,” Momotzli said. “For once you’ve caught more than you’ve killed!”
        Necalli shared in the joke as Momotzli’s warriors broke into laughter. “And what sbout you, little brother?” Necalli looked over Momotzli’s men, all with blood stained and heaving chests. “By the looks of it, you and your boys got carried away.”
        “All their warriors are dead – the men here must be cursed with weakness. But I see, you’ve gone and upset another mother!”  Momotzli gestured towards the fallen child warrior. Necalli snapped at the remaining two, ordering them to pick up the body of their companion and take it back to the boy’s mother, whoever she was. “You’re developing quite a fearful reputation, brother. Women are going to start hiding their kids when we ask for warriors,” Momotzli said as he swung his arm around his older brother.
        Necalli snorted, “Well it’s like I keep saying, if you don’t want to be mourning the loss of your child then raise one with the common sense to not get killed. I don’t know what those mothers have to complain about anyway, would they prefer their kids to die in their sleep?”
        A clamour slowly rolled towards the men as Huemac and his warriors strutted from across the other side of the village with a sorry chain of captives behind them. The young lord stood proud amongst his followers, his sword arm painted thickly in blood and his face awash with a darkening crimson. He dragged with him a reluctant young village girl, her stomach swollen, and her eyes full of tears.
        Necalli and Momotzli bowed their heads as Huemac came before them. “Good!” the young lord declared, “I will make the god of war a sacrifice the likes of which he has never seen. You chose well when you scouted this place, Momotzli. We can leave the rest of the killing to the kids; hopefully they’ll come back as men.”
        Momotzli grinned, accepting the praise, before letting his eyes fall on the young girl trembling in Huemac’s grip. Huemac threw the girl to the ground before him. “She’s a fiery one. Came straight for me... I guess my boys were sleeping...?” Huemac glared behind him, turning the faces of his warriors into downcast masks of failure. “Anyway, I thought I would gift her to one of you. Necalli, take her.”
        Necalli, laughed; was the Emperor’s delegate taking him for a joke? “Lord Huemac, I think you meant to gift this to my brother. I have a wife, and her belly is swollen just as much, if not more.”
        As the girl squirmed on the forest floor Momotzli stooped and grabbed her up by the neck, laughing as he showed her off to the waiting warriors. “Brother, you should take it, it would be rude not to accept a gift from our future ruler. And besides, you wouldn’t want to return empty handed.”
        “Empty handed?”
        Huemac grinned, speaking loud enough for all the surrounding warriors to hear. “Necalli, were you not going gift your catch to me, in exchange for this lovely young bride?”
        Necalli could feel his blood boiling – how dare they humiliate him like this! And for what? He had a right mind to challenge Huemac right here and let Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, be the judge of what is fair – although he knew well enough that as soon as he drew his sword one of the six-hundred and fifty three men around him would strike him down in an instant. Momotzli tossed the girl over, and Necalli inspected her with a thorough harshness.
        As Necalli held her by the throat the girl cried, “Please, let me go... Have mercy, let the will of Teotl guide you to mercy...” But Necalli had no patience for this, no patience for such an insult. Tacking a dagger from his waist he turned the girl around so she could face lord Huemac. Her first scream was a short and breathy one as Necalli stuck the dagger into her belly. She cried again as he ripped his obsidian blade across her swollen stomach, opening her abdomen like a gutted pig.
        Necalli grinned at his brother and the young lord, “I accept the girl as a gift, lord Huemac. But the baby can stay here.”
        Huemac and Momotzli chuckled savagely, pointing at the girl as she failed to hold her stomach together. Huemac slapped Necalli across the back, “Your brother was right about you – too tightly wound up!” They laughed for some time more before Huemac called to the warriors, ordering them to collect their spoils.
        However Necalli found his appetite for the fruits of conflict greatly diminished. With bitter mind, Necalli stepped back as the eager warriors rushed to collect what they could from the dead, with the kids triumphantly dispatching any wounded as though they had brought down giants. From the corner of his eye Necalli could see his brother smirking. Clearly Momotzli’s time with the young lord had given him a big head – something Necalli would need to address the next time they were alone.
        “Wait...!” The strained voice of the wounded girl called from behind. Necalli and Momotzli turned to see her standing not so far away, while her quiet village, now a mess of bodies, burned amidst black smoke behind her. Her hands pitifully clutched at her stomach as her insides poured down like a crimson skirt. “May you all suffer, suffer until the day you learn to fear the will of Teotl...” she screamed. “May your lives bring only misery and pain... May Teotl see you all dead with fear and suffering in your hearts!”
        Necalli laughed as he turned his back on the dying girl – he had lost count of the times he had been cursed. However, for now the day was still young, and he could feel the power of the war god within him, making him tremble with violent energy. To his right Momotzli continued to grin and chatter away with some of the other warriors. Necalli reminded himself to show his younger brother that he was not to be made the subject of jokes.

Friday, 3 August 2012


A 17 part tale, set in the jungles of the ancient Aztec empire. This is a violent story of mans struggle against fate and against his fellow man. When Itzli, the son of an exiled warrior, encounters a strange magician in his homeland woods he is quick to sense the gravity of what is soon to follow. With his family captured and soon to be killed, he must use all the power the gods have blessed him with to secure the ultimate sacrifice.