Tag Archives: fantasy

Peculiar Customs

The world is full of weirdness, full of things that could be injected (without modification) into a Fantasy/New Weird novel or short story without breaking stride, and by using customs like these a world becomes fleshed out, and far more real.

The past is a foreign country, as they say, and while the world is a weird place now, it used to be even weirder…

Creeling the Bridegroom  is a good example of weird customs from the past. Coming from Medieval Scotland (and practised until the beginning of the 19th century), creeling the bridegroom was a custom where the husband-to-be was tested by his future parents-in-law – by carrying a sack of rocks around their village until his bride decided he had had enough, and told him so with a kiss. The bride could also be ‘creeled’ but in a different fashion – a chamber pot was filled, with salt, coals, and a piece of silver, which may sound useful to us, but were useful to the Scots for other reasons…salt was not only used to bless the home, and to keep out faeries and the like, but also as an aphrodisiac (Old Scots saying: Fond o’ salt? Fond o’ the lasses!)

The Scots give us other wedding rituals that might seem strange to us, such as the tradition of getting married at Grenta Green (an estimated 1 in 6 Scottish weddings take place in this town) – Grenta Green became such a famous site for weddings because, after a change of laws in England, people under the age of 21 required parental consent to marry, whereas in Scotland you could marry from the age of 14. So you would run away there, to get married, usually in front of a blacksmith, rather than a priest.

Another weird old thing from Scotland – these dolls, found in a rocky outcropping near Edinburgh, now known as ‘fairy coffins’. They were found, in various states of undress, all the clothing hand-stitched. They remind me of votive offerings.

Scotland, eh? Weirdos.

I’ll be coming back to more peculiar customs around the world, soon.

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Kingdom Came

She covered my mouth, and pulled me into the darkness.

Her lips touched my ear as she whispered.

“Shhh, it’s coming…”

Her breathing, slow.

My heartbeat, pounding.

The smell came first.

Rank, overpowering, wet-dog and fungus.

Kingdom came. Loping down the corridor, thick ropes of saliva, heavy, grunting breath.

His dead feet shuffled across the sandy flagstones.

I held my breath.

She muttered, unheard.

Kingdom stopped, carving some intricate scrimshaw into the wet wall.

Kingdom left, and she released me, into confusion.


 

Written for this week’s BekindRewrite prompt –

Kingdom Come.

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Sorcerers, Magicians, and Warlocks – What’s the Difference?

We are a bit spoiled for choice, in the English language. When we need a word, and another language has one that’ll do the job, we’re quite happy to appropriate it – words like schadenfreude, or (my personal favourite) l’espirit de escalier (“the spirit of the staircase”, which is the French term for that moment that you come up with a cunning riposte, moments (or hours) after it’s too late.


But, crucially for the discussion I’m about to have with myself, and that you can see right here, right now, on the screen of the device of your choice, is about synonyms. And then we’ll get into the cool stuff people should put into their fantasy novels bit. That’s coming, I promise. And this little bit about synonyms leads directly into it.

It’s not much of a tangent.

Now, the synonym group that I want to talk about in particular are words that are related to practitioners of magic.  Continue reading

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Spring-heeled Jack

This is the second post in a (currently) short-running series on weird things from history that I want to see in Fantasy/New Weird/Steam Punk stories. Get on that, ok?

Here’s the first: SPANKO!

And here’s the second: Spring-heeled Jack.

We are continuing the theme of weird assailants from London – Spring-heeled Jack sprung up during the Victorian era, rather than the Restoration, but he was much more elusive than the Whipping Toms. He was probably much more invented than those three men though…

Continue reading

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SPANKO!

So, I’ve had an idea – been nursing it for a little while.

The idea is to try and put together a list, of things that I find interesting from history, things that I’d like to see in a New Weird or Steampunk or Fantasy setting. History is an interesting place, one that you can drop in and visit, but one that (fortunately) you cannot live in. For all those people out there who just started thinking about how swell it would be to live in a Steampunk setting, in Victorian London, I’ll just point you in the general direction of some history books, and this article I wrote a little while back about what I like to call Slumpunk. Some of them I’ve already seen in those settings, so, when we come to those, I’ll point you in that direction.


 

To give you an idea of what, exactly, it is I’m talking about, here’s the first in this little series of demi-articles:

Gustav Dore – “Over London”

SPANKO!

The Whipping Toms

Continue reading

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The Department of Divination and Diviner Control

It was a dark matter.

That the subject painted it in rainbow hues didn’t change the tone, which was surprising in itself. Bright green paint entwined with crimson (the world serpent, the blood of its victims), vast swirls of cerulean blue (for the sky, the day before it burned).

“So…what, exactly, is this?”

His partner gave him an blank stare, before turning her gaze back to the walls, covered in thick paint and thin finger-marks.

“Ok…dumb question. But where is it?”

That was another dumb question. But it was an excusable one.

They were an odd pair, but that was a given. The Department of Divination and Diviner Control tended to attract the peculiar. He was short, and some might describe him as ‘swarthy’. She was tall, ‘willowy’. Her powerful, him diminutive. They didn’t attract as much attention as you’d expect.

The little boy had been in their care for some time – it took a while before little ones made helpful predictions; it could take a while before they were even noticed to be prophets. After all, to a toddler, the fact that the sun was going to rise tomorrow is pretty big news.

The sun would come up tomorrow.

But the Department would have to work hard to ensure it came up the day after that.

 


 

Written for this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Fingerpaint Prophecy, Dark Matter, Blank Stare and Odd Pair. Let me know what you think! 

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Hugs

Sunday Sketch - Terry Whidborne

Sunday Sketch – Terry Whidborne

Mother was right – their fur was so soft, and the creatures just seemed so trusting…like they’d never seen a human before.

Well, Mother always has been a crafty hunter – they’d never seen her before, hidden. The shot rang out. Blood-stains marked the russet fur. But it would wash out.

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Angel Watch

“Why do they call them Angels, then?”

The old man spat, a lump of phlegm quivering on the dirt beside him – he turned his attention back to the gun he was cleaning, eyeing down the barrel.

“It’s the look of the beast, boy – great white wings, you see?”

Of course, it wasn’t just wings. Their language sounded like heavenly choirs, and their faces glowed with beautific, serene smiles as they slaughtered.

“Well, we’ll be ready for them,” the boy said, sighting along the muzzle of his pistol, winking at the sky, “won’t we, Uncle?”

The old man grimaced, and turned his head – he couldn’t look the boy in the eyes.

He knew the bullets weren’t for the angels.

 


 

 

Written for one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Angel Watch

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The Sun is Here!

“The Sun is here! The Sun is here!”

.
She came without radiant armour, without her heralds and hangers-on.

.
“The Sun is here!”

.
My neighbour sneered over his fence. He didn’t believe me.

.
She glared at me! At me, of all people!

.
“Quiet down boy.” (she said) “I don’t want everybody to know.”

.
She looked exactly like her engravings – but without the halo, and the silver, fish-scale armour. She came without the Butcher, her bronze machete, whose blood-gutters had so often run with the blood of her enemies.

.
The Sun is here!

.
She came into town, to stay at my Mother’s inn!

.
I was collecting vegetables from the garden when she came in – I saw red leather boots on the loose gravel path and looked up at her – the setting sun was behind her, like an egg breaking on the horizon, shining over her shoulders like a halo. That’s how I knew it was her. There was no way I could mistake her for the travelling salesman she hoped to pass as.
She’s sitting in my Mother’s kitchen.

.

Mother sent me outside to collect a chicken for the cooking-pot, mangos, onion shoots, mint, basil, chilli – soon she’ll run out of things for me to collect. The smell of Mother’s cooking filled the yard, the herbs and spices unleashing their fragrance as I readied my axe to swing.
The chop-sticks look so delicate in her hands, delicate yet deadly, as she twirled them between her fingers.

.
“I just want some peace, just a few days of peace,” she said.

.
“I understand,” my Mother said, nodding (how could she understand?). “I’ll send the boy away.”

.
The road to my Grandmother’s house is muddy, and the sun beats down on my shoulders, while the Sun sleeps in my Mother’s house.


Written for this month’s r/fantasywriters Writing Challenge – to write a story of 1,000 words or less from the perspective of a mundane character encountering their hero or villain in an unremarkable location. I also used one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts: Travelling Salesman. It’s very short, but hey, that’s how we all like it, right? Let me know what you think! 

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Wait Up!

 He picked the lock on his manacle. The door slammed behind him, loud enough to wake a sleeping dwarf. “You nearly left me behind again!”


Another 25 word story for the weekly writing competition on reddit  – 25 words, based on one of their story-teller cards (like the one above.) Head here to check it out!

I also used one of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts:

Wake a sleeping dwarf.

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Splash

Janice had always liked it here, by the river.

She flopped, heavy and wheezing.

He held her above the water.

“I love you, Janice…”

But he still couldn’t let her go.


 I just came across a weekly writing competition on reddit the other day – 25 words, based on one of their story-teller cards (like the one above.) Head here to check it out!

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Tumbledown

He fell.

It took an age, that slow, plummeting descent.

Now, where had he gone wrong?

He mouthed the words in his grimoire, began again.


 I just came across a weekly writing competition on reddit the other day – 25 words, based on one of their story-teller cards (like the one above.) Head here to check it out!

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Review: Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill is a really good read. This classic ghost story is gothic, both Southern and European, and quite modern. Judas Coyne is a retired rock star, who has fallen into the habit of collecting the macabre, which for an ex-metal star seems just “…like wearing leather pants, just part of the costume.” He owns a genuine snuff tape, a collection of Medieval with-hunters’ guides and a cannibal’s cookbook, and so when he’s contacted across the internet about a ghost for sale (“…not eBay but one of the wannabes…”) it seems quite natural for it to fall into his collection.

The suit arrives in a heart-shaped box, and the haunting begins…

“The mad sometimes drilled holes in their own heads to let the demons out. To relieve the pressure of thoughts they could no longer bear. Jude understood the impulse. Each beat of his heart was a fresh and staggering blow felt in the nerves behind his eyes and in his temples. Punishing evidence of life.”

I really enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box, which is odd for me as I’m not a huge fan of horror, but this story keeps the gore in check and is packed with great writing (“…a rotund family in promotional T-Shirts, their ample bellies doing double duty as billboards.”), a fantastic twist or two and some damn compelling characters. I love the way violence is introduced into the plot, as well as how the ghost speaks, cryptic and threatening through the radio (“…the dead drag the living down…”) It was great (especially as it was his debut novel), and on the strength of this novel I’m going to buy some more of Joe Hill’s books.

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A Shadow in the Blackness

The smoke rose. Flames licked at houses stacked like kindling – such beautiful colours – and screams rang out, cut off by the sudden, jolting

………………………………….crash

……………………………………………………of falling timber and collapsed masonry. The heat pushes gently at the membranes of my wings, granting me flight, and the once-cold iron that bound my ankles warms and warps, bending as I pull my legs free. I rake at the cobblestones beneath my feet, gouging loose the stones, and bellow into the night – my guards are busy, struggling to douse the orange tongues I cast about myself, my shield – and I let the warmth take me, carrying me upward into the night.

 

I am a shadow in the blackness, a scar on the night sky.

 

They flock to the church, scared little birds, watching their village burn.

 

I swoop, wings folded back.

 

I am death, I am destruction.

 

I am vengeance.

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Claws Red, Fangs Snapping

Terry Whidborne's latest sketch

Terry Whidborne’s latest sketch

She drew her cloak tighter around the ragged edges of her breath, trying to disguise the rapid rise-and-fall of her chest. She pulled her face-mask closed, to hide her lolling tongue and to cover the sound of her panting. To conceal the spatters of blood and the tracing lines of intestines on her skin-suit.

 

Voices rose up  behind her, shrill and panicked, reaching a crescendo as she turned the corner.

 

She had to convince herself to slow down, to control her footsteps. The wet cobblestones shone, and seemed to guide her along her path. She caught her breath, crouching down against a rough-scaled wall – she left a patch of crimson on the stone as she moved. Her tongue arrowed out from between razor-sharp teeth, picking loose scraps of gristle and fat, tasting the flavour of him on her lips. She smiled, a withering smile, and was disappointed that she had no-one to direct it toward. No matter. She let her mind replay the gory scene from which she had so recently fled, and the smile returned.

 

She saw the signal, the twin spirals in the sky, clouds-where-there-should-be-no-clouds.

 

Claws red, fangs snapping. 

 

The memory was not quite as delicious as the act.

 

The spirals, the disguise, the soon-to-be-dead.

Continue reading

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Skin

The bugs flow, green-blue, scratching beneath his skin.

Not hallucinating.

Each new egg bursts, exquisite agony, life-from-death.

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These Hands

Sunday Sketch - Tezzabold

Sunday Sketch – Tezzabold

His fur was matted, with blood and flesh and gizzards.

What had he done?

The taste of it was in his mouth.

He wanted more.

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The Boys are Back in Town (Part 2/4)

Victims of the Great Famine, India, 1876-78

Distended, swollen bellies, meandering flies.

Scrape your plate clean. Throw it all away.

Thigh gaps and size 0’s.

You are not good enough.

You are not good enough.

You are not good enough.

Eat less. Waste more.

You are too fat.

Eat less. Consume more.

Forget about those hungry children.

They live so far away.

You are not good enough.

They don’t have enough.

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The Boys Are Back in Town (Part 1 of 4)

Image by Roger McLassus, used under Creative Commons 3.0

 

 

Rust spreads at his touch,

in delicate filigrees,

erupting from his fingertips.

Corruption flows in his veins,

lifeless,

undeath.

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Speculative Fiction is World Literature

300px-War-of-the-worlds-tripod

Or at least that’s what I’m arguing over on Gate 37. Click the link, the more people that read it, the more I get paid! Tell your friends!

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