Friday flash fiction – The Unthinkable City

Once upon a time, in a land beyond reason and hope, two bunnies embarked on an adventure to the Unthinkable City.

A stone hallway

https://pixabay.com/photos/hall-architecture-stone-structure-2325353/

“This is the worst place we’ve ever been,” spluttered Mellowgrass, shaking rank sewer-water from his matted angora fur.

“It was your idea,” observed Cloudpuff. Somehow, he had escaped the worst effects of the Nonemyr city’s waste; his grey pelt was next to pristine.

“My idea was to send an elite force of highly trained commandos to disable the enemy’s communication networks. Nowhere did I mention requiring the services of a punch-drunk thug and an accountant.”

“Next time don’t leave room for interpretation.” The gas streetlamps made little impression on their foggy surroundings, but Cloudpuff’s ears turned this way and that, like bent, puffy radars. “I can’t hear anyone.”

“Of course not,” said Mellowgrass, as his tablet loaded a navigation app that was one part maths to three parts magic. “This is Orphexas, the Unthinkable City. Nobody lives here.”

Cloudpuff waited in vain for a punchline. “Nobody? Then why are there streets? Why are there buildings, and road signs, and gas lighting?”

Mellowgrass shrugged. “Cities are supposed to have those things. Even cities with no people.”

“But where did the sewerage come from?”

“Oh. That’s just because the city hates us.”

#

Orphexas the Unthinkable City was the throne of Nonemyr, if Nonemyr could be said to have a throne or a monarch to sit upon it. The bunnies crept through its misty laneways and alleys, leaping for cover whenever shadows loomed at them from the fog.

“I wish just for once you’d let me punch someone,” complained Cloudpuff, as they hunkered behind the tarnished statue of some ancient, tattered noble. Something soundless and shadowy seemed to lumber through the mist, just distant enough to obscure details beyond its sense of malice.

“I told you, there’s nobody here to punch.” Mellowgrass’ attention was fixed on the screen map, which displayed their position, surrounded by slow-moving dots.

“Then who’s searching for us?”

Mellowgrass counted slowly to twenty under his breath. Cloudpuff’s ignorance of the plan’s finer details, which he now felt strongly correlated with the snoring he’d heard throughout their briefing, was not the problem. What mattered was avoiding feeling the slightest sense of impatience, or anything else.

“Everything we’ve seen and heard so far is a distraction. Or rather, an invitation to be distracted. Chase after shadows, and they’ll become your greatest desire.” Mellowgrass sniffed the air and, sensing the danger had passed for the moment, stood up. “Someone to have an enormous fistfight with, in your case.”

“Wishes granted, huh?”

“Yes, but only in the twisted sense, like from a monkey’s paw or a drunk genie.”

Cloudpuff brightened at that. “Hey, remember that time I knocked a genie out?”

“You blindsided him with a sap made from compressed stardust and pixie hide while he was trying to chat up Flopknot.”

“Yeah,” said Cloudpuff happily. “Good times.”

#

At the heart of the Unthinkable City stood a throne, and upon it sat a king. They had not existed before the bunnies’ arrival, and would vanish the moment they were gone. But Mellowgrass hoped to find them, and so there they were, waiting.

That’s the King of the Nonemyr?”

The court was a plain stone hall, water-stained and smelling of mould. The colourless banners were limp and frayed. Yellow glass shards littered the floor below cracked picture windows depicting indecipherable tomes.

The throne was simple, wooden, and bent with rot. The withered King slumped slack on one arm.

“There is no Nonemyr King,” said Mellowgrass, not taking his eyes off the decayed figure before them. “There are no Nonemyr. It’s not a country. It’s not a people. It’s just a corrosive idea that wants to spread everywhere.”

With a voice like autumn leaves crushed beneath an armoured boot, the King said, “Have you brought my Champion?”

Cloudpuff cracked his knuckles and flexed his wrists. “So, this is Princess Naomi’s big play? The armies, the raids – those were all diversions so we could kick this raggedy dope’s bony rear?”

Mellowgrass shook his head. Now the moment was upon him, he was surprised to discover he didn’t need to marshal his emotions. Calm radiated through him, and whether it was down to the elegantly simple mathematics of the plan, or the cocktail of drugs in his bloodstream, didn’t matter one bit.

“Nonemyr is a corruption of the imagination. It exists to erode inspiration. And it’s drawn to the hopes and expectations it means to destroy. Cloudpuff, you hope to get the fight of your life here, and you will. But I hoped to be trapped by the Nonemyr essence in one of its centres of power, and so I have. It won’t let us leave until it has extinguished us.”

“I’m not following you.”

“Cloudpuff, we’re the diversion.”

Patterns of sickly yellow light fell across them as the fallen glass rose from the floor and began to spin around an indistinct, inhuman cloud-person.

“Here is my Champion,” said the King, as the razor-skinned cloud raised arms like jagged swords.

Cloudpuff snarled and hopped forward, slashing flat-palmed at the glass creature. Shards splintered and flew away. Cloudpuff retreated, paws and wrists already bloodied.

“I get my fight,” he said, licking blood from a paw, grinning like a feral. “What do you get?”

Mellowgrass fell to his knees, breathless, and flopped sideways. The King cackled, but not with mirth. The Champion rattled liked a shattering window and waited.

“Mellowgrass!”Cloudpuff propped Mellowgrass up.

Mellowgrass’ smile wobbled. “I get to hold it here. Nonemyr won’t stop until it destroys my mind, but my mind’s going where it can’t follow.”

He opened his paw to reveal a crystal phial dotted with purple droplets.

“Courtesy of her Highness. Classic witch plan. S-sorry we couldn’t…sh-share it…with-”

His ears fell limp.

Cloudpuff set his friend down gently and turned to the King and its Champion.

“Captive audience, eh?” he said, shivering the blood from his fur. “Just how I like it.”


No, this is not fan service for people who think (no spoilers) that the Game of Thrones finale didn’t kill off enough characters.

Or is it? I have an extremely sucky cold and it feels like all my ribs are cracked from coughing, so it’s fair to say even I don’t know what I’m thinking any more.

This is the 98th consecutive week of Friday flash fiction (woo!), so I’m looking forward to probably taking a couple of weeks off in June to regroup. It won’t be the end of the FFF, though I haven’t quite worked out what schedule I’ll run with in the aftermath.

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Friday flash fiction – The Giant’s Tale

Hurgomath’s dead maternal ancestor towered behind his shoulder, whispering predictions of doom. “Do not allow yourself to fall with the Principalities, child. Their pitiful resistance will not forestall annihilation. What sort of Giant are you to tether your fate to these tiny lives?”

clay hand

https://pixabay.com/photos/india-god-godes-hinduism-religious-970452/

“My oath is pledged, First-Among-Mothers.” His enunciation was careful; his words were intended for other ears. “My loyalty has been bought with treacherous blood, in accordance with the ancient pacts. What more would you have of me?”

The spectre looked down upon Hurgomath with the same expression of pitiless contempt she invariably preferred during the latter centuries of her life. “Of what account is loyalty if the last Giants are consumed by ravening nothingness?”

“Without it, we shall already have passed beyond meaning.”

“Cheeky sod,” interrupted Princess Naomi. “Is that any way to speak to your mother?”

The Kepheleq ruler and part-time witch stood on a scaffold raised to Hurgomath’s full height. From her vantage point she could not only consult with her tallest advisor, but also supervise the counter-offensive against the Nonemyr’s insidious mental siege. Past the parade ranks of combat artists at their easels and canvasses she looked, to the battlegrounds beyond. The forces of the Gleaming Principalities, drawn from a dozen different worlds, gathered in landscapes of ice and glass, in withered ballrooms and galleries of misery, in streams choked with regret, and streets paved with grief. The enemy’s power to corrupt reality conveyed a withering advantage in the selection of favourable terrain.

“The First-Among-Mothers died a century ago,” replied Hurgomath. “This is nothing more than a Nonemyr spectre, conjured to sew mistrust and confusion.”

“There’s a lot of that going around.” Princess Naomi unrolled a canvas to show the Giant. Slashes of charcoal and smudges of blood depicted the artist, a centaur from a company of Zomandi skirmishers, surrounded by accusatory, screaming faces. “She charged onto her own long-spear rather than face the order to launch counter-sketches. Just one of dozens we’ve already lost.”

“Mortals are brittle, worthless things,” the ghost told Hurgomath. “A broken cup can be repaired. What can you do with broken mortals?”

Hurgomath worked a wad of clay the size of an ox into a rough humanoid shape. The voice of his parent pricked at his surface, but beneath lay calm certainty. “They can learn. They can live their allotted span fulfilled by whatever meaning and grace they may value.”

“They will throw their allotted spans away in a futile gesture of resistance against the Nonemyr.”

“As I said,” replied Hurgomath, as he fashioned slender limb and attached them to his piece, “they pursue that which they value.”

Princess Naomi signalled to the Captain of Brushes, a hulking blue ogre with a necklace of snake fangs and a tiger-skin coat, who waited at attention beside a blank canvas as tall as two men and as wide as a stream. The ogre dunked both hands into a cauldron bubbling red and scrawled war-poems across the canvas in elegant blood calligraphy. The marshalled combat artists, armed with brushes and pens, attacked their canvases in a frenzy of inspiration, expanding on the Captain’s themes and opening up new fronts to counter the dismal Nonemyr offensive.

“Highness, who do you see?”

Her rueful smile apologised in advance for a lie: “More ghosts that I can count.”

Hurgomath saw otherwise, with eyes undeceived by Nonemyr’s corrosive illusions. Princess Naomi was surrounded on all sides by phantoms of the wronged, the neglected, and every other victim of the Principality of Kepheleq’s institutions and social mores, which she had cultivated with ruthless patience across the many decades of her rule, but only one ghost stood close enough to make itself heard.

Centuries ago, Hurgomath had met the Warrior-Queen Desoldra, both in battle and afterwards. She had been formidable in life, no doubt, but her legend had grown beyond her accomplishments in the years since. Was Princess Naomi dangerously invested in achieving some impossible standard of leadership falsely attributed to the Gleaming Principalities’ founder? Likely, thought Hurgomath, but voicing his suspicions might strengthen them. This battle was hers to fight alone, and the outcome of their conflict would turn on neither her success nor her survival.

He hoped she’d live. Of all the Principalities’ rulers, he disliked her the least.

“That’s not a very good likeness,” remarked the seditious ghost, as Hurgomath’s thumbs pushed clay into crude, bulky armour and soft human features.

“In life, your criticisms were pernicious and insightful, First-Among-Mothers, but your comprehension of creativity was never nuanced. The Nonemyr overplay their hand to express opinions about art in your voice.”

The ghost was silent. The notion he had offended it momentarily amused Hurgomath, but he knew better. The Nonemyr were entropy itself, the slow collapse of mountains into dust, and they had no use for feelings other than as weapons slicked with venom.

Princess Naomi’s army deployed their art. Strife-poets casts sonnets of devious wit and cunning; dancers turned whirlwind pirouettes, scattering malicious ghosts; painters drowned despair in studies of light and colour. A song of defiance and hope rumbled across the fields of war, sung by a battalion of armoured unicorns.

“It won’t be enough,” said the voice of every ghost at once.

“They’re right,” said Princess Naomi, as she watched a desperate gloom settle on her soldiers.

A bard strangled a fellow with a steel harp string.

A minstrel silenced her song in an icy well.

A kerosene bath for cleaning brushes became a funeral pyre for a painter lost to hope.

“They are not,” said Hurgomath. He turned Princess Naomi gently to display his finished statue. His fingers were as cold as ice.

She beheld the statue’s face, which already shone like baked porcelain. “Is that the Stewpot girl? The kitchen-hand?”

“You chose her well,” said the Giant, turning pale. He had given his all to the artwork. “Let her inspire your people to their salvation.”

The howls of thwarted ghosts rose as Hurgomath’s final spark passed into the statue.


Today’s late posting is brought to you by general malaise and a rather overwhelming week. (But it’s still Friday, so it’s totally on time, shut up).

This is, of course, another Gleaming Principalities story with a discreditable lack of mafia bunnies. I’ll attempt to make up for that next time.

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Friday flash fiction – The Taking of Dimension None

“This is Dimension None? But there’s nothing here.”

fog

https://pixabay.com/photos/beach-foggy-mist-nature-ocean-1868280/

Miles Lorimer scuffed the toe of one gleaming Berluti oxford shoe through a grey ground fog with the consistency of treacle. A dull, silent whiteness surrounded the group, showing no trace of the Overzone multiversal portal they had just stepped through.

“Close your eyes and keep quiet,” replied Flopknot the bunny, as she wrapped Miles’ silk tie around a young woman’s head. The fighters fanned out around them to form a defensive perimeter. “Let the kid do her job. Is that tight enough, Jeralzine?”

“I can’t see anything, if that’s what you mean,” replied Jeralzine Stewpot, shaking in her oversized breastplate and sensibly flat-heeled ankle boots. “Are you sure you want to rely on me for this?”

“You’re doing fine, sweetheart,” said Bruyalle the Crafty, as she slipped two wickedly curved slicers from their sheathes and peered out into the haze. “Just relax and do what the bunny says.”

Flopknot rubbed the back of Jeralzine’s neck, her voice a soothing and melodious contrast to the soundless void about them.

“Dimension None is a conceptual space, unformed until form is imposed by conscious will. Jeralzine, I want you to picture a place where you feel completely unthreatened and perfectly at ease -”

Miles held up his phone. “If you need a secure location, I have detailed technical blueprints for my New Zealand apocalypse bunker right here. We’re talking state-of-the-art life support systems, impregnable bulkheads, supplies and entertainment for a decade, and a bodyguard of hot ex-Army Rangers for protection and company.”

Flopknot’s ear-tip twitched. “We’re looking for a safe zone, Miles, not a hellscape of paranoia, exploitation and toxic competitiveness.”

Bruyalle agreed. “A psychology twisted by the relentless appetites of mid-collapse capitalism is a poor scaffolding for community health.”

“Say another word, merchant, and I’ll strike your prattling head from your shoulders,” added Friedland the Mighty. For emphasis, he tapped a meaty finger on the dragon’s-head pommel of his gigantic zweihander sword.

“Fine,” sulked Lorimer, “but you Tolkein rejects are missing out on an 80-inch LED TV and every episode of The Inspector Otter Casefiles ever recorded.”

The smoke abruptly resolved into a high-domed room of blackened stonework and worn oak beams. A vast copper stove squatted along one wall, its wood-grate opened and tongues of flame licking out. Bundles of herbs, sausages and animal haunches hung on drying-hooks. The air was thick with the pungent memory of bubbling stews, crusty loaves and a million other delicacies. Gleaming knives were laid out on a long bench stained dark with blood and oil; cleavers, flensing knives, paring knives and everything in between waited to be put to their purpose.

“A mediaeval kitchen?” scoffed Miles. “Unventilated, unsanitary and occupied by overworked semi-skilled labourers with access to stabbing weapons?”

“This is the last place I ever felt safe,” murmured Jeralzine, removing her blindfold with a nervous look toward Bruyalle and Friedland. She’d worked in the royal kitchens of Princess Naomi’s Principality of Kepheleq, right up until they had dragged her away to be an adventurer.

“It’s perfect,” said Flopknot, ignoring the nervous exchange of looks between Friedland and Bruyalle. She held up an intricate assemblage of silver wires and glittering gemstones, arranged hexagonally like a miniature chandelier. Several gems glowed. “Localised unspace has resolved. Dimension None is fixed and stable, at least for the time being. Let’s get to work, people.”

#

Mellowgrass bowed so low his fuzzy brown ears brushed the grass. “Your Majesty,” he squeaked gravely, “we come bearing news.”

“I think we can dispense with the titles, bunnies. Doesn’t your crew do casual Fridays?”

Tammy the Witch wore a grubby gardening blouse and canvas trousers with padding at the knees. She might have looked out of place at the centre of a ten mile wide encampment of polished soldiers in livery of gold and charcoal, but on the whole it was probably the wreath of black, heatless flame encircling her head that most set her apart.

“Mistress Flopknot ain’t exactly known for her disciplinary laxity, ma’am,” observed Cloudpuff, a grey rabbit at Mellowgrass’ side.

“I suppose not,” said the Witch. “She might have more fun if she did. What news, then?”

“The advance team has successful established a stronghold in Dimension None.”

“Then the Nonemyr forces cannot navigate freely between worlds without tipping their hand. Or whatever manipulating appendage they happen to use.” The Witch looked down at her grubby calfskin gloves, still smudged with sap and potting-mud. It would have been nice to get the tulips into their beds before the campaigning began, but some things simply could not wait.

With a sigh, she transformed her blouse into sculpted plates of jet and crimson armour. The canvas trousers became greaves and thigh-length hardboots. Her gloves were now gauntlets, her floppy hat now a griffin-headed helm. In one hand, a scornsword rippled with black flame and urgent hunger. Mellowgrass and Cloudpuff rose to stand at her side, tiny fuzzy guardians of the spiky, marauding figure.

“Loyal soldiers of the Gleaming Principalities,” she said, too softly to be heard at the next camp-tent over, but ringing as clear as a war-bell in every one of ten thousand ears. “Today, we march on our enemies. The Nonemyr tried to destroy us with our love of learning, of language, of life itself. They tried to corrupt what we hold dearest. Nonemyr magic spoiled our food. Nonemyr magic dried our rivers. And I’m sure I needn’t remind anyone it was Nonemyr magic that turned every drop of alcohol in the realms to tasteless water. Shall we let that stand?”

“No, Princess!” came the thunderous cry.

“Shall we rebuke the Nonemyr with stern words?”

“No, Princess!”

“Then shall we answer them with steel and fire?”

“Yes, Princess!” called her army. “Hail Kepheleq. Hail, the Gleaming Principalities! Hail, Princess Naomi!”

“Well then, bunnies,” said Princess Naomi, who was only the Witch of the Forlorn Reach on her days off, “let’s wage war, shall we?”


With only a few more weeks to get to the 100th consecutive week of Friday flash fiction, I might be starting to run out of time to wrap up a few hanging plot threads. This week’s installment probably needs something to happen before you could properly call it a story, so check back in next week to see if I bring things to an exciting conclusion or milk the scenario by making everything more complicated and tragic.

By now I should have blogged about the exciting outcome of the Aurealis Awards last weekend, where I was nominated in two categories. Did I win? Only a cursory google search or subtle deployment of the words “definitely not” may provide a hint. Hopefully I’ll have time to supply a more detailed and satisfactory account of my Melbourne adventures soon.

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Friday flash fiction – The Mystery of the Salt Circle

“Another mystery solved! Great work, gang!”

“Right, Brett. Who’d have thought a kindly old librarian would turn out to be a deranged cult leader?”

https://pixabay.com/photos/kangaroo-animal-animal-world-fauna-612595/

“People sure harbour some strange secrets. Well, let’s all go to the Disco Diner for chocolate shakes and hot dogs.”

“Oh boy, oh boy!”

“None for you, Hoppy. You’re a grass-eating herbivore!”

“Oh no!”

“Ha ha ha! Say, what are you reading, Desdemona?”

“Oh, just some old book that Old Lady Woodley tried to protect with her life. I’ve never seen hieroglyphs like these before.”

“You and your musty tomes, Des. Why don’t you forget about studying for one night and come dancing with the rest of us?”

“I don’t really feel like celebrating, Fleur. You should all go and have some fun. I think I’ll turn in early.”

“Better take Hoppy with you, then. If she sees a dance floor, we’ll never drag her away.”

“Sure thing! See you later gang. Come on, Hops, you can keep me company while I research this language.”

“Oh boy.”

“Don’t be like that. This will be fun. Look at this one, for example. What does this radiating symbol look like to you?”

“Moon?”

“Hmm, maybe. Or maybe it’s a face reflected in a pool of some kind. Judging from the ring intervals, the liquid is denser than water. Oil? Sap? Some kind of syrup? If we translate these other symbols it might give us a clue…”

“Gang, I’m worried about Desdemona. Does anyone else think she’s been a little obsessive lately?”

“Come on, Crufty, give her a break. She’s in her nerdy element, trying to figure out that old book.”

“But she hasn’t left her room for three days. And has anyone seen Hoppy?”

“You boys worry too much. She’s probably sunk her teeth into some weird linguistic mystery, that’s all. She’ll come out when she gets hungry or needs a shower – oh! Desdemona?”

“Fleur. Is something amiss?”

“You look, er, different.”

“She smells different too.”

“You can talk, Crufty! Listen, Des, are you feeling okay?”

“Yes, Fleur. I am well. I need to go.”

“Go where?”

“I must return to the circle.”

“What circle?”

“She must mean that salt circle Old Lady Woodley drew on the basement floor in the library! But why? And what’s the hurry?”

“The Hour of the Gathering is at hand, Brett. We must bear witness.”

“Gosh, if you say so. But maybe I’d better drive. You look a little tired. Come on, gang!”

“Uh, say, Desdemona? Have you seen Hoppy?”

“Hoppy is in my personal bedroom, occupying a secure position.”

“Er, okay. What’s she doing?”

“Pupating.”

“Pupating?”

“I meant to use the more reassuring word ‘resting’. Hoppy is in a fully rested state.”

“Oh, okay. Well, let’s go…”

“Brett’s right, Des. You do look a little worn out.”

“I have been hollowing in preparation.”

“Hollowing? Is that some kind of new diet?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Hey, gang, buckle up. That storm up ahead looks really rough.”

“Wow! Check out all the lightning!”

“Looks like it’s localised directly above the library!”

“It m-might be a trick of the light.”

“Yes, Crufty. The phenomenon is definitely an optical illusion and should give rise to no further concern.”

“S-s-speak for yourself, Des. If Hoppy were here, I bet her ears would be twitching!”

“As she is unavailable, we have no reliable mechanisms for detecting imminent peril. I suggest we proceed straight to the library.”

“Des is right. We’d better get inside before this storm gets any worse.”

“Couldn’t we just cross the street? It’s windless and dry over there!”

“Come on Crufty, if we listened every time you and Hoppy wanted to run away, we’d never solve any mysteries.”

“But -”

“You can stay here if you want, but we’re going inside. Right, gang?”

“W-wait, don’t leave me here…”

“Can anyone else smell that?”

“Yeah, what is it? Smells like burned calamari.”

“Oh, yuck, I hate seafood.”

“Ha! Speaking of diets, I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and -”

“Now you’re making jokes?”

“I can’t help it. I’m nervous.”

“It’s coming from in there.”

“The opening is not yet fully dilated. The Ravener probes for weaknesses, yet the membrane resists.”

“Are we…still talking about a mystery?”

“The defences hold. The Gathering may yet be averted. Behold!”

“Hey, is that circle getting bigger? And where did all this smoke come from?”

“An incredibly localised fog bank?”

“Why would a fog bank develop inside a library?”

“I don’t know! Why would smoke glow green?”

“Listen! What’s all that whispering?”

“That’s Desdemona. What’s she trying to say?”

“Beats me. I thought she was talking to you. Speak up, Des.”

IcallupontheguardianatthethresholdslipyourtethersandstandyourvigilIcallupontheguardianat –

“Hoppy-roppy-roo!”

“Hoppy!”

“Where’d you come from?”

“How’d you get here?”

“How’d you get so big? Did Desdemona feed you supplements?”

“Stand back! Let the Guardian perform its anointed task!”

“What task?”

“To thwart the incursion from the Dark Crevasse of the Hunger. The Omni-Famine. The Ceaseless Maw.”

“I’ll have you know I find those nicknames very hurtful!”

“Oh my stars! Teeth! Scales! Scorched tentacle tips. Aren’t you -?”

“Hetchag the Ravener!”

“Wait, for real? He’s not a disgruntled humanities professor or a property developer in a rubber mask?”

“Your flimsy human perspective cannot hope to encompass the immensity of my being. But do I seriously look like a property developer to you?”

“Oh, snickers!”

“Hoppy! Roppy! Roo!”

“What– a threshold guardian? How in the thirteen limbos did you numbskull kids conjure a – AGH!”

“Hoppy, stop biting that man!”

“It is no man. It is a Horror of the Lightless Realms intent on destroying all existence.”

“Hoppy, don’t stop biting!”

“Hoppy!”

“Gross! Is that blood purple or black?”

“Roppy!”

“Oh no! My new blouse! I’ll never get these stains out!”

“ROO!”

“Thank you, Guardian. You and my host have served admirably. I release you both.”

“Kinkies! What happened?”

“Oh, you know, Des. Demonic invasion.”

“Universe in peril.”

“And they would have got away with it if not for us meddling kids and -”

“Hoppy-roppy-roo!”

 


Sometimes, I get a little goofy. This started with the image – which is too obvious not to have been done somewhere, by someone – of Velma from Scooby-Doo wandering off with a copy of the Necronomicon. After lightly filing off the serial numbers and making the odd decision to tell this story only in dialogue, I realised this was probably another Hetchag yarn, which helped slot everything together. It’s been a while since dear old Hetchag the Ravener made an appearance, and I for one have missed him.

I’m heading down to Melbourne this weekend, where I shall be preparing to put on a brave face as other people’s names are read out at the Aurealis Awards. I have no idea what will happen if my name gets read out, but in that unlikely event and if it’s even possible to comprehend my incoherent babbling through the medium of YouTube videos, I’ll be sure to post a link.

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Friday flash fiction – Last Day at the Institute

A solitary figure stood at the gate, rocking back and forth on her heels like she could wait all day for it to open. Sandeep watched her on the monitors for several minutes, throat dry, hands shaking. Then a second figure arrived, and a third. Sandeep switched off the security feed and sent the all-staff message he’d prepared that morning. Then he opened a comms channel out to the cove.

“Chirrup. Irpichirp. I must speak to you. Please meet me at the end of Pier Two.”

https://pixabay.com/photos/common-dolphins-swimming-ocean-sea-914548/

Brushing away useless tears, he pulled the go-bag from his locker. With one last look at the framed photographs on his desk, he abandoned his office.

The corridors bustled with grim-faced colleagues rushing to their assigned tasks. Nobody showed signs of panic, at least not yet. Pride warmed some of the chill from his heart.

Jenny Da Costa, the linguistics director, caught up as he followed them toward the docks. “Chief, Colonel Ebbers is going to take his team to the Mount Phillip compound. He thinks it will be more secure than the islands. They’ve commandeered the SUVs.”

Sandeep sighed. Apparently his hour-long argument with Ebbers had not been enough to persuade the military liaison. “Are any of our supposed security detachment planning to stay to provide security?”

“Just Collins and Malvinas.”

“Well, they’re the only ones with personalities. We must be thankful that at least Rolling Stones ukulele covers and dramatic re-enactments of the Coen brothers’ films will not be lost to human culture.”

Da Costa did her best to laugh. “Trust you to see the bright side, Chief,” she said. “See you at the boats.”

The setting sun threw long shadows across the cove, the twin piers and the loading dock, where soldiers loaded three white SUVs labelled “Institute for Aquatic Mammal Enhancement”. Colonel Ebbers did not return Sandeep’s tight smile.

As he split off toward Pier Two, Sandeep drank in the hubbub along Pier One. The entire facility staff had formed a human chain, passing equipment, supplies and belongings from the loading dock to the two docked research yachts. He paused to wave encouragements, then left them to their preparations, and hurried on.

Two dolphins circled, splashing and dodging between the posts. He spoke slowly, enunciating carefully for the benefit of the translators. “Hello Chirrup. Hello Irpichirp. I am glad you came.”

Chirrup reared in place, head nodding back and forth in what Sandeep had come to understand was mimicry – or possibly parody – of human greetings.

“Hello, Sandeep. Why is there commotion?” The speaker implant nestled behind Chirrup’s right eye produced a bass monotone, audible above and below the water’s surface. It gave her a grave, matronly air.

“They are taking the boats away,” snapped Irpichirp, whose speaker unit gave him a clipped, irritated tone.

Sandeep knelt low to allow Chirrup to bump his cheek with her rostrum. “Yes, everyone must leave. We are going to the island.”

Irpichirp flicked water at him. “Then who will feed us? The cove has little food.”

“There is a great deal of food in the ocean. You will have to feed yourselves. I am going to open the sea gate now. The two of you must lead your pods beyond and into open water.”

“Out? But why?”

Sandeep was distracted by movement ashore. The SUV convoy rolled slowly toward the gates; soldiers with machine guns leaned from the windows. Their weapons were pointed at the crowd gathered beyond the gate.

“Because we want you – both pods – to find other dolphins in the wild and join them. I know you don’t understand the details,” Sandeep said, not looking away from the SUVs, “but the genetic modifications we made to you will be passed on to successive generations and spread to other dolphins. Your intelligence will continue to grow and you will find new ways to communicate with…any humans you find.”

“But won’t we find you on the island?”

Shouts came from the gate. The crowd pressed forward the moment the gates began to open. A few fell as gunfire crackled; the rest rushed to surround the vehicles.

“Perhaps.” Sandeep felt a shocking surge of adrenalin as the first soldier was dragged from a car into the crowd. Some of the boats’ crews screamed and scrambled aboard. “The island may not be far enough.”

“Why is your pod fighting?”

“That’s not our pod,” said Sandeep. “Listen to me, both of you. The retroviral treatments that made you smarter do not affect humans the same way. The side effects are contagious and – very bad.”

“Bad?”

“You cannot trust people any more, understand? You must get away from here, far from anywhere humans walk. Teach your pods. Teach your children and all your kind. Humans will kill you if they can.”

Chirrup wailed, “But we trust you, Sandeep.”

The crowd had overturned two SUVs and dragged the soldiers out. The third was spattered red as it fled up the coast road at high speed.

One of the boat engines roared to life; the other choked and stalled. Its crew and passengers turned in horror and looked back down the pier. The bloodied crowd streamed across the loading dock and reached the pier’s boardwalk. Fresh screams erupted as people fled the stalled boat, making for the running boat or leaping into the water.

A few had broken from the crowd and found Sandeep’s pier.

Sandeep pulled a pistol from his go-bag, chambered a round, sighted and fired, just as Corporal Malvinas had taught him. A man in the crowd stumbled but pressed on, bleeding from his throat.

“If you trust me,” said Sandeep, “then leave as I told you. And if any human tries to hurt you, hit them like you would hit a shark. Right here, on the neck, until it breaks.”

Irpichirp said, “That would kill a human.”

“Yes,” agreed Sandeep, looking into the crowd’s dead eyes and hungry mouths. “It may be the only thing that still does.”

He used the next bullet on himself.


Oh damn, I wanted to write a sweet story about smart dolphins and ethical scientists and look what happened. Sigh. Well, maybe the dolphins will do a better job of things.

Posted in Friday flash fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments