Thursday, 8 November 2018

FREE STORY: What We Become, by Leo McBride




I was a shame to my father as a child. 
He wanted me to be a warrior - he said I was too soft. Instead, I played in the court gardens at Argos. I chased butterflies as he scowled and said I would amount to nothing. 
He might have been right if it hadn’t been for Demetrios. My father boasted of ruling kingdoms - but the gardens were the realm of Demetrios. He was the chief gardener, and he took me under his charge. He took my whimsy and shaped it into love. He showed me how to sow, to prune, to cultivate. He showed me that things grow - as did I. 
My youthful arms became muscular. I stood tall and strong. My father had discounted me for so long in my youth - now he saw new possibilities for me. He put a sword in one of my hands. He told me to stand with the Hero of Argos. He told me to write my own legend. 
I missed the gardens as we sailed, and talked long about them to my companions as the winds and waves buffeted our ship, while we huddled below and waited for Poseidon to find another target for his wrath. Finally, we reached Sarpedon, and our Hero led the way. 
Perseus surged ahead of us into battle, the sun gleaming off his mirrored shield, his sword aloft, stabbing the sky in defiance. How could we lose? 
I could not imagine failure - until the tunnels, and the whispered stories of the horror of Medusa turned out to be true. One by one, we fell, until only a handful of us were left.
Medusa was ready to spring upon Perseus as his back was turned. I shouted a warning, and her gaze fell on me instead. She turned me to stone. 
And yet, inside I still existed. Motionless, I waited. Motionless, I lingered upon my failure. Motionless, I remembered. 
I remembered those days as a child, running freely in the gardens - back when I knew only happiness and my father knew only shame. I was a failure then - to him, if not to me. Was I a failure now? I had fallen - had Perseus triumphed?
I remembered something else too. I remembered what I learned in those gardens. “Aren’t they beautiful?” I shouted as I chased those butterflies. Demetrios laughed. 
“Not always,” he replied, and showed me some grubs on his fingertips. “This is how they start out.”
“But how?” I asked, with the simplicity of the child I was. He showed me the husk of a cocoon, explained how the grub changed. 
“Things change,” he said, “things grow. Just like you will. What you are now isn’t what you will become.”
I sit, frozen inside my stone cocoon. I begin to feel the stone flake. It crumbles away from my eye. I can see. 
I am becoming. 

THE END

Author's note: So hey, how did this flash fiction piece come to exist? Well, there's a smashing group on Facebook called Rhetoric Askew. Lovely people, and with a friendly group of writers, artists and more. Quite often, they post pictures with a challenge to members of the group to write something - a poem, a flash fiction, etc - inspired by the image. You can see the image that inspired this piece here - though you might need to join the group. Which would be a fine way to discover all that the group has to offer. Have a good weekend, all! 
Leo


Friday, 2 November 2018

FREE STORY: How I've Come To Hate The Sky, a flash fiction by Leo McBride


She was the first. But not the last. They found her body in a New York park, surrounded by her killers. A Murder of Crows, screamed the headlines. It was an oddity. An unusual event. At least, it was then.
The reporters turned to the scientists, asking how could this happen. The scientists brushed them off. It was a million to one incident, they said. All but one scientist, who quietly pointed out that crows were among the smartest of animals and asked what if they had learned something new.
The next day brought two more killings, both in the same incident. An old man was attacked in the street. A police officer tried to go to his rescue. The crows killed him too before they fled, taking his eyes with them.
A curiosity became a shiver of fear throughout the city. Scarecrows appeared on the lawns of the people who had them, in the windows of apartments for those who did not. The talk shows were no longer talking about how weird the first killing was, but rather filled with the voices of worried callers, asking what was going on.
The mayor said it was just a rogue group of birds, and experts were being consulted. Not that there were experts in this.
Day three brought ten deaths. All separate incidents across the city. This wasn’t one rogue group of birds - or at least, not any more.
The mayor issued a bounty, $100 reward for each dead crow. The environmentalists cried out, the hunters showed up.
The fourth day was the bloodiest yet. The hunters took to the streets, loaded up with their rifles, and the crows came for them. All the deaths that day were among the hunters. The crows suffered casualties, but there always seemed to be more. 35 hunters died that day.
People shut their doors, peered out their windows and listened to the TV news. The governor declared a state of emergency that night, and called in the national guard.
They called it the Central Park Massacre. The national guard rolled right into town, lined up neatly on the grass of the park, and began to die. The troops were trained to fight other soldiers, not the quick arrows that gathered above, so many that the midday sky grew dark. Then they fell, in a rain that turned red as they struck their targets.
The only survivors were those sealed inside their armored personnel carriers, and they fled from the screams of their comrades. The crows stood attendant above the massacre, massed on the trees of the park, defiant.
People didn’t dare to go out after that - and when they did, they were picked off one by one.
The president boarded Air Force One to come and take charge of the situation personally, but the TV anchor, stranded in the studio for days now, reported the plane went down - all four engines hit by a bird strike.
Trapped indoors, starvation and shortage of medicine started to take its toll. No more deaths one by one, now they came faster. Risk the birds, or die indoors.
Those who were lucky enough to get to their cars found they had no way of getting out to refuel. They couldn’t drive far enough to get away from the birds. The lucky ones were those who managed to get to indoor garages of malls big enough to find shelter.
The remnants of government started a rescue operation. Where to go? There was only one option - the underground shelters, stocked up on military rations long enough to consider alternatives. The few survivors reached there. Most didn’t.
 We live underground now. Cultivating food where we can, and peering out reinforced windows at the surface world denied to us now. They say we’re lucky, that we ought to be grateful. But I sit and stare out the windows each day. They ask me if it’s because I miss the old world, the way it used to be, but it’s not. I come to remind myself how I hate the sky.

By LEO McBRIDE

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Hunting for something spooky? Here's five lesser known horror movies - and a ghost hunt with prizes too!

There's a smashing group of writers called the Sparkly Badgers of Facebook - if you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me joining in when work allows with their Monday #sparklybadgersunite hashtag chat.

The group has joined forces for a competition to win copies of, ooh, well, lots of books - the ones below.


There's an event on Facebook too for Halloween - right here: https://www.facebook.com/events/373362076545635/?__mref=mb

To have a chance of winning, your ghost hunt involves finding a ghost through a series of blog posts - including this one! The ghost hunt starts at www.cbvisions.weebly.com - with each ghost having a letter. Click the ghost to go to the next blog, put the letters together and... well, come join the event to find out more. Tales From The Underground is my contribution to the pot, which includes my story Professor Algernon Whitlock's Exotic And Fabulous Grand Tour of the Underworld.

You miiiight even find a ghost in this very post. If you're lucky.

Also while we're in the, um, spirit of Halloween, let me recommend five lesser known horror movies to you - that might just fit your mood come the night itself.

First up is a properly scary movie, the Spanish horror movie [REC]. There was a US remake of this as Quarantine. DO NOT SEE THE REMAKE. The original is great, the remake tepid. It's a found footage movie - and one of the best of its type.




Second, we delve further back, all the way to 1957, and a Dana Andrews chiller that goes by a couple of names. It's called Night of the Demon, or sometimes Curse of the Demon. Don't get it mixed up with an appalling recent exploitation horror flick called Night of the Demons though - that's awful. This one is adapted from an MR James story, Casting The Runes, and involves a demon used as assassin. If you're a Kate Bush fan, you might even recognise the line "It's in the trees! It's coming!" 




Sticking with black and white, we're going further back, all the way to 1942, for the fabulous Simone Simon horror Cat People. There's a more modern remake of this, that mostly involves people not wearing clothes. But this has real naked terror. For its era, it's very sensual - and the lead character wrestles with questions of identity. It's an unsettling movie, even in this age of more full-on horror.





Back to the 1980s now, and Pierce Brosnan proving he can act - though his French accent sometimes wobbles. Brosnan plays an anthropologist who explores tribal cultures - only to discover a tribe of modern nomads living in LA, living outside the law, and waiting, waiting to be noticed by their next victims...

I'm always surprised this hasn't become something of a cult hit - the visuals are great and the ending as creepy as can be.



Finally, a Disney movie. That's right, a Disney movie. In fact, a Disney movie so scary it led Disney to set up its adult film division. It's Something Wicked This Way Comes, the movie adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel - and it's simply great. It's about a circus that comes to town - Coogan and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Circus - promising to fulfill your dreams, at the tiny price of your soul. It's also as warm a movie about the relationship between father and son - a father a bit too old for his liking, a son bursting to grow into adulthood - as you will find. Jason Robards is brilliant as the father, Jonathan Pryce sinister as the head of the circus. Enjoy, with a little fear in your heart.





BONUS MOVIE: This one's well known, but getting on a bit now - it's the Hammer Horror adaptation of Quatermass and the Pit. Martians, the devil, scientists and the end of the world, all wrapped up in a lovely Hammer horror bow. Great fun.


Friday, 26 October 2018

Greg Stafford, Runequest and me


Greg Stafford in Helsinki, Finland on July 21, 2005

I never met Greg Stafford. The closest I ever came was encountering some of his writing in an old Runequest list when I was back in university and greedily printing out everything to do with the game that I could on piles of computer paper.

But when he died earlier this month, I felt a real loss, for his work has been such a key part of my life for so long that it hit home hard.

I started roleplaying back in the 1970s. My first game might have been the old blue book of basic Dungeons & Dragons, but it was Runequest that really caught my imagination. Greg Stafford was its creator, and the imagination behind the world of Glorantha in which the game took place.

My first copy of Runequest was the second edition, back in 1980 or so. I was about seven or eight at the time, and I fell in love with the game. One of my favourite childhood presents was the Christmas gift I unwrapped containing the Cults of Prax and Griffin Mountain books for the game. I fell into those pages and didn't emerge all day. Runequest was something different, something special - and Glorantha with it.


The second edition of Runequest - the boxed set of which was my first experience of the game. 

Unlike many other game systems, Glorantha offered a coherent world. This was a place of concrete locations, not nebulous villages and taverns. There were defined cities, established holy places, nests of chaos to beware of - all with shifting lines of control as rival factions fought for territory. Players didn't choose character classes, but found themselves choosing allegiances. The dragons to beware of were empires, the heroes often the underdogs, the resistance. And often overwhelmed.

Into this landscape came the players - often fighting their way through traditional dungeons but often with different goals. Sure, there was treasure to divvy up, magical items to strive for, but often the advancement came through the faiths the players chose to side with, working their way up the ranks of the cults who could offer them the magic they strove for. Advancement came through being part of the society around them. That was kind of revolutionary back in the day Runequest was published.


Runequest has returned to print, oh joy of joys, and you can check it out here.

Ultimately, Runequest became the longest running single campaign of a game I played in. The players who joined in my campaign at university ended up playing the same campaign and, barring the odd fatality here and there, the same characters for a decade. Long weekends were devoted to exploring the byways of Glorantha - from the plains of Prax, to the depths of Snakepipe Hollow, from the wilds of Balazar, to the parts of the world we created for ourselves. The characters outgrew the basic rules, so we made up our own extensions to them to allow the players to explore the world of Heroquesting. All of it was brilliant, all of it rooted in the work of Greg Stafford, and those who joined him as the world flowered into a broad landscape.

There are so many gaming moments from Runequest that bring a smile to my face all these years later, from the fumbles that just fell right (hit nearest friend with a Flameblade just as a comrade drags themselves through lantern oil beside you is an unfortunate one), to the mythology that becomes punchline ("Let's go down Wakboth Way." "NO!" "Why not?" "Wakboth's the devil!" "Well... hush my mouth.")

It's had a lasting effect too in my writing - my characters Rasten and Weasel both started out as NPCs in my Runequest campaign. One a hero, one a villain, now exploring a world of my own and partnered up in the story A Taste For Battle and lurking around the back of my brain for a fantasy saga that one day I'll write.

So thank you, Mr Stafford. We may never have met, but you let us play in your playground, and I - and my gaming colleagues - loved every minute of it.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Inklings Press: A fantastic announcement - and a change of tack


There's a stirring at Inklings Tower. Something is afoot. 
The time has come for the Inklings crew to throw the doors open wide again in search of submissions for the next anthology. 
And it's a return to our beginnings this time. The first anthology released by Inklings Press was Tales From The Tavern - a short collection of five fantasy stories by some of the early, happy crew that thought it was time to have a go. You can still read that - it's collected in the Tales From The Tower anthology that rounds up the first year of Inklings Press. 
Fantasy was where we began - and fantasy is where our next anthology will take us. 
We want you to dare to dream. We want you to imagine fantasy worlds that will surprise, that will excite. 
It's also a new beginning in a different way. We're trying out a new payment structure. Previously we have paid a share of royalties for each book - but we're going to test out something new this time. 
For the next anthology, payment is $50 per story, with payment made upon publication. 
Why are we doing this? Well, our ambition is to aim towards becoming SFWA eligible in time - and a flat payment works more easily for that than the royalty structure. We've got a distance to go, but it's a first step, and all great journeys need a first step. 
We would also love to see submissions from members of under-represented groups - and fantasy worlds that might go beyond the more familiar. We'd love to see what you've got. 
For more information, see www.inklingspress.com. 
Send your stories to theinklingspress@gmail.com - and feel free to ask us questions by email or on Twitter @InklingsPress. 
The deadline is December 31, 2018. Further details - the title of the new anthology and cover reveal - will come closer to publication, which is anticipated in Q1 of 2019. 
Thank you for listening - and we look forward to your submissions! 

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Horror Books For Halloween (and win a copy of Tales From The Tower)



It's October - the time of year when the wind picks up leaves and swirls them at our heels, when the shadows grow longer as they stalk at our heels. It's time for Halloween.

As we count down to the day when ghosts and ghouls and goblins come out to play, I'm doing a rundown each day of horror books that I love over on Twitter - and I'm going to gather those tweets here too, along with replies suggested by followers.

Do join in - either in the comments here, or over on my Twitter account - just click on one of the tweets below to come through and join in the chat.

I'd love to hear your suggestions. Oh, and on Halloween itself, I'll share my favourite horror book ever - if you can guess what it is beforehand, I'll give the first person to do so a paperback copy of Tales From The Tower (available at myBook.to/Tower), including my horror story The Chickcharney.

And so, we begin...
























I love that others are chipping in with extra suggestions - such as the one below.





















Friday, 28 September 2018

FLASH FICTION: Where You Last Expected, by Leo McBride


It's Friday... so here's a short flash fiction for your evening's reading. Enjoy!




Where You Last Expected
By Leo McBride

The taxi driver wouldn't shut up as we made our way past streets named by number and with little imagination. Every road we passed he had another story about; how this person was killed here, how that drug raid was made there. 
“Why even come out at night, sir?” he complained, as if he was trying to talk himself out of his fare. “You see these kids on the street? They're devils, you trust to a guardian angel to look after you? You think if there were such things they wouldn't look after those kids first?”
Sure, he was right, it wasn't safe, but his concern for me ended with the passing of the dollar bills. His taxi spat me out by the park. I didn't want to be out here either, but work is work and I had papers to drop off with a client. 
I saw some of those kids as I got out, watching me as they sat by a playground in the dark, and switched my briefcase to my other hand as I headed the other way. Dammit, why'd I have to do the crappy jobs?
I barely got 20 yards. The red lights of the taxi's rear were still in sight when the mugger came at me from a side alley, knocking my briefcase down and scattering papers everywhere. 
He had a metal bar in his hand, and it cracked my arm as I tried to protect myself. I cried out as the bar swung down, again and again. Jesus, the pain was too much. This was it, I was going to die. Why didn't I listen to the damn taxi driver?
I curled into a ball, shouting for it to stop, shouting for him to take the papers, take the money, take any damn thing he wanted, just leave me alone. I raised my hand one more time to try to make it stop.
And it did. 
Blinking, I looked up. We weren't alone. The mugger stood there, his hand raised, his mouth open. 
Around us, they stood. Four of them, their wings enfolding us in shadow. “Guardian angels,” I gasped, through a broken lip. 
The mugger stammered an apology, dropped the bar, and ran. 
One of the four reached out a hand to me, and pulled me to my feet. 
“You're real,” I whispered, in awe. “You're angels?”
“Close enough,” replied the one who held my hand.
Then anger overtook me. The words of the taxi driver rang in my head. If there are such things, why don't they look after those kids first? “Dammit, you're real and you only help now? This city is a mess! Where are you all the time?” I spat blood. 
The angel smiled patiently. “On the streets,” he said. “Where we've always been.”
With that, they folded their wings away. And then, just kids again now, they walked back to the playground and sat in the dark.