The Future and Other Fictions

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Archive for the category “Fantasy”

A crack in the sky


There’s a crack in the sky tonight, and through it I can see the stars.

I’d like to run down the hill and tell Katje. We sometimes lay down side by side and watch the stars, and later leads on to other pleasurable pastimes. But it would be a waste of time tonight; by the time we returned, the crack would have been sealed. Besides, there’s no guarantee that Katje is at her grandmother’s tonight.

So I just lie here on my back and stare up at the sky, watching the tiny dots flittering around it, almost too small to see. These are the vehicles, so we are told, of the gods, repairing the damage our lack of faith has wrought. Our own foolishness would lead to our destruction, as the incessant war of the gods would flood our land with unbearable power when next the conflict approaches. But the gods are loving and merciful and they continually save us from the unbelief of ourselves.

The stars, we are told, are the homes of the gods. They shine with the light of millions of millions of our deities, separated from us only by the width of the gauzy curtain of the sky. Yet… In the Book the stars are spoken of differently.

Am I allowed to speak of the Book? Nobody has told me, but of course nobody but Kylar has authority to read it. Of all the twenty of us Scribes, trainees and masters, I alone have been chosen to bear the extra burden. Yet I have had no chance to speak to Kylar, save a brief word at the ceremony of Bestowal. Rumours abound that Kylar is ill and that I will be thrust into a position of leadership far more quickly than I would wish, but how can I be expected to lead the people if I have been told no more than they? As for the Book, it is filled with things I cannot understand and cannot reconcile with what I am told by the Elders.



Hmph. Thought I heard someone up here. What’s your name, boy? You’re a long way from home.


Kevan looked up sharply. Automatically his left forefinger tuned the microphone sensitivity up a few notches.

“My name is Kevan,” he said. “Scribe and Guide elect.”

The Messenger shrugged his cloak onto the ground and sat on it. He nodded, silver hair blowing in the gentle breeze. “Heard of you,” he said shortly. “What do you see?”

Kevan shifted uncomfortably. But it was a familiar enough question. The scribes in training were asked it innumerable times by the Elders, until it became second nature to describe everything to their Recorders. “I see a hillside dotted with trees, their crowns bending to let the wind pass where it might. I see the light from our homes some three miles distant, a flickering glow in the dimness of the plain. I see the sky being repaired and the wrath of the Gods being sealed out.”

The Messenger harrumphed. “You make a good scribe,” he said. “Very poetic.”

“Thank you,” said Kevan. He wasn’t at all certain he should be talking to the Messenger without the presence of an Elder. But as Guide elect he had to start dealing with things himself.

They sat in silence for a moment, watching the vehicles at work, sealing the crack in the sky. Then Kevan cleared his throat softly. “The Elders tell us,” he said finally, “that you came from beyond the sky to bring us news of the Gods. Of how the war goes.”

Kevan waited to see if the Messenger would warn him off the topic. He didn’t. He continued to stare at the sky, but Kevan was certain he was listening.

“We hear also,” he went on, “that you may speak only to Kylar. But Kylar, it is said, is too ill to listen, much less respond.”

“Rumours,” said the Messenger dismissively.

“They are incorrect, then?” Kevan asked. The Messenger did not reply.

“Messengers have come to us every three centuries,” Kevan continued. “Each time during a period of great peril, grave danger to the People. Each time disaster has been averted only by immediate action by the Guide. So much is in our history.”

The Messenger said nothing. His body language bespoke some inner emotion, of anger or amusement. Kevan wished he knew which.

Kevan paused. He didn’t wish to be too direct. The Elders would hear the Recording and he was not beyond their censorious reach. But he had a responsibility, one which he had not asked for but which had devolved to him anyhow.

“The Elders are inflexible,” he said carefully. “They insist that while Kylar lives he retains immutable rights. Yet if he is incapable of Guiding the people…”

The Messenger turned his head and his eyes glowed in the darkness. “You are Guide elect,” he said.

Kevan nodded. “I am.”

“How much have you read of the Book?”

Kevan froze. He was not allowed to talk of the book to anyone but the Guide. And yet… the Guide was unable to respond to his questioning. And now the Messenger’s eyes were burning with sudden intensity as he stared directly at Kevan.

“Some,” he whispered eventually, dropping his eyes. He felt shamed. He felt that he was betraying his people. The Elders had told him that he had a responsibility, to know more than it was wise for people to know. Even the Elders did not know what it was that he was not allowed to speak of.

The Messenger seemed impatient. “Don’t go like that, young man,” he said. “The book comes to you from beyond the sky. As do I. From the Gods… such as they may be.”

Kevan suddenly didn’t want to hear. He’d pressed too hard and now was hearing too much. So this was what the Elders had meant. But they had also said that he was never to shirk his responsibility.

The Messenger, however, had turned uncommunicative again.

After a while Kevan spoke again. “The sky is almost sealed,” he said.

The Messenger hmmed noncommitally.

“Is our unbelief so great?” Kevan asked.

The Messenger stared at him, suddenly uncertain. “So great as what?”

“The shield of the sky,” said Kevan, “is broken by our unbelief. Yet these breaks are much more common now than ever before. Has our unbelief progressed to the point where we require a Messenger to remind us of the true faith? Is that why you are here?”

The Messenger turned away, stared at the trees below. “Tell me about the Book,” he said.

Kevan paused again before answering. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. “It speaks of a multitude of worlds,” he said. “It says the stars are simple light sources, nothing more. It says that we are not the only People in the universe. All of these things are denied by the Elders, by our very faith. I alone question.” Kevan stared at the Messenger, eyes suddenly bleak. “It’s me, isn’t it? The unbelief that breaks the sky. It’s mine. And you have come to convince me of the folly of my ways.”

The Messenger leapt to his feet, clutched at his temples as if struck by pain he could not bear. Kevan shied away from the sudden violent movement. Had he gone too far? Had he in his ignorance doomed the People he was destined to Guide?

The Messenger stared at the sky, face distorted with sudden rage. “I will not!” he shouted. “I can no longer be a party to this!”

“You cannot fight the Gods,” Kevan said. It was one of the few parts of his faith of which he was sure.

The Messenger suddenly rounded on Kevan, causing the scribe to shy backwards further still. “What do you know of Gods?” he snarled. “The Gods are a committee of half-senile old men who should have learned their lessons by now.” His next remark was aimed as much to the sky as Kevan. “It’s all falling apart, and they can’t see it!”

Kevan was, for the first time in his life, at a loss for words. How could a Messenger suddenly spout blasphemy? It went against every grain of the faith. Yet what the Messenger was saying bore the ring of truth, incomprehensible as it was.

As suddenly as it had appeared the anger was gone, and the Messenger suddenly seemed like a tired old man himself, though he could hardly be fifty years of age.

The Messenger sat down on his cloak again. He stared straight ahead as he addressed Kevan.

“Scribe and Guide-elect, let me tell you a story,” he said. “The Gods, in their infinite wisdom, decided to build a society of peaceful farmers. They supplied… magical items to make life easier. They built the sky over this group of people to protect them from harm and to isolate them from the rest of the universe. They gave them a unified language, a societal system which would produce no ill effects. Their aim was to produce a utopian society, a world where everyone had all they needed, where evil could never flourish. A heaven of sorts, if you will.”

“Heaven?” asked Kevan, unsettled by the unfamiliar word. The Messenger ignored the interruption and continued his story.

“The Gods succeeded in their aim,” he said. “Their vision of a utopian culture was fulfilled. A culture with no evil, no wants, no sickness.”

“Our culture,” Kevan said softly, recognising the Canto of his own faith.

“Your culture,” agreed the Messenger. As he spoke his voice became harsher, more violent. “A culture with no struggling. No fighting. No change. No progress. And so you live with a part of you missing, something that’s been absent so long you can no longer tell the difference!”

Kevan jumped to his feet, turned away, tears springing to his eyes. “Is this why you have come? To torment me with things I cannot understand, that I dare not even contemplate?”

“It’s not your fault,” said the Messenger. “It’s far more my responsibility. I have allowed myself to go along with their plans, with their machinations. I allowed myself to be sent here, to renew your people’s faith, to check on your society’s health. While my people renew the shield that keeps you isolated from any influences which might encourage you to think!”

Kevan didn’t turn around. The Messenger was toying with him and all he wanted was to flee to the town for shelter. But he wouldn’t give the Messenger the satisfaction of seeing him run.

Before he had taken three steps the Messenger called out to him again. Kevan paused.

“Read the Book,” the Messenger said. “But read this also.”

Reluctantly Kevan turned, and felt another pillar of his world crumble. The Messenger was holding out… it was another Book. A similar leather cover protected the pages within, of a different shade to the leather he knew so well. There were other Books.

Kevan stepped forward slowly and took hold of the gift. But the Messenger didn’t release it immediately. Instead he stared into Kevan’s eyes as they held the ends of the book. A strange mental tug of war, and Kevan knew he was hopelessly outclassed.

“You are a free person,” said the Messenger. “A book… is just words. Sometimes the words reflect a vision, but at best they can only be a guide. What I give you now has no higher meaning than to open your mind to other possibilities.”

Kevan stared at him, again uncomprehending. The Messenger ignored the appeal in his eyes and continued talking.

“Tell the Elders that I have left to return to the Gods,” he said. “The sky is intact once more.” He let go of the new Book. Kevan felt as if he’d been leaning backwards on a rope and the weight had suddenly been taken off the other end. He almost staggered with the sudden relief.

The Messenger stood and shrugged himself back into his cloak, removing a sealed scroll as he did so. He held up the scroll. “This formally ratifies you as Guide for the People,” he said. “No other Guide has been so blest. I suggest you don’t waste this honour. You have the support of the Gods. Don’t be afraid…” the Messenger turned as he spoke, so his sentence was almost lost in the wind. “…to make changes.”

And with no further word he walked away down the hill, becoming lost to sight within the trees only moments later.

Kevan stared at the scroll at his feet, sealed with a red ribbon sash. He was tempted to bury it, give up the responsibility of Guiding the people, walk away into the forest and forget everything he knew. But he dared not.

Instead he looked at the Book in his hand. It felt strange to hold a Book outside the protected environs of the Learning Rooms. The lettering on the front cover made little sense to him. Brave New World. He considered just leaving it here. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to understand it; perhaps his faith need not be challenged by it. Perhaps he could go on with life as if this night had never happened. Overhead, the stars were dull patches of light on the unbroken sky. All was well with the world.

From the direction of the village came a single forlorn horn note. Sounding for the death of Guide Kylar. It was soon joined with a chorus of other horns, the sombre music sounding strangely thin from this distance and in this wind.

Holding the scroll in one hand and the new Book in the other Kevan began to make his way down the hill.


The Beggar and the Owl

“This is all your own fault, you know,” said the owl.

The beggar had been steadfastly ignoring his avian goad for the last hour, but this was too much to be borne. “I see,” he said. “So I whipped up that magic gateway myself, did I? Stripped myself of my powers? Pray tell, where do you think I might have hidden them? I’d rather like them back.”

The breeze had turned cold during the morning, and it cut cruelly through the threadbare cast-offs that this ridiculous mortal body was wrapped in. He had asked several passers-by for their jackets, rather politely he had thought, but nobody was playing. It had been a good five hundred years since he had last been fully mortal, and he wasn’t used to discomfort.

“What are you hoping to achieve?” The owl swooped by him, so close he could almost have reached out and grabbed it, but he wasn’t falling for that lure again. It alighted in the branches of one of the elms that lined the river, its brilliant white feathers standing out stark against the russet autumn leaves. “Just apologise to her. You know it’s what she wants. She’s not about to relent just because you’re too proud to talk to her.”

“Apologise?” The de-powered God snorted in derision. “I’m the King of Olympus. I don’t have to ask bloody Hera for permission and I’m not about to apologise for having a bit of fun!”

The owl ruffled its feathers, giving a remarkably accurate facsimile of a shrug. “You may be the King of Olympus but you’re also a homeless beggar and it will be night soon. I don’t want to see you suffer.” When the old beggar tightened his lips and kept walking, the owl changed tack. “She gets upset when you have your ‘bits of fun’. There’s been a dozen this year alone. What was the latest – that Spaniard?”

“Alberto,” said the beggar. “He was a sculptor. I showed him a few things about the male form.” He smiled at the recollection.

“I’ll say you did,” said the owl. “If you’re that tired of Hera, why not just leave her? If you must dally with mortals, why do you have to keep rubbing her nose in it? You might even be free to marry again.”

“Never,” snorted the beggar. “One three-hundred year wedding night is enough for one existence. No, I’m not looking for another wife.” His steps paused for a second. “Hera doesn’t get free of me that easily.”

“You still love her,” mused the owl.

“Nonsense! It’s just… I like being comfortable.”

Their perambulations were taking them past a street mime. The owl left his side for a moment, perching high above the sparse cluster of the audience on a street lamp. A barely visible wave of force that nobody human could see, and suddenly the mime was accompanied by a voice, clearly enunciating in the cold air. “If I climb this ladder, I can see over the wall. Now what…”

The mime froze, hands raised on an invisible sill, and his head whipped around as he tried to find the joker. The audience looked on bemused, and the mime, disconcerted, went on with the act.

“…what do I see? Ah, there’s a door on the other…”

The mime broke character, glaring furiously, but the owl had departed, swooping back to the beggar’s side.

“That was petty,” he said. “You’ve grown more malicious as you’ve gotten older.”

“I hate mimes,” said the owl. “Where were we? No, more to the point: where are we? Where are you going?”

“I’m still looking for that girl,” the beggar growled. “I might as well have something to show for all this. She can’t escape me – even mortal, I’ll sense her.”

“That girl?” The owl’s voice lilted with amusement. “You mean this girl?”

Suddenly, for a moment, the owl was gone, in her place a young brunette in a stereotypical maid’s outfit – garters and all. “Does anybody really dress like that, these days?” the girl asked merrily. Then she was gone, and the owl sat on a post, blinking inscrutably at him.

“You! That was you!” the beggar roared, stating the bleeding obvious. One wrinkled hand lashed out, crooked finger pointing in the owl’s direction. If he’d been in full possession of his faculties, the owl would no doubt have felt a right smiting, but Hera had stolen his thunder and he was left huffing impotently. “When this is over, you’ll pay for this,” he said, voice low with fury.

The owl shrugged again. “Don’t blame me, this wasn’t my idea. I wasn’t the crone and I didn’t set up that gateway. I just did Hera a bit of a favour; you’re the one that followed me.”

“Well, can you blame me? That little dress was irresistible.”

Their random peregrinations had brought them somewhere recognisable. The beggar continued without pause to the gateway marked Parc Zoologique de Paris. Here the peculiar invisibility that afflicts the indigent worked to his advantage; nobody sought to bar him entry or to ask him to pay, perhaps feeling that the former would be cruel and the latter futile. The owl swooped through the turnstile after him, likewise unimpeded.

“Look at you,” said the owl. “Are you looking to take shelter from the night in the monkey house? Have you truly sunk so low?”

“No,” said the beggar, pausing by an artificial lagoon. “I’ve come to pay my respects to a colleague.”

“A colleague?” asked the owl, the slightest tinge of unease in her voice, but then the water exploded, a geyser of fury, and engulfed her. Then the water coalesced into the form of a giant crocodile – and the owl found herself trapped inside a cage made of ivory.

“Athena, I’d like you to meet Suchos,” said the beggar. “I’ve had him trapped here for the last four hundred years since he transgressed one of the Precepts. He’s just awaiting my command and his power will be restored to him.”

“Father? Don’t do this,” said the owl, suddenly frightened. “You know Hera, I couldn’t very well say no to her.”

“I’ll grant you that,” said the beggar. “But now I’ll have my powers back. Suchos, in two minutes from now, your debt is paid; you will be free. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

The crocodile didn’t answer, but that might have been because he had his mouth full and he was trying to be polite.

“My dear, do you remember how you came into being? They had to chisel you out of my head,” said the beggar. “In two minutes, it looks like they’ll have to chisel you out of Suchos’ stomach.”

The owl beat her wings against the toothy barrier but Suchos was still a god, and impervious to her talons. When a crocodile grins, it can’t be denied, and Suchos was obviously having a fine time.

“Very well!” the owl screeched. “There! You’re restored! Tell him to let me go!”

“Let her go,” said Zeus, and Suchos reluctantly opened his cavernous jaws. The owl flew out and immediately out of his reach, perching high atop the enclosure fence.

“That was cruel,” said the owl.

“Effective, though,” said Zeus, shedding the beggar’s form effortlessly, suddenly resplendent in golden armour. “Suchos, your debt is paid. Be a good lad. Next time I’ll have to trap you somewhere truly unpleasant; maybe a croc farm in Malaysia.”

“You’ll have to catch me first,” said the crocodile as it disappeared. A second later there was a loud pop as the space where Zeus had stood filled with air; the few remaining visitors to the park glanced around them in confusion, but of beggar, owl or crocodile there was no sign.

The halls of Olympus were hushed as Zeus strode through them. The rest of the pantheon must have been watching, but none had deigned to help him. He couldn’t entirely blame them, he supposed; Hera’s wrath was a fearsome thing when roused. But that didn’t mollify him; somebody would have to pay for this outrage.

The throne hall’s golden doors split asunder under the force of his rage as he entered, but then he froze on the verge, startled. Before him stood a young brunette girl, dressed in a french maid’s outfit. The garters were a lovely touch.

“I’ve been looking forward to you getting home,” said Hera slyly.

Slowly, Zeus smiled.

Written in response to 13th Floor Paradigm Mythology Workshop
I received a prompt as follows:

Zeus is lost in Paris.The only other being that pays attention to him is an annoying talking owl that keeps following him.

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