Letter From A Cloud

To Whom It May Concern,

I’ve been thinking, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a cloud? I bet you haven’t.

I’ve seen you down there, so small, always busy. You can’t imagine what it’s like, being heavier than a mountain, but so empty that you float above, well everything.

I see so much from up here. That’s right. I saw that thing earlier, I bet you thought nobody did.

You know what, I’m full to bursting. I think I’ll give you a shower.

Kind Regards,

A cloud – you know which one

Killer in the Shadows #6

Rome night

The sun shone through the high windows of the temple. It was smaller than the public temples of the city, but far more elaborately decorated. The walls were built from large blocks of stone and overlain with bright marble.

Gold offerings were stacked on top of altars and ornate wooden tables. High windows had been cut into the stone walls beneath the rafters, crossed by iron bars so that nothing but the wind could enter through them into the sacred space. The only other opening was a small iron door which led to the priestesses’ private quarters.

Six tall women wearing white robes stood in a semicircle at the centre of the temple. Behind them was the high altar. This seemed out of place in its luxurious surroundings, and yet it was the heart of the cult.

An immense block of jet black onyx, heavily worn with use and severely damaged by numerous attempts to destroy it, the high altar came from a time beyond the memory of any living man. It was missing all of its corners, deep ravines had been hacked into its surface and long cracks radiated out from several points. The black altar’s flawed appearance was more obvious for being surrounded by gleaming gold ornaments and polished pillars of marble.

In front of the six priestesses was a large gold basin. This was wide and deep enough for a man to lie down in, though no man was permitted to even see it. Intricate designs were etched across the entirety of its surface. As the sunlight illuminated the temple’s interior, these patterns seem to glow and move in a slow dance.

Shadow stood at the centre of the basin, facing her superiors. She wore a pure white tunic under a black cloak. The dark hood was pulled down and rested against her back.

The Six began to speak in soft voice. Barely audible, their words were directed towards the bright golden basin at Shadow’s feet. The voices of The Six grew gradually louder. Individual words soon blurred into a loud murmur. As the chorus reached its peak, a fire crackled into life beneath the young priestess Shadow’s feet.

The flames grew taller and radiated intense heat. Sweat stung in the eyes of the others as they watched arms of fire wrap themselves around Shadow’s dark form. The flames spiralled upwards, fell swiftly and the fire died. The Six ceased their chant. The basin was empty. Shadow had departed.

Check the latest installments of Wilson’s War and Scafell Pike.

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Penning a Play

I checked the brief on my laptop. It said to write a short play, that was it. No hints as to theme, character or setting. So where to begin?

I looked down at my pen, resting idly against the crisp, blank page. It was a fine little pen, curving at the sides and golden on top. That was where I would begin.

Lady Mayfeather, a bright, well-educated young woman in one of those more southern of the United States. She plays tennis, chess and the violin, much to the amusement of her two sisters.

They, like my other pens, are more sober and reserved. They have chocolate brown hair, while hers is brilliant blonde. I think this has the beginning of a good story. Already words cover the page in strong, black ink. 

Strong and dark like Lady Mayfeather’s dashing love interest, perhaps. He could be an officer in the cavalry or a fearsome blockade-runner.

I check my brief again, just to be sure. Write a short play and email it as a word document.

I stabbed my pen through the laptop screen. In hindsight, it was an overly dramatic end to the story.

Scafell Pike #6

Lu’s feet were a hard canvas of rough skin marred by tender blisters and cracked callouses. Each and every step down the gravel track brought with it stinging pain and a burning in her tight calves.

Ahead of her, through the night darkness and shadowed trees was a distant yellow haze from a small town nestled in the valley. She knew that there would be a hostel or bed and breakfast there, perhaps even a pub where she could enjoy a late, hot meal.

But these things hardly even touched on her thoughts, even though she was feeling desperately cold and frayed around the edges. She knew that the killer, her attacker, had come down that way. He would be somewhere in the town that evening, unless he planned to spend the night out on the mountain.

He was in the trap, and now was her chance to catch him at last. Lu saw an old-fashioned wooden sign swinging in the breeze outside a pub and headed straight towards it. Through the thick, patterned windows came a flood of warm light and a low rumble of chatter.

Read the latest installments of Ripper and Killer in the Shadows.

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Short Story

How do you write a short story?

You take a deep breath. This is the most important part. A wave of ideas flows into your mind. A concept, a character, a scene.

Now, you hold it in. Thoughts float freely inside your head, caged until they are ready. Some latch together, while others drift apart. Some are discarded, others held tight so that your memory does not lose them.

You exhale and words form on the page. The first paragraph is easiest, you already know what it will say. But as soon as it is written, it begs for a second and a third to follow it.

Here is the hardest part, where your breath comes fast and ragged, and ideas are thin on the ground. You begin to wonder who will read it, you only ever cared about the beginning.

You give up.

The Running Man

The man was running, truly running. He was not jogging, tumbling forwards under his own momentum with his legs acting almost on instinct. He was not sprinting, haring chaotically after an unspecified objective with scrambling feet.

He was flying with one foot on the ground, truly running.

At first it was like trying to drag his body through thick gelatin, the glutinous air trying to halt his progress at every step. That was how the run always began, with knees that refused to bend and feet always seeming to land a few millimetres off-target. It was a slow stumble at best.

But then his heart caught up with his legs, pumping warm, red fuel through his arteries. It was like being hit in the back by a strong gust of wind. Suddenly every pace sent him surging forwards, wind whipping across his scalp and his legs feeling like the pistons on a roaring steamer.

He was gliding on gravel and grass, truly running.

Sunlight cut a path through the clouds overhead and blasted the ground with its scorching rays. Muggy air rose around him as he ran, cloying and sticky on his skin. But he would not slow down.

Some change could be seen to come over the man. He faltered, missed a step and almost tripped. It was not a seriously slip though, he righted himself soon enough. But a clawed hand was clenching with taut fingers over his chest, as though trying to hold his heart in place.

There was little use in the action, no point in trying. His heart was not breaking free, it was simply closing down, turning off.

His steps slowed and he dropped to his knees, one tight fist still pressed against his breast. He knew that he was in trouble, that he might be dying. That was clear enough to him, but not what worried him most. He did not mind if that was where it ended, if he never saw another day. All he wanted to do was to keep on running.

I wrote this just after a failed run (not fatal, unlike our friend above). I’d aimed for 5K but didn’t make the distance (I’m saying due to the heat here in London, but you don’t have to believe me). Have you succeeded or failed at something recently? Let me know in the comments!

For more like this, go to Short Stories -> One-offs in the menu above.

Killer in the Shadows #5

Rome night

“Butcher’s knife, carpenter’s, surgeon’s?” Hanno asked, staring with fascinated horror at the blade.

“None of the above.” Aquila replied. “This is the tool of an entirely different profession. It is a killer’s knife, and the precise nature of the injury suggests that this killer is practised in their art.”

Aquila methodically considered the possibilities in his mind. A weapon of that sort was suggestive of professional murder. But someone with the resources to employ a trained killer would be unlikely to want to use those resources to assassinate a common soldier.

The officer revealed that his dead comrade had been on patrol the night before. That raised the question of how the killer had known where to find the soldier. These mysteries perplexed Aquila and he did not look for answers from the young clerk or the xenophobic officer.

The sun had risen higher in the sky and the last of the night’s rain evaporated from the surface of the cobbled street. Senators and other wealthy citizens began to emerge from their villas. Some were accompanied by women in expensive dresses with their heads covered by folds of fabric. The men wore clean white or coloured togas. Aquila was conscious of his brown tunic and cheap sandals.

“Sir, please see to it that the body is covered and taken away.” Aquila addressed the officer first and then his clerk. “We will return to my office now and think this matter through.”

Aquila beckoned to Hanno and they began to walk back towards the Legal District and their rented office. The officer called across the road to a squad of soldiers and the body of their comrade was carried solemnly away.


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Wilson’s War #7


-Wilson has gone to Mr O’Riley’s niece, Jane, to look for work. The master of the house has just returned-

“That’ll be Mr Butler. I’ll go talk to him and you can wait here. Is that alright?”

“Thank you, Jane.” Wilson said.

Jane smiled and left him alone in the kitchen. Her skirts rustled as she jogged up the stairs to the entranceway. She reached the ground floor in time to see Mr Butler’s back disappear into the drawing room.

Elizabeth caught her eye, sighed and shook her head. If he was already with Mrs Butler, then Jane’s petition would have to wait. The lady of the house objected to her husband performing acts of charity, so it would be best to talk to him about Wilson when he was alone.

“Oh, go on then.” Elizabeth said.

As she spoke, she casually tipped a small flower vase onto the tiled floor. The glass ornament shattered and a loud gasp came from the drawing room. It was an inexpensive item, locally produced, but Elizabeth would still be in trouble for breaking it.

Jane mouthed her thanks and moved to stand on the other side of the drawing room door. It quickly flew open and an authoritative female figure swept out to descend on the maid. Pressing herself against the doorframe, Jane slipped through the opening as the door closed.

“Mr Butler, sorry to disturb you.” She said.

The master of the house let out a small cry of surprise, thinking that he was alone, but the face he turned towards her bore a smile. He was arranging a stack of letters of the coffee table, ready to conduct his afternoon’s correspondence. Jane cleaned his study daily and made it ready for him, but Mr Butler rarely used it. He preferred to work in the comfort of the drawing room and somewhere that he could be in the company of his wife.

“Yes, Jane?” He asked. His speech was always curt and to the point, but Jane knew him to be a soft, kindly man.

“I saw an old acquaintance of mine today, Wilson, who I was hoping you could find some employment for. He used to work at Sir Charles’ manor.”

“The baron Charles? Leave his letter of recommendation on the table there.”

“Sorry, Mr Butler, but he doesn’t have a letter.”

The businessman looked into Jane’s eyes with a piercing gaze. With one hand he drew a pair of round spectacles away from his face and placed them on top of the stack of letters. He sat down carefully on the settee and smoothed the creases of his grey suit. Mr Butler was a thin man with prominent cheekbones and hair greying at the temples.

“I assume you have a reason for vouching for this fellow? This isn’t like the time Bess tried to palm that Jerry fellow off on us?” He asked.

“Yes, Mr Butler. My uncle recommended him and I’ve met him when we were children. He was always a good boy.”

“Mr O’Riley recommends him? Well that’s good enough for me. Your uncle is a man of the very best reputation. I could always use an extra pair of hands at the mill. Ask your friend Wilson to start at eight o’clock tomorrow.”

“The mill, Mr Butler? I believe Wilson was hoping to work around the house.”

The sound of voices grew louder in the hallway. Mr Butler began rearranging the letters on the coffee table.

“He can work at the mill, starting tomorrow. Six shillings per week.”

Jane bobbed her head and ducked back through the doorway. The sounds of a heated argument quickly came to her ears.

“Sorry, Mrs Butler, I can be so clumsy sometimes. I didn’t mean to do it?”

“You’re clumsy enough when it’s my vase you’re breaking. Are you this careless with your own belongings? Do you stumble around downstairs and knock over that framed picture of your sweetheart? I sincerely doubt it, Bess.” Mrs Porter was saying.

“No, Misses, I’d never damage a picture of my Jerry. That’s a keepsake.”

“And what if that vase had been my keepsake?”

“You bought it in the market for two shillings, Misses.”

“I didn’t say it was, I said if it had been.”

“Who would give you a keepsake except Mr Butler, Misses?”

Jane saw the lady of the house’s face begin to turn the colour of a beetroot and quickly scurried past them. She trotted down the stairs as the shouting began and closed the kitchen door behind her.

Read the latest installment of Thrall and Killer in the Shadows by clicking the names.

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Killer in the Shadows #4

Rome night

A tall man with a lean figure bent over the soldier’s corpse. The body lay beneath an archway on a sloping street in one of the wealthiest districts of Rome. The sun had risen recently and the day was bright with a pleasantly cooling breeze.

A young man with tanned skin stood to one side. He took notes as the older man spoke and tried his best to avoid looking at the corpse. These two men were observed by a military officer with a thick neck and an expression of furious indignation on his hard features.

“Gauls.” The officer spat out with hatred. “Bloody Gauls. No point in you poking around. I’ve seen Gauls in the city, pretending to be slaves and merchants. I don’t trust them. They did it and we should round up every Gaul within the city limits.”

The taller man did not respond to this outburst but remained focused on the corpse. Aquila was neither a soldier nor a mortician. He was a lawyer and the young man Hanno was his personal clerk. Aquila had been summoned to this place at dawn by his patron who owned the villa with the arched gateway.

At his patron’s request, and in return for a financial incentive, the lawyer was charged with privately investigating the murder of the soldier. A private investigation had been requested in case the murder was a precursor to some attack on his patron’s person or property. It was Aquila’s belief, however, that the military officer would be conducting his own investigation.

Heavy rainfall had washed away much of the blood on and around the body. But the soldier’s tunic still bore a dark red stain around the protruding knife hilt. The blade had not yet been removed from its position in the unfortunate man’s torso. Dead leaves and urban detritus had collected on one side of the corpse where its position had prevented the previous night’s deluge from carrying its load further.

Aquila placed the end of a heavy wooden stick which he used to support his bad leg on the chest of the dead man. With the other hand he manoeuvred the knife to either side and then pulled it free. Half-dried blood clung to the flat of the blade. It was a delicate instrument, had a narrow handle, razor sharp edge and was the length of a man’s forearm from handle to tip.


Read the latest installment of Wilson’s War here and Saxon Story here.

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Eating My Words

It began as a dream, a picture I painted in my mind during that grey time between wakefulness and sleep. In the ashen hours I began to weave a story, adding colour and character to bring the dull hours to life.

Soon it became a chore, putting words to the page and grinding away to finish the story. Of course, the pages came together and the journey drew gradually towards the shining beacon at the end of the dark tunnel. But every word pressed into the page drew something out of me. I sapped my imagination until my mind was dry and raw.

Then it was complete, a rough structure like a misshapen urn, the clay still wet around its edges. Now to smooth out the ridges and fill in the cracks, making it whole. And this is the hardest part.

Pouring over those crisp white pages with each black letter standing out as a stark accusation. Wrong, incorrect, uninspired. Dragging myself through these words I wrote and feeling them prick against my skin, so much needing to be changed, so much to be improved.

Eating my own words until I am full, bloated by what I have written until it makes me sick. All that remains when it is finished, when the sides are sleek and each word crisp and new, is to set it down on the counter. If someone does eat it, I can only hope they do not choke.