“Everyone deserves to be the hero or heroine of their own story.”
This page contains a few of my short stories (1,000 – 10,000 words long) which don’t currently have anywhere else to live. Some expand upon the backstories and adventures of the wonderful collection of side characters, who find themselves intrinsically linked to my full, novel-length works along the way. Others are the inspiration of chance meetings, random conversations or half remembered dreams. They span all sorts of genres, so hopefully there is something for everyone on this page.
You can click on the titles in the Table of Contents to navigate quickly to each of these stories, or scroll down the page and read them all in one go!
Table of Contents
The Exchange – Set on the alien world of Amari 4, The Exchange is a Dystopian Sci-fi which follows Lorne, family man and part time smuggler, into the criminal underbelly in search of a very important artifact. But Lorne’s meeting with the head of a local smuggling cartel doesn’t go remotely as planned.
Rudvar’s Journey: New Beginnings – A Fantasy short which follows Rudvar, the Hob, on the unfortunate day when the lives of his clan will be forever changed by a catastrophic and unexplainable event.
Lost and Found – An Urban fantasy set in Innisfail, North Queensland, Australia. It follows backpacker, Eilidh, on what at first seems a perfectly normal work assignment – cleaning up cyclone-damaged houses. What she discovers in a ruined garden shed proves that the day is anything other than ordinary.
The Commission – Bella, a talented but largely undiscovered artist from the central Italian region of Abruzzo, get a new commission from the larger than life owner of a hotel chain. She and her family travel to Sydney, Australia, on an all expenses paid trip so that Bella can paint scenes from the city. But her client isn’t the easiest of people to please and there is a turn of events on the horizon that Bella could never have predicted. [Also available in audio below.]
Twin Mischief – An excerpt from ‘Mimic Rising’ the first book of my upcoming urban fantasy trilogy. Penny, an Undercity orphan who was taken in by Muira and Tavish McBryde, a kindly Broonie couple, is the series heroine. This scene follows Penny through a normal, crazy morning in the McBryde household, in the wake of her younger twin brothers getting themselves into yet another fix.
Eteroa: A Second Chance – A short dystopian story of love, loss and redemption. In the wake of the downfall of humanity, Tane, a lonely and ancient deity, decides to take action and bring about salvation for his human children, the planet which he created, and his own twice-broken heart. [Also available in audio below and for sale via my Bookstore for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.]
“Wolfran haunch… git yer fresh wolfran haunch right ere! Five trills a kilo… Goin fast! You won’t find no better deal this side of Kantar!” The man’s booming voice made Lorne cringe, as he made his way through the bustling market place on Amari 4. He’d always hated market day. The heaving mass of sweating bodies crammed inside a sweltering space — fit for around only half their number — made his skin crawl and his head ache fiercely.
If only Eddie would move with the times and get himself a decent relocator! But then, Eddie was a Vulg, and Vulg’s were a notoriously skittish species; technology really wasn’t in their wheelhouse. Even something as low tech as a simple cell regenerator, was looked on with an overwhelming degree of suspicion and distrust. Lorne had even brought up the idea of moving into the relocation racket on a couple of occasions, but Eddie had just shut him down cold, saying that he had no intention of handing himself to the enforcers on a silver platter. It was ridiculous! Everyone and their cousin, from Amari 4 to Iridion, knew that, although the enforcers monitored all on-world transportation signals, relocators worked on a completely different principle. They were nigh on untraceable — even if you somehow managed to get your hands on the source machine.
“Damned Vulgs!” Lorne muttered to himself, rolling his eyes as he squeezed his way past yet another overflowing cart — fresh fish this time… at least that’s what the badly scrawled and misspelt sign claimed. Personally, Lorne had his doubts. The ripe smell made his stomach churn, as the day-old bagel, which had the audacity to try and call itself ‘breakfast,’ threatened to make a final curtain call. He bit it back, the acidic taste in his mouth only adding fuel to the fire of his irritation.
“To hell with Eddie! If I had any sense, I’d just cut ties with the odious little scum-sucker once and for all!” The words should have made him feel better, but they fell short… mainly because they rang about as hollow as an Urok’s skull.
Eddie was a lot of things – most of which would turn a man’s stomach more so than invite a closer acquaintance – but there was one thing that Eddie was not… and that was a liar. Ignorant and repulsive, yes, but if he said he would hook a guy up, then the little sack of black-hearted bile would do just that… so long as there was enough ready trill in the exchange to make it worth his time, of course.
He needed Eddie… or, rather, he needed what Eddie had. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t curse the stars above, that the repulsive little Vulg just happened to be the one person on this godforsaken rock who’d manage to get his grubby little claws on one!
It was sheer luck alone, which saved his ass as he ducked into the alleyway entrance to Eddie’s black-market dive… well, that and the superior might of the renegade bagel, which chose that same moment to forcefully insist that they part company.
With a groan, Lorne staggered over to the stack of broken crates, which littered one side of the narrow, cobbled walkway and noisily launched his partially digested breakfast into the overflowing refuse channel which ran sluggishly along its length. The barely moving wastewater disappeared into a storm-drain just outside of the doorway to Eddie’s shop — a doorway which was, at that very moment, belching out what seemed like an endless stream of hard-faced, chorium-plated enforcers.
Lorne would have tried to slip back out into the crowd, which was still jammed together like red-faced sardines in the main drag, but apparently the bagel wasn’t quite done with him yet.
“What do we have here then?” One of the men said, walking over to where Lorne was leaning miserably against the slime-covered wall. “Just anuva ‘skaghead’, Sir. Damned place is crawling wiv em. Magister needs reportin ta the top brass if yer ask me…”
“…but I didn’t ask you, did I, Oiler?” The commanding officer’s words were somewhat refined, hinting at a high-born past perhaps — in Lorne’s experience, those ones were the worst; sadistic devils to a man. He also kept his tone smooth and low, but there was no missing the underlying threat in them. He had witnessed the reality of that threat one more time than he’d ever wished to. The man called Oiler gulped audibly and fell silent.
Lorne kept his head firmly lowered; he couldn’t chance being recognised by one of the men. He had sworn to himself more than a decade ago that he’d never surrender to what the enforcers termed ‘justice’ ever again — not while he still had breath left in his body. The enforcers liked to pretend that they were ‘guardians of the allied planets,’ but all they really were, were a group of corrupt mercenaries. These days, it wasn’t even all that clear if the powers that be had hired these crooks, or if the enforcers had just amassed enough dirt on them, to keep them firmly in their place and not asking any questions. Lorne was betting on the latter.
“Is Oiler right?” The commanding officer grabbed his shoulder and forced Lorne round to face him.
“Sorry, sir, I… I’m just sick.” The man clearly wasn’t buying his show of humility, and he reached a gauntleted hand down to grasp Lorne’s chin, clearly intending to force his head up so he could get a proper look at him. He had to act fast! Only he had no idea what to do. He was outnumbered by at least six to one, and that was if there were no more of the hulking psychopaths still inside.
“Sir… please, I… I…” He stuttered, stalling for time and trying to play into Oiler’s insulting assessment of him being just another skag-addled waster. The commanding officer growled under his breath, patience nearly at an end when the gods decided to smile down on Lorne for the second time that day. The tepid breeze changed direction, bringing the foul stench of fermenting fish along with it. Within moments it had engulfed them.
Several things happened at once; Oiler bent over double, coughing and choking. The commanding officer dropped his chin and raised his hand to his face to try and ward off the terrible smell. And Lorne, stomach heaving once again, bent double and found to his surprise that there was still some contents left in his stomach, even after his earlier argument with the stale bagel. The fact that said contents was now colourfully adorning the commanding officer’s shiny black boots was less of a blessing. It earned him a metal-fisted punch to the gut and left him lying, gasping like a beached plovak, in an unidentifiable puddle of filth on the ground.
“I think we’ve seen all we need to see here. Oiler!”
“Yessir?” Oiler smothered yet another wheezing cough, trying his best to stand to attention.
“Gather the men. I want the whole squadron back at the citadel and ready for debriefing before noon; tardiness will be met with an hour in the stockade!”
“Sir! Yessir!” Oiler choked out between another bout of uncontrollable coughing.
The commanding officer wiped his soiled boots on Lorne’s shirt, then gave him one final kick to the stomach before stomping off into the hastily departing crowd. No one gets in the way of the enforcers, not unless they want to pay with their freedom — or, in quite a few cases, their lives.
Oiler barked orders to the rest of the squadron, and they all marched from the alley without giving Lorne so much as another glance. He’d been lucky. A few moments later, he was alone again.
Clutching his abused stomach, he pushed himself painfully to his feet. If a couple of bruised ribs and a sore gut were the only take-aways from an encounter with the enforcers, then a man could count himself truly blessed. He’d never complain to the fish vendor again, that was for sure! The man’s less than hygienic practices had miraculously saved the day… or, at least, they had done so for Lorne. As he staggered through the open doorway, he couldn’t miss the fact that Eddie and his goons hadn’t been quite so lucky.
The place was absolutely coated with the distinctive blue-black sheen of oily Vulg blood. Eddie must have had guests too as there was definitely some dark purple in the mix as well — Andurian perhaps. It was impossible to tell, though. Whatever had been unleashed in here had pretty much obliterated anything it hit. A long string of stinking slime dripped down from the ceiling and landed on his shoulder. Lorne shuddered. That the enforcers had got their hands on a weapon powerful enough to do this level of ground zero damage left a sour taste in his mouth, and it sure as heck wasn’t the bile this time.
He picked his way across the gore covered floor to where the battered remnants of Eddie’s desk lay. Three of its legs were in splinters, and half of the top had gone, but one of the drawers was still intact, and Lorne held his breath as he carefully pried it open.
It contained some coffee-stained pages, a number 2 pencil, and an assortment of rather unappealing looking candies; clearly, Eddie had a sweet tooth. Other than that, the drawer was empty. Lorne’s heart sank. It wasn’t there. He’d come all this way, had his ribs kicked in, and it was all for nothing!
“Damn!” He kicked the broken desk, smiling grimly as the last remaining leg snapped off, and the whole heap crashed to the ground. It felt good to release some of his pent-up rage, so he kicked it again, harder this time.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” The impact hurt his foot, sending pain shooting up his leg, but Lorne didn’t care. Eddie was gone. The enforcers were gone. There was no one, and nothing else left for him to take his ire out on; so, the desk was going to take his abuse for no other reason than that, other than him, it was the last thing still standing.
It could have been the fifteenth kick, or maybe the twentieth that did it — Lorne had long since lost count, focused only on the desk’s complete and utter annihilation — but suddenly there was a loud clicking sound, and something fell down from under the desk to land in the sticky mire on the floor.
Levering the desk over onto what little was left of its scarred surface, he could see that there had been some sort of hidden compartment in its underside. The small, well-concealed door was now hanging open, but still wedged inside, was a fat roll of notes and a small, velvet pouch.
Lorne’s heart skipped a beat in his chest as he carefully extracted the roll and the pouch from their hiding place. He stuffed the notes into his pocket without bothering to count them — he knew by sight alone that there had to be at least ten thousand trills there, but he had much more important things to focus on. Gingerly he undid the cord on the pouch and peered inside.
“Thank the gods,” his voice was barely an awed whisper as he reached in and plucked the unassuming, silver device from within its protective folds. He stared down at the ionic breather, feeling moisture well in his eyes. Such a tiny little thing, but it was the final key in securing his family’s freedom from this god-forsaken hell hole. Talia’s weak lungs had tied them all to this place, and to the costly medicine, which he and her mother had basically had to sell themselves into slavery in order to procure. With this little device, their savings, and Eddie’s little nest egg, he, his wife, and daughter could finally afford to leave. It looked like the slimy little Vulg had come through for him after all.
Thinking of Eddie reminded him that something else had fallen from that hidden compartment. Trying not to think about what he was sifting his hand through, he searched around in the puddle of slime until his fingers located the small cylindrical tube. Wiping it off on his already filth-stained trousers, Lorne squinted down at the writing etched on its side;
‘Dr Orris’ patented cell regeneration wand’ the small silver letters read. Lorne couldn’t suppress a grim chuckle.
“Why Eddie, you progressive, dark horse of a Vulg.” He shook his head and grinned. “I’ll just hang on to this if you don’t mind, old chap. It’s not like it would do you much good in your current state, after all.” He pocketed the device and the pouch containing the breather and walked back out into the stinking alley. Elbowing his way back out into the crush on the main street, he turned in the direction of the shipyard to book passage for his family on the first passenger ship he could find, which was heading to the outer planets.
As Lorne walked, he felt his spirits lift, and he began to whistle an upbeat tune. Perhaps market day wasn’t all that bad after all.
If you enjoyed reading my work and would like to see more of the same, please also consider donating to my Kofi fund via the following link… https://ko-fi.com/bfauthor all purchases and donations are very much appreciated.
Rudvar’s Journey: New Beginnings
It was still quite early in the day. The sun was just beginning to warm the valley floor as Rudvar, the Hob, slowly made his way back down to his cosy barrow, far beneath the deep, red soil. He had spent the morning caring for the many plants, trees, and animals that shared his valley home. He didn’t work alone either. Many other members of his clan, as was Bolgar tradition, had also been out and about, ranging across the valley floor and ensuring that everything was just as it should be. Hobs were caretakers of a sort. Instead of caring for home and hearth though, as was more commonplace throughout Hob society, the Bolgar Clan had chosen instead, to live out their long lives giving mother nature a helping hand. His people had found, over the centuries, that there was a much better existence to be had, far distant from all the bustle and hubbub of crowded town and city life.
Many people, across both of the realms, thought of Hobs as a lazy, slow-witted race. Rudvar and his people paid them no mind. After all, at the end of the day, when all was said and done, his clan had the most beautiful home in the world. Every day they did just enough work to keep it that way, and that sounded pretty damn sensible, at least to Rudvar’s way of thinking anyhow.
The small arched stone door to his own barrow was located just off the main clan hall, conveniently close to the kitchens too, a fact of which Rudvar never failed to remind the other members of the clan, any chance he got. Squeezing his large form through the small entrance, he walked over to the central firepit and poked the dying embers back to life. Adding a handful of dry sticks and a couple of large, oak logs to the gently crackling glow, he made his way slowly across to his soft, cosy bed. Yawning loudly, he plumped up the pile of dry grass until it was just right, before rolling gratefully into its cosy embrace, and falling, almost at once, into a deep untroubled slumber.
Rudvar was abruptly woken from his nap some time later, by a violent shaking and what sounded very much like a thunderstorm and a rock slide all rolled into one. He attempted to sit up, but the shaking knocked him straight back down again each time he tried. Rolling to his side, he crawled from the hollow that held his bed and out into the main room, skirting the firepit as he made his way slowly to the outer door. Soil rained down upon him as he went, making it very hard to see and breathe in the near darkness. It seemed that all of the pitch torches lining the walls of the clan hall had been smothered under the thick cloud of choking dust and debris. It was so dark, in fact, that although he could hear the muffled cries of alarm coming from other clan members throughout the warren, he couldn’t even see where his own hands were on the stone floor right in front of his face. It felt like the whole world was raining down upon them. If the shaking didn’t come to an end soon, there would be nothing left of his ancestral warren. In fact, if the shaking didn’t come to an end soon, there might be no one left to live inside of it either! Suddenly, there was a huge tearing sound from somewhere above his head. Forgetting that he couldn’t see anything, Rudvar raised his eyes to try to discover the source of the horrid sound. As he did so, he felt a flash of searing agony when something heavy cracked painfully into his forehead, and then there was only darkness.
When he finally came to, it was with total confusion and the worst headache he had felt in all of his years. It seemed that dusk had fallen at some point while he had lain there unconscious. He could feel a light breeze upon his skin, telling him that he had somehow ended up outside of the warren. Although his eyes were still half-blinded by the dust, he could already tell that the light around him was dim and nothing like the sunny, bright morning he could still picture so clearly in his mind’s eye. He raised a still trembling hand to his pounding head, and when he brought it away a moment later, his thick fingers were smeared with an unpleasant, sticky paste of his own blood mingled with the deep red soil. It covered most of his body in a thick blanket. He was very lucky that his Hob skin was so much thicker than most of the other races, and that their bones were far sturdier too. A blow to the head that was hard enough to make a Hob bleed was usually also hard enough to kill any non-Hob outright.
Climbing free of the uncomfortable bed of soil and stones, he pushed himself to his feet and blinked away the last of the dirt that was obscuring his vision. The moment his eyes cleared, he stared around himself in horrified amazement. The warren was gone! There was no grand clan hall in which to hold their celebrations, no kitchen left where Hob cooks could prepare their lavish feasts, and worst of all, no comfortable warm barrow with its soft, grass bed and crackling fire pit. There was nothing at all left of the place that he had been proud to call his home. It felt to Rudvar that, from one moment to the next, his peoples’ entire existence had simply been erased from the world. A single, fat, warm tear slipped unnoticed down his dust-covered face, followed a moment later by a second, leaving red, wet tracks in their wake. Dragging his gaze away from the emptiness that had once been his ancestral home, he scanned the area around him, eyes searching desperately in the dim light for the rest of his clan. Had there been a cave in? No, he knew already that couldn’t be the case. If it had been so, then he would have certainly been buried alive under several hundred tons of stone and earth now, his life journey and all of his worries at an end.
Finally, he caught a glimpse of movement over by a large pile of rubble, where he thought the grand clan meeting chamber had once stood. For the first time in his life, Rudvar found himself running. Hobs didn’t usually move much faster than a slow, lumbering walk – there had simply never been the need before. He felt the need now though, and nearly flew at a stumbling run over the scattered piles of debris. Finally, he slid to a stop in a small cloud of dust at the feet of Galden, spiritual leader of the Bolgar people.
“What has happened here Galden? Why is this happening to us?’ His voice was even more gravelly than normal, due to the dust still making his lungs feel heavy, and more so because of the vast well of despair that had sprung deep within his soul. Galden, he saw, had several small cuts and bruises over his heavily lined face and arms, but aside from those few marks, the clan elder seemed otherwise uninjured.
“I do not know the why my son, but the what I can shed some light upon; I think…” He pointed a single gnarled finger skyward. Rudvar’s gaze followed in the direction to which the old Hob pointed, desperate for any answer at all that would help to quiet the panicked questions screaming inside his mind. What he saw up there, high above them, only added to his despair and confusion. About ten metres above their heads and still rising, he could clearly make out patches of the decorated stone ceiling that had for centuries been the pride of the clan. The ceiling had been created over too many generations to count, with each generation adding something new to its intricate design, telling the proud story of his people. Up until today, its beauty had graced the great hall, where untold numbers of feasts, celebrations, and meetings had been held beneath its magnificent arches. His own coming of age had taken place below it, as had the worst day of his life to date: when he had tearfully carried the broken body of his father to the high dais for the gloaming rites. It seemed that his entire life thus far had passed beneath that ceiling, and now, along with everything else he had ever known, or had ever wanted to know, it was gone.
Seeing the unstoppable tide of emotion rising within the young Hob, Galden laid his hand upon Rudvar’s shaking shoulders.
“All will come right Rudvar. You must place your trust in the ancestors now. They will ensure that our people will rise again, as and when the tides of fate allow.” Galden’s words would normally have set his mind and soul at ease, but today Rudvar couldn’t find the same comfort in the elder’s unshakable faith and calm tone. He couldn’t help the flash of anger inside his chest at the knowledge that someone or something had done this to his people, nor the bitter realisation that the ancestors, who he had put his faith in his entire life, had been either unable or unwilling to do anything at all to stop it. It shook the very foundation of everything he thought that he knew, as if the ceiling of his own inner faith had been ripped from him, sent soaring skyward, along with the home which he knew deep in his heart that he would never again be able to set foot in. He tried to mask his inner turmoil, but his words as he replied to Galden sounded clipped and tense even to his own ears.
“As you say Galden. What do you require of me? Is every member of the clan accounted for?’
Galden got slowly to his feet, waving away the instinctive offer of Rudvar’s arm to steady him.
“Thank the Ancestors, yes. No clan member will face the gloaming this day.” He walked over to the edge of the large ledge that Rudvar hadn’t even realized they were standing upon, and gestured down into the expansive bowl-shaped crater that now fell away a handful of centimetres in front of their feet. The crater was huge, giving a clearer visual scale to the vast mass of rock and soil, which was now floating somewhere high above them. It blocked out the blue sky completely, casting a dismal shadow over all of the land below it. He swallowed back the sour taste of bile, realising, that area now comprised almost the entirety of the beautiful valley which he remembered. No wonder it had felt like dusk, Rudvar thought bitterly. Beneath the floating island, it would always be dusk. There would be no more sunny mornings, no more wildflowers, or rolling meadows of sweet smelling grass. Even the handful of animals and birds, who had not fled the initial wave of destruction would be forced to leave. The lack of food, and others of their kind would see to that soon enough. Oh, how he wished he could be just like one of those birds, able to spread his wings and leave all of his sadness and heartache behind him, in favour of new lands, far from the reach of such an evil as this.
Even if he could leave this place somehow though, he knew with certainty that his people could not follow him. Before this day the clan had lived the same simple lives as all of those Bolgar who had come before them. If there had ever been a pioneering spirit within his clan, then its flame had long since been extinguished. Even now, he could see some of his people far down in the bottom of the crater gathering what little they could from its rough, uneven slopes in a vain attempt to try and build some form of shelter from the cold, dust-laden wind. In a week or two those crude, muddy shelters would become more substantial dwellings, and not long after that they would become homes of a sort. To be just so, was intrinsically bound up in the very nature of the Hob race, after all. Yes, his people would adapt to their new bleak surroundings, and without a single grumbled complaint, they would make what they could of their new, very different existence.
Not Rudvar though. He had known, somewhere deep within his soul, as he stood watching his beloved home disappear into the clouds above, that he was changed now. What that would mean for him, he didn’t yet know, but whatever happened now, he knew two things for certain: Firstly, he would never abandon his clan, especially in the face of the evil that they now confronted. Secondly, from this day forth he was going to spend every single moment in an effort to find some way to restore his people, and the future generations of Bolgar Hobs, to the unspoiled way of life that they had earned, and worked so diligently to protect since the very founding of their people.
Yes, today would mark the first new beginning of many for Rudvar the Hob.
If you enjoyed reading my work and would like to see more of the same, please also consider donating to my Kofi fund via the following link… https://ko-fi.com/bfauthor all purchases and donations are very much appreciated.
Lost and Found
I stood in front of the rather shabby looking reception desk waiting for the hostel owner, Evie, to return with my passport.
At least the hostel was clean, which set it apart from many of the others I’d visited in my time backpacking around Australia. Innisfail hadn’t been on my travel agenda, but money was tight and this working hostel had received glowing reports from the backpacker community.
Evie, middle-aged and rather plain, but friendly enough to make a person forget any other shortcomings, bustled back into the room and handed me my passport with a welcoming smile.
“Welcome to River View Eilidh. We’re thrilled to have ya. Alright. Come on back then.” She grabbed a key from one of the hooks behind the counter and motioned for me to follow.
Like most people, she pronounced my name ‘Ee-lid’ instead of ‘Ae-lee’ but I was well used to people struggling with the Celtic spelling.
I followed her down the small corridor toward the back of the building complex.
“Ear ya go.” She paused in front of a door with the number 5 painted on it. “Ye’r a lucky one! This room sleeps six but t’night ye’r pat malone.” She handed me the key. “Hooroo then. I’ll catch ya on the sunny side. Work starts around five so be sharpish with yer brekkie.”
She left and I let myself into the small spartan room. Like the reception, it was clean and functional, but I was knackered from the long journey. I dropped my bag next to the closest bunk, kicked off my shoes and fell into a grateful slumber.
5 a.m. arrived far too soon. The stomping of heavy work boots past my door woke me.
“Shit!” I grabbed my phone from the pocket of my bag and grimaced. ‘4;45’ glared up at me from the screen.
“Double shit!” There’d be no time for the shower I so desperately wanted. For once I was glad I’d slept in my clothes. They were a little creased, but they’d do — traditional backpacker chic.
I pulled a brush through my hair and slapped on some deodorant. Hopefully, the work would be outdoors so no one would notice my less than sociable hygiene.
Stuffing my wallet, passport, inhaler, and room key in my pocket, I scurried from the room and followed the sound of clattering dishes and mumbled conversation.
Breakfast, or ‘brekkie’ as Evie had called it, was a chaotic affair. I found the hostel kitchen outside underneath the communal deck. The hostel provided free pancakes and syrup each morning, and at least twelve, sleepy-eyed, backpackers were jostling for room at the hotplate.
“Here you go.” I turned to find a tall, dark-haired girl smiling down at me. Before I could respond, she handed me a shiny, green apple.
“Don’t worry. I’m not a morning person either. Usually, I’d be wallowing in a cup of coffee right about now.” She grinned and I found myself grinning back.
“You said ‘usually,’ what’s different about today? …I’m Eilidh by the way.” I took a grateful bite of the apple and followed the girl over to a nearby picnic bench.
“I’m Annie. It’s nice to meet you!” She sat down at the table, tucking her legs up on the bench beside her. “I haven’t actually been to sleep yet.”
“Well, that would certainly do it!” I laughed, taking a seat.
By the time breakfast was finished, it was time to leave for work. Annie had told me she worked for a building contractor who needed an extra hand on his cleaning crew.
A cyclone had swept through the area only a week or two earlier. Thankfully, no lives were lost, but the damage to buildings and crops had been considerable.
She asked if I wanted to give it a go and I gladly accepted. Starting new jobs was always a little stressful, it’d be nice to have a friendly face there to show me the ropes.
Five minutes later, we jumped into the back of a battered-looking flatbed truck and set off to the site.
We drew up outside a huge, blue-washed house about twenty minutes later. Annie climbed down from the back of the truck, holding a hand out to help me down.
“I envy you your long legs right now,” I grumbled. Annie laughed.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t be saying that if you’d ever had to take them shopping for jeans!”
The contractor walked around the truck to where we stood.
“Okay girls. It’s hard yacka, but it’s good honest work. I’m all for equality, so don’t expect to be treated different for bein sheilas.”
I nodded and he beamed at me.
“Right then! Smoko’s at ten, any questions just ask Warri. He’s the big blackfella…bit of a tightarse, but fair dinkum. He’ll see ya right. Annie here can tell ya what’s what, she’s a corker and it’s not her first roo shoot.” He patted me on the shoulder. “Hooroo then. I’ll catch ya later on.”
I was still translating that mouthful, as he jumped back into the truck and sped off down the street, windows down and music blaring.
“Is he…always like that?”
Annie laughed again. “Jackson’s a little rough around the edges, but his heart’s in the right place. Come on, I’ll show you where to start.”
The job involved shoveling cyclone debris and rubble into wheelbarrows and then emptying them into a large, battered, blue skip. The cyclone had really done a number on the house. The roof was lying in a smashed pile in the back garden, and the smell of damp, rotting plaster inside the house was unpleasantly pervasive. I found I had to plan my work to include regular fresh-air breaks to avoid feeling sick.
The morning was uneventful, aside from an encounter with a giant huntsman spider. Annie had screamed her lungs out from where she was working in one of the back rooms. Warri and I dashed to her aid, only to find her, perched on a rickety wooden chair, brandishing a broom at the poor, terrified creature.
Warrigal Anggamundi, Warri for short, was a stoic sort of man. He rolled his eyes and gently took the brush from the shrieking girl, shooing the impressively-huge spider out into the garden and effectively ending the drama.
Lunchtime came, but I’d only managed to bring a cereal bar which I’d snagged from the hostel vending machine.
Leaving the others to their sandwiches, I pocketed my less than appetising lunch and headed back out into the garden to explore some of the battered outbuildings.
I loved nature, even the eight-legged variety, so I was hoping to find more unusual creatures hiding in the outbuilding’s dusty interiors.
The first two I poked my head into were pretty uninteresting, lots of cobwebs, but no captivating fauna. The third one looked as dull as the other two at first, it had a few broken bottles, some water-damaged children’s toys and a large pile of debris from where the roof had caved in.
I was about to leave and move on to the next when a small movement caught my eye. I took a couple of steps into the room, and heard a snuffling noise coming from behind the pile of broken tiles and cracked timber.
“Hello.” My voice was barely a whisper as I didn’t want to scare whatever was back there. I skirted the pile, but at first, all I could see was yet more rubbish. I slowly reached my phone out of my trouser pocket and turned the torch on.
The beam of light illuminated a large pair of scared, yellow eyes.
“It’s okay…I won’t hurt you.” The creature cringed back, pressing itself tightly into the corner of the room with a terrified high-pitched whine.
Remembering the cereal bar in my pocket, I unwrapped it and broke a piece off, gently tossing it over to the leaf litter at the creature’s feet. At first, it hissed at the offering, but after a moment or two, it gave a long deep sniff.
Not taking its large eyes off me, it leaned forward and slurped up the piece. Delighted at my success, I broke off a second piece and tossed it over. This time, I aimed for directly under the hole left by the collapsed roof. The corner was dingy, so it had been hard to make the creature out. I’d guessed that it must be some kind of dog because of its long fur and pointed snout, but as it moved into the pool of light my breath caught in my lungs.
What on earth was it?! It had long dark fur much like a dog, but that’s where the canine similarity well and truly ended. Its long-pointed snout was covered in greenish scales, like those of a crocodile and its feet were webbed like a duck’s. Its tail was long and flowing like that of a horse, and it had two large, grey tusks protruding from beneath its upper lip. It was like someone had got their hands on the god clay, and gone to town with it.
I heard Annie calling my name outside but I didn’t want to chance leaving, in case the strange creature disappeared before I could show it to her. I broke off another piece and threw it to the creature to distract it, and called Annie’s name.
The creature flinched at the sound but it was clearly starving and it pounced on the third piece dragging it back a couple of steps into the shadows before devouring it with gusto.
Annie appeared in the doorway, followed closely by Warri who must have joined the search when Annie failed to find me.
“Eilidh? What are you doing in here?” Annie glanced nervously about, no doubt looking for more man-eating spiders.
“I found something…something strange. Look…” I broke off another piece of the quickly dwindling cereal bar and tossed it again into the pool of light.
There was a short pause and then one webbed foot poked into view. Another pause then, forgetting its fear in the face of its hunger, the creature trotted forward to claim its sticky, honey-coated prize.
“Struth! Take a breather for a sanga and a cold tinny, come back an there ya are, mad as a cut snake, feeding a frickin Bunyip!”
Warrigal’s eyes were wide as saucers as he stared in horror at the small scruffy-looking creature. “That things oldies’d spit the dummy if they found ya.”
“Feeding a what?”
“Bunyip…Dangerous fellas that live deep in billabong country. Must’a bin dropped ere by accident when the willy-willy passed through.”
Annie and I both looked at the odd little creature. He didn’t look dangerous in the least. Even his little tusks were dull at the ends.
“Can’t stay here. Got a crate in back, should fit the little bugger though.”
I felt a surge of fear for the poor little thing.
“You aren’t going to…hurt him?” It was meant to be a statement but it came out more like a plea.
“Nah. I’ll jes drop the ankle-biter back off where his oldies’ll find him. They jes tryin ta live, same as us folks.”
Half an hour later with the baby bunyip secure in his makeshift cage, Warri calmly waved goodbye and headed off in search of a suitable billabong.
Annie and I stood in stunned silence for a few minutes just trying to process what we’d seen.
“No one will ever believe us back home you know.” Annie ruefully said at last.
“I’m not even sure I believe us!?” I replied with a shrug and a smile. “So bunyips really exist then…I wonder what tomorrow will bring?”
“As long as it’s not another huge hairy spider then I’m happy!” We both burst into fits of giggles, grabbed our shovels, and went back to work.
If you enjoyed reading my work and would like to see more of the same, please also consider donating to my Kofi fund via the following link… https://ko-fi.com/bfauthor all purchases and donations are very much appreciated.
“Ciao Gabriella,” I called, as I squeezed past the stack of blank canvasses blocking the doorway to the small office at the back of the gallery. Hearing my voice, Gabriella squealed, practically vaulting over a small pile of boxes and pulling me into a tight hug.
“I’ve been trying to call you all morning! Oh, Bella. You’ll never guess what!” I couldn’t miss the excitement buzzing from her small frame, but I couldn’t resist teasing her.
“Erm…you’ve just found out that I’ve been awarded the Future Generation Art Prize and we’re splitting the winnings sixty/forty?” She pulled back and slapped my arm.
“When that happens — and I’ve no doubt it will — the split will be fifty/fifty! Where would you be without me hmm?”
“Languishing away down in my parent’s freezing cantina, and working minimum wage to save up for new brushes?”
“Certo!” She said with a mock glare.
“So, what’s this big news then? Did we manage to make it into the black this month?” She rolled her eyes, grabbing my hands.
“You have a new commission!”
I got commissions reasonably often, so that couldn’t be the ‘big news’. She only left me hanging for a moment before her excitement got the better of her
“…for forty-six canvases!!!” She finished with a little hop, laughing as my mouth dropped open in amazement.
Was that really only six weeks ago? I’d been so thrilled. It was the largest commission I’d ever had. It even included an all expenses paid trip for my family and me to visit Sydney for an entire month. Australia… we’d never even been outside of Italy. My nine-year-old son, Mattia, hadn’t stopped talking about it since. He and my husband, Marco, had spent hours pouring through travel sites, making a list of all the places they planned to visit. It was a career maker, an open door to future commissions from other hotel chains. It felt like I’d finally made it — certainly a far cry from how I felt today.
Standing in the hotel reception, my heart in the pit of my stomach, I waited for the hotel chain’s owner to finish yet another overseas business call. The bulging portfolio clutched in my numb fingers, contained my last chance at securing the job. Forty-nine sketches in total, this included a couple of backups as a safety net, just in case any of the first forty-six fell flat. As Greta Thompson’s muffled voice drifted to my ears from behind the thick, opaque glass, I felt anything but reassured. The devastation which followed our last meeting ran on a loop through my mind.
“Oh no, this won’t do at all!” Greta frowned down at the freshly sketched images scattered across the large conference table. Tutting, she shook her head.
“What don’t you like about them? Maybe once I add a little colour and…” She waved her hand at the pile with an overly dramatic flourish cutting me off mid-thought.
“Everything, darling. Just everything!” Taking hold of my arm, she pulled me closer. Forcing myself to focus past the terrible well of despair bubbling up inside, I scrutinised my work again, trying to find whatever it was she found so offensive. I just couldn’t see it. I’d thought the botanical gardens, harbour and opera house would be the perfect subjects for the series. Each one was uniquely ‘Sydney’, and the only guidance I’d been given was ‘capture the essence of Sydney’.
“Could you try to be more specific? If I had a clearer idea of exactly what you’re looking for then perhaps…”
“Something unique darling! Something that only you could have painted. I want to see your heart and soul laid out on that page…not just another ‘hotel room’ painting.” The last she’d put in air-quotes as if she wasn’t sure the words themselves would hammer the point home enough.
“I see…” I didn’t though. I’d spent hours finding just the right locations for those sketches. It hadn’t been easy either. It was my first time in Sydney, and I’d never been very good at following street-maps. Plus, although my grasp of the English language was better than most of the people I knew back home, it was proving no match at all to the thick Australian dialect and strange slang which most of the city’s residents seemed to use. Asking for directions had been like sitting an exam in a subject I’d never studied.
Hearing her describe them as ‘just another hotel room painting’ was crushing. It gave me doubts I really couldn’t afford to have. Not if I wanted any chance of taking home the promised paycheck. How would I face my family and friends back home, or explain to my son why the new bike he had his heart set on would have to wait for another year. We weren’t poor by any means, but luxuries were in rather short supply at present.
“Okay… Let me see what I can do.”
Greta gave my shoulder a squeeze, which I could only assume was meant to be a gesture of encouragement, then swept from the room, calling her PA’s name at the top of her lungs.
All I’d wanted to do at that moment was go back to my room and have a good, long cry. Crying wouldn’t help anything though. So, shoving my bruised pride aside I’d headed back out in search of my muse.
I was pulled from my dark thoughts by the sound of the office door opening. I tried to achieve a convincingly confident expression, as Greta’s face poked around the doorframe. She was still on the phone.
“Gio, darling…give me just a sec, will you.” She covered the mouthpiece with a perfectly manicured hand. “Wonderful man, couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag,” she whispered conspiratorially.
I didn’t quite know how to respond to that.
“Is that them?!” She held her hand out for the portfolio, which I was still clutching like a lifeline. I handed it over, but instead of looking inside, she just tucked it under her arm.
“I’m going to have to be unforgivably rude, my dear. I was expecting to be finished by now, but Gio really can’t cope without me.” She shrugged with a dramatic roll of her eyes.
“I can come back later…?” I wasn’t sure I could handle the stress of waiting even longer for her review of my work, but it was clear I had no choice.
“Could you? That would be wonderful, darling…shall we say 8 pm in the foyer?” Before I had a chance to answer she was gone, door clicking shut in her wake.
What on earth was I going to do for the next six hours? I’d made it as far as the lobby when Greta’s PA came chuffing to a stop at my side.
“Ms Thompson wanted me to tell you to bring your husband and son with you to the meeting.” My heart sank further, now resting somewhere near the level of my shoes. I nodded, and the man scurried off again.
Six hours later I was a bag of nerves. It didn’t matter how many times Marco told me that she’d love my work. Even the none stop questions from my son couldn’t lure me from my anxious cocoon of anticipatory misery.
“I’m so glad you could all make it!” Greta came sweeping into the room — a cyclone of energy and emotion.
“Ms Thompson, I hope…” She held up a hand.
“First, Follow me.”
I felt, rather than saw Marco’s mouth drop open in shock. Greta didn’t see it though, as she’d already marched from the room.
She finally came to a stop in front of a closed door, which still had ‘under construction’ signs clearly displayed. Ignoring them, she ushered us into the dark space beyond.
I was about to ask what was going on when she flipped the light switch. My eyes grew wide as saucers as I realised where I was standing.
“Its…a gallery.” She laughed, clearly enjoying my surprise. Looking around I realised all of the pieces on display were the preliminary sketches I’d handed her earlier.
“It certainly is, and it’s all yours darling girl!”
“I…I don’t understand. I thought you wanted the paintings for the hotel?”
“Indeed I do dear, and the first sketches you gave me will be perfect for that. This gallery is for the wonderful ones you handed me today…and any you might paint in the future, of course. This past month has been about more than just a commission. It was an interview to see if you were the right person to receive our ‘New Talent’ grant — you passed with shining colours. Congratulations!” She put her arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. My son and husband began to clap; beaming smiles on both their faces.
“You knew!” I accused with a mock glare.
“They were sworn to secrecy. Couldn’t have them spoiling my fun.”
“You are a very unique woman, Ms Thompson.”
“Noticed that did you?” She grinned unrepentantly, and we all dissolved into laughter.
[The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of ‘Mimic Rising’ my upcoming urban fantasy novel, which I hope to have completed in the coming months. I hope you enjoy it!!]
It was the sunlight that woke me, or at least what passed for sunlight in Undercity.
In reality, what had woken me was more like the sallow amber glow from the cast iron gas street light that hung from its rusty chain just outside of my bedroom skylight.
Being in the constant shadow of Altéga, or ‘The Immortal City of Altéga,’ at least to those of the ‘Gifted’ classes whose families hadn’t spent the last eight or so fairly uncomfortable generations, scraping out a meagre existence beneath the vast shadow cast by its floating, oh so majestic, several thousand-ton bulk.
Yes, with all of that rock floating fifteen or so meters above your head natural sunlight was in pitifully short supply.
The little that did manage to shine beneath the rim of the floating city above only did so for a few short hours a day when the sun was in the right position in the sky. Even then, its rays only covered a small strip of land at the very perimeter of Undercity.
This fortunate area was, by necessity, comprised solely of poor quality fruit and vegetable allotments which yearly tried, and inevitably failed, to provide food for the SUB families who tended them, and the inner-city residents who lived their whole lives solely by gas and candlelight.
SUBs, or sub magical beings, were a section of the supernatural community who, although innately magical by birth, had minimal to zero actual usable powers. Trust me this was definitely not a title of our own choosing but rather one used, to great effect, to create a crystal-clear divide between us and the magically ‘gifted’ world floating above our heads.
The title also came with its own neat little set of rules and restrictions, including the one dictating that no SUB was to be allowed to build or farm outside of the shadow cast by Altéga. Unfair…totally! But then we wouldn’t want the gifted on high in their gilded towers to suffer the supreme insult of an interrupted view of the countryside surrounding the city…especially not by lowly creatures such as ourselves.
Okay so bitter ranting aside, the SUB community itself was one of warmth, friendship and love which in my opinion beats gilded cages and loveless political alliances hands down.
For the young ones like myself, who had spent their entire lives in the Undercity, we didn’t really know any different.
Passes to Altéga were incredibly rare so most of us (black market traders aside) had only visited the Immortal City once, on the morning of our fifth birthday, in order to be officially registered on the Census of Supernatural Beings.
Stretching with a loud jaw-cracking yawn I threw back the covers and sat up. Swinging my legs off of the bed, I winced a little as my bare toes came into contact with the cold floor.
Stuffing my feet into my well-worn wool slippers I shuffled out of the door and down the narrow flight of stairs to the small family bathroom that I shared with my parents and eight raucous siblings.
As the eldest child, I at least got the luxury of a loft room all to myself up in the eaves of the house, which when you have eight younger siblings was a solid must-have.
Sadly, the house in which we lived only had room for one bathroom. A fact that meant that I wasn’t altogether surprised when I tried the door handle and found it firmly locked.
‘Are you going to be long?’ I called, pulling my heavy dressing gown tighter to ward off the early morning chill that was still in the air.
Nothing. Raising my hand, I knocked the door but my only response was the low sound of badly muffled giggling coming from inside.
‘Farlan, Brodie…I know you are in there, open the door. I have to get ready for work or I’ll be late to open the shop.’ Putting my ear to the door I heard what sounded very much like a scuffle, followed by a pained squeak before Farlan’s high-pitched voice piped up from the other side of the door confirming my previous suspicions.
‘Ah will ainlie open th’ door if ye promise ye willnae be aff tellin Mom aboot Brodie’s hair.’ I rolled my eyes skyward and sighed deeply.
Eight-year-old Farlan fancied himself a budding scientist and was continually getting himself into trouble with his fantastic concoctions and wild experiments. Brody, his twin brother, and partner in crime had the unfortunate habit of being the test subject of said experiments with a range of rather colourful outcomes.
‘OK fine, just let me in and I’ll see if there is anything to be done before Mom gets back from Mrs Delfries.’
There was another whispered exchange and then the old brass key finally turned and the door opened up a crack.
One bright green eye appeared in the opening scanning to make sure the coast was clear before the door was whipped open and I was yanked through it into the room beyond.
The door closed and with a snick the lock was firmly back in place, leaving the three of us standing in total darkness.
‘Farlan, it might be easier for me to help Brodie if I could actually see him.’ I said as patiently as I was able to manage at 6 am whilst standing in the freezing cold in my nightwear.
I stubbed my toe on the heavy oak dresser cursing under my breath as I attempted to find the light cord.
‘Ye hae tae actually say ‘I promise’ foremaist or it daesn’t coont!’ his tone was desperate now and I felt a flicker of worry spark to life. It must be really serious this time as normally the twins just accepted their punishments with a cheeky smile and went right back to terrorising the family two minutes later.
‘Brodie, are you hurt?’ I asked the darkened room not knowing exactly where to direct my question in the pitch black.
‘Na a’m a’richt Penny. Bit Mom is aff tae hae a fit whin she sees me if ye cannae help.’ His words were muffled but he sounded alright and my worry faded again. With another resigned sigh, I turned to where I thought Farlan had been standing.
‘Fine. I promise that I won’t tell Mom. Now, can you turn the blessed light on so I can actually see what mess you have made of your brother this time.’ From his silence, I could tell he was carefully weighing the truth of my words but then a moment later the light popped on, blinding us all for a second or two before revealing a small form draped head to foot in a large fluffy white bath towel.
‘Brodie. I’m assuming that your nefarious brother hasn’t turned you into a bath towel so let’s have that off of you and take a look at the damage.’ Farlan smothered a giggle from just behind my shoulder and I heard Brodie give a long-resigned sigh. He raised the towel a couple of inches, exposing a small pair of brown, fur-covered feet.
‘Brodie whilst the expectation is thrilling I really do have to get ready for work now so let’s speed things up a bit shall we.’
‘Dae ye promise nae tae laugh Penny?’ Brodie whined plaintively.
‘I promise I’ll skelp your behind for you if you make me any later for work!’ my voice was stern but I had to fight a small smile all the same.
The towel finally began to lift again exposing brown furry legs to match the feet and as the towel rose higher, I was instantly glad that I hadn’t actually promised not to laugh.
From the knobbly knees up my embarrassed looking little brother was bright blue!
At this point, I should probably explain that my family and I are a little different from most other families, even in the Undercity.
When I was very small Muira and Tavish McBryde found me on their front porch with only a wicker basket and a worn blue blanket.
There was no indication at all of who had left me there, why or where I had come from not even a note with my name on it.
Fortunately for me, being the kind-hearted people that they are, the McBryde’s without a moment’s hesitation took me into their home and decided to raise me as one of their own.
That day 28 years ago I got a new name ‘Hapenny,’ or Penny for short, named for the most treasured of their possessions and became their first child (this was several years before the first of my younger siblings arrived on the scene)
Muira and Tavish or Mom and Dad as I had always called them were broonies, an innately magical people whose clans mostly hail from Scotland or Ireland.
Broonies are small in stature with soft brown fur covering most of their bodies, large noses, pointed ears and an almost magical affinity for housework and metalsmithing. They are also an incredibly long-lived race with individuals often spanning several human generations or more in a single lifetime.
Dad always told us in bedtime stories and around the cooking fire that his family line were descended from Broonie Kings and that his family had, at one point in time, sat at the feet of the Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples as her loyal servants and trusted advisors.
How much of this tale was true I could never be sure though, as broonies are also incredibly fond of a good yarn when the moment calls for it.
It is safe to say though that my adoptive family has deep roots that stretch very far back into history and that this is something they are inordinately proud of and happy to talk about at length.
‘Descended from Broonie kings huh.’ I muttered to myself as I took in the bedraggled looking fluffy blue creature in front of me.
My comment immediately sent Farlan off into peals of raucous laughter and he merrily rolled around the floor for a moment or two, before his brother snarled and dived on top of him and yet another scuffle ensued. Wading into the middle I tried my best to separate them
‘Argh! Brodie did you just bite me?! Right, that’s enough from the both of you!’ I grabbed a still giggling Farlan from the midst of the wild tangle of flailing furry limbs, unlocked the bathroom door, and pushed him out into the corridor shutting and locking it again before he could push his way back inside for round two.
I turned to Brodie with a scowl on my face but at the sight of his watering eyes, I felt my expression soften. Walking over I patted him on his furry blue head.
‘It’s alright Brodie…really. I’m sure a little salt, lemon and water and a couple of baths will have you back to your normal handsome self in no time at all.’ He smiled at that, brushing a hand over his face and bounced to his feet.
‘Weel let’s git aboot it then. Farlan ‘n’ ay are gauen huntin fer gudgeon ower at th’ Marl Hole wi’ th’ Fitzwilliam twins. An ah dinnae want tae be late!’
Even though I spent every day with them, the sheer changeability of broonies never failed to amaze me.
Like many of the innately magical, their emotions could turn on the head of a pin, one second elated the next furious.
It definitely made for entertaining family gatherings that was for sure!
Eteroa: A Second Chance
As Tane stood on the rocky crag at the topmost point of the Star mountains, he could clearly see the place where blue ocean waves kissed the stony shore out beyond the lake-studded plateau which lay below him.
Papua wasn’t a large island in comparison to the rest of the world, but what it lacked in size it more than made up for in beauty and diversity. It was the centre of the world; the vast cauldron from which all life had sprung countless millennia ago.
Dawn’s first rays caressed the crowded canopy which surrounded his vantage point, and a cloud of steam began to rise into the still air, as the lingering droplets from last night’s rain, transformed back into the fluffy, white clouds which had birthed them to the land. The sight leant even more credence to his cauldron analogy.
It seemed like only yesterday when he had stood at this very point, viewing the earth in its infancy and marvelling at all of the countless possibilities that would arise to shape its future. The one possibility he hadn’t considered though, was the almost complete destruction of his creation by the very beings which had been born from his seed. The beings that he, so naively, had charged with being the dedicated caretakers of his living work of art.
Oh, how misguided he had been.
He turned and began to descend the mountain, large strides eating up the miles between him and Kemea lagoon with each determined step.
As the god of forest and light, there wasn’t much that Tane couldn’t do with his own two hands. He could birth trees, plants and even animals from the dark, rich soil in his isolated valley home, and breathe life into them with just a drop of his vast power.
The one thing that he hadn’t been able to do was to create a fitting mate for himself.
He had first visited Eteroa, the spirit of the island, many millennia ago. The primordial spirit resided deep beneath the dark, blue waters of the lagoon, which were now shining up at him from the plateau below. A few more steps and he was standing on its lush, green banks staring out across the mirrored surface of the lake.
He felt doubts rise once again, within his chest. Ordinarily, deities didn’t possess the capacity to doubt their actions. Doubting one’s self was a mortal affliction, driven by human emotions such as ‘guilt’, and ‘fear’. But most gods hadn’t been the cause of such terrible and all-encompassing devastation. The last time he had visited the lagoon, it had been to ask Eteroa to create for him a mortal wife. The island had happily granted his request, and Sisiroha, mother to the entire human race, had been born from the waters. Their mating had been blessed with countless genetically diverse children, who had gone on to form all of the different races which, until recently, had inhabited the earth.
In the beginning, life had been good. He had dreamed of fathering human children who, blessed with the transience of their mortality, would truly cherish the world which he had created for them. In return, they would pass on the sacred knowledge which he had imparted to them, to each future generation of his growing family. Together, they would see the earth realise its full potential.
For a while, his dream became a reality. His children lived in harmony with the land; only taking what they needed in order to thrive. Ensuring that, for every tree and plant they pulled from the earth, they gifted back double in the form of precious seeds; carefully tended under his nurturing sunlight. For each animal slain, to provide their food and clothes, they would put aside an offering of feed to give back to the herds throughout the cold winter months, when fresh food was scarce on the ground. It was a paradise, and Tane had congratulated himself on a job well done.
In time, though, even the gift of longevity provided by Tane’s power was not enough to prevent nature from claiming back the mortal body of Sisiroha; freeing her soul to travel to the Summerlands beyond the veil. It was in that moment that Tane’s heart ceased to beat, and he discovered something which no divine being had ever encountered before. The feeling of loss.
Seeing that his creation was safe in the hands of his children, he retreated from the world. Falling into a deep and dreamless sleep, until such a time that his heart would mend.
Centuries passed in the blink of an eye, but his heart still refused to beat. Eventually, Tane realised that slumber was not the right cure for his loneliness. He returned to the world he had so lovingly crafted to seek solace in the collective light of the children he had been so proud of. But, in his absence, his children had forgotten almost all of the lessons which he had taught to them; their knowledge becoming more diluted with each generation. Greed, sloth, envy, arrogance and hatred had bloomed within their hearts, turning them away from nature as they fought for material superiority over each other. They had soon forgotten that they had ever lived in harmony with the land.
Tane had wept bitterly to see the sheer destruction which his children had wrought upon the world in his absence. Logging and industrial farming had all but scoured trees and plant-life from the earth, and the use of chemicals and genetic engineering had corrupted and weakened almost every species on the face of the planet – if not eradicated them completely.
The oceans and waterways were choked with a substance called ‘plastic’ which Tane, to his horror, learned was formed from the ancient liquid remains of dead plants and animals. A process which turned his once beautiful and vital creations, into something so unnatural that even the passing of countless centuries couldn’t return their desecrated remains back to the natural cycle of the earth.
It wasn’t just nature that his children had turned their backs upon. It seemed that, in their unending quest for power, they had also forgotten the important bonds of family. They had tried to oppress and gain control over each other, based solely on meaningless divisions; like the level of pigment in their skin, their sexual preference, or even by the doctrine and dogma of the myriad new ‘world religions’ which had sprung up.
Tane could still see the shadow of his teachings, lingering at the very core of each of these new ‘belief systems’, but many of his children seemed to ignore even the ghostly remains of the knowledge which he had so carefully imparted to their ancestors. Instead, they used their ‘allegiance’ to a particular faith as a crutch, in some misguided attempt to give themselves a false air of superiority over others. Some even went as far as to use their own twisted doctrine as some sort of ‘divine justification’ for their countless sins. At this extreme, all trace of his loving message had been erased.
By the time he had returned from his slumber, there were only a handful of human bloodlines left. The vast, diverse and disparate beauty of his children had been pared down through war, famine, and disease. Those that had somehow survived the carnage of the terrible wars, which had struck their brothers and sisters from the face of the earth, were already sick and dying from the poison of the chemical and nuclear weapons which had marked the beginning of human extinction.
Seeing the broken bodies of his children littering the scorched battlefields, now marring the earth’s surface like open sores, Tane’s silent heart had clenched painfully within his chest. How had it come to this? He had vowed to himself, that he would never again create another being in his own image. And for a time, as the planet slowly began to heal itself under his gentle care, that was enough. But, as the centuries passed, Tane came to realise that trying to forget, wasn’t enough to make up for what his absence had allowed to happen, nor to mend his twice-broken heart.
He thought of his beautiful Sisiroha, and of the deep, unfailing love and devotion which she had held for each of her children and their descendants. Surely, any being capable of such unconditional love, was also capable of becoming everything that he had dreamed?
And so, with renewed resolution, he stepped forward and entered the waters of the lagoon. Cool waves danced against his legs as he waded further out, not stopping until the water reached his waist. Raising his hands, palms facing downwards, he gently placed them on the shimmering surface of the lake.
“Eteroa, spirit of the land and guardian of all who dwell upon it, hear me!” He called, feeling the water vibrate and shiver beneath his fingers. “Hear me and awaken, I ask your counsel and a blessing.”
The hum of insect activity surrounding the lagoon ceased, and Tane waited in the silence. Moments passed, but he didn’t move from his place in the shallows. At last, a gravelly voice reached his ears.
“Tane, God of Forest and Light, what would you ask of me?”
The voice was dry and ponderous, but, despite Tane’s previous reservations, the spirit didn’t sound angry, so he forged ahead.
“When the world was still young, I came to you in this place and asked you a boon… do you recall our meeting then?”
“My memory is longer than yours young Tane, and my age far greater. Yes, I remember the meeting of which you speak… now, what would you ask of me this time?”
“No more and no less than I did on that day, Great Spirit,” Tane replied, subconsciously holding his breath as he waited for a response. The seconds ticked by, each one an agony.
“After what your children have done to our world, you would dare to ask this of me again?! Why? Why would I grant you this boon a second time?”
Eteroa’s voice rose thunderously, and the waters of Kemea shook and danced all about him.
“Please, oh wise spirit of the land, do not lay my sins at my children’s feet. It was my own negligence, which brought us all to this end, and my children paid the terrible price of my conceit. I should never have left them, still so very much in their infancy, all alone with the whole world clutched in their small, fragile hands.” Tane paused for a moment as a swell of painful emotion threatened to choke him.
“If you feel that someone should bear the weight of your punishment for this crime, Great Spirit, then I offer myself up to your mercy. But, before you make your judgement, I ask that you please hear my proposal.”
The waters stilled, and silence returned to the plateau.
“Granted. Speak your piece, and I will consider your words.”
Tane bowed respectfully, making sure not to remove his palms from the surface of the lake.
“It is true that I come to you once again asking for a human mate. When I first woke and saw the destruction of all I had once loved, I vowed to myself never again to make the same mistake. As time passed, though, I realised that the only way to truly correct the mistakes of the past, is to begin again; this time ensuring that I am the dedicated father that I should have been from the very beginning. In addition, I would like you to take my memories of all that has been, and to pass that terrible knowledge to my mate. In this way, my new family will grow from out of the ashes of my slain children, hopefully never to repeat the mistakes that lead us to this end.”
“That is a heavy burden, indeed, for a new soul to bear. Are you certain you want to place such a weight on your new mate’s shoulders?”
“I am. I will sacrifice a portion of my power to ensure that she doesn’t become overwhelmed with the knowledge all at once. I will take responsibility in gently revealing the truth, piece by piece. In this way, I will share the burden with her… supporting and guiding her, as I should have done with my children.”
There was a rumbling sigh, as Eteroa carefully considered Tane’s words.
“Alright, God of Forest and Light, you may have your second chance. Be warned though, this time the earth itself will hold you accountable.”
“Thank you, Great Spirit of the land. I will not fail you or my family a second time, I promise you that.”
The water began to glow with a radiant white light, and Tane waded forward to the centre of the lake, using his power to keep himself waist-high even in the deepest parts.
As he reached the centre, the light began to coalesce, drawing in on itself to form a large iridescent sphere before him. Reaching his arms into the centre of the sphere, Tane took hold of its precious content and, as he did so, the light began to fade.
The lonely, broken man, more human than god at that moment. Gazed down at the sleeping woman in his arms. “I will name you Kemea in memory of your birthplace.” He whispered to her, as hope once again welled within his breast, and his heart uttered its first stuttering beat in millennia, in answer to her own.