This page will comprise a collection of my short stories, 1,000 – 10,000 words long. Many of these tales also tell the history and adventures of the wonderful collection of side characters, who find themselves intrinsically linked to my full, novel-length work. Everyone deserves to be the hero or heroine of their own story after all!
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.
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.