Bag of Pain

Oskar was eleven when he first used it. Still a boy, too young to be told his parents had perished at sea. Looking back, he was surprised his father had even explained it to him…

No, that’s right – Oskar had found him using it. He was maybe eight or so then, and after waking from a bad dream he wandered down the corridor in time to see his father disappear into the room opposite the master bedroom. It had always been locked, and so a curiosity filled Oskar. Memories of the bad dream disappeared in an instant and he tip-toed the rest of the way, pausing at the door. It was a small, simple room, with a spluttering torch on the wall casting long shadows over the scene.

His father stood hunched over a large leather sack, his hands clenched in front of his face. His body shook with exertion and Oskar remembered clearly how odd his white knuckles had seemed on his normally ruddy hands. Slowly, the king clasped his hands as if crushing something between his palms. He rubbed them together and Oskar saw a thin stream of dust fall into the gaping bag. The dust glistened in the light and sent bright reflections across his father’s face.

When the dust stopped, his father straightened up and sighed. Only then did Oskar make himself known.

“What’s that, father?” he asked. The king smiled as he turned and did not seem surprised to see him.

“Oskar! It appears Fate has decided I will share this with you now. I had thought a bit older, well…This bag allows me to take away my worst feelings, and grind them into dust to settle here, so that I may rule as well as I am able.”

“I had a bad dream,” Oskar said. His father chuckled.

“I think a bad dream we can sort out ourselves. It will grow full eventually, so I must be sparing with my bag.”

Oskar nodded. He knew his father had been greatly saddened by Sir Peter’s rebellion. Sir Peter had been a good servant and his execution, though necessary, had been deliberated at length in the court – Oskar had listened at the door.

At eleven, the night he was crowned the new king, he had found the key in his father’s wardrobe and unlocked the room for himself. It was as before – the torch on the wall, which he lit with a trembling hand, and the bag slumped in the corner. He ground up his pain and let it trickle into the bag.

Now twenty-three, and in a dozen years of war, famine and plague, King Oskar had filled the bag. He stood over it the night his young wife passed away during childbirth, and a few grains of her death spilled over the rim onto the flagstones. They glinted menacingly at him. But what harm could the dust do? Oskar turned to leave the room, but a vision clouded his brain, its power pulling him to his knees. He was back touring the villages nearby, seeing the plague victims piled outside the houses, their dead faces grinning taut over their skulls. The sadness was as deep this time as at the event itself, and when the vision cleared Oskar rushed to pick up each grain. They burned his hands like white-hot coals, but he needed to put these memories away again. As he brushed the last few into the bag, they disturbed new grains which slid over the coarse lip and onto the floor.

The corn famine. Diseased ears rotting in the fields, while his subjects wasted away. The flood that carried off an entire village. Frantically, blindly, he scooped these specks off the floor. The nomad hordes that rode through the coastal towns, pillaging and murdering with abandon. Still more grains spilled, more visions came.

There was a knock. Oskar looked up, he was back in the room, in the castle, though he could feel the visions tearing still at the corners of his mind. The midwife stood at the open door, holding a bundle in her arms. His newborn son. Heir to all this suffering.

Oskar stood, walked slowly to the midwife and took his son from her. Bade her leave them to mourn. Closed the door. Walked back to the bag, and laid his son atop it. And wept.


Deus ex machina

“a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object…often implies a lack of creativity” (thanks Wikipedia)

I wouldn’t say as kids that we suffered from a lack of creativity, if anything, our imaginations had gotten the better of us here, as we’d killed off all three of our characters, without thinking where that left our game…

Happily, their younger siblings were conveniently present, but against a Geri Haliwell-inspired Shadow Master, there could be little hope. Enter Kyle!

I decided to write this today as it’s Kyle’s birthday – we’ve not spoken in a while but I’ll link him this article later as I’m not sure he even knows about this! Kyle was another good friend who may have joined us in this game on occasion before he moved to Illinois from our hometown in Massachusetts. By the time of these events, he’d definitely moved, but that didn’t stop his fantasy counterpart saving the day!

In a fashion reminiscent of (and likely copied from) the White Power Ranger, who returned super powerful and immune to evil influence (I will have the utmost respect for anyone who can correct me if I’m wrong here), Kyle intervened to single-handedly fight off and banish the Shadow Master, while clad, if memory serves, in all black armour (because white would’ve been too obvious). What a badass!

Certain death avoided, the younger siblings (I became ‘Timothy’, my sister possibly chose ‘Jamie-Lynn’, but we can’t for the life of us remember what new name Andrew picked… ) lived to fight another day, safe in the knowledge that on the rare occasions our own prowess failed us (and, as we’d soon scheduled, printed and laminated our own ‘magic university’ timetables, that was a rare thing indeed) our absent friend would return once more.

Kyle – happy birthday, and I hope you appreciate what a part you still played in our lives after you moved away!

[The above is 333 words, by complete chance, and the last one was 444 words. If anyone knows of any symbolism I’m inadvertently messing with here (I’m worried 666 will be soon) do let me know!]

It’s Raining Many (Aggressive Shadowy Spirits)

Death was just the beginning…

Not the start of my young adult book about a troubled vampire (I jest even though I am writing one!) but the follow-up to my last fantasy post here.

To recap, three heroes, imagined by myself, my best friend Andrew and my sister Emily, within our vast fantasy world, had just been killed by Andrew’s uncle (the one area devoid of imagination, up until this point at least, had been the names – we quested under our real life monikers) . Did death spell the end of our wild adventures running around the garden shouting and hacking at goblins? Did it heck! (Minding my language, children (or at least the reminiscences thereof) present.)

Barely had the Shadow Master slew us (this particular fight scene involved our jumping around on the trampoline and then falling over dramatically) when our three younger siblings (each conveniently similar to their predecessors in gender and appearance) turned up on the scene, ready to do battle at the tender age of probably about seven. Good on them!

The following scene was never actually acted out; however I imagined it hundreds of times and described it to my sister often enough that it may as well have been: it began with the tense first bars of Geri Haliwell’s cover of ‘It’s Raining Men’ and a deep, menacing laugh from the Shadow Master. He raised his dark, jagged arms (he was composed purely of sharp, black shadows obviously) and twisted shapes began to seep up from the ground. Insubstantial, misty at first, they darkened and took on human forms – these were souls, ghosts, wights – the ‘shadows’ our adversary commanded. As the music builds (perhaps without the lyrics which, while wonderful in their own right, don’t really suit epic battles of good and evil) the Shadow Master flings his arms higher, launching the poor trapped souls of the dead into the air. The three young warriors, still mourning the triple homicide of their siblings, steel themselves as the first verse reaches a crescendo and…


The shadows drop from the sky, surrounding the children, and begin their assault. It’s a terrifying onslaught. Did I mention their siblings had just been killed? And now this: swarms of shadowy corpses hurling themselves at our intrepid adventurers. The odds don’t look good. How could a bunch of even younger kids defeat someone who’d just killed the slightly older kids?  I don’t mind telling you now (to whet your appetite) that this younger trio would go on to great things, becoming world-renowned heroes and even making it to university, but how would they survive this? Enter our deus ex machina: Kyle.

[Incidentally, at 444 words, the above is exactly four times the length of an excellent recent piece by a good friend of mine, which you can check out here]

Fighting My Best Friend’s Uncle

It wasn’t under the name Skylance, but it was definitely that state of mind, when one can get lost in a far away fantasy world. What started as playing on the monkey bars at school, pretending to be spiders, became a expansive world we travelled as magical heroes, battling evil forces at every turn. The world grew each time we entered – it would go on to capture and demand our imagination for years. We three (my little sister often joined myself and my best friend Andrew) fought against countless enemies, but notably the mysterious Shadow Master, who, in one particularly shocking twist, turned out to be Andrew’s uncle, and killed all three of us.

Happily, that was just the beginning.