The Tribe That Lost A Piece Of Their Soul And Discovered A World

Here’s a little Christmas present for you all –  it’s one of my favourites of all the things I’ve written “for kids”.  But really, it’s for everyone who understands…

William Bowmore Wise liked to travel, and he liked to take pictures.

He especially liked to take pictures with his very expensive and very clever mobile phone that had a very clever camera built into it. He had a big camera too, but his phone was easier to carry around.

William B. Wise lived in a big city in Australia, but he really liked to travel.

Fortunately he was quite rich, so he could afford to visit a lot of interesting places.

William liked taking pictures of people who had less than he did because he thought they were interesting. He wasn’t being smug or unkind. He just didn’t quite understand them.

He’d always been quite rich and didn’t know what it was like to have to make his own clothes or bake his own bread. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to grow his own food or catch his own fish or build his own house.

William didn’t even really understand what it was like to have to work hard to have enough money to buy food or a place to live.

He took pictures of people working and building and fishing and farming because they were things that to him were different and unusual.

When William took pictures of people, he didn’t think of them as people. It was like they were just things. Things to take pictures of, just like bridges and buildings and sunflowers and sunsets.

*

The Williwilli people were a very small, very ancient tribe who lived in Central Australia.

There weren’t many of them any more. They didn’t have a home. They hadn’t had a home for thousands of years.

dscf3840The Williwilli people were nomads. They wandered from place to place, and built rough shelters to sleep in for just as long as they stayed in one place.

Sometimes they would hunt, sometimes they would fish, and sometimes they would gather the fruits and plants that grew in what other people called the Outback.

The Williwilli people knew a little about things like cars and cameras and computers. They’d seen them when they happened to be at a place where there were tourists visiting.

They knew about such things, but they weren’t very interested in them.

Those were things that the Williwilli people had never had, so they never missed having them. They were quite content with their lives and the way that they lived them.

But one thing that none of the Williwilli people liked was to have their picture taken.

They really really believed that if someone took a picture of you then they took a piece of your soul. That was the thing inside you that made You who you were, and if someone took a piece of it then you would be less You.

*

Continue reading The Tribe That Lost A Piece Of Their Soul And Discovered A World

The Clicking Thing

200 years ago Mary Shelley wrote a wonderful novel called Frankenstein.  There was a competition to celebrate the anniversary.  The challenge was to write 1000 words or so on “The relationship between creator and creation.”  Here’s what I did.  (I set up this post on what would have been my Dad’s 96th birthday.  I know he’d have gotten a kick out of it.)

A remarkable inventor was Professor Thaddeus Plumpton-Green,

The man who was responsible for a most unique machine.

It turned out to be one of the best the world had ever seen.

 

He wasn’t very popular with other scientific brains.

They thought him odd, old-fashioned, and not up with modern gains

And in return he thought them trapped in unimaginative chains.

 

How things should work was what the Prof and his colleagues most would clash on.

Electronic new technology and computers may be fashion

But he didn’t care – gears and springs and clockwork were his passion.

 

He worked with cogs and wheels and springs and widgets made of tin.

Rack and pinion joints, and spools, and wire he’d coil around a pin

And the hammering of metal sheets that created quite a din.

 

The sound of his constructions could be as loud as you’d predict

So he lived and worked outside of town where the noise rules weren’t so strict,

And in that lab he called his home, he built the Thing that clicked.

 

Although he lived all by himself he seldom felt alone.

So much went on inside his head – a heavy traffic zone

But the Thing that clicked was company, in a way he’d never known.

 

Of course it could do more than click, if given half a chance.

It could nod and bow, and smile and wave. It could walk and run and prance.

When it was moved a special way the Thing would even dance.

 

That delighted old Prof P, who’d dance when on his own

To foxtrot records, classic jazz, on his wind-up gramophone.

If he tripped, or didn’t keep in time, the Thing would never moan.

 

Its clicking fitted with the jazz, in rhythm with the beat.

A dance partner who did not complain was, for clumsy Prof, a treat

For the Thing, it didn’t feel a thing if he trampled on its feet!

 

Once he told his Thing a joke and it gave him back a wink. It

Startled Plumpton-Green. He loved his animated trinket

But to call it ‘life’ was just too much – best not overthink it!

He hadn’t made a monster, of that he was quite certain.

The Thing was all of clockwork with no feelings to be hurting,

But Plumpton-Green still fretted as he peeped out round his curtain.

 

He went into town as he sometimes did to buy food, supplies and tools

When he saw some children as they walked to playgrounds or to schools.

“If they like my Thing I’m safe,” he thought, “For the young are no-one’s fools!”

 

Back in his lab he made more Things – just a few at first to share.

No monsters these, but playmates, each made with skill and care.

“If these kids like them I’ll make more for children everywhere!”

 

He took the new Things into town and gave them out for free

They clicked as they ran and danced and played and filled young hearts with glee

And parents seemed quite satisfied with his safety guarantee.

 

As children played with their clicking Things two men in suits walked by.

The fun the children clearly had caught one shrewd man’s cold eye.

He nudged his pal, said: “The next big thing! Let’s get rich, you and I!”

 

The men in suits were already rich from selling other stuff

But the funny thing with money is for some, there’s never enough.

When Professor P. said, “Not for sale!” they left him in a huff.

 

They found a boy who swapped his Thing for a computer game and sweets.

The lazy lad would rather play inside than on the streets

And the company of friends was less important than his treats.

 

So the men in suits had got their Thing and hardly spent a penny.

They had plenty cash, and grand ideas, but morals? Hardly any.

“If a few of these are such big hits, what dough we’ll make with many!”

 

“We can make more faster, cheaper, better too when we understand the trick!”

So their smart guys took the Thing apart to see what made it tick.

They even found the little bit that had given it its click.

 

They built a grand new factory with machines all big and fine,

Even automated polishers to give a brilliant shine

To New Improved Things by the thousand, off a huge production line.

 

Professor Plumpton read a press release of what the men in suits would do.

They’d flood the market with new Things, click-free, and cheaper, too.

He sighed and patted Thing the First and said, “At least I’ve still got you.”

 

But the New Improved Things didn’t sell – no-one wanted them as toys.

“What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?” the men asked girls and boys.

The answer came, “They’re not the same. We liked the clicking noise!”

 

The men in suits were horrified at what the children spoke.

The factory, sales plan, marketing had all gone up in smoke.

Their production line of monsters left the men in suits quite broke.

 

The men in suits sold all their Things to the sheikh of a far-off land

Who used them as cheap labour to construct his buildings grand.

But alas, they didn’t last for long as their gears were clogged with sand.

 

Tastes change quickly nowadays and novelty wears thin.

Even those few Things that clicked were soon no longer ‘in’.

But the Prof back in his lab still wore his quiet contented grin.

 

For he still had his Thing the First to proudly call his own.

They’d stay up late and dance to jazz on the trusty gramophone,

As years went by old Plumpton-Green never had to be alone.

 

When the old Professor passed away, the Thing it couldn’t cry.

It didn’t have the means for tears, however it may try.

It hadn’t been designed to weep or mourn or even sigh.

 

It held his body to its breast and danced a gentle sway.

The music stopped, the Thing still moved in a tender, loving way

Until the gears at last wound down, and the last click died away.

 

 

The Bulldozer People

In a distant and interesting corner of the world there’s a high plateau.

Scattered along the top of the plateau are a number of little towns. They’re very old, and the people who live in them have been there a long, long time.

Not many people climb up the plateau, and those who do usually wind up deciding that they really like one or other of the little towns they find up there. So they stay, and the plateau towns remain largely unknown to the outside world.

But this is one of their stories.

At one end of the plateau was a town named Block. The people who lived in Block were big, heavy people with loud voices. They had big square heads and big square bodies and they shouted a lot. They were like walking bulldozers.

The bulldozer people of Block always seemed to be busy. They were impatient, and would push each other around and shove each other out of the way in their hurry to get to places and do things.

They would shout over the top of each other because each one of them knew that whatever they had to say was absolutely the most important thing that could be said right at that moment.

All of the pushing and shoving and crowding meant that Block itself got very dirty and rundown. Walls started to crack, the footpaths started to sag, things broke down and didn’t get repaired because everyone was too busy demanding that someone else should do something about it.

Eventually there came a time when Block started to become too worn out, crowded and noisy even for the people who’d lived there a long time.

“Block isn’t good enough for us now! We should visit somewhere else and see what’s there!” cried some of the big square people.

A few of them travelled along the plateau to the next town – a quiet place named Sekund. There was more space there, and the people weren’t very good at standing up to the big square bodies of the bulldozer people when they started behave the way they did at home.

The news got back to Block quickly, and more and more of the big square people moved along the plateau away from their old homes and into Sekund.

They pushed their way in. They pushed the Sekunders out of their way, or pushed them around and shouted at them.

“We are visitors you know! You’re supposed to treat us well – bring us food and something to drink!” they would shout.

Some of the Sekunders thought that this was a way to behave that really got results, so they started to do the same things. They pushed people around and shouted and demanded that things be done for them.

They never even noticed that the more they behaved like this, the more their bodies and heads started to change shape. They were starting to look just like the people from Block as well as act like them.

The poor little town of Sekund hadn’t been built for rough treatment. The streets were narrower than those in Block. Shouting voices echoed and sounded even louder, and the walls and footpaths quickly started to crack and crumble.

Soon many of the big square bodied people had started to move along the plateau again, pushing their way into another town, and another after that.

Everywhere they went, they pushed and shoved and bullied.

“We are visitors! We demand to be served properly!” they would shout at the local people.

Some people did their best to keep out of the way, some started to behave the same way, and others just got trampled on.

All too soon, the big loud bulldozer people from Block, and others who behaved just like them, had moved all the way along the plateau.

Some of the folks in those towns tried to stand up to the Block people. They got run over, shouted at and pushed aside.

The big loud square bodied people really were just like bulldozers, shoving and squashing anyone and anything in their way.

The Mayor of the town of Quailville tried to talk to the people from Block when they first arrived.

“You can have some of our town all to yourselves, and we will live peacefully in the other part,” he offered.

The Block people agreed that was a good idea. But it didn’t take long before their part of Quailville got noisy and crowded and unpleasant.

“The other part of Quailville looks much nicer,” they said.

So they pushed their way into the rest of the town. The poor Mayor was just another person to be pushed aside.

`“This is no way to treat visitors! Why didn’t you let us have this bit of the town? It’s much nicer!” shouted one of the bulldozer people.

“It used to be,” said the Mayor in a sad, quiet voice as he looked around at the noisy, shoving crowd. But the people from Block didn’t hear him.

So they kept moving along the plateau, finding nice unspoiled places and spoiling them. Not deliberately, of course, but it never occurred to the Block people that their noise, and their pushing, and their rudeness, was really the cause of the problems they kept trying to leave behind.

Eventually they got to the very last town on the plateau. It was a very old town called Terminus.

The very polite people of Terminus welcomed them.

“You’re welcome to come in, but please be gentle. All of our town is very old and fragile,” they said.

“Yes, yes, sure. Now get out of the way!” replied the people from Block.

With a sigh the polite people of Terminus stood back and let the bulldozer people pass before they could be pushed aside or crushed.

Block people all across the plateau soon heard how easy it was to get into Terminus. They rushed there, pushing themselves along, pushing each other out of the way, and shouting as if being louder would help get them there sooner.

They pushed down the gates and pushed over the old fragile walls to get in.

Again the polite people tried to give a warning. “Please be careful – all of Terminus is old and fragile,” they said.

Most of the bulldozer people didn’t even bother to say, “Yes, sure.”

They either ignored the polite people, or pushed them out of the way, or shouted at them to get something because they were visitors and expected to be treated well.

Without the people from Block even noticing, the polite people quietly got right out of their way – right out of Terminus, in fact.

The people who used to be the Terminites stood some way away from where their gates had been, shaking their heads sadly. Inside the town, the Block people were rumbling around, pushing and shoving each other and shouting for somebody to come and serve them.

Then suddenly above the terrible noise of the pushing and shoving and shouting came an even louder, more terrible noise.

The people of Terminus had warned that all of their town was old and fragile. That included even the ground on which it had been built.

The end of the plateau collapsed under the strain. Terminus and the big square bulldozer people of Block fell hundreds of feet to their ruin.

The polite people made their way back along the plateau to all the places where those from Block had been. Places like Quailtown and Sekund – even the remains of Block itself.

Gradually the damage in all those towns was repaired. The people who were left treated each other with respect – they’d all learned a lesson from Block.

The plateau was shared by everyone, and became just the best and friendliest place in the world to live.

But they kept that quiet. They knew that there were other bulldozer people in the world.

Daily Prompt: Ghost

via Daily Prompt: Ghost

THE WHITE SPIRIT

Thanks to this prompt, I’m reposting another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants. Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true. Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf. When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said. “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter. Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well. John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar. So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink. A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water. He was tired, though. Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging. The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring. John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road. It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes. Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily. When it did, all the lights went out.

Continue reading Daily Prompt: Ghost

ROCK Part 2

This is longer than my usual ‘short’ story.  If you haven’t read the earlier part, I really suggest you go to ROCK Part 1.  Otherwise, this one may be a little harder to follow than you’d like!

The scene is the Gibraltar fortress in WW2.  The two Abwehr saboteurs – Ulises Lope Guiomar and Gonzalo Olegario, having killed a US soldier, have just avoided being discovered by the Black Watch corporal ‘Braw Wullie’ McEwen and his simian companion ‘Hairy Wullie’ – a most unusual Barbary macaque.

Renoir and Hairy Wullie
Renoir (left) and a Barbary macaque

Ulises jumped down from the back of the truck. “Thanks, buddy,” he said, already taking on the accent he’d learned in southern California.

With the brisk step he’d adopted, he stepped smartly across the parade ground, carefully not following the Scottish corporal and the monkey. He was startled when a sergeant major from one of the engineering companies shouted at him.

“You there! Soldier! Get your hair cut!” the pompous RSM ordered.

Guiomar stopped in his tracks and saluted perfectly. “Yes sir! Right you are, sir! As soon as I get off duty, sir!”

“See that you do!” The officer gave a curt nod and continued on his way.

Gonzalo Olegario realised he’d been holding his breath as he watched the little exchange. The soldier who’d just come over to buy some oranges looked at him in concern. “Are you okay, mate?” he asked in a voice that might have just left the East End of London.

“Eh? Oh, si. Sorry, senor. I was distracted by one of the apes – no, monkeys they are, si?”Hairy Wullie close

The Londoner laughed. “You’ve been talking to that mad coot McEwen, haven’t you? Don’t worry about the monkeys mate – you get used to ‘em around here. They’re harmless, if you keep an eye on ‘em.”

Ulises had been much less concerned than Gonzalo. He moved and worked with absolute confidence, an air that gave nobody any cause to doubt that he was the GI he presented himself to be.

There were a number of entrances to the tunnel complex in the section of the Rock that he was approaching. He selected one that had a numeral 5 on a small sign mounted on the rock face. A British soldier was guarding the tunnel entrance – a man that Guiomar was confident had not been among his customers and thus would have no chance of recognizing him.

He saluted the guard and said, “Been ordered to HQ”.

The rifleman gave him a wry smile and replied, “You’ve picked the long way, matey. You oughta use Tunnel Number 7. More direct. Take you a good three quarters of a mile or more, this one.”

Guiomar squared his shoulders and offered a practiced smile. “Reckon I need the exercise,” he said.

“Suit yourself, matey,” said the guard and waved him on his way.

As soon as he was well inside past the guard the Spaniard broke into a run. He was remarkably quiet for a man in heavy boots inside a tunnel. He’d spent a lot of time practicing a running style that saw him seemingly glide, rather than slamming his feet to the ground.

Once clear of the daylight streaming in at the entrances, Gibraltar’s tunnel system was a gloomy place. Long stretches of tunnel were only sparsely lit by small bulbs, feebly penetrating the darkness. The holes punched in the limestone had not created high ceilings or wide corridors. In some places groundwater seeped through the stone above and dripped slowly onto the floor.

Guiomar stopped outside a closed door, poorly illuminated by a flickering light. Evidently the wiring to this socket was faulty and the charge wasn’t getting through properly. The Brandenburg smiled, rather like a shark. This was clearly a storeroom of some sort. With luck it would contain something volatile behind the locked door. He reached into his blouse and extracted one of the packages from the special vest. He squeezed and felt a small piece of copper buckle under the pressure of his thumb. He felt more than heard thin glass crack.

It had begun. He had about two hours to finish the job and get well clear. He wedged the first package into a cleft in the rock wall near the door, and then took off along the corridor at a steady pace.

Continue reading ROCK Part 2

ROCK Part 1

A longer-than-usual “short” story, so I’ve broken it into two parts.  

The great course of history can turn upon small and unexpected things, never more so than in wartime. Significant events can happen, or not happen, pivoting on mere moments in time. Luck? Chance? Coincidence? Dubious magic?

The Brandenburg Regiment of the Abwehr Second Division was not the most popular element within the German army.

The SS and the Abwehr maintained a deep-seated and bitter rivalry. Military intelligence was the Abwehr’s provenance, and there were many in the SS who resented their lack of ready access to secrets they felt entitled to.

Some of the die-hard traditionalist old soldiers in the High Command still felt that the Abwehr’s techniques of subterfuge and espionage weren’t a “proper” way to conduct a war, and regarded the whole organization as intrinsically dishonourable.

And there were some, even within the Abwehr itself, who felt that the whole idea of the Brandenburgs was an affront to their treasured ideal of Aryan supremacy.

The men of the Brandenburg Regiment were the equivalent of the British Commandos. Highly trained both physically and mentally, in disciplines from swimming and hand-to-hand combat to map reading, secret messaging, forgery, demolition and camouflage, they were an elite group designed to operate behind enemy lines. By the time of their dissolution in the autumn of 1944 they’d earned more decorations and commendations than any comparably sized unit in the German army.

The problem for the Aryan supremacists was that, in order to function effectively in foreign countries, it was necessary for the Regiment to be largely composed of foreigners. This was a further affront to the SS, who sought out recruits with exemplary Nordic features. The Brandenburgs, in contrast, specifically wanted men who looked like they belonged in their chosen fields of operation.

To join the Regiment it was essential to speak at least one language other than German, preferably more. They recruited expatriate Germans from across Europe and Africa, but also the likes of Slavs, Poles, Ukrainians – even Spaniards.

Spain was a vexation to Hitler. The leader, General Franco, stubbornly refused to enter the war on the side of the Axis, although he was just as intransigent about joining the Allies. It seemed to the Fuhrer that the man would not commit to anyone until the war was over and a clear winner could be identified.

One tiny corner of southwestern Spain was of particular concern. Out on the edge of Andalucía, Gibraltar had been held by Britain since the Treaty of Utrecht in1713.

The British fortress on the Rock of Gibraltar was a key strategic position, giving the Allied navies a significant tactical advantage. It also provided a well-sited airstrip for combat operations. If it could be taken, or at least incapacitated, it would be a powerful blow. The difficulty was that it was a very, very tough nut to crack.

By the middle of 1942 the Rock was actually rather less solid than it appeared. Five companies of British engineers and two companies of their Canadian allies, equipped with diamond tipped drills, had riddled the Gibraltar limestone with an impressive subterranean network.

Gibraltar cavesThe size of a small town, it had more than thirty miles of tunnels and chambers – more tunnels than there were roads on Gibraltar. The tunnels linked up storage rooms, office space, signaling stations, even a power station, water supply and a well-equipped hospital. At the very heart of it all was the recently established Headquarters of Operation Torch – coordinating the Allies’ planned invasion of French North Africa. General Eisenhower had only just arrived to take command of the Operation.

The General didn’t especially like his new environment. He found it damp and dank, but he readily acknowledged how secure and safe it was as a base. It certainly seemed as near as possible to impenetrable.

In large part that was due to the construction of his HQ, but he was also pleased to acknowledge the caliber of the British troops who formed the majority of Gibraltar’s defence force.

Among those troops were members of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Highland Regiment, better known as the Black Watch. Among them was a soldier named William John McEwen.

Corporal McEwen had been an orphan, shipped to the Hebrides island of Islay in his youth and raised in the little village of Sron Dubh. His hair, which he could never make tidy enough for the satisfaction of some officers, lacked the fiery redness so often associated with Scots. He was middling tall, with broad shoulders. He’d competed with some success in the hammer throw event at Highland games, routinely launching the 22 pound metal ball and its four foot wooden shaft over a hundred and fifty feet.

The 4th Battalion had been among the last troops to be evacuated from Dunkirk. McEwen had earned his promotion during those desperate days in France, together with a reputation for having a cool head in a crisis. It was also noticed by alert eyes that he had a knack for being in the right place at the right time – where and when he was needed.

Not an ambitious man, Braw Wullie as he’d been known in Sron Dubh (many of the village men were named William, and each of the ‘Wullies’ had his own nickname to distinguish him) tried to keep a low profile on the Rock. There was only one wee little problem with that.

That wee little problem was a Barbary ape. One of the many macaques that inhabited Gibraltar had attached himself to the Corporal. It was peculiar behaviour. The beasts were normally scavengers, not people-shy but not at all tame, either. This one on the other hand had wandered up to the Scot when he’d first arrived at the fortress, tilted his small furry head to one side as if studying the man, then proceeded to accompany him all around the place.

McEwen had done nothing at first to encourage the attentions, but eventually would talk to the monkey as an intelligent companion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“He’s smarter than some o’ you bampots,” he’d said with a smile when a few of his comrades made disparaging remarks. He even gave the creature a name, hearkening back to the habits of his old village. ‘Hairy Wullie’ – who immediately learned to respond to the moniker (although mostly only when called by McEwen).

Continue reading ROCK Part 1

BEWARE OF THE CAT

Here’s a story from John B. Stewart’s early days as a wielder of Dubious Magic.  He still has to learn to think before he speaks.

It was a crisp clear Sunday morning in the Canberra suburb of Waramanga. Minor public servant and unacknowledged wizard John B. Stewart strolled out into the back yard of his cottage. Holding a cup of coffee, he was simply basking in the sunlight.

He knew his recently-arrived housemate Darren had gone out into the yard a few minutes earlier, but was surprised to see the young man sitting on an upturned bin, busily trying to hose something odious from the sole of his gym boot.

After they’d exchanged genial “Good morning” greetings John B. gestured towards his friend’s foot.

“That doesn’t look like something Kat’s responsible for,” he observed.

Kat was a large white Persian – the other member of the little household.

Darren grinned ruefully. “You’d worry if it was. No, this was left by some big dog.”

Stewart wrinkled a lip in annoyance and said, “It’ll be that damned Alsation from two doors up. It wanders up and down the street looking for any yard it can use for a toilet except its own.”

“Well trained, then,” said Darren, rubbing his sole on the grass.

“I wish the bloody dog would learn to stay out of our place,” was John B.’s irritated response.

Darren looked at him quizzically for a moment. Before he could construct the cautious question he had in mind, the final member of the household sauntered out of the open back door.

Kat walked past both men, giving a little mmreh of apparent greeting as he went by. The Persian went off along the path at the side of the house in the general direction of the driveway where Stewart parked his battered old Hillman.

“Where’s he off to, I wonder?” mused the youth.

“Routine inspection of his domain?” suggested the man who’d been best friends with the cat for years.

Both men grinned.

Suddenly there was a loud, violent outburst of caterwauling and deep-throated barking and growling from the front of the cottage. Kat came bolting down the path at high speed. (That in itself was a shock – the big feline was rarely observed to move at anything above an amble.) Shortly behind lumbered a large German Shepherd, literally snapping at the cat’s tail.

Kat looked almost to run vertically up the trunk of a pine tree in the back corner of the yard and disappear into the thick foliage several feet up. The dog stood on its hind legs, front paws up scrabbling on the bark of the tree, barking loudly.

John B. was just about to run down toward the tree with a view to getting the dog away, possibly through the agency of a swift kick to its rear. He’d risk being bitten to save Kat.

But Kat didn’t need saving. The big cat suddenly plummeted from a substantial height, claws extended, dropping full weight onto the dog’s muzzle. Two razor sharp claws carved deep slices in the soft black nose

The sound the Alsation made was more like a scream than a yelp. It turned and ran full pelt back up the driveway, never to venture into this yard again!

Immediately after impact Kat had jumped from the dog’s face and now ambled back up the yard as his usual sedate pace, the only sign of emotion being his tail whipping from side to side a few times.

Both men stood looking more or less thunderstruck. Darren looked especially awed. John B. had told him about his ‘wishes-come-true’ magic, but this was the first time he’d seen it in unpredictable action. He was impressed – by both of his new housemates.

John B., for his part, knelt to pat the broad white head of the Persian who sat beside him, meticulously cleaning his claws.

“I’m very glad you’re on my side, old friend,” he said, and meant it.

The Weird Warrior

As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.
As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.

This story is based on true events, recounted in Joseph Medicine Crow’s book “From The Heart Of The Crow Country”. Both Crow and Sioux survivors of the 1861 Battle of Pryor Creek agreed on many of the details, including those of the more mysterious incidents. Some could be regarded as significant coincidences, while others defy even that explanation. I’ve embroidered the history with some of my own ideas around ‘magic’.

The Sioux tribes of what would one day be called Dakota had gathered. The wagons and guns of the white men were pressing them westward.

Men seeking gold and a “new life” had poured towards the Rocky Mountains, wiping out the buffalo herds and desecrating the sacred Black Hills in their search for the yellow metal. The tribes had fought but the numbers were overwhelming.

This new vast land they had reached was still rich with game, and still free from the encroaching whites.

It was the country of the Scared Raven people – the Absarokee. You might call them the Crows, and the land Montana. The Absarokee were known to be strong, but also known to be few in number.

A Dakota chief addressed the assembled council of war chiefs and warriors.

“Let us take one whole year to make plans against the Raven People. They are not many, but they are shrewd and tricky in battle. The time has come that we must destroy them, but first we must make time to make our plans.”

Continue reading The Weird Warrior

WHITE SPIRIT

Another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.  With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants.  Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true.  Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf.  When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said.  “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter.  Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well.  John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar.  So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink.  A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water.  He was tired, though.  Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging.  The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring.  John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road.  It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes.  Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily.  When it did, all the lights went out.

John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail.  There was a small place a little way ahead.  Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.

That plan worked well until it started to rain.  Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.

They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.

“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically.  “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”

“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.

He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.

“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.

“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.

‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.

The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”

“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.

“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left.  Belonged to my missus’ family.  Auntie Grace passed away a few months back.  Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”

“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.

“Bloody right,” agreed the manager.  “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but.  Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick.  I can let you have that for the night.  No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”

The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.

“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.

The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet.  Here’s the key.  Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”

“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.

Continue reading WHITE SPIRIT

Tears

I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried more than I would have liked in the last couple of days.

I’ve lost a dear friend in John Bos, who I’d share a drink and a laugh with. We’d help each other out without question or pause. I had the pleasure of actually getting him to appear on stage, just once. He wouldn’t memorise lines, but he did dance, more than willingly, with the woman he loved.

And I’ve lost a mentor, inspiration and yes, even a friend in Sir Terry Pratchett. The privilege of adapting his books for stage was wonderful – even better was the joy of watching his genuine laugh-out-loud delight when I wrote something new for him and he saw it performed for the first time.

I’m not crying for John or Terry. They’re both out of their pain and suffering, gone on to whatever is next in their journeys. I’ve wept for me. Selfishly, for my loss – for the conversations not had, the laughs not shared.

That’s what grieving is. My life is a richer thing for having been touched by both men. Thank you, guys. Be seeing you.

Renoir, Terry Pratchett, Discworld, fantasy writers
Renoir (L) and Sir Terry Pratchett discussing characters