If you’ve enjoyed my excursions into urban fantasy, here’s a little intro to where you can find my Dubious Magic books in electronic form.
If you’ve enjoyed my excursions into urban fantasy, here’s a little intro to where you can find my Dubious Magic books in electronic form.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another Dubious Magic story – one which takes place quite early during the events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga. John B. learns more about being careful what you wish for.
It was the definitive lazy afternoon in Waramanga. The leafy Canberra suburb was warm, but not unpleasantly so if you stayed out of the direct sun.
That was precisely what John B. Stewart had chosen to do. He was in the back yard of his cottage, reclining on a deckchair in the shade of a large tree. His housemate Darren was at work. There was no sport of interest on the radio, so he relaxed in comfortable quiet, enjoying the light breeze and the sounds of the garden.
John B. had recently accidentally discovered that he was a wizard. Ever since hitting his head on a poker machine he’d found his wishes coming true. Not always predictably, though, so he was learning to be cautious.
He might, for instance, as he rested there wish for something to eat.
‘Ah, no,’ he thought to himself. ‘At best, Darren might come home early from work bearing leftover pizza. Or at worst a plane flying overhead might explode and leave me showered with in-flight snacks – and other debris.’
Sometimes having a vivid imagination could be disconcerting, although it did, he reasoned, serve as a kind of warning device.
John B. opened one eye and smiled at the sight of his other housemate. Kat was a generously proportioned white Persian cat who was currently lying under a favourite shrub quite nearby. He too was enjoying the shade.
The cat’s posture reminded John B. of the Sphinx, but with the chin resting comfortably on the forelegs.
Kat and John B. were both comfortably relaxed. Neither had moved appreciably for well over an hour. If they weren’t both sound asleep the difference wouldn’t have been obvious to any casual observer.
The lilting chorus of birdsong that John B. had been enjoying took on a new strident note. A noisy mynah had flown into the garden, and as was the way of its type, was aggressively trying to hector other birds away from the territory it wanted to occupy.
“I wish you’d be bloody quiet,” the wizard muttered in mild irritation.
He watched the newcomer for a few moments. It seemed utterly oblivious to him, and unconcerned at his annoyance. John B. sighed and closed his eyes.
After a while the mynah’s voice grew louder as it came closer to the deckchair. John B. opened his eyes again without otherwise moving.
The bird had evidently taken note of the lassitude of the yard’s two occupants. It was hopping about on the ground quite close to them both, foraging for whatever it is that noisy mynahs forage for. Once, twice it hopped right by Kat. The big Persian didn’t so much as twitch his nose or open an eye.
But on the bird’s third pass the left paw shot out and back almost too quickly to be seen, and there was an audible crunch.
John B.’s eyes widened. Most of Kat hadn’t seemed to move at all, but under the left paw was the mynah’s body. Its head was missing.. Eyes still closed, the Persian was contentedly chewing his afternoon snack.
A small drop of blood on the white fur of his chin was the only clue of his culpability. Well, other than the headless corpse still idly held.
The wizard made a silent apology to the mynah’s ghost, shook his head and said to Kat, “I’m glad you’re on my side, mate.”
Kat swallowed, and purred.
A writer has the luxury of creating their own reality to play in.
If you like mine, check the Market Place page to find how to explore it further.
If I could build my own little world, what would it be like?
The temperature would average around 17 degrees C. Some days would be warmer, but I’d be lying on a beach enjoying a sea breeze so that’d be okay.
Sometimes it would be a whole lot colder, with snow on the ground and the Merry Dancers lighting up the sky. But rugged up inside a good coat and warm lined boots, that would be alright too.
There’d be beaches and mountains and forests. Small towns with just enough shops, bars and restaurants to be interesting, not overwhelming.
Lots of birds and animals. All of them living undisturbed. Allowed to do what they do – live, die, hunt, graze – without anyone saying “Oh that’s awful” or “Not on my land”.
Sparrows, songbirds, and soaring eagles. Rabbits, rhinos and rattlesnakes. All in their place, wherever their place may be.
The sea full of dolphins, whales, turtles and rays. Sharks even. Dazzling coloured fish like living rainbows, swarming around reefs unspoiled by greedy developers and governments.
And people. I’m not so solitary as to live in a world with no other people. Not just people I already know, otherwise how would I ever make new friends and learn new things?
The people living in my little world wouldn’t all be like each other, or even necessarily like each other. But they’d respect each other – their similarities and their differences. Even if they chose not to live alongside one another, peace would reign between them.
People would die because you have to have balance: light and dark, light and death. But that death would be peaceful, and happen in the time and manner of a person’s own choosing.
In my own little world magic works. It just is. I don’t need to have scientists and mathematicians and philosophers account for every detail, every action and reaction.
Stuff happens. I accept it. I believe in the fundamental rightness of it. It doesn’t need my understanding to keep happening – it just needs me to not interfere.
It’s a nice little world.
I think we had one a bit like it, once.
I don’t have kids, but I recall fondly stories I read and was told as a child.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s fables resonated for me. So here I am, attempting to conjure up a little of that magic myself. If you’re a parent, please let me know – is this something you’d read to your kids?
For fiction for an older market, check out the Market Place page for a link to buy “The Wizard of Waramanga” from amazon.com
Gavin and Glenys lived in a nice little house in a nice little small town.
It really was quite a small house, and it was a bit old, but it was well looked after and had everything they needed. It felt very safe and comfortable. They both really rather loved their little old house, though neither of them really said so much.
They both had good jobs in the nearby city, and they both worked hard.
One evening after a long day at work they looked at each other and said, “We need a holiday!”
So they booked a flight to Marrakesh, because it sounded far away and exciting and a bit magical.
And so it was – very exciting and just a bit magical.
They visited beautiful gardens right on the edge of the desert. They saw grand old buildings with walls and floors decorated with gorgeous tiles in every colour you can imagine. And they went to the great big marketplace called the souk.
Gavin and Glenys were very excited by the souk. There was so much to see, and to buy! There were clothes, and shoes, and jewellery, and lamps, and carpets and furniture and mirrors and… and… well, lots of things!
The men who owned the market stalls would ask a high price for their goods, and Glenys would laugh and say, “Oh, you funny man!” before offering a much lower price.
And the men who ran the stalls would laugh and suggest a better price, and they would suggest prices to each other until either they agreed or Gavin and Glenys would shrug, smile and walk away.
A Dubious Magic story. This takes place immediately after the events of The Wizard of Waramanga… Check out the Marketplace page to order the book!
They’d made it into Barandilla not long after sunset.
You couldn’t call Barandilla a town. It didn’t even appear on a lot of maps. On a lonely stretch of the highway running through the Central Australian desert, it had a pub, two petrol pumps – one of which had an ‘Out Of Order’ sign that had hung on it so long it had almost faded to illegibility – and a stray dog.
‘Bob’s Hotel’ served as a rest stop for passing trucks and the occasional drover, and a social hub for folks from the surrounding cattle stations.
It had been a long day. Well, that was probably an understatement. The four of them had been shot at and almost consumed by a gigantic demon from some dark Other Dimension before narrowly escaping the cataclysmic cave-in of an underground military complex. No wonder Wilko, Darren and Scarlet had just wanted to have a quick meal then go crash in their respective rooms.
John B. Stewart was still too wound up to sleep, though. Since hitting his head on a Canberra poker machine he’d found he had a strange wizardly power. His wishes came true, although not necessarily in ways he anticipated. It had been his unpredictable magic that had gotten them into danger, and admittedly out of it. Bidding his friends goodnight he went to get as good a Scotch as he could find.
As well as the dining room, there were two bars in Bob’s Hotel. John B. very deliberately chose to walk into the less well-lit option.
There was only one other customer. Sitting near the end of the bar was a dusty Aboriginal wearing the checked shirt and jeans that were almost the local uniform. He looked up at John B. then quickly looked back down at his beer, considerable surprise on his face.