Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The March of the Talltops (lore)

If you continue past Ogrenose and follow the mountain range known as the Talltops for a while, you'll eventually end up in a hilly piece of land that isn't claimed by anyone. It doesn't even have a name, and no one lives there. The Talltops forms a great wall around it in a half-circle; further north, there's nothing but mountains and rocks all the way till the great dark ocean, where no sane being would ever try to sail.

It was a cold but sunny day. Billobi sat on a stump, located on a green hill some mile away, and watched the mountain range up ahead. He had his pen and notebook ready, just in case. He hadn't travelled all this way from Badgerbrough just to miss the marvellous event everybody in Ogrenose were talking about. Besides, he wouldn't get any money from the Inquisitive if he didn't have anything to write about.

For once, he had hired a guide to lead him to the good spot. It was one of the locals, a quiet old fellow with a great moustache that hid his mouth. He didn't say much - or anything, for that matter. Billobi thought he heard the guide mention his name once, but he wasn't sure because of his archaic dialect. Mostly, he did his talking through his fingers.

"So", Billobi said and tapped his pen against his notebook. "This is the spot?"

The guide nodded.

"The best place to be", Billobi continued. "To witness...the event... Have you seen it? I mean, has it happened before?"

The guide nodded.

"Really?" Billobi wrote a small note in his book. "Or what do you mean? That you've seen it before, or that it's happened before? That you've seen it?"

The guide nodded.

"Right. I'll just write... Right."

The scenery was breath-taking; the hill sloped before them, like a green waterfall that plunged into the sparse forest of tall trees below their feet. And after that, the great mountains. Hamphred would have been thrilled to see that, Billobi thought. Too bad he didn't like travelling.

"So... Where are all the people? For the event, I mean."

The guide shrugged.

"Is the event recurring? Does it happen a lot? I mean, people tend to get bored at watching the same thing over and over."

The guide did a combination of shrugging and nodding, until he suddenly sneezed. The great moustache fluttered uncontrollable, and Billobi couldn't resist doing a quick drawing of it in his notes.

Suddenly, a low, rumbling sound nearly knocked him off the stump. The vibrations rose from the ground, and hundreds of birds took flight from the trees below. It stopped as sudden as it had started.

"What... Was that... Was that the event?" Billobi whispered while picking up his writing gear.

The guide shook his head.

"But it's part of...the thing?"

The guide nodded. He didn't seem affected by it, as if he had predicted the exact moment it would happen.

"Just yawn", the guide added in his strange tongue, and Billobi had to ask him to repeat it.

"A yawn?"

"Just yawn. Of Talltops."

"The mountains yawned?"

The guide nodded and smiled.

"Are they...tired? Why would they even yawn?"

"Sleep long, then yawn. Not really yawn, but almost. Sleep long, now waking. It -"

The sound that pushed them both to the ground came out of nowhere. It didn't last long, but felt like a concentrated crack, like the ice on the rivers when the cold really sets in, or the breaking of a dried stick in the dead silent forest.

Billobi sat up and opened his eyes. Although he could see, it felt like he wore a padded bag on his head; every sound were muffled, and he had a terrible headache.

The guide helped him on his feet, and directed his view with a pointing finger. There, in the distance, below the hill and past the forest, rose a part of the mountain above the ground, and stretched itself towards the sky. It almost looked like an animal, but at the same time it didn't resemble anything living at all.

He believe he formed his lips to say something, but his ears didn't record anything. The sight of a part of the mountain standing on its own, slowly turning around and starting its long journey towards the sea, didn't call for small-talk.

When the rumbling sound from before came back, the guide forced Billobi to sit on the ground with his hands tightly pressed against his ears. When the rumbling stopped, it didn't take many seconds for the second great crack to hit them, and although they sat down this time, it too knocked them over. Another piece of the Talltops had risen, and begun its journey towards the sea.

Billobi stayed on the same spot the entire day, witnessing fifteen pieces of the Talltops breaking off and heading towards the great sea in the north, leaving only a shredded plateau of sharp rocks behind.

When he finally headed back to Ogrenose, he had to rest for a week before his hearing came back. The event was well documented in the town's library, and was called "The March of the Talltops". He learned that the mountain range originally came from the bottom of the ocean, and needed to return there to not dry out (which had happened with the rest of the Talltops). This part of the Talltops were the last living part of the entire mountain range.

Not forgetting about his task, he wrote an extensive article for the Inquisitive and posted it the following week. A month later, back in Badgerbrough, he received the payment and a letter from his editor, that read:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just south of the Copperstream (story)

Young Billobi didn't care much for sleeping. It was a waste of time, probably invented by parents, to keep children like himself from doing all kinds of interesting stuff.

"Mom!" he shouted from his bed. "I'm bored!"

"Go to sleep, Bill", a male, monotonous voice answered him.

"I said 'mom', not 'dad'!"

"Read a book, Bill", his father replied.

Billobi answered with a long repetition of the word 'a', and then rolled around in bed until he grew tired of that too. With both hands tucked in under his bed, he searched for a while before pulling out a book.

"Mom!" he shouted. "Read!"

"You know how to read, Bill", his father answered with a tired voice.

"I'm too tired."

"Then why don't you go to sleep?"

Billobi didn't know what to answer to that, so he rolled over in bed a couple of times - book in hand - before finding the perfect position to read. He opened the book and started to read aloud: "A LONG TIME AGO, IN A COUNTRY NOT TOO FAR AWAY, THERE LIVED A KING BY THE NAME -"

"Read with your mouth closed, Bill."

He frowned in the direction of the voice, and then turned to the last page. It was the best page in the whole book, because it had a map.

"Just south of the Copperstream" is a short story based on a little world I dragged my friend through almost a year ago. My initial idea was to make it into a setting, or something similar, but after a night of trying I figured that's a path better suited for others to pursue.

So I turned it into a short story instead. I wrote it with young readers in mind, so if you are a parent (or you have kids in your vicinity) it would be cool if you could read it for them (or have them read it), and report back here and tell me whether they liked it or not. Or if YOU liked it or not!

It's licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

View/download it here (on Google Docs).

UPDATE: I've made two versions for eBook-readers as well, with the same license. EPUB and PRC.

And yes, there's a map on the last page!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Auction (lore)

It was a warm summer's day, as it tended to be every time Billobi headed down south. He stood all dressed up in the middle of a large gathering of people, in the middle of a field, and gazed up into the sun. The warmth washed over his face, but the feeling didn't resonate with the rest of his body: sorrow had rooted itself within, and tangled his gut.

"People! People!" a voice cried out. "Gather around, it is auction time."

The voice belonged to an old, bearded man. He stood on a crude podium made of wooden crates, and held two black, small stones in each hand. Billobi recognised him as one of the locals, but couldn't remember his name.

"There, there! As we all know, the community lost one of its biggest souls last week. Somehow the Soil wanted him back, and can we blame it? Can we, really? Hamphred treated the ground as a beloved offspring, not as a unwanted bastard like them burghers do! When he ate, he chose the best meat, and when he drank, he swallowed with care. Let this not be forgotten; Hamphred took only nature's best, so that he could return the same!"

There was a strong sense of agreement in the crowd, although not a word was spoken. Billobi felt the roots of sorrow burrowing deeper within him, entangling organ after organ. He took a deep breath, and searched for his mother's hand.

"The community have selected this spot to receive the great gift of our missed Hamphred's body. His earthly body will nourish the ground, as the Soil takes back what it once gave. You all knew Hamphred, you know what his body is capable of. Remember this! This place has been given the honour of receiving this great body, an end that will lead to many great start! Let the auction begin!"

The turmoil that followed was one of the more morbid things about these southern funerals. The field was auctioned away to the highest bidder, knowing that Hamphred Dungbeetle was buried deep in the ground to moulder away and nourish the start of new crops. The old man on the podium spoke as fast as he could, trying to keep up with the bidders in the crowd. It felt like an eternity, but lasted only a couple of minutes.

"There, there!" said the man and knocked the two black stones together. "The memory of our beloved friend will not only linger in our memories, but will continue to grow here, to make it better for the rest of us."

After the auction followed the reading of Hamphred's will; since he had no children of his own, his belongings ended up with his cousins and cousins' cousins. Billobi were given, among other things, a large comfortable furniture that Hamphred knew he adored.

"The last thing on the list was given to one in our community that wishes to be anonymous. She decided to give it back to the community as a reminder of Hamphred's views on life, and it has therefore been placed on this field as a statue and inspiration. With these words, I hereby end this auction and funeral. Thank you."

The man bowed slightly and got off the podium. The crowd dissipated; some got on their wagons and began the long road home, and some met up for funeral dinner.

Out on the field stood the statue alone, a peaceful and welcoming piece, whose silhouette made it stand out as the sun set. The bathtub was as dirty now as it had ever been.