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Saturday, 26 November 2016

Enchanted Wood

Just outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent there is a small wood known just as The Wood by locals. The Wood can be found between Tunbridge Wells and one of the surrounding villages; many people pass by, but few stop.

There are several strange stories associated with The Wood - tales of strange beasts and stranger people living there. Sometimes the animals escape and are seen by locals.

None of the locals dare enter The Wood and only talk of it in hushed voices around frothy pints in the local public houses. It is regarded with some suspicion, as are those that seem interested in it. Nothing good ever came out of The Wood.

The Wood barely appears on any map and can be walked around in three hours or so. However, attempts to explore The Wood are usually frustrated, and the curious usually find themselves at the edge again without having penetrated very far.

From a nearby hill, several tantalising views can be seen. Somewhere in The Wood there is a clearing with a tower in the centre. However, reaching the tower is almost impossible as The Wood jealously guards its secrets.

There are several nearby farms and some of these have witnessed some of the things that came out of The Wood. When they hear the strange growlings and snortings they simply close their windows and wait. Eventually the beasts always return to their home in The Wood.

People have also been sighted coming from The Wood, although their manner of speech is always strange and their clothes even stranger.

Occasionally an ‘Outsider’ will move into a nearby farm and take an unusual amount of interest in The Wood. Such people are avoided by locals, considered troublemakers. The Wood is ancient, proud and should be left undisturbed. Stories of ‘Outsiders’ vanishing into The Wood never to return are quite common.

Possibilities

1 The Wood is a gateway to the Dreamlands. It is where the two realities intersect and travellers can cross. However, the gateway is protected and only the very determined can make their way through. Travel is possible in both directions, and the sightings of people and beasts are those that have stumbled through from the Dreamlands.

2 The Wood is haunted by a ghost of a woodsman who lost his girl. She is buried at the tower and he guards her grave jealously. He will try to prevent anyone from reaching her grave, and has strength enough to form long dead beasts from sticks and stones to frighten the curious. His last resort is his unparalleled skill with bow and arrow.

3 This is one of several special places. Dragons, unicorns, elves and the like all live in The Wood protected from outside interference by powerful magics.

© Steve Hatherley

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Sinne Eater

Morton Blakelock is a tall, dark man in his early thirties. Thin to the point of being underweight, Morton dresses neatly and respectfully in black.

His business card gives his name, business and profession:

Morton Blakelock, H. Blakelock & Sons, Sinne Eaters

Sinne eaters offer a service – they consume the sins of the recently deceased. The practice was at its height in the 16th and 17th centuries, when sinne eaters would attend the funerals of the upper class. In return for a penny or two and a hearty meal provided by the bereaved, they would consume the sins of the deceased, permitting the soul to go to heaven.

In modern times, there are very few sinne eaters left. However, in certain strata of Society their service is still requested.

The Blakelock’s have been sinne eaters since the 1800s. Their exclusive service come at a price.

Possibilities

1 Whether Morton actually consumes the sins of the deceased is open to debate. However, thanks to the circles he moves in, Morton knows many influential families. And he knows many of their secrets.

Morton typically attends seven or eight funerals each year. At times of such distress, inevitably guards are lowered and Morton finds himself privvy to confidential information and family secrets.

Of course, he will never reveal any of it. At least, not while his clients are so generous.

2 Morton’s older brother is now in care in Hampstead following a mental breakdown. Mental illness runs in the Blakelock family, but what Morton doesn’t realise is that the illness is caused by the act of eating sins.

The act, or ritual, of sin eating genuinely does mean that the body of the deceased passes to purgatory without sin. However, the price paid by the sinne eater is that they slowly become tainted by the sins of others, and in due course this can express itself as schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

3 Morton is well known by certain members of London’s Metropolitan Police Service who are prepared to explore unorthodox means to solve particularly tricky crimes. It seems that Morton sometimes knows things that only the deceased would know – and has been instrumental in solving a few particularly difficult cases.

Whether the deceased’s sins are actually transferred, Morton does not know. What does transfer during the ritual, however, are some of the deceased’s memories – and Morton sometimes learns details of crimes and other aspects of the deceased’s life. He is happy to share relevant details to the authorities, provided that his reputation with his clients remains intact.

© Steve Hatherley

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Tattoo

You don't know how long it has been there, but a friend points it out. In the small of your back, on your left side, near your kidneys. A tattoo of a jewelled spider. It is quite exquisite, quite unusual, oddly evil - and a complete mystery. How on earth did it get there?

The design is surprisingly lifelike - except that you are certain that no spider ever looked quite so malevolent. Tattooists who see it are impressed - the design has a richness of texture and colour that they have never been able to achieve.

Yet the question remains. You have never had a tattoo in your life. So where in hell did this come from?

Possibilities

1  Three weeks later and there's a second tattoo, on the sole of your foot. This time it is a reddish ball, which appears to glow eerily.

Then you begin to feel increasingly tired. You have difficulty waking in the morning, and begin to look drawn and haggard. As the weeks pass you become weaker, and fall prey to the weakest of germs. Coughs and cold cripple you; you are quite sick.

All this time, the spider tattoo never moves, never changes. The same cannot be said for the ball. It swells and grows to the size of a large coin. It becomes oddly translucent, and smaller spidery shapes can be seen inside. It is an egg sac.

Then you wake one morning feeling fresher and brighter than in ages. The sac tattoo has gone, but in its place are dozen of tiny spider tattoos, covering your skin. And three days later they are also gone - as has the larger spider, their mother. They are never seen again.

2  Over a period of time, the tattoo seems to get smaller. In fact, if you measure it, you learn that it is getting smaller. Then one night, it has gone.

Two days later, it reappears - but on a different part of your body. It is bigger, bloated. And again, over a period of several weeks it shrinks, growing smaller until once more it vanishes. Only to reappear.

This cycle is repeated over and over. Each time the tattoo returns, bloated, corpulent and somehow sated. As if it has fed from something. Or someone . . .

3  The tattoo is the mark of the spider-god. Spiders from all around come to be near their god. Your house slowly becomes infested with spiders. They are everywhere, as are their cobwebs. (There is not an insect to be seen, naturally.)

Wherever you goes, spiders are drawn to you. They climb through your clothes, hide in your hair, scamper across your skin.

They simply like being with you, near you.

© Steve Hatherley