Category Archives: Other fiction

The Man Who Dissected Time

Another off-the-cuff idea for something that could go further… or not.

 

I’m a lanky, bristle-haired daeman from New Africa, and I made a career of dissecting time. It started, as did many things of this nature, with drugs.

In the early days of the Second Enlightenment (the world had perilously skimmed a Second Dark Age, like a nosediving plane pulling up from the sea at the last second, its wings dripping with dumbfuckery), as the leading powers shifted gradually into technocracies (New Africa among them), the political ballast of drug repression thinned, and science began to take as much of as an interest in psychedelic brain expanders as they had in the hippie culture of the 1960s, and then doubly and triply so.

Scientists took inspiration from the hallucinogenic and dissassociative drugs of old, and went into overdrive creating new, synthetic ones. After 83,721 (at least, those were the ones listed publicly) synthetic creations of mind-altering substances, they finally reached a zenith. It was called LDX43iv, although was quickly referred to by all and sundry as ‘Slug’. The adopted name was an in-joke; far from making one’s mind slow, it rocketed it up to unprecedented speeds. To be ‘slugged out’ might hold some truth physically, but it meant the exact opposite mentally. Creative and extremely left-field and out-of-box thinking was enhanced beyond what were initially perceived to be rational levels, at the expense of more straightforward tasks like figuring out how to eat.

I remember the first time I tried Slug. The new textures, new colours, new wavelengths. The giraffes made from felt, in the shape of that old-fashioned written style of the number four. The terrible genius of it all. My mind had raced so goddamn fast I thought I was going to be sick from the sheer mental strain. It was like drinking too much, lolling back in the chair and feeling that void pulling you down, willing you to unconsciousness; but you resist, because it’s scary, and because you know, you just know, that you’ll start vomiting uncontrollably.

It was like that, but with the mind.

The great thing about Slug – once you’d locked it down, and adapted to its speed – was how much your mind opened. For the first time I – and countless others – had viewed their own mind, that is, understood it on a quasi-physical level, an actual perceived dimension. Three dimensions, to be exact. Your thoughts existed not in 2D but across a space stretched without horizon in three absolute directions. The Z axis in particular boggled the inexperienced mind by allowing you, with eyes closed, to go backwards through your own head. The mind-expanse existed where my head was, but without barriers; you simply kept on going, as though your inner eye was also legs and you could walk it or fly it at undefinable speeds.

An increasing number of scientists involved in this field began to take Slug, at first using it to inform their own work, and better understand their experiments on others, but eventually because, for the inquiring mind, there was no way back. Slug opened up scientific possibilities previously thought only theoretical, and delivered new theoretical ideas where previously nothing existed, bar perhaps mad ravings. Scientists also took Slug to understand other scientists whose otherwise unintelligible, yet ground-breaking work had been scribbled whilst on Slug.

As the field continued to expand its sphere of influence, scientists took more and more Slug, for wilder and wilder results. It was still by-and-large in-house at this stage, not technically available to the public (although it was starting to make a dent in the black market). Health consultants were brought in by concerned overseers, and they determined – shocked by the state of some of the scientists, who had been living on high doses of Slug non-stop for months and appeared to be in advanced stages of delirium – that regular ‘complete breaks’ from the drug were now mandatory.

This did not go well. At first, in a case of classic incompetence of bureaucracy, the first scientists were forced to quit cold-turkey. When the last vestiges of the drug wore off, they slipped quietly into something resembling, though not actually, comas.

After that, the weaning-off approach was tried, steadily lowering the dosage until it was negligible. This worked better, although that wasn’t saying much. At best, the scientists became profoundly bored, listless and depressed, showing no motivation or interest towards anything, especially anything based in mundane reality. Their minds, though operating at the same speed as pre-Slug, now felt to them interminably slow and dull beyond belief.

At worst, the scientists lost so much motivation and spark that they had to be cared for 24/7. They had to be helped to eat, bathe, go to the toilet, and so forth. They displayed zero energy or affection for anything around them, existing in a total stupor. They could not even summon the mental will to kill themselves, as was briefly a concern. It wasn’t anything physical, you understand, rather it was a sort of extreme psychological deprivation. The awesome majesty of the universe they had come to understand, and the near-divine sensation of their own minds working, creating, inventing, sorting, imagining at a pace once unimaginable – I’m talking at least several fantastic ideas a second, every second – was now robbed from them, leaving them with a comparable wasteland of sensation in return.

At some point, some of the scientists got together and wrote to be reinstated with the drug permanently, and the new ruling to be stricken. The mental effort to create this petition-of-sorts must have been immense for them, and no doubt they had help from concerned colleagues who either never touched the stuff or only took it sparingly, so as to stay ‘in the loop’ with the cutting edges of scientific theory.

Thankfully, it worked, and the mandatory breaks were removed, it being finally accepted by medical professionals that being off the drugs was more harmful than being on them. If not actually physically harmful, the drug’s absence nonetheless made complete wastes of space of great thinkers. Whether they were on or off the drug, they were no longer fit for regular human society, so society might as well at least let them trip, was the general consensus (although probably not phrased as such).

There was a new ruling, or should I say guideline, that from now on no more academics were to take significant quantities of Slug, for fear of its pressing psychological demands. However, nobody ever bothered to define ‘significant quantities’ (one wonders if those drafting this ruling were partaking in Slug themselves), and so the ruling was at first lax, and then essentially forgotten.

After all, by this point it was hopeless to restrict access to the drug; Slug had now blossomed out of the black market and made its way into the wider public sphere, where it caused as much joy and innovation as it did chaos. Thankfully, the consistently high price of the drug stopped too much regular-use apart from by the rich (who were layabouts anyway and hardly necessary to the common production required to turn society’s gears), and after a troubling splurge, where there were many heavy-handed but ultimately meaningless talks about ‘what to do’, things settled down, and while it remained the psychedelic drug of choice, it dipped far below worldly levels of alcohol and caffeine consumption among the working class.

It also helped that a lot of people just simply couldn’t take it. Or didn’t want to. It boosted the imagination, you see, boosted it beyond the recognisable. Those with little to no imagination saw little interest in the drug; it merely confused the shit out of them. They were much happier with a beer.

Where am I going with this? you ask. How does Slug apply to me? Well, eventually, thanks to many months-long explorations of the deepest mindscape, and new spatial conceptions of reality, we finally unlocked the secrets of the fourth dimension: time. Those taking the highest doses began to break its esoteric workings apart; they passed the secrets to progressively lower-dosed levels of others, until it could go no further without sinking into total non-comprehension. Even now, so many years after those initial manic discoveries (which first took root in New Africa, I’m proud to say), few people in this world understand the mechanics. Even I, whose very job it is to dissect time, barely understands it, and I can hardly be expected to explain it to a thoroughly sober individual like yourself.

So, yes. The discoveries became actionable, and the brightest – and most fucked up – minds of our generation learnt (through concepts once laughably insane, and then theoretical bizzaros, and then veritable eurekas) how to literally make time, how to divide it, how to mathematically add and subtract it, shorten it or lengthen it, alter its intrinsic properties, shape it, cast it in a bubble, grind it into pieces and feed it to things.

Naturally time became a commodity, in the very real sense. You could buy and sell it. And people did, in droves. And it wasn’t cheap.

For single-use it usually comes in capsules; some you press a button to activate, some you break in the middle like glowsticks, some you just throw at something. A bubble forms – a bubble of time. Things can slow down or speed up within this bubble.

It was an oddity at first, something exciting and silly and novel. Little things, at first. Slow down the rate at which your pizza cools (at the expense of it taking longer to reach your mouth), or get more sleep (it was arguable if you actually were getting more, of it was just psychological), or play a trick on someone: a popular, cheap and harmless early one was to cast it on a flicked-on kettle, so the old adage of a watched pot never boils became true.

Then there was “speeding up” ordinary tasks (i.e. making them take less time), like vacuuming the house, although then again we already had robots for that kind of thing and it wasn’t worth the price to attach a time-tube to free labour.

Of course, small bubbles soon weren’t enough. I blame business folk for that. The bubbles became bigger (speed limits had to be redefined after people started attaching time-tubes to their car so they could beat – or outright ignore – the traffic), they took on different shapes, you could have them run only on one or two axis, you could make time go sideways (don’t ask), you could change clocks with them (everybody’s time-tubed and synchronised up to the national Timegrid, except for when it was hacked, which caused a full day of problems), you could manipulate the production of goods, shorten essential tasks, you could use them on robots, on people. . .

It was when people started straying perilously close to paradoxes (such as Amazon, eager for best-delivery-service-in-the-world-status, began delivering parcels before they had technically been ordered), that governments were forced to take some control. This is why the international governmental watchdog and action force TimeGuard exist. To stop people doing dumb shit just because they can.

They could have tried to stamp out Time Co. entirely, but the operative word there is tried, for they’d have failed pretty spectacularly if they had. Time made up more of our respective economies now than it ever had before it had been bottled up and merchandised. Just about every powerful hand was greased by Time Co. and its bought-out partner Slug4U, and the benefits from both of these things were just too great, both in personal fortunes and the general advancement of humanity (working class excepted, naturally).

Time Co. recently bought out TimeGuard, anyway, so that’s that.

Some of the world’s lesser powers and single-states I think were doing okay without it, or with minimal use; they’d observed its effects on us first, and so had strapped in a bunch of new, hard-and-fast laws ready to receive it. The big guns, however, especially New Africa, were in too deep to pull out.

I don’t want them to rub that shit out, anyway. Not yet, at least. Not before all is broken and irreparable. My job depends on it. I’m rare, like a precious bird the world can’t do without. I’m the one who cuts the lines of time. I’m the product man. But I’m more than that, I’m more than just a glorified dealer. I take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. I cut them open and I take my peek.

I might not know exactly how time works, but I know more about what’s inside it every day. In a way, I’m a scientist myself.

 

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Jonathan Dark

Just wrote this off the cuff. Similarities with Constantine, I guess. Although in truth it just came from my dislike of magic (and general high-fantasy) in most books, and my attempt to reclaim it. Actually to begin with it just came from a desire to write about weird and crazy monsters.

It’s set in the same world as my story The School of Necromancy. Could become something more! Who knows…

 

JONATHAN DARK

 

My name is Jonathan Dark. Johnny, if you wish to be casual, which you should never be. I hate John.

People will tell you I do magic. I hate that term. Magic goes hand in hand with robes and pointy hats, and then it’s only a small step to elves and gnomes and football on broomsticks. Elves don’t exist. Gnomes do, but they’re black little creeps and I can’t stand them. Not because they’re black, but because they’re unreasonably small. Call me a racist or a speciesist if you like, I don’t care. Why would anyone care about gnomes?

No, I’m not a magician and I don’t do magic. I’m not a wizard, or a conjurer of cheap tricks, I’m not a warlock or a male witch, or a sorcerer or a mystic, I’m not an illusionist or an enchanter and I have never owned a wand, nor will I, useless things that they are.

I’m a shadowmancer and I do shadowmancy. Go on, smirk. Call me pretentious, say I made it up. I did it as a masters at the School, I’ll have you know, before it was stricken from the curriculum for being too avant-garde, too unscientific. Too dangerous. These days, they deny the discipline even exists, say it’s all nonsense, that there is no Shadow-World. They wanted to take my masters off me ex post facto, but I wouldn’t give it up. I’d received high marks, and I never would for anything again.

All this artsy waving hands in the air, showing off, I won’t hold for it. I don’t know, maybe it holds card in exuberant America, but not in Britain, not in my York. You shouldn’t draw attention to yourself, or if you are, at least have the decency and respect for your environment to have a grounded sense of style. This isn’t the Middle Ages, for god’s sake. Keep it low-key, keep it smart and cool, scratch it out in the air by your pockets where it’s unobtrusive and easy to miss, carve the air quick and technical into thin, jagged lines of the relevant colours or just paint it black, then flick it out like a cigarette. It’s an intricate hand sign, not a side show. At most it should look like you’re writing on air, or playing with an invisible deck; best of all just twitching your fingers thoughtfully to yourself, some strange tick, maybe just mad enough to be ignored by strangers, but not mad enough to cause a scene. Only those with Twilight Sight see the colours, see the design temporarily etched into thin air. But then they already have enough to worry about.

Like me, you should learn to draw all your mances with a single hand; that way the other is free to hold a gun.

You wonder what I can do with my mances. I can create things, and I can change things. Why am I not rich? you ask. Can I not just create money out of thin air?

I can do just that, but it’s not that easy. Money is one of those things that, even in real-terms, disappears as quickly as it arrives. It’s easily lost, easily squandered, easily forgotten or transmogrified into something completely different. That’s real money, in all its elusiveness. Now, make that shadow-money, a transient material at the best of times, and your problems are only compounded. The more you make the harder it is to hold onto. I’d say I can make about minimum wage. After that, it slips through my fingers – literally as well as metaphorically. Although I usually only need the money to continue existing up until the point I’ve left the shop.

And yet sometimes you desire more than theft-by-mance of penny-sweets and top-shelf magazines, you want something a little more permanent and sizeable, something that’ll last.

That’s when I have to earn my keep.

I’m not a particularly good man, and I’m okay with that, because I stop much worse things. I’m the one who fights the monster under your bed, and the thing in your cupboard, the creature at your window, the thin, silent figure in the corner. Be glad you don’t see them, but don’t mistake not seeing for assuming they are not there. They are most definitely there. They exist in an adjoining dimension, the Twilight, the Shadow-World, which overlaps ours, lying on top of it like a murky filter.

Come far enough in studying shadowmancy (not that anyone’s teaching it anymore) and you will see them. Close to people, sometimes only millimetres apart, watching them, sniffing them, licking the air. Most are mostly harmless. Some are not. It’s those that are not where I come in.

It’s those that are not which make up all those unexplained cases that baffle the constabulary and the public at large. Indeed, many of the explained cases are in fact mistaken, and should have been attributed to more, dare I voice it, supernatural means. No, no, the word sticks in my throat. More monstrous means, I will say in its stead. More Twilight means.

Racks, dragores, slip-men, lupo-vamps, rag zombi, corpus mortem, fleshers, skin ghouls, dogspawn, red babies, straggle lamps, cocoon beards, phallocs, heavers, cracklers, howlers, ectofucks and wet dennises (don’t ask) – these Twilighters are some of the ones to watch. And, sometimes, they get a lot bigger.

 

*

 

I wish I could explain shadowmancy to you in scientific terms. But I can’t. I mean, I could explain around it, explain some of the mechanisms in place, and so forth, but I suppose I can’t be bothered. It’s so far different from what you know, and even from what they teach in the School, that we have simply no ground on which to lay our common foundations. It’s just. . . well, it’s just fucking magic, okay? I’ll allow it this time, much as I already feel like I need to be painting stars on a hat and babbling ‘abracadabra’. Look, you either accept what it is or you don’t, I don’t care.

Actually no, sorry, I’m not giving you the choice. You accept what it is, end of. It’s shadowmancy and it exists, and my entire life is its living proof.

 

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Comicbook script: The Man Behind the Bat

I wrote a short script for a 14 page comic, just for fun really, because the copyrights involved would mean I couldn’t really do anything with it. It’s just a very dark alternate take on Batman. The general concept I’m sure has been thought of before but I’ve never seen it properly executed and written down as a script.

All copyrights to the characters and world belong to DC, of course. This isn’t for money but just a fan thing (although I’d LOVE to see it done with artwork). Needless to say it’s absolutely not canon nor pretending to be anything it isn’t.

For those who haven’t read comicbook scripts before, the numbers on each page are for each separate panel of art, CAP means caption (usually a thought/narration box), and dialogue would appear as speech bubbles. The rest is a guide addressing the (sadly no longer on board) artist as to what might appear in the panels.

Hope you enjoy (and don’t take it so serious).

 

BATMAN: THE MAN BEHIND THE BAT script

By Set Sytes

 

ART IDEAS

 

Black and white. Except for the laughs of the Joker, the green wig and red lipstick. Maybe the blue and red of the police sirens. These colours should be bold and vivid, standing out strongly against the black and white. It’s up to you if you use the blood that occurs later in greyscale or red. In general, colour in the panels should be rare.

Everything drenched in shadows. Bold, simple, striking. Maybe rough heavy line drawings (like the art from From Hell) or thick, blotty use of blacks, like Mike Mignola’s art. Or both. Backgrounds could be simple or nearly non-existent – block blacks and shading, with essential props and architecture. Up to you how much detail you put in, but the panels should remain bold, stark and striking, never cluttered, and always a focus on the characters over backgrounds.

Panel layout is an outline, if you want to change how many panels appear on each page (Average of 6, no more than 8 for the odd page, maybe also pages with fewer but bigger panels), up to you of course. Add more pages if you need to fit in all the panels. There’s no page limit.

PAGE 1

 

1 – GOTHAM CITY

Batman narrates as he looks out from a rooftop over Gotham city. His figure is a grim, impressive, imposing and even scary one – feel free to be a little bit surreal and abstract with his look, almost mythic, a figure of menace. All black, huge sprawling cape, etc. Little detail – maybe all you see is cowl and cape? White eyes as usual. I’ll send some sample ideas if you want.

CAP: The city is diseased. I’ve known it ever since my parents were murdered in front of me.

CAP: Shadows cut and slash at every source of light, every source of hope. Tumours bubble up out of the depths and threaten to swallow the city whole.

2 –

CAP: When the wind carries just right, you can smell the cancer eating the city. You can smell Gotham’s rotting flesh.

CAP: I’m Gotham’s own chemotherapy. I destroy just to keep it alive. A necessary sickness.

3 –

Batman turns, hearing a scream coming up from below and to the side, out of shot.

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

4 & 5 –

Jumps or soars down into the alley.

CAP: To every criminal that preys on the innocent, I am more than just a knight of justice. I am the wings of havoc.

5 –

Runs through the alleys.

CAP: And I always win.

6 –

Batman races forward down an alley, towards two common criminals threatening a terrified woman.

WOMAN: Please don’t!

 

PAGE 2

 

1 & 2 –

Batman fights the criminals.

CAP: Common thugs. A walk in the park.

3 –

A SNAP as he breaks a criminal’s arm. The man’s face is contorted in pain.

CAP: I call this a warm-up.

4 –

The criminals are on the floor unconscious. Don’t show blood. Batman looks around, the woman is gone.

BATMAN: Guess she must have run off.

5 – BATCAVE

Batman standing in the Batcave. Alfred standing in the corner, stiff, in the shadows. Obscured by shadow. Something scary about him. No movement or facial expressions shown at any point, maybe his whole face is in shadow. He should look identical in every appearance in the comic – because he is an effigy.

ALFRED CAP (a speech balloon, but an independent one, not attributed to Alfred): Any word on the Joker, sir?

BATMAN: Not yet, Alfred. My lead turned out to be a dead end.

6 –

ALFRED CAP: Escaping from Arkham Asylum yet again. It beggars belief.

BATMAN: Arkham wasn’t built to hold minds such as his.

ALFRED CAP: Even with the increased security, sir?

BATMAN: He must have had help. Someone on the inside.

ALFRED CAP: Again, sir?

 

PAGE 3

 

1 & 2 –

Bruce is asleep in his bedroom. Face cast in shadow. Tossing and turning, pained expression. He is having bad dreams.

3 – 5 –

Dreams of Joe Chill killing his parents. Dark alley, a figure coming, a gunshot. You know the scene. Use your imagination for these panels, as long as it’s dark, stylised and creepy! Green Joker laughter starts off small in panel 4, coming from off-panel, and gets bigger and more ‘aggressive’ in panel 5.

6 –

Bruce sits on his knees at the feet of his dead parents. Head down. Camera to the back of him. Joker’s green HAHAHAHAHA   coming in from the edges and fully into the panel, larger than before, unavoidable.

 

PAGE 4

 

1 –

Next day, in the Batcave. Batman sitting at his Batcomputer. Alfred standing in the corner, stiff, in the shadows as before.

BATMAN: Get Lucius Fox on the line. I’m going to need some upgrades, if I’m going to track down the Joker.

ALFRED CAP: Right away, Master Bruce. And perhaps you could also say something about the Joker breaking into his house again last night? Some words of comfort, perhaps. The poor man is in fear for his life.

BATMAN: Of course I will, Alfred.

2 –

ALFRED CAP: Patched you through now, sir.

BATMAN: Lucius, are you there? Lucius? Alfred, I’m not getting any –

3 –

All these panels still of Batman at the computer. Don’t show Lucius. If you show Batman’s face, it’s standard Batman expression, stern, authoritative, impatient but in control.

LUCIUS (independent jagged transmission balloon): I know it’s you Bruce. What’s happening in the streets. At first I denied it, I denied it for so long, as the evidence mounted . . .

LUCIUS: But then . . . I put a tracker on you. I followed you. I saw what it is that you do . . . That’s when I knew . . .

BATMAN: Lucius, calm down.

4 –

LUCIUS: I’m not doing it anymore Bruce! I’m not going to be your – your enabler any more. God, I’m part of this . . . I’m an accomplice. I’ve been drinking so much lately, drinking myself half to death, drinking to forget . . . I’ve been so scared. Scared of you.

LUCIUS: And then – and then I was scared of going to the cops, telling them what I know. I knew they’d put me away, separate me from my family. It took me so long to gather the strength for this call. My hands were shaking. They still are.

5 –

BATMAN: Lucius, control yourself. You know the Joker knows where you live now. He’ll come for you, you know that, come for your family. And I’m the only one who can protect you from him.

LUCIUS: I’ve sent my family away! They’ll be . . . They’ll be safe.

6 –

BATMAN: Where have you sent them? If you don’t tell me, I can’t protect them.

LUCIUS: I’m not telling you! Please Bruce, please. You’re not well. You need to turn yourself in. I’m begging you.

7 –

BATMAN: I can’t quit. Gotham needs me. It seems I’ll have to go on without you, old friend.

BATMAN: Goodbye, Lucius.

*CLICK*

 

PAGE 5 – LUCIUS FOX’S APARTMENT

 

1 –

Lucius Fox in his apartment alone at night, sitting, staring at nothing, maybe a TV turned off. Bottle of beer in his hand, beer bottles all around him. Gun on the seat next to him.

2 –

CREEEAAAAK

He hears a creak at the door, turns his head. Startled.

3 –

Trains his gun on it, sweating in the shadows.

4 –

Behind him, a figure creeps in through the window. Green hair, red smile. The rest in shadows. It’s a freaky image.

5 –

Lucius starts to spin around as the Joker speaks (still mostly in shadow apart from the colours, the smile – a scary figure).

JOKER: Luuuciieeee, I’ve got a boooonnne to pick with you!

6 –

The Joker knocks the gun out of his hand. Lucius falls to the floor.

7 –

Joker stands over him. Lucius is terrified, holding hand up as though it will protect him.

JOKER: Which bone would you like me to pick, Lucie? Hehehehehhehe (this laughter starts in the balloon and then comes out of it, going green and bigger into the rest of the panel.)

 

PAGE 6

 

1 – GOTHAM CITY

Batman stares into the darkness. Out of which come the red and blue lights of police cars. It’s all in shadow (sorry if that word gets repeated a lot here!). All you see is lights, darkness, perhaps vague shapes. Slashing rain. A sense of confusion.

CAP: I blink. I don’t know how I got here.

CAP: My short-term memory is a network of shadows. Deep within me, the tumour with the clown grin pulsates, and grows. Something is very wrong.

2 –

The scene comes into more clarity, although still somewhat shrouded. You can see police cars and police officers pointing guns through the rain at Batman. Including Commissioner Gordon.

CAP: I feel like I’ve been drugged. What is going on?

3 –

Close-up on Jim Gordon. His hair, coat and gun dripping wet in the rain. His glasses are opaque white – you never see his eyes. He looks angry, determined, but also a man carrying a huge burden.

GORDON: Drop it, Bruce! We know it’s you!

4 –

GORDON: All this time, it was you. I had my suspicions before, but who would question the head of Wayne Enterprises? The company that always gave so very generously to the GCPD.

GORDON: You were our bread and butter, Bruce. We had it all, with you lining the department’s pockets. But it’s over now. We’re not taking your money anymore.

BATMAN (balloon coming from out of panel, or the bottom of the panel – focus still on Gordon): Jim, you’re making a mistake.

CAP: I have to get out of here.

5 –

GORDON: The only mistake I made was in not doing this sooner. We got a phone call from Lucius Fox. He told us everything.

GORDON: This whole time. Dammit Bruce, how could you do this? How could you do this to them, to me?’

6 –

Batman throws smoke pellets.

7 –

The police officers are coughing in the smoke. See Gordon through the smoke, arm over his mouth.

GORDON: <koff> Nobody is to stop, nobody is to take a break, <koff> nobody is to do anything until Bruce Wayne is behind bars!

 

PAGE 7

 

1 –

Batman sat back to a chimney, on a rooftop. Joker’s green HEHEHEHE comes in very small, from off-panel. It appears in every panel hence, sneaking in. It’s there, but it’s unobtrusive. Always HEHEHEHE instead of HAHAHAHA, for now.

CAP: Everything’s unravelling. A tumbling of bricks.

CAP: They act like I’m a monster. I’m just a man.

2 –

CAP: I’m losing myself in the shadows. Darkness tugs at me, like pulling teeth from their roots. It’s trying to take it all away from me. The cancer is trying to win.

CAP: Someone’s behind this. but who? Or what?

3 –

Catwoman appears, a long sleek black figure, hands on hips.

CATWOMAN: Miaow.

4 –

BATMAN (not looking at her): Not now Catwoman. This isn’t a good time. I have to get back to the Batcave.

5 – BATCAVE

Batman with Alfred, as earlier. Batman standing, looking away.

BATMAN: First Lucius, now Jim. Everyone’s turning against me.

BATMAN: Something bad has happened, but I can’t . . . I can’t think straight. I feel like I’m being swallowed up from the inside.

6 –

Batman turns to Alfred, motionless as before.

BATMAN: Alfred?

 

PAGE 8

 

1 –

Batman, confused, puts his hand on Alfred’s shoulder. Shadows obscure Batman’s white eyes. Alfred leans lightly to one side with the pressure.

BATMAN: Alfred?

2 –

Alfred falls over. Batman is shocked, aghast in horror. You can see his real eyes, they are no longer whited out as usual.

BATMAN: ALFRED!

3 –

Batman stands over the fallen Alfred.

CAP: Taxidermy.

BATMAN: No . . . No, it can’t be . . .

4 –

Batman is looking pretty unhinged right now. His eyes look increasingly bloodshot and frenzied from now on. His chin looks more and more weathered, dirty and unshaven. His Batman outfit shifting from sleek, armoured well-crafted perfection (or the surreal, mythic wrapped-in-blackness style), to a slowly more real, tattered, home-made look . Make it all –outfit and face – a subtle change over a number of panels. You are gradually heading towards: simple, rough, torn, all-black, head to toe outfit, with a stitched on black-on-white bat symbol on the chest, and a grey utility belt. A crappy hand-made looking cowl, looks stitched together. This is Batman as he really looks – a deranged man. He cannot look after himself. He still looks dangerous, but in a different, unstable way. He’s a person you do not want to bump into.

The green Joker HEHEHEHE’s are getting larger in these panels, intruding slightly on the scenes.

CAP: Is it real? Is it really –

CAP: You know the answer to that.

BATMAN: Oh god.

5 –

Batman, on his hands and knees. Looks like he’s trying but failing to keep control. Desperately gritted teeth, but wide open eyes. Maybe flecks of spit coming from his teeth.

CAP: No.

6 –

Focus on Batman’s mad, grizzled face.

CAP: He’s dead. They’re all dead.

CAP: Falling . . .

7 –

Focus on Batman’s eyes. They’re sliding up, completely insane.

CAP: What have I done?

 

PAGE 9

 

1 –

Recreation of scenes where Batman fought the “criminals” at the beginning. Except he looks like he does in the prior panels (i.e. home-made, dishevelled, mad). He is charging at two innocent homeless men and one woman. They are terrified. Remember the Joker laughter in all these panels. Keep as much else the same as you can, from the original panels.

WOMAN: Please don’t!

2 –

Batman beats up the defenceless men as the woman runs off. They are shown in pain and bloodied by Batman.

3 –

Batman breaks one of their arms with a SNAP. The man is screaming in pain.

MAN: AAAARRHGHHH!

4 –

Batman stands over their two dead bodies. Make a distinction from the previous interpretation of this scene, that now they appear dead and battered/bloodied, and not just unconscious as before.

BATMAN: Guess she must have run off.

5 & 6 –

Two shots of the Joker’s face coming out of pitch darkness. Just a face. Green hair, lipstick, grin. Make it as scary as possible. Maybe no eyes – skin stretched over them? Whichever looks freakier. Bear in mind this is also Bruce’s face – but given the art style of the comic, it might not be obvious. As long as it’s not obvious that it’s not.

 

PAGE 10

 

A full page of various panels of Batman beating up/killing people, or launching himself at them from out of the darkness – maybe some are lowlifes, maybe some are homeless, or street kids – none of them deserve his punishment. Use your imagination with these panels. Just show Batman as he really is (in the context of this story): wild, unhinged and scary. Don’t show any knives or guns. His opponents are unarmed, and he’s doing it all with his fists. Possibly homemade batarangs that stick in people like knives – up to you.

Green laughter dominates these panels more than any previous ones. They’re all over the scenes, covering the page. Both HEHEHEHEHE and HAHAHAHAHA this time.

In the middle of all these panels (or place it/stylise it how best you feel fits) is a laughing shot, like before of the Joker, except this time it has a cowl on, and white eyes. It’s Batman meets the Joker. Think Batman with red lipstick and a crazy grin. Green hair coming out from under the cowl, maybe. I can show you a sample like that if you want.

The final panel on this page is a recreation of the panel earlier where Catwoman appears. Except this time it’s just a black cat.

CAT: Miaow.

BATMAN: Not now Catwoman.

 

PAGE 11

 

1 –

We’re away from flashbacks and back to the Batcave with insane Batman. He’s a state. During these panels he’s having a breakdown. Fingers clawing at hair and at face, wild, unbelieving, despairing eyes etc. Or, alternatively, maybe you want it more understated and sad – an utterly, utterly defeated Batman. Disconsolate, unable to take on the enormity of it all. Maybe you don’t even see his face, just a hunched body, head down. Your call.

If you show any of the Batcave – and you don’t need to – don’t make it anything really. It’s just a cave. Maybe it has a laptop in it where the Batcomputer is. Maybe you don’t want to show anything. Keep the focus on Batman. If you want to show him small and with a crushed spirit, maybe zoom out to his small broken black figure in a big dark empty cave. Make us as distant from him as he is from himself. Give us the feeling he’s all alone. This all might work better than the close-up crazy-breakdown Batman, given he’s finally accepting the truth.

CAP: All of them. All of them. My rogues, my villains . . . they were all me. Elements of my psyche I manifested into enemies to defeat – but they never could be defeated, could they? Not permanently. They rose up, again and again.

CAP: They always escaped. They always had their fun.

2 –

In these panels, as well as the previous shot, add drawings of the villains as referenced in the captions. Maybe they’re standing by him, maybe you’re just drawing their face in the corner of the panel, in the shadows. They are imagined by Batman. Here’s a chance to draw some of the other rogues in a disturbing way! Be a bit surreal with them if you like.

CAP: Two-Face . . . My multiple personality disorder. My psyche split in two. Good man and psychopath.

3 –

CAP: The Scarecrow. My fear of the truth.

4 –

CAP: Clayface, my malleability, my ability to deceive, to present myself as something other than what I am.  My mask of human skin hides the monster within.

5 –

CAP: The Penguin, my mental deformity, my corruption. The crooked tumour of my mind.

6 –

Draw the Joker here however you think best, as long as it fits with previous times. Make him the craziest and scariest. It’s demented Bruce Wayne in a wig, white-face and lipstick, and it should look horrible.

CAP: And, of course, the Joker. The real me, the psychopathic serial killer I try to bury inside. Never deep enough. He always gets out.

 

PAGE 12

 

1 –

The alley murder scene, except this time it’s young Bruce Wayne killing his parents and laughing. Of course, the green HAHAHAHA (sorry to keep mentioning it, it’s non-stop – unless you feel it interferes with the art in panels. As long as it’s on each page quite a bit). It’s moved on from HEHEHEHE like it was before.

CAP: The Joker killed my parents.

CAP: I killed my parents.

2 –

Bruce with a green wig on doing his lipstick in the mirror . . . Yeah, it’ll look very wrong. Think Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill!

3 –

Back to defeated alone Batman.

CAP: My no-kill rule. What a joke, what a farce. When, in reality, the reverse was true. So many dead. By my hand.

CAP: How many bones did I think I could break? How many piles of garbage were there to break someone’s fall?

4 –

CAP: There is no Arkham Asylum. Only the morgue. The graveyard.

CAP: There might not even be a Gotham. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

5 –

Panels of hollow-eyed Batman staring blankly into the darkness.

CAP: All this, this self-delusion, to cover up my own guilt. I looked for an unnamed killer, I sought vengeance on shadows, on nothing, on nobodies . . . Joe Chill . . . a nobody.

6 –

CAP: It wasn’t enough, in the end. My own guilt threatened to surface. I had to have a single person take the fall, a person I could touch, could smell. I gave him a name, a name inspired by the pulp noir novels I read as a child.

CAP: Where is Joe Chill now? I know where he is. A man whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

PAGE 13

 

1 –

If you hadn’t drawn it this way before, right now Batman is definitely on his knees, head sunk. These panels are quite repetitive, but should enforce the captions. If you want to repeat ones you’ve already drawn, do so. Don’t let any of the Joker laughter detract from the detachment and loneliness of Batman. It should be all about him in these panels, him in the empty cave. Maybe the laughter is just floating around the edges of the panels. Maybe you don’t want them there at all.

CAP: I got away with so much. I remember . . . I remember Gotham as a lovely city. It’s just me. I’m the only danger here. The only darkness.

2 –

CAP: The rich elite, they get away with everything. They always have, throughout history. Get away with murder. Nobody questioned me, not really. I was untouchable. It was only when it was staring them in the face that they had to act.

CAP: I bet some of them would have just kept on taking the money, for an easier life.

3 –

Batman has raised his head. Whether we see his eyes or not, he’s looking up. Something has occurred to him. He’s speaking out loud now.

BATMAN: Did I imagine Robin too? The things I made him do . . . Some of the time, he must have been in my head. The rest . . .

BATMAN: He’s still here, somewhere. Maybe he’s still crying. Maybe he’s finally gone quiet.

4 –

The Joker laughter here is smaller, edging away.

BATMAN: No . . . It’s not . . . This isn’t . . .

5 –

Just a solid black panel. No laughter.

6 –

Shows only Batman’s torn gloved hand, reaching up desperately into the darkness, as though there’s something out there that can save him. In this panel the HAHAHAHA is fading away, diminishing out the panel.

BATMAN: No . . .

7 –

Same shot of the hand, except it now looks more like the Batman suit as he imagined it – like a Batsuit gauntlet. Look it up if you want an idea. Doesn’t need detail though – as long as it looks different to before, better-made and not torn. Or darker, more surreal? In this and later panels there is no more Joker laughter.

CAP: No, it can’t end like this. It doesn’t make any sense.

CAP: It’s not true.

8 –

Shot of Batman’s narrowed eyes. The eyes are white, like before. The old mask is back. Maybe it’s just two white eyes in blackness.

CAP: Mind manipulation coupled with a new strain of fear toxin. Mad Hatter and the Scarecrow must be working together. Seeking to destroy my identity . . . make me believe in the impossible.

 

PAGE 14

 

1 –

Batman’s arm again, now in a clenched fist. It looks stronger and more muscular than before.

CAP: Fight it, Bruce. You can beat them. You’re stronger than this.

2 –

Another arm shot, looking even stronger and more imposing than before, even crueller – more dangerous. Or maybe you can show it in a more surreal way – darkness flowing out of it, the hand more of something inhuman than a man.

CAP: You’re more than Bruce Wayne.

CAP: You are –

3 –

A big panel, taking up the rest of the page. Batman is standing up. He looks like the original panels of how Batman looked, but more so. Unreal-looking, no face – just the white eyes of the cowl, his cape billowing out, jagged, the ends like tendrils reaching to ensnare. Maybe he’s floating off the ground – the whole effect is of Batman not as a human but as a dark myth, as demon, as terror of the night.

BATMAN: I’m Batman.

 

 

I don't own the rights to this artwork and could not find the name for the original artist. Will amend or remove as appropriate.
I don’t own the rights to this artwork and could not find the name for the original artist. Will amend or remove as appropriate.

Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Preacher and the Goat

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Preacher and the Goat

 

Zebediah Williams, Preacher Williams to the folk of Black Pine Falls, walked out of the town booze store holding the bottle up and his head high. He knew they were looking at him. All of them, judging him. They always were. He could hear the whispers. Screw them. He’d see them at church. He knew their secrets. Why add one more? The town had enough already.

Let them see. He was their preacher and he was drinking. He’d been drinking for a while. He knew it was getting worse. So what? They’d still come. If the goddamn crows didn’t keep them away.

He’d started when Rosie left him in the summer. He wasn’t sure of the day. She left him after the thing with the goat. Now she probably had eyes for all the men. Oh, he knew the score. Nobody ever thought he was right for her. There were lots of tough men in Black Pine Falls; Zebediah was not one of them. Big gal Rosie could beat him in an arm wrestle without trying; he’d always act like he let her win but they both knew.

He was smart though, and god-fearing. That should have been enough. He used to be level-headed too; he used to be as down to earth as Rosie herself. Scorning the superstitions of the townsfolk and their wild stories about trees and phantoms and creatures of the forest. Never a week would go by where you wouldn’t hear somebody tell about some strange thing that happened to them, big or small. Zebediah would call them out for their pagan blasphemies and command them to go to church. And most of them did. Not as many now, but enough.

The weirdness hadn’t come all at once; it’d crept up on him. Just little things, hardly worth mentioning to anyone, confusing, almost inexplicable things that quietly addled his mind. A missing thing here, a strange sound there. Often it was just a peculiar feeling inside. Zebediah blamed it all on lack of sleep and stress put upon him by Rosie. Until that one event that everything changed.

It was the end of the first week of October today. Everyone who lived in stone’s throw of the black pines had breathed their usual sigh of relief after September had passed, just like they always did. Not too relieved, though. Winter wasn’t long off, and Hallows Eve was right around the corner.

Caleb and his family lived in a bad spot, perhaps the worst. The man wasn’t talkative though; Zebediah wondered if Caleb had seen anything like he had. If he had, he seemed to be keeping sane enough. On the outside, at least.

Well, Caleb wasn’t as smart as Zebediah and so had less to lose.

Caleb. Zebediah spat, then took a swig from his bottle as he continued up the hill out of town towards the church. He’d never liked the man. He knew he made eyes at Rosie, even when they were together.

Well, he was welcome to her. They all were. All the logging crews. Fuck her. Why should he care? Caleb was welcome to take her just like he was welcome to be taken by the bogeymen that lived among the pines, any day now.

The thing that shook his grounded world views forever happened last November. It’d been cold, deathly cold for the month. He was blowing out candles at the altar, his back to the pews. The congregation had long left, but he’d kept the candles lit for a while, just kneeled in front of them. Praying, he told himself, but in truth just eager for the warmth.

He kept the last candle to see himself out through the side door and into his small home that adjoined the church. Ready to cover himself in blankets and shiver away the night. Rosie had been out that night, drinking with her friends.

He’d turned, and past the glow of the candle that blurred the centre of his vision, he saw a man sat down on the front pew, bent forward slightly with his arms over his knees and his hands clasped, as though thinking, or praying.

A lesser man than he would have dropped the candle. Then again, his first assumption was that it was one of the townsfolk come back to see him.

And, in a way, it was.

Zebediah moved closer, lowering the candle. That’s when his heart pulled a frozen one. The man was dead. He was a corpse.

The face was deeply wrinkled and stretched thin; the skin must have been sallow away from the candlelight. The eyes were not there, only black, sunken pits, less like someone had gouged out the man’s eyes and more like two small fists had been thrust all the way into his head. Meteor blasts in his face into which no light penetrated.

Zebediah knew him. It was Old Thomas, and he’d died the previous winter. Lost to the snow.

Zebediah was still a statue, unspeaking, unblinking, when Old Thomas turned his head towards him. The sound was something he’d never forget. It was like the uprooting of a sapling, all knots twisting and popping. Zebediah found himself face to face with that sightless dead man, dead man moving, dead man –

‘Don’t mind me Preacher,’ Old Thomas said, in the most terrible death’s rattle. Oh, it was him. It was him alright. ‘I’m just cleaning my sins away. Getting right with the lord.’

Preacher Zebediah Williams’s heart had kicked into furious overdrive at that point, and he’d run yelling out the church and to the town. He barely remembered anything of that night after the point when Old Thomas had spoken, but he knew the aftermath. Sure, he knew how it would have looked.

If only that had been all.

If that had been all, maybe Zebediah could have recovered. Not enough sleep wasn’t a good enough excuse anymore. It had happened, he knew that, even if nobody else did. But it was just one thing. One big thing. But crazy things had happened to a lot of people here. He was allowed one, right?

The distance from Rosie grew over the following months, as Zebediah lost his scepticism towards all things weird and unnatural. He began listening to other people’s stories. Really listening, quiet and nodding. He started to accept some things, such that there was something deathly wrong with the black pines. That there were many things happening that oughtn’t have happened.

He couldn’t remember when in the summer the goat had showed up. June was it, or early July? He knew it was the final straw, the moment when he lost Rosie for good, but that time was so blurry – he measured it in weirdness, not in days and dates.

Summer was a time when the stranger things of Black Pine Falls weren’t supposed to happen. Summer was a warm, peaceful time when you could walk away from the Timbersea and amongst the black pines without any unease. Providing you stayed out of the forest’s dark hearts of course, where the earth itself was black and cold and strewn with bogs that sucked you down. Swampblood, they called it. There must be gasses underneath, for the mud bubbled and burped at you. Even when Zebediah was at his most rational, there was nothing comforting in those places.

So, the goat had come. Nobody knew from where. It didn’t belong to anybody. Fact was nobody could remember there being goats in Black Pine Falls, but he guessed there must have been. Far as he knew the goat just stepped out from the woods and next thing you knew was grazing around the church, ready to meet Rosie.

When they were sure nobody owned it (and they hadn’t reckoned so; everyone knew everyone pretty much, and nobody could keep something like a goat secret for long) Rosie had quickly decided to keep it as a pet. Against Zebediah’s wishes, of course.

He’d lasted longer than he should have – three or four weeks – before he’d made up his mind. Finding goat shit in the aisles was when Zebediah knew the farce had to end. He’d taken the goat out into the woods. Holding the string in one hand, shotgun in the other.

He took him away from the Timbersea and stopped only when they met the stream. Zebediah didn’t know the place; he wasn’t sure he’d ever gone this far out. But a shotgun blast could carry a long way sometimes, and he wanted to be absolutely sure he wouldn’t be heard. He’d tell Rosie the goat escaped.

There’d been something strange about the water this far upstream. There was a silvery quality to it. A kind of dancing light. The sun, of course. Just the sun.

He’d raised the gun and the goat had looked at him. Everything seemed to fall silent. The birds, the breeze, even the sound of the stream.

His finger paused on the trigger.

The goat kept on looking, right in his eyes.

The world had stopped. It was just the two of them, him and the bastard goat, alone in the blackness, with nothing but the silver glint from the stream. Nothing but the –

The goat opened its mouth. ‘What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?’ it said.

Well, yeah, that was it. He’d run back raving, right into Rosie’s bewildered arms. In his madness he let slip his intent. He could have lied if he’d been in his right mind; after all, he’d dropped the shotgun back at the stream.

Rosie had packed her stuff the same day. It made no sense, it was just a goat! Just a fucking goat. At least that’s what he used to think. Didn’t she owe him any loyalty? She got so attached to things. All but him.

You can let a man be as mad as a jackrabbit, but you can’t ever let him kill your pet.

He should have shot the goat. Why didn’t he shoot it? He knew it was still out there, deep in the forest. Or maybe close by, watching him. He’d lost count of the number of nights he’d wake up sweating, the low croak of the goat’s words still ringing in his ears. What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?

What in the hell is it you think you’re doing.

Zebediah took another drink of his bottle, closing in on the church. He could already see the cluster of crows, and he grimaced. One day he’d get another shotgun and blow the whole lot up, bad luck or not. What more bad luck could he have?

His feet struck a rock and he winced, almost tripping over. Truth was that Rosie would have left him anyway. Everyone knew it.

Well, good luck to her. She’d chewed him out too many times. She’d never respected him. Far as he was concerned the bitch could have them all. All at the same time, why the fuck not?

Zebediah wiped his eyes and gripped the bottle tight. He shoved the church door open.

Old Thomas was in his regular spot, sitting hunched forward in the first pew, his pitted sockets staring into Zebediah.

‘What is it you think you’re doing, Preacher?’ he said.

Zebediah threw the bottle, smashing it a foot away from the corpse. What was left dripped down into the floorboards.

‘You shut the hell up Thomas! I ain’t got time for your shit!’

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Timbersea

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Timbersea

 

They called it the Timbersea. They talked of it like it was a single, definitive place, and not the sprawling, stretched out and patchwork area of woods that curved like a horseshoe around the town. It was home to half a dozen logging camps, but they were always sprouting up and dissolving. Sometimes, as the black pines crept in, the Timbersea was connected only by threads. In winter the black could cut it up entirely, turning it into mere pockets, islands of dark green and brown fighting the darkness. Last November workers swore that they were marooned in a single day. Few believed them; tree-blindness, they called it. Caleb was one of those that believed.

The Timbersea was the only place the forest would let them cut.

They’d fell an area, and the trunks and roots would loosen and come up, as though eager for their own annihilation, happy to be done with it and cleanse the land of their gelded forms. Two of the men would turn the grinder and chew the roots and the branches and all that detritus into chips. When they’d moved on to a new area, they’d replant the previous. The trees grew fast, unnaturally fast. Nowhere stayed clear here for long, nowhere but the White Circle.

Caleb crunched his way to the logging camp. He crested a rise, and stopped to take a breath at the usual spot. Through the trees and at a little distance you could see the church, standing on its own in the light morning fog. It was small and old, and short of visitors. It was partly the season; Preacher Williams held the services earlier, so everybody had time to get back long before sundown, but that wasn’t always good enough. Williams had taken a fancy to blaming the large red-eyed crows that perched above the doorway and around the spire. They were there now; their number seemed to grow every day. Was that a raven leading them?

Truth was the biggest reason for the church’s emptiness wasn’t the crows or the season. It was the holes in the roof that Williams never got around to mending. The mists poured through them and drifted around the aisles, making the seats damp. Nobody wanted a wet ass.

Caleb hefted his axe back on his shoulder and continued. It was just him and Foreman Miller Jones for a spell, sharpening and moving things about; the others arrived soon after. There were nine men in all on their shift, and one woman, Rosie. Rosie was too tough to take shit from any of them. She’d been married to Preacher Williams before the thing with the goat. Ever since (and maybe before), Caleb reckoned that she had a thing for him. Sometimes he wondered if the others reckoned the same thing for themselves.

They began to cut.

You always cut in the Timbersea. You never strayed further, no matter how much the black pines beckoned you. And beckon you they did. There was a siren call, whispers carried on the wind. If you didn’t keep your head strong and focused on your work, they could talk to you, in their wordless way. They wanted to lure you, tempt you into cutting into their oil-dark wood and hear them moan.

Caleb had heard them moan, sure enough. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

He’d nearly been there. He’d almost seen it. Almost in time.

The legend of the Man of the Woods was birthed twenty-one years ago. The name was Paul Bunyan. Caleb and Foreman Miller Jones were the only ones still logging who remembered him (Jones remembered others lost to the black too, men before Caleb’s time). Paul was a big feller, bigger than Caleb, a seven-footer with a chest like a barrel. One day he’d gone for a piss and not returned.

Caleb had gone looking for him, and he’d heard the moan. It came from the invisible, ever-shifting line where the Timbersea met the black. The black pines. The sound was like a great woman in cold pained ecstasy, a ten-layered breath that trembled through the ground under his boots.

Caleb had hesitated, then stormed forward, roaring Paul’s name. He found the man’s hat, strewn with black needles at the foot of a tree. It held a fresh cut in its trunk, and the sap that was pouring out was thick and bubbling and congealing fast. Soon the cut would disappear.

Of the axe and of Paul Bunyan there was no sign.

The hat blew with the wind as Caleb stooped to grab it. It danced further and further away, always just out of reach, and like a fool he chased it. He’d wised up in time enough, thank god, letting it go and racing back to the safety of the Timbersea.

To this day, whenever they stopped for their lunch break or there was a lull in the work, you might think you hear the far-off sound of one man walking through the woods. A large man, a huge man by the sounds of it. Or a faint noise on the wind of an axe thudding, sinking into oil-dark wood.

The day’s work as done as it could be, Miller Jones let them go with enough time to get back before dark. Caleb stomped his tired way back through the forest. There was a knot of black pines that separated him from his cabin, and he would always grit his teeth and stop himself from quickening his pace.

Something that sounded like a whippoorwill called from behind him, but it could have been anything at all. The kids better be shut in tight, he thought, not looking round.

After all, it was September. And the dark belonged to them.

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Bogeymen

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Bogeymen

 

‘Get away from that window!’ She heard her father bark from behind her. She didn’t react at first; she was intent on the treeline, the line that crept so close to their cabin, closer every day it seemed. Tendrils of mist snuck forward as though to grab at the porch light, wreathing around it. The lamp only glowed brighter in the coming dark, turning the mist to an orange haze and revealing those million dancing, falling things that lived in the air.

Her father didn’t ask twice. His hand grabbed her dress and she was yanked backwards. She would have hit the floor if his huge arms hadn’t been there to fall into.

‘What did I tell you?’ Her father said, and she hung her head and looked at her shoes. ‘You only just got in before dark when I told you to come home earlier. And now you’re at the window again. I don’t want you having nothing to do with the outside come evening times. Especially not now it’s September. Alright?’

‘I’m sorry, father,’ she said.

He pulled the curtains closed. ‘Go and play with your brother.’

Mabel nodded and sat down opposite her brother, who was doing weird things with his hands. He stopped and stared at her, and she opened her eyes as wide as they could go – which was very wide indeed – and stared back. This was a game they played often: whoever blinked first lost. It didn’t matter that she always lost, as she did again. Cain never did blink all that much even outside of the game. I blink when you blink, he told her once. That’s why you don’t see me do it.

Mabel picked up her brush and began to brush her black hair in front of the mirror. She heard her father grunt and walk off with his heavy tread on the floorboards, and she knew he was heading to the back of the cabin, to the adjoining woodshed where he did his wood carvings.

She looked at her reflection. Some people said that with her perfectly round face and perfectly straight hair and her large round eyes she looked like one of her father’s wood carvings. A painted doll, but not perfectly painted. There was a black spot underneath her right eye, like a stray drop of paint had flicked off the end of the brush and onto her cheek.

She didn’t think she was a wood carving, not anymore. She had believed when she was younger, though, and her father had been slow to dismiss her of the idea. She wasn’t allowed in the woodshed, but she’d peeked inside once when he was out felling trees; it was where he kept his creations, all his unpainted dolls and statues, his carved bears and miniature trees and his monsters. She’d seen them looking at her, even though most of them didn’t even have any eyes, and she’d quickly run back into her room. She didn’t want to be like them at all.

‘It’s getting late.’ Her Uncle Samson stretched out his legs in the rocking chair by the fire. He’d been quiet for a long time and she’d thought him asleep. ‘Let me tell you both a story while Caleb’s busy.’

Mabel and Cain sat down at his feet in front of the log fire that kept the outside chill almost at bay. Samson opened a book by Atticus, the writer who lived in the town and wrote almost all the books. Most of them were not very long and seemed very improbable, but Mabel understood that was just how books were.

They sat, clutching their knees while their uncle told them the story about a magic device that some people had that could let you talk from one side of the forest to another, all the way across Black Pine Falls. You spoke into it and it sent the words sailing out, and they bounced off every tree, entirely invisible until they reached the other person’s device, where they became sounds again.

‘What about in the White Circle, where there are no trees?’ Mabel asked.

‘That’s when the words fly up and hit the moon,’ her uncle answered. ‘Then they fall back down to the other person.’

‘I don’t believe in magic like that,’ Mabel said.

‘You don’t need to believe in a story,’ her uncle said, closing the book. ‘Stories just are.’

Their father returned then, wiping his brow, and sent them off to bed. He was tucking Cain in when he realised that the curtains to their room had not been drawn. He stiffened and quickly grabbed the sides, but hesitated. He was staring out, out into the darkness. The lamp outside had gone out.

‘Are they out there, father?’ Mabel asked.

‘They’re out there,’ her father replied.

‘Are they still hiding?’

‘No, they’re not hiding anymore.’ He wrenched the curtains closed.

Mabel stared into the candlelight next to her as her father sat down heavily on her bed. He put a hand on her leg.

‘Sleep tight, sleep true,’ he said, in the same low monotone he did every night. Mabel always thought it sounded strange, like some kind of chant. ‘Don’t let the bogeymen get you.’

‘They won’t get me, will they father?’

‘Not if you’re a good girl,’ he said, and left, closing the door behind him.

Mabel watched the guttering candle. Outside she thought she could hear something, a very faint rustling. But it was probably just the wind and the trees.

 

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Black Pine Falls

 

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

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