Friday, 27 July 2012

Harvester of Sorrow - short story

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post it. For this particular competition we had to choose from a list of songs, so I naturally picked the Metallica song Harvester of Sorrow. The song is about a man going insane and killing his family, if I remember correctly, so I decided to keep that as a bit of a theme. I also tried to write it with a rhythm which fits the song loosely and included lyrics from the song. I've unashamedly gone for a Lovecraft feel to it, though I could never do him justice. I really enjoyed writing this piece, even though I had to rush it a bit. As per usual, I hope that you enjoy it.

Harvester of Sorrow

I am writing this letter in the hope that it will prepare others for those things which I have witnessed, for I am soon to end my life; this torture is too much. I fear that you will not recognise the importance of that which I shall divulge, yet I must communicate these woes before it is too late. My final prayer shall be that no other will suffer my fate.

It was during a walk on the moors at night, I’d lost the path in the fog, the waning gibbous moon providing little guidance, yet on I soldiered. It was the last thing I saw before I fell. When I regained consciousness I could no longer see the moon, as I had plummeted deep into some sort of ancient cave system. My initial panic was met with relief when I realised that I had suffered no serious injuries, nor had I broken the electronic lamp in my coat pocket, allowing me to illuminate my new whereabouts. With the deafening wind howling up above and a putrid stench of rotten fish all around, I gazed upon my surroundings with a sense of shock and awe. Crude sculptures lined the walls of the cavern, with bizarre inscriptions of some unknown language scrawled erratically through every visible gap. The creatures depicted were grotesque and appeared to be twisting in agony, unlike anything I could recognise from my zoological studies. Whose hands had wrought these monstrosities? Whose mind conceived of these abominations?

It was all I could do not to vomit. I started to feel claustrophobic, panicking, my breathing getting heavy, sweat dripping down my neck. I could find no way to climb up through the entrance which I had created. I feared that this nightmare of a place would become my tomb, trapped far beyond my fate. I had no choice but to wander into the dark depths of that desperate place. I tried hard not to look at the disproportionate forms, with their twisted limbs and contorted faces, if those really were faces. But no matter how hard I tried they were constantly in sight, surrounded by glyphs in the language of the mad. I felt like I had descended into Hell itself. The panic overtook me and I fell yet again. I remained conscious, noticing that the floor was not stable, but moving, pulsing, enveloping me. Tentacles lashed at me, dragging me down, stinging me on contact. The pain was unbearable, excruciating, matched only by the fear, as I saw the hideous head with its eyes of unimaginable darkness. I believe my sanity left me at that point.

I do not know how I survived, but I fear that I was allowed to live for some dark purpose. Every night I see those eyes, pure black, yet clear. I feel the floor engulfing me, the tentacles lashing me, the eyes penetrating me, the beak... the beak. The stench, the sculptures, the writings, they follow me through every waking nightmare. Nobody would believe me. Not even my beloved family. Morphine became my only comfort, but even that could not stop the torture. I was being called; I knew it, some monster, some ancient god, forcing me to do its work, forcing me to cause its chaos. I knew it was going to win when I struck my wife. I felt angry, miserable, and in agony. I had never harmed my wife, yet there I was, beating her mercilessly. I had to do something to protect my family. These monsters could not touch them in death. If you could see into my eyes you would not doubt that what I did was right. They would be safe.

I emptied every bottle in the house, I could not be completely sober for what I was about to do. Even the strongest whiskey was not masking the rotten stench, nor could it prevent the images in my head. My intestines felt like they were being twisted, as though I was becoming one of the grotesques. If I needed anything to galvanise my resolve, it was the thought that I would thwart their plans, that my family would be free from their torments. I could hear screaming, I knew it was in my mind, I knew that the torturous harmonies would soon be no more. I felt them growing stronger as the pain and anguish increased, but I was not going to water their seeds of hate; I would drown them.

After my two girls had said their prayers and settled into bed, I held the largest downy cushion over their faces simultaneously and waited until their panicked flailing ceased. They were free from the horrors which I would bring upon the family. They would not endure the nightmares brought by the Harvester, the ancient demon-god which was consuming me. I felt an intimate connection with him, but I had to sever that tie. As I said my goodbyes to my beautiful daughters my wife interrupted with a bottle to my head. She was unfortunate in that she did not manage to render me unconscious, but now she is safe, safe from the world of the living where the dark gods reside. Their cackles filled my head, as though they were in the room with me. Did I protect my family? Or did the gods trick me? Whatever their machinations I shall not be a part, I will end my role, but I fear that much worse is to come, that the entire planet will be engulfed. If you are wise you will follow my path; the gun should still be in my hand when you find the body. Let the vile demons know that you are not their puppet, that your sorrow will not be their gain.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Ghosts' Ruin - short story

I thought I would give a bit of time before posting this, so that people would hopefully catch my last post. This was entered into a competition where the theme was rage, so I wrote a follow up to my previous story Ghosts in Space. I was listening to this whilst writing it:

The Ghosts’ Ruin

My trip to the “streets” of my youth was unsuccessful. I’d travelled to the space station where I grew up in order to help the children there, to help those without homes, to show that someone out there in the black cared about them. I’d grown up without a home, ignored by society as I fended for myself. Most kids don’t make it out of that lifestyle, but I got lucky and made a life for myself beyond the streets of space, and I vowed to go back to do whatever I could to prevent others from having to live that way. I searched all the familiar spots, crawling through air ducts which were much more comfortable to crawl through as a child, hanging around the best places from which to steal food, looking in all of the old nooks and crannies which provided a small amount of shelter at night, but a week of searching led to nothing.

I’d almost given up when I finally found what I was looking for. The child managed to get away from me for a while, but he hadn’t anticipated that I’d know the station as well as he did. When I finally cornered him he was trembling, staring at my dog tags. “You’ve come to take me as well, haven’t you?” he said as he cowered in the corner. His reaction startled me, but I knew why I was there, so I stretched out my hand, “I was once a ghost like you, but now I’m alive. I’ve come to help you live.” It took a while to gain his trust, but it was worth it. Most people seemed to call him ‘rat’, but his friends always called him Dirk, a name which he had chosen for himself because he couldn’t remember his birth name. All of his friends had gone, they’d been taken, and Dirk didn’t know where they had gone but it could not be good, they’d been taken by force and not all had survived the abduction.

I left the station as soon as possible, leaving Dirk with a trusted friend as I set out to find the truth. I was a commissioned military officer, able to access sensitive information, but there was nothing about the abductions whenever I searched the files I could access. It took months of clandestine meetings, slipping cash to the right people - or the wrong people if you are on the receiving end of their activities - in order to get the information I was after. I had to stay in my office late into the night in order for the informant to make the drop. It could not be done via computer, as with most communications, as they were too heavily monitored. If the government got wind of my investigations I would be wiped out in a second, but what could they be hiding? I poured myself a small glass of whiskey as a cleaner came in to empty the bins and give the floor a quick clean. I took my drink to the window and stared at the stars until he left. When I turned back around I saw a file on my desk; it contained the answers I craved.

I knocked the whiskey back quickly and it burnt my throat, but it calmed me, ready for what I was about to read. I poured another drink and kept it firm in my hand. I saw layouts of several space stations, instantly recognising the one I once called home. Someone had marked all the old familiar routes around the station, those used only by the ghosts, the homeless children like Dirk. I started shaking as I read an order to catch and detain them all – I could have been one of them if this order had gone through earlier. I thumbed through photograph after photograph of malnourished children dressed in old rags; nearly every street child ran afoul of the law at some point, but they did nothing more than document you and your crime. I spilled my drink on the picture of Dirk, that poor boy only narrowly escaped whatever fate had befallen his friends.

I finished what was left of my drink and attempted to shake some sense into myself. For all I knew they had been taken to a safe place, but why would it be a secret? I calmed down and continued to flick through the photographs, noticing that the quality was getting worse. I started seeing familiar faces, old friends whom I thought I would never see again. Then I saw the most familiar face of all staring back at me, trying to look as innocent as possible despite having been caught stealing food. I had to know what had happened to those children; I had to know what could have happened to me. None of the files seemed to say what had happened to them, I’d paid good money for blueprints and photos when I wanted more than that. I slammed my glass down in anger and went to pour another drink when I spotted it: a small computer chip had been cleverly concealed at the back of the file, shaken loose by the slamming of my glass.

I was able to access the files on the chip through a handheld console, as I did not trust the computer on my desk. It contained a video, poorly filmed as it was obviously a secret, probably using a camera hidden in someone’s beret. I didn’t recognise the facility through which the cameraman had travelled, but it was clearly military and clearly top secret. He passed through a maze of corridors, through numerous high security doors, eventually ending up deep underground. He was led into a hospital room, where a child was lying unconscious on a bed. There was something odd about the child and it wasn’t until the camera got closer that I saw what was wrong. One of his arms had been replaced with a gun and he had a wound which looked like it was caused by the same weapon.

I continued to watch, crushing the whiskey glass in my hand when I saw that they weren’t just testing this technology on the children by turning them into weapons, but were forcing them to test it on each other. I didn’t care about the shards of glass in my hand as I watched Dirk’s friends forced to fight each other or be executed on the spot. Tears filled my eyes and I started to shake violently. It could have been me. My breathing got heavier. None of this made sense. I clenched my fists, pushing the glass further into my wounds. How could anyone do that to innocent children? I wanted to scream and shout at someone, but nobody was there. My head was swimming, I could see no further than my desk so I flung it over, smashing it into the wall. That felt good. I picked up the chair and hurled it through the window. Maybe I could destroy them from the inside, just smash everything I could see. It made sense at the time. I shouted some threat out of the window, I don’t remember what I said, it was all a blur, but I made a new vow that night. I would get revenge for the ghosts. I would stop this from happening to any other child. I’d never killed anyone before, but at that moment I felt like I needed to.

I could not let those feelings consume me, I had work to do, but for that night I relished them. I grabbed the whiskey bottle and looked back at my scene of destruction. I wanted to do that to the face of every official I saw in that video.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Avoid at all costs!

I said I was stopping posting blogs, except for short stories (one of which is coming soon) but this is worth bringing to everyone's attention. If you are interested at all in evolution, particularly reptile evolution, then you need to know this. There are two websites, and The Pterosaur Heresies, which should be avoided if you want to know about these subjects. I believe everyone should be able to post whatever they want on these topics, but the problem with these websites is that they come up on web searches as the top choices (try just Googling "reptile evolution") yet the views expressed on them are rejected by vertebrate palaeontologists.

A picture, by Koseman and Conway, based on Peter's interpretations of Pterodactylus. Looks weird, doesn't it?  No other pterosaur worker agrees with Peters' ideas.

This is not scientific snobbery, it is just to make sure that laymen are aware that these are not useful websites unless you are investigating bizarre fringe ideas. Dave Peters' views (the author of those blogs) should be taken with a fist full of salt. Ideally, I would go into some of the details of why his work should not be trusted, but there are far more qualified people than myself who have been blogging about this (though one of his main techniques effectively involves tracing on photoshop without ever looking at the fossils - judge that as you wish). Peters does not need to be censored, the major problem in my opinion is that his information is all over the internet and can fool laymen.

But don't trust me, here are the views of a few vertebrate palaeontologists involved in the field. These are well worth reading and thoroughly explain why Peters' work should only be viewed with a heavy dose of scepticism.

Here is Darren Naish of Tetrapod Zoology fame. 

Brian Switek of Laelaps and Written in Stone fame. 

Here is a good assessment by palaeoartist Nima from Paleo King. 

Mark Witton (a pterosaur palaeontologist and palaeoartist) has posted this on

And this is an older criticism by Mark on one of Peters' bizarre claims which got some media attention.

If you don't see the issue, just Google search a few well known fossil reptiles (I went straight for Longisquama) and see how commonly Peters' site comes up.