There was a timid knock at the door. The Student Counselor checked his notes. Nicola Drummond. Her grades weren’t so bad, but the government had just upped the quota. He hated this – selling his students.

“Come in, Nikki. Take a seat.”

***

The two politicians sat opposite one another, a moderator in the middle. One, surgically young with a perpetually smug smile on her face, talked to camera as opposed to her opponent.

“The building of prisons is vital during a prison crisis, I don’t know why you’re so out of touch with the people not to see it.” She was slick and dismissive, her tone of voice said she could have been filing her nails.

Her opponent was older, grayer. He didn’t look so good on the camera. His party always thought that it was the issues that counted.

There were mistaken.

“We wouldn’t be in a crisis if your party stopped locking up children for copying DVD’s and backing up music-”

“They’re thieves, Bob-”

Bob cut her off. “Oh come on. That old chestnut? It isn’t theft. At best it’s copyright infringement and it does not warrant locking up children with hardened criminals.”

“Which is why,” he voice was icy now. “Which is why we need more prisons. Or are you telling me your party would let criminals walk the streets, amongst our elderly? They fought in a war so that you could be free. And everyone knows that these criminal pirates are in the pay of our enemies. It seems you’re taking your politics from that Dread Pirate Roberts. Why do you have your country, Bob? Why do you hate the troops?”

Robert Paulson stood up, gripped the table until his knuckles turned white, leaned over and spat in his opponents face.

“Of all the asinine statements I have ever heard come out of your hate filled mouth. You are locking up children for home taping. And do you know what you’re doing? You’re putting them in prisons with hardened criminals. These kids are smart. And now they hate you, and everything your stinking party has made of this country. What they didn’t have is muscle. Well, they have it now. You’re training the new age of crime, my dear. And you’re fucking welcome to it.”

With that, he walked away from a life in politics.

While people silently cheered at the act of defiance, it was widely regarded as “not the his best move.”

***

The solution came from a private company with lobbyist ties to the Vice President. They accessed research on Life Extension, Suspended Animation and the, doomed to fail even before it started, experiments into teleportation.

The “elevator pitch” was this: Encode the personalities of criminals in such a way that they are aware of where they are. Load this into a surrogate, one per criminal. Make sure the surrogates aren’t too interesting, and leave the criminal there, living mind numbing ennui for the duration of the sentence.

To ensure the encoded personality doesn’t gain control or poison the surrogate from the inside, a series of mental blocks are erected, and a regime of drugs are supplied to keep these blocks in place.

But, who would undertake such a task?

***

Buried in an Education Bill that no-one, not even the activists – as activism was now a Federal Crime, up there with treason and so punishable by death – read was a clause. It stated that failing students with the prospects of being unemployed forever, would be given an offer they couldn’t refuse. Employment at a menial level, a steady wage, and a criminal piggybacking the whole thing.

Once the program was underway it was heralded as being the best thing ever. “The Equal Opportunities Act. No longer will poor education be a block to a better life and a shot at the dream.”

***

“So, it’s perfectly safe. The government will give you some medication for the duration, and if there’s a problem there’s someone on hand 24 hours, and they’ll help you out. In return you’ll get a job and be doing your country a great service.”

“But, sir. I was hoping to go to university.”

There was a pause. This was perfect. The Counsellor could see Nicola in university. She only has to apply herself and she’d be perfect. He took a deep breath.

“Well. That’s an option. How about you take these brochures about the Equal Opportunity Scheme, and something on university options and then come and have a chat when you’ve made up your mind.”

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The class sung as one.

“A, B, C, D,”

***

The girl painted her message quickly and accurately, at home with a brush as much as she was a bow.

She had carried the scar and had been cast out of her tribe. She had almost died before she found a Hunter to train her.

As it always was.

I waited outside the Inner Sanctum. As her Storyteller I was not privy to the goings on of Hunters. All her life I had recorded, taught to others and performed.” The storyteller paused to drink, wipe his mouth and say, through his swallow, “Hers and those before her.”

It was true, he hadn’t been allowed into the Inner Sanctum of the Temple of Light but he was allowed some artistic license.

“She placed the pages in front of the assembled elders. They looked; thought; grunted and scratched before, finally, giving their response.

A simple nod…”

The door to the Sanctum opened slowly.

She strode from the room, pulling her quiver on, and adjusting the position of her bow. The Storyteller handed her her knives, which she slipped into her boots, belt, and the middle of her back.

She nodded. It was enough to take the colour from his cheeks. She placed her hand on his shoulder and gripped in a way to reassure her hold companion.

He grabbed her and hugged her, hard.

The hand  obviously hadn’t worked.

***

On their journey many strange beasts passed their eyes, ancient civilizations welcomed them but nothing game them pause and, a year after the nod, in the middle of a desert, they gathered together the final storytellers.

They prepared during the day, mostly at noon, rehearsing, practicing.

Preparing.

When they were ready, they built a circle of smaller circles, each one holding a fire.

In the middle would be an unprotected area, an area of darkness within the circle of light.

They drew on the sand, pointed, grunted, stamped feet and plotted. Despite the spread of fire, the Darkness had managed to claim many lives. 

Tonight it ended.

The sun set, and the storytellers took their places. They mumbled, grunted and scratched. Anything to take their mind of the task ahead but the air full of fear and anticipation.

In the middle, in the shade, just before a planned circle of darkness, the Hunter stood defiant, with Bow and Sword, the scar on her arm visible.

It was time.

She stepped into her circle.

The Darkness moved swiftly and deadly. She barely had time to force the breath from her lungs before being plucked from the circle, lifted and thrown away from the lights. She landed heavily, but preparation was the key.

She remembered the descriptions. Pictured one – A Tall Man with the Thin Legs.

With a howl of frustration It came. A pale figure stalking from the darkness. As tall as three men upright, it was ghostly, almost slick. And glowing. She notched an arrow and let it loose. A second and third flew soon after.

She turned and ran, heading for the fires. They had to see. They had to tell the story.

She glanced over her shoulder as a roar ripped through the night. It had decided on a new form, and the pitch black dragon took to the air. She rolled, landed on her back, watched the dragon circle, it’s wings spread as wide as her eyes. She forced the fear aside.

The tribes had prepared her for this event, prepared her for years before she approached the Sanctum. 

Hidden at noon, outside in the sun, they had formed sounds; applied them to things. Nothing was written, nothing drawn. It was all spoken. There could be no proof.

The Hunter took a deep breath, opened her mouth and whispered, “Wolf.”

 

The Darkness felt it like a blow, The First Word, and was bound to its new form.

In the sky, where the dragon once was, a wolf now fell.

She was on her feet again running for the light. That fall was going to hurt it, but it wasn’t going to stop it.

She head the crunch, wet and heavy. Felt the cold on her. It had lost form, become Dark again. But it was confused. They had just drawn first blood.

She reached the circle, drew her sword and spoke its form in halting, malformed words. With a hiss, the pale man – spindly, and spiderlike – walked towards the circle. Behind it one of the storytellers lit a small well of oil. A line of light pushed the Dark closer to the Huntress.

Which was where it wanted to be. Lightning fast, it slashed out at her, raking nails across her chest, opening her skin, smelling her blood. She drove her sword up and into its arm, returning the pleasure. Its blood, black and thick, dripped form it. The sand below hissed and steamed as it fell. Whatever was in its blood, she didn’t want it on her skin.

Not that it mattered. Not in the long run. Neither was walking away from this.

The battle raged. She used her words to change its form, it attacker her with all its strength. She weakened with every blow it landed. It never slowed, never stopped. 

Victory was in its hand – It could destroy the last of the line and end the cursed Hunter’s family.

The murmuring started like a low wind. It hadn’t heard them until it was too late.

The Words.

The storytellers were telling their tale. Weaving it strong enough to hold them both. The Story of The Huntress – The Warrior of Light and her epic battle against The Dark.

She welcomed the construction, but it resisted – thrashing at the edges, breaking the narrative, stretching the credibility. If if couldn’t be believed, it couldn’t be held. 

Seeing its distraction the Hunter leapt and drove her sword into its chest.

They both froze. The storytellers extinguished their fires plunging the desert into darkness.

***

When dawn broke, four hours later, there was no evidence anyone had ever been there.

The storytellers spread their language – each with a new dialect, a new way of talking. With it they told, and retold, the story – their Spell. Each casting of the language keeping the bonds in place. Each telling gives it a new form, a vampire, and demon, another woman plotting to steal the heroine’s boyfriend.

Darkness bound in fiction.

***

“X, Y and Z. Now we know our ABC. Next time won’t you sing with me.” The teacher smiled.

“Good children. And with these building blocks, we’re going to teach you to Spell.”

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3 weeks ago, now, I saw an episode of Dr. Who.

Everyone was anticipating a great one. It was being written by Steven Moffat, who had given us Blink in the season before, amongst other things.

It was a 2 parter. Part 1 – Shadows in a Library killing people. Maybe it’s an ancient evil. Maybe not.

It was fantastic. An utterly amazing cliff hanger. “Bugger,” was the first word through my head. “Still. Maybe it wouldn’t be so much like this story I’ve been telling here.”

Part 2 rolled past last week and gave us a set of utterly authentic “hide behind the sofa” moments. The story was deliriously meta, with “Spoilers” being the most uttered word. It was a piece of sheer genius and utterly spoilt this thing that I’m about to finish.

Not that I care – because it’s the best piece of TV I’ve seen in a while.

Get them, see them, love them. They are:  “Silence in the Library“/”Forest of the Dead” (which should link to the wikipedia articles on them).

Until then – enjoy “Spelling,” the final part of my darkness story.

 

 

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Marcus sat on the floor of his empty apartment.

This was it.

His final job. No more after this.

Everything changed after the freelancer died. She was going to join the crew and caught a loose round. It was just bad luck – nothing he could have seen coming. But now nothing seemed worth it. 

He walked to the window, remembering the snow. That had been a good few months ago.

He sighed and turned back to the empty room.

 

It was his time. He was old and tired. Everyone he knew was either getting out of the game, or had already left. 

So, he had spent the last few months sorting through his stuff. Everything that was his had been packed up, transported, intercepted, stolen, moved to a safe store, stolen again, fenced, split up and sent all around the country.

There it was sold or auctioned and bought by a set of double blind, fake personalities.

Half of those items had been stolen from the auction house, lost in transport – or destroyed in random arson attacks.

The insurance payouts had been quite impressive.

But now all of it was safely on its way towards a small plot of land in a name that he hadn’t used for a very long time.

Everything else had been incinerated, re-incinerated and nano-wiped.

He wanted a clean break. No loose ends.

He only had one of those left now, but he figured it had been loose for so long that it probably wasn’t all that loose at all.

That it was pretty much tied up. 

He sniffed and rubbed his nose.

In each corner of the room was a nano scrubber. He held the activation device in his hand. As soon as he hit it he’d ceased to exist.

“Time to go.” His voice was a tinny echo in the empty appartment. He walked towards the door when his arm vibrated. He flipped a switch and checked the incoming message:

 

“Subj: Re:Coffee

>?

Maybe…”

He smiled. Maybe that end wasn’t so tied after all.

Still – the job had to come first. There’d be plenty of time for coffee afterwards.

He walked out of the flat and pressed the button. 

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