Oddly enough I was skipping happily along to take part in IPSTP when I realised they'd used that dread word 'professional'. Which, of course, by SFWA definition I'm not. The funny thing is that Mr Hendrix used the word webscab -- and scabs, of course, are quite often non-union workers. He also used the word peasant... and very few professionals of any stripe can also be considered peasants. While I was taking apart and rewriting the SFWA membership rules, as challenged to do by Mr Rothman, I noticed the very odd way the word professional was used. And used repeatedly. The kindliest explantion for which would be that unless the word is used regularly, even if misused, those involved are scared that those within the enchanted castle won't be identifiable as different from those outside its walls. So I'm glad that some people have made us non-professionals welcome.
Showing off my techno-peasantic credentials... here is a work for which I got money, but that's been available to be read a considerable time longer than if it'd been in a print magazine (teh evils of teh internet).
Worse... two snippets of fanfiction. Not just free but illicit! (And continuing the vague dreams and nightmares theme)
Reid jerks from sleep, heart pounding, toes curled, and knows he's safe.
But the stench is still in his head. In his nose. Hard-wired into his memories. An olfactory trigger his subconscious mind associates with terror and pain and shame. Phantosmisa. A scent ghost.
He can smell bacon cooking. Hear the sputter of fat in a frying pan. The clink and clatter of eggs being whisked.
It isn't fish hearts and livers. Just breakfast.
He'd known he was safe the moment he woke, every strained sense returning the reassurance that his fear was irrational. But he has to consciously relax his feet, and breath deeply and slowly until he feels calm. In control.
The only cause for alarm is that it's Morgan, not Gideon, mumbling and humming his way around the kitchen.
Reid forces himself to smile.
The living room's white floral print curtains barely dim the sunlight; he could read without opening them. There's no darkness, no shadows his subconscious can map nightmares onto, nothing to fear but an olfactory hallucination.
And a personalised premonition of Hell.
"Shit." The frying pan bangs, rattles, and there's the hiss of water on hot grease, of steam, of Morgan cussing.
So, it'll just be eggs.
The Wrong Guy.
Pain. And a bright light. And pain. And a sick dizziness that pulled at him like cobwebs. Inevitable, irresistible, and a way out.
"Stay, Sam." Fingers, gripped round his. "Like you promised."
A voice he knew. Determined, warm, and with a quiet desperation colouring the whispered undertone.
Sam chose the pain.
"Annie?" He knew it wasn't, but had to question his certainty of who was calling him back.
"Good lad, Tyler." A brief squeeze of his hand, a pat and the brush of thick square fingers over his knuckles. "You always keep your promises."
"Guv?" He couldn't open his eyes more than a crack, the light, the world, too much for him to face.
"Who else'd drag your sorry arse-- out of trouble?" The briefest hesitation, only Gene Hunt didn't flinch over obscenities. He ducked closer, voice not loud enough to be a whisper. "Just me and that's all. No one to look sideways or spread gossip."
His breath was heavy with whisky. The brief silence had been Gene taking a swig from his flask, Sam decided.
Pain. He remembered being punched, thrown against a wall, and--
It didn't feel like he was lying in a hospital bed, or smell of antiseptic and steamed carrots.
"You don't want that, Sam-lad. Trust me." He'd moved away from the bed, and was all Gene Hunt -- loud, jovial -- so it was a blessing he had.
Pain. Sam didn't think on why he wanted the comfort of whiskey and stale cigarette smoke or dragged a deeper breath to catch at it. Or tried to lure his guv'nor closer.
"How?" Had it happened, had he survived, had Gene found him, had he got here --
That was always the big question.
"Carried you." Echoes of discomfort in the growl, and they were still there when Gene tossed in, "Said you were a lightweight."
The guv'nor hadn't been with him, Sam was sure of it. Hadn't got hurt. Hadn't even seen--
Airwick and freshly washed sheets. It didn't smell like ho-- his flat.
Pain. He waited the endless few seconds pause for Gene to say, "Somewhere safe."
"Oh good." The light, the cobwebs, they were gone. There was just the pain and the darkness. This time he chose the darkness. "I'm going to pass out."
"Sam?" A flurry of soft sounds, the rustle and lunge of his guv'nor in motion. "Don't you do this to me, Sam-lad. Don't you dare. Don't you--"
And an excerpt from one of my as yet unpublished novels
The Middlemost Child
I'd felt the blow that would kill me, hovered on the edge of death, and -- Little wonder Art had gone out into Legend with a headache and the echoes of a split skull. But now the world, the future, and I, were different.
Den had changed everything, and changed me. And I was afraid that my selfishness in letting him do so would doom him, and my family, and give the Fay their victory. But I was more afraid that when I stepped through the Fay gate I would freeze, and so fail and betray those who were relying on me to help put things right.
Less than a quarter hour would have passed in Fayrie since Den and Art -- I -- had left, but whether that would be to our advantage... Strictly speaking, I'd never been into Fayrie before; the mommet who had, my past presence there, was gone, and her body scattered into the event horizon. But I remembered the icy paralysis, not all frostnip, and the terrifying inability to move by my own will. I could all too easily imagine standing, like a doll, unable to even yell warning, while my family was killed. While Den --
My imaginings took on the mantle of presentiment rather than waking night-terrors; I glanced at Affy, trying to gauge her mood, and whether she was keeping a bad vision to herself. She felt my attention, met my gaze to offer a half smile, fearful and eager and innocent of prophecy, then looked to Vian.
He and Den stood foremost in our raiding party, swords drawn and shouldering Horsa's corpse between them, James at their right rear flank, sword drawn, and Nobbie to their left. I stood behind Horsa and between my sisters; Den made it more than clear I should be protected, one way or another. A subtle promise of murder that comforted me more than any tritely optimistic reassurances could have.
"We move as far from the gate as we can without splitting up. It might make it harder for that invisible hand to sweep us back through." James repeated himself, not because any of us weren't listening before, but because the sound of his voice, of words that concentrated the mind to a plan, was reassuring. Thene nudged my shoulder, Affy briefly touched my forearm; they gripped their staves, white-knuckled. I hadn't drawn my sword, because a naked blade grasped tight in my fist would only make it harder to manoeuvre me if I did freeze.
Nobbie opened the mirror onto the oily black shimmer of the Fay gate, and Den and Vian were barrelling through, with Horsa held slightly before them, as she said, "Now."
We followed on their heels, through darkness and a prickling of ice that stabbed like screams, and I stumbled over Horsa's leg, where his body sprawled in the drift of dead leaves.
Cold. So cold.
Thene held me up and dragged me on, Affy's hand on my shoulder adding impetus, and it was easy not to glance to my right, and the coffins, but I heard Thene's breathless profanity and knew she'd seen.
Cold. So cold.
My eyes were on the guards. Heavy-set and hairy, with pointed ears, wild eyes, and muzzles bristling with teeth. James, Vian, Den, and Nobbie each faced one. Constructs, built from a dog, and I wondered if the Fay'd been inspired by Nobbie's handiwork or imagined such things for themselves.
Any focused thought kept me from hearing the background of whispers and pain.
Chain vests over rough linen shirts and trews protected the dogs from the bite of a sword, but they'd be arrow fodder. I shrugged away from my sisters and swiftly unslung my shortbow and quiver. There was another pair dashing down the hall.
Cold. So, cold.
I wasn't going to join that chorus. It wasn't my duty, nor the price I might bring myself to pay for having betrayed my family and people. I'd rather be dead.
Cold. So, cold.
Two arrows, and two dogs fell. I wasn't even sure if I'd influenced the shots. Then I found a target on Nobbie's beast and the leg on Vian's, and Vian made good account of himself and then fell upon Den's. James finished his own.
More. I will have more. Make more.
I glanced to Nobbie, and something in my face must have betrayed the fear that whisper inspired.
Before I'd heard only the murmur of voices -- Cold. So, cold. -- but this was clear thought, unconfounded by ice and pain and sorrow.
Nobbie shook her head, started closer, but I waved her off. I knew she didn't hear, and I knew why. She wasn't chained.
Cold. So, cold.
Even then I didn't look towards the two dagger-roses whose sole responsibility was protecting the gate, but followed James and Den and Vian as they moved up the hall. As I passed, I plucked at the arrows I'd planted in the dogs but only one came easily from its burrow.
I told myself I was past the worst, the first shock of the voices, that I'd be fine from now on, in no danger of freezing, or of turning on my companions as the Fay took control of me.
Cold. Cold. Cold.
Dark terracotta floor tiles, a cerulean blue ceiling overhead, and the faintest of floral scented breezes blowing between the twin rows of pillars. I walked through a stylised forest, scanning left to right, and trying not to pay too much attention to the murals.
They were beautiful: the forest drawn in loving detail, and the animals could have walked from the walls without surprising me. I nearly set arrow to string, because I saw Horsa hiding behind a pillar. A portrait so lifelike I paused to be certain it wasn't a twin, that William had neglected mentioning to Den, before I walked on -- to the point where I could see the whole family group, framed by pillars rather than obscured.
Two young men, Horsa and Wilmot, and with them was a girl, their nameless sister, and an older man with fox-red hair, who must be Mardon.
Our father. My sire. Our sire.
Grandfather or great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather, and the ancestor of every enchantress who slept in a glass coffin.
"Art?" Thene touched my shoulder, I looked beyond her when I turned, and realised we were falling dangerously behind; James and Den had reached the end of the hall and were turning to the left. I had to --
You belong here, with us, to us.
Footsteps. Lots of them. I glanced back to the gate and saw four more creatures, come from some mural concealed door, running toward us. Shooting them was like target practice, almost automatic, and --
Cold. So, cold.
I didn't feel anything.
That's the ice wrapping around your heart.
Cold. So, cold.
"They're dead." Thene touched my shoulder, turned and pushed me gently on. I tottered the first step and then jog-trotted, my sisters keeping pace, until we'd gained the ground I'd lost them.
Around the corner, James and Vian were hanging back, Den standing ahead looking at a door to his right, Nobbie beside him. The murals on these walls were garden scenes, and, on the left-hand side, alternated with great arched openings onto a courtyard, so life and art were merged -- though not quite as seamlessly as reality and imagination.
Another pack of dogs burst from the garden, a little too eager in springing their ambush. James and Vian turned on them. I killed and maimed as I could, until my quiver was empty. Den and Nobbie had backed to the door, encircled, while James and Vian were keeping three from joining that group, and trying to draw attention their way. Thene finished one I'd crippled, and Affy charged on James and Vian and clouted the creature she targeted so hard I heard the bones break. It died in silence though -- clearly whoever had made these guards didn't want to be bothered by barking or whining.
I drew my sword, wished I'd settled for a quarterstaff -- Thene and Affy were doing quite nicely -- and skewered the nearest creature, not waiting to get its attention.
The dogs were poor fighters, good with neither sword nor club and liable to cast either aside to lunge -- snapping and clawing -- for a throat.
The most disconcerting thing about hearing that one word breathed into my head -- apart from the growing feeling of numbness and the tug on a thread that I could feel thickening to a cord and knew would become a chain -- was not being able to discern a meaning. Without inflection or context I teased myself with half a dozen possibilities, only to realise that doing so made her connection to me stronger.
The two remaining hounds pulled back and huddled over an injured comrade. I knew they wanted to run, glancing up the colonnade and out into the yard, but they also had to obey. Were too scared not to obey. I couldn't bear to wait on their attack, so I strode forward, almost imagining the slow wag of a tail, and Den came too, and we put an end to it.
He wrapped his arms round me and I'd needed to feel that hug, even though I couldn't feel any warmth, or spark of passion.
Ice wrapping around your heart.
"Through the door?" James wiped the blood off his sword with a rag of shirting. "They rushed to stop us."
Double doors, pieced together from dark, solid, wooden planks, and I knew they'd be barred against us. Behind them was a room, one of several, with dozens of boxes holding chained enchantresses.
Your will bound to the service of mine.
We had a plan: to kill the Fay, who hadn't yet made themselves available for slaughter, and to kill their enchantresses. To do what needs must be done and try to think of it as a rescue, a release from their suffering.
A thread to a cord, a cord to a chain.
But the dogs hadn't been an ambush, and they hadn't been guarding the door we faced. I turned in Den's embrace, his arms slipped away and I caught at his hand, needing to hold on to the world. Stepping around the still twitching body of the dog I'd just killed, I led him out into the courtyard.
Cold. Cold. Cold.
A fountain played, scattering diamond sparks of shattered sunlight into a lily pond. The several paths into the courtyard passed between raised beds of herbs and medicinal plants, and met one side of a quartered square, in the centre of which was the circular fountain bowl. I walked the left-hand path of the square to the corner, turned and saw what I'd half expected -- a glass coffin, slightly tilted, head set against the wall and into a niche that I thought must previously have been the alcove for a bench.
My favourite bower. Aren't my flowers beautiful?
The beds in this quadrant were all roses, blood red and ice white, and those by the coffin were briar ramblers, trained to climb and sprawl, their blooms tumbling in profusion.
I paused, gripped by a reluctance to go closer and disturb her shrine.
This glass coffin was prettier than the others, its side panels etched with drifts of bramble roses, the stand carved, the metal fittings cast. All roses, and rose leaves, and thorns. Because it couldn't always be summer.
Not at first.
The others came up behind us.
"Roses." Thene and Affy spoke in the same breath.
Nobbie touched my shoulder. "The poor child."
Wilmot would have told her his story, and she'd seen the mural, and recognised the girl in this first glass coffin. The first dagger-rose: daughter and sister, and my great aunt's great aunt.
"Do you really think there are only two Fay left?" Vian was at Den's shoulder.
"If you were going to go to a great deal of trouble to be forgotten, so as to become an all powerful god, it wouldn't make much sense to invite a host of your friends to join you." Thene was, as ever, coolly practical.
"So now we just need to find Mardon and Hulse and --" My Den couldn't quite bring himself to say 'kill this girl', though I knew he would hesitate less over the deed. He'd saved me from Horsa, and from myself, and he would save me from the Fay.
But we were time wasting. She could have another pack of dogs on us, or the wit to be a little less creative; a plague of mastiff-sized mice in an evil temper wouldn't be as storybook, but they'd get the job done.
I strode the path to the foot of her coffin, and looked on her. White skin, red lips, dressed in the elegant flowing robes of an age long gone, the stola white with tongues of red flame climbing from the hem, the palla no more than white gauze, wrapped about her like an icy fog. She didn't wear a dagger-rose at her breast, instead her hands were gently clasped across her belly and over the hilt of a dagger made from silver and iron and decorated with rubies.
"Beautiful," James murmured. She looked, I thought, a little like me and a little more like Thene.
I heard Den's sharp intake of breath, but didn't so much as glance up from the first dagger-rose's face, reached blindly to Thene and she put her staff in my hand without my needing to ask. I could be terribly wrong.
You are. You're making a terrible mistake.
But I trusted myself.
Taking a firm double-handed grip on one end of the wooden staff I raised it over my head and swung down hard on the glass.
"Wake up, bitch."
Oh, this is not intended as any kind of release into the wild -- what rights I still have, including copyright, I'm holding on to. And everyone knows that goes double for fanfic :)