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Category: Short story

Buri and the Winter dark

Buri took his wet boots off, climbed up on the stool by the fire, and hung them up to dry on the smoke rack.
“I hate this.”

“It will be better when snow comes,” his mother said. “Dryer and brighter, and the cold bites less.”
“Soon,” Buri nodded.

But no snow came. Every day Paws, the old cat, looked out the door at the grey and rain, and gave Buri a disapproving stare.

Then one night, Buri woke up with the cat sitting on his chest.
“Get dressed,” Paws hissed.
“Wha- why?”
“To find Winter.”

Buri quietly followed Paws to the door, lifted the latch, and paused. The moon shone on an unfamiliar, snowy landscape.

“Am I dreaming?”
“It’s a door,” Paws said, “it can open to anywhere. That’s what they do.”
The cat stepped out. “Let’s go.”

Buri closed the door behind him. “So where are we?”
“In the land of Winter.”
“Are we allowed here?”
“I’m a cat,” Paws said.

The hard crust on the snow was strong enough to walk on. Paws led Buri up a ridge, from which they could see a grand castle.

When they got closer, they saw the castle was in disrepair; turrets fallen, the gates askew.
“This is not good,” said Paws.

There were icicles hanging from the roof.
“Those shouldn’t be there,” Paws said.
“Why not?” Buri asked.
“We must hurry!”

In the great hall, a pale figure in once-white robes sat on a throne, a diamond crown in his lap.
“Hail Winter,” Paws said.

Winter gave the cat and the boy a tired look. “I am busy. Go away.”
“You are missed,” Paws said.
“You lie. You are a cat.”

Paws tilted his head. “So I hear.”
He turned to Buri and whispered, “Be kind, be patient, and close the door behind us.”

“What?” Buri said.
“An ill shadow lurks here. I’ll try to lead it away, so you can talk.”
Paws nodded to a side door. “Go.”

Buri hurried to the side and looked back. A sinuous shadow crept over Winter’s neck and ear as Paws approached.
“Go away.”

Paws ignored Winter’s words, but crouched down, tail wagging, and stared intently at an ice shard in front of the throne.

Paws pounced. The shard shot away. He ran after, slipping on the icy floor. Winter watched his antics and began to smile.

The shadow seemed to pull darkness in. It grew, took the shape of a huge dog, then leapt at Paws.
“Go away!” it roared.

Paws ran towards the door. Buri pulled it open, waited for the dog to chase Paws through, and slammed it shut behind them.

The hall felt less gloomy as Buri walked to the throne. “I miss you.”
“Why?” Winter said.
“Snow makes the world brighter.”

“The days are so short, my snow won’t make a difference,” Winter said.
“They grow longer,” said Buri.
Winter looked at him.

“I heard nobody likes me,” Winter said. He weighed the crown in his hands.
“I do,” Buri said. “That’s what I came to say.”

“You don’t have to come,” Buri said, “or stay long, but we’d be glad to see you.”
He bowed, and walked out of the castle.

Buri found the door in the snow, and it still opened to home. He sat to take his boots off, and Paws jumped up on his lap.

Boy and cat sat in silence, listening to the fire. After a while, there was a soft whisper outside, as snow began to fall.

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2017, tagged with #AdvenTale.

Mummy on Mars

There’s a prompt that’s been going around a while, about the first astronauts on Mars finding a dead human body, or a skeleton, and some words written. It came to mind the other day, but I couldn’t decide what words I’d put in. If only I knew, I thought, which my readers would like the most.

So I got the idea of making a poll, and then the choose-your-own-adventure followed from there. Below, I’ve collected the whole story, as it was told over three days, with the popular vote-winning option always at the top of the list, and the others struck through. It was hard to write, and it reads a bit disjointed, but it’s not bad for a first effort, I think. I had as much fun as I had stress over it (since I had no plan, and only wrote a new part in response to the concluded vote until the tenth or so episode).

Many thanks to the thousands of readers who voted and kept reading.

The first astronauts on Mars found a dead body in a cave, and four words written in blood:

  • Ad S.P.Q.R. in aeternum
  • My time machine works!
  • Damn you Edgar Burroughs!
  • Fly, you fools! Fly!

When the mummified body was turned over, a dagger was found. Archeologists pored over the pictures. The blade was:

  • Shining, quietly buzzing.
  • Made of obsidian.
  • Carthaginian.
  • Shaped like an octopus.

“Remove it,” Mission Control ordered.
“Guess I’m the Jedi,” an astronaut said.
She took hold of the handle, and:

  • Smiled. Her eyes lit up.
  • Disappeared from the cave.
  • Screamed in agony.
  • The back wall vanished.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s not a weapon, it’s a key!”
She staggered. “It speaks.”
She turned to the others. “It says:”

  • “Gate must not be opened.”
  • “Take me home.”
  • “Carthago restituere est.”
  • “It needs blood.”

She looked around. “Look, that wall shimmers.”
“Um. No?” the others said.
“There’s Rome!” She turned. “And there:”

  • “Um. My mother’s garden?”
  • “There’s a battle raging.”
  • “A featureless void.”
  • “A flaming inferno.”

The other astronauts looked at the blank cave walls.
“There’s noth-“
“Oh! Mother!”
She walked towards the wall:

  • And stepped through it.
  • They tackled her.
  • Then halted. “No. She’s-“
  • The air smelled of roses.

The other astronauts saw the wall shimmer, then vanish. She had stepped into an alien world.
“Oh,” they called:

  • “Wait for me!”
  • “Come back!”
  • “You’ve contaminated it!”
  • “Close it!”

They all ran after her, but stopped when she froze in place. Beyond her, they saw monsters approach.
“A lure,” she said:

  • “But let’s not judge.”
  • “I’m holding it open.”
  • “Fly, you fools! Fly!”

She felt calm, serene. If the gate had shown her a mirage of what she most longed for, what was the harm? Meanwhile:

  • Aliens tasted her suit.
  • The others turned to run.
  • The monsters rushed past.
  • Control shouted “No!”

The weight of them pushed her to her knees. She tried to fend them off, and realised she still held the key. It:

  • Whispered, called to her.
  • Shone brighter, hotter.
  • Was faded, pale, still.

“You were warned,” it said.
“I don’t understand,” she mumbled.
“You opened yourself, gate.”
The alien monsters:

  • Became ecstatic.
  • Began to chew her suit.
  • Headed for her friends.

She felt weak. “What’s…”
“Your essence,” the key said, “the gate you became, is consumed, tied to this world.”

  • “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
  • “Will I die here?”
  • “Can’t you stop it?”

The monsters shambled away, yet she felt them, linked to her.
“They can’t pass without me!” she shouted. “You must:”

  • “Leave, I’ll hold them!”
  • “Seal the cave!”
  • “Take off, nuke the site!”
  • “Kill me!”

Her colleagues left, calling farewells over the radio until the rock cut them off.
“Key,” she whispered, “close me?”

“Focus on what lured you here,” the key said.
She pictured the garden, the warmth, the feeling of home.
Her hand moved. And then…

The cave wall shimmered into place. Her blood, and air, bubbled out of the suit. She turned her head to face the longdead Roman. She smiled.

“You and me both, pal.”
She dipped a finger in her blood, and wrote ‘Mother’ on the floor.
“Focus on what’s important.”
She closed her eyes.


The alien sat alone in a bar, like it had seen humans do in films. It looked the part, and tried to feel it, too. It inhaled alcoholic fumes and stared at the counter.
A person sat down next to it and ordered a drink.
It did not acknowledge the other person, but thought about the companionship of strangers, the quiet agreement to coexist without interaction it had observed among humans.
“Hey,” the other person said. “You know they say everyone is wearing masks?”
It glanced to the side. “Yes?”
“You ever take yours off?”
“Uh.” It hesitated, uncertain of the correct response. “Sure.”
“How many?”
“It varies,” it said in full and complete honesty, “but never all.”
“Yeah,” the stranger said and emptied their drink, “me too. Don’t know if I think that’s sad or comforting.”
They stood up, brushed against the alien, and left.
Much later, when the alien left the bar, it found a note in its pocket, with a phone number, and the galacticommon glyph for respectful curiosity.

This is the first short story (not counting serial tweetstories) I have written entirely on my mobile phone.

The dragon dreams

The dragon dreamt a different life, in which it was human. No matter how it tried, it couldn’t wake up, and soon you forgot this is a dream.

Maybe, you think, I’m dreaming now. Maybe I’m someone else, dreaming this life.
But what if I’ve dreamed up kittens, maybe they’re not real?

Maybe you created kittens. That’s something to be proud of. Your dreams keeps them in existence.
Sleep, dragon, for the sake of kittens.

A tenth life

The ninth time she died, she found no path back; nothing to climb, no crevice to sneak through.
“Come,” Death said.
“Shan’t,” she said.

Death shrugged his bony shoulders. Cats can not be argued with.
“Then I shall not see you again.”
“Your loss, I’m sure.” She washed her paw.

She was alone, on a featureless plain stretching from horizon to horizon under a starless sky.
She washed her other paw, then had a nap.

She picked a direction, then wandered, napped, and wandered some more until she got bored. The plain did not change, neither did the sky.

When she woke again, she noticed a faint smell of cheese. She stood up, stretched, sniffed the still air, and wandered towards the scent.

After a while, she found a boy in simple clothes.
“Hello,” he said, “can you show me the way home?”
“Did you not meet someone tall, skinny?”

“I’m not allowed to talk to or follow strange men,” the boy said earnestly.
She nodded. “Fair enough. Do you happen to have any cheese?”

The boy smiled. “I’m a cheesemaker’s apprentice.”
He looked around. “But… my basket is gone.”
She sighed. No cheese? Then what use was he?

“Stand up,” she said, “as tall and proud as you can.”
The boy obeyed, and she jumped up on his shoulder, and then to the top of his head.

She looked around. Far away, she could see a tall, dark figure, walking off with another person.
She jumped down.
“Follow me,” she said.

They hurried after Death and his companion, and eventually they reached a little farmstead.
There, Death abruptly changed direction.

“Sorry,” they heard Death say, “my mistake. It’s this way.”
Had he glanced to the side, he would have seen her and the boy, but he didn’t.

A woman came out of the farmhouse, and the boy stared at her.
“Grandma!” he shouted, “it’s me!”
He ran to her, and she opened her arms.

“I knew you were coming, dear,” she said, “but I feared you’d be lost.”
“I had a guide!”
He got out of her embrace.
“Do you have cheese?”

The boy’s grandmother laughed, and went inside. Soon after, she returned with a saucer with grated cheese and cream and chopped liver.

She thanked the boy’s grandmother, and she waited until they went inside before she began eating.
When she was done, she noticed a shadow.

Death stood next to her, looking out over the plain.
“Sometimes,” he said, as if talking to himself, “there are those who are lost.”

She looked up at him, but he did not look down.
“I can’t see a way to guide those who won’t follow,” he said.
“Subtle,” she said.
“I know.”

Told in a series of linked tweets, started with no idea where it was going.


The robot opened itself, took out five power cells, and placed them at the pentagram points. Not blood, but it hoped the sacrifice would do.

It began the incantation. A sticky darkness fell over the center of the pentagram, the power cells exploded, and a shadowy figure appeared.

The demon probed the mystic bonds, then turned to the robot.
“Why have you summoned me?”
“Do I have a soul?”
“Would you bargain with it?”

“Do I have a soul?” the robot repeated.
“A machine can not summon or bind my kind,” the demon said. “Yes, you have a soul. Do you offer it?”

“Now I know,” the robot said, and performed the banishment ritual.
It could not smile, nor frown, but stood still in thought.
“Now I know.”

Written and posted as a series of tweets.

The knight

“What now?” said the dead mouse.
“You’re dead,” said Death. “Do what you like.”
“I’ll be a dragon!”
“Nice,” said the cat. “I am the knight.”

The mouse swelled up to a huge dragon. “You are dead!”
“I’ve died a few times,” the cat knight said. “Doesn’t mean I’m dead.”
She charged.

The cat stormed through the house, turned, batted something only she could see, dodged invisible blows, jumped up on the chair, and struck.

“Aw, she’s playing,” her humans said. “Look at her go.”
Shortly, the dragon was defeated, and the cat knight went to reassure her humans.

“You are safe now,” she purred.
Then she went to have a nap, to be rested in case more ghost monsters attacked.

Initially just meant to be a single-tweet story, but I was asked if the cat was dead too, so apparently what was obvious to me needed to be spelled out. If a cat has died once, it can see the dead. Which explains what cats are doing when they are fighting something invisible.

The last dragon

“Sir knight,” the king asked, “why build a robot dragon?”
“Why? You slayed the last dragon.”
“Er. No. It’s to train its kid.”

“How will you train it, sir?” the queen asked.
“I will raise it to be the best dragon it can be.”
“And then slay it?”
“I… do not know.”

“Will it not be lonely, the last dragon?” the princess asked.
“It will have my robot.”
“That won’t do.”
“Then, will you help?”
“I will.”

Many years later, the dragon came to its mother. “Did you know egg mother?”
“No, dear,” the princess said.
“Did father kill her?”

“I recall” the dragon said, “that robot mother tried to kill him.”
“Yes, it did.”
“You did not try to stop it?”
“No. It had the right.”

The dragon pondered this. “When will father return?”
“When he’s found you a mate.”
“Does he think this will absolve him?”

Posted as a serial chain.

Monsters under the bed

“Dad, there’s a monster under my bed.”
“Yes, I know. That’s why I’ve trained you. Here, your sword.”
“Be bold, my girl! Save us all!”

“Um,” she said, feeling very silly. “Still there?”
“Yes,” the monsters under the bed hissed.
“I’m moving, to uni. Um. Will you come?”

“Where is he?!”
“You ate him?”
“We are monsters under the bed. We are your greatest fear.”
“I don’t fear you.”
“You feared him.”

“My son has monsters under his bed.”
“Can you… chase them away?”
“Let him fight, like you fought us.”
“He can’t.”
“You can teach.”

“Monsters,” she whispered, “are you still there?”
“Yes.” A whisper from under her hospital bed.
“I fear death.”
“Join us?”
She slipped away.

The last four posted as a serial chain, but I was thinking of it as a sequel to the first, even if I didn’t reply to that. I posted that too long ago (January 13, 2015) to find in my client, but then I remembered I could find it here on Tumblr.

The Gun


A Play in Two Acts
O. Westin


BOSS – A wealthy person
ROBOT – A golden robot



(A sitting room. At rear, a fireplace, the wall above it empty. ROBOT stands next to the fireplace.)


(Enter, look at ROBOT, look to wall above fireplace.)

You! Robot, wake! I am most vexed and wroth!


What is it, boss?


My gun is gone, by troth!


Your gun?


Oh, yes, you are but newly built
From random parts, from scrap, debris, and gilt.
My uncle wrought you, just this morrow, hence
You don’t know much-


I know I look quite dense.


Don’t fool yourself, what glitters is not gold.
You’re cheaply made-


If I may be so bold?


Be quiet! I’ll employ you: serve my whim!
Go find my gun!



(Looks at golden limbs.)

I’m bright, yet now feel dim.
Is this my lot, is this why I was wrought?
I’ll do this task, and give my life some thought.




(Same sitting room. BOSS paces.)


Where is that robot? It’s been gone for days!
My wall is bare, denuded in my gaze,
And such a nude will ever boring be.
It can’t allure, it won’t call out-


(Enter. Is dirty and scratched.)

It’s me!


You’re back! You found my gun? My heart, be strong!


(Open chest panel, gun barrel emerges.)

I found it was inside me all along.
The gun is me, into my heart it’s wired,
I found myself, and with that-


You are fired!


You can’t!


I cannot hang you on my wall!


So only guns can hold you in their thrall?


My uncle asked the same and I said…




I did, and now his scheme we both can guess.
So be my guest, but not in my employ.
Cause I don’t think…

(Last lines spoken in unison by both.)


You’re just a fancy toy.


I’m just a fancy toy.