I know. I know.

Seriously late.

A lot of things happened this month that caused massive amounts of disruption – personal, romantic, occupational.

There is a set of stories and photos in hand but there is a need for new photos to finish February.

I’m going to an emergency fund for March.

Bear with me – it’s coming and we will get back on track.

If you write, though, and you want in – please mail because I could do with a break 🙂

The lumberjack rested on his axe and surveyed his work. It was a good morning’s worth of wood. His only problem is that it was mid afternoon.

He reached for his lunch, stretching out his muscles. He was getting on. He should be thinking about becoming a kindly grandfather, or a wise old storyteller. He knew he should be training the next lumberjack, or even the next huntsman, but no one was interested in those roles anymore. And the ones that were just weren’t up to the task.

Not that it might matter. No one was coming forward to deliver lunch to their grandparents. The queue for wizards and vampires, though? That ran round the block.

He sighed and checked the sun. He supposed if he hurried he could make Grandmother’s place in about an hour and a half. But then he’d need to heft some rocks so he should make it 2.

He started to pack his gear away when he felt the familiar tingle on the back of his neck. He listened for the wind that wasn’t there to move the trees and a distant pop.

He heard the familiar sound of the brush parting.

“Fenella. It’s always lovely to see you but I’m going to be a bit push for -” He turned and saw not his favourite witch, but another woman dressed like a pirate.

And a thief.

Next to her, but slightly behind, her was a..a thing… It was black and bulky, with a head that have protruding eyes and a tube for a mouth.

He looked back at the woman. And…maybe.. an outrider for a local noble.

The thing pulled its head off, which revealed it to be a mask and, beneath it, a man.

“Hi. See, Fenella is a little busy at the moment. She made me promise I’d say this, so when you see her next you’ll have to vouch for me.”

The woman had a strange accent that couldn’t quite place. The lumberjack nodded.

“She said, ‘Tell the Lumberjack I’ll come and see him soon. You don’t leave a man with a chopper that size waiting.’ I’m sorry.”

The Lumberjack grinned, blushed, looked away and then hefted his axe.

“What can I do for you…”

“You can call me Manzer.”

“What can I do for you, Manzer?”

She strode across the remaining distance. “I’ve brought you a new recruit. He needs to be trained.”

“What?” The man with her seemed surprised. Manzer turned to him, “Dude, you’re not going back there – they’ll smoke you for sure. And you sure as shit ain’t hanging with me and F. You’ll stay here, he’ll train you, you’ll pay your dues. THAT’S what you’ll do.”

The lumberjack was as confused about her accent as she was about the words she used. She turned back to face him. “I think he’d make a better Huntsman but that’s, kinda up to…you.” Her bravado failed with the terrible ending of the sentence. “You know?”

She turned back to the man, remembering herself. “Oh, you can call him Tony.”

“But my name-”

Manzer cut him off. “You are called Tony from now on. Do not fuck that up.”

“Actually. He’ll be called The Lumberjack, or The Huntsman. At the moment, he has no name.” The Lumberjack looked at the man. “Son, come with me. Let’s test you out.” He turned to Manzer. “Missy, you tell your Lady that I’d be very happy to have her visit so I can show her how I split wet pine.” He smiled, looking to his feet before glancing his eyes back up and her. “And I’ll ask her if you did.”

Manzer shook her head and walked back into the forest.

The two men stood, waiting. There was a pop, and a shiver.

“Come on,” said the Lumberjack. “I’ll take you to grandmothers. We need to get some rocks.”

Four days ago Aiden Walker did what he was best at.

What he was told.

He took a symbol and scrawled it on derelict door at a crossroads on a long dead street.

Since then he reverted to form and just filled his time. Today he was on board a ship, staring out at the water, wondering if that slipping over the edge was a better ending.

“It wouldn’t be. You’d be encoded here for a period of time. He’d come and get you. If you were lucky.”

He span round to see a man in a white suit in front of him. “Excuse me? I’m sorry…do I know you?”

“Not yet. But I came because you asked me to. I need you tell me what’s going on.”

***

They found a cafe and Aiden started his story.

“He took my girlfriend. I suppose this is where is all starts.”

“What did she ask for?”

“More time. She was dying but wasn’t ready. He gave her extra time and told her when he’d be back for her.”

The Old Man nodded. “When did he take her?”

“Last year. Valentine’s Day.”

“I see. And what happened?”

“She lived. It was as if she wasn’t even ill. She took control of her life, she traveled, she started to paint. Somtimes…sometimes it was like I didn’t know her at all. I didn’t really see the point, to be honest”

The old man, nodded. “And then he collected her?”

“Yep. I begged her not to go, but she didn’t listen. It wass like he changed her when she first made the deal, you know? She looked at me, calmly, and said ‘I made my deal. I’ve lived my life and now it’s time to face my death.’ She looked…she looked disappointed that I didn’t get it, somehow.”

The old man jotted down notes in a small book. “I hear that often. So, when did you make your deal?”

“The day after.”

“Of course you did. And you asked to -”

“To be with her.”

The Old Man thought for a while. “What did he say?”

“He told me to forget it. He didn’t want to make the deal at all.”

The Old Man looked surprised. “Really? That’s…not normal.” He scribbled some more notes. “So why did he?”

“I made him. He told me. You have 366 days to live your life. To make your peace. To fit it all in. Then I will be back and I will take you.”

“And what have you done?”

“Worked, lived my life. I missed my girlfriend, really, I just forgot about it and then, as her anniversary came up. I…I don’t want to go.”

***

They made their way back to the water.

“Can you help me?”

The Old Man walked to the edge of the boat, up to where they met. “The real question, Aiden Walker, is can I trust you?”

Aiden pulled up, “What? What do you mean?”

“You’re reneging on a deal, Mr. Walker. You made a deal, and now you’re pulling out. How do I know you won’t do the same with me?

“I..I..it’s”

“You see. I’m going to tell you – Do this, Mr. Walker. Do that. Be here – and I need to know that you will be there. That you will, do that.”

“I will!”

“How do I know that, Mr Walker?”

“Because I have anywhere else to go. Without you, I have no hope.”

The Old Man smiled.

“Well then, Aiden. I believe I can help you. You just go about your life, and I shall be there when you need me.”

“So where are we?”

“Somewhere else.”

“But, where?”

Saul sighed. This had been going on for a while now. They stopped on a bridge.

“Tell me. Where do you think you are?”

Ch-Spartacus looked out over the traffic. “Somewhere in America.”

“No.” Saul joined him at the side of the bridge. “You know – you’re taking this all very well. Not more than two minutes ago you were in a hotel. You walked from the 5th floor exit onto a street and all you’ve done is ask me where. Not how – just where.”

“I expect you to fuck with me. I’m not going to ask you how.”

Saul looked at his new…He struggled for the right word and decided on ‘witness.’ Saul felt a grudging respect for the youngster, but nothing more.

“OK,” Saul struggled, but managed to force out the name. “Spartacus. Where is somewhere?”

They looked back into the setting sun. Finally the answer came. “Southern California. Somewhere around LA.”

Saul smiled. “With the sun setting in the south? I don’t think so.”

Spartacus snapped his head round. “What?”

“Uh huh.” Saul nodded, and whispered, “South.” His hand dug around in his coat pocket and before Spartacus could get out the first syllable of a curse laden invective, threw him a compass.

Saul stepped backwards.

“That,” Spartacus started. “Iih.” He tried again. He felt his stomach tighten, flip over. He looked up from the compass to find Saul’s smiling face.

“South,” Saul said once more.

Spartacus dropped to his knees and threw up his breakfast.

For there are many routes, many forms, many worlds.

The Faerie Theatre rolled into town, rolled out again but other aspects of Faerie enter in other ways.

As a race, Humans never really got the hang of naming things and, with each civilization destroying the beliefs of the one that came before, many names were lost. One of them being the name of the creatures from Underneath.

They sought access directly throwing off the mystic ways of crossroads and theatres. In every age they found ways in – through subways, sewers and metros.

But their glory was The Archways. Ornate entrances standing on cursed land. Ancient and foreboding they were constructed to ancient dimensions that even the masons have forgotten.

Deliberately.

Through them They came and in many forms – some crawling, some oozing, some holding form to masquerade as Man. All were repulsive. All hungered for flesh, for subservience. First they demanded sacrifice. As humankind throw that off they resorted to abduction. Finally, recruiting the lowest of the low, the encourage ritualistic murder in their name. All to feed their steady, appalling appetite.

But nothing stays the same. Something happened and the world misaligned. The ancient pathways no longer held and those who Travelled had to learn new ways to access old grounds.

So the arches went dark.

Time passed and civilizations gave way, names were forgotten, the tales of monsters became kid’s stories before being lost forever. Slowly even curses were forgotten and towns and cities sprung up on the land that housed the Archways. The entrances swallowed up by the streets and buildings.

They archways stayed dark. Lifeless. Whole populations lived and died around them and none knew what lay in their midst.

Soon they were ignored, bill posted, graffitied. But never demolished, never redeveloped. It was as if there was a protection order on them, stretching down through the years.

Tonight, across the world, every Arch – buried in the hearts of bustling, thriving communities – turned on.

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