Friday 7 April 2023

substack announcement

 I've been writing short stories and putting them on Substack. It's, it's just my name.

If you like the writing on this blog, you will like the short stories. They are mostly horror stories. They're about fucked up things happening to freaks. 

They're not particularly well organised at this stage.

I think you should start by reading the story Los Encantados. This is my favourite of the ones I've done so far. It's about a sailor who gets into some trouble in the Amazon. It's loosely inspired by the Maqroll stories of Alvaro Mutis. Here is the opening paragraph -

She is waiting for me in the water.

I’ve been sitting in the bar watching the old men play chess and drinking that translucent rum they have here. The old men are using corks as pieces. Nobody’s ever thought to bring a real chess set this far up the river. The rank of each piece is carved into the top of the cork. I’ve seen how deft they are with their knives. Each man here carries a blade the length of his hand in a leather holster at his hip, all the time, even when he’s making love or sleeping. So I’m told.

I based it off something from one of my old Black Auction posts but don't reread that until you've read the story unless you want to be mildly spoiled.

You can also find me on Twitter at @circusarmy if you want to pick a fight with me. I will take on all contenders at all times.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

black books

 what if I ran a Call of Cthulhu game where the players were rare book collectors in New Orleans

1. Kitab al-Hufra. Book of unorthodox medical techniques from 9th-century Baghdad. Contains instructions for ectopic necromancy, the cultivation and extraction of kidney opals, and returning oneself to a childlike state of fluid consciousness through the practice of autotrepannation.

2. The Chaldean Agriculture. Farming manual from 9th-century Baghdad. Supposedly a translation of a 20,000-year-old Mesopotamian text. 1500 pages, mostly on how to grow crops, mixed with descriptions of Tammuz worship and the pagan rites of ancient Babylon. Mentions a spell for capturing dead souls in clay.

3. Mothallah Fragments. All that remains of an alien library that once orbited the star Mothallah. Secretly compiled by Omar Khayyam from transmissions received at his observatory in Isfahan. Histories of alien civilisations and a frustratingly incomplete recipe for interstellar travel.

4. The Necatrix. Written in medieval Andalusia by Fátima de Madrid as a reply to al-Ghazali’s Destruction of the Philosophers. Proves using pure reason that nothing can or could possibly ever exist. Contains instructions for “escaping history”, using only a wild lion and a labyrinth of mirrors.

5. The Book Of Melchizedek The Mage. 15th-century grimoire about a German Jew who travels to Jerusalem and meets an ancient warlock who teaches him the divine science of immortality, in exchange for his service to a Canaanite god. Summoning rituals in the form of word squares.

6. The Devil And His Dam. Manuscript of a 17th-century play, tentatively attributed to John Webster, in which an aspiring sorcerer sells his soul to the devil only to find that the devil owes its own soul to an even greater power. All known performances have ended with the theatre burning down.

7. De vermibus sub mundo. 17th-century scientific treatise on the nature of life below the Earth. Thought to have been written by the scholar Athanasius Kircher, following his descent into Vesuvius’ crater. Contains reference to a “reptilian empire” that lives in fear of something vast and coiled at the Earth’s core.

8. Le dictionnaire céleste. 19th-century catalogue of angels. Compiled by the occultist Jacques de Plancy shortly before his death, with the aid of an anonymous priest who the text describes only as Père Oeil. Striking illustrations. Officially repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church.

9. Confessions Of A Stowaway. The tale of an Irish opium addict who, carousing one night in Limehouse, climbs inside the hold of a mysterious black ship to fall asleep. He spends seven years sailing the dark oceans of the cosmos before returning to find only a single day has passed.

10. Mantua Codex. Found by detectives in the basement of an Italian aristocrat, shortly after his execution for the crime of nonconsensual immurement. Depicts the worship of the Spider-Faced-Queen-Of-Many-Holes. Likely translated from pre-Mayan texts by scribes of the Howler Monkey God.

i keep thinking about the Tarsioid Psalms and a secret tribe of tarsier men in the Philippines. bulging eyes in the forest at night. slowly unpicking the mosquito net and reaching in through the window with their long hooked tarsier hands

Monday 13 December 2021

Ends of the World

Edge of the World
  1. The ocean only stands a few meters above the edge of the world. The water turns and falls in a thick band, a unique ecotone home to all manner of specialist marine life. Extremely hydrodynamic fish balance effortlessly atop the waterfall, dipping over the edge if predators threaten, then swimming vertically back to snatch a snack caught in the current.

  2. For the first few miles the waterfall coheres, lensing a view of the world's belly stretching gently away. Diving birds graze across the clear sheet to snatch a startled fish or falling treat. Bolder birds will punch straight through, shake dry and swallow, then dart back across to the sunlit side before their feathers freeze.

  3. A hundred miles below the edge the sun creeps out from the shadow of the world. The warm, wet updraft rising directly below the earth hits the ball of cold air hugging the firmament's umbra. The foggy breeze crosses and breaks the great stream, beginning its transition to a falling wall of foam and mist.

  4. In scattered baubles the water falls, just thicken enough to knock industrious fliers out of the air. It takes a full day of freefalling for water to reach this point. Well evolved eggs, laid by fish at the ocean edge, make take several days to fall this far, but by here they must hatch, while the water is still thicken enough to support their leaping, drop by drop, back to the solid stream.

  5. A thousand miles down the pale disk of the world is lost in cloud. The thread of waterfall above casts spears of sunlight down through the steadily falling haze. This huge stretch of dense, wet, stable atmosphere provides a home for plants and animals that can be very slightly heavier than dry air, yet here remain buoyant.

  6. Impenetrable gray haze above, below and all around. The air grows cold and rain begins to form. The clouds work in on themselves, twisted and tightening. Gentle pressures act slowly on the column of air, until the mile-wide cloud reconverges into a series of parallel, paper-thin waterfalls. Swimming becomes just barely possible once more, elvers and razor fish cut up through the thin water, pinprick shoals leap daringly between the arcs of water.

  7. Surface tension grabs and drags at the descending rivulets. Gradually they intersect, twine together into a single solid sheet. It is less than a foot thick now, most of its bulk having already evaporated and started the brisk rise back up to the world above. 

  8. Ten thousand miles below the sky the sunlight is pale and scarce. In the dim perpetual dawn the airy fish bioluminesce. This long, quiet stretch is a final refuge, where the last grit of life may be filtered from the passing water. Dried fish poo circles uncertainly on the breeze, too tired to fall further.

  9. The waterfall has thinned to a blade of mist. That which drops this far falls only slowly, but with no water and precious little air to climb upon. This is the point of no return.

  10. No more water falls. A little mist spirals disconsolately, withered fish skins whirl weakly on the nullbreeze. Still too far below, bouncing back meek, silver sunlight, a final shore of freeze-dried corpses. People, whales, whole cities that have tumbled off the edge and come to rest below the reach of the sea, floating on the inky unreality of this final edge.

Tip of the World
  1. Horizon-wide desert, soft red sandstone cut to neat, straight ribbons by the steady wind. Something like a sunset tars the far eastern sky. Vultures overhead, overpopulated. Hyenic howls bound between the rocks.
    Encounter: 3d8 harassing vultures, 2d4 marsupial sugarlions, 1d6 wandering mounds

  2. Ranchers make houses by the thin dry riverbeds, or up on the mesa where water springs from the rock. Cattle, sheep and goats live thirsty lives on the range, though well fed by deep rooted bushes that thrive on the frequent floods.
    Encounter: ranch house having a barn raising, merchant souk overrun by caravans, unattended herd hunted by beasts

  3. Sandy hollows between the stone ridges funnel animal migrations. Uncounted eroding hooves cut deeper their path, and so the sand and scouring wind tighten and condense. Fastest travel is along these flat-bottomed canyons, but beware a buffeting in the belligerent breezeway. 
    Encounter: heavily armed merchant caravan, circus troupe, famous mathematician

  4. Sky tightens down above, compressing the wind into a roving, perpetual storm. A floodplain of wind. Sparse, quick-growing bushes race to cast out seeds before the torrent passes back across. Rolling fog banks drive flash floods before them, both choked with coarse sand and stones. The land is returned to mud.
    Weather: thin hailstorm, soaking downpour, flash flood

  5. Another belt of constant wind. It is heavier here, dense and laden. The land takes on bizarre twists and arcs. Arches, towers and tunnels, in smooth topology of shifting curves.
    Encounters: 4d4 wind pirates, 2d4 lost inventors, 1d20 pygmy gliding mammoths

  6. This last predictable longitude houses the three great flying castles of this land.
    - The northernmost, Maignett, bobs above a thrusting ridge rich in iron. Ancient runic arrays and electromagnets are dug into both foundation and floating stones. Improvised galvanic machines trail twisting metal tails behind the city, feeding power to the ununderstood devices keeping the city aloft.
    - Clwerk is a miracle of modern sciences. Cutting edge alloys twirl implausible forces, clockwork fans storing the chaotic beating of the wind to provide a constant buoyance when the uplift dies away. Wings and balloons do the more consistent lifting, excess power from the banks of tilted turbines yoked to the factories and machines that make famous the town.
    - To the south, Laefindi floats organically above a fecund wetland. The city, grown from naturally buoyant plants with wing-shaped leaves, is weighed down as much by birds as people, anchored by ponderous chains of roots. The weather-trap that funnels water here keeps alive the town in every way, feeding its plants and those of the bird- and bug-rich plains below.
  7.  Atmospheric phase change. Air clear, flat, heavy, utterly still. The far horizon is blotchy and blurred, high and low pressure systems rearranging themselves into a new paradigm, well beyond mere weather.
    Encounters: magnetic hermit, sunset drake, lightning-fisher blimp

  8. Hyperstorm. Pockets of wind, post-wind, psuedocloud, transweather and hyperair change position like awkward teens at a dance. Hothead students from the floating cities come here to dare each other deeper into the quantum weather, hoping for inspiration and exhilaration both.
    Encounters: flying aces on training mission, experimental sentient weather machine, semi-stable weatherflux genie

  9. Bubble of near-vacuum. Contorted atmosphere bathes the world in psychedelic sunset colours. Snakes, strangely shaped bugs and little mice with huge lungs titter across the silent, grassless plain.
    Encounters: magnetic ascetic, sunset angel, vacuum saint

  10. Everything pinches to a pinhole, howling vortex where the world leaks out.
this, narrowing to a single point

End of the World
  1. The sky turns nasty red
  2. The birds fly up and up and up until they are gone
  3. The animals froth at the mouth and run into the sea
  4. The plants turn bitter and grow brittle thorns
  5. The waters turn to blood
  6. The people lament, their bodies wracked with sores and boils
  7. The insects swarm, seek absolution through ruination
  8. The waters recede and dust takes their place
  9. The earth opens up to receive all sinners
  10. Everything turns out okay

Thursday 9 December 2021

31 Days of Orb

  1. Munition Sphere. When dropped, falls until it hits the ground, without concern for any objects it does not consider to be 'the ground'.
  2. Orb of Ice. Snow globe slash terrarium. Preserves a stable slice of ice age ecology and a small fishing village of political undesirables collected over the last millennium. Little plug in the bottom for putting new things in.
  3. Orb of Children. An attractive red colour, irresistible when bouncing. Anyone remotely childish will be compelled to kick it, everyone else will have a hard time not lovingly beholding the impromptu scrum. 
  4. Orb of Anger. Tiny, squishy. Can be squeezed when angry, in order to store your anger in the ball while in no way diminishing the anger you feel. Thrown in to someone's face it will piss them off more than they were expecting.
  5. Orb of Edges. Bright silvery, feels like fish-scales, beautiful but innocuous. Twisted and pressed just so, it collapses into 36 thin, razor edged short swords. Pressed not so, it explodes into the same. Three consecutive wisdom checks to re-ballify, 1d3! damage on every failure.
  6. Shame Ball. Soft clay shaped like a human in fetal position, shivers gently with sobs. Not good to have in your pocket for long periods.
  7. Orb of Daemon. Contains a guy named Damon, who is now very clear on the spelling difference. Unconvincing when he suggests a mix-up, or that a demon tricked him in here. Enough secondhand knowledge of dark rituals, from wizardly interrogations, that he actually might be able to answer your questions.
  8. Orb of the Present. A crystal ball that shows what's happening here, now. Bad timestream management means the present is actually a few seconds ahead and a little to the left of what most people experience. Much more useful to time travelers. 
  9. Orb of Night. Absorbs light and beam effects, re-emits them softer and more silvery. In darkness it grows spidery legs and crawls around doing trickery.
  10. Skull Ball. Looks like the back of a head, all the way around. The brain inside is long-dead and half-fermented, making it all the more potent as a psychic resonator, alchemical reagent and illithid foodstuff. Definitely not an ostrich egg.
  11. Forest Bole. Immensely heavy. Its many folds and rot holes hold everything you need to grow a forest: squirrel-stashed seeds, leaf litter, termites, worms, mulch, and many hundreds of birds, bugs and mice. Valuable to druids, comforting to dryads, a menace to agriculture.
  12. Orb of Help. Battered and leathery. Desperately wants to be of assistance, will try to do anything you ask, but the lack of appendages, sense organs and brain makes it basically useless.
  13. Orb of Food. Closely resembles a ball of dough. Can be baked to produce a crunchy, edible crust. Organic matter pushed in will be slowly digested. Left unattended, it will katamari around eating the most highly processed foods it can find.
  14. Orb of Ooze. Proximity thickens bodily fluids. Slows poisons, may cure or cause sinus infection. Skin contact for a few minutes will harmlessly plasticize flesh and bones, an hour will smother eyes and ears with slime, providing a new array of tactile and chemical senses.
  15. Orb of Snow. Used to contain a thriving ice age terrarium. Now contains a big crack in the side and ten thousand asphyxiated elk. Quite a lot of snow comes out when shaken.
  16. Unholy Orb. Covered in dense, ever-changing limericks and bawdy pictograms. Always on the edge of whatever the viewer finds offensive. Longer study reveals darker and more salacious designs, which the viewer finds more and more titillating.
  17. Orb of Nap. A soap bubble containing ten minutes wholesome rest. Whoever pops it falls immediately asleep, the orb reemerging as a snot bubble during their final snore.
  18. Orb of Balefire. Swirling ball of straw, neatly woven into itself. Emits a thin, steady stream of smoke, but never ignites. Held to something flammable and blown through, it will start a small, easily controlled fire.
  19. Runic Orb. Said to contain a hidden map to an even more hidden treasure, actually just teaches you dwarvish if you play with it for a month or two.
  20. Orb of Huge. Starts off very very small. Sucks the bigness out of things that are bigger than they should be, or that have a smaller state to revert to. Stored bigness leaches out slowly, or quickly if you suck on it.
  21. Orb of Push. Slide one under something heavy to make it effortless to push around. Roll under someone's foot to make them easy to push over. Visually indistinguishable from a ball bearing.
  22. Orb of Doors. Can be used to roll up an unlocked door, then unrolled on almost any surface. Depth of the new room or hallway is in proportion to the quality of the door.
  23. Orb of Slow. Everything seen through its green glassy surface moves in slow motion. Peripheral vision moves normal speed, the mild paradox incites migraines.
  24. Orb of Tower. Causes dirt beneath it to gently mound, bricks to stack, timbers to lurch upright. Will slowly build dangerously unstable piles almost anything. Most practically useful as a muse for architects.
  25. Orb of Arcane. Absolutely ancient, soaked in magic and impressions of thousands of wizards. Has a polite, detached tone, a broad expertise sabotaged by bitter jealousy of true sentience.
  26. Boss Orb. When given a good smack, gets up and fights you. Starts off popping out a single arm, grows more appendages and weak points every time it's started up. Gives out more and more coins each time it's beaten, replaces the gold by eating those it defeats.
  27. Orb of Gold. Makes the holder more believable, and gradually smellier. After a week, anything they say will be trusted, and no one will want to be anywhere near them
  28. Orb of Toxin. Swirls sinisterly. Beloved by snakes. In no way reacts to poisons of any kind, but makes malicious gossip hit closer to home, narcissists feel more confident, the entitled feel more entitled.
  29. Orb of Ghost. Looks to a ghost like a ghost looks to people. They find this terrifying. Responds bizarrely to holy water, exorcisms, makes a good test of their potency.
  30. Reverse Orb. Circular patch of reality exposing the big orb the universe sits in. Can't really be grabbed or held by the edges, surprisingly easy to drag around with suction pads. Definitionally indestructible, perfectly reflective. Passing through it magically will land in you very strange places.
  31. Orb of the World. Small, accurate map of the whole world, bizarrely deformed to fit on a sphere. Sufficient tools of magnification make it a suburb focus for all kinds of long distance magic, planning aid for long voyages, weather prediction tool.


Tuesday 7 December 2021

Christmas Wizards

From my in-law's house.

Three Wise Men. His crown is 6 candles, one for each day of the year. His list is 30 names, one for each girl and boy. He comes down the chimney with three tests, in three boxes. The children that pass will be taken away on Christmas night to defend the sun during its darkest hour. For the rest of the winter, Three Wise Men guards the sun while it sleeps. His power is surprisingly limited, relying more on wide reading, good planning, and having a lot of friends to call on. Attends all winter births, and some important deaths. Is at most of the politically important feasts, brings own flask of rum and box of sandwiches.

Thadeusk and Theodawn. Halves of a greater wizard, can reform as long as they both remember their name. Their autism is a function of their orbits, and they wax and wane through strange phases of power and focus. Supposed to keep count of the seconds in the year, they generally start adding up around the third last full moon of the year, leaving only two months to recover all the inevitable missing time. Appear then in portents, to prod paradoxes toward resolution. Very busy during the equinox. Often used as a sort of time-capsule by wisemen and soothsayers, who use their unreliable memory to anchor the causality of complex prophecies. Once the business of the year is resolved, they forget themselves and everyone else, making the time ripe for new resolutions.

Santa Clarita, The White Eyed Boy. Kept in original packaging since the dawn of Christmas. Prediluvian morality, boyish charm turned decidedly creepy. Does political work, brokering power with seasonal forces and universal principles, local deisms and demons of greed. In massive debt to the Snow Queen, and a dozen other wintery patrons, conveniently obscuring the saint's personal motivations. Prefers using third-party powers: weather spells, time magic and alchemy. Personal powers less well documented: an icy medusa's gaze, several arch magics involving white roses, ownership of sentient beard. Member of a book club with several other notable beings trapped in prisms, crystals, glass caskets or timecubes.

The Phegnomenon is an occurrence afflicting pointed objects, with several longer-lived manifestations of note. Longoffoot has one leg each for stepping backwards and forwards through time. Silversilence cleans the other side of mirrors. Hatwithapattern writes autobiographies for the bugs that eat clothes. Littleredmittens is a prodigious toucher, stroking the gnomeness into objects. Gnomes are usually only a mild nuisance, attracted to leftover milk and cookies, but passing quickly on unless they find a stash of cones. They can be bribed quite easily, and will attend to a chore for entire minutes before being distracted. Dangerous only if threatened with fire or iron, or if one's hat is particularly pointy. 

Crackerbarrel. They'll jack your snacks, they're jackals with crack knacks, quote carols on the rack, over barrels break backs, rake fake facts with flak, brew flax and relax. Crackerbarrel and his crackerjacks act as secret police for the Nutcracker Kings, torturously interrogating. They use the wicked curse of their bite to trap one another in stiff, aching wooden bodies, and will conscript anyone who stands in their way. Among their number are snowmen, polar bears, cossacks, and many others with nefarious powers. Crackerbarrel himself was once a Christmas tree, as the twinkle in his eye will attest. He is sworn to harm no-one wearing bells, and is only animate when standing on fresh snow or gingerbread, of which his shoes are made.

The Nutcracker Kings. Three brothers born from the same nut. One oversees the future, one the past, one present. Their troops are all stuck in the now, however, which keeps their military maneuvers more mundane. The largest, Pecantor, obsesses over past meals, plans elaborate new ones. Often finds valuable points of comparison, but puts too much stock in genealogy. The middle, Almonde, is paranoid and dyspeptic. Convinced he can't predict or remember things, and most work three times as hard to keep up with his brothers. The smallest, Pistanchion, wearily surveils an endless future of war, prematurely aging and shrinking. His plans begin the most thoughtlessly violent, walked back to nonaction the longer he dwells on them.

Big Chrimpo. Chrampap to all beasts of autumn months. Hoarder of nuts and jam, planter of pine trees, belly of a thousand squirrels. Avowed pacifist, champion of the hungry, lonely and cold, patron of musicians, chefs and matchstick salesmen. Comes at the end of the feast to usher everyone to bed. Always looking for the coziest nook to spend a winter night, leaving unfinished nests in his wake. Easily followed for a back passage into the spirits' seasonal summits. Much, much smarter than he lets on.

Saturday 4 December 2021

Geology Generator

LandscapeRidgesCliffsCanyonsGulliesTowersScree Slopes
Water ColourEggshellBlue-BlackCrystalRuddyBlue-GreenFoamy Brown
FoliageTall TreesBushesGrassSmall TreesScrubCactus
Leaf ColourDeep GreenBlue-GreyYellowTealRed-BrownPale Green

Bonus Galeb Duhr
  1. Granite. Craggy, happy, self-assured. Minimally weathered, sharp edges on the head and hands. Seen it all, knows it will survive, a little sad that you won't.
  2. Rhyolite. Shy, embarrassed, guilty. Octangular column, hands and legs on every face. Tactile learner, gets distracting easily. Hates bullying.
  3. Sandstone. Rough, argumentative, asymmetrical. Ready to start a fight, then start crying when it gets hit. Other sensitive types make it feel bad, which makes it misdirectedly angry.
  4. Mudstone. Soft, slovenly, slurring. Mumbling drunkard, would like to stand behind you and be ignored even though it's talking in your ear. Advice is annoying but only 50% useless.
  5. Limestone. Limpid, languid, spaced out. Poetic, appreciating art and non-lithic nature. With your ear to it you can hear the tiny oceanic voices it hears all the time.
  6. Tuff. Brittle, jolly, stoically optimistic. Reads the room well, takes sides quickly. You can sense a deep trauma/strength in it.

Friday 3 December 2021

Death Stuff

Death GodsFunerary RitesAfterlives
The Big Dad. Didn't build heaven large enough, asks newcomers to help put together their own accommodations.Body cremated, ashes baked into bread and/or smoked with hashish, reoccurrences of kuru having led to the decline of traditional cannibalism.One hundred years hard labour in the heavenly workcamps, keeping the world alive for your progeny.
2Ghost Wolf. Scares the soul out of your body when you die, then chases it around trying to eat it. Stops for flattery, back scratches, howling contests.Classic stories about the deceased told again and again through the night, exaggerated until they become a mythic figure fit to join the gods.Become the quarry of the wild hunt. If you escape, you can become a hunter. If caught, reincarnation.
3Sheep Herd. Not really supposed to be looking after people, forgets they're sentient. Keeps ushering souls out of the right afterlives, onto 'greener pastures'.A night of bacchanal followed by a day of terrible hangovers, everyone encouraged to start fights, call names and otherwise purge.Sent back in time to haunt your own life and cause your own misfortunes. Very fun.
4Counter of Beans. Makes you account for every action in life. Happy to hear arguments. Line of souls runs out the door and 3000 years down the hall. Casting bones, measuring stars, ritual conversations. Careful reorchestration of planting calendars, holiday plans, personal cosmologies and horoscopes.Reincarnation as a new island. Take care of your ecology! Human life was a practice run, this is the one that counts.
5Remother. Warm, red cheeks, swollen belly full of crying, babyfaced souls. Sucks you up her vagina and turns you into ectoplasm (in a good way).Body nestled into a midden, covered in layers of the local grain and scraps from a feast in their honour. Dug up in a year to check if they made it to heaven Wander the earth  pondering the 700 heavenly riddles. If you solve three or four they'll let you be a deva.
6The Boneyman. Looks just like someone you know with a skull painted badly on their face. If you laugh at their antics they will take you to hell.After cursory mummification, the body is placed in an out of the way corner and ignored until everyone has genuinely forgotten its there. Buried properly once rediscovered.Come straight back to the time and place of your death, at one thousandth the size.