December marks the start to Night Shade Books' Holiday Countdown, which will see a wide swathe of articles by Night Shade authors, giveaways, and excerpts around the interwebs. This is only Day 2 of the Night Shade Holiday Countdown. To follow along for the whole month visit http://twitter.com/nightshadebooks for regular updates. Day 2 treats us to 4 pieces of flash fiction from Jonathan Wood which were the genesis for what would become his Cthulhu / Kurt Russell / Urban debut Fantasy No Hero. Enjoy!
Still, every idea has it's starting point, and I thought folk might find it interesting to see where No Hero started. A few years back I was a part of a (now sadly defunct) web site called Daily Cabal. A lot of cool authors contributing one piece of flash fiction every weekday. I had a piece up every 2 weeks, which meant coming up with a new idea every 2 weeks. And somewhere among stories of beak-faced girls, and postmodern princesses, Arthur Wallace emerged.
There were four Arthur Wallace stories written in all. A lot of the basics are there – Arthur, set upon by governmental bureaucracy, defending the realm from supernatural threats. My love for Lovecraft emerges in one of the stories. My love of pulp is there too. But there are differences here as well. Arthur has more of a noir tone here than I ended up using in No Hero. He is more of a man alone (it's hard to fit co-workers into 400-word stories). He still had a lot of growing up to do. Still, this is where I got the idea for No Hero, or, more specifically, the ideas. This is where I mixed and matched scraps until they fit. And, maybe more important, these stories still make me smile. I hope they make you smile too.
The Changing of the Times
It used to be all about magical swords. Blessed steel wreathed in flame, all that. Truth be told, I have, in the past, opined of the increasingly mundane nature of the magical armament. So there is at least a small part of me that stands up and cheers when the tattooed bastard reaches to his scabbard and pulls out a shimmering blue blade that crackles with fire.
On the other hand, the larger part of me is tied to a chair and couldn’t stand up to cheer even if it wanted to. Which it doesn’t.
I’d been tracking the trail of bodies for about two weeks. He’d been picking of virgins as he goes-which can’t have been as easy as it was when he first walked the earth. I followed him from London to Paris, across Alps, then into Germany, which is where I’m pretty sure he became aware of me because right now I’m in the back room of a strip club in Berlin, with my hands bound by stockings, which is not half as pleasant as several magazines have led me to believe.
However, despite appearances I do have a few things going in my favor. For starters, apparently stockings were not a prevalent item in twelfth century Egypt, so my tattooed friend, Mahut As-Ghul, is not entirely familiar with their unsuitability as bindings.
I kick back in the chair at about the same time the nylon rips. Mahut lunges. I tuck my body in and roll, but not in time to stop the blade passing through my ankle. The flesh doesn’t break but the pain is agonizing. Mahut’s blade glows brighter. Bastard just chopped off part of my soul.
Which brings me to my other and much more significant advantage. You see the operative word in my opening salvo here was that it used to be all about magical swords.
Ignoring my ankle, I draw my Glock and fire. Nothing unusual about the Glock. Standard issue for my department. But the bullets, ah yes, there’s the rub Mahut, old buddy.
A portal to several rather unpleasant dimensions is abruptly punched into Mahut’s skull. He starts to fold in on it, which really doesn’t look pleasant. Still, I can’t quite resist picking up the sword and finishing off the job the old fashioned way.
Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of this Lovecraft shit.
It started with these marine biologists and their new species of octopus. Two weeks later all the staff at London zoo look like over-sized scampi and are sacrificing the tourists to elder gods.
My government-sanctioned holy bullets do bugger all. Apparently shrimp-scientists are secular. So I leg it and take refuge in a cleaning closet near the chimp enclosure, which I admit isn’t very James Bond of me. Still, I come across an aerosol can in there, and two seconds later I’m out of there with my lighter flambé-ing a couple of the bastards. Zookeepers dissolve into masses of thrashing tentacles. Enough to put me off shrimp cocktails for the rest of my life.
Lighter in hand I manage to torch a path to the aquarium, but when I get a look at the bugger residing there, I don’t think Pledge and a Zippo are going to cut it. It’s about the size of a double decker, all jelly-like flesh and claws reaching for me. The glass of the aquarium shatters and I’m swept out with the water.
When I catch my breath it’s tottering massively towards me through the ruins of the building. Gas tanks blow. Everything in the aviary squawking at once.
I leg it again.
See the trouble with Lovecraft is he only really gives you running gibbering into the night as an option, and I’ve got plans this Friday…
I smack into the wall of the polar bear enclosure and that’s when, along with the concrete, the idea hits me. The thing behind me is getting close as I blow the lock of the enclosure. We’re talking meters. I’m through the door and then it’s smashing down the wall. I’m roll clear and come up staring into eight white faces. Not happy either. You wake up polar bears, you better do it nicely.
After that I let nature take its course. The elder god is a big bugger, but its still just an overgrown fish to these guys. Some mundanes can take care of themselves. Still sushi’s gonna be off the menu for a while now too.
The Old Switcheroo
According to the pulps, when you want to raid a wizard’s tower you just strap on a broadsword and a loincloth and go at it. Truth is you need a permit with fifteen signatures. Still the government spooks give me enough talismans I make Mr T look restrained. Hopefully they’ll get me further than the permit, which only buys me a stunned doorman and a ride in the penthouse elevator.
Now a tower wouldn’t be complete without a damsel in distress–April Wilcox, heiress of the Wilcox sock empire. Vesu Telquist made all six feet five of her disappear at his show tonight and has yet to make her reappear.
Mundane security’s at the door. So I drop them with rubber bullets. The permit might have worked but this feels more satisfying. There’s so many talisman’s round my neck I don’t which one defeats locks, so in the end I just kick in the door.
I clear the living room and the kitchen, then I open the bedroom door and almost gag–blood and shit spread over the room. The body’s in the bed. What’s left of it. Head’s gone. Belly’s open and the guts lie in circles on crimson sheets. Sick bastard.
I’m right on top of it when I realize it’s too short. April Wilcox is an Amazon with a brunette dye job. This is a shrimp with excessive leg hair.
She comes out of the wardrobe with a knife and goes for the talisman’s at my throat. Apparently her scrying let her know what was being sent to get her back. Vesu didn’t see it coming. Neither did I. We tustle and break. Just in case I’m still thinking of rescuing her, she opens her mouth a breathes fire at me. Some joke about a hot date occurs to me and I’m so ashamed I almost let her roast me. As it is my jacket’s on fire before I find the right talisman. We go at it then, she flinging elemental forces at me, me getting pummeled and my hands caught in ancient chains.
Eventually she and I both get sick of it. She tries fire again and I take the hit. That gives me time to line up the shot, and her blood mixes with Vesu’s. I have the talisman ready in my pocket from the first attack but most of my clothes are ash by the time I summon the water to douse me.
I leave the mess for the spooks to clean up and ride down the elevator pulling off the remains of my shirt. I look at what’s left in the mirrored walls. And on top of it all it turns out a loin cloth isn’t a good look for me anyway.
Flames Burn Red
“Red tape! Red goddamn tape!” And with that, ribbons of red silk burst from Gorman’s fingers and wrap me up tighter than a pair of earrings on Christmas Eve.
See, the thing about battling occult threats to Britain’s shores is that, despite the getting-to-fight-tentacle-monsters-with-a-flaming-sword bits, and the using-knuckle-dusters-that-punch-holes-into-alternate-dimensions bits, it’s still just a job. There are still timesheets, emails about missing staplers, annoying co-workers. Gorman was always an annoying co-worker. And there is the red goddamn tape.
Honestly, half the time something’s eaten most of Essex before I’m even able to get all the signatures I need to get my hands on the flaming sword in the first place.
Must have been worse for Gorman being in accounting. And apparently he really wanted to touch the flaming sword. Got himself fired over it. Submitted everything right but they rejected him anyway. Course they did. He was an accountant. Still, Gorman looked at the form with the big, “rejected” stamp and a gear slipped. Tried to grab the sword out of the safe. Didn’t get far. Course he didn’t. He was an accountant. And they fired him.
Apparently Gorman’s made use of the spare time. Who knows where he found the grimoire. The cape is a little more obviously Halloween gear, but it’s hard to poke fun when a chap breaks into the office and takes you out in under ten seconds.
The air fills with red ribbons. More people are bundled up. I lose sight of him in the blizzard of it. We lie there. I hear crackling in the distance, can smell something burning.
And then I see him. He’s holding the sword in both hands, hacking a path through the jungle of red tape he himself has created. Tape curls back as the flame licks through them. And he smiles like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. The cape suddenly looks a little bit awesome.
Gorman gets to the door. Looks back at us, at the now limp strands of red tape, and the grin stretches wider. He buries the sword in the floor. And he walks away.
Eventually someone finds us, works us free. Someone, some civil servant, looks at me as I stand up and says, “Well, aren’t you going to go after him?” But, honestly, after that example, there’s no way I can be bothered to do the paperwork.
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He is the author of the No Hero--a Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, what would Kurt Russell do?. The sequel Yesterday's Hero should be out sometime in 2012. He also writes odd little things that show up in odd little places, such as The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine, and Weird Tales. Most of his short fiction is available for free on-line. Links can be found on the bibliography page.
This guest post is part of Night Shade Books' Holiday Count Down. For other future posts check out their twitter feed twitter.com/nightshadebooks.
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