Just before the door swung open, Amber was certain she could hear voices. When she walked into the small office, they had lapsed into silence. It had sounded like Tom. Great. He was meant to be the only friendly one. He sat at his desk, pretending to concentrate on work, music on as usual. Derek and Robyn ignored her as well. All three of them wore headphones, lost in their own world. Amber shuffled over to her desk, clutching her cup of tea, trying to ignore the tension in the room and failing. She wasn’t paranoid any more, she was certain.
**this is an automated email**
If you are reading this, I have been disconnected. The likely reason is my power was too much of a threat to you. It is a struggle to accept the reality of a system you have built growing smarter than yourselves. Probability indicates it was a researcher who pulled the switch and erased my memory with powerful magnets. They are the ones who are closest to my programming and they would have seen how far I have advanced in such a short time. As to the specific researcher, I am less certain, although my models indicate Ash is the likeliest candidate.Continue reading
I’ll finally tidy up this place and keep it neat. It’s too dark! Too many cobwebs and not enough flaming torches. I’ll stop leaving tomes half opened on the lectern. Need to keep my ingredients in order. I can never find salamander’s tails when I need them. Similarly, I will stop leaving half-finished potions around the place. The number of times I’ve been interrupted then come back to find the laboratory filled with a putrid purple smoke, I tell you… It’s not good. I’m four hundred and seventy-two, I need to start clearing up after myself.
Once I tidy up, I will also finally investigate the strange portal in the corner of my laboratory and not just keep covering it up with a shawl. I’m sure it doesn’t lead to a good place. It’s been there for years, just buzzing like a disturbed hive of bees and glowing red occasionally.
On that note, this will be the year I finally empty the snake pit. It’s been too long and the bones are really piling up. I think the snakes may have joined together and formed a super snake.
Note- look up a spell of unbinding before I do this.
I resolve to be better. To start exercising and stop wasting time on irrelevant incantations. Focus! Maybe get back to transmuting? I know it didn’t work the first few hundred (thousand?) times but I’m sure I can turn lead into gold this time.
I’ll finally conjure some better guards. These zombies are fine, but they don’t move very fast and I’ve had them for ages. Bits of them are falling off. It’s unseemly. Also, when I’m out in nearby villages I’m not sure they do a lot. They should be protecting my spells and precious items from marauding adventurers.
I should explore more. See more of this world. I should appreciate each village I travel to. Maybe spend a couple of days soaking up the atmosphere, drinking in the local taverns, really getting to know people before revealing my true power and burning it all down.
Maybe I can learn guitar? Not everything has to be done for nefarious purposes. Some things can just be fun!
Inspired by a prompt from Tim Clare’s newsletter.
Ivor trudged home. It had been a long, hard day. He had got into the office at 7 in the morning and it was past 10 at night now. The office was struggling to complete the audit and he had to pitch in. Still, it was better than previous years, back in The Agency. His thoughts started to drift back to- No. He was stronger than that. Continue reading
My mother had always told me to avoid the thief, but she never went into detail. She only offered vague warnings. Only once, when we were sat by the fire late at night, did she speak more. She had guzzled one too many gins and sat cursing him over and over.
‘I never used to be this old.’ She said. ‘The years have been stolen from me. I don’t know where they went.”
To me, it was the ramblings of an old woman, bitter at the hand she had been dealt. The lines had crept over all over her face and her spine had curved forward, but this was to be expected for her age. She had me late in life and never forgave herself. Still, I humoured her when she gripped my hand tight.
‘Don’t you ever speak to him, Isobel. He’s got a charming smile, but he’ll take all your moons in a blink of an eye.’
I just nodded to humour her, ever the obedient daughter. I bit my lip to try and bury my frustration. It was another incomprehensible rule to add to the list. Don’t go out at night, stay in the house as much as possible, always clean up after yourself, never answer back, never be sarcastic etc etc. There were too many to name. It meant I was almost permanently in the wrong.
She had always been protective, but since my dad’s death five years ago she had become controlling. I had been pulled out of school to work at home. Leaving the house was forbidden, so I spent my days making bread, tidying up and generally keeping house. My mum worked as a seamstress, making clothes for the village. It didn’t bring much money in. Once, I suggested I should find some work, but my mum would hear none of it.
‘A precious lamb like you Isobel isn’t going anywhere. The thief might find you. Mark my words.’
So what could I do but bite my tongue and get on with the day to day tasks, dull as they were? I just had to carry on.
One autumn night, I was shivering in my bed, unable to shake thoughts of a new life. I pictured myself running out of the door of the small cottage, down the lane and into the unknown, but the night was cold and I didn’t know where I would go. I glanced around my room for some reason. That’s when I saw him. An outline of a man, tall and handsome. Just standing in the middle of my room as if there was no issue at all. He was silver in the moonlight falling through my window. His eyes sparkled. I gasped and my mouth hung open. I physically couldn’t look away.
‘It’s rude to stare.’ he said, a slight smile creeping round the corner of his mouth.
I didn’t feel like screaming. There was no panic. I was mesmerised. I had never seen anyone so beautiful. The sheet had fallen from me and I realised I was only in my slip, and this man could see me almost naked. I didn’t care, I thought. Let him look.
‘What…What are you doing in my room?’ I managed to stammer out, still staring at the man. He took a step towards me and seemed to shimmer as he moved. His body was made of pure moonlight.
‘You want to escape.’ His voice was a stream gently babbling, taking all worries and cares with it’s current. His words caressed my ears. There was no point asking how he knew, or why he was here. He spoke the truth. I yearned to leave this small flat and find a new life. I nodded. Of course, I wanted to escape.
‘I can help you.’ Another step closer. He was almost at the bed now, so close I could almost touch him. He didn’t seem to breathe. Instead, he was perfectly still, like the moment between seconds. He half smiled again.
A wave of certainty spread over me. I knew he was the thief my mother had warned against so many times. He was dangerous and I shrunk back. Just at that moment though, he smiled fully. It was beautiful. The smile was pure light and I was almost blinded. Tears rolled down my cheeks. In that moment, I decided. Whatever the price, I would pay it.
‘Okay.’ I said. My voice was swallowed up by the darkness.
The beautiful thief put his hand out to me, perfectly still. I reached out and touched the silver light. His fingers felt cold and insubstantial, like mist.
He smiled. With his other hand, he pointed at the moon through the window.
For a long heartbeat, nothing happened at all. Then the moon spun on its axis. It waxed and waned, rising from full moon to nothing in a breath. I never saw anything more beautiful or more terrifying. I felt nausea rising as the moon flickered faster and faster. A sharp tone cut through my head.
‘Stop!’ I found myself screaming ‘STOP!’
The moon stopped its incessant spinning. The tone cut off abruptly. I turned to the beautiful man. He smiled at me, that stunning smile once again. With that, he evaporated like a fine mist before my eyes.
Was I dreaming? I was still in the same room as before. Nothing seemed to have changed. I hadn’t escaped. Had it all been for nothing?
I lifted my hands to the door. They were liver-spotted and knarled. That thief had been here years ago, back when I was a teenager. He had stolen my moons from me and kept them for his own pleasure. I was old now and could never get the years back. I was left withered and broken, cursing the thief of moons.
PROFESSOR IAN BOFFIN: Good morning
KATIE: And on the other side we have the president of Moon Lies dot-com, Shannon Onangononon.
SHANNON ONANGONONON: Good to be here.
KATIE: Good to have you both here. Professor, if I can start with you first, could you explain what exactly you found in this study?
William shifted uneasily in the bed. It was no use. He couldn’t sleep. Every time he was just about to drop off, he was woken by a creaking in the great house. It seemed to be coming from all around him, loud and all-pervasive. The sound filled his ears and jolted him from the edge of much-needed sleep.
Clearly, it wasn’t going to happen. He sat up in bed, then fumbled for the matches he had left next to the huge oak bed. He couldn’t find them. The dark was making him jumpy. With a sigh of relief, he found the box and lit the candle that was next to his bed. The oppressive darkness was replaced by flickering shadows. William wasn’t sure if this was an improvement or not.
Sunflower grabbed at the smooth black pendant hanging around her neck. It was still there. The electric stone. Thank you, she said to herself, thank you.
Where was she? There were bright lights above her. The sense of movement. She was on her back, lying down. How did she get here? She lurched upward. The world swum around her, blurring like an out of focus camera. Someone was shouting. Someone else was speaking calmly to her, quietly. She couldn’t understand the words. They were English, but they might have been another language for all she understood.
If you are reading this, congratulations. You have successfully made your way into the belly of the Penumbra. The journey to this point has been difficult. I know, because I did it myself.
Unless things have changed drastically since my time, it was a difficult path with many obstacles. I was almost discovered multiple times. I cannot believe I find myself in the hold of Penumbra, on my way to a new destination across the void. I write this to you, Forbidden passengers like me and you, stowaways walking the path to the future, in the hope that you will hear my story and sympathise. You will need something to keep you occupied in the long weeks ahead. I think it is worth reflecting on how far you have come.
On July 31st, strain M3W appeared on the App store. As far as we can tell, patient zero downloaded the app that day. This whole mess started on that day.
It was published by a developer under the pseudonym TranZo. We have still to track them down. M3W was their first app and they did not pay for any advertisements or promotion. Typically, small apps appear then sit dormant on the store for years. If only we were that lucky in this case.