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Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

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Friday, 7 May 2010

#FridayFlash: UCF #8: Hangman’s Passage

Swazzle braced himself against the tunnel wall and gave the escape hatch a mighty kick. The old wood splintered outwards, replaced by a sudden blast of icy night air. Swazzle and Pogmorton scrambled quickly through the opening straight into a vision of Hades itself.

A flock of swirling fairies flew this way and that firing indiscriminately into targets on the ground while their ground troops massed to assault the Pixie positions. Pixie defenders returned fire with wands, but it seemed only a matter of time before their positions would be overwhelmed.

Creeping low along a trench, Swazzle and Pogmorton came upon a Goblin detachment that had jury-rigged a pneumatic nail gun to a sturdy video camera tripod and were sending a hail of iron nails into the inky darkness. Whether they were aiming at anything in particular, or merely attempting to get through as much ammunition as possible was not clear.

Keeping to their bellies, the Pixies crawled on past the Goblins to a small revetment. Beyond it, on a small area of flat ground, stood a huge wooden contraption over which a squad of Pixies swarmed, apparently readying it for firing. As Swazzle and Pogmorton looked on, the Pixie's commander called forward the first of another small group of Pixies which had been hiding in the shadows.

Stripped to the waist and quivering with wild-eyed excitement, the first Pixie climbed into the machine's bucket-shaped harness. A technician handed him up two wickedly sharp looking silver-bladed sickles before saluting and retreating to a safe distance. The Pixie in the bucket paused for a moment, returned the salute and, as the ground crew threw a large wooden lever to discharge the catapult, soared away into the night sky, his battle-cry hanging in the air as he sailed out of sight towards another incoming wave of fairies.

‘Mad buggers,’ muttered Pogmorton as he and Swazzle pelted across the open ground to take cover in a large patch of brambles.

After being forced back twice by the heavy fighting, Swazzle and Pogmorton finally made it to a Portal and dived through amid a hail of banshee rifle fire.

‘Where are we?’ Swazzle asked as they tumbled to a halt on rain-lashed cobbles, illuminated only by the angry orange glare of a sodium street lamp.

‘It looks like...,’ began Pogmorton, pausing to glance around, ‘It is! We’re in Hangman’s Passage.’


‘Hangman’s Passage. You know, just round the corner from Gallows Close.’

Recognition dawned on Swazzle’s face. ‘Well, wherever we are, we need to hide. I'm not convinced our exit went unobserved. Any ideas?’

‘Those bins,’ Pogmorton pointed, ‘over there.’

Swazzle and Pogmorton were just getting comfortable among the food waste from the Leisure Centre’s cafeteria when sounds of a disturbance from Hangman's Passage reached their ears. Peering over the side of the bin, just in time to see a column of Pixie women and children streaming through the portal, urged on by a familiar voice.

‘Salkeld!’ muttered Pogmorton, ‘I’d recognise that nasal whine anywhere.’

They were on the point of leaving their sanctuary to assist the refugees when the column began to scream and scatter. Three fairies swooped through the portal, firing into the column as they wheeled above the terrified Pixies. Salkeld took one of the fairies down before he was hit with a burst of banshee rifle fire that left his body twitching in the gutter.

Swazzle pulled out the banshee rifle and, balancing the muzzle against the edge of the bin, took aim.

‘Do you have any idea how to work that thing?’ Pogmorton hissed in his ear.

‘Shush! You’ll put me off. Anyway, how hard can it be?’ Swazzle replied, ‘I’ve seen them used often enough lately. You point the sharp end that way, look through this bit on the top and squeeze that little lever down there.’

Pogmorton did not look convinced as Swazzle took aim once more, squeezed the trigger and loosed off a round. The rifle’s report and the recoil surprised them both, but not as much as it surprised the fairy whose wing the bullet punched a neat hole through, causing the wing to break and fold backwards like a streaming silk scarf as she spiralled face first into the cobbles.

Pogmorton, his ears ringing, peeped over the lip of the bin while Swazzle attempted to extricate himself from the pile of spaghetti the recoil had flung him into.

The remaining fairy hurtled towards the bin and, as Swazzle was to remark upon later, the sound of banshee rifle bullets whacking into the side of a steel bin, did concentrate the mind somewhat.

Swazzle fired, and missed. And missed again as the fairy jinked this way and that to avoid the incoming fire.

‘I’m not having this,’ muttered Pogmorton, taking aim with his wand.

The fairy’s wings stuttered and stopped in mid flap as Pogmorton’s Charm turned the normally agile aerial creature into a glider, through who's forehead Swazzle put his next shot. The fairy hit the side of the bin with an almighty clang and the night felt silent once more, apart from the muffled wailing of the Pixie refugees.

Pelting across to where the refugees sheltered in the shadows, Swazzle and Pogmorton managed eventually through a combination of encouragement and cajolement to get them moving in the direction of the churchyard opposite Goddess Rising, where there was plenty of undergrowth to hide in.

They had just returned for Salkeld when a rushing sound filled their ears and a huge gout of blue flame thundered through the Portal, singeing their eyebrows.

‘There was nothing we could do,' Salkeld whispered, ''s all over. Flaarti had to release a Wyrm.’ He closed his eyes and lay still, blood pumping from a sucking chest wound.

Swazzle and Pogmorton exchanged panic-stricken glances.

‘A Wyrm,’ mumbled Swazzle, huge sadness in his voice, ‘We’re royally fucked now.’


I hope you enjoyed this story. If you'd like to read this serial from the beginning, the first installment is here.

If you've the time, please also check out my flash fiction story Driftwood, which earned itself an Honourable Mention in Laurita Miller's recent contest.

Don't forget to check out all the other great #FridayFlash stories this week, they can be found here, and please search the #FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter.



Marisa Birns said...

Quite thrilling, this!

Laughed at the image of the mad Pixie, hurtling through the air into the fray after being catapulted.

Mad buggers, indeed! (always wanted to say that)

The best things about your stories are that, not only are they a rollicking good read, they always leave one at the edge of a cliff!


By the way, have you changed the letterhead of your blog? Looks smashing. Sigh. Should stop trying to sound British; it's silly on me.

Looks very good! :D

Laura Eno said...

"Mad buggers," indeed! And do we get to learn more about the Wyrm next time?

Cathy Olliffe said...

Hullo, Sam! Lovely to see the boys out and about, up to their reguar irregular mischief.
See, this is why little fictional characters should not be allowed to play with banshee rifles.
Delightful story: my favourite bit is the description of the hole through the fairy's wing.

Carrie said...

O.O You said a bad word! Cute fairies. You have great world-building skills.

ganymeder said...

The plot thickens. Especially like the part about the wing flying behind like a scarf. Well done.

John Wiswell said...

Perhaps they can bribe the wyrm with some gnome poop.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Love your description of action.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Love it. Fairy battles! And now there's a Wyrm?

(waits anxiously for next week)

Very well done as always, Sam. One of my favorite serials.

John McDonnell said...

These are not stereotypical pixies! Good descriptions of battle. There's a lot going on in this story.

Sam said...

Marisa - Thanks for those kind (British) words, I think they look good on you! Yes, I changed my blog header a little while ago, glad you like it. :)

Laura - Oh yes, the Wyrm will be rearing its ugly head in a future installment.

Cathy - Thanks. I'd been watching a documentary on WW1 pilots and the image of such a scarf just seemed to lodge in my brain.

Carrie - Well, wash my mouth out! It was Swazzle who said it, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! ;) Thank you so much, though I'm not sure I'm actively building this world as opposed to just letting it evolve. Either way, it's great fun doing it.

Ganymeder - It's always nice when an image sticks in my readers' heads, thanks for letting me know.

John W - Maybe, but then there's the problem of how to get close enough to the Wrym to try bribing it.

Icy - This is I think, the fastest-paced thing I've written so far and I wasn't sure I'd conveyed the action as well as I wanted to so thanks for the affirmative feedback, much appreciated.

Gracie - Oh yes, a big, scarey, fire-breathing Wrym! Hope you enjoy the next installment too. I'm over the moon to have you count the UCF Stories among your favourites. :)

John McD - Oh no, they're anything but stereotypical pixies, you ought to see what they get up to in my mind (Did I write that out loud?!). Thanks for the kind comments, I wasn't sure how easy it would be to try to convey a battle scene in less than 1000 words.

Aislinn O'Connor said...

Inventive and hilarious, as always - and I can't wait to meet the Wyrm! Might be reading the next episode behind the sofa, though... :D

mariblaser said...

Great battle scene Sam! Chaotic as any battle should be, and yet you managed to guide us though it smoothly. I love action scenes! :D

Oh, the spaghetti recoil was precious, heh.

Eric J. Krause said...

Another good one! The mad pixies reminded me of goblins in some of the old Magic the Gathering cards--suicidal in order to get the job done. Enjoyed reading this.

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Oh my, what great action. That banshee rifle is fierce. And, can't wait to see what the Wyrm is.

These guys are so funny! Love the series!

I noticed your new banner too - very cool!

Sam said...

Aislinn - Glad you enjoyed it. With a bit of luck the next installment will bring back those childhood memories of Dr Who; you might have to make room behind the sofa for me too!

Mari - Thanks! I wasn't sure how well I'd managed to capture the confusion of war, which was what I was aiming for. Sounds like I managed it.

Eric - Magic the Gathering? That takes me back! You're right, the Pixie berserkers are completely mad and suicidal. Glad you enjoyed it.

Sam said...

Anne - Banshee rifles are indeed fierce, they're horrible things really, they can use a variety of ammunition for different tasks and some of them are even partially sentient; but I'm giving away all my secrets...

I'm so pleased you're enjoying my serial, I'm having an absolute blast writing it!

Thanks for the lovely commentn about my new banner - took ages to make as the capital "F" is from a different font to the rest of it and colour-matching proved, err...problematic! ;)

Helen Ginger said...

Fun read, mad buggers and all!


Sam said...

Helen - Thanks for your comment, much appreciated. I hope you enjoy the rest of this serial should you wish to read the other installments. :)

Heather Lloyd said...

Brilliant cliffhanger; look forward to hopefully finding out more about the wyrm in the next instalment!

Sam said...

Heather - Thanks for your great comment. The Wyrm ought to be wiggling its ugly head in a future installment very soon.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Falling into this episode as I did, I was quite surprised how easy it is to follow along. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for more installments!

Josie @safetycomfort said...

oooh, pixie fairy goblin scrap par excellence. Love the catapult!! I'm not envying Swazzle getting chucked into a pile of spaghetti :-/

"...causing the wing to break and fold backwards like a streaming silk scarf as she spiralled face first into the cobbles" - brilliant description

Hope we'll find out what a Wyrm is in future instalments - it sounds most ominous.

Sam said...

Susan - Thanks for those kind words. I try to post new installments weekly, so it shouldn't be too long before I have another one for you to read.

Josie - Thanks. I had in mind one of those RAF white silk scarves for the fairy's wing. Yes, the Wyrm will feature in a future installment, and you're right, it's not a nice creature at all.

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