19th of December: Jamie Brindle
I have been writing stories for pretty much as long as I can remember. Although I have mucked about a bit with a lot of different genres and styles, I think of myself mainly as a fantasy author.

I write a spectrum of fantasy, from light, fluffy, comedic stuff, through more more magical, fairy-tale stuff (often with a post-modern or ‘meta’ slant, and sometimes even with a hint of magical realism), to darker fantasy and grim folk-tale inspired fiction. At the very far end of the spectrum, I do write some fantasy that’s so dark it’s bordering on horror. I tend not to write heroic or epic fantasy (though that said, I do have one idea in the pipeline…)

The 'micro-stories' is where I post new, tiny stories. These are usually between 150 and 1000 words or so. These stories stay on my website for a few months, and then get cycled off, never to return. They are replaced by new stories, and I package the old ones together with another, longer story and put the mini-collection up on amazon. That's the plan at least—watch this space to see if it actually comes off!

For longer stories, check out the links in the 'stories and interviews' page.

I have worked various jobs (including driving a tractor, working in a lab, and selling boomerangs at Covent Garden in London); I am now a GP registrar in the East Midlands. I am married to a woman who thinks she is a badger, and have a beautiful young boy called Ben. My parents run a hedge maze in Bedfordshire, which you can visit (though the opening times change with the seasons).

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter or visit my website; I’m also on Goodreads.

Sign up for my mailing list to be kept up to date with new releases and to get free short stories.

You can contact me via the form on the contact page, or via social media. Please do get in touch if you have any thoughts or questions!

Modern Serpents Talk Things Through

by Jamie Brindle

"You're wearing too much armour," came the voice. "I thought we agreed that this was a place where we left our armour at the door."

Silence. She licked her lips. She felt a stab of resentment, anger even. But she knew it was born out of fear. She let her eyelids slide shut and relaxed.

Just let that negative energy burn away, she told herself. It's doing no good here, so why hold onto it? Let it go.

She breathed out gently, and an unintentional wisp of flame curled out from between her teeth.

"Sorry," she muttered, any fleeting sensations of peace vanishing to be replaced by embarrassment.

"Tina, you don't need to apologise for your body," came the voice, reproaching her gently. "I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to help you. You can fart or belch or scratch yourself for all I care. I want you to feel totally relaxed. I want you to imagine …to imagine that you are talking to a part of yourself. Can you do that for me?"

Tina shuffled, trying to get comfortable. In fact, the couch was made out of really good quality plunder, a large quantity of gold and more of silver, not to mention a generous scattering of twinkling gemstones. It should have been the most comfortable bed Tina had ever sprawled on, but she still found it difficult to feel at home during these sessions.

"Sorry," muttered Tina again. "It's my lunch. I've been trying this new diet, like I said. The first few days I thought I had it cracked, but today I just …I didn't have the willpower, and …I splurged a bit."

A wave of shame rolled over her as she thought about the livestock she had gobbled down earlier. She had promised herself that she would stop at one, she wouldn't even go for the calf …but that was the way her binges always started, and she knew her diet was ruined now.

She sensed the figure behind her shift slightly.

"Do you want to talk about your diet?" it asked her, neutrally. "I thought we made some real progress in that direction during our last session."

Tina raised one wing and flapped it vaguely in dissent.

"No, no," she sighed. "I want to talk about …about the other thing."

Silence from behind her.

It was an expectant silence, an expert silence. There was just the right amount of it to make people want to fill it up.

But Tina didn't know where to begin. It was such a big deal, such a taboo …how did you begin talking about such a huge darkness?

"Just start again, like you did before," came the voice, as if it could read her thoughts. "Only this time, try and take some of your armour off. There's nothing to be afraid of. This is a safe place."

Tina hesitated, licked her lips, forced herself to plunge forward.

"I had a break-in yesterday," she said, and stopped.

Behind her, there was a small movement in the air, which Tina knew was the figure nodding her head, encouraging her to go on.

"Nothing serious, no one was hurt," she continued. "The other girls were out, I was home alone. I heard something echoing off towards the front gate. At first, I thought it was nothing, but then…"

She closed her eyes. You can do this, she told herself. You're a big girl now. You can talk about these things.

"There were five of them. They were young, I think. They can't have imagined anyone would be in, otherwise I'm sure they wouldn't have risked it. I don't think they had given much thought about what they'd do if they actually came across someone."

Tina paused. Well, she was doing better than she had thought. So far, so good …

"That must have been so scary," sympathised the voice. "Were they humans?"

"Three humans and two dwarves, I think," replied Tina, who had thought about this a lot. "At least, I think so. It's so difficult to tell. Afterwards, you know, I wondered …that is to say, I worried, what if they were all humans? I mean, what if they were human children? It's so difficult to tell," she repeated, her voice sounding thin and earnest.

"Tina," said the voice sternly, "I want you to stop being so hard on yourself. I am telling you as someone outside of the situation, I think you are being neurotic. I'm sure they were dwarves. Human children wouldn't have been out terrorising ordinary, innocent dragons like you. And even if they were, even if it was some strange tribe that sends their children out as robbers and thieves—well, is that your fault?"

"No," muttered Tina.

"No, of course it isn't!" affirmed the voice. "And anyway, did they smell like dwarves?"

"Yes," admitted Tina.

"Well then, there you go," said the voice.

There was silence again. Tina shifted slightly, and a small shower of gold coins made a pleasant tinkling noise as they cascaded down the sparkling couch.

"When they came into the great chamber, I don't know who was more scared, them or me," said Tina, and it was true. She remembered their faces as they saw her towering over them, so tiny, so impossibly small. She remembered the fear-scent that washed off their little bodies. How was it possible that creatures so tiny, so insignificant could have their own ideas, their own brief lives, their own primitive cultures, even? Of course, the law was quite clear: humans and dwarves and all the other small, bipedal creatures were simply another class of animal, nothing more. What did it matter if they had their own languages, if they built crude little caves to call their homes? Birds sang to each other, and made houses, too.

But seeing those intruders there, with their finely drawn expressions, with the chatter of their little voices, with the crude clothes they wore and weapons they bore, it had brought the old feelings crashing back. They rose like a wave, instant and immediately overwhelming. It was the same feelings that had been stirred in her when she visited the zoo, the same sharp curiosity, the same wonder at something that had the trappings, at least, of rudimentary intelligence, but at the same time was so completely other…

"And what happened next?" came the voice, interrupting her musings.

Tina shrugged her shoulders, stirring her wings.

"At first we just stared at each other," she said. "You know, it's funny how things come into your head at times like this. I was staring at these intruders, these strange creatures that had broken into my home and were there to rob, to steal …and I should have been furious! I knew I should have been. Or scared. Maybe I should have been scared. But all I could think was…"

"Yes?"

"All I could think about was this article I'd read in some magazine," Tina went on. "It was about humans. Just a silly little article in a magazine, I've forgotten which one. I've forgotten when. But it talked about how short their lives were. How amazingly, terribly short. And I just felt so sad."

I'm going to tell her soon, Tina thought. It was working. She really did feel relaxed. She felt like she could almost talk about anything. Even …

"Anyway," she went on, "I was just staring at them, and for a moment, I swear, I was almost ready to just …just look the other way. Just walk back into one of the lesser chambers, and let them take what they want. It was like I felt they deserved it. After all, their lives were so … so small. What did it matter to me if they took … oh, a gold cup or something. I wouldn't miss it, not really miss it. But then…"

Tina sighed. A sad little tendril of smoke curled out from between her teeth and drifted away.

"Then one of them pulled out a crossbow and shot me in the paw," Tina snorted, somewhere between a laugh and a wince. "You know, it really hurt! More than I was expecting, far more. And before I knew what I was doing…"

The scene flashed before her mind again: the snapping open of her wings, the flickering of her muscles, moving so fast that it almost seemed to happen before she willed it. The smoke, the heat. The soft trembling of the small mound of flesh suddenly buried under one of her talons. The screams—deeper than she had expected, much deeper than she would have thought from such tiny animals. And after that …

"It didn't take long," said Tina, softly. "Before I knew what I was doing, none of them were in any state to fight anymore."

She stopped. She wanted to say more. She was so close. She took a breath, then another.

She would tell all. She would. She would.

A clock chimed, soft but insistent.

Tina felt herself relax.

"I'm sorry my dear, that's your time up," the voice sounded apologetic. "Let's pick up next week, shall we?"

Tina nodded, unsure if it was relief or disappointment she was feeling.

She clambered to her feet, shaking her scales and allowing the little shards of precious metals and gems to slide off her and back to the comfortable horde where they belonged.

Her therapist smiled at her kindly, peering over the top of her thick spectacles. In one claw, she was fingering the gold medallion that she always wore around her neck, rubbing it softly.

"We did some good work today," she told Tina. "I'm sorry we have to stop here for now. But remember," she said, drawing closer and laying one soft claw on Tina's shoulder, "you didn't do anything wrong. I can see you are carrying so much guilt. I see you walk in with it, every time you come to see me. But you don't need to carry those feelings. I hope you are beginning to see that."

Tina turned her head, half smiling, embarrassed.

The therapist led her out of the chamber.

"Same time next week?" she asked, and Tina nodded.

She trotted away from the cosy little cave where her therapist worked, and within a few moments she was airborne, sailing away from the place and back towards her home.

I can't leave my worries there until next week, she thought. If only she could.

No, her real problems were waiting for her back at home. And they weren't going anywhere.

Oh well. Maybe next week she would be able to tell her the whole story.

Once more, her mind flashed back to those few vivid moments, the feeling of finality, the hollowness of those four little puffs of life emptying away into the vast darkness as she extinguished them …

 …and the shameful, poisoned joy of refusing to do the same to the fifth.

***

The next day was the weekend, and at first she thought things were going well. She had gotten up after only an extra hour of lounging on her hoard, she had mostly stuck to her diet (low-meat yoghurt sprinkled with an only-slightly-naughty scattering of tasty mutton chunks), she had even made it to the gym. And while she had done all this, she had definitely not been thinking of the small warm creature trapped in the disused storage cupboard at the back of the cave. Not at all.

On the way back from the gym, she thought she would treat herself with a copy of her favourite magazine, Modern Serpent. It was glossy and trashy, and she knew there were a thousand other more worthy things she could be reading, but it was easy and attractive and it made her happy. And it was flipping through the pages that things suddenly went wrong.

She had just finished reading a review of Mountain Tales (a new, highly popular reality TV show that followed the various fortunes of twelve cosseted city-dragons that were moved into a huge mountain lair, and forced to endure all sorts of outrageous, parochial problems; each week, the public voted one of the dragons out, and the winner got to keep the mountain), and was meaning to flip forward to the horoscopes, when the pages just flopped open in front of her …

 …and there it was.

It was if fate had put the article there for her to stumble on.

She stared down at the headlines, howling up at her in lurid red lettering.

"I TOOK A HUMAN LOVER … AND IT BROKE UP MY MARRIAGE!"

For an awful, impossible moment, she felt that it really was an accusation. She half expected to see a photograph of herself, staring guiltily back at her from the glossy print.

But no. When she forced herself to breath, when she looked again, she realised that the story was nothing to do with her. Of course it wasn't.

It was just an account of some slutty scum-wurm. They probably had only done it to sell the story. Who knew? Maybe they hadn't done it all. Probably they had just made it up.

Yes. That was right. It was just a silly story. Not real at all.

And why did she even care? After all, it wasn't like she was remotely attracted to …

She had just been too soft. That was all. She had just felt …bad. After all, the poor little creatures were like children, really. Their lives only bloomed for a few short moments and then they were old. A moment later, they were gone. She was just soft. That was her problem. She had always been too soft.

She let the thought trail off. Something began to harden in her.

No.

This had gone on long enough. It was just weakness, silly weakness. After all, where would that logic lead? Would she start balking at squishing the annoying little sheep that were always wandering into her cave? Maybe it would be birds next. Where would it end? Would she be unable to squash a fly without being paralysed with guilt?

It had to end, and she would end it now.

She would go back to her cavern straight away, she would open the storage cupboard, and she would pull out the little …

She forced herself to think it, to be honest with herself.

She would pull out the strange little human creature she had spared, and she would …

 …She would deal with it.

As soon as she had decided this, she felt much better, much lighter, as if a load had physically lifted from her mind.

And if she felt a little sick inside, what did that matter? She must have worked too hard during her Bums, Tums, Wings, and Things class. Or maybe it was the Flapping class, afterwards. She always did that. Pushed herself too hard and overdid things. It was definitely not to do with the fact that she was going to get rid of her little pet.

What sort of a dragon kept a human pet? Really, it was a bit of an odd thing to do. Certainly, people did it. Or at least, you heard stories. And if any of the other girls she lived with had found the little creature, Tina was sure they would have laughed and smiled and made jokes about it.

But deep down, she knew they would have been puzzled. It would have changed their opinion of her, and not for the better.

No, she would not keep on with such foolishness. The human would have to go.

 

ModernSerpents

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