Banh Mi Woman

She served breakfast with a smile;
A smile too for lunchtimes,
Afternoons and evenings –
She worked all the time.
I wondered to myself often
How long she had worked there
On the corner
Selling sandwiches
At fifty cents a time.
Her eyes drooping with exhaustion,
Her face lined with age,
Whatever dreams she had hoped for
She now had little time
To accomplish them.
Surrounded by commotion,
Her life never stopped,
Though it repeated itself
Every day.
I pause to think about her
And ponder all the time.


© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City of the World”

If you’d like to know more about this book and the others I have contributed to, please visit my author page and share my adventure:


Where the Moon is God – Chapter 2

You can catch up on the previous parts of Where the Moon is God here:

Where the Moon is God – Prologue

Where the Moon is God – Chapter 1

This is mostly character/plot building and backstory, more action will occur in the upcoming chapters.

There was one thing, and one thing alone, that had made Thomas interested in Theodore as a child: the other’s unremitting determination to see things himself, to witness everything before judging it. It was a truly inspirational way to live and one that nobody else did with quite the same ferocity. Thomas often wondered where Theodore’s inquisitive streak had come from, although he had never asked. It was much more fun to watch and learn from Theodore’s gentle, caring personality.

Being a monk made it difficult for Theodore to travel far, and generally the two of them spent their days within the walls of their monastery, where few distractions could tempt them to sin. Theodore had to rely on the written word of others to get first-hand (or sometimes second-hand) accounts. On rare occasions, the isolation seemed to get a little too much for him, and Theodore would leave the monastery to wander alone in the surrounding countryside. What he saw during those times was anybody’s guess, and Thomas did not wish to pry.

It was another element of Theodore to admire, another that made him so different from Thomas but so very likeable. Thomas enjoyed the comfort of the monastery and did not venture unless he had to. He liked to hear news from Henry and he more than liked discussing said news with others, but as far as he was concerned there was no need to get any more involved in goings-on than that.

In the same way that Thomas reflected on the Bible in his moments of silent meditation, so Theodore used his excited need to explore to do the same. When the other man could not explore, he would read and study to diel the apparently endless desire he had to contemplate the issues of the day. Theodore knew more about scholars and religious thinkers than Thomas, purely because Theodore would spend hours pouring over their works. Thomas liked to read and to know, but Theodore liked to study and to understand.

Thomas often found himself wishing that he could be more like Theodore. He wished that he could have the amazing patience of the other man, that thirst for knowledge that could keep Theodore going and going until he became physically exhausted. In truth, however, Thomas preferred to learn from one of the greats than become one of them.

So, whenever Theodore announced that he had received a message from one of his friends around the country (including the favourite Matthew), who wanted him opinion on some argument or philosophy, Thomas would leave him to it. He liked to watch as Theodore moved from one point the next, no matter how obvious or disconnected they seemed, and built up his arguments until he could reach his own conclusion. The way he did it was fascinating.

This was why Henry had asked for their thoughts. Thomas’ brother knew as well as Thomas himself that Theodore was a genius; whenever the three of them were together (a sadly rare occurrence of late), it was evident that Henry admired Theodore almost as much as Thomas did. It had been that way ever since they had been young, and in those days, the relationship between the other two young men had bothered Thomas. It had left him feeling sour. Now that they were all older, he wished he had spent less time thinking about Theodore and Henry’s friendship and more time learning from his friend.

That was why he had naturally rushed to find Theodore with the letter from Henry. Together, they could discuss what was happening, whether it was a wild dog or a human or a demon, and why it seemed to be connected to Henry, until one of them came up with something that would be of use to the priest.

As he sat on his bed watching Theodore pace back and forth in the small bedchamber, with barely enough room for three steps in any direction, he wondered whether he would ever meet anyone else quite like Theodore. It was doubtful. There was certainly nobody else in the world who had helped Thomas to develop his faith as much as Theodore had done. The way that Theodore approached the Bible had done more for Thomas than the church or sermons or the peaceful solitude of the monastery.

Of the two of them, Theodore was the strong-minded one. He had always known what he wanted and what he believed in, and had gone out of his way to follow his desires in the right way. He was so focused on success and yet so down to earth that he was granted both mental and physical health. Although he was not physically as strong as many men, there was no reason for him to be. He had everything he needed in order to be good at what he did.

Thomas, on the other hand, was a quiet enthusiast who liked to observe greatness rather than be a part of it. Theodore had been awe-inspiring even as a child, a too-thin little boy from a poor family who had taught Thomas a lot about less fortunate people. As an adult, Thomas had always felt stronger with Theodore around, more sure of himself and more capable of completing his tasks and goals. He no longer wanted to be Theodore – those days had long passed – but he did hope to one day be that pious himself.

When Thomas had previously voiced his thoughts about this reliance on his friend, Theodore had only laughed kindly and said that Thomas should have more faith in himself. That had helped to boost Thomas’ confidence. Theodore had pointed out that every man showed his faith in different ways, and that Thomas did not need to be like Theodore to show how deeply religious he was. He did not need to go on these grand adventures he imagined Theodore went on to have a full and interesting life.

Thomas found it strange that Theodore seemed to admire him equally. Theodore would dismiss gossip and try to bat Thomas away when he brought news, but in the end they both knew that he wanted to listen, that he would stare with wide and excited eyes until Thomas had finished the story. Theodore did not hear gossip as Thomas did – but then Theodore was forever caught up in his own thoughts, never paying as much attention to the world around them as Thomas did.

When Theodore had told Thomas that the Lord did not care how they demonstrated their belief as long as it was true, he had reminded Thomas that they would both be loved equally and welcoming into His kingdom upon their deaths. Then he had added that he had always admired Thomas for the dedication he had shown to Theodore when they had run away from the city and from their families to become monks, and that Thomas was the greatest gift the Lord had ever given him.

It was an unusual compliment to be called a gift from God, but Thomas had clung to it ever since those words had left Theodore’s mouth. They had made him want to beam with joy, but he had waited until he had been alone before he had allowed himself to grin. Praise from Theodore was a marvellous thing, never giving him more belief in himself than was good for the soul, and it brightened up even the darkest days in a way that Thomas did not think anybody else’s praise could do.

His world did not revolve around Theodore. It was difficult for Thomas to imagine life without the other, but there were times when even he had to admit they both needed a break. His life was dedicated to none other than God. Nevertheless, there had been a few occasions when Thomas had wondered where exactly admiration ended and the worshipping of a false (and very human) idol began.

Theodore, for as much as he sang Thomas’ praises, seemed to view their friendship differently. He had always been oblivious to the way that Thomas revered him – which was not necessarily a bad thing – and likely would have condemned the behaviour if he had ever caught on. Although he had always led, and Thomas had always followed, Theodore had never done anything to take advantage of that position.

Thomas could not remember the first time they had referred to one another as ‘brother’, because long before they had started on the path to become monks Theodore had heard other monks using the title and had adopted it for himself. He had integrated it into their friendship and Thomas had enjoyed the new term just as much. It had focused his attention on both Theodore and the monks.

Despite how Thomas had always walked in Theodore’s footsteps, willing to do anything the other had wanted of him, Theodore had never mentioned noticing it. He had certainly never used the position to his advantage, although he could have done so if he had ever wanted to. Thomas knew Theodore would never play on that power. Henry had made signs that he had spotted Thomas’ admiration, but what he thought of it was a secret known only to the priest; he seemed content to allow Thomas to live his life the way he wanted to, in Theodore’s shadow.

Theodore was kind and considerate, the nicest person Thomas knew, with such a sensitive soul that Thomas sometimes did not feel good enough to be in his presence. That was what he thought as Theodore paced up and down, muttering quietly to himself as he thought about what had happened in Lincoln the previous night. Theodore would not rest until he had found his answer, because nine people had already died, and each death was a tragedy regardless of the extent of one’s sins. The dead might have changed their ways, if only they had been granted more time.

‘Wasn’t there a full moon last night?’ Theodore asked suddenly, making a scuffing sound on the floor as he stopped in his tracks. It pulled Thomas out of his own thoughts. Thomas scowled in his concentration. He had never paid much attention to the cycle of the moon; Theodore seemed to find it far easier to keep track of things like that, because Theodore noticed everything.

‘Yes … I think there was …’ he answered with some uncertainty.

Theodore made a sound that was half disbelief and half amazement. ‘Yes, I remember waking up and looking out of the window in the middle of the night! I had a bad dream.’ Thomas knew what that meant. He recognised the frightened look in Theodore’s eyes: it must have been an awful nightmare.

‘What was it about?’ he asked. Theodore visibly shook at being reminded of the dream.

‘I was being chased by something – or rather, by some things. They were monsters, demons, and hungry animals. I saw their faces.’

He hung his head for a moment and breathed a long sigh. Thomas thought about getting off the bed and going over to comfort the other man, but before he could decide what would be the best way to do it, Theodore had raised his head and started to pace again.

‘You’re safe here,’ Thomas told him, feeling weak at his hesitation. ‘They’re just nightmares.’

‘I know they are. I thought I’d conquered them, but … they keep coming back. Even meditation wouldn’t help me this time. Before you arrived at breakfast I was caught in madness and confusion. Each nightmare I have is worse than the previous one.’

Theodore stopped at the window and stooped to peer out of it. He ran a hand through his fair hair and squinted up at the sun.

‘You’re too tall for this building,’ Thomas told him, hoping to change the subject. He always felt uncomfortable when Theodore spoke about his nightmares, because there was nothing that he could do to help. Theodore did not seem to hear him.

‘Yes, the moon was full and bright,’ he muttered, still staring out of the window. Theodore did not elaborate further, until Thomas decided to push him for more information. People had been killed, after all, and they were distracted by the topic of the moon.

‘Is that relevant?’ he asked, one eyebrow raised.

‘I have no idea. I would be interested to know if the other six deaths had also occurred on a full moon.’

‘That would fit a pattern.’

‘It would do more than that. It would explain why your brother seemed to know exactly when to expect the deaths – why he was so quick to write to you. I’m not saying it’s certain, but – Henry must have suspected that something was going to happen. Perhaps this killer only strikes on a full moon.’ Theodore turned back to Thomas after he had finished; he did not look pleased with his own analysis. He rubbed his chin. ‘You know how I feel about superstition. People have felt spooked by the moon ever since we were first cast out for our rebellion. There’s something eerie about it.’

‘Well, of course there is,’ Thomas agreed. ‘It’s something we’ll never be able to touch.’

‘I feel like a fool for mentioning it,’ Theodore admitted.

‘There’s no need to. You’ve found something that might link the three nights together. It would be foolish to suggest that this is some creature from a folk tale designed to scare children and uneducated people, but the cycle of the moon could be a valid point. Henry didn’t say anything about it, but I’m willing to bet he knew.’

Theodore nodded. ‘He probably didn’t want us to label it as nonsense straight away,’ he said. ‘Do you think common people might believe it to be a folk-creature?’

‘That would explain why the witnesses have provided such useless accounts. Of course, they are an uneducated lot – we can’t forget that. Their minds are small, and they often struggle to understand even the most basic of truths – but then, you know that already, Theo.’

‘I was merely suggesting,’ said Theodore, the smile on his face revealing that there had been no need for Thomas to remind him of lay ignorance, ‘that perhaps they would have another view of this that we do not have. After all, it is laypeople being killed; relatives of the deceased doubtless have their own theories about what killed them. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find out what they think. Consider it, Thomas – if you were a demon, what better way would there be to create terror within common people than by taking the form of a monster from their misguided beliefs?’

‘Those people only see what they want to see,’ Thomas replied awkwardly. He had not considered whether the creature might want anything more than to kill. ‘So, you’re saying that if the common folk belief it’s something that intellectuals know doesn’t exist … then the demon can keep killing for longer?’

‘Exactly. Let’s suppose it is a demon. Maybe it could even move from one place to another without suspicion in this manner.’ Theodore sighed. ‘I don’t know. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not convinced this is a demon, but I keep thinking that it has to be something other than a human. That little guiding voice in my head is saying “what if?” – well, what if the entire thing is just exaggerated, silly rumours? What if they catch the man responsible tomorrow?? What if, what if, what if!’

‘I feel the same. The cities …’ Thomas shrugged.

‘You still don’t like the cities, do you?’


Theodore did not need Thomas to answer that question and they both knew it. If he had not already known the answer, then he would have been able to tell what it was simply by looking into the other man’s eyes.

Thomas’ father had been furious with the pair of them when they had left Lincoln as young men. As far as the older man had been concerned, Theodore had stolen his son from him. The confusing games that Thomas’ father had played, designed to manipulate Thomas and force him to reconcile with his angry father, had led to the monk holding a powerful and negative opinion of cities and the people who lived within them.

Sometimes, Thomas’ father had seemed to regret his words, to relent, but it had never stayed that way for long. The last time that it had happened, he had demanded that Thomas either return home to wed or stay out of his life for good. Thomas had chosen the latter and stuck to the country ever since. Thankfully, the only word Thomas heard of his father was from Henry, and even this was sparse.

Theodore had his reservations about cities, too, though not to the same extent as Thomas. They were a breeding ground for corrupt clergymen, the priest Henry being the exception. City clergymen accepted bribes and seemed to have a passion for adultery. They even claimed power over the monasteries, with no rights to them. They were greedy, sinful men, who led the laypeople living under their wings into the Hell-fire along with themselves.

As well as this, cities were filthy, smelly places. Theodore recalled how angry and unhealthy the people he had lived with in Lincoln had been. Stepping into an urban area would produce gluttony, lust, or any other sin imaginable; Theodore had wondered on more than one occasion how long it would be before he himself was tempted by the sheer corruption within large towns and cities.

Then there was the ignorance. It would only serve to make Henry’s situation worse if the so-called witnesses were speaking of monsters from scary stories. If people were seeing what terrified them in the darkness, Theodore would hate to discover what he would see if he ever faced this killer.

Things were simpler in the country. The monks examined philosophical and theological arguments, and spent little to no time dwelling on the problems of city-folk. Nevertheless, there were occasions when they were impossible to ignore.

Providing a religious purity that was unobtainable in cities, the wide expanse of open farmland and grassland around them allowed Theodore to withdraw from the physical world and reach a glorious state of mind that was untroubled by human affairs. This letter from Henry seemed to be dragging him back to the physical world, but he did have an ability to look beyond things that could offer him an insight Henry simply did not have.

Thomas shifted on his bed, his fists twisted in the covers; Theodore made a mental note to suggest meditation later in the day. Talking about the place where they had grown up was clearly wearing on Thomas. The sitting monk sighed and, after a brief silence in which they had both been allowed to think, he responded to Theodore’s earlier question.

‘It’s not that I don’t like the cities,’ he said hesitantly, ‘it’s that I think the people who live in those places are … they’re too desperate for proof of what is obvious, if only they bothered to look. They see God and devils and all manner of things in places where they are not. They make up lies, they don’t look to the church as much as they should, and they invent explanations for the world around themselves. They could find Christ on the soles of their shoes if they stared at them for long enough.’

That was exactly how Theodore felt, but he thought better than to prolong their conversation. He acted on his mental note to suggest they go meditate, and Thomas offered him a grateful smile in return. They left the room and headed down the hall, to the quietest room in the monastery.

As he sat there on the floor with his eyes shut, Theodore felt his mind slip into rest, and was thankful that there was nothing to distract him this time. He lost himself in the tranquillity; after an age, he was pulled back into the real world by Thomas whispering in his ear.

‘Thanks, Theo,’ he said.

Theodore opened one eye to look at Thomas, then the other. He smiled. ‘I think it helped us both,’ he replied.

They went to eat, and Thomas seemed much more cheerful. Theodore watched the other man, his mind sinking back into those busy, complicated thoughts that were always going around in his head when he was not focusing on clearing his mind. He could not meditate forever. They would soon need to discuss Lincoln again, and when they did Thomas was going to have to try his best to focus on the issue at hand, rather than on their past.

Theodore had tried to help Thomas overcome his hated of urban areas, but he had never been successful and had sometimes wondered whether he did not know the whole truth about the other man’s father. If Thomas was hiding something, then Theodore did not dare to consider what keeping that lie was doing to his immortal soul. His own attempts to help had only ever made the situation worse. A letter that he had written to Henry during one of his most concerned moments, asking how they could help Thomas to leave his fury in the past, had only left Theodore hurt when the priest had told him never to bring up the subject again.

It had been an odd and blunt thing for the priest to say, but Theodore had a great deal of respect for Henry and had decided to follow this instruction. Henry had, after all, been the one who had helped the pair of them escape from Lincoln, and who had stayed behind to protect them after his father had discovered him attempting to make his own escape. There was nothing Theodore could ever do to repay the priest. Shutting up when Henry asked him to was a start.

Thomas noticed Theodore was watching him between mouthfuls and put his spoon down. ‘You know, I cannot imagine how this culprit is going to be caught other than with blood on his hands,’ he said, mistaking Theodore’s concern over him for concern over the dead in Lincoln. ‘I wish nobody else will have to die, I do, but I do not see how they might be discovered otherwise. Clearly, neither Henry nor the constable have enough to go on to find them.’

‘That is not something we need to solve,’ Theodore reminded Thomas, picking up his own neglected spoon as he tried to act casual. ‘Henry just wants our advice. The king will send others to deal with this killer, should he feel that the constable cannot handle the job. If there is anything the constable has not uncovered, the king’s men will find it. We must remember that it is not our place to hunt down murderers; we can help in other ways. Our opinions are treasured. If this is a demon, they’ll find the right people to deal with it.’

‘It sounds like a powerful one,’ Thomas pointed out.

‘Yes, it does. They might ask the bishop to expel it.’

Thomas paused for a moment, then said, ‘You’re right, Theo.’ The excitement he had shown when he had first spoken of Henry’s letter was gone, replaced by an almost disinterested gaze. ‘Of course – and I can understand why Henry wants our advice. Whatever it is, it’s circling him.’

‘It seems so,’ Theodore agreed. He reached across the table with his free hand and grasped Thomas’ shoulder gently, hoping to reassure the other with his touch. ‘I’m sure it’ll be resolved, and the perpetrator dealt with accordingly, because it can get anywhere near him.’

Thomas smiled at that, a more genuine look than any Theodore had seen on his face so far that day. Perhaps all he had wanted was a bit of comfort. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said; Theodore removed the hand and returned his attention to his food. Thomas did the same, finishing without any mention of the poor taste this time.

They spent the remainder of the day focused on their own tasks. Theodore wrote a letter to Matthew asking if the man had ever heard of anything like this killer before, then returned to studying in the hope that he might find an incident strange enough to relate to Henry’s letter. It was late when he gave up and retired to his chamber.

He would try again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until he found something useful for the priest. Theodore sat at the end of his bed that night, contemplating to himself. He had no doubts that Henry was in trouble until this killer was caught.

Laying in his bed, Theodore glanced briefly out of the nearby window and was reminded of his nightmare by the silvery moon. Perhaps he should not have cast his dream aside so lightly – had those wolves been a warning, a message from a higher being that there were monsters in Lincoln? People had visions from God all the time, especially those who lived simple lives such as his own. He had always assumed that it would be obvious when one received a direct message from the Lord, without any need for interpretation, but he found this suddenly in doubt.

If he had not opened himself up to the idea of divinely inspired dreams enough to recognise one when he had it, then he needed to grant himself the time to understand whether there was any meaning behind his nightmare. He could not ignore the dream when it and the deaths had happened simultaneously.

The idea that the Lord was telling him personally that there was a demon in Lincoln came with another problem: it would likely mean Theodore was somehow involved. The nightmare had been incredibly vivid, and he could remember it so well that the more he thought about it, the more the connection seemed to make sense. Yet, if this was the case, why had he not also had nightmares during the other six deaths? Why would God not have alerted Theodore sooner, so that he might have averted those earlier deaths?

Groaning from the dull ache growing in his head from such thoughts, Theodore closed his eyes and reached out with an invisible hand, searching for any feelings of divine influence over him. After several minutes he gave up, deciding that he was probably looking too far into the dream and that there was no reason for him to definitively link it to what was happening in the city.

He rolled onto his side and buried his head in his hands, trying to drag the thoughts from his mind so that he could get some sleep. There was nothing he could do to bring those people back.

Theodore slept easier that night, soundless and without any terrors to wake him or make him sweat. When he woke the next morning, he had managed to convince himself that the nightmare was of no importance and that he had been looking for an answer where there had been no question.

This would settle down, and justice would be served. His advice would no doubt be useful to Henry, but this was not his fight.

Anh Part 2: The Teacher

You can read part 1 here.

During break time I took up my pen and sat in silence
Writing nothing because nothing came to mind:
No plan for the lesson ahead; no plan for anything besides;
Nothing to end the torment spinning in my brain.
In that time I desired to know only one thing,
One thing alone I deemed important enough to learn:
Why should I have a plan for my students, for my lessons,
When my teacher seems to have no plan for me?
Then began my journey of great discovery
With fire born from anger and no guarantee;
When I arrived in the next classroom with no papers
And a book that I had all but burned in my rage
The students were unable to contain their glee –
Which must be something that wears away over time
And with age, for never have I summoned such excitement
Since my youth, and long ago it seemed as joyous children
Paraded around the room bubbling and carefree;
It made me realize how odd it is to find
That when my teacher has no plan it bothers me;
In that overwhelming moment I felt I had to
Teach the children how to escape from their cells,
So I told them of the teacher and His betrayal
And in turn made them little versions of myself;
In their young minds the teacher’s image became
One He never would have painted on His own.
Afterwards, they knew nothing but hatred for the teacher
(“That monster!” they screamed in their anger,
“Are we a class that He does nothing but ignore?”
And though I did not wish for them to suffer any further,
They were caught within the emptiness I had created.
“Look! See how He leaves us in the dark without a torch!
Why does a teacher allow pain within His classroom?
Why does He present nothing helpful to us?”)
Though I could not hope to provide them with any answers,
I had created a group of doubters with great ease,
Moulded from my own doubts to spread disease;
When those students are older, and should their fury remain,
Then that responsibility will be mine and mine alone,
For that morning when I sat inside my classroom
Watching the students engage lazily with their task
Became the morning that my teacher saw my fury
And decreed that I should never be content.

© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City of the World”

If you’d like to know more about this book and the others I have contributed to, please visit my author page and share my adventure:

Where the Moon is God – Chapter 1

You can read the first part of Where the Moon is God via the link below:

Where the Moon is God – Prologue

I hope you enjoy reading!

Theodore considered himself to be a generally very calm and collected individual. He was reverent and deeply religious, a monk who worshipped God as truly and faithfully as any man could. His mind was free of wicked thoughts, his body of sinful deeds. He had escaped from the evils of the world many years ago, delivered himself to a better place – a purer place – and forgiven those who had done him wrong.

It was rare for him, with all his composure, to be haunted by nightmares. Bad dreams were the only dreams he tended to have, when he had them, and they disturbed him deeply. There was no word he could think of to describe what simply terrifying things his unconscious mind was able to invent.

He lived in a large monastery in the country, isolated enough for the monks there to enjoy the world around them without getting too involved in its affairs. If nature could not calm his thunderous heart, then there was nothing that could. Nature, it seemed, was all out of ideas this time.

He settled himself down quietly in the middle of a small room in the monastery. It was a part of the building largely reserved for meditation. Theodore was cross-legged on the floor, his eyes closed and his bottom lip quivering with effort, but his hopes of reaching the tranquillity that meditation usually granted him proved fruitless. It had been many months, perhaps even a year, since Theodore had woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat; the previous night had been a cruel reminder that he would never wholly defeat his demons.

It had been unlike any other night he could remember. He had tossed and turned in his tiny bed for hours, too hot one minute and shivering with cold the next. Once he had gotten to sleep, he had seen images of demons and inhuman monsters flashing through his mind. They had been hungry creatures, searching for their prey – searching for Theodore. He had thrown himself violently from side to side, as though kicking at the thin bedcovers might get them off his scent and end the dream. In the early hours of the morning, he had woken with a throbbing headache, after three mere hours of rest.

He had climbed out of his bed and walked over to the tiny window, bent his neck to see out of it, and looked up at the sky. The full moon had stared back at him and he had put the nightmare down to a superstitious mind that should have known better. After a few minutes walking back and forth in his room waiting for his pulse to return to normal, he had climbed back into his bed and attempted to return to sleep, but it had eluded him. Eventually, there had been movement from outside of his room, and giving upon sleep he prepared himself for the day, with a head that was still throbbing.

Seated on the floor of the cool room, the sun shining down upon him from a high window, he could tell him foolish he had been to be frightening of made-up monsters. It was never easy to see that in the darkness, when all kinds of people could imagine all kinds of things with little persuasion. Demons were real, of course, but then it was not the demons that caused him to cower like a child. Wild dogs could have been a danger, if he slept out in the open, but what he had dreamt of had been able to turn from a man into a wolf and back again, apparently at will.

Most enlightened scholars had rejected the concept of werewolves. Theodore had read a lot on the topic – certainly more than he was supposed to have read – but he had never seen any plausible argument to suggest that they were, or had ever been, real. There were strange creatures out there, far away in eastern countries, but England was not brimming with monsters. There was no reason for him to be afraid.

As much as demons could taunt him by inventing these nightmares, he would be able to overcome them. He had his faith. He had painstakingly trained himself over many years not to want or lust for anything, and so demons posed no threat to him. All that Theodore had to do was chuckle to himself until he remembered that werewolves were not real; anyone else in the monastery would have told him the same.

He would not talk to just anyone, of course. If he wanted to share what he had seen behind his closed eyes, then he would choose to speak with someone who was not going to judge him. There were few in the monastery who he felt would react in the right way: he did not want sage advice or some foul-tasting drink that was supposed to prevent him from having further nightmares. He wanted someone who would listen and nod, and then tell him he was an idiot once he had finished speaking.

First, however, he needed to calm his mind. Theodore knew that he was too distracted to concentrate. The fear that had gripped him when he had first woken had faded away slowly, until it had become little more than a silly memory. Something remaining behind, something he was unable to name. Something that puzzled him.

He could only vaguely remember the last time that a nightmare had woken him and shook him to his core. The rarity of bad dreams only served to make them feel more intense. He remembered how cold he had been when he had shot out of bed, exactly like this time, shaking as though from a fever, freezing despite the heat of the night. Questions had filled his mind that time, too.

How was his unconscious mind able to generate so many grizzly images, when he had done everything within his power to live a life of charity and simplicity? He had never seen a man beaten, stabbed, or ripped to pieces, so how was he able to imagine those tortures so vividly? He had an idea of them from descriptions and the odd image in texts, and although he could appreciate both he knew that there was a clear distinction between those and real life.

Apparently, his lack of witnessing anything gruesome could not stop his brain from filling in the gaps of his knowledge: the guts that he had seen spilling out onto the ground had seemed all too real, not just some sketch on a sheet of parchment by a skilled hand but something that was there, right in front of his eyes. He had dreamt of people taking their last breaths, choked gasps still echoing around in his ears.

Theodore shook his head as though this might dislodge the thoughts from his brain, breathing slowly and deeply to clear his mind. It was unsuccessful.

With such vivid images still swirling around in his head, meditation proved useless. For the first time in a long while, he abandoned his morning routine, resigning himself to some breakfast so that he could try again on a full stomach. This was not the way that he was supposed to do things, but he was shaken up, and that was a good enough excuse to adapt his behaviour.

The bread and the water that he had every morning were bland and tasteless. They did nothing to improve his mood. A silent prayer at the table helped to appease him slightly, and his worries faded somewhat as he felt the comforting feeling of the holy watching over him. Not long after he had finished his prayer, he was joined on the wooden bench by another monk.

The newcomer placed his bowl down on the table with a clunk and looked at Theodore with a grin that was far too cheery.

‘Good morning, Theo!’ the new arrival said, the grin turning into an even wider beam that split his face in two. It was a look that Theodore had seen opposite him every morning for many long years, something that would always manage to cheer him up, as though the other man’s happiness was somehow infectious. It did not seem to work on that morning. It was not a good morning, and no amount of saying that it was a good morning was going to make it one. Theodore mustered up the happiest voice he could.

‘Good morning, Thomas.’ He sighed, then ran a hand over his eyes, trying to shake the strange feeling that he was still in the dream. ‘You sound as though you might burst into song at any moment.’ Theodore paused, cocking his head to one side as he studied Thomas. ‘Please refrain.’

‘The sun is bright. It’s a beautiful day!’ Thomas ignored Theodore’s comment and continued to smile. He picked up his bread, tore some off, and examined it playfully before putting it in his mouth. Theodore watched, unable to hide his amusement.

‘Do we thank the Lord for this glorious sunshine?’ he asked Thomas, holding a piece of bread up himself and moving it between his fingers; it was a little too hard and a little too dry. They both knew the question was not serious.

‘Theo, we are Englishmen,’ Thomas replied. ‘When we get sunshine, we definitely thank the Lord.’

They chuckled quietly, mindful that some of the other monks had made vows of silence and that their whimsical conversation would not be encouraging to those devoted men. The pair shared a meaningful glance before returning to their meals, a look that said they were both glad to be in the other’s company. Theodore wondered whether anything had bothered Thomas in the night but did not ask. Thomas would want Theodore to discuss his own dream in fair exchange.

It was not long before Thomas spoke again. He had always enjoyed talking a little too much and Theodore had drawn attention to this more than once, but this was hardly enough to stop the man. Thomas pushed his half-empty bowl into the middle of the table, rested his elbows on the table, and leant on his hands, looking across at Theodore. Theodore put down his water, waiting for whatever the other wanted to say.

‘Have you heard the news from Lincoln?’

Theodore simultaneously grinned and sighed in exasperation. He shook his head slowly, chuckling to himself. Thomas seemed to know every scrap of information brought to the monastery before any other man, and his wide, excited eyes could not hide the fact that he considered this information to be something special.

‘You should stop your gossiping, brother Thomas,’ Theodore warned with a waggle of his finger. ‘It is not so good for the soul.’ He knew that the other monk was not going to finish speaking until he had shared everything he knew with Theodore, but then Thomas knew that Theodore wanted to hear it. Theodore liked to think that this was because Thomas knew how to tell a good story, but not even a monk could tire of good gossip.

‘Nonsense! I am not gossiping! It is news!’

‘Very well,’ Theodore said, still laughing quietly. The playful glance that Thomas shot him encouraged him to give in, a sly look that the other man had been able to pull off since well before they had arrived at the monastery. ‘Come, come then, brother Thomas, and tell me what news comes from Lincoln today.’

Thomas shuffled about in his seat as though the wait between announcing that he had news and Theodore asking to hear it had been too much for him, then moved his elbows off the table, his eyes fixed on Theodore’s. There was a moment of hesitation, a stillness that hung between them during which there was nothing else in the universe but them, before Thomas spoke. It was a pleasant moment: they had known one another before they had become monks and had always treated one another as brothers, although they were not related either by blood or marriage. Each man could read the other purely at a glance. Thomas was excited but also uncomfortable about what he had to say.

‘There were some horrible animal attacks inside the city walls last night,’ he finally said, unable to pass his voice off as casual. ‘I heard the news from my brother. He says he’s been keeping an eye on them.’

‘This news has come quick,’ Theodore commented.

‘You know Henry. He sent a messenger out here before the sun had even come up – he must have suspected something was going to happen and sent his messenger as soon as it did. He likes to keep me informed about goings-on in the city.’

Theodore nodded; Thomas’ brother often fuelled his gossip. ‘Wait – what do you mean? Is he looking out for attacks?’ he asked. He was shocked at the topic: animal attacks were rare in cities, especially in those with a wall. ‘Have there been others?’

‘Henry says there were some killings last month, too,’ Thomas explained. He picked up another piece of bread from his bowl and chewed on it for a few moments before continuing. Theodore had given up on his own bread. ‘He says the bodies were all of sinners – well, you know the sort of people who wander around cities at night – and they seem to have been attacked by some wild beast, something with huge claws and gigantic teeth. He thinks it’s probably a wild dog. Three were killed last night: one woman of the night, one gambler, one adulterer.’  Thomas counted them off on his fingers, the slender digits unfurling slowly. ‘Three also last month, and three the month before that.’ He reached nine and held his hands in front of Theodore’s face, as though this reiterated some point Theodore was missing. ‘He doesn’t think it will stop.’

‘It sounds as though he might be right.’

‘Yes. The constable got involved last month.’

‘They don’t appear to have done much.’

‘According to Henry, they killed a lot of dogs in the city, not that it’s done any good. There were a few suspects, too.’

‘People?’ Theodore raised his eyebrows, watching Thomas carefully. ‘Human suspects?’

‘Yes, well … Henry says all nine victims were morally corrupt.’ Thomas frowned. ‘It sounds strange … he did say they look like animal attacks, but you wouldn’t think an animal would be able to get past the wall or the guards month after month. Animals would go after anyone, maybe the guards themselves, not nine sinners … it sounds as though the constable will be baffled. Henry is baffled. He thinks our opinions on the matter might be useful.’

Theodore stared across the table at Thomas, his face blank, as he thought to himself. He watched the other man finish his bread and water and saw Thomas eyeing what was left in Theodore’s bowl.

‘Take it,’ he said, not wishing to be distracted from his thoughts. Thomas thanked him and snatched the bowl away, scooping up the last piece of bread and finishing it off. ‘Let me think for a while.’

‘Of course, brother,’ Thomas replied. He too fell into a thoughtful silence. Theodore watched the other man for a while, wondering what advice he would be able to offer that might help or comfort Thomas’ brother. Murders were not the forte of a monk.

This was not the first time Henry had asked for their advice, but it had only ever been matters of religion before. He had been a great support to them when they had been young, when they had played together despite the insistence of both sets of parents that they were from separate worlds and should stay that way. When the time had come, he had helped them to set off on the long path to become monks, and so they tried to assist him whenever he requested it.

If the truth was to be told, Thomas had always had an interest in things that should not have concerned him, which was how he had become friends with Theodore – a poor child with almost no education at the time – in the first place. This might have been another example of Thomas trying to get involved in something he should not, but that kind of thinking would not help Henry. It would be wrong to ignore these deaths based on Thomas’ over interest.

Theodore emerged from his thoughts to notice that Thomas had not come to a useful conclusion either. He tried to go back into his own mind, but found distracting questions floating to the front of his mind and slammed his fist down onto the wooden table in frustration.

Thomas jumped. The other monks, seated at the surrounding tables, jumped. The whole room stared at Theodore, who muttered a feeble apology about needing to meditate more and waited for the rest of the room to go back to their breakfasts before he spoke to Thomas.

‘Does Henry really think we can come to any kind of conclusion about what could have done this?’ he asked. ‘Man, woman, demon, wild dog … I doubt we can give your brother anything more than he already has. We will be no more helpful than the constable. Yes, there are wild dogs in the forests around this monastery and yes, they could get to the city and back in a night with ease. As far as I know, they live in packs, and they do not go beyond the treeline, otherwise we ourselves would be unsafe.’

‘Someone would surely spot a wild pack,’ Thomas agreed. ‘I think Henry just wants any help he can get.’

‘That, I understand. I’m not saying that I’m not convinced it isn’t an animal. I’m just saying … I … don’t know what I’m saying. Even if it is an animal, there seems to be no way to find it unless it is caught in the act. There are so many, but … no, no, I don’t believe it was an animal.’

‘Neither do I,’ said Thomas. ‘Which begs the question: what is it? You think a person can tear people apart, cut deeper than bone, and that they would eat …’ he stalled, one hand over his mouth, as though trying not to be sick. ‘Because I don’t think a human would.’

Theodore scratched his chin thoughtfully and noticed that he needed to shave. ‘I don’t think so, either. Do you know what I could do? I could message my friend Matthew, the monk from St. Albans. He likes to document strange things that happen, so he might have come across something like this before. You remember him, don’t you?’

‘Yeah, I remember him. Good man. Likes to talk.’

‘It might take some time for him to reply, and he might not have anything to say, but …’

‘But it’s worth a shot,’ Thomas finished for Theodore. ‘I’ll tell Henry you’ll write to Matthew, but we should also think of some suggestions of our own. He’s evidently very concerned about his parishioners being targeted like this.’

‘Wait – his parishioners were targeted?’ Theodore asked. This was beginning to sound less like a wild dog and more like the work of someone or something evil and sinister that was targeting specific people.

‘Yes … all nine of them were his.’ Thomas picked at a few crumbs that remained in the bottom of his bowl and scowled. ‘Do you think this food is getting worse? Anyway, the constable had guards stationed around the area last night, like they knew it was going to be there. No idea whether they saw anything, though. Apparently, there have only been a handful of sightings of this thing. Henry say’s he’s spoken to people who have seen it but not got much from them. Stories of vague shapes and monsters lurking in the shadows. Well, you know how people make things up sometimes.’

He paused, still playing with the crumbs. Theodore waited for Thomas to continue. ‘That’s not even the weirdest thing about it,’ Thomas said eventually. ‘You see, all nine of them had confessed their sins to Henry shortly before they had died … within the month of their deaths, as far as Henry can remember. He wrote that none had been ready for forgiveness, and had not taken their penances seriously.’

Theodore could not hide his surprise. ‘How very strange. They are sinners,’ he pointed out, a shake of his head accompanying the final word, ‘and it is the cities that breed them. They’re everywhere in populated areas; whenever you look, wherever you turn, there they are. Maybe it’s a coincidence … but it would be an impressive coincidence indeed. Your brother does take a lot of confessions, and not all of those people are able to drag themselves out of the corruption of the city as easily as we did.’

Thomas nodded in agreement. He glanced around himself and kept his voice low to avoid being overheard. ‘I suppose there’s always the possibility that it’s someone close to Henry. My brother seems to be contemplating divine involvement, or even retribution. All things happen for a reason.’

‘I don’t want to think it could be someone Henry knows,’ Theodore replied, ‘and divine intervention, even in the case of the worst sinners, is extremely rare. Could all nine really have done enough to warrant it? God would have been willing to forgive them, when they were ready.’

Theodore was stumped. It was Thomas who brought up the final possibility.

‘It might be a demon,’ he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. ‘That sounds like the most realistic option to me. A demon is roaming the city, punishing souls that do not see the light.’

‘It could be a demon,’ Theodore agreed, his own voice only a breath. ‘It could be.’

He left the statement there and fell silence once more. Theodore did not like to put words in God’s mouth and always liked to ensure he had clear evidence before crying out his support for something. He had been that way ever since his father had first encouraged him to embrace Christianity fully and join the church, then only a boy. That was how he had first met Thomas, and their relationship had developed from there. Theodore wanted to know that there was no chance that these attacks were being caused by an animal before advising Henry to protect himself and his flock from something far more sinister.

… And a Dance

Two dragons,
Each composed of two grown men;
Another man dressed as
A large, golden Buddha.
They progress around the room, pausing
At each table
To spread smiles
And bring cheer
To their audience.

On the stage, they dance
And twist, flashing colours
Before our eyes,
Filling our vision with rainbows
Of red and gold.
However long they spark amusement,
Time flies by at double speed.

We see ourselves as strangers in our homes,
Outsiders looking upon
Our own cultures, wondering
Just as we are marvelling,
Viewing Christmas lights
And Easter eggs
And media obsession with royals
With alien meaning and intention,
All understanding lost. For this
Is who we are,
Watching the dragons dance,
Observing without knowing
Blind although we see.

It makes the moment
No less beautiful,
The evening no less enthralling;
We have no bias, existing
Purely to enjoy
And nothing more.

© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City Of The World”

Please visit my author page and share my adventure:

Tet: A Meal …

Lunar New Year is a time
For relaxation, celebration, salutation
And great joy for all. Flags unfurl,
Hanging from every building,
Swaying with the same energy that infects
Everyone below.

We take a break
From all our efforts, joining
Together to observe the celebrations.

There’s a large meal put on
For all the teachers, organized
By our boss, enough
To impress
The stockholders. We inhale
The scent of good food
And our stomachs answer in earnest,
Begging to try everything.

Tables laid out in perfect design,
Each a splendid replica of the last;
Vivid pictures in our minds
For years to come.
Melting on the tongue,
The food takes centre stage,
Lighting up our mouths with
Unique and wonderful flavours.

Then the drums begin
From somewhere behind us,
Confusing our ears
As we search for the source
Of the sound.

Thud, thud, thud
And thump, thump, thump
And rat-a-tat-a-tat;
They make our fingers tap.
The sounds infect our bodies
Until they feel as though
They come from inside of us.

Where is that noise coming from?
It grows in volume, intensifies
Until we could explode
From the vibrations coursing through us.
Then through a door
That bursts wide open
Comes the evening’s entertainment.

© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City Of The World”

Please visit my author page and share my adventure:

Where the Moon is God – Prologue

The sleeping city lay under a thick fog that granted occasional glimpses of the moon. It kept the prying eyes of heaven off what was happening below, where a young woman’s life hung in the balance.

She had been running down the dark streets for what seemed like forever. Her gown flapped around behind her loosely, rustling with her every step. Heavy make-up, revealing clothing, and a stench of sex gave away her profession, her filth lingering behind her in the darkness.

If there had ever been a time when she would live to see the dawn, it had long since passed. The only course of action that remained to her was to delay the inevitable.

It was becoming harder with every step: she was exhausted.

She had been chased through the streets at night before, by angry men who had taken advantage of her and then returned at a later hour to take back the money they had paid her. But this time, her pursuer was no man – it was something far more sinister, more monstrous than anyone who threatened her with cruel words or solid fists could ever have been. Fear was something she knew well, but tonight … this was a new kind of terror.

The narrow, cobbled streets she ran through were devoid of human life, but then no passer-by would have stopped to help her once they spotted the monster at her heels. Not to save a woman of the night.

The ragged breath that struck the back of her legs sent shivers up her spine; the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end at the feeling. She screamed as her chest began to tighten, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

She turned sharply to the right, down a hidden passageway that led onto the next street. Not fooled, her pursuer flew around the corner after her, spitting and snarling. It wanted her to remember it was there; she was hardly likely to forget. In fact, the part of her mind that could still concentrate on something other than panic and faster and death was convinced that it was toying with her. Twice she had thought she had escaped, and twice it had jumped at her out of nowhere, continuing their pursuit.

It was a swift and powerful beast, bouncing off the ground on four lean legs, the occasional sharp claw scraping across a stone. The whore ran barefoot ahead, leaving a trail of blood in her wake and trying her best to ignore the pain.

Barks, growls, and crueller sounds filled her ears. They were the sorts of noises she had only heard before in her nightmares. The beast grunted and snarled like a creature of no natural origin.

She knew what it was. There was only one thing it could possibly be. She was being chased through the streets by a demon. It was proof that her sins had condemned her to hell, proof that there was nothing but torture awaiting her in the next life.

The woman tried to turn left, but the creature snapped at her and forced her to go right instead. She realised her mistake immediately when she came to the bottom of a steep, cobbled hill, too fatigued to climb. Stumbling onwards regardless, she tripped and caught herself, then picked her feet up and focused herself on the ascent. That small portion of her mind again told her that the beast was waiting for her to collapse, waiting for her most vulnerable moment.

When that moment came, she would feel the true power of the monster. She had seen it only for a moment, right before the chase had begun, but the image had seared itself onto her irises. It had wide, staring eyes and enormous teeth. It was covered in black and grey fur, water droplets clinging onto the longer hairs from the heavy downfall that had engulfed the city earlier that night. The largest of its teeth, a pair of yellow fangs, had promised to tear through her clothes and skin with ease.

It was the pitch-black eyes that had scared her the most about the creature, their soulless glare deeply unnerving. The beast had stared at her intimately, eagerly, as though it had been assessing her, before she had overcome her initial feeling of shock and started to run.

Close to the top of the hill, she turned and tripped around a sharp corner, then flew straight into the wall of a house and landed on the ground with a huff. If anyone from the nearby houses was woken by the sound of her fall, none of them came outside to see what was going on.

She realised in that moment that it was over.

The creature was on her in an instant. A pair of huge, sabre-like teeth sunk into one of her shoulders; she screamed out into the night, but still nobody came outside. With teeth and claws it dug through flesh and bone, scattering what little she had been wearing and creating a bloody mess as the beast devoured her with haste. For all of the patience it had shown during the chase, it was evidently desperate to feed. She was not left to scream for long; an assault on her neck left her vocal chords scattered down the alley.

A barely audible gurgle signalled the final moment of the whore’s physical life, and then her suffering ended.


Blood and small pieces of skin dangled sloppily from the hairs around the beast’s mouth. It took a final bite before leaving the carcass of the whore in the alley, to be found by some unsuspecting person the following morning. She had been a hasty feast that it had eaten its way through in under a minute.

The animal sped off, far from satisfied. Keen eyes adapted to the night sought out a second victim. Real food came once a month, and only human flesh could truly please it.

And the chase – the game it played – was a celebration of its freedom. Like real food, freedom only came once a month. For the rest of the time, the creature was a prisoner, trapped inside the body of a human who had no idea that it was there and knew nothing of what happened when the monster took over.

It was incredibly smart and had great mental strength. The more people it tore apart and devoured, the stronger it seemed to become. It was sly enough to allow its human host to live their normal life, oblivious to the beast within, and ready to take over should it become threatened.

There, within that human, it had grown. A prisoner trapped inside a human-cell. The longer it had been in there, the more it had yearned for release, until it had been willing to do anything to escape. One day, it would take complete control of the body they shared, and then it would be the human trapped within the body of the beast.

There was nothing it thought about more than destroying the human: it was obsessed. Yet it was also patient, incredibly so. Patience was something it had always known.

Not much longer. Not much longer. Soon, it would be able to take control more frequently, and feed increasingly often. That was when it would be able to strike. The human would know the unnatural, unstoppable pain of being trapped inside a body that was not their own.

It was hardly the first to kill for freedom.


The second feed was easy for the beast to find. The only people who were out in the city at that hour were slow, easy targets, with no idea of what was lurking in the shadows.

He was a scruffy-looking man sneaking about at the back of a gambling den, probably looking for coins that had been dropped on the ground. The downward spiral of addiction encouraged by the city was evident on him. In a way, the monster would be doing him a favour.

After a while, the man gave up searching for coins and set off down the street, the beast following him. His life and death were under its command.

They walked for some time, the human staggering from side-to-side and muttering to himself, clearly intoxicated; the beast following without a sound. This was going to be a poor hunt, but chasing the screaming prostitute had been extremely satisfying and the animal knew it would be best to lay low after her deafening shrieks. The game was not an essential part of the hunt.

The gambler paused at the corner of a house, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. He did not seem to have the ability to run in him. Having no desire to continue the crawl, the beast took its chance and struck.

It leapt at the man and sunk its teeth into his neck, digging its fangs deep into the skin and slicing across his neck, leaving a trail of blood. The gambler did not even have a chance to see who his attacker was, dead before he hit the ground; the creature devoured his limp body just as it had done the harlot’s. Like her, the taste of his sins mingled with his flesh. A stink of impiety and negativity came off the meat, foul even to the beast’s nose. It could taste and smell every crime, every wrong, every immoral action the man had ever committed, from the first lie to the drinking and the gambling of that night.

The feast finished, the beast skulked away. One more meal to finish off the night, and then the creature would spend its remaining few hours wandering around the countryside, where it could chase wild animals and quietly observe the pack of wild dogs that lived in the nearby forest. They were instinctive animals without the same intelligent level conscious thought that the beast possessed, but it yearned to live as they did nonetheless. A simple life. An animalistic life.

Perhaps it could persuade them to allow it to join their pack. It would take some time. The beast was more powerful than any of them, strong enough to tear a man in two. It would continue to hunger for the taste of human flesh, like none of the others did, because it knew the power of that precious meat, but life with the wild dogs would be easy. It could live as nature had intended, no matter how unique it was.

The first few times that it had taken control from the human, it had not killed. It had done nothing more than enjoy its newfound freedom. Back then, the creature had believed it could have done anything; it had come to understand that it would have to suffer before it could do the things that others took for granted.

It tried to behave as the wild dogs behaved, to follow its instincts and do what felt natural. As the clouds drifted across the sky slowly, the full moon came into view, and instinct kicked in: the creature stood on its two back legs and reared up, howling at the moon, the only god it would ever answer to. The full moon was a blessing, the sign of its monthly night of freedom.

It would grow hungry in the last few days before the full moon. By the time it took control, it was usually ravenous. The beast would be desperate for the taste of skin and blood; sometimes it became so needy that its human host would crave large amounts of meat too. Two minds did not fit well in one body and one could have an impact upon the other without either of them noticing.

A third victim was close – the beast could sense it. They came out at night, the sinners. A part of the creature wanted to punish them for what they had done, perhaps a way that it could justify what it did, to carry out the work of the being that humans called God and purge society of their filth. It was a message to those who remained alive that they should live better lives and avoid immorality.

The last meal was not difficult for the monster to find, but he was accompanied by another person: a young girl, who he had been having an adulterous relationship with. She could live for another day, young enough to learn to change; if the beast caught her next month, that would be too bad. She would have to learn to run, and fast.

The beast’s quarrel was with the man, the one with the large stomach who reeked of sex. He should have been at home in bed, asleep with his wife and under the same roof as his children, but instead an excuse had allowed him to meet up with his younger lover. Whatever he had done to encourage the girl to believe his lies, it had been successful.

Wary of approaching more than one person at a time, the beast held back. It had learned previously that it was important for its prey to be alone and defenceless. If there were too many witnesses to its presence in the city, that would bring about its disaster.

After a short distance, the pair stopped, and the girl turned to face the man. She stood on the tips of her toes and kissed the man firmly on the lips before vanishing into her parent’s house and leaving her lover behind in the darkness. It would be the last time that she would ever see him. The beast was to save her from his manipulation.

The beast’s nose crinkled in disgust. There would be punishment for this man’s sin in this life, and in the next. He stood there, half shrouded in the shadow cast by that house, for a minute or so, seemingly lost in his thoughts. It was nothing for the beast to wait for him to turn and begin lumbering back down the street.

What a shame it was – he was too fat for a long chase. He would make a good meal, though.

The beast emerged from the darkness, gleefully watching the way that the man’s eyes went wide and his face fell as he spotted the great hulking monster in his path. It growled low and snapped at him; he tore off in the opposite direction, his footfalls heavy. There was no reason for the beast to toy with him: he offered it no fun. It sped after him, catching up with him before he was able to reach the corner at the far end of the street.

He was pulled to the ground as though he weighed nothing. The third frenzied feeding of the night followed, and then the beast, wary that it must have been heard and likely spotted, crept away on quiet paws. It retreated to the dull green countryside beyond the city walls, where it felt the forest call to it.

The beast made its way over and settled down in the undergrowth on the outskirts of the forest, where it could look out into the stillness of the night. It enjoyed the contrast between the atmospheres of the city and the countryside. The only sounds in the forest were quiet, sometimes so quiet that it had to strain its ears to hear them. That in itself was significant: the animal had highly acute hearing.

Nocturnal animals hooted and called out into the night, their sounds sinister and uncanny in the darkness. The beast let out a soft howl, joining their chorus. Soon, it would be able to call this place home. Before then, there would be several long months, when it was not in command. It could feel itself growing stronger, but it was not yet strong enough.

One day, it would have full control of the body that it was forced to share with a worthless, hypocritical being. One day, but not yet.

For the present, the only home it had was the one where the human decided to spend their days. For the present, the human was so strong that the beast was sometimes unable to understand where they ended and it began. Two minds, forced to live where there should only ever have been one. A body pushed and forced to twist and change, depending upon which one of them was in control, and the way the controller wanted to look. A painful combination of monster and human that should never have been brought together, in which one of them would always be the captive of the other.

Maybe the human would realise that there was something living inside of them soon, and find out what the creature did. Perhaps they would discover what they became on the full moon and try to fight back, but the beast doubted that they would have the strength. It was confident that it could dominate, should the human ever learn that it existed within them.

There was a more pressing worry than that human, in any case; the beast knew them inside out. Other humans, however, were not the same. If a large enough group of laypeople discovered it, then they would have no issue with killing human and best as one, taking them both out with a single blow to kill the nightmare that stalked the streets. Then there were other dangers, hunters and soldiers, which would be even more dangerous for the beast.

Humans spoke of monsters and demons that could transform into whatever shape they desired, their stories making little or no distinction between the human and the beast that occupied that body, imagining them to be indistinguishable in some instances. Was that what it was? A demon? The beast had no answers to life’s simplest – and hardest – question. Humans had concluded, with their limited knowledge, that monsters were instinctive creatures, wanting nothing more than destruction and death, but this beast wished for far more. It knew loneliness like no human could understand it – it wanted to belong, to be accepted.

If it was a demon, then humans knew nothing of demons.

The beast had learned these stories through the human, their memories and conversations. It had spent a lot of time learning how to delve into the human’s mind without arousing suspicion. They were a well-educated person, a matter which had served the creature well, with a wide knowledge of folklore, religion, and modern thought.

The human had been useful, in this respect. They had taught the animal much about the world around it, including their weaknesses and how it could use those to its advantage. It would almost be a shame when the beast took over and the human was no more – or, rather, it would have been, had the concept of taking over not been such a glorious one. Freedom was the one thing that the animal would give anything for.

Yes, it killed. It destroyed lives, from individuals to whole communities, but it did so in a righteous way. Those it took down and fed upon were sinners, and their punishments in the next life would be far worse than anything it could possibly do to them in this one. With each human it devoured, it could feel its autonomy getting closer. The need to be free was, after all, hardly alien to mankind: it was only natural. It killed so that it could life, no in self-defence, but in self-preservation. It had never considered that there might be another way.

From the stories that humans told, the animal knew that it was a monster. This was what monsters did.

New story upcoming: Where the Moon is God

Now that I have posted the final chapter of Valhalla Rising, and the whole story is available on this blog to read, I am going to begin posting another story. This one is a horror entitled Where the Moon is God, and I wrote it before I wrote Valhalla Rising.

The prologue will be up later today, and chapter 1 will appear in 3 weeks time, as I will be on holiday for the next 2 weeks.

I hope you enjoy!

Anh Part One: The Philosopher

One morning as I sat inside my classroom
Watching the students engage lazily with their task
With empty hearts (For none of us desired this,
But the school had insisted nonetheless;
To what end, I cannot say, perhaps merely
To bore the students), I thought to myself –
Like the dog thinks before it fetches the pheasant,
Or the cat before it ignores its owner and returns
To sleep, that there was nothing more than this.
Alas, time went no faster. So I pictured in my head
Some almighty teacher, somewhere, who with
A look of defeat in His eyes watches us solemnly,
Asking what possessed Him to give us this dreary task;
Wondering why we all make such a fuss.
Why, He questions, is there not a better choice?
All of His students begin to ask the same, until in turn
They begin to question the teacher’s judgement;
The lessons turn worse. The students become unruly,
Making a sport that they practice time and time again
In which they pretend the teacher is nowhere to be found
And that they cannot see Him in the classroom.
Once one student has begun, so the rest will follow
Their poor example, until the world is but destroyed;
There’s nothing but students with nothing to learn
Because they do not consider their lessons worth learning.
As I sat there watching one student scratch her head
In her confusion over a badly-worded question
Which even I had hoped not to attempt, I considered
Standing proud before them; ripping up their tests papers
As they cheered me on with glee. Yet that, I could not do.
The school was my Master and the wage my chain.
I owed allegiance to these two; no other did I serve.
So I knew then, in that moment of understanding
And shared pain, that this imprudent student was me:
I had ignored the presence of my teacher for too long;
There was nothing left for me but Master and chain.
The key to my desperation was held in the cold hands
Of the insistent preacher who had first felt the need
To present my students with such tedious tests.
If I had gone down a different path, and abandoned
My intellect, who knows! For I shall always question whether
That might have brought me closer to my teacher’s lessons;
In a life that could have been no less fulfilling
And perhaps more happy, I could have been sitting
In the marital home with my precious children,
Thinking that it was time for them to submit themselves
To their role as students in that soulless institution;
In a place to teach them how to read and write and think,
Though not to feel or understand their fellow man,
They could have been like every other student, discouraged
To grow as individuals, until some sorry morning when
Each child became a perfect replica of the last,
Though in their innocence they would never be trained to know.
Or I could have been working on a checkout somewhere,
Wondering why the customers were purchasing
Such strange items, such weird collections of goods,
Feeling desperate to shout that the designer brands they bought
Failed to make them any more important than me.
Alas, the more I dreamed the test away the more I saw
It mattered not what I might have done with my life,
For still in each outcome I could imagine I knew
I would have neglected my teacher, in times of
Bitter strife, for the ones I had avoided in my youth.
My devotion to that great teacher was no good.

© Laura Marie Clark

Excerpt from the book “City of the World”

I really hope you enjoyed this poem, it’s one of my personal favourites from City of the World. Part 2 will be up soon!

If you’d like to know more about this book and the others I have contributed to, please visit my author page and share my adventure:


This is the final part of Valhalla Rising.

If you need to catch up, you can find the rest of the story via the following links:










The theme music could only be described as basic, at best. A few notes played in quick succession, repeated several times, and then the title appeared in the centre of the screen.




Zuwrath immediately decided that she did not like anything that associated the human camp with improvement. She placed one elbow on the edge of her desk and rested her head in her hand, her eyes concentrated on the screen on the opposite wall. Her tail smacked against the floor a couple of times as she waited for the words to fade away.

She should have been at home enjoying her evening, but there had been essential clarification on her new demands that Maureen Bradshaw had requested Zuwrath complete before the morning. The Controller had the sudden thought that she might not have been suspicious enough when she had received the Liaison’s unusual message.

The camera zoomed in on a virn male seated at a metal desk. Zuwrath did not recognise him, and from his appearance he was not full-blooded. His eyes were rounded in the middle, a pale blue colour, with circular pupils unlike slit-like virn eyes. Next to him was a human woman in full virn make-up, apparently made to look like a prosperous virn lady.

Zuwrath clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and huffed a long breath out of her nose. It was distasteful to see a lesser species dressed up in such a way.

For a second, a microphone dipped down from the top and was visible on the screen, but the mistake was quickly corrected. The part-virn cleared his throat, then began to speak.

Good evening and welcome to Valhalla Rising, a programme dedicated to breaking down the barriers between virn and humans, seeking to explore our cultures and shared values to bring us all closer together. I am Slick.’

And I am Lebonn,’ said the human woman, apparently abandoning her human name for one that sounded more virn.

Though from time-to-time we may refer to stories which have not been told in the more popular media, Valhalla Rising will largely be focused on allowing you to explore our lives, beliefs, and the benefits of improved virn-human relations.’

A Slick spoke, Zuwrath swiped her finger across her desk and opened a blank document.

I know what you are trying to do, she wrote. The language: calm, casual, more for virn than human viewing. The faces: virn, or at least some pathetic attempts to make them look virn. The costumes: extravagantly virn, so unlike human newscasters. The placement of words in sentences: virn comes before human, not the other way around. It is clever, I cannot deny that.

She allowed her hand to dangle over the keyboard as she retuned her attention to the unannounced programme. And be sure to tune into Pika channel 22 tonight, Maureen had ended her request, I think you’ll like what you see. Zuwrath ground her teeth together as the words floated through her mind. The woman, Lebonn, was talking.

‘… like virn society and culture, human society and culture is very complex and multi-layered,’ she said. Zuwrath’s fingers twitched. The keyboard noticed the movement and she had to go back to delete the jumble of letters that had sprawled across the document from the motion. ‘Today, as this is our first episode, we have decided to bring you something very basic from various human cultures for you to explore and enjoy at your leisure: recipes from Sol 3, or Earth as humans call our planet of origin.’

Zuwrath saved the document, closed it, and leaned over her desk to get a little closer to the screen. She frowned, and smacked her tail against the floor a couple more times. This was not the direction she had been expecting the broadcast to go in. Those behind it were certainly a cunning lot.

The broadcast featured nothing that was of great substance in and of itself. As well as a couple of recipes, there were readings of poetry, book recommendations, a short recreation of a funny sketch from a television show that had been salvaged from Sol 3, and descriptions of games played by both human children and adults.

And that was it.

Human cultures sneaking its way into everyday virn life like a pest burrowing its way into virn homes. Simple things, harmless things, the sorts of things that virn children or teens or laidback adults would be willing to try and (should they discover that they enjoyed them) perhaps even share with their friends and families. Things that they could discuss in polite conversations without the need for anything to become heated. Essentially, things that could be associated with humans without being a part of the “human problem”.

Things that Zuwrath could not possibly stop the average virn from doing in their private lives, behind closed doors where she could not pry. Things that they could not be held accountable for trying, because they would be doing nothing wrong.

There was no mention of the attack on the human child that Zuwrath had rejected for broadcast – but this, she found as she thought about it after the broadcast, was a hundred times worse than that. With Valhalla Rising, the pro-integration sector of virn society and politics would not need to spend nearly as much of their time persuading the ordinary virn that human culture had positive and interesting elements. No, they would be able to focus more on giving their movement the momentum it needed so that within a couple of generations, they would outnumber those who were pro-segregation.

Zuwrath reached for the case of pens on her desk, picking up a handful. She snapped them in half with one hand.

This was completely unacceptable.

Somebody was going to pay, and she knew exactly who that somebody was going to be.


Starg! Starg! STARG!

Starg stood his ground. He walked calmly through the hallway that led towards Zuwrath’s office, as though he had all the time in the Empire to get there. Some of the things that Maureen had done to keep him waiting over the years had annoyed him immensely, as had many of those Zuwrath had done, but they had always worked. He was not sure if the Controller’s tricks would work against her.

He did not wish to anger Zuwrath further, yet neither did he want to appear perturbed by her shouting. If she noticed that he had something to hide (as if she could not already know), then she would go to whatever ends it took to get every single scrap of information out of him.

Starg pushed open the office door, satisfied with the length of time it took to slide open, and nodded at her once. He took the seat opposite Zuwrath without her permission.

Good day, Zuwrath,’ he said smugly.

You have been spending too much time with the Liaison,’ Zuwrath replied. She glared at him as he sat, and hissed sharply. ‘Get on your feet!’

Starg did not get up. He kept his expression calm. It was difficult, because his face wanted to fall into a sly, proud smirk, but he managed it nonetheless. He kept his lips thin and tight, and his eyes wide in a false surprise as he said, ‘Is something the matter, Zuwrath?

Yes, there is something wrong!’ she replied. A few strands of her hair fell into her eyes, but she did not push them away. ‘Did you not see it?

It … it …’ Starg forced his eyebrows together and looked up at the ceiling, flickering his faze from one light to the next. He wondered if he looked as though he was confused or lying. ‘That broadcast, do you mean? Ah, yes, bits of it, now, what was it? Valhalla People? Valhalla Risen?

Valhalla Rising. Do not play the fool in front of me, Starg. I bet you watched every second of it. I bet you were salivating just thinking about it. I bet you knew long before I did.’

I happened to catch the second half of it after one of my secretaries messaged me to inform me that it was being broadcast.’

And broadcast in your region, no less.’

Starg lowered his eyes from the ceiling and returned his gaze to Zuwrath. She was leaning over her desk, both of her palms flat on the wood, her stare intimidating as her face hovered above him. He swallowed to prevent himself from flinching back at the sight of her so close.

Are you implying what I think you are implying?’ he asked Zuwrath.

What do you think I am implying?’ she replied.

That I am in some way responsible for this … this … this awful programme.’

Are you?

Of course not!

Well, how many others are there in Pika who are as close to a human as you are?’ There was a glimmer of something in Zuwrath’s eyes as she spoke, and Starg knew that she was challenging him. ‘In fact, how close are you exactly to Maureen Bradshaw? It seems to me that there may well be something more going on than what I have been led to believe.’ Starg maintained his gaze at the sneered comment. He held his head high, defying his fear of her anger. He would show Zuwrath that he was as strong as she was.

You know the Liaison is as professional as I,’ he retorted. ‘As for your first question, I would think that this is something you should know. Are you not supposed to be in control of our relationship with the humans? That is why they call you the Controller, is it not? I have no idea where the underground group who did this are, or who they are – but I would have thought that someone in your position should have known about them and stopped them before they could get this far, Zuwrath.’

Zuwrath flashed her teeth at him. ‘How dare you question my ability to do my job!’ she hissed.

How dare you accuse me of first being involved in this scandal, and secondly with the Liaison!’ Starg replied.

Zuwrath raised her arm, and for a moment Starg thought that she was going to hit him. Then, when he held his ground, she lowered it again, although the look of hatred on her face never changed.

Get out of my office.’

With great pleasure,’ he said, and left her presence as coolly as her could.


When Starg received news that Zuwrath, though disgraced, was not going to be removed from her position, he found himself snapping at everyone he came across in his irritation. He shut himself in his office there he stayed, hoping to remove the heavy feeling of disappointment off his shoulders.

He sat down behind his desk and tried to think of a new plan.

When nothing came into his mind, he stood up, walked around the desk, and sat down in the opposite seat, as though this might help him to think more clearly. He stared at his empty seat and scratched his chin. His tongue flickered out to wet his lips as he racked his brain for ideas.

This had been so close! The idea had excited him, thrilled him even, and now he felt the impact of a failure that was not his own, but might well have been.

Zuwrath already suspected Starg of permitting the broadcast. She knew he had permitted it, she just needed the evidence. Starg had been forced to bribe some questionable people to get the broadcast slot and he did not believe that they would keep quiet for long if the Controller found them. He could not afford to sit back and hope that Zuwrath would slip up, or that she would ignore the problem, but neither could he allow this to go much further without facing repercussions. Zuwrath likely had her own people stationed around him, watching his every move.

Whatever Starg was going to do next, he was going to have to do it quickly. He would not have much time to plot Zuwrath’s downfall.

He was not going to back down just because his time was short.

The Controller messaged him, instructing him to meet her on her advance to Valhalla, with no indication of what she had planned. Starg was no closer to a solution. He supposed that, should he see an opportunity to disgrace the Controller, then he would have to take it.


Zuwrath was stood in front of one hundred virn police officers dressed in full riot gear. Each held a loaded rifle. Starg saw them before he got out of his transporter, and stepped off the vehicle with the air of someone who was unnerved by the sight of so many armed officers. Zuwrath sneered as he approached her.

What is the meaning of this?’ Starg asked, once he was stood before her. He was pleased to note that his voice was steady.

It is for the humans,’ Zuwrath replied casually.

But why do you need armed officers? It was only a broadcast …

They need to be taught a lesson. I want to make sure this does not happen again. I want to make sure those behind this will not dare.’

Starg felt himself shiver a little at the uncaring tone of her voice. ‘And what about the virn who helped?’ he asked.

Zuwrath narrowed her eyes at him. Her sneer widened, and Starg was sure that she could see right through him. ‘Oh, they will get what is coming to them, too. Perhaps when they see how defiant we are to their pathetic attempts at making humans look our equals, they will think again. I can only hope that they will …’ she hissed low, as though savouring the sound on her tongue, ‘… reveal themselves in some way.’

Then we shall both hope that it is so,’ Starg replied. He swung an arm around, indicating in the direction of the camp. ‘Shall we?’ Zuwrath did not mention his sudden movement away from the subject under discussion. They began to march, the heavy footfalls of the officers behind them creating a rhythmic, doom-laden sound in Starg’s ears. Nobody would miss them coming, and nobody would be under any illusions.

Once we arrive, we will locate those responsible for this broadcast and shut them down. They should be easy enough to find – the presence of an armed force should persuade somebody to talk. The half-blood will be an easy target.’

What are you going to do with them when you find them?’ Starg asked.

Zuwrath chuckled darkly. ‘What happens will happen.’

Starg kept his eyes focused on the camp in the distance, as he said, ‘Yes, I suppose it will. And you want me with you as a show of solidarity?

I want you with me, Starg, so I know what you’re up to. To remind you I’m no fool.’

Starg did not reply. He marched in time, highly aware of the rifles behind him. The long walls that separated Pika from Valhalla came closer, but Zuwrath veered off to the right and Starg followed. The officers turned too, their boots filling the still air with thunder.

They walked around the wall, to an empty patch of land between two factories, where the wall had been knocked down to grant the workers an open space for their breaks. It was full of factory workers enjoying their limited free time. The buzz of conversation died down as they approached.

There was silence. All eyes were on Zuwrath and the officers behind her.

‘I want to speak to Maureen Bradshaw,’ Zuwrath announced. At first, nobody moved. The Controller threw her head back and snarled. ‘You,’ she said, pointing to a human male in front of her, whose legs shook as she glared at him, ‘fetch her. Now.’

The man ran away as fast as he could. Starg could not help but feel impressed by the power of her presence, even as he wondered what he could do to ruin her. He breathed through his nose slowly, trying to calm himself down as he waited. Zuwrath, apparently, felt no reason to say anything further, and seemed quite content to let everyone else around her stand in their uncomfortable silence.

As time went on, the managers of the factories came out to see why their employees had not returned. Then, other people who lived close to the factories came out of their tents and containers, curious about what was going on. The crowd of humans became so large that Starg could not tell how many of them there were.             Zuwrath made no indication that she was bothered by their presence.

After what to Starg was an age, the people at the back of the crowd began to whisper. They parted, as though to let someone through, and the movement spread through the group until it reached the front of the crowd. The human Liaison and her daughter emerged, both with expressions of polite confusion.

‘Zuwrath,’ Maureen said, as the people around them look on in amazement at her confidence to address the Controller. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’

‘Valhalla Rising!’ Zuwrath hissed. Many humans jumped in fright at the sound of her natural tongue. ‘I want the brats responsible for that offensive broadcast!

Maureen laughed. Starg could hardly believe it when he heard it. She stood there opposite Zuwrath and laughed in the Controller’s face like nothing Zuwrath could do or say could possibly frighten her. ‘Offensive broadcast?’ she asked, blatantly refusing to use virnin in response to the Controller’s outburst. She turned to the crowd behind her, and added, ‘Tell me, my friends, did any of you find Valhalla Rising offensive?’

Those who were brave enough to speak, likely encouraged by Maureen’s own display of strength, muttered words of disagreement; others shook their heads. Zuwrath snarled.

‘I care not what you people think!’ Zuwrath shouted, this time for all the humans to understand. ‘I want those who are responsible for the broadcast, and I want them now! They will pay!’

‘Pay? For what?’ Christine, who Starg had seen but once in a photograph Maureen had shown him, asked. She stepped forward as she spoke. ‘For telling virn that we’re worth no less than they are?’ There were further noises from the crowd, this time of agreement. ‘For letting them share in our culture, our society, our reality?’ The murmuring grew louder. ‘For showing ourselves as your equals?’

‘Silence!’ Zuwrath roared, as the crowd’s agreement became almost deafening. Out of the corner of his eye, Starg noticed that some of the officers behind him were uncomfortable with the crowd’s reaction: they likely did not wish for the situation to turn violent – that would be an unmitigated disaster for all involved. ‘I said silence!’ she shouted again, when some members of the crowd continued to murmur. It took a few more seconds before they fell silent again.

An idea – a terrible, awful idea – leapt into Starg’s mind. He could see the humans turning on them, and (despite their superior weaponry), they were outnumbered enough for him to foresee the humans defeating or severely harming them. He was defenceless, and he did not like it.

He turned to the officer behind him. The officer noticed the movement, and leaned towards Starg to allow the Keeper to whisper to him as Zuwrath continued to stare down the crowd. Maureen was saying something to the Controller, so she was comfortably distracted.

I think it might be a good idea,’ he whispered, ‘if the humans could see that I, too, was armed. As a former soldier. They look restless … it might be a useful deterrent.’

The officer nodded, and passed Starg his rifle. He then pulled the pistol out of its holster, and returned to his former position. Starg spun back around and fingered the rifle. He was not entirely sure what he was doing, or who he was most afraid of.

Maureen and Zuwrath were arguing over Valhalla Rising. Starg was shocked to note that Maureen was not trying to hide her role in setting up the broadcast.

‘You know who was responsible, then?’ Zuwrath asked her. ‘You, in fact, were involved in this broadcast?’

‘Not at all,’ Maureen replied. ‘Only in securing the broadcast time.’

‘You know,’ Zuwrath repeated, ‘who was responsible?’

There was a moment’s pause.


Zuwrath grinned in victory. ‘Then give me names, Liaison, or you shall be removed from your position.’

‘Oh, please,’ Maureen said, waving an idle hand. She stepped forward, away from the crowd, and began to pace up and down, her hands behind her back. ‘I’ll be stripped of my title regardless, after this. I’ve got no reason to give you anything, Zuwrath. You’ve got no authority over me. That’s why you’ve brought these officers: the only tactic left to you is intimidation. Do you think you can scare me – us – into giving you answers? Just because you’re pissed off? You do realise that this situation is a direct violation of the agreement first laid down by our parent’s generation, don’t you? Bringing troops with weapons onto human-occupied land is a physical threat to my people.’

‘I do not care about your people,’ Zuwrath spat back. ‘Just give me the names I want.’

Maureen stopped pacing and smiled at Zuwrath pleasantly. Her eyes flickered to Starg for the briefest of moments, and he gripped the rifle a little tighter in response.

‘I can only give you one name,’ Maureen replied.

‘Then give it!’

Again, Maureen’s eyes flickered to Starg.

He nodded his head to show her that he understood.

‘Do you believe in karma, Zuwrath?’ Maureen asked. ‘It’s something we humans –’

‘The name, damn you!’

Starg adjusted the rifle again, as subtly as he could.

‘It was me,’ he said.

Zuwrath turned to him, her eyes wide, and Starg could see the proud retort that she had suspected him all along written on her lips as he did the only thing that made sense in that moment.

He raised the rifle and shot her.


The rifle beam travelled through the space between Starg and Zuwrath as though in slow motion. On one side, the virn police officers stood, caught off-guard by the attack. They were stunned for long enough that Starg managed to duck behind a nearby metal crate before they could shoot him. On the other side, the mob of angry humans stood in equal shock, their jaws dropping open in their surprise.

Every single eye of everyone who was present had followed the beam of light from Starg’s rifle to the centre of Zuwrath’s chest. The Controller had been thrown backwards, several police officers knocked out as she landed on top of them.

She was dead before she hit them.

There was a pause. A moment when there was neither sound nor movement, and human and virn alike stared at the limp body of the bitter Controller. Then, something began to ripple through those present, and a thunderous noise erupted from the centre of the human mob. They reached around them and grabbed whatever was in their reach – bricks, stones, pieces of metal – then began to charge at the virn officers, attacking them with their fists if they had nothing else at hand.

The virn were well trained, despite their temporary lapse at Starg’s surprise attack. They reacted faster this time, turning their weapons on the humans and firing on them. Their superiority was immediately obvious, as the first wave of humans were sent crashing down into the mud and did not get back up.

The roar of the rifles did not deter the other humans, and those who managed to reach the line of officers began to beat them mercilessly. A couple managed to take hold of the rifles, which they turned on their former owners.

Both sides struck at the other, but the virn advantage was evident from the beginning. Humans fell over one another and were shot at short range, whether on their feet or their knees. Their corpses began to pile up, and still the virn continued to shoot. Maureen and Christine darted this way and that, swerving to avoid rifle beams and fists alike. Nobody seemed to know or care who they were attacking.

Maureen reached the wall, and threw a hand out for Christine to take hold of. Her daughter caught it, and Maureen dragged her around the side of the wall to protect them both. On the opposite opening in the wall, they saw Starg, who had moved from his position behind the crate to behind the wall. He still gripped his rifle. His eyes were closed, his face screwed up, as though he was trying to wake from a bad dream. He was also muttering something to himself. They were only ten strides apart, but it was too far to hear what he was saying over the noise of the fighting.

‘Starg,’ Maureen called, trying to catch his attention. ‘Starg,’ she repeated, a little louder this time, but again he made no indication that he had heard her. ‘Starg!’

Startled, he jumped out of whatever unreality he had been in. For a moment, it looked as though he was about to turn the rifle on them, and Maureen pushed Christine instinctively behind her to protect her. The moment passed, and recognition dawned in Starg’s narrow eyes.

‘Maureen!’ he called, his voice barely carrying across the empty space between them. His free hand reached out towards the two women, but they dared not cross to him in case they were shot or dragged into the fighting. Maureen shook her head, and Starg lowered the hand.

‘What’ve you done?’ Maureen asked. Starg’s eyes widened, and he took a brief glance around the side of the wall, as though he had not truly accepted the consequences of his actions yet. Then, before either of them could go any further, the mob moved back through the gap in the wall and they were surrounded by blood and screaming.

Christine tugged on Maureen’s arm, and they moved further along the wall to get away from the mob. There were no longer any rifle beams, as though the virn officers had abandoned their weaponry in favour of their fists, or else had it pried away from them by the eager but unarmed humans. Patience had worn out on both sides; there was no sense of damage control, just pure carnal rage.

Starg followed the women, dashing across the empty space that the mob had passed through. He ducked away from the fighters, and the motion caught Maureen’s eye. She spun, knocking the weapon out of his hand in one smooth movement. It landed on the ground a short distance away, and Starg watched it go, his mouth hung slightly open, his eyes clouded over.

Why did you do that?’ he asked her.

Maureen refused to speak virnin on her own land. ‘You won’t get involved in the fighting now, will you, Starg?’ she snapped at him, pointing at him with her left hand even as Christine tugged on her right. ‘You’ll shoot Zuwrath no problem, as long as you know you have some temporary advantage, but once everyone has gathered their sense, you won’t get involved. You caused all of this, and yet here you are waving a gun around in loose fingers as you hide behind corners.’

She grabbed hold of his face, and tilted his head so that Starg could see the fight. It had spread out, and other humans from deeper in the camp were starting to get involved, pulling the offending virn off one by one and joining in the attack.

‘This is what the Keeper of the Peace in Pika has done. This is your legacy, Starg.’

Starg’s face paled as he watched the brawl, Maureen’s fingers holding him tightly in place.

‘Is this how you wish to be remembered? As the man who caused this?’

‘No,’ Starg replied weakly.

‘Well, what are you going to do about it? You can’t stop them now. Here, humans and virn will die together, hating one another more than they ever have before.’

Starg grabbed Maureen by the front of her jacket with both hands, his scales digging into the flesh of her neck. ‘Hide me,’ he begged her.

Maureen turned to look at those fighting. There were humans she recognised within the crowd. People she had seen on the streets begging for scraps, people she had spoken with, people who had been shamed for the desperate things they had done just to feed their children. More lay amongst the dead. All of them were people who would have been able to live good, honest, wholesome lives, if only they had been given the chance. If only they were equal to virn.

She looked back at Starg, his pitiful face squashed between the vice-like grip of her fingers, tears beginning to form in the corners of his eyes as he watched the thoughts flickering through her mind.

‘You don’t know me nearly as well as you think, Starg,’ she said. ‘More’s the pity. We could have been friends.’ She let go of him, tossing him onto the ground. ‘You shot Zuwrath. You started this. You can deal with it.’

As she allowed Christine to drag her away from the fighting, Maureen wondered how much damage this incident was going to cause.


In the end, it was nothing more than a shadow. A whisper. A blur on the edge of vision, then a blinding light, and then …

As a wise virn prophet had once said, only the dead know what follows the light.

Starg did not seem them. Perhaps that was because once Maureen had disappeared, he allowed himself to sink down into the muddy ground, his tears obscuring his vision as his sobs shook his body. The world was nothing more than an obnoxious calamity of noise and violence, and there he was in the middle of it, his brain shocked beyond comparison.

This was his violence. Starg had wanted to remove Zuwrath so much that he had been blind to the consequences. In the end, he had done little more than create chaos. He was the god of the destruction that was happening around him.

He saw the outline of a rifle pointing at his head, aimed directly between his eyes. Someone must have picked it up, but he could not make out whether they were virn or humans. He saw the rifle light up, and a beam came out of the end.

Then he fell, lay still, and became one with the dead.


It was nobody’s surprise when Maureen resigned. She had always been determined to do her best, and witnessing the brutality of the massacre on the border of Valhalla had been the final straw for her. She delivered the resignation letter to the remains of the human government personally. Each expressed his sadness that she had chosen to leave.

Christine did her best to cheer her mother up after the initial feeling of failure, mingled with the pain of such a senseless loss of life. She did not see her mother smile one in the week that followed the attack, and that hurt. The virn government on Montague 7 did not seem to know how to handle the situation, because both the Controller and the Keeper of the Peace in Pika had been shot by virn weapons, and at least one by virn hands.

The virn media was hushed up, but the human media spoke as loudly as it could about what had happened. Valhalla Rising appeared again, to make a brief by powerful broadcast on what had happened. It was permitted to broadcast on virn channels, perhaps lest a cover-up was suspected, and made a statement on the number of dead, not distinguishing between humans and virn, decreeing it a dark day for all species. It was as respectful as they could make it, given their shattered faith.

Everybody involved in the programme knew how delicately they had to handle the situation. The human government reacted before the virn government or empire could, though they still took their time as they figured out how exactly to respond without being accused on telling only one side of the story.

A day of mourning was declared in Valhalla, one week after the massacre. Initially, Maureen refused to attend. Christine hoped that her mother might change her mind on the day, but this did not happen, and she spent most of the morning trying to figure out how she would get Maureen to the border for the scheduled time. The attack had occurred in the afternoon, and the vigil was to begin at that same time.

She was eventually forced to go alone. Maureen sat in their container, as she had done every day since the massacre, staring at a blank wall. She did not move, and she did not respond to her daughter when Christine announced that she was leaving.

When she reached the border, she was surprised at what she saw. Several people asked her where Maureen was, and she made an excuse so that she could return to the container to fetch her mother.

‘Mum,’ she said, bursting through the door, ‘come on, mum, you’ve got to come. They’re waiting for you.’

Maureen did not immediately make any sign that she had heard her daughter speak. Recognition was slow to appear on her face, and she blinked several times before turning to Christine, as though she had only just realised that her daughter was there.

‘I always told myself I was doing a good thing,’ she said, in a dry, croaky voice. ‘A good thing.’

‘And you’ve done the best you could do,’ Christine insisted. She knelt in front of her mother, looking up into Maureen’s tired eyes. She did not seem to be fully aware of her surroundings.

‘I only wanted to help people. To make things better.’

‘Mum,’ Christine said, cupping Maureen’s face with one hand, ‘this is not your fault. There’s nothing you could’ve done to prevent it. Starg had his own agenda, and the virn troops reacted to it. You couldn’t have stopped it.’

Maureen blinked a couple more times. She opened her mouth as though she was going to say something further, as though there was something on her mind that she had done or said, or should have done or should have said, but then closed it again.

‘They’re waiting for you, mum.’

‘Who are?’


‘Everyone? Why?’

‘Because it’s a memorial for all the victims. Everyone is there, and everyone is waiting for you.’

Maureen shook her head. ‘No,’ she said, ‘no, I’m not going there.’

‘Well, you’re going to have to step outside this cannister at some point. And when you do, then everyone will ask you why you didn’t turn up to the memorial, and then you’ll regret not attending. Anyway, I think you need to see this. It’ll help.’

Maureen frowned at her, but Christine only smiled and stood, holding out a hand for her mother to take. A few moments of hesitation, and then Maureen took it, allowing her daughter to lead her outside. Maureen was dressed in clothes that she had not changed for days, but Christine did not think that her mother would have appreciated any delays had she been in her right mind at the time. Once Maureen saw what was waiting for her at the border, then she would understand.

Christine led her mother towards the border as fast as she could. Around them, groups of other humans walked in the same direction, all of them silent and solemn.

They carried candles with them, but none were lit yet. The human government had asked that nobody light the candles until they arrived at the sight for the memorial. It was typically a virn tradition to remember the war dead.

The ancient virn had apparently believed that, if the candles were lit anywhere other than on the site of the victim’s death, then any souls which the burning candle passed would follow them to the memorial site. This demonstrated a lack of respect for those who were being remembered by the lighting of the candle, and disturbed the dead. The belief had been passed down until it had become mere tradition; acknowledging it made the memorial service legitimate on a virn planet.

When Maureen and Christine rounded the final corner, and saw the gathering of people there, Maureen’s hand fell away from her daughter’s. Christine spun, half-expecting to see her mother running back the way they had come, but Maureen was stood there, staring at the gathering before her. Christine smiled.

There were countless humans there, either holding or lighting candles, but they were not alone. Stood with them, around them, between them, holding candles and keeping their silence, were just as many virn, their faces contrasting those of the humans in the flickering light. Some of them turned their heads as Maureen approached, and Christine handed her a candle to light and hold above her head. She then joined her mother with her own candle, stood by her side.

They stayed there in union, their silent vigil saying more than their words ever could have.