The Three Kingdoms

Once, there was a King, and he had three sons. He was old, and knew he did not have long left to live, so he decided that he would divide his kingdom up.

To his eldest son, he gave the North of his Kingdom. It was a vast land, with great forests in the Northern part, from which trappers returned with precious furs, and where huge pontoons of logs drifted down the rivers. And in the Southern part, there were vast tracts of farmland, rolling and golden and brown and green.

The eldest son thanked his father for his part of the Kingdom, and promised that under his reign the fields and forests would be more bountiful than ever before.

To his second son, he gave the South-West. It was much smaller than the eldest son’s portion, but had a coast lined with wealthy ports, where precious and exotic goods from distant and unknown lands beyond the ocean were bought and sold, and scholars from across the world learnt from one-another’s ideas.

The second son also thanked his father, promising to make his great cities wealthier than ever before.

To his third and youngest son, he gave the South-Eastern part of his kingdom. It had a coast, but it was rough and rocky, lined with towering cliffs and nowhere to land anything larger than a fishing boat. And the soil was thin and barren, constantly swept away by the Ocean’s roaring wind and the Sky’s biting rain, and was not suitable for anything but sheep. And the people here caught fish, and raised sheep, and they lived.

The youngest son followed his brother’s in thanking his father for his domain, small and impoverished though it was, and he promised that his rule would transform the land given to him into a mightier kingdom than that of either of his brothers.

A few years after the King’s death, the eldest son’s kingdom was hit by the longest and coldest winter that anybody could remember, and the crops failed. The next winter was longer and colder still, and the crops failed once again. Now ragged children begged, barefoot, by the snowy roadsides. Emaciated mothers looked on powerlessly as their children screamed from hunger. The people caught cats and dogs and rats for food, and some devoured the flesh of their own dead relatives to avoid starvation.

The King of the North sent an envoy to his younger brother, begging for him to assist the people of his Kingdom. The second son sent no assistance. “Why should I help my Brother,” he thought, “When he has taken the largest part of my father’s kingdom, and left nothing for me?”

But the next year, ships from across the Ocean brought with them pestilence, that wandered through the dark and twisted alleys of the Second Son’s rich cities. Roughly-painted crosses appeared on the doors of the tall, terraced houses of the merchants, marking where the Plague had reached its unseen tentacles. Infected corpses were flung hastily into unmarked pits far outside the towns, and covered with lime to keep the infection from spreading. The most learned doctors could do nothing in the face of this new disease. The richest merchants and the poorest beggars alike died in their thousands.

The King of the South-West dispatched a letter to his older brother in the North, pleading for whatever he could do to help. The eldest son offered nothing. “Why should I help my brother,” he thought, “When he has taken the richest part of my father’s kingdom, and left nothing for me, and then did nothing to help the people of my kingdom when they were suffering?”

The youngest son heard of all of this, of the struggles of his brother’s kingdoms, and all the while his subjects kept going. They caught fish, and they raised sheep, and they lived. But their lives of hardship had made them tough, and they were fiercely devoted to their King. He raised a great army from among them, and marched north to his brother’s farmlands, beginning to recover from the famine. The soldiers plundered the land for food and torched the cottages of the peasants. The eldest son’s weakened Kingdom capitulated, and the King of the North handed his crown to his Brother, before being thrown into a dungeon.

The King of the South-East, still seeking to avenge his meagre inheritance, now turned towards the South-West, where his brother ruled over cities devastated by the Plague. He marched his army south, and bombarded those cities with towering siege engines. The Second Son had lost too many men to raise an army to resist his brother, and each city quickly surrendered. Having resigned his Kingdom, he joined his elder brother in the dungeon.

Now ruling over the whole of his father’s kingdom, the King of the South-East watched as his two brothers were led to a scaffold and, before a taunting and jeering crowd in the South-Eastern capital, lost their heads. He then departed for a tour of his new domains. From his carriage, he saw burned-out cottages and barren fields in the North. In the South-West, he saw those once-great, rich cities, shattered and in ruins. And he hated all he saw. In one of the ruined cities of the South-West, he ran away from his retinue. He distributed his regalia among the people of the town, who had lost everything they had to his merciless troops, and, disguising himself in a beggar’s rags, he boarded the next ship leaving for anywhere a long way away.

The Darkness

Entered in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2018

Nobody knew what was in The Darkness.

People had gone in, but nobody had ever come out.

People had experimented. There had been a clip shown on the News of someone plunging a big metal pole part way into it. When he pulled it away, it was severed perfectly cleanly, exactly on the line that The Darkness had reached.

Nobody knew what happened to the other end.

Both sides had deployed it repeatedly during The War, leaving patches of black oblivion on the sites of military bases, weapons factories and the occasional hospital, as the UN just sort of looked on.

Then it had started growing. Nobody knew why. Nobody knew how to stop it. Nobody knew very much about it at all, except that it was an extremely effective weapon.

That was about a week ago.

The Fox Inn had not yet been swallowed up. It had been there more than 400 years, and was still there now, a lonely outpost by the road that twisted and wormed across the brown and purple moors, 6 miles from where the nearest town had been.

It was a nice day, considering the circumstances, and Chris and Charlotte were sitting outside.

“How long do you reckon we’ve got?” Chris asked, knowing exactly what Charlotte was going to say.

“No idea.”

“Fair.”

Charlotte took another gulp of 23-year-old Scotch.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get through all this.” She remarked.

“You can’t drink the whole pub, if that’s what you mean.”

“You don’t know how long we’ve got left. We could be here for weeks.”

“Fair. Have we got food?”

“We’ve got a whole kitchen with a big freezer full of pub crap.”

“Fine.”

The Darkness was lurking in the valley, stretching out gloomy tendrils among the heather. There was definitely more of it than there had been in the morning.

“What’s it you do?” Chris asked, trying to make conversation as Charlotte topped up his glass of whisky. “I mean, when you’re not working here.”

“I’m a student. At least, I was until I graduated in June.”

“What did you study?”

“Maths.”

“Impressive.”

“It would be if I’d got better than a 2:2.”

“I’m still impressed. I were never any good at Maths. I always hated it in school.”

The Sun was just touching the horizon, turning the moor a thousand shades of gold. There was darkness coming from above, and Darkness coming from below.

“You were probably just taught badly.” Charlotte replied. “Anyway, when you think about it, this whole thing’s worked out quite conveniently for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Now nobody’s going to have to find out how badly I fucked up Uni,” she drunkenly slurred. “Enough about me. I don’t want to talk about me. Tell me what you did, before all this happened.”

“I were a carpenter, me. I actually did some of the work in here when they were doing this place up a few years back.”

“Nice.”

“I’m not smart like you.”

Somewhere on the shrinking island of peat and heather and tough, brown grass, a grouse shrieked “Go back! Go back! Go back!” and then was silent.

“You know, this whisky’s the best I’ve ever drunk.” Chris said, to break the silence.

“It’s the most expensive we had. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.”

“Hey, Charlotte?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you got any family?”

“Well, I did. I’ve not heard from my parents or my brother or my boyfriend or my nephew since I went out to work this morning.”

“Fuck, that’s rough. Sorry for bringing that up.”

“It’s fine. Did you have anyone?”

“Sort of. I mean, my wife left me 6 months ago. She took my 2 kids. I’ve not seen them for a week now. I’m assuming they’re gone. I mean, basically everyone’ll be gone now.”
Chris dug into the pockets of his fleece and fumbled a bit, taking out his phone, a set of keys, and his shiny, blue passport, and placing them in front of him on the table. Eventually, he got to his wallet.

He took out a picture of two small children, with cheesy smiles on their faces.

“Here they are,” Chris said, handing it across the table to Charlotte.

“They’re adorable.”

“Aren’t they just.”

“It just came so suddenly.” Charlotte said, out of nowhere. “This morning, it was a long way off. It was just something happening somewhere else. Then it took over everywhere. There was no way to know where it was going next.”

“It’s moving a lot slower now.”

Then there was no sound but the gurgling of a stream, flowing blindly into that deep Unknown.

“What do you think it feels like?” Charlotte asked.

“What does what feel like?”

“When it… you know… when it gets you.”

“I saw on the News a guy somewhere who’d lost his hand in it. He said he didn’t feel it when it was in there, but when he took it out of course it just felt like he’d had his hand cut off.”

“That’s fine, then, if we’re going all the way in.”

“Only if you stay totally still. I you move away from it at all when it’s coming over you, then…”

“That’s a point. You’d get bits of you cut off.”

“They made a big mistake when they used this shit in the War and they didn’t know what it were gonna do in the long run.”

“I don’t think that’s very controversial.”

The Darkness was advancing faster now, and from all sides. It had obscured the Moon, and was encroaching on the weathered walls of the inn.

“You’ve been great today,” Charlotte said, heaving herself unsteadily to her feet.

“You too.”

Leaning on each other, they staggered a few paces forward. Chris took a swig of whisky from the bottle, and passed it to Charlotte, who finished it off, before smashing it on the flagstones.

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

And, back-to-back, they faced The Darkness.