Water, Earth, and Sky – a fantasy short story

A frog
Image by svklimkin from Pixabay

When my mother lives in this swamp, humans bring many gifts. Pretty pebbles. Fresh flowers. Rotting meat to lure flies. Humans respect that frog lives at boundaries, squatting in earth and water, one eye watching world and one eye heavens. But when is last time humans bring stinky meat? Only littlest human comes, with little flowers, while big humans dig ditches, drain land, turn lush squatting spots into dry dirt.

They want dry? I give them dry. Open my heaven eye wide and glare at clouds. Make sky blue in day and star-filled black at night. Blue, black, blue, black, blue, black, never grey. Just one tiny rain cloud under ferns, wet spot for my spawn to grow. Is good humans not want me. More time for spawn.

Humans come, led by one with callouses on hands. They say fields too dry, tell me to bring rain. Demand that I bring rain.

No one tells me what to do. I glare back with my world eye, croak like stupid frog. Calloused human raises boot to stomp, but others stop him, say is bad luck to kill frog. Humans argue over whether frog is sacred or stupid. I croak.

Smallest human peers under ferns, coos over wriggling spawn and drops wilted flower in their pool. Other humans not notice, but I decide not to smite with lightning, for sake of smallest. Not yet.

Humans come again next day. Look for other frogs to bully, but this is my place, only me and spawn. Calloused human makes more demands. Much anger. Shouting. Screaming. Waving fists and feet. I croak. They storm away.

Spawn start sprouting legs. Smallest human plays with them. Other humans dig deeper ditches, plant brick tree at edge of swamp with vast white leaves that turn in wind. Brick tree dips hollow root into swamp, slurps up water for fields. Swamp grows dry.

Spawn are still one with water, have not legs enough to cross onto land. As swamp dries, so do they. I watch in horror as their world shrinks. Even rain cloud under ferns is not enough, rain too tiny, land too dry.

Humans want water? I give them water! Open my heaven eye wide and glare at blue sky. Wind rises. Clouds sweep in, thick and dark as mud. Heavens roar and water falls. Rain hammers fields, flattens crops, fills ditches until half of world is sunk. Human homes, their trees not rooted in earth, are swept away. Jagged tongue of light arcs from sky, shatters brick tree. Earth and water, ground and sky, dissolve into one glorious wet blur. I sit on log that bobs on current and I smile wide frog smile.

Humans emerge floundering from maelstrom. Come to where edge of swamp was, to me. They demand and I croak. Demands become shouts, shouts become screams, I time my croak to match thunder, mocking them. They grab at me. I laugh and hop clear as they flop in water, as lightning flashes and rain pounds. But calloused human catches me, squeezes me until I gasp instead of croak, kicking legs in useless twitches, desperate to break free. I am slippery and squirmy, but human is determined, fingers tightening. I look to sky, but human does not flinch as rain bruises his skin. If I call lightning then it will strike us both. Who will care for spawn then?

Smallest human, head barely above water, grabs calloused human’s leg and begs him to stop. He shakes her off, squeezes until my eyes bulge.

Smallest human screams, batters hands against calloused human. He tells her sternly that this is for best, that I am menace to destroy. Fingers crush. World grows blurry, heaven closing in.

Smallest human jerks away, pushes through water. Calloused human shouts alarm as she falls, sinks, reappears, swims to log.

“Look!” Smallest points at my spawn, clustered fearfully against the log, tiny tails and little legs twitching. I weep, knowing I will not be there for them. “Don’t take their mummy away!”

Calloused human’s grip slackens but I am too weak to squirm free. He walks to log and lays me down, gasping. He pulls smallest human to him. Is it rain that runs down his face, or does he cry? Tears are water and they are salt from the earth. As they flow, boundaries dissolve.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “We’ll find another way to feed ourselves.”

Now I understand, and the ache in my chest is left by him, but not by his bruising fingers.

As my spawn gather around, I open my heaven eye and ask a favour from the sky. Rain thins. Clouds part. A sunbeam shines down on smallest human and her father.

Later, once ditches are fixed and fields are replanted, humans bring big slab of meat, so rotten it swarms with flies, enough for whole family. Calloused human and I sit on log, watch our spawn play together in mud of ditch. We talk of what frogs need and what humans need, of water, earth, and sky.


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Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors by Andrew Knighton

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is out now:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Our Mistress Calls – a fantasy short story

Our mistress rises once more in her glowing glory, a silver disk shining down on the dreary earth. Hers is a soft and healing light, not the fierce blaze of the sun, and that light calls forth our true souls. We fall to four legs, fur flows from our flanks, and we listen for each other’s howls. For three nights out of every thirty, we are not alone. It makes as good a night as any to die.

I run between the trees, the blood down my flank as hot as the breath in my lungs, its pain as urgent. Every month, we answer our mistress’s call. Every month, the hunters hear us too, and they come. They have been closing in for years, chasing us from one valley to the next, tightening their noose. For some, pierced with silver and dragged half-human across the cobbles of a village square, that noose has been all too real. That’s how we lost Ren, Albertus, and Miran, Chalia and her daughters, old Reffel and a score more of my pack alone. Others were shot or stabbed, some fighting back, some protecting friends, some simply trying to flee.

I howl and others answer, a chorus of creatures as old as the moon, but that humans call abomination. I hear their cruel glee as they pursue us. The noose is closing. My leg is weakening as the blood flows.

I burst from the trees onto dunes whose pale sand and deep shadows mirror our mistress herself. Stalks of stiff grass tickle my belly. Fine grains fly from my feet. A fitting place to end this. For that alone, I’m glad that I’ve come this far.

The others burst from the woods and follow me. Scores of my kin, hundreds, all that remain in this land. The hunters have forced us closer and closer together until there is only one pack, one desperate dash through darkness. Still their shouts and their crashing steel follow, the beaters driving us into the open for the hunters with their silver spears to enter this last pursuit.

Our mistress beams down. Whenever she calls, we obey. But tonight, for the first time, we will call back.

Sand sprays from our paws as we thunder down the beach. It is a beautiful night, no clouds marring our mistress’s majesty, a court of stars shining in attendance upon her. A good night to die, but for who?

We reach the edge of the sea. Some of the pack look back fearfully, faced with the grim reality that there is nowhere left to run. The tips of silver spears shine as bright as stars at the edge of the woodland and burning torches follow them. More approach along the coast, coming from east and from west. No way out.

I face this pack, the largest that has ever gathered. I smell our fur and the blood from our wounds, hear the growl in every throat. From some, it is a warning, from others a challenge. You brought us here, they seem to say. Now prove yourself.

Standing in the salt spray, I tip my head back and open my soul. It is a new howl, one the others have never heard. Not a hunter’s howl, directing the pack to prey. Not the mating howl of a wolf in heat. Not a howl of pain and desperation, the last sound we have heard from so many. This howl is a prayer.

The others join me. Our voices twist together as they rise through the night, unhindered by treetops or clouds, by the roofs of houses or the smoke of so-called civilisation. There is nothing between us and our mistress.

For generations, we have obeyed her call. Tonight, instead, we answer. We tell her our pain. We tell her our fear. We tell her what we face if she does not help.

The torches and the silver spears are closing in, forming a bright arc against the night. Armoured feet pound the sand. Wicked voices snicker. My heart hammers as I howl; one way or another, this will be the end.

Our mistress’s face ripples like the ocean, her partner in the eternal dance. A bright light beams down upon the waves, which rise to meet it.

In moments, the water is up my legs, past my belly, soaking my fur. I’m lifted from the sand and my pack with me. We keep howling while the hunters cry out in shock and alarm.

The ocean crashes across the shore, carrying us at its crest, light as foam in our mistress’s glow. There is no such mercy for the hunters, who are pummelled and scattered by the waves that slammed down on them. Bodies are flung about, limbs twisted and snapped, the flames of torches snuffed out. Screams and gasps for breath are swallowed by the sea.

The tide keeps rising, higher and higher. It carries us on waters that churn with the dead, sweeps us up the valley toward the towns where spears were forged and nooses tied.

My pack howl in gratitude as the moon’s light carries us and protects us amid those waters. We held our faith. We answered her call. At last, we have our reward.

It is a good night to die, but not for us.


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Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors by Andrew Knighton

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is out now:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

The Girl Who Drew Gold from the Sun – a fairy tale

Once, there was a girl. In all outward ways, she was an ordinary girl, her face simple as the hills. Her parents were ordinary folk, scratching a living from the dirt of the fields, like most people in their ordinary town.

The year that the girl turned eleven, there was a terrible winter. The land froze hard as stone and the crops died in the fields. The girl’s parents became too sick to work, and they barely had the food to see them through to spring. By the time winter ended, the cupboards were bare and the girl’s rib showed through the rough wool of her dress.

On the first day of spring, the sun broke through the clouds. The girl, desperate for comfort, reached out a hand. The clouds tore apart and the sun shone brighter, casting its light across the land. Where it fell on the girl, gold appeared in her hand.

Wide-eyed, the girl walked into town. The people were filled with the joy that the sun had come at last. They laughed and sang and slapped each other on their backs. They paid no mind to the girl as she bought food for her parents. The storekeeper gave her a poor deal for her gold, but at least she wouldn’t starve.

For the next seven days, the girl stepped outside her house every morning and held out her hand. The sun shone brighter for her and gold appeared in her palm. She was only eleven and didn’t know how much gold was worth, but she filled her kitchen cupboards and her parents’ bellies, even as the storekeepers rubbed their hands at the profits she gave them.

On the eighth day, the sun didn’t shine, and an icy wind blew in. The first tentative shoots of spring had sprouted in the fields, and the girl worried as she watched them wilt. She held up her hand and called on the sun. The clouds parted, light beamed down, and the shoots raised their heads as gold appeared in the girl’s hand.

A farmer in a nearby field also raised his head, watching her in excitement. He ran into town and told the people what he had seen.

The next morning, a great crowd appeared outside the girl’s house, demanding that she make the sun shine. She was happy to do as they asked, for the crops needed light. When she was done, the people brought her food and took away her gold, rubbing their hands as they told her what a good girl she was and what a good deal it had been.

For seven days, the crowds grew larger. Each day, the girl parted the clouds, the sun shone, and the gold appeared. On the eighth day, there were no clouds. The sun shone, and the girl decided to rest. But the people shook their heads. They wanted more gold, more warmth, more sunlight. Reluctantly, the girl raised her hand, and the sun beamed more brightly.

On this went, all through the spring. The town basked in glorious heat and the people were happy. It didn’t matter to them if the crops, which had grown so fast, now looked brittle and dry; gold could pay for everything they needed.

On the first day of summer, the dry ground cracked. The girl looked at her sunburned skin and the heat blisters on her hand, and she decided that it was enough. She went into town to tell the people that she would not call upon the sun.

The people, basking like lizards in the heat, would not listen to what she said. The gold she conjured was all the wealth they had, now that the crops were dead. Without her powers, they must give up their glorious summer.

Once again, the people came to the girl’s house every day, to make sure that she kept calling on the sun. They watched her with the eyes of eagles and with skin as cracked as the sun-baked fields.

The girl, who had once loved the light of the sun, now came to love the night. Its cool darkness soothed her sunburned skin and, for a few hours, the townspeople didn’t watch her. She sat awake, watching the velvet dark.

At last, one moonless night, the girl roused her parents from their bed. She led them into the field and held up a hand to the sky, calling down the black of night. She wrapped its folds around herself and her parents, and they disappeared.

The next morning, the townspeople woke to find that the girl was gone. Desperate for the gold that she had given them, they gathered in the town square and all reached for the sun. They stood for hours, trying to grasp its gold, while its terrible heat burned their flesh. Like the crops, they withered and died in the heat that had once nurtured them.

The following dawn, the darkness unfolded and the girl emerged with her parents. As the sun was rising, she held up her hand. This time she didn’t call the golden light down, but dismissed the power she had held, setting the world back in balance.

The sun rose. Clouds passed on a soft breeze. Rain fell lightly. In their fields, the girl and her parents set about planting crops. Over their heads, a rainbow shone.


The cover of the novella Ashes of the Ancestors

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my new novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, a story of magic, history and tradition:

“Fantasy is often said to be a perfect metaphor to speak about our societies. Ashes of the Ancestors does it in a remarkable way, with a world that is very much its own and characters we could all recognise. Knighton has written a perfect story for our times and it’d be a pity to miss this mirror he holds up to us in such a successful manner.” – The Middle Shelf.

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Out Now – Silver Soul and Shining Wings

The last two people on the rails sat in the cab, watching a landscape cast in a washed out light. A green glow broke charcoal shadows as aurora birds flew past, iridescent wings rippling in a rhythm that matched nothing else in the universe…

I have a new story out this week in Factor Four Magazine. “Silver Soul and Shining Wings” is a flash sci-fi story set on a world being abandoned in the face of its changing climate. It’s a story about ecology, coping with loss, and the limits of human understanding. You can read it for free on the Factor Four website, and if it leaves you wanting more, I’ve got a fairytale about the weather coming here in just a few days.

Real Water – a fantasy short story

The cover of the novella Ashes of the Ancestors

Kyva rode across the ridge and stared in amazement at the view beyond. Three days out from the warband, and this was the first real green she’d seen. Not just withered scrub clinging to the banks of a dried out stream, or the tops of a few diminished turnips growing from cracked dirt, but fields of new crops divided by irrigation ditches. She could smell sap and spring water, could feel a cool breeze on her cheek.

One hand resting on her sword, she nudged Thunderer into a trot, down toward those fields. A place like this ought to belong to one of the warlords, or at least be controlled by local bandits, but none of the villagers working those miraculous fields carried a weapon better than a shovel. Duke Lorkas would be pleased.

When they reached one of the channels, Thunderer lowered his head to drink. Kyva didn’t urge him on. Instead, she waited in the saddle while the locals laid down their tools and came to her, their expressions a mix of fearful, curious, and determined.

“I’ve come from the army of Duke Lorkas,” she declared before anyone could ask. “Your village is subject to him.”

Not that there was much of a village; a few ramshackle shelters amid ground darkened by old ashes. Someone had raided this place, but not recently or those crops would be gone.

“My lord will protect you, in exchange for certain tithes.”

“We can’t afford to pay,” said a skinny man with a skinny dog at his heel. “All our homes burned down, we’re still rebuilding.”

“You can afford more than most around here.” Kyva pointed at the channel. “How come you have water? The deepest wells in these parts barely draw mud.”

“Please.” The man sank to his knees and the others did the same. “We don’t know what miracle made the water happen. If your lord forces us to give up our food and we have to grow more, maybe it will dry up like the rest of the empire.”

“You have no idea how the world works, do you?” Kyva shook her head. “My lord has reunited this part of the empire. You owe him.”

“We were told that this land belonged to Duchess Eras. We were told the same about Duke Vashi.”

“Eras is dead and Vashi will join her soon enough.” Kyva tapped the pommel of her sword. “This tells you where your fealty is due.”

The skinny man stared at the weapon, then got to his feet.

“If might makes right, prove your strength,” he said. “I’ll fight you, and if you win, then the others will do as you say, but if I win, then, then, then…”

The others whispered to each other in alarm. Someone tried to pull him back down to his knees, but he stood staring at Kyva, proud despite his rags and his sunken cheeks.

Kyva took a deep breath. No dust or dryness scratched at her throat. This place really was a miracle, and this idiot thought that the best thing he could do for it was die.

“Don’t be a fool.” She tightened her grip on her sword, just in case. She’d been hardened by years of bitter war, while he was some skinny peasant. She’d make it quick and merciful, but she would damn well defend herself.

“I will, I’ll fight you.”

He grabbed a spade and raised it like a spear. Everything about him, from his shaking voice to his trembling arms, said that he knew he would lose, but still he was trying to stop her. The mangy dog had stepped up next to him, growling through bared teeth. Kyva couldn’t help admiring them and the others rising to their feet, a desperate community grabbing tools to take her on. She almost wanted them to catch her before she galloped away, to overwhelm her with sheer numbers. But Thunderer was fast and Kyva was deadly. It wouldn’t happen.

Should she pretend she never saw them? It wouldn’t be the first time she’d lied to Duke Lorkas, and these people deserved a chance.


“I’m sorry,” she said. “If you don’t accept Duke Lorkas, it’ll just be someone else. Vashi, maybe. Some other thug fighting over scraps of empire. You’re better accepting Lorkas now than having them bring the fight here.”

“You could protect us.”

Did he know how desperate that idea was? She’d have to hide the trails to this place, distract foragers who came close, pick off any scout who somehow found them. It would be as impossible as hiding the sun in a clear sky.

As a skinny farmer standing up to her.

As water in this parched place.

Chainmail jingling, Kyva dismounted and dipped a hand in the irrigation channel. Real water washed her hand. Flowing water, here in the borderlands, where everything was meant to be dead. Would Duke Lorkas appreciate the miracle, or would he just think about how it could power his conquests? She didn’t have to think about the answer.

Kyva sighed. Sooner or later, these wars were going to kill her. Might as well make that death worthwhile.

“Go back to the army,” she said to Thunderer, patting him on the flank. “You shouldn’t stay to die here with me.”

The horse just snorted, then dipped his nose back into the water. Nothing was going to drive him from this place.


This is the third and final story in a short series. You can find the first, “Picking the Bones of Hope”, over here, and the second, “What Miracles Remain”, over here.

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, which is set in the same world and explores our troubled relationship with history and tradition. You can buy it at these links:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

What Miracles Remain – a fantasy short story

The cover of the novella Ashes of the Ancestors

The first warning Dareios heard of the fire came from a dog.

He was lying on the miraculous grass beneath the village’s one tree, that trunk which had sprung overnight from the earth, restoring life to the parched ground around it. He lay exhausted from a long morning trying to coax crops from the dirt, while also trying to ignore Yianna’s mindless talk of hope and the future. Dareios worked as hard as anyone because this was his home and that was what you did, but any fool could see that the land was dying, and he was sick of suffering through Yianna’s delusions.

A howl ripped through the air. He bolted to his feet, caught the hint of smoke, and hurtled into the village.

“Fire!” he bellowed, sprinting toward a crackling sound. From the fields, others took up his cry.

However the fire started, it had spread fast. Four houses were ablaze and flames were advancing into neighbouring homes.

Dareios tore a curtain from a doorway and battered at the flames. Sparks flew and ashes whirled while hot air scratched his throat. Neighbours appeared, some with blankets to batter at the flames, others buckets of dirt. No water. There wasn’t enough in their world for this.

Dareios beat at the flames until his muscles ached and he grew dizzy with the effort. Others were wearying too, but not the flames. They ate their way through the village, swallowing homes and hope.

“My house!” Yianna dashed past Dareios and through her front door, despite the smoke spewing forth.

“Don’t be an idiot!” Dareios shouted. “It’s too late for yours.”

“Never too late.” Yiana flung bedding out the door while the smoke billowed thicker and darker past her. “I’ll want these in my new home.”

“What new home?” Dareios flung the curtain down. “There’s nothing left.”

The flames had devoured half the village, were approaching the last few houses and the tree beyond, one green thing in all the parched hills.

“There might be.” Yiana flung pants and tunics out the door. “You’ve got to have hope.”

“Hope?” In his fury, Dareios flung one of the tunics back through her window, into the flames. “I’ll give you hope.”

“Stop that!”

“No.” He flung shirts after the tunic, then grabbed a stack of wooden cups. “You don’t get to tell me to hope any more.”

He pulled the cups back, ready to fling them into the flames, but Yianna flung herself at him. They went tumbling in the dry dirt and falling ashes, punching and kicking, clawing at each other. Dareios poured all his misery and frustration into those blows, and Yianna, ever the hopeful, ever the fighter, hit him just as hard.

“Stop it!” someone shouted. “Stop, both of you!”

His heart burned with a furious heat, fuelled by the pain where the dry dirt of misery had rubbed at his raw soul. He kicked and clawed and pressed Yianna into the earth, even as he choked on ashes.

Hands grabbed Dareios. No one was strong any more, but they hauled him and Yianna apart, dragged them to their feet and made them face the end.


The tree, their beautiful miracle, was in flames. Branches charred. Leaves blackened, curled, flew away. The grass at its roots twisted and crumbled.

Yianna sobbed. Dareios sneered.

“So much for hope,” he said, trying not to remember how that grass had felt beneath him, how the wind had seemed gentler in the tree’s shade.

The tree groaned and fell, hit the ground in an explosion of charcoal. Nothing living should burn so fast. Dareios forced himself to watch, even as the others turned away in tears, watched the stump of the tree collapse inward, nothing but black dust.

“No hope,” Yianna whispered.

Then it happened. Water sprang from the hole where the tree had stood. Dareios rubbed his eyes, unable to believe what he saw. A second miracle born from the death of the first. Then he was running again, out to the fields and the tools abandoned there.

“Quick!” he shouted. “Dig ditches, carve channels, get the water to the crops.”

“What about the houses?” someone shouted, waving toward the raging flames.

“Forget the houses.” Dareios pointed at the water flowing across the ash-mottled ground, turning the ghosts of lost homes into grey mud. “This is life. This is hope.” He stared wide-eyed at Yianna. “Who knows how long this will last? So dig!”


This is the second story in a short series. You can find the first, “Picking the Bones of Hope”, over here.

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, which is set in the same world and explores our troubled relationship with history and tradition. It comes out on the 7th of February – that’s just four days time! – and can be pre-ordered here:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Picking the Bones of Hope – a flash fantasy story

For Eirwid, stories were the perfect currency. They added no weight to his pack, leaving space for the trinkets he took. They could be copied, but they could never be stolen and never ran out. Unlike coin, they had value wherever he went, because people craved entertainment. Even in a place where the crops withered, the ground cracked, and houses collapsed into sink holes, he could buy bread and water, and time to look for better things.

Twilight illuminated the people in the inn, their slumped shoulders, dust-caked features, raw knuckles with dirt in the wounds. They drank weak ale in the gloom, candles and fuel for the fire saved for another day.

“…and those who survived sailed west, leaving only their ghosts.” For a moment after he’d finished the story, Eirwid kept the carved whale on the table, its stone glowing with the magic of a long lost people. Then he opened his pack and put it back with the rest. A mirror that showed the dead. A bag of seeds from a forest that never stopped growing. A fragment of shell from a phoenix egg, icy cold to the touch.

The applause was muted, except for one woman who clapped loudly and smiled. A serving lad put a cup down in front of Eirwid, unasked payment for an implied service.

“They say there’s an abbey.” A man dragged his head up to look at the visitor. “The place they buried the first empress. A place folk can go for guidance from her ghost. Your travels ever take you there?”

Eirwid shook his head. When they landed in the Talaian Empire, he and Olweth had tossed a coin. They had to split the territory somehow, get what they could before the empire went to ash, and it was easier to trust to luck than to argue. She’d got the Eternal Abbey and he’d got the borderlands. She’d probably cheated on the toss, but it was hard to resent a thing done with skill.

“I’ve not been there,” he said, “but I hear you can get good advice for fine gifts. Maybe the ghosts can tell you how to save your crops.”

He pretended interest in his drink. This was the moment he’d been steering towards, a chance to find out what there was of value in this town.

The locals stared into their cups.

“What would we have worthy of an empress?” The cheery woman laughed. “Sold it all years ago, didn’t we?”

Some of them nodded. Others just looked at her resentfully. It was a tale Eirwid had heard a lot in these lands. He’d stopped assuming it was a lie, stopped sneaking around trying to find the hidden goods.

“Too bad.” He drained his cup and got to his feet. “Thank you for your hospitality. I should get going. I’ve a long walk ahead.”

“Now?” the serving lad asked. “It’s turning to night.”

“Best time to travel.” Eirwid tapped his cheek. In the light of day, they’d seen how pale his skin was, how it freckled and blistered in the heat under which they worked the fields, desperately trying to scratch hope from dead dirt. He’d be glad to get out of this sun-blasted land, to meet with Olweth and sail home. They’d still tell their stories, but they’d have real currency too, once they finished picking the bones of empire.

“Safe journey, and thanks for the stories.” The cheerful woman waved. Some of the others muttered farewells.

“I hoped, when you turned up,” said the man who’d asked about the abbey. “Hoped you might bring something that could save us. But hope’s a curse, isn’t it?”

Eirwid’s hand went to his bag. There would be something in there that could help, for a while at least, one of the small marvels he’d gathered. But how long could these people hang on? Their land was doomed. Warlords were riding from the south, fighting over the scraps. Better to save these treasures than to throw them away.

“Hope is important.” Eirwid put on a sad smile. “Yours will get you through.”

It wouldn’t. He’d seen enough dying places to know that hope was never enough.

Eirwid walked out into the night. Heat was still rising from the baked dirt. A dog whimpered where it lay. Eirwid walked on past.

Footsteps followed him out of the inn and he reached for his knife before glancing over his shoulder. It was the sad and weary man who’d asked about the abbey.

The man knelt by the dog, two half-dead creatures of leathery skin over jutting bones. He set down a bowl of the town’s precious water and a strip of dried meat. The dog lapped eagerly at the water while the man, alone at last, sobbed into his hands.

Unseen in the darkness, Eirwid gritted his teeth. Better to save what he could than to throw it away. And yet…

He stepped off what passed for a road, into a field where the locals had spent the day breaking the dirt. He reached into his pack, into a pouch within, took out a seed that came from a forest that never stopped growing, and planted it. The moment it touched the earth, the seed cracked open. Hard ground crumbled as roots delved. A shoot rose, questing, into the air.

It wasn’t crops, but it was roots, which could hold good soil in place, maybe draw up water from below. It would just be hope, which was a curse, but maybe these people could cling on long enough to make something worth taking next time he came through.

Olweth would curse Eirwid for a fool at throwing away their profits, but it served her right for cheating on the coin toss.

The ground creaked as roots delved. The dog barked. Eirwid walked on into the night, already working out how he would tell this story.


The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors

If you enjoyed this story, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, which tells the tale of the Eternal Abbey and other people trying to survive Talaia’s fall. It comes out on the 7th of February and is available to preorder now through the Luna Press store.

A Conspiracy of Pigeons – a scifi short story

A pigeon looks down across a city.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Leo crept along an alleyway and out along dirt-smeared store fronts, stalking pigeons through the city streets. He knew that they were here. They always had been. They always would be. But somehow, they were harder to find these days. He had no trouble finding mice and rats, squirrels in the parks, small birds among the rooftops. The old city was full of exquisite morsels, but pigeons were a distant grey movement, tantalisingly out of reach.

He stopped to lap at a puddle in the shadow of a statue, a vast feline body with its face worn smooth. Limbless trees lined the road ahead.

When Leo was a kitten, pigeons had been plentiful in the old city, drawn down by the litter humans left. That was back when floods barrelled through the streets, bludgeoning and drowning; when winds ripped tiles from the roofs and rained down shards of shattered windows. It had felt like the world was ending.

Not that the old city was safe now. A fox emerged from the mouth of a drain, its eyes feverish with one of the city’s sicknesses. Some creatures caught infections that slowed them down. Strange shining things latched onto others, changing how they behaved. This fox had one of those silvery objects clamped to its head and a hungry, desperate  look.

The fox charged at Leo, who dashed to a limbless tree, dug his claws in and scrambled frantically up. The fox tried to follow but the shining thing on its head wrecked its balance. It fell to the ground, squirming and twitching.

From the top of the tree, Leo gazed across the rooftops. On these clear days, he could see all the way to a new city, one of the tall ones with gleaming walls and woodlands on their roofs. When the humans left the old city, they had taken Leo with them. He’d found himself in a place that was safe, calm, and clean. The humans had seemed happy. So had the dogs, of course, even most of the cats. But Leo couldn’t settle. He’d spent half his life on the perilous streets, and they called to him.

The old city had changed different cats in different ways. Leo was smarter and could understand humans better than most. He knew that they had left the old city standing on purpose, a way to remember the terrible past.

Looking now from his treetop to the centre of the city, Leo saw familiar grey wings flutter around a vast dome. That was where he needed to be. Thick wires ran along the line of trees to there. He placed his paws on the wire and, with swift steps, followed the swaying path across the city.

Leo’s journey back from the new city had been its own balancing act, swaying between the need to keep moving and the risk of recapture and return. By then the storms were fewer, the floods less dramatic. The old city had seemed strangely quiet without its human occupants.

Over the years that followed, a calm had settled across Leo’s world. Life became easier and he became discontented. He needed a challenge.

Then he realised that the pigeons were up to something.

A hundred feet from the dome, the wire ended, severed and dangling. Frustrated, Leo leaped from the treetop to a nearby window, through its rotting frame, down mouldy stairs, and back into the street. A pigeon flapped past overhead. Wires trailed from the gleaming thing between its claws. Leo purred softly. He almost had them.

Skulking from shadow to shadow, Leo approached the domed building. One of its doors was ajar, hinges broken and base pressed into the floor. Leo slipped past. From deeper in the building, he heard clattering and fluttering.

He tensed at the smell of another cat. This might mean trouble.

That scent led Leo slowly up narrow stairs. At the top, a balcony looked out across the chamber beneath the dome. In its centre hung a mass of human-made pieces, dark and stark-edged with wires binding and connecting them. Pigeons fluttered around, pushing those pieces together. The floor below was pale and slick with their mess, but their construct was pristine.

Like Leo, the pigeons had been changed by the things humans left behind. But while Leo had become ever more solitary, the pigeons clung closer together. They were the true city-dwellers now, and they were making something.

A cat perched on the edge of the balcony, woefully skinny beneath her tabby fur. She had clearly been around the wrong sort of humans, as she bore a scar on her hip where some device had been removed. She looked hungrily at the pigeons and pulled back her lips, but closed them without a sound. Utterly preoccupied with the pigeons, she showed no sign of sensing Leo, but tensed, ready to pounce.

Leo leapt, grabbed the tabby, dragged her back. She hissed and fought, claws slashing, but his experience and her hunger favoured him. He pinned her down, then looked from her to the pigeons and back again, until she got the message. Resentfully, she drew her claws in and untensed.

Leo pressed his cheek against hers and purred. Later, he would show her how to catch the twisted animals of the old city, how to live here away from humans. First, though, he had to see what had brought him here.

Leo and the tabby peered through the balcony rail. Moving like a single beast, the pigeons fluttered to the edge of the room and settled, cooing.

After a moment, the thing they had made stirred. Shapes like wings scraped the floor. The pigeons cooed again, an excited chorus, then flocked in to work at their creation once more.

The tabby’s soft hiss was a question. Leo didn’t know the answer, but he knew that this was important. In the city humans had left as a warning, animals were coming into their own.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every month.


Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors by Andrew Knighton

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is available for pre-order now:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

A Volunteer from the Audience – a horror short story

Creepy clown.
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Rich found himself sitting on a wooden bench in the back of a circus tent. He couldn’t remember why they’d decided to come but it was probably Jen’s idea. She loved a good spectacle and there was plenty here. The fire breather illuminating the entrance; the juggler tossing chainsaws; the acrobats spinning like sequined nebulae overhead. The elephants and bears were a surprise, Rich thought that modern circuses had given that up, but there was something amazing about seeing a lion open its jaws wide.

The show began. The ringmaster swept his top hat down in a bow, blood red tailcoat swirling, then waggled his eyebrows. Eyes like bottomless pits stared right at Rich, who swallowed. How could a face look so expressive and so empty at once?

“Ladies and gentlemen.” The ringmaster’s smile bared skull white teeth. “Thank you again for joining us. It’s going to be a night you’ll never forget.”

Rich glanced around. Where had Jen got to? She was going to miss out. Perhaps she was buying refreshments. She always bought sweets at the cinema, why not at the circus?

A magician emerged.

“I need a volunteer from the audience,” he said. “How about you, miss?”

A young woman stepped up and lay down on a table. A box closed over her, with only her head and feet protruding. The magician produced a saw and started cutting. The audience laughed politely at familiar jokes while the saw scraped lower.

The woman screamed. Her head and feet spasmed. Rich stared, fascinated. It had to be a trick, a plant from the audience and a bag of red water. Part of him wanted it to be real, an awful mistake making a real night to remember, but then the magician wouldn’t be grinning, would he?

The audience stopped laughing, then started again, and Rich joined in, the tension snapping like an over-strained thread. The woman went limp and they laughed louder; they were in on the joke, weren’t they?

Clowns pushed the magician and his trick to one side. The ringmaster stepped forward.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be seeing them again later,” he said with a wink.

A knife thrower emerged, her bare arms covered with jagged tattoos. A knife spun gleaming through the air.

“I need a volunteer from the audience,” she said. “How about you, sir?”

The clowns strapped a man in an old-fashioned suit onto a vertical disk, a wooden target with splintered gouges where the knives had struck. The knife thrower pulled on a blindfold, tossed a blade through the air, caught it perfectly between her fingertips. The ringmaster spun the wheel and the man in the suit turned.

The knife thrower drew back her arm. The audience took a collective breath. A blade twisted end over end through the air and buried itself in the man’s chest.

Rich gasped, fixated on that spinning body and the pattern of blood on the floor. Then the ringmaster laughed, the audience laughed, and Rich was swept into the sound. Of course, it was that sort of circus. They would reveal the trick in the end. For now, clowns pushed the spinning board to one side.

A fire breather, head and chest shaved and gleaming, stepped into the ring with a burning brand in one hand and a bottle in the other.

“I need a volunteer from the audience,” he said, and looked Rich in the eye. “How about you?”

Rich scrambled eagerly across the seats and into the ring, let himself be tied to a post by the clowns. He’d never known that fire breathers needed volunteers. He wondered what the trick was. But even as he wondered, he glanced around, trying to glimpse the sawn woman and stabbed man, wondering in spite of everything if he might see a corpse.

Past the magician’s box, he saw Jen sitting in the audience. He wanted to wave, but his hands were tied. She had a bag of sweets. There were flecks of dark foam at the corners of her pale blue lips.

Ice ran through Rich’s veins as he watched her place another boiled sweet in her mouth, moving with terrible, stiff precision.

He looked across the rest of the crowd. Next to Jen was the magician’s volunteer, her guts pooled in her lap. Beyond her was the man in the old-fashioned suit, knife still protruding from his chest. The woman behind him looked like her head had been mauled by a lion, and flanking her were a couple with twisted, broken limbs.

Rich realised, with terrible certainty, that he had seen this before.

The fire breather took a swig from his bottle and held up the burning brand. His eyes glinted red.

“No, wait, don’t, I—”

Rich screamed as the inferno engulfed him. Through crackling flames, he heard the crowd laugh. Time stretched out in bright agony, until at last there was the sweet relief of oblivion.

Rich woke to find himself sitting on a wooden bench in the back of a circus tent. He couldn’t remember why they’d decided to come here. It was probably Jen’s idea.

The ringmaster swept his top hat down in a bow, blood red tailcoat swirling, then looked up and waggled his eyebrows.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he called out. “Thank you for joining us again. It’s going to be a night you’ll never forget.”


A few days early with this month’s flash fiction, but it seemed a shame not to get this one out in time for Halloween. It’s not my usual thing, but I do like to dip a toe in the darkness around this time of year.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook, updates on new releases, and a flash story straight to your inbox once a month.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is silver-and-gold-cover.jpg

The goldsmith Cualli lives in a land of endless summer, where blood sacrifices hold back the dark of winter. Through her craft, she grants power to priests and soldiers, channelling the magic of Emperor Sun. But what matters to Cualli is not power; it is proving herself as the empire’s finest goldsmith.

Not everyone feels blessed by the empire’s blood-stained faith. Dissent is turning to rebellion and the rebels want Cualli on their side, whether she likes it or not. When the season of sacrifice threatens the lives of her closest friends, Cualli must face a choice: will she fight for change through the illegal magic of silver, or will she bask in her own triumph and the endless golden summer?

Silver and Gold, a novella about friendship, magic, is out now.

Out Now – The Machine Man

Cover of Neo-opsis 34

Garvey likes working with machines; unlike with humans, their behaviour makes sense. But when the remote control in his head acts up, he’s going to get a lot closer to people than he’d like…

I’ve got a new story, “The Machine Man”, out in the latest issue of Neo-Opsis. It’s a sci-fi story about a technician struggling to cope not just with the way technology is changing him, but with the turmoil of a society under strain.

This started out as an experiment in writing about psychic powers, looking for a new way they might come about. What if an attempt to control machines ended up affecting people as well? That implicitly asks uncomfortable questions about the difference between people and machines, and to some extent expresses my own outlook on that topic. But this isn’t a story about what it means to live. Rather, it’s a story about how we fit into society and what happens when you suddenly become very connected.

There’s a rich history of stories featuring psychic powers. My favourites, like Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and some of the X-Men comics, delve deep into what would happen if we could do extraordinary things with our minds. This story is less about those extremities and more about the mundane question of how such a thing could happen. The story itself, though, is far from mundane.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, then you can find “The Machine Man” in Neo-Opsis issue 34, out now.