De Profundis – Day 24 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Leyla Telli.

Dublin city was bustling with harried shoppers dragging their last conquests home, presents to impress their loved ones on the big day tomorrow. Cars, monstrous buses and bicycles crawled through the crowded streets, fighting for space. The air was cold and wet, clouds drifted, lazy, across the sky. Big raindrops fell here and there, as if not sure whether it was worth the effort. 

He had put up the collar of his black coat and hid his face in a black woolen scarf, not so much because he was cold, but for the peace of mind of the others. Even though there didn’t seem to be an inch of pavement left free, as he walked among them, they all flowed around him as if they were the river and he was the rock. He moved with a pensive gait towards Christ Church Cathedral. Its squat spire was failing to reach the sky and yet, such beauty. 

As he walked through the gate and onto hallowed ground a thrill of something, excitement, fear, or maybe relief, went through him. An older man, his grey hair fluttering about his head, made his way towards the door and he followed him in, like a shadow. Once inside, he made himself invisible in a darkened corner, biding his time. The air smelled faintly of the wreaths that decorated the altar. Midnight Mass came and went. The heavy sound of the oaken door falling into its lock and the grinding of the key turning, brought him back to alertness. He waited, the absolute silence around him pressing in on him like the dark earth. 

Nothing. The cathedral  was empty, one lone candle that someone had forgotten to snuff was the only light. For him it was enough to see by, to trace the intricate carvings on the pillars and to reconstruct in his mind’s eye the pale windows into brilliant color. He stepped out of his hiding place and strode up the aisle between rows of empty benches until he faced the simple golden cross on the altar. He knelt down on the stones that had been polished by generations of believers and began his vigil. 

His thoughts wandered. His beginnings, humble and human, lay buried in the Dublin of the 1600s. A simple time, that passed in the blink of an eye. He was attending his first ball, in one of the grand houses of the era. It was an unusually warm night, the stars were bright in the sky and the smell of the garden flowers alluring. Sweaty and slightly inebriated from heavy red wine that had been shipped from Tuscany for the occasion, he stumbled out through the open garden doors to sate himself on the fresh breeze. The garden sprawled away from the house for several acres, ancient trees and artfully trimmed hedges providing an illusion of privacy and wilderness. Lanterns had been hung here and there, providing little islands of light and plunging all else into an even deeper darkness. He followed a narrow trail, until the house was mostly hidden by foliage and only the softest sound of laughter and music carried over with the breeze. 

A short scream pierced the air somewhere deeper in the garden. The hedges rustled and a young girl almost ran into him on her way back to the house. Intrigued, he moved forward. The green parted and there on the marble rim of a little fountain sat a young gentleman with a roguish smile on his face. He had seen him before, knew that he was English, with a boisterous laugh, and fierce in the pursuit of his own joys. His hair shone like bright polished copper, in contrast his face was very pale. He wondered if the gentleman was sick. Before he could ask, the man’s smile widened, beckoning. When he spoke his voice was like a dark balm, like something he had been yearning for, without knowing.

‘Come.’ Just one word, that swept over him like a compulsion. He followed the command without a second thought. When his teeth breached the delicate flesh on his neck, the pain was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. A bright burn that ate its way through his whole body. And yet, such sweet pleasure swept through his senses that he felt like he was drowning in it, torn along on a dark current. In his last moments, the long, drawn out second of his last heartbeat, the image of his mother and father, of his sister, crowded his dying mind. The knowledge of their anguish at his death brought silent tears to his eyes. 

His new master had taken him away from the Isle and he had seen the world. A lot of time had passed since then, and his master with the copper hair was long dead. 

He remembered others, beautiful men and women, human companions. He loved most of them. His last one was so young when she perished in his arms. She joined the others in the dark earth, decay gnawing the flesh from their bones.

He hasn’t seen his own reflection in centuries, has forgotten the look of his own face. His victims call him beautiful, and he sees the adoration shine in their eyes, before it is replaced by terror. This new age, that is filled with fluorescent false brightness that casts everything in harsh and unforgiving lines, an indifferent grey creeping in around the edges and tainting everything. It makes him feel tired.

Tomorrow is the feast day of the King. Of He who let His own heart blood flow freely as sacrifice. As he bows down before Him, he entrusts to Him his eternal soul, even if it is bound for darker spheres. The night passes as he holds his vigil in God’s empty house. 

When dawn breaks, he awaits it under the open sky, back to the west, welcoming the pale morning as crimson tears stain his cheeks. The first rays of the wintry sun touch his face in greeting. 

The Season – Day 23 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A poem by Paul Carroll.

They say "Tis the season",
But rarely quantify the statement, 
Barely justify the reason
Why we battle down the pavement 
For gifts and trinkets galore,
To wrap up messy or neat
Before we go door-to-door 
Upon our weary feet.
We do not talk of why
Old friends and family unite,
Whether to smile or cry
At good news or at plight.
Annually we gather,
For a tea or something stronger,
To say who's sick or fatter
Or with the rest of us no longer, 
To celebrate a job or baby,
And plan the following year,
When we'll meet sooner, maybe,
We promise, while we're near.
This time of year is magic,
With so much to begin.
We forget about the tragic,
Because it's Christmastime again.

Operation Snowblind – Day 21 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

Jasik Thacker was cold as cold could be. He’d been hiding among the snowy bushes for hours now, waiting patiently. He huddled, he stood, he stamped around his little hideout, trying to little avail to hold some warmth inside. There wasn’t much day left by now; the winter sun was dipping towards the hills on the opposite side of the valley. If it was going to happen at all it would have to be soon.

Both the valley itself, and the sleepy village of Trogsvale that nestled below Jasik’s vantage point, lay blanketed in pristine snow. Dark clouds were moving in swiftly from the north, against the sunset: more snow was on the way. Jasik wondered where his friends were, whether something had disrupted their carefully-planned assault.

Every so often he’d part the branches around him and peer carefully out from his thicket to survey the enemy compound, half-way down the hillside. A handful of scouts patrolled the courtyard vigilantly, but someone had also lit a bonfire, and most of the rest of them, especially the younger ones, were gathered around it toasting marshmallows.

Jasik envied the rich kids. All the village kids did. They envied them their marshmallow fires, their ski trips, their elevated private school with its majestic view of the bay. They came down to the village at weekends to hang around the main square, where they boasted of their foreign holidays, their many possessions, their countryside mansions. Jasik’s mum would often wonder aloud at tea-time on Saturday evenings when these kids had last seen their parents, and whether having all the fancy toys in the world made up for that. Jasik knew she was right, but he envied them still.

The minutes passed slowly. The sun sank further, and the laden clouds came rolling in quickly, spreading out to blanket the darkening sky above. Lights winked on in the village. Windows glowed yellow, the lit snow beneath them sparkled gold against the ice-blue snowstreets.

Jasik felt a sting on his cheek; the threatened snow had arrived. He squinted down towards the village, trying to make out the time on the clock tower. The village Christmas tree illuminated the clock face just enough. Five-forty. When the clock struck six today’s game was over; and tomorrow, before the private school kids went home for the holidays, would be their very last chance.

No one knew when the Winter Wars had first begun. The boarding school had been founded in the late eighteen-hundreds, and Jasik’s grandfather claimed that his grandfather had played an early version of the game. It had all begun with a pilfered apple pie, it was said, and both sides still denounced the other for that original sin. Rules, honour, etiquette had all been formalised over the years. The weeks leading up to the first snowfall were always full of excitement and anticipation. That was when it started, with a ceremonious exchange of flags half-way up the hill and a solemn march back to both bases, up to the school and down to the village. And then: avoid the snowballs, capture the flag. The village kids hadn’t had claimed a win in seven years, which had badly dented the pride of villagers of all ages; any that had ever gone to battle. And Jasik had turned twelve last month, so this was his very last chance.

The snow was coming on thick now, and visibility was decreasing. Jasik could just about make out the enemy snowman in the centre of the schoolyard, its bright red flag the trophy they were so desperate to seize. The village kids’ own snowman was located on the far side of the main square’s frozen pond this year, flanked by built-up embankments, almost as defensible a position as the boarding school courtyard.

And that was the problem; if neither side claimed the flag, last year’s winners won again. So the Snow Boarders, as they called themselves, could afford to play it safe and guard their fortress. The Village Pillagers had to be more aggressive, exposing themselves to the snowball strikes that meant elimination for the day and left them vulnerable to counterattack.

The whole world seemed muffled by the falling snow. All was perfect silence until a piercing clarion call split the night. No angel blew that trumpet. No, it was big Henck Harfjord, the Pillagers’ fearless leader, finally sounding the charge. Jasik now knew why they’d waited so long: Henck had known the snow was coming, was hoping poor visibility would improve their chances. Jasik leapt into motion; it was finally time to act. The Pillagers were depending on him.

He left his hideout and pulled his toboggan out from underneath the bushes. Shrieks and ululations rent the air below as twenty village children charged from the tree-line below towards the school’s open gates. The Boarders had left them open out of arrogance, inviting the Pillagers to have a go any time they liked. They rushed to defend their fortress, arming themselves from stockpiles of burnished snowballs as they went. No one was looking up the hillside towards where Jasik had lain all afternoon in wait.

He sat down on his toboggan and aimed it carefully. The packed-snow ramp he’d constructed with Henck under cover of darkness last night had remained undiscovered all day, its peak just below the shoulder-high schoolyard wall. This was it, no time to hesitate. Jasik kicked off, and tucked in his feet.

The slope was precipitous. Cold air burned Jasik’s face and howled in his ears as he plunged towards the wall. As the wall rushed towards him. Their little ramp was narrow, and Jasik was a little too far to the right. He shifted his weight just enough to make it. The world flipped backwards as he shot up the ramp; before him, briefly, was only sky.

The toboggan’s runners clipped the top of the wall, and Jasik leaned as far forwards as possible to prevent a backflip. He’d spent the last three days practicing ramp jumps. Boy and toboggan sailed together through the snow-filled air. He landed cleanly, but his earlier course-correction left him spinning wildly across the courtyard, right into the enemy snowman where he tumbled off in a heap.

Battle was raging away to Jasik’s left. Henck Harfjord towered above the other children, awash in flickering firelight, dodging, throwing, bellowing wildly with ferocious joy. Many Pillagers had already fallen, but no-one had spotted Jasik yet, thanks in part to the flurrying snow. He struggled to his feet, plucked the enemy flag from the snowman, and sprinted towards the schoolyard’s opposite side. A shout went up behind him.

“The flag! He’s got the flag!”

Jasik glanced back, saw Henck go down to a snowball to the head. Their assault was crumbling. Boarders were running towards him. Some were taken out by snowballs from behind, but not enough. He reached the wall and scrambled up it. A snowball flew past him. He slipped as he jumped.

He landed awkwardly, twisting his knee. Something popped. Jasik stood, stumbled, fell. Pain shot through his leg. He rose, staggered forwards, fell again. He’d never make it. Behind him two Boarder girls had mounted the wall and were reaching back to be handed snowballs to finish him off with.

Jasik bowed his head, wincing in agony. He clutched the enemy flag to his breast. So close, a voice inside him said. You almost made it. He fought back tears.

And then, a shout to his left.

“Jasik!”

He looked. Grethal Thungar was sprinting around the perimeter towards him. Little Grethal Thungar, the tagalong they’d all dismissed as too small and slow for this boisterous game. Jasik cursed inwardly despite himself as she reached him. If only it was someone faster.

But Grethal stuck out a hand, determined, imperious.

“Give it here. Now!”

Something in her fierceness awed him. Jasik rose, renewed, and handed over the flag, roaring “Go!” as he turned to face their pursuers, shielding her body with his own as she fled. A pair of snowballs struck him in the face and chest, and he staggered and collapsed again, pain searing his leg. Grethal was away, but the two Boarder girls had already jumped from the wall and run past him in hot pursuit. She’d never make it back to their base.

Jasik struggled to turn and watch brave Grethal as she was overtaken. Then Henck was there beside him, and unexpectedly, another eliminated Boarder girl he didn’t know. They helped him sit up. Henck pointed, spoke quietly.

“Jasik. Look.”

Jasik raised his head. He hadn’t noticed. Grethal was wearing rollerblades.

The last rays of sunset illuminated her as, crouched low, Grethal shot downhill like a cannonball, the Boarder’s flag a blood-red pennant fluttering behind her. Into the village, into the square, across the frozen duck pond. She rose and plunged the flag deep into their snowman, alongside their own.

And Jasik passed out with Henck bellowing jubilantly beside him, as the clock struck six.

Solstice Sacrifice, Day 19 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Kat Dodd.

This was the first Solstice that the betrothed could spend together. In the previous years, Ren had been busy avoiding his duties and running around the countryside with his squire, while Cricket had been on the run, avoiding her uncle’s armies until she’d managed to reach sanctuary. As such, the royal couple hadn’t exchanged gifts before.

Ren hadn’t known Cricket long, and was at a loss at what to give her. His squire was no help, being worse with women than he was, and suggested that he just “get something pretty”. Ren asked his friends for advice, thinking that the more people he could get input from, the better it would be, but Alain’s advice appeared to be the best, which meant that Ren was roaming the Solstice stalls, trying to find something to give his fiance.

It wasn’t a love match, because royals didn’t get to have that. But he was fond of Cricket, and he wanted to give her something nice, that was appropriate to their stations and to their relationship.

He found a cloak that he was pretty sure was her favourite colour, since she wore a lot of clothes of a similar shade. It was thick and soft, and cost more than he’d prefer, but that just meant that it would be better to give her.

He couldn’t wait to see her face when she opened it. Surely she’d love it.


Cricket unwrapped the present, letting out soft sounds that proved she was pleased with the red cloak, praising its colour and softness and warmth.

And then to Ren’s absolute horror she threw it into the fire before Ren could move to stop her.

“Why would you do that?” Ren cried, still staring at the flaming cloak. Even if he pulled it out now, it would be ruined beyond all repair.

Cricket didn’t seem to understand why he was so upset. “It’s the best thing I owned.”

“So you threw it in the fire?” Ren’s voice cracked, and if his friends had heard it they would never let him live it down.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever owned, what was I supposed to do?” Cricket tilted her head at him in confusion.

“I don’t know, wear it? Use it? Not burn it within minutes of me giving it to you?” Ren’s voice was getting higher and more irate.

“Ohhhhh,” Cricket breathed out, “I think I see the problem. You don’t know my culture.”

Ren stopped short. “What?”

“Where I’m from, for Solstice, we destroy the thing that matters most to us as a gift to the gods,” Cricket explained. “A sacrifice that costs nothing is no sacrifice, but a sacrifice that is felt deeply… that is a true gift. We used to give people, but my grandparents put a stop to that practice.”

Ren just blinked at her. “What would you have done if I hadn’t given you something you liked?”

Cricket pulled a necklace out from under her dress. “My mother gave this to me, before she was killed. It has a lot of sentimental value, but no monetary value. I think the gods will prefer your cloak, because it has both.”

Ren thought for a long moment about the best way to go. It was true that he didn’t know very much about Cricket’s culture. She’d embraced his in most ways, but he hadn’t tried to learn about hers, and that struck him as deeply unfair. “Could you help me pick out something to burn, then? And tell me more about your gods?”

Cricket’s smile was blindingly bright as she covered his hand with hers. “I would be honoured.”

Next year, though, he was giving Cricket her Solstice present after she’d made her sacrifice.

6 Christmas Reads to Get You in the Mood

With Christmas right around the corner, I turned to the Cupán Fae Facebook group to ask for recommendations of books to read to get in the mood for the upcoming holiday. With a couple to throw in myself, here are six Christmas reads!

1. Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

IT’S THE NIGHT BEFORE HOGSWATCH AND IT’S TOO QUIET.

Where is the big jolly fat man? Why is Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho? The darkest night of the year is getting a lot darker…

Susan the gothic governess has got to sort it out by morning, otherwise there won’t be a morning. Ever again…

The 20th Discworld novel is a festive feast of darkness and Death (but with jolly robins and tinsel too).

As they say: You’d better watch out…

Recommended by Roisín Tuohy.

 

2. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

A whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist!

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.” 16-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on her favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. Dash, in a bad mood during the holidays, happens to be the first guy to pick up the notebook and rise to its challenges. What follows is a whirlwind romance as Dash and Lily trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations all across New York City. But can their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions, or will their scavenger hunt end in a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions? Co-written by Rachel Cohn (GINGERBREAD) and David Levithan, co-author of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON with John Green (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS), DASH & LILY’S BOOK OF DARES is a love story that will have readers scouring bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Recommended by Ellen Brickley.

3. The Night of Wishes: Or, the Satanarchaeolidealcohellish Notion Potion, by Michael Ende

Told partly in rhyme, this account of the adventures of sorcerer Beelzebub Preposteror introduces a host of unusual and compelling characters. By the author of The Neverending Story.

Recommended by Lelya Telli. 

 

 

 

 

4. I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, by Adam Roberts

Marley was dead. Again.

The legendary Ebenezeer Scrooge sits in his house counting money. The boards that he has nailed up over the doors and the windows shudder and shake under the blows from the endless zombie hordes that crowd the streets hungering for his flesh and his miserly braaaaiiiiiinns!

Just how did the happiest day of the year slip into a welter of blood, innards and shambling, ravenous undead on the snowy streets of old London town?

Will the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future be able to stop the world from drowning under a top-hatted and crinolined zombie horde?

Was Tiny Tim’s illness something infinitely more sinister than mere rickets and consumption? Can Scrooge be persuaded to go back to his evil ways, travel back to Christmas past and destroy the brain stem of the tiny, irritatingly cheery Patient Zero?

It’s the Dickensian Zombie Apocalypse – God Bless us, one and all!

Recommended by Paul Carroll. See also: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

5. Let it Snow, by John Green, Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle

An ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House (and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.

A trio of today’s bestselling authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle – bring all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away.

Recommended by Paul Carroll.

6. Dreamspinner Press’s Advent Calendar

Dreamspinner’s annual advent calendar is a chance for readers of gay romance fiction to explore different genres published by the company, all relating to Christmas, one published every day. Chosen for this post, Hero for the Holidays, a Spandex and Superheroes story.

Recommended by Jenn Quinn.