Reality wasn’t what it used to be.
One moment, everything was fine. Just a normal, run-of-the-mill indie goth alternative rock show at the Leeds University Union on a Sunday afternoon in late April. Just a young band singing about the most angsty issues of the moment, playing less-than-commercial music that was a cut above the usual pop twaddle. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.
But then, things got decidedly odd, downright bizarre. Up was down, or maybe it was just an inverted up? The walls were closing in, or were they falling away very close by? It got very dark, almost brightly so. And the intense volume of the music was almost inaudible. If this was a part of the show, it was damned strange, but strangely appealing.
The band in question, the Mystic Wedding Weasels, was making something of a splash recently, and the hall was packed with young fans eager to soak up their particular brand of musical peculiarity, most notably in the figure of their enigmatic singer. And she seemed to be the source of this sudden oddness. At least, twelve-year-old witch Jilly Pleeth thought so.
Jilly couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see her favorite new band live, and she’d invited her friend Lluck along for the experience. He was half-human, half Indian Fae, all teenage attitude, and could affect the laws of probability in his favor. So, not your typical fourteen-year-old. She’d met him last winter during a rather crazy adventure involving an ancient Germanic forest spirit that wanted to eat his heart; as one does. Also, his long-lost mum was now dating Jilly’s best friend, a shadow with glowing red eyes; it’s a rather long and strange story.
In any case, returning to the matter at hand, everything had been as expected for the first few songs, when things shifted into all sorts of odd and back, but what was happening?
“Did you see that?” Jilly asked Lluck over the din of the current song, something about feeling dreadful in the face of ultimate despair.
“See what?” he half-shouted back at her.
“You didn’t notice how everything just went all… funny for a bit?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everything just changed!”
“Changed how? What are you on about?”
“Something crazy strange is going on. It doesn’t feel normal.”
“All right, Ms. Witchy, I’ll take your word for it. But strange is the new normal these days, anyway, so who cares? Can we just watch the show, please?”
Jilly didn’t answer, but she remained unsettled. She turned her attention back to the singer, Chantz, at least that’s what she called herself. Jilly didn’t know her real name, if she had one. She looked to be in her early twenties, sported long black hair (with a streak of green-dyed tresses cascading down the right side of her head) and the obligatory black vestments: black dress, fishnets, black Doc Marten boots, long and wispy black shirt, open and trailing about her. But her voice was the real draw. It was enchanting, captivating; it drew in Jilly like a… spell. Jilly scrunched up her nose in that way that she always did when alarm bells went off in her head. Well, perhaps they were more like wind chimes.
She grabbed Lluck by the arm and yelled into his ear. “It’s magic!”
“Yeah, it’s all right isn’t it?” He bobbed his head up and down in time with the song.
She rolled her eyes. “No, you nitwit! Not the show, the singer.”
Tim Rayborn has a new queer urban fantasy out (bi, lesbian), Qwyrk Tales book 3: Chantz.
Qwyrk can’t get a break. Spring is springing, but she’s stuck breaking up drunken faery fights as Beltane approaches. She really wants to take things to the next level with her possibly-probably-girlfriend Holly, but she keeps coming down with a chronic case of chickening out.
And now, her best human friend, Jilly Pleeth, has had a rather odd encounter. While attending a concert by her favorite band, the Mystic Wedding Weasels, Jilly was amazed by their enigmatic singer, Chantz. There’s something downright magical about her voice, something so magical that an evil force from outside this world wants her for nefarious reasons. But will Chantz succumb to its lure?
Chantz is the third in a series of four novels about the comic misadventures of a group of misfits at the edge of normal reality in modern northern England, a world of shadows, Nighttime Nasties, eldritch screaming horrors, appalling neo-Shakespearean sonnets, undead corvids, an abundance of verbal sparring, and… Qwyrk is not an elf, all right? They’re just silly!
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After a few minutes of meandering on campus, she found a rather expansive and tree-filled enclosure marked by a sign reading “Welcome to St. George’s Field.” Seeing as she could lose herself in its trees, this place would suffice. Wandering in, she found herself strolling through a historic cemetery, which appealed to her gothy aesthetic sensibilities. She sat herself down on a stone bench not far from some centuries-old headstones and tried to focus, to think, to something.
She closed her eyes, trying to recall the feeling of the power flowing through her.
“What are you?” she whispered.
For a time, she felt nothing. Sighing in frustration, she opened her eyes. The field was mercifully unpopulated today, so she decided to risk singing a little tune, an old Irish folk song. She couldn’t remember where she’d learned it. She couldn’t remember much of anything before the last couple of years, to be honest. But there it was, stuck in her head, so she called on it.
It was a simple melody with a short verse and a chorus. She didn’t even know all the words, but that didn’t matter. She just sang the bit she knew over and over. It was soothing, comforting, and connected her to something, as if stirring a memory. She closed her eyes again, allowing it to wash over her. For the first time in a while, she formed a genuine smile. Not a big smile, mind you, she did have her reputation to think of, after all.
As she neared the third repeat, something happened. She heard a voice in her head, one that contrasted with her own. It was more like a momentary flash of sound, in a language she didn’t recognize. It didn’t make her stop singing; in fact, she wanted to continue. After she sang another verse or two, and she heard it again, like a call across some great gap. But was it far away in the distance? Or maybe in time?
How does that even make any sense?
Intrigued, she kept singing, but lowered her voice so as not to attract any onlookers. It would be just like someone to come up in the middle of it and ruin the whole experience, with their chattiness and insipid curiosity.
As it turned out, she was indeed interrupted, but not by any passersby who should have been minding their own business. In her mind’s eye, she saw a face. The face of an old woman. She had long, disheveled grey-streaked hair, and her complexion was wan and weathered, with dark shadows under her eyes. There was almost something cool about her. The face was obscured, as if peering through a fog, and Moirin couldn’t gauge its intent. She wasn’t imagining it; her imagination was good, but not this good. The woman opened her mouth as if to say something, but no words emerged, and if she were the one speaking those foreign words, Moirin wouldn’t have understood her, anyway.
The old woman smiled, but it was an odd smile, and not really a happy one, more like sinister grin. She seemed to want something from Moirin. The smile grew bigger and stretched to unnatural proportions. Her eyes began to lighten, not just the pupils, but the whole of her eyes, greying at first and then fading into a milky white.
Moirin’s heart raced. She stopped singing and gasped. Whatever this thing was, she wanted nothing to do with it. She tried to open her eyes, but they were heavy, almost as if she’d been drugged. Her ears seemed to close up, and the world around her disappeared. She shook her head and tried to stand up, but just like her eyes, her legs no longer worked. She started to panic and opened her mouth again, not to sing but to scream, shout for help, something. But no sound escaped.
The face sneered at her, perhaps enjoying her helplessness. It became ever more twisted and grotesque and opened its mouth again, almost in mockery of Moirin’s inability to do so. A low-pitched wailing sounded from the old woman, a mournful call that seemed to portend something awful. It rose in pitch and volume to a full-on cry, a tuneless and wordless plaint that sounded like something out of an older time. It shook Moirin to the core, but the more she heard it, the more it seemed to invite her, to draw her in, even to tempt her. Whatever the ill intent of this creature invading her mind, and however frightening its call, Moirin felt oddly at home. She began to surrender to its lure, to its awful and seductive pull.
Tim Rayborn has written an astonishing number of books over the past several years. He lived in England for quite some time and has a PhD from the University of Leeds, which he likes to pretend means that he knows what he’s talking about. His generous output of written material covers topics such as music, the arts, history, the strange and bizarre, fantasy and sci-fi, and general knowledge.
He’s also an acclaimed musician. He plays dozens of unusual instruments that quite a few people of have never heard of and often can’t pronounce. He has appeared on over forty recordings, and his musical wanderings and tours have taken him across the US, all over Europe, to Canada and Australia, and to such romantic locations as Marrakech, Istanbul, Renaissance chateaux, medieval churches, and high school gymnasiums.
He currently lives in Washington state (where it rains a lot), surrounded by many books and instruments, as well as with a sometimes-demanding cat. He is rather enthusiastic about good wines, and cooking excellent food.
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