A trip to the Postbox: an All Outta Bubblegum experience…

bubblegumI’ve recently become interested in RPG games. This is a genre of gaming where you use your imagination to build a world, generally with some rules to help provide a framework to make this easier.

Given my relative inexperience, I’ve asked my friends Alan and Ace to play a game of “All Outta Bubblegum” with me via email. Its a particularly silly game, designed for a short play through with ridiculous effects. The rules, such as they are, are below:

All Outta Bubblegum

Based entirely on a quote from an 80s action film “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum“. In AOB you can do one of two types of action; you can do normal things, like walking, answering the phone, getting dressed, etc. Or you can do kickass things, like hacking a computer with a single keypress, flying a helicopter, or barrel-kicking a zombie through a wall.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat — Bubblegum. It’s technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don’t do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.

Resolution

Any action which does not fall under the broad category of “kickass” is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of “kickass” is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a kickass roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any kickass-related activity. you are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. However, bear in mind that it’s relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he’s totally incapable of dealing with.

A trip to the Postbox

We both wake up in a bedroom, the one that we share. We have adult bunk beds, Alan in the bottom bunk, I’m in the top. We’ve been asleep under the covers, when we are woken by an alarm clock going off on the other side of the room. The digital display is blinking 8:00am. Its an alarm, set to remind us that we need to post a birthday card in the postbox at the end of the road by 12pm. The race is on!

I sit up blearily, narrowing missing banging my head on the ceiling. That bloomin’ alarm is driving me mad, and I know from experience it won’t turn off without us pressing the button on top.

I peer over the edge of the bed, but you are showing no signs of moving. “Wake up, you pathetic scottish pillock!”. A vague moan sounds from under my bed, but no visible evidence of sentience.

This is a normal action, which needs an 8 or less to succeed. I roll a 6. What happens Alan?



With a spritely and unexpected burst of energy, I roll out of bed with a cry of “get your ass up muthaf***a!”.

I roll a 1, successfully completing the action of getting out of bed.

I decide to forgo the stifling, square, and outmoded convention of dressing and walk naked to the door.



My book glances off the alarm clock, successfully turning it off, in fact, smashing it completely. From the shards of broken alarm clock, a few sparks flash, and a wisp of smokes starts to rise, unnoticed so far by us.

I sit myself up, and try to somersault from the bed, directly to landing on my feet on the floor, doing a kickass roll. I get an 8, failing it


You land a wonderful handspring, surprising yourself in the process, rolling otter-like to your feet like a sleek, denuded Chuck Norris. You celebrate by lifting your arms up in the momentary pose of an Olympic child gymnast.

I ignore you, eager to get my s**t for the day done.  I got no time for showboating.  I have a letter to deliver dagnammit! and Im going to get it in by first post if it kills me.  Nothing will stand in my way.  NOTHING!

I reach for the door to exit from the room, rolling a 9 in my normal roll, failing it…

Eagerness defines Alan, sweat dripping from his face (and hairy back) as he swings his entire body in anticipation towards the door. Sadly, such enthusiasm has led to a miscalculation and he crashes, testicles first, dramatically into the doorhandle. The entire door mechanism snaps off, impaled as it is into his scrotum, and they fall to the ground as one, a bleeding, whimpering mess at the foot of a firmly closed door.

Next to the bed, I wobble unsteadily, surprised to have completed such a kickass feat when I initially thought I’d failed, and gaze blearily at the misery in front of me. Despite my obvious repulsion, I lean in and offer a hand to Alan to help him get up. I roll a 10, failing a normal roll…

Still unnoticed by either of us, up on the chest of drawers a smoke trail flickers in and out. A small flame rises within the remains of the alarm clock, as the wiring catches alight, and begins to gentle spread along the innards of the broken timepiece.


You fall forward, missing your balance and tumbling – eye first – into the corner of the chest of drawers, which obligingly pokes it out. You tumble to the floor grasping desperately to steady the eye swinging out of its socket.

I have no time for your sufferings.  Posting mail is a serious business, and its a business I intend to do well in! I grasp my swollen balls with one hand, and with the other I reach up to the door handle to help right myself.

I roll a 4, passing a normal roll…

You stand up with no difficulties, and pluck the doorhandle out of your scrotum, ignoring the trickle of blood trailing from the prominent gash it has left, and attach it to the door. It clicks back into place masterfully, and the handle turns. Sadly, the door appears to be locked, and stays firmly shut.

There is little of the alarm clock visible anymore, and the top of the dresser has started to catch. Cheap and cheerful chipboard is great for building an ikea special, but it doesn’t half throw off a lot of smoke. Alan notices that his letter is around 10 inches away from the crater that used to be a timepiece.

I scream. And scream. My eye is hanging out. I scream some more.

My action this turn is going to be to simply attempt to stop screaming. I’m going to make that a kickass roll by attempting to turn my scream into a manful “Oooooh yeaaah”. I roll an 8 (a fail, and my bubblegum number has dropped to 7)…


Your scream raises in pitch, through the little girl octaves and right up into the ultra high range of 80’s symphonic metal singers. A crack appears in the window pane. Suddenly there is a short ‘twang’, like a rubber band breaking, and all sound other than a gurgle instantly stops emanating from your throat.

It would appear you have broken a vocal chord (spare me yer scientific doctor bulls**t about how this is physically impossible – remember – the correct reponse in improvisation is always ‘yes’).

Seeing the peril of the hallowed letter I manfully stride over to pick it up. Your face is showered with my testicle blood as I attempt to straddle you en route to retrieve my precious cargo from the flames.

I roll a 2, passing a normal roll…

You deftly swipe the letter from the top of the chest of drawers. The air above the unit is starting to shimmer from the heat, and you step back from the blaze. It’s already started to curl up the curtains, and presents a formidable barrier to anyone wishing to reach the window.

You cough a little, as the smoke irritates your lungs. Visibility is reducing, and its hard to even see the other side of the room properly. You wonder briefly why there is no fire alarm ringing, but recall that your evil landlord is the exact kind of person to skimp of that sort of “luxury”. As you peer at the blackened wall and obviously smoke damaged ceiling, you suspect you are not going to get your rental deposit back either…

My world has gone into slow motion. If you’ve seen 28 Days Later, there’s a bit where the dad gets angry and kicks a post, and you see a single droplet of infected blood inexorably drop into his eye, and he rapidly deteriorates into a rage filled monster. I’m already half blinded, and barely able to talk, due to my laryngeal luxation (yep, that’s the correct medical term), and I can only draw breath in horror as I see a gush of scrotal blood fall from your ravaged groins towards my face.

Slight break from the rules, because why not? I’m going to roll for the result. Not an action, we just get to see what happens to me from mundane to insane based on the roll. Maybe I turn into a were-Alan…I roll a… 9!


You rise up in a frenzy, breathing hard and contorting in the grip of a terrifying, and obviously painful transmogrification…. you drop to your knees as your fingers extend – one of them forcefully pushes its way in between your teeth, which are reforming themselves into gangrenous, yellowing icebergs…

Your face itches as a pair of tangled pelts speedily sprout from your jowls….

More hair begins to form a greasy blanket over your back and your genitals take on herculean, bulbous, proportions….

Your effete middle class English exterior is successfully transformed into a heinous mockery of humanity which draws itself up to its full height, glorying in its new found, hitherto unexperienced, masculinity…

Much like Harry Potter under the influence of polyjuice potion, your spectacles are still in place (one eye still dangling below the lens), and your accent remains unchanged as you exclaim “bloody hell!”.

I gaze at the horrific transformation in front of me with a sense of awe which overpowers the rising panic at the burgeoning blaze and gather my thoughts.  Quickly thinking through the weight ratio, I grab your form and attempt to break the glass by lobbing your sweating form at the window….

I roll a 5 for kick ass…

Failing miserably at the attempt for two, obvious reasons. Firstly, the large steel bars on the window present a formidable opponent to any projectile, however well tossed.

Secondly, whilst almost laughably oversized, your upper body is comicly misproportioned. Your forearms snap audibly, arms hanging limply as you stare at them disappointedly. (Your bubblegum number is now 6).

Under the onslaught of your full strength attack, I have been moved across the floor towards the window almost three eighths of an inch. Shrugging it off, and temporarily ruling out the window as an exit point, I decide the door is our best opportunity for escape. Whilst I could use the key that is in my pocket, I attempt a triple backwards somersault scissorkick into the upper panel of the stout Edwardian door.

And that’s a 1 on my kickass roll, an epic fail…


The flames begin to spread across the wall – the heat in the room increases as ugly black smoke begins to fill the room.

As you breathe in deeply to begin the wind up for your kick you fall to the floor in a coughing fit, vomiting several times and almost inhaling your swinging eye in between heaves, accidentally crunching it like a ripe lychee between your teeth.

I nudge you with my foot in an effort to motivate you “mone man – get yer s**t together, eh” and reach for a discarded t-shirt to cover my mouth while I decide what to do.

I roll a normal 1 – an epic win…

You are mighty proud of both your actions.

Firstly, your old tshirt is, predictably, disgusting. It’s a soggy greeny brown that belies it was once sold to you at an Avril Lavigne concert as a “medium white”. Almost a decade of abuse has imbued it with colonies upon colonies of anaerobic bacteria. Given that they have evolved to dwell in close proximity to your body, they are able to survive in incredibly inhospitable environments, and can generate their own oxygen.

As you hold it to your face, you realise that the air entering your lungs has become a) powerfully nauseating but b) safely breathable. You have saved yourself from any danger of smoke inhalation.

Secondly, that nudge with your foot had unpredictable consequences. Hitting me on the side of the head, it has caused a frontal lobe haemorrhage in *exactly* the right place to give me an excellent idea…

Temporarily ignoring the vitreous fluid dripping down my jaw, I attempt a normal roll to open the door with the key in my pocket! That’s an 8…


In your haste to get the key to the door, it flies out of your hand and it ricochets around the room before – with a comedy ‘plop’ sound – lodges itself halfway into your arsehole, sticking proudly out like Excalibur,

Arms flopping at my side , barely gripping the letter between my aching teeth, I run at you, pelvis first, in an attempt to push your bulbous frame to batter the door down. I attempt a normal roll with a 3…

We both crunch into the doorway. Our combined body weight cracks the bottom panel off, and we roll through into the passageway.

As we lay in a bundle, an influx of air passes through, nearly ripping the letter out from your teeth. The heat behind us triples in intensity with a roar, blistering any exposed skin on the back of our legs.

Finally, a smoke alarm begins to wail in the corridor, and you can hear raised voices from down the stairs. I try to put my feet out from the flaming room, with a 2 on a normal roll…


You extract your feet from the room without incident and try to regain some form of composure as the voice from below comes into focus – its (our mutual friend) Dave!

“You alright boys? Whats happening?”

“BA***RD!” No one – CHUFFING NO ONE – is going to get between me and this letter getting into the first post of the day. From prone position, I launch my self head-first at him trusting that his body will act as a soft and mushy springboard by which to get a good head start at the mail box.

I roll a 10, on a normal roll…

Dave is, of course, our landlord. Who else would be running a slum rental business with bars on the windows and no smoke alarms?

Unfortunately, as well as being a bad person, he is, of course, a triple dan sumo ninja. Before you manage two paces, he pulls out a pair of nunchucks and crashes them into your teeth. They all crumble. Each and every one falls outs, and your letter falls to the floor.

“I HrrrAAAATTTE DAAAAAFFFFE!!!!!” I scream, my shattered voice roaring out a death rattle. I pull double samurai swords from the dual holsters on my back, and swing them out in a symmetrical arc, centring on Dave’s neck.

My kickass roll is… 4! (My bubblegum drops to 6 due to my reliably failing rolls)


You leap like a hero, silhouetted against the flames, like a mongoose falls upon the cobra, eye bulging red, intent on dismembering this, the author of our ills. Dave deftly flicks his wrist and in a flash speaks a commanding word… “leviosa!”

You halt, suspended in mid air, eye stalk dangling and limbs flailing furiously against fresh air. It will take you a while to ‘swim’ through the ether, that’s for sure.

“Basthad!” I cry through bleeding gums. Woozy from the loss of blood and smoke inhalation I decide there is only one chance of bringing this to a decisive end. Using my bollock blood as lubricant, I attempt to leap upon the bannister and surf down it like Orlando Bloom.

I roll a mighty 4, failing utterly, and dropping my Bubblegum to 5…

You surf completely successfully down the banister. Sure, you totally lose your genitalia, but what good were they anyway? The reason this is a failure is that you left the letter upstairs, next to the fire…

I hang in the air, head entirely engulfed in smoke from the raging tempest behind us. Bleary from the lack of oxygen, I decide to move fast.

Whilst I am floating in the air, both my arms are free, so I attempt to fling both swords at Dave at the same time. Each one a normal roll… a 1 and a 9.


Your first sword splits Dave’s skull like a melon, but your second falls to the ground with you on top of it. Your next d10 roll will also indicate how many fingers you loose as you try to grab it. If you roll 10 you lose all your fingers and are impaled on your own blade.

I try to stem the gush of blood from my genitals. I roll an 8 on a normal roll…

Lacking working hands, you attempt to make a bandage and apply it to your groin using your feet. The contortioning required to do this proves too much, and the increased strain in an already injured area causes your femoral artery to rupture on one side. This is bad now, blood is absolutely torrenting out, spraying on the walls and all over the bottom of the stairs. You’ve got about 2 minutes before you bleed out, tops. You could call for help, but its hard with no teeth.

It does seem that help may be on the way though. You hear a siren as a fire engine makes its way towards us. Given that the flames are now licking up the outside of the house, that’s not hugely surprising.

Meanwhile, I fall to the ground as my second blade bounces off the carpet and swings up towards me. My devastated vocal cords allow me only a gurgling cry as 7 of my fingers are sliced clean away.

Despite my ruined eye, my hideous transformation, my burned legs, all my destroyed possessions and the fact I’ll never play piano again, I give a smile. 2 fingers and a thumb remain, the perfect number to give a thumbs up on one bloody stump of a hand, and pick up the letter with my remaining pincer limb…

Its a successful normal roll of… 4!


Triumphantly, you hold aloft the letter in your three remaining fingers, blood pissing everywhere and the smell of charred flesh in the air.

I arch my back in attempt to elevate the bleeding area, while simultaneously trying to put pressure on the wound with one of my feet.

I roll a 4, succeeding a normal roll…

The bleeding stops, finally. Panting for breath from the loss of blood, you stagger to your feet. There you stand, in a pool of your own life fluid, your legs blistered by fire, and absolutely caked in darkened blood. Everything from the hip down is a mass of clots and ravaged flesh.

Your arms have the appearance of having two elbows, the normal mid arm joint and then a horribly unnatural twist just after, with bone and gristle poking out, your hands hanging flaccidly and uselessly below.

Finally, a face, already horrific before you awoke this morning, now dominated by a toothless, gaping maw. You are truly a fearsome sight to behold. Worst of all, you realise you have not had breakfast.

Oblivious to all else, you decide clearly and triumphantly that everything will be better once you have gone to the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal.

The flames are truly ferocious now, 6 feet high, and hundreds of degrees in temperature. All clothes and skin on that half of my body is actively smouldering. I decide that enough is enough. Despite the sound outside of competent firemen arriving to put out the blaze, I decide to vehemently urinate so copiously that I put the entire fire out.

This is a kickass roll of… 9! A dazzling success!


A shower of sparkling, clear urine erupts from your loins. The spray casts a dazzling rainbow as the reek of sweet smelling steam bursts around your heroic form.

I meet the firefighters at the door and, passing them a tenner, attempt to sweet talk them into praying for me to be completely
healed.

I roll a spectacularly miserable 2, dropping my bubblegum to 4…

It was an audacious move, trying to call down God’s healing power through the intercession of strangers. Unfortunately, these particular firemen are staunch secularists, and are wildly offended by your suggestion. Together (and this move has been suggested by my 5 year old) they lift you up and push you into the kitchen bin. Your useless arms flap impotently against them, and they easily wedge you in and close the lid.

The fireman then rush back out to the truck, and start several hoses spraying into the top of the house. Coupled with the thousands of gallons of urine I already discharged, the fire has been abruptly replaced with a flood. A tsunami-like all of water appears in the corridor, and, still triumphantly holding the letter aloft, I jump onto Dave’s desecrated corpse and surf him down the stairs, voraciously pirouetting all the while…

I roll a kickass of 6, failing and dropping my bubblegum to 5…

Your feet crash through Dave’s sternum and ribs, becoming trapped in his torso, effectively anchoring you to the spot with your legs splayed like a snowboarder, acting as a cadaverous anchor.

I fart a fart of mythic proportions.  A guff of such biblical magnitude, such epic bulk, pressure, and substance (its virtually tangible), such voluminous nauseation, that should I succeed on my roll, all firefighters within a 20 foot radius that fail to roll above a 7 will become instantly comatose.  All who survive the roll will worship me as a new pestilential god.

I manage to roll a pathetic 1.

The sheer acidity of your flatulation achieves 3 things.

Firstly, it rapidly corrodes and remoulds the metal of the bin, causing it to buckle, twist and reshape around you. It totally seals, creating an airtight bond that traps you in a vacuum wrapped coffin. As a result, none of the noxious fumes reach the outside.

Secondly, being enveloped in the gas, with no avenue for your bodily tissues to escape is disastrous. You are rendered permanently and irrecoverably blind. Your eyes, your optic nerve and the entire rear of your brain are totally destroyed.

Thirdly, you have about 19 seconds of oxygen left.

I hit the bottom of the stairs, and immediately sink like a stone, as the weight of Dave’s bloated corpse drags me under the surface of the urine flavoured tidal wave. I concentrate deeply, entering a zen like state of transcendent understanding. The universe is as one to me, and all its components within my grasps. Through the sheer kickass power of my mastery of being, I focus the earth’s aura into converting Dave’s remains into a dolphin. A dolphin with a stupid afro, and lots of bad tattoos…

I roll a 2, failing, as ever… 

Well played!  You do indeed successfully manage to convert Dave into an afro’d porpoise.  He does, however, remain dead.  You are now stuck in the corpse of a much heavier creature, whose shape shifting have cause you to become infused with its decaying flesh.  You feel that decay starting to spread up your legs and into your torso, threatening your vital organs.  Sharks and crocodiles emerge from the sewer and begin circling menacingly.

Which will happen quickest?  Drowning, rotting, or becoming dinner?

With my inner eye, I use the pain of my injuries to sharpen my concentration to a laser like intensity.  I realize there is no difference between light and darkness, form and chaos, matter and energy.  For a split instant I see all time, all reality, all existence as one simple equation; a perfect, languid moment encompassing all millennia forms in a nano-second.

Within the eye of this meta-moment, I invite the molecules of the trash can to become one with my skin, reforming around me into a strengthened cyborg, reborn as a colossus among mortals ready to dominate, willing to conquer, and eager to hear the lamentation of all who would stand before me.  Plus, I’ll get that bloody letter sent.

I roll a 3, dropping my bubblegum to 3.
Sh*t.

The metal shell surrounding you thickens by around an inch. Absolutely nothing else changes. You now have 8 seconds of oxygen remaining.

I’m good at dealing with emergencies, and despite not even having had a cup of tea this morning, and, you know, being trapped at the bottom of a sea of urine, in a half burnt house, embedded in the corpse of a sea mammal that is rapidly growing to necrify my own body, I remain calm. Clearly, I need to cut off my own legs before the deathrot spreads up them.

I don’t have a knife, but I do have a letter. A man of inventive means, I attempt a swift papercut to sever both my lower limbs. Clearly a normal roll, as its ridiculously easy to give yourself a papercut… I roll a 7, failing, dropping my bubblegum to 4.

You hack at your legs in a frenzy of paper, urine, and dolphin rot not seen by human eyes since the pissy dolphin postman plague of 1823. The horror of your predicament enfolds upon you fully and you excrete
a river of fetid fecal matter. Tis has several effects:

  1. the key is successfully dislodged from your anus.
  2. you are enveloped in a brown, silty cloud which hides you from the
    encroaching sharks and crocs…
  3. …but plunges you into a murky brown blindness
  4. your aching lungs demand breath and you involuntarily inhale a lungful of pissy excreta – you begin to drown in it
  5. the rot works its way up to your hips and genitals – you will sire no more children, even if you do survive.

I wait for a second, hoping for inspiration.  If I succeed a normal roll, you tell me how I get out of it, if I fail, you tell me how it gets worse….

…And I roll a disappointing 5, failing.

You wait for a second, hoping for inspiration. No inspiration comes, but the effluent pouring from upstairs rushes into the kitchen, quickly filling it up to the ceiling. You are now in exactly the same situation, but also under 10 ft of water. You also only have 7 seconds of oxygen remaining.

Next to me, deep under water, at the bottom of the hallway, there is a fire extinguisher. Before I can even begin to give Dave credit for his worthiness as a landlord, I note that it is firmly padlocked to the wall.

Despite this minor setback, hope has begun to rise within me – what if this key can remove the chains?! With a vision of riding a jet of extinguishment propulsion to safety, I reach out with the key stretched towards the lock…

And roll a 6, failing the normal roll…

In your excitement, and still blinded by the cloud of filth around you, you push too hard with the key and inadvertedly knock the top off the fire extinguisher. It hisses away like a deflating balloon, festooned with a wake of bubbles which do a lot to clear the fetid waters around you. This, however, merely opens the way for a crowd of sharks (the natural enemy of dolphins), to begin a feeding frenzy on the corpse of dolphin-Davey.

They begin to thrash you about. The rot reaches your lower intestines. You inhale another breath of pure piss. You are now, officially drowning.

I exhaile all the remaining breath from my lungs and allow my diaphragm to shrink, making myself small, as small as possible. Then with sudden violence I expand to my fullest, assaulting the steel enclosure around me. Do I break free? Lets see….

I roll a six! Oh blessed six!

Hundreds of thousands of infitesimally small shards of metal fly out, eviscerating everything in their path. The firemen, many of whom are in the process of drowning, are turned into a mushy sort of pulp and washed away as the exterior wall gives way, providing an outlet for several million tons of water.

You lay, battered and bruised, but just barely alive, and take in hearty gulps of sweet, sweet air.

Meanwhile, I find myself in a considerably poor situation. The rot has passed my belly button, I’m starting to black out, and I’ve just realised the signed Bruce Springsteen poster above my bed is probably no longer in mint condition.

I do have a hope though. Still in my pincer claws is a letter that Dougle needs in order for his day to not end in adject failure. Perhaps he will rescue me – I need to give him an incentive to seek out and save me!

I attempt to swallow the letter, and roll a 4, scraping a success on my normal roll…

You deftly and with not a little graceful skill, origami fold the letter into the shape of a small cocktail sausage and avail yourself of the dainty morsel.

I let out a heart wrenching wail and in one motion, attempt to launch myself through the water in a sleek otter-like motion, pushing off that such great speed that I can gather the remains of your top-torso, severing it from its rotten bottom, and launch ourselves onto terra firma.

I roll a fairly convincing awesome 6…


*** Long aeons ago, before time had its name ***

Avarrdrick Wood was a cold and terrible place. Far in the frozen northlands, few of the peasantfolk found the land hospitable enough to eke out a living, and those villages that survived the harsh winters had little to show for it.

If the barren soil, and unforgiving weather, weren’t enough to afear travellers, many wise men swore that the treespirits in Avarrdrick had turned foul from lack of sunlight, warmth and love. Few dared to enter its borders, and fewer still returned with the mental strength to tell of their experiences. The Wood held its secrets close.

The moon hunt low in an icy sky, the short days of late Autumn providing little relief from the biting northerly wind. Flakes of snow swirled down, a fruitless attempt from the gods to soften the sharp landscape. From the hills came the haunting cry of a scranwolf, howling its starvation to the skies.

Deep in the forest, humanity seemed barely a memory: the air itself lacked life. In a clearing, on a hilltop too exposed even for the hardy, twisted local conifers to survive, two hooded figures stood stationary.

The crisp sound of footfall on freshly packed snow rang out, as a third figure climbed the slope. Lit by pale, yellow light, the two remained motionless, as if unaware of the interruption.

The newcomer joined them, a triangle of darkened robes, silhouetted against the gibbous moonscape.

“You’ve come”, the thinner of the two commented to the arrival. It was a voice hardened by many seasons, and as many disappointments.

“It was the appointed time”, remarked a female voice, incongruent for its youthfulness. New life came with great difficulty to Avarrdrick; a fertile, bouyant youngster had no place here.

“Not for you!” snarled the final figure, tall and broad. “There was no mention of this at the Circle of Nine…”

“Quiet, Ralgoth”, intoned the first figure calmly. “She speaks rightly enough, this is the time, three are needed, and I see no other heads joining us”.

Ralgoth sighed, glancing around the clearing, as if hoping for a hidden person to make themselves known. “Fine. It is the appointed time. You will be more than sufficient”.

The new arrival shivered, pulling her hood tighter against the insiduous dusting of ice. “Thank you Ral. I know that was hard to say.”

Ralgoth flinched, ready to decry the informal use of his forename, but stopped himself. This was a Gathering now, lesser things held no value.

Mirsheek grinned to herself, only her eyes visibly in the dim light, and with the closely wrapped sailcloth around her jaw. This was the appointed time, and she was going to make it count, whatever that slumbagger Ralgoth thought.

The thin, old man, leader of the Circle, closed his eyes. Known simply as Leie, or “leader” in a language older than any remembered, he was aware that time was short. Brushing off a tiredness that seeped from his bones, a weariness that warned of the nearness of death’s cold embrace, he raised a hand, and began the chant.

Eagerly joining, Mirsheek raised a limb and began to utter the answering phrases, with Ralgoth close behind. Three voices mingled and joined together, three strands, one weak, one high, one strong. The words began to circle and vibrate, the trees blurring, the shadows somehow deepening and bending.

In the centre of the clearing darkness begin to rise, pushing strands towards the veiled sky. A tree, darkened and twisted – even by the dark and twisted standards of the old forest – began to take shape.

Mir smiled again. This was the Tree. The purpose that the Circle had been formed for, and she was ready…

* * * * *

A young man, a beautiful boy of no more than 9 years of age, smiling happily as he holds his new purchase. Pencils! He loves to colour and draw. Using his pocket money, he carefully selects a shiny new pack from the rows upon rows in WH Smiths. He leaves happily, eager to start using his new writing tools.

* * * * *

Leie stirred, noticing a change to the rhythm of the chant. Something had altered, but in the speed and the blur, it was hard to be clear.

Slowly the pitch of the chorus rose, the female voice becoming dominant. The other voices began to resist, first calmly, then anxiously, finally with a quaking terror.

Higher and higher the coalescent intonations rose, and two fall to their knees, shaking as their strength is taken, their breath forced from their bones. The chant reached a scream, both in pitch and intensity, as two of the three fall silent.

* * * * *

Years pass, and that once handsome child has grown. Age has not been kind, but time alone is not responsible for these changes. The boy-grown-man has distorted. His face has warped, his mouth filled with curving fangs, his frame both stretched and twisted. All who cast eyes upon him struggle to hide their immediate distaste. Some cruel magicks have laid their unquestioning toll on this creature, and only his heart remains untouched.

* * * * *

With a silence so sudden it feels like a thunderclap, the chant stops. Mirsheek stands, alone in a clearing. She gives a brief, short laugh, and strides off into the night. On the snow, still warm, lie two empty robes. In the shadow of a tree.

* * * * *

The tainted man lives a cursed life; friend-less, soul-less, love-less. In the modern world, none are old enough, nor wise enough, to recognise the signs of a body gnarled by evil itself.

His very name, unbeknowst to him, bears daemonmark, being Dougle, or “Doue-gal”, literally “Hated-one” in that forgotten tongue.

One day, he pops into Clinton Cards, and buys a card, feeling drawn to it by some unknown urge. He decides to send it to his friend Dave by post.

* * * * *

Over one hundred generations, the Circle protected Avarrdrick, keeping it free from disruption, trapping the hidden might within. Legends grew about the final Gathering, and the three who took part, for each had disappeared without trace that day, never to be seen since.

Slowly, one by one, the Circle members died. Soon, there were none to replace them. The protection ended, the Tree waiting, with time its sole companion.

Humankind changed, and grew. It forgot the old ways, it harnessed coal, steam, electrons, and conquered the stars. And, on a more mundane level, a construction company and sawmilling conglomorate bought a few acres of tree-covered land, and turned the wood therein into a lovely range of children’s pencils and greetings cards…

* * * * *

I feel myself wrenched. There’s a pain like none I’ve felt before. Over the last few minutes I’ve been borderline drowned, and inhaled voluminous amounts of my own sewage.

The necrotic scourge that spread to me from Dave’s corpse had weakened my torso so much that your moderately powerful tug is enough to split me in half. At your touch, a crackling starts within me, spreading from my gullet outwards, almost as if the letter I swallowed is calling to you somehow.

As your lutrinal motion (that’s another way of saying otter-like that I just made up based on the latin since you’ve already used it twice lol) bounces us through the front door and into the garden, I feel a primal connection to you, as we join at the waist. We have become one, a curse of a thousand years rippling through us.

Ahead of us, I see the post box. And in front of it, miraculously whole once more, stands Dave.

Who shimmers, as if in a heat wave.

His outline blurs, his features becoming unclear.

Changes become apparent: his hair grows out, lengthens. His manly frame transform into a slender female body. His chicken legs slightly thicken into women’s legs.

Before us, in the flesh, is Mirsheek, the unholy priestess of Avarrdrick. And she looks SERIOUSLY hacked off. She glares at us, slams her hand out, and snarls “You are going to give me that letter, RIGHT NOW.”

I have no idea what happens next, but its obviously kickass. Pressure is clearly on here. And, no joke, no word of a lie, I immediately roll a 1.

Beneath the deep, turbulent, tectonic ocean of thought, past the still and unmoved silt of inclination, and far below even the unexplored bedrock of instinct, lay a husk. A dry shell of a former thing, never-named and forever unknown. Description had never been lain upon it, but it was real. Colour and shape it had never been given, but it was no less a thing than any other.

It possessed, in its own way, a certain mass. It mattered. And as with all matter, it had just the smallest, imperceptible gravity of its own. It was the only thing where it was, and no other thing inhabited the limits of its shapelessness. Should another thing ever happened to have encountered it, ephemeral as it was, it would have had to navigate accordingly. But that had never happened. In this fathomless, ageless, situation, the husk rested undisturbed.

And then at some point there was, quite suddenly and all around and everywhere, indescribable energy. Effortless, always, unquantifiable, and abrupt colour. Light formed as if it has always been, and each hurried photon seemed to busy itself with pushing against each of its neighbors, making space for itself amidst its countless brothers and sisters. It boiled for the merest instant as infinitely pure before exponentially pressing out. Not darkening, but diluting from its peak. Never lessening, no, but thinning as it hurtled outward.

This outward throb of infinite potential spread in all directions at almost perfect pace less than a breath, less than a heartbeat, less than a fraction of the least minutiae. And then cooling, ever cooling, for ages to vast to number and epic aeons too immense for imaginations to grope through.

And still the husk remained. Unmoved. Perfectly apart but somehow touching all. Too far removed from intelligibility to be named in itself, but by its enigmatic presence bringing the just slightest influence to the definition of all else.

Those who later came to be were aware of it, somehow. They searched inside and found a mystery. An imprint on themselves, deeper than thought in a place more primal than their soul. It had taken generations of mystics, scholars, and poets to find it. The dreams of empires had risen and failed as the search continued. Continents had formed and sunk again beneath the waves. Stars had formed, lived and died.

But finally, the husk had been recognized. Not so much the husk itself, you understand. No. That would be a task beyond the limits of humanity. But as one with dark glasses looking up during an eclipse may not see the sun, but may recognize its crown, so the imprint of the husk had finally been discovered. And not just this, but given shape in thought. Dragged from its unmoved abode into the shallows of cognizance. Of something almost like intelligibility. If not of recognition, then at least towards the boundaries of perception. This in turn had been given over to words. Simple words written on paper and placed inside an envelope.

And in doing so the husk had become a seed.

And although this was the way it was always to be, the kaleidoscopic terminus of all experience that humanity so clumsily labels ‘fate’, there were those that wished for something different. Mirsheek was one of those.

********************************

I watched as Ace rolled dice. The small polygon fell with the number ‘1’ facing up. No matter. All chance was now gathering into one singularity. Falling back into itself. Accumulating and reorganizing, as if all photons had decided to forgive all others and reunite. The universe was gaining speed again. Pulling its fragments back into themselves.

“What are the chances of this?” I thought, fumbling for my own die. Too late, I realized that there are no chances. Merely gravity and whim. Only that deep, slightest of throbs underneath that impulse called reality.

Understanding shaped itself in a cynical, cold, coil around my cortex. Realty, so taken for granted, was the blip. The aberration. The curio on the infinite shelf of all that was.

And now reality was winding itself in. Accelerating back to its fixed position.

An abrupt flash, and then peace.

All that remained was a singularity more profound than any urge and unsearchable by thought. A husk.

…and that’s a wrap, with a ludricrously over-the-top ending from Alan!