You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Saturday, December 22, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

He leaned quietly against the lamppost, drawing gently upon his cigarette. The smoke was good. He exhaled, the cloud of smoke joining with the damp fog that filled the twilight evening. The light from the gas lamp atop the lamppost played with the smoke and fog, making this evenings smoke something special.

Out of the fog came a sound. Horses hooves paced along the cobbled street. The narrow way between the buildings funneled the sound, amplifying it. He took another drag, and waited.

A single horse, pulling a van. Two men on the seat. The van was elaborately carved and painted. The driver was a younger man, listening intently as the other man spoke to him. The other man was smaller, and somehow seemed something other than a man. He was speaking softly, but quickly. He seemed to be instructing.

A medallion attached to the van above the driver’s seat caught a bit of light from the lamp, flashing momentarily in the twilight.

As they drew abreast of the lamppost, the smaller man stopped talking. The little man nodded a terse greeting, and then turned to look in the direction they were traveling.

The little man looked surprisingly like a fox. Yes. Like a fox. Strange.

Taking another drag from the cigarette, letting the smoke slowly escape from between his lips, he watched the painted and carved vehicle pass. Soon, it was just the sound of horse’s hooves in the fog and twilight.

Finishing his cigarette, he turned back toward the building from which he had earlier stepped out for a smoke. This was only the second doorway of that building he had tried. The first had let him out onto the street he had originally come in on.

At least it had looked like his street. It was hard to tell. It had been night. All of the lights were out, and there was no traffic. That had been disturbing enough, but there had been a mist, and a sense of threats unseen. That had been weeks ago, and only tonight had he found courage to try another doorway.

He walked back to the doorway from which he had recently exited. The numbers were in a script that was hard to read, but appeared to indicate that this was 249b. He had never seen such a script before. He lifted the latch, and entered.

The room was rather non-descript. Ordinary furniture, though of an unusual design. Utilitarian. Rather uninviting. Not so nicely turned out as the area occupied by those who called it “the club.”

Two-four-nine-b, the club without any real name. Not really a club, but what else to call it? The association was strange, like the building it occupied.

He crossed the room, and passed through an inner door. Here he was, again, in the strange central hallway. It extended into darkness in either direction, much like the narrow room at the top of the building. Up there were two bowling alleys. Here, just a hallway with a seemingly endless succession of doors.

Cross the hall, turn right. Two doors down. It opened, with a regular doorknob rather than the unusual latch of the outside door he had just used.

He was back in the reading room, between the two bookcases that framed and partially obscured this doorway. Another oddity of the club; these seemingly pointless doorways. He sighed a sigh of relief. He walked back to the grand room, the one with the larger fireplace. The place where tales were told.

Stevens came in from the opposite doorway, and placed a very old canvas bag on the table. If things went as usual, Stevens would serve another round of drinks, and the time for telling stories would begin.

As he leaned against the wall opposite the fireplace, he contemplated the seemingly endless hallway, with so many doors. So many doors.

“Drink, sir?” Asked Stevens. He had appeared from nowhere, now carrying a tray of that magnificent brandy that opened the telling of tales on the Thursday before Christmas. This very night.

“Uh, yes. Thank you, Stevens.”

He took his drink in hand, but did not drink. It was for the toast of the evening.

Stevens had not moved.

“Have care, sir.” Said Stevens. “There are a great many doors. They are a lot like the stories told here. They could take you anywhere. Happy Christmas, sir.”

Stevens delivered the rest of the drinks to the others around the fireplace. The time for the telling was near.

He looked across the room, at a painting that hung there. A tower, in a field. A dark tower, in a field of what looked like blood-red roses.

A tower like that could contain a great many doors. A tower, like a brownstone building. A great many doors.

He waited for the tale to begin, and thought about doors.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Other Side of Christmas

The Other Side of Christmas

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

The elf keeping watch was old. Three hundred and ninety-seven Christmases. For most of them he had been down below. Working in materials, manufacturing, and packaging, shipping and receiving. Indoors work. Now, he had the honor of waiting for the Old Man. The wind took some of the pleasure out of that honor, but he held onto the pleasure he had felt when Santa himself asked him to keep the watch. Yes, cold or not, it was an honor.

“Been with me a long time.” The Old man had said. “You know the ropes. You also know how to keep a secret.” At first he had thought that it was secrets of manufacturing he meant. Only as he had time to think, out here in the cold, had old Wilkie recognized that it was something to do with Santa’s return that might require a secret to be kept.

Finally, he could see the sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. It was the most recent model, and handled well. Wilkie could recall several earlier models that were hard to control after the load had been delivered. Not this one. She was tracking beautifully.

In moments the sleigh was on the pad. The Old Man looked tired. Wilkie had never seen him right after the return. He certainly didn’t seem full of Christmas cheer. He looked like a worn and bitter old man. Wilkie had seen plenty of those in the years he did field work. Spreading Christmas cheer was a tough job.

The Old Man tossed Wilkie the reigns.

“Take it below, Wilkie. Have Tobbie and his crew move the bag to my room. I am going to have a bath and something to drink.” Said Santa. The Old Man moved away through the falling snow.

Wilkie checked the sleigh and reindeer. They appeared to be properly on the pad. He went to a control panel and pushed the “down” button. Soon the sleigh, the reindeer, and Wilkie were down below. The crew came forward and began the elaborate process of unhitching the reindeer and leading them away.

He waved to Tobbie, and pointed at the empty sack that had so recently held so many toys and other gifts. Tobbie nodded, and led his team of four elves to the sleigh. They seemed to be having quite a bit of trouble with the empty bag. Like something inside was struggling.

As he watched, he saw part of the bag extend itself suddenly toward one of the elves. He took a good blow to the chin, and went down.

“Wilkie!” Tobbie cried. “Get over here and lend a hand! We have to get this to the Old Man’s room! Quickly!”

Wilkie jumped in, and eventually the four of them were able to get the wriggling bag down the hallway and into the Old Man’s room.

Santa glanced quickly at Wilkie, then at Tobbie. There was a silent exchange between the Old Man and the elf. “Put it over there.” He finally said.

The elves moved their burden over to a large chair. The chair was festooned with chains and leather fasteners. They set their burden in the chair, and began working to keep it under control as they removed the bag.

What emerged shocked Wilkie. A young human woman! Still, he managed to do his part to get her strapped into the chair. Her voice was muffled by a gag, but Wilkie could tell that she did not wish them anything like Christmas cheer.

Once all of the straps and chains had been applied, the exhausted elves stepped back to regain their strength.

“Sorry, Boss.” Tobbie finally managed to say. “Jingles took a shot to the jaw, and went down. Wilkie was the only one nearby.”

Santa looked appraisingly at Wilkie. “It’s all right. He might as well be initiated right now, eh?”

Wilkie did not like the sly smile on Santa’s face. Not at all Christmas-like. Nor did he like the way his fellow elves had their hands in their pockets. What could they have in there?

Santa turned to the young lady.

“My dear child.” He said. He sounded his old, gentle self. “Christmas is ending. The season’s Christmas cheer is almost exhausted. It must be replenished. It will come from you.”

He stepped away, and had an awful gleam in his eye.

“You shall be this year’s Mrs. Claus.” He said. “Each year, I capture a new Mrs. Claus. Tomorrow night will be our wedding night. Willing or not, it makes no difference. Misery will be your lot for the year. I will come to you, every night. Every time will be a torment. With every drop of your personal misery Christmas cheer will be renewed, ten times over.”

“Every time I come to you will make you older. By next Christmas you will be very old, indeed. By the time I next take to the sky, you shall be dead.”

The terror in her young eyes was exquisite. Santa was satisfied. She had been a good choice.

He then turned to Wilkie. His look was not unkind, but it was firmly resolved. The other elves kept their hands in their pockets.

“Well, Wilkie. Now you know the secret of Christmas. The joys of Christmas are built on the misery of an unwilling sacrifice. One like this mothered each of you. Every elf. Now, Wilkie, I need to ask you. Are you one of us?”

He looked at the Old Man. He looked at the menace of the other elves, with their hidden hands. He looked at the young woman, chained to the chair. He thought on Christmas’ past, and the joys of the season. A season spoiled for him, but still precious for the world.

“Yes, Old Man.” He said, and swallowed hard. “Yes, I am one of you.”