The pen scratched on the page.  The words crawled slowly in the wake of the nib.   They were weak and empty things, and there was no life in them.   I looked down at what I had written and sighed.   “It was a dark and stormy night…” A trite sentence, the latest in a series of trite attempts.    In a sudden rush of anger I tore the page from the notebook, perforated margin ripping away and leaving a gap toothed strip of paper confined behind the enclosing spring.

What I would not give to be able to reach into the ideas and images that teemed in my imagination and bring them into the light.   What I wouldn’t give to be able to make the words on the page soar and breathe and live in the vivid colours and dynamic action of my dreams.   I yearned for that with a physical gnawing hunger in my being.   The imagination is the gateway to worlds undreamed of, a doorway to endless potential, yet from my faltering pen there trickled only thin rivulets of diluted sediment.

I screwed up the torn-out page and hurled it into the waste paper basket.  It hit the rim and bounced out onto the floor.   I stooped to pick it up and reached for it … and fell… as though something had taken my outstretched hand and pulled with irresistible force.   Falling forward at great speed, faster and further than was possible, I was pulled through empty space, dark and formless, the room in which I had been labouring had vanished inexplicably behind me.    I could not scream for there was no air to breathe, I could not struggle for there was no earthly component of my being.

When last that endless acceleration ended I found myself sprawled upon a floor of gleaming marble, cut into tiny square tiles.   Tall columns of iridescent stone reached up around me to a ceiling impossibly high above.    Before me, at the edge of the chamber in which I lay, to which I had been transported, a figure sat upon a throne of gleaming ebony.     He was tall and robed in tattered yellow, a hood over his head, and a pallid mask concealing his features.   To either side of the throne stood a woman, each of them robed, one in red and one in green, each masked like the seated king.

“What do you seek?” said the woman in red.
“And why seek you it?” the other continued.

“I want to go home,” I babbled, “Please.  I’m scared.”

“Is that all you want?” the red garbed woman asked.

“Should we perform this for you?” said the other.

The masked king stirred with a barely concealed impatience.   He had not raised his head to look at me directly and I dreaded that he should do so, for something in his presence made me fear his attention.     The tone in the questions of the women made me realise though that my answer to their question was of great importance.   I hesitated and shook my head.

“No,” I said, “I want to be able to write.  I want to be able to take my ideas, my imaginings, and write them down; convey them in a way that will reach people.  Entertain them.”

“And change them?” asked the woman in red.

“And move them?” the other followed with.

“Yes,” I said, “What use are words if they cannot become thoughts again, and thoughts actions, and actions change the world?”

“And do you wish to change the world?”

“And which world?”

The questions from the two women this time were delivered with such meaning and gravitas that I was stunned.  What were they offering?  What were they demanding of me?  I glanced around but saw nothing in that strange sepulchral throne room that could give me guidance as to the nature of this transaction.   My eyes fell upon the masked king in yellow and I saw his hand, fingers corpse-white and wiry, clench around the haft of the sceptre across his lap.  He was lifting his head to gaze upon me and in fear I blurted out my answer.

“Yes!  Yes to all of it.”

His eyes shone behind the slits of that pale mask as they met mine and I did not need to hear his voice to know that the bargain had been made.  He spoke a word that shook the room and I stopped my ears against the awful majesty of his pronouncement and fell backward in horror.

When I opened my eyes I was in my room, lying upon the floor, my hand on the crumpled paper and a throbbing pain in my head.  My chair, an old wheeled office chair was on its side behind me.  It had obviously skidded away from me as I’d leaned forward and I’d taken a tumble.   Rubbing my head and rolling into a sitting position I glanced down at the paper I’d discarded, the first words still legible at the edge of the crumpled up ball.

Outside the thunder started..

Finn’s first novel A Step Beyond Context is available on and and a few others as well. It’s a punchy genre-busting mystery with a heroine who is a Regency lady, a high tech mercenary and much more.

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