The Threshold

Step not out beyond the Threshold, for beyond is danger. In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.
                                                                                           – The Testament of the Rules

As I scrambled over the last rise I saw the edge of Safety come into view, saw the wall of light and five figures stepping towards it. I pushed my legs to run faster, panting with exertion as the first figure, a familiar one, stepped into the wall of light and then through. The others followed suit, and as I finally reached the glowing barrier, I forced myself to call out.

“It’s not safe!”

My shout was loud, and should have echoed away across the night, but it did not. Instead, it fell dully in the air, all traces of the sound beside the shout itself absorbed by the Threshold. The wall of dull orange light glowed faintly, and within it dust motes drifted and swirled.

Jackson and his friends turned back to look at me through the Threshold, and he smiled.

“Maybe not, Alex. But we’ve done all we can in Safety, I can tell you that. Our future lies beyond.”

“But you… You can’t!”

So even then, at the breaking point, our friendship still followed the same old pattern; Jackson leading any who would follow down a path of folly, and my voice crying out the familiar, futile denial. It had always been the same.


Jackson and I were the same age, were in the same class in school. But Jackson was popular, and I… Wasn’t. I can’t even claim to have been one of the geeky kids who finds other geeky kids to align with, I was just a loner. Not even unpopular, just… Unnoticed. The odd one out, who listened a little too hard to the teachers, followed the Rules a little too precisely.

But then, what was the point of having the Rules if we didn’t follow them? Surely we had to learn some lessons from the Crash? The world had cracked open and burned and drowned because of us, and if we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, we needed to be careful. As the Testament of the Rules stated, ‘In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.’

No one had ever been able to give a clear answer on just what had happened in the Crash, or what precisely had caused it, beyond human folly. It was so long ago now, ten generations at least, and now there was no one living to remember. But the Rules had been written shortly after mankind had discovered the Threshold and established Safety, and following them had kept us safe enough, it seemed.

I’d been raised by my aunt, who was kind and caring, but a fanatical believer in the Rules and drilled me in them daily, so perhaps my vehemence could be explained. Most of the children at the school whispered stories of her being a secretly a witch, so perhaps that also explained my solitude in childhood too.

My first proper encounter with Jackson had come when I was around seven years old, at the small park nearby my aunt’s house. ‘Park’ is perhaps an overstatement, but it was a patch of ground that had at least some grass, with some benches scattered about and a small stand of trees nearby. My aunt had settled herself with her book on her favourite bench and instructed me to go and play. I had wandered toward the trees, idly thinking of perhaps climbing one, but as I drew close I heard voices arguing.

“That’s stupid, you’d die!”

“Says who?”

“Says everyone!”

I recognised some of the voices, and I slowed, crouching low and moving slowly forward. Soon enough I caught sight of a group of children whom I recognised from school. At their head was Jackson, holding a stick which he waved as he spoke again, emphasising his point.

“Says everyone cos that’s what they’ve been told! But I reckon it’d be alright. The air’s fine out there, the Threshold doesn’t stop that.”

A boy to Jackson’s right, who I definitely recognised, snatched the stick out of Jackson’s hand and snorted.

“It’s not just about air, doofus. There’s nothing out there, which is why we’re in here.”

The speaker, who’s name was Travis, stabbed at the ground and I realise Jackson had drawn a picture to illustrate his point. Slowly I stood up, trying to see, and made out a very crude sketch of Safety, humanity’s stronghold, and the border with the world beyond. The Threshold, the barrier that kept us safe, had been marked but someone, presumably Jackson, had drawn an arrow through it, point outward.

“There might be something,” Jackson said, snatching back his stick. “Who’s to know, if someone doesn’t go and find out?”

The realisation of what Jackson was suggesting shocked me into betraying my presence. I stepped forward out of the trees, and spoke loudly.

“But you can’t!”

Everyone turned to face me, and I quailed under the gaze of the group. I recognised all of them, and whilst most had never spared me a word or glance, Travis had seen fit to make me the brunt of a joke or harsh word every now and again. Now he and the others looked at me with surprise and annoyance.

“What do you want, witch’s boy?”

The only person who didn’t look annoyed was Jackson; instead, his face was openly curious, and he raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I just, um…” Some of the others sniggered, but Jackson just smiled at me and waited. So I screwed up my courage, and spoke. “It’s not about whether or it’s too dangerous beyond the Threshold. It’s about whether or not we are too dangerous to go beyond the Threshold. Humanity, I mean.”

“He’s a nutcase,” Travis said, and a few others laughed, but Jackson shook his head.

“No, he’s got a point.” This silenced them all, and they looked at Jackson, surprised. “We caused the Crash, after all. But maybe we could go out, if we’re careful. That’s all I’m saying.” He stood and moved towards me, and I fought my usual instinct to back away. “It’s Alex, isn’t it?” Unable to hide my surprise, I nodded, and Jackson grinned. “You want to sit down?”


That was how our friendship had started. I never got on so well with the others in the group, but they tolerated me because of Jackson; he was a natural leader, even then. You followed him, because it just made sense.

The years passed, we grew up, and fell into a pattern of my being the occasional member of the group, there because Jackson wanted me. He’d lead the others on silly schemes, and I would often watch and warn him against it, without effect. But always he kept coming back to the same idea, of setting out to see the world beyond the Threshold.

And then it became more than just an idea, it became a plan. He and some of the others gathered supplies in secret, and were going to set out in the middle of the night, cross the Threshold and see what lay beyond. I wasn’t part of the group, Jackson hadn’t asked me because he knew I wouldn’t go, but I’d worked out his plan all the same. The night they planned to leave, I’d lain on my bed staring at the ceiling, the opening of the Testament of the Rules running over and over in my head.

Step not out beyond the Threshold, for beyond is danger. In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.

They were fools to follow him. He was a fool to lead them. But… He was my friend. And so I’d dressed quickly and snuck out of my aunt’s house, heading to the place I knew they planned to cross over…


So there I stood, on one side of the Threshold, Jackson and his companions on the other.

“Go home, witch’s boy,” Travis said, falling back on the old insult. Jackson put a hand on Travis’ shoulder and shook his head. Travis shrugged and turned away.

“You always could work things out, Alex. Don’t tell anyone, okay? But thanks for coming to say goodbye.”

“You can’t go,” I said.

Jackson opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. He looked at me for a long time, and then the familiar grin spread over his face.

“Come with us.”

That caused a stir, I can tell you.


“Jackson, what are you–?”

Jackson waved the others to silence and moved back towards me.

“Don’t get left behind, this time. Come with us. Please?”

I stepped up to the Threshold, the faint glow colouring my pale skin. The barrier had no smell, gave off no sound, there was only the light and the swirling of particles caught within it.

“It doesn’t hurt, Alex.” Jackson had moved to stand before me, close to the barrier. His voice was low, for my ears only. “I didn’t feel anything when I stepped through.”

I looked at my friend. He stood just in front of me, that same cocky smile on his face. With one step forward I could be standing at his side. With one step forward I could cross the Threshold. I clenched my fists, straightened my shoulders. That’s all it would take, to join my friend, to not be left behind again. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and willed my feet to move forward. One single step…

Slowly I let the breath out and opened my eyes. The orange glow of the Threshold before me, my friends hopeful face beyond it.

“I can’t, Jackson.” Sorrow filled every word, and I could see in his eyes that Jackson heard it. “I wish I could, but…”

Then he smiled again, but not the cocky smile I knew so well. This was a smile of sadness, and regret, but also of understanding.

“That’s okay. I guess someone needs to stay behind, to remember us.”

“And wait for your return.”

His smile dropped then, and for the first time in a very long time, I saw uncertainty on Jackson’s face. But in a flash the cocky smile was back.

“Exactly. Well, Alex, you take care, alright?”

“You too, Jackson.” I raised my voice, looking at the others where they stood watching us. “All of you. I know we’ve never really… But take care, everyone. Good luck.”

Some of them smirked, but most looked genuinely grateful, and Travis even murmured a reply.

“Thanks, Alex.”

Jackson stepped backward, nodding at me and smiling. Then he turned to his companions, and without another word they turned their backs to the Threshold and began to walk. I watched them go, but very quickly they were all but lost in the darkness. At the final moment someone, I think it was Jackson but I still can’t be sure, turned and waved a final farewell. I waved back, and then the small group vanished into the night beyond the Threshold.

“I’ll remember, Jackson. And I will wait.”

So I stood on the edge of Safety and looked out through the barrier I could not cross, no matter how much I wished to, wondering if I would ever see my friend again.



Kaiden flipped back the door to the tent and stepped out into field beyond nearly losing his footing in the muddy mess as he did so. An unseasonably wet few days and the five thousand boots of the Camarana, the spear’s tip, had transformed the land from a lush green field into a slick, brown quagmire. Soon they would bring that same destruction to the city. A necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. The law was clear. The God-king asks and his eyes seek. The God-king speaks and hands obey. The God-king commands and his fists destroy. Kaiden was the fourteenth fist of the Camarana and the God-king had commanded. Now the city would fall.

Kaiden looked over to where his men were preparing and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the hum of the camp. The chattering of the men, the crackling of the cook fires and the rhythmic pounding of hammer on anvil, the sounds washed over him refreshing as a summer rain. His house might be a thousand leagues to the north but this had been his home longer than that cabin of rough cut logs.  These men, this army, it was his life and one day it would be his death, but not today.

He caught the eye of his captain, a tall young warrior named Gallas and nodded. Gallas  gave a grim smile and nodded before turning away and shouting for the men to form up. Kaiden watched for a moment then satisfied all was in hand turned away and started out across the field towards the city of Reddington. The city was well placed with a wide fast-flowing river preventing attack from the east and a high stone wall wrapping around the rest of the city. Thirty feet high, ten feet thick and topped with a scurrying army of ant-like defenders. Kaiden knew from long experience the going would be hard and bloody. For every hundred men who threw themselves at the great grey walls, maybe one would make the top and for every hundred that made the top only one in ten would live long enough to see the other side. In war, walls were the great leveller.

Kaiden stopped just by small flag that signified the edge of bow-shot range and looked up at the walls again. From this distance the men on the walls looked bent and broken, moving here and there with jerking twitching movements. A shiver ran up his spine and he imagined a city manned by the twisted monsters of Garstan Holog, the puppet show, common in his homeland that told he story of the world before men when the world was populated by demons, fiends and twisted monstrosities. He was about to turn away when his eyes locked onto a lone upright figure. He couldn’t know for sure at this distance but he felt the man’s eyes on him. The noises of the camp behind him changed as the men left their chores and started to get ready for war. Kaiden could feel the buzz of excitement and fear. The orders were in it was time.

Kaiden nodded to the man on the wall and thought he saw a nod in return before he turned away.


High on the walls of Reddington Lord Calder watched as the man on the edge of the camp turned away and walked calmly back towards the bustling camp. He felt the weight that had been around his neck for the last two weeks settle into the pit of his stomach, where it sat leaking poison that leached the strength from his limbs. He stumbled and caught himself on the wall to hide his moment of weakness. He stood there breathing for a few moments fighting the urge to throw up. They were coming. They were coming and there was nothing he could do to stop them.

“Tomas,” he called surprised to hear his voice so steady.

A stooped figure dressed in ill-fitting armour, made for a man half again his size, and dragging a spear behind him shambled forward. When he reached Lord Calder he slid to a halt and dipped his head in a half bow. Thin silver hair poked wildly out from beneath his helm and he looked like he would fall to pieces in anything more than a summer breeze. Tomas was seventy summers old if he was a day and he was probably the most reliable man he had left. High Lord Rastor had taken all the soldiers and men of fighting age off to war with him. All he had left to defend the castle were boys too young to hold a sword and men well into their dotage.

“Go to the temple and tell the women and children to go now. If they leave by the Postern Gate they won’t be seen. We will buy them what time we can but they must go now. The old man saluted and hurried off marginally faster than lame tortoise.

Lord Calder looked at the frightened faces of the people manning the wall. Garstang the tanner who’d last seen battle two decades before swung his sword in a few achingly slow practise arcs while behind him a boy of maybe twelve held his rough spear like it was a viper his hand shaking. Heartsick he turned away and ran his hands over the rough stone of the wall. Without it they would have been slaughtered in minutes, with it maybe they could hold out for long enough for the women and children to get to safety. If anywhere was safe in this new world where men crossed the dead waste wearing the face of a long-dead traitor. The walls wouldn’t save him but they might save them and for that he said a silent prayer of thanks.

As he finished horns sounded echoing the plains as the wall of soldiers started forwards with shining silver masks and weapons in hand.

“Make ready,” he called drawing his sword. “We hold the wall. We hold it for our wives. We hold it for our children. Every minute we hold they are a minute closer to safety.”

The horn sounded again and Lord Calder gripped his sword tightly it was time to die but he was determined to die well. It was all he had left.


Sometimes escape is necessary. That icy grip in my chest, the angry butterflies in my stomach, and the barrage of voices, all my own, screaming so loud I can barely see. The office is thick with the hum of machines, the staff room echos with inane chatter, and today more than any other, escape is what I need.

So I go down. Down into the belly of the beast and find a quiet corner. The bench is uncomfortable but I am perched in such a way that all the tension seeps out and I am truly relaxed for the first time in weeks. There are no windows which I first thought would be stifling, but soon the automatic light shuts off and the gentle pool from under the door is enough. It’s calm. It’s comforting.

I take out my lunch and quietly graze, headphones on, music lapping at my soul. It’s about half way through when it starts as I knew it would. A black hole opens up behind my navel and I start to wear thin. My limbs sag, my eyelids heavy, and I stop raising the sandwich to my mouth, instead letting it rest in my lap. The leech drains me for all I’m worth, leaving me a shell, a ragdoll disguarded in the corner, and no one would think to look for me here.

I don’t move, can’t move, for what feels like an eternity; my vision swims but I am painfully present for every second. My breath is laboured, thought behind every inch, heart pounding in my ears with the force of it. I start to wonder if my body will ever be my own again as I reach a tendril of will down my arm in the vain hope that it will twitch. I just need to see the time, know my deadline, see what I have left. A finger taps and my phone screen ignites; the hour draws nearer.

I summon all my might and drag one leg from the bench, hitting the floor with a loud thud, the light blaring at the movement. I scrape the other from its perch and twist awkwardly, determined not to fall forward, I don’t have time for a trip to the floor. The black hole protests and I remain here a moment longer, head tilted back against the wall and all I can think is that I’ll need to summon the energy to smooth my hair back down before I leave. Energy I definitely do not have.

I feel the leech begin to fill and I count down in my head. Twice. As the final digit rings in my mind I hang myself on my bones and stack them one on top of the other. My breath heavy with the effort I take a moment to marvel at this feat of strength, quietly wincing at the task ahead. I shuffle, one foot at a time, dragging my meatcage to the door. I close my eyes and breathe deep, plastering on that mask I wear so well before I step through.

Close to the Wire

Well this has been the first month I’ve genuinely struggled with the example piece and getting this out on time! Maybe it’s time we took Steve out to pasture? Look at the rabbits? If you’d be so kind…

The twists are over and the the shouting has quieted. You’ll be able to go vote for your favourite pieces at the Voting Page shortly.

Until then, it’s May’s Writing Challenge time. The theme for this month is Hitting a Wall. I’ve had writer’s block all weekend, and this is the best I could do to write something! So bring it writers, what happens when you can’t think of anything till sunday evening of the hand in weekend? Not that any of you lot do that 😉

Tatty Bye!



Panting with exhaustion, his throat hoarse, knowing full well he’ll be paying for this in an hour if he doesn’t change his game, he stands drenched in sweat. His head lightly pounding as his heart kept tempo with his nerves. He could hear several voices in his mind, a cacophony of support and abuse that drowned out the crowd before him now the guitar hung quiet. 

Come on, big guy, the familiar paternal voice called. 

We’re just getting started, the gruff, slightly Cornish voice chuckled. 

You’re failing, moron, his own voice seemed to cut through. 

He shakes his head and snatches a glance at the band. All seem to be slightly battered by the ferocity of the show so far; he’s been pulling out the stops tonight, as if trying to prove something. 


He rakes the plectrum over the strings and lets out a resilient D chord which rings out beautifully across the room and the dropped D sixth string calms his very soul. The audience seems to take note of the new sound, their incessant chatter over the music all night was expected but he knew that majority of them were just waiting for the next number. He strikes the chord again and the ladies rise in a two-part harmony. 


Are you gonna take me home tonight? 

Oh, down beside that red firelight. 

Are you gonna let it all hang out? 

Fat bottom girls, you make the rocking world go round. 


Punctuating the vocals with the relevant chords, a calm starts to wash over him. That calm is quickly invaded by the rising sense of anticipation as the last line echoes across the room, the audience now held in the band’s grasp. Slamming his finger onto the fifth fret and running down to the open before swinging the D chord, the thick thwack of the bass drum accenting the beat, he lets the bars go on and winks at the crowd as a filthy grin spreads across his face. Finally, he belts out the first line. His voice is aged beyond its years, it sounds like it’s smoked forty a day for centuries though he’s never taken the drag. An excited whoop punctures the silence of the crowd and his grin gets wider. He closes his eyes as he does whenever singing and feels the confidence welling up to continue now he can’t see. 

Imperceptible to the audience, he is shaking. Every line starts with the slightest shudder of fear but is immediately overpowered by the raunchy bravado that growls like a V8 muscle car. He knows that people love this. He knows that people envy him. He gives off the air that this band is the best fucking band you’ve never heard of and I am the compere that will keep you wanting more all damn night. He is aware of the skills that he has, and he is aware that others in his field are a lot more chauvinistic with that level of skill. Yet he will actively wingman his fellow band members before ever pointing the spot light on himself.  

The final chorus has the entire band hollering and getting into it. The audience are just as loud without the need of amplification. It’s a moment of sheer extasy. He cannot see them, but he can definitely hear them, and he can feel the overwhelming energies following through the room as people enjoy themselves and enjoy the band. 

A few songs later and his voice is raspy and low whilst talking. His fingers ache from the work. He would like nothing more than to stick the coke dispenser in his mouth, press feed, and guzzle for a solid few minutes. But the crowd has requests and a yearning for more, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to keep playing as well. Looking to his number two, she grins back at him and gives the cocked eyebrow that challenges him; “tired already?”. Those voices are back in his head once again. 

Springsteen next, everyone loves a Springsteen track, the paternal voice offers. 

Stop showing off and play that bloody guitar, boy! The Cornish voice laughs. 

You’re getting too old for this, his own voice snaps. 

And suddenly it shatters. 

That wall he has been pushing against all evening. 

That panic and worry. 

That need to make sure people are seeing the others and not him. 

That curiosity about how his friend did it so well. 

It’s all right there. Easy to see. 


“Right you lot,” he growls menacingly as he turns on the band grinning. “Simple chord progression; G, E minor, A minor, D. Follow me in the bridge but you’re looking B flat, G minor, C minor, F. D on the second.” 


The G chord rings out, strong and true. 


The drop to the E minor feels so natural. A trill on the F# to lead you. 


The A minor jumping up a little bit not too far to leave you guessing. And then he shouts in his hero’s way… 

“1. 2. 3. 4.” 

And he leads the band through a number they’ve never practised, the audience through a performance that would suggest otherwise, the performance into second gear. This isn’t about playing the songs they’ve prepared to a regiment anymore. Now they’re looking to have fun and challenge one another, not just pushing against the challenges they feel within themselves. 

“I wanna hear you on this one!” He shouts before the chorus. The audience responds in kind. 

 And the night roars on.

And he roars with delight.

And he isn’t self deprecating, or shy, or under-confident, or any of those pigeon holes people would place him.

And for a split second, he is at peace.