For starters, Smashwords is currently having its annual summer sale, where you can get plenty of e-books at reduced prices or for free, including several of mine.
In other news, blogging will be light this month, because I’m currently doing the July Short Story Challenge again.
What is the July Short Story Challenge, you ask? Well, in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. And the next. If you want to read my post-mortems of the previous July short story challenges, here are the posts for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Because I’ve already done the July short story challenge seven years in a row now and always found the experience very rewarding, I’m aiming for a repeat this year. This July is a very busy month for me, never mind that I caught a persistent and annoying cold (not covid, I did a test). Therefore I initially only committed to doing this for a single week, which is already finished, and now I’m going for the second week. Then, if things are going well, I’ll keep going.
In previous years, I’ve always done a post-mortem post about the July Short Story Challenge in August. In 2019, I also started keeping a running tally of all stories written to date right here on this blog to hold myself accountable. It worked well and so I did it again in 2020 and 2021. I will do it again this year as well and will update this post with every new story. This tally will be very basic, listing just the date, title, word count, genre, series, if any, and maybe a one or two sentence summary/comment.
Most of these stories will become longer in editing. Many will eventually change their titles and some may never see the light of day at all.
If you want to follow along with the challenge, bookmark this post. And if you want to play along or cheer me on, feel free to do so in the comments.
And now, let’s take a look at the stories:
July 1, 2022: The Offering, fantasy, 2344 words
Every twenty years, the people of the fishing village of Thesipha at the edge of the Bay of Ambirosi, make an offering to Sabeana, goddess of the sea and patron of fishermen, hoping for rich fishing in the bay.
The young fisherman Pelinas is chosen to present the offering to the goddess. But as he waits at the edge of the pier for the goddess to claim her offering, he realises that the offering is not what he thought it was…
Like many of the stories from this challenge, this story was inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely this one by Richard Hescox.
July 2, 2022: Sanctuary, historical fantasy, 2435 words
Deep in the woods that surround the town of Immergrün in Medieval Germany, there is a place called Sanctuary, where the women in trouble can escape from the men who pursue them.
One of those women is Katharina who finds herself pregnant by a man who wants nothing to do with her and accuses her of being a witch and bearing the devil’s child. But before Katharina can be burned at the stake, an unexpected ally frees her…
This story was partly inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel and by discussing the 2022 Hugo Finalists for Best Short Story on the Hugos There! podcast, since two of the stories in question feature dryads, so they were on my mind.
July 3, 2022: Silverthorn, fantasy, 1467 words
Silverthorn is a magical sword. Her last wielder, the knight Vultorf, retired into the woods to become a hermit. After he died, Silverthorn is looking for a new wielder. But she had high standards and won’t just let anyone wield her. No, she will only pledge herself to a worthy cause.
Finally, after two hundred years of waiting, a worthy wielder finally stumbles upon Silverthorn, though he is not at all what she expected.
This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Nele Diel, which sparked the idea to write a story about a magical sword from the point of view of the sword.
July 4, 2022: Buttercup, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 2116 words
The world’s only gourmet hitperson shoots a con woman in a hipster cupcake shop.
Yes, it’s another Culinary Assassin story. Somehow, I find these easy to write, when I’m stressed out, because it’s basically “Pick a locations, a dish and a target and start writing”.
I wrote a Culinary Assassin story during last year’s challenge, which basically retells the famous final scene of The Sopranos from the POV of the assassin. Now the Culinary Assassin takes aim at another HBO prestige show (TM), Sex and the City, and shoots a Carrie Bradshaw stand-in at the Buttercup Bakery, which is a stand-in for the Magnolia Bakery from the show. The brief scene at the Magnolia Bakery, which brought tourist crowds to what had been a quiet neighbourhood, also set off the gentrification of the area and pretty much destroyed it as chronicled here.
July 5, 2022: Rum Ball, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 1684 words
The world’s only gourmet hitperson heads to rural Northern Germany to eat rum balls in the best bakery in the region and takes out a pedophile priest as well.
I had a busy day today and did not feel all that great, so here’s another Culinary Assassin tale.
Since yesterday’s story was about a hit in a trendy hipster cupcake shop, today I sent the culinary assassin to one of my favourite bakeries, which is the complete opposite of hip. And yes, the bakery is a real place and occasionally shows up in my fiction, e.g. tuckerised as the name of a planet in the In Love and War series. The rum balls are real, too, though both the assassin and their target are fictional.
July 6, 2022: The Message of the Runes, horror, 1504 words
A student of archaeology falls into a hole and stumbles upon a rune stone in what appears to be an ancient burial chamber and decides to decipher it. This turns out to be a very bad idea…
The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork by Nele Diel. For the setting, I chose the famous neolithic tomb known as “The Visbek Bride”, which is a popular tourist site around here. Plus, the setting and particularly the proximity to the Autobahn A1 also gave me a brilliant way to dispose of the monster my idiotic archaeology student has accidentally unleashed. Let’s just say say in a contest between an ancient monster from the dawn of time and a Dutch truck carrying cucumbers, the truck wins.
July 7, 2022: Adventurer’s Rest, cozy fantasy, 1336 words
After a lifetime of adventuring, Dankar has grown old and opened an inn called Adventurer’s Rest, together with his found family: his daughter Talia, deposed prince Cadwyn, Ghuk the golem and Ughiwyn the wizard.
This is a cozy slice of life piece about an aged adventurer who has found a place to rest for himself and the people he loves. The inspiration was a simple “What if an aging warrior opened a roadside inn for others like him.
July 8, 2022: Just Another Snake Cult, sword and sorcery, 1429 words
Killing their king Enzummu was supposed to end the reign of terror of the serpent men, but instead it set off a new problem, when every single surviving serpent coucillor, general, dignity or priest set up their own cult, until there was a snake cult on every street corner.
The unnamed protagonist is a Warrior of the Light sworn to wipe out the serpent men and smite their snake cults with extreme prejudice. But this mission is his most difficult yet, for he must stop Zuanzi, former right-hand man of Enzummu, from opening a portal on the night of the blood moon to raise the Great Snake God Nergai, who will devour the entire world…
The inspiration for this one comes from a discussion about the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian. In the movie, a character says that until recently, Thulsa Doom’s sect was “just another snake cults”, which begets the question of exactly how many snake cults are there in the Hyborian Age. I then had the idea of a holy warrior sworn to take down snake cults and being frustrated that snake cults are like the Hydra, take out one and two more pop up in its wake.
July 9, 2022: Wrong Turn, fantasy/fairy tale, 1903 words
On her way to grandma’s house, Little Red Riding Hood – who’s not so little and only known as Red in this story – takes a wrong turn and stumbles upon a group of witches frolicking naked in the woods. This leads to a much happier ending for Red, though poor grandma still gets eaten.
The initial inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Ilya Gorbunov. Also, this is the second story about lesbian wood nymphs I have written during this challenge. I’m beginning to sense a theme here.
July 10, 2022: The Horror in the Cathedral, dark fantasy, 1108 words
The cathedral Notre Dame de Desmarais has been infested by an ancient evil, a demon who is rising the dead buried inside the cathedral to attack the living. So far, the ghoulds have already lsain two priests, a Dominican friar, two exorcists and the most feared witchhunter in all of France. So the bishop seeks a knight who will venture into the cathedral and deal with the ghoul problem. But only the female knight Ghislaine la Véridique is willing to go…
This story was inspired by this piece of fantasy art by Adam Barker. I’m not happy with the title, since it’s too generic and will probably change it.
July 11, 2022: Pasta all’Ortolana, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 968 words
The world’s only gourmet hitperson goes to a restaurant in the non-touristy part of Rome, eats pasta and shoots a local mafioso.
I was busy and tired today, so all I could manage was a very short Culinary Assassin story. The inspiration was the fact that I actually made this dish two days ago, based on Rachel Roddy’s recipe from the Guardian.
July 12, 2022: Rest My Weary Bones, dark fantasy, 1052 words
Once Grimwald the Mighty was a respected warrior and mercenary in service to anyone who’d pay him. Now, however, he is dead and denied his eternal rest and reward by the machinations of the necromancer Unvaldor, who keeps raising Grimwald and others like him to fight his battles on his behalf, again and again and again.
Grimwald is sick of fighting someone else’s battles. But the same spell that Unvaldor used to raise Grimwald and compell him to fight also keeps Grimwald from turning against him. There’s nothing he can do to end his pain. Or is there?
The inspiration for this was literally the phrase that became the title along with the skeleton warriors occasionally seem in the background of Masters of the Universe artwork (and more prominently in the Masters of the Universe: Revelation cartoon), which brought on the idea of a skeleton warrior forced to fight by a necromancer, even though all he wants to do is rest.
July 13, 2022: Service Station Dammer Berge, crime fiction (The Culinary Assassin), 1268 words
The world’s only gourmet hitperson puts in a pit stop at service station Dammer Berge to eat scrambled eggs and dispatches of a truck driver who smuggles refugees in his sealed refrigerated truck with zero regard for the fact that a lot of them do not survive.
I had a tiring day today, including a three and a half hours in a car, so today’s story is another short and quick one. The inspiration arrived during said trip, when I passed the service station Dammer Berge on the Autobahn A1. I’ve always had a soft spot for service station Dammer Berge with its unique modernist design, so I thought, “I’ve never written about this place, so why not send the culinary assassin here to do a job?”
I did cheat a little bit, though, because the original late 1960s interior was remodelled to “looks like a school cafeteria” blandness sometime in the early 2000s.
July 14, 2022: Accident Report, horror, 1567 words
This is a sort of companion piece to The Message of the Runes, the story I wrote on July 6. That story ends with a note that the Lovecraftian horror unleashed by a hapless student of archaeology near the Visbek Bride neolithic tomb was subsequently run over by a Dutch truck carrying cucumbers on the nearby Autobahn A1. This story now consist of eyewitness reports by the truck driver, another driver and a police officer about the accident.
The inspiration was that I actually drove along the A1, but no Lovecraftian horror decided to cross the road between the exit Wildeshausen West and the junction Ahlhorner Heide near the Engelmannsbäke rest area. Still, I decided it would be fun to write a companion piece to the earlier story.
July 15, 2022: The Werewolf Stalks By Night, horror, 690 words
A medieval city is stalked by a werewolf, who is only recognisable as such by his shadow and who seduces the women of the city. The men are not at all happy about this…
A really short story, but stories are as long as they need to be. The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork of the shadow of a wolf falling on the wall of a medieval city. This sparked the idea of a werewolf who is only recognisable by his shadow, but otherwise looks human. The werewolf is also not the villain of this story, since all he does is have consensual sex with the women of the city. The true villains are the men of the city.
July 16, 2022: The Oval Room, sword and sorcery, 2105 words
Jengar the Swift and Skorr the Doorbuster are thieves trying to steal a jewel called The Flawless Eye from a trap-laden treasure house. In order to get to the jewel, they must transverse a terrifying magical trap called the oval room. Jengar barely escapes the room. Skorr does not and suddenly finds himself somewhere else…
The inspiration for this story was this writing prompt on the Whetstone blog.
July 17, 2022: Totengrund, horror, 1083 words
Deep in the heart of the Spessart woods, there is a forsaken place called Totengrund. A village and a castle once stood here, but both were destroyed more than five hundred years ago, when the evil knight Ulrich of Dunkelfels sacrificed every single person in the village to try to raise a demon…
Another short one, inspired by this piece of fantasy art.
July 18, 2022: Duel in the Snow (Jalkar and Anora), sword and sorcery, 1708 words
Jalkar the sellsword and his adopted daughter Anora are travelling across the frozen plains of Drossad. When they are forced to make camp, they are attacked by three men who have an uncommon interest in baby Anora…
This is a sequel to “A Cry on the Battlefield”, which started out as a July Short Story Challenge Story, and was published on the Wyngraf Magazine website earlier this year.
July 19, 2022: Homecoming Gift, cozy fantasy, 1371 words
After three long years away, Prince Colwyn returns home from war to see his parents and Talisa, the girl he loved and had to leave behind. But he also finds an unexpected surprise waiting for him.
I’m not really sure what inspired this story. I really like it, though.
July 20, 2022: Bat Whispers, horror, 722 words
Professor Gregor Bakalov hopes to decode bat calls and thus assembles the world’s largest archive of bat calls. However, once he finally figures out what the bats are saying, he finds something horrible…
Today was the hottest day of the year, plus I had to go on a two hours each way drive, so I was tired and could only manage a very short story. The inspiration for this was the news headline “Volunteers collect one million bat voices”, which made me wonder why someone would collect bat voices and what the bats were saying.
July 21, 2022: The Lonely Troll, cozy fantasy, 1445 words
Grollbar the troll is lonely, ever since the new bridge was built a few kilometres upstream and no one crosses the old bridge anymore. Gradually, the old bridge falls into disrepair and Grollbar slowly turns to rock and becomes overgrown with moss. But then one day, Grollbar is woken from his long slumber by a small voice, a little girl named Emma who’s also lonely and has run away from home…
The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy artwork by Morten Solgaard Pedersen.
July 22, 2022: The Mandelbulb, cosmic horror, 1142 words
One morning, the Mandelbulb, a four-dimensional fractal of unknown origin and insatisable hunger appears in the middle of a path in Mirror Lake Park. It gobbles up a dog, a groundkeeper and a member of a biohazard team, before someone calls in the narrator, a scientist. However, the army also gets involved and their only solution to any problem is shooting at it.
Another very short story, since I can’t seem to concentrate on longer stories for challenge this year. The inspiration for this story was this tweet with CGI footage of a Mandelbulb copied into the real world environment of a park.
July 23, 2022: The Day the Robots Left, science fiction, 691 words
The robot uprising happens, though not as expected. Because instead of killing everybody, the robots just get up and leave…
I had a busy day today, so today’s story is another very short one. It was inspired by a discussion about the 2022 Hugo finalists for Best Novella at the Hugos There podcast.
July 24, 2022: Deal with the Dragon, fantasy 1160 words
Gilander the rogue has been roped into selling his services as a dragonslayer, though he only wanted to scam the villagers out of their gold. However, the villagers won’t pay Gilander, until he presents proof that he has slain the dragon, so he finds himself thrust into the dragon’s cave.
Gilander isn’t a killer and besides, the dragon is very big and very scary. But maybe, there is another way out of this dilemma that’s mutually beneficial to all parties…
The inspiration for this story was this piece of fantasy art by Jan Ditlev.
July 25, 2022: The Land of Forgotten Swords, sword and sorcery, 1459 words
At the very edge of the civilised world, there lies the Land of Forgotten Swords, where aged warriors bury their swords before travelling onwards to the warriors’ final repose whence no one ever returns. But one day, Erak, a deposed prince with a prize on his head and pursuers hot on his heels, stumbles into the Land of Forgotten Swords and finds that there is still a lot of fight left in those discarded blades…
I initially planned to write a different story today, but that one would not come together, so switched gears and wrote this story instead. The inspiration was this drawing by Reza Afshar.
July 26, 2022: Hot Berliners After the Apocalypse, post-apocalyptic, 1796 words
Mia’s family runs a roadside stall, selling Berliner and Schmalzkuchen, a business which continues with little interruption after the apocalypse.
The inspiration for this was passing a closed roadside stall offering Berliner and Schmalzkuchen (both are fall and winter treats and not usually offered in summer) today. Grass had sprung up around the stall and it looked as if it had been closed and abandoned for longer than it probably was. It looked a little post-apocalyptic, which inspired a story about a family operating a Berliner stall after the apocalypse.
July 27, 2022: Straw Men, sword and sorcery (Kurval), 2614 words
During Kurval’s time as a wandering mercenary, Kurval and his friend Tsabo chance to pass a freshly harvested field dotted with sheaves of hay shaped like men. Worse, the sheaves seem to be moving…
The inspiration for this one was talking a walk past a freshly harvested field full of hay bales early in the morning shortly before sunrise. Due to a trick of the light, it seemed as if there was movement among the hay bales. So I thought, “What if the hay bales actually did move? And what if they were hostile?”
July 28, 2022: Petition to Allow Employees to Work From Home in Light of the Recent Uptick in Kaiju Attacks, science fiction, 355 words
What it says on the tin. There has been an uptick in kaiju attacks on Tokyo and the employees working at the Tokishiro Tower, a building at the frontline of these attacks, have had enough…
I had another very stressful day, so this is another very short story. The inspiration was someone saying on Discord that the building in Tokyo, where he works, was destroyed on screen in both Shin Godzilla and Ultraman. This sparked on idea about how people would react when the building where they work was constantly the target of kaiju attacks.
July 29, 2022: The Portal, science fiction horror, 1306 words
At the stroke of midnight, an alarm goes off at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. When the staff on duty investigate, they find the accelerator coil ripped open and a pulsating object which turns out to be a portal to another world hovering in the breach…
The inspiration for this story was coming across this USA Today article, which notes that the scientists working at the CERN Large Hadron Collider are not in fact trying to open a portal to hell. At first, the headline amused me, because while I know that there are a lot of fears regarding the Large Hadron Collider, the fact that it might open a portal to hell was a new one for me. And then I thought, “What if the Large Hadron Collider really did manage to open a portal to hell?” The story grew from there.
Alfred from Alfred and Bertha’s Marvellous Twenty-First Century Life appears in this story, because Alfred actually works at the Large Hadron Collider, which he never fails to explain to Bertha and anybody else who’ll listen to him. However, this is a very different kind of story from the Alfred and Bertha stories.
July 30, 2022: The Siren of the Semois, horror, 1633 words
Dutchman Joop Ter Meulen is on holiday in the south of Belgium in a village called Alle-sur-Semois. On his first day of vacation, he decides to go kayaking on the river Semois. Then he sees a face under the surface of the water. The face of a beautiful woman…
This story took more than twenty years to come together. Alle-sur-Semois is a real village in Belgium. I was there many years ago and at the time, the river Semois was covered in river crowfoot, a blooming water plant. It looked stunning, like mermaid hair, so I came up with an idea for a story about a siren who lives in the river Semois, though I got further than the title and a few paragraphs of description. I recently found the old file again and decided to finally write the story.
July 31, 2022: The Queen from the Stars, sword and planet, 6031 words
It’s a familiar story. A spaceship from Earth crashlands on an alien world and an astronaut winds up falling in love with and marrying the local ruler. But astronaut Madeleine Kennedy finds out that marrying the king of a war-torn alien world is not such a great idea, if it makes you and your children a target for murderous warlords. She also finds out that her husband has been lying to her… a lot. But can she really go home again? And what about her children?
This story basically tells what happens after the usual “Earthperson crashlands on alien planet and falls in love with local royalty” sword and planet story ends, namely that there isn’t necessarily a happy ending. Though the actual inspiration was watching the Masters of the Universe cartoons and thinking that considering how much crap Queen Marlena has to put up with – constant attacks, permanent wars, one child stolen and the other in constant danger – I’m surprised that she didn’t grab her kids at the first opportunity and hightailed it back to Earth. And then I thought, “But what would have happened, if she had?”
And that’s it for this year’s challenge. Thirty-one stories in thirty-one days. And even though a lot of them were shorter than usual, because I had a lot of work and other crap to deal with this month, I still made it.