Gallinlights

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Sun Oct 09, 2011 8:07 pm

Most people remember –and yes, probably with a shudder–the cold of ’04 for the snow that smothered the country weeks on end, causing untold disarray and hardship. I recall it too, of course, but with thanks as temperatures rose with the blizzards. Only slightly, admittedly, and still remaining below freezing, but it was enough. Enough to let them pass on.

It was the weather prior to the snow that makes me shudder.

The first month of that year brought a cold more intense than most had ever experienced. Even the abattoir’s freezers somehow felt warm in comparison – perhaps because theirs was a manufactured cold governed by stats and heat exchangers, whereas the weather was uncontrollable, wild, and all the more terrible for it. Days and nights were things of crystal. All surfaces were hard, all edges razor-sharp. Objects stood in clear relief to their neighbours, separate and alone without the connectivity even a vestige of heat somehow lends.

The most basic functions of life were affected. Breathing was done through scarves to lessen the ache of lungs-full of frozen air; blood abandoned the extremities to concentrate around the body’s vital processes, leaving toes, fingers and noses detached in every respect except actuality; bones throbbed at the marrow.

And the frost – so thick it may as well have been snow. But whereas snow could be held back by wall and roof, frost coated everything, insidiously reaching where its cousin could not. Only direct sunlight banished it. During the sharp days I watched it creep around my shed, crowding the bright, slowly-moving beams from the grimy skylights where they hit concrete floor and ceramic tile, hustling them away so the glittering sheen could be all-pervading once more.

Warmth was sought everywhere, and at every opportunity. The few portable heaters the abattoir possessed had, of course, gone up to management, leaving us with the hot water geyser in the smoke room and the animals we slaughtered. Those that worked in the pens amongst the ovines, bovines, and porcines, were the luckiest. Condensed sweat, fetid breath, warm dung and urine, and the heat generated by hundreds of terrified hearts bursting with the knowledge of imminent death, were enough to thin the frost and curb the air’s bite. Those of the butchering sheds made more desperate stands against the cold. Disembowelments became lengthier processes than in warmer seasons as hands were thrust amongst slippery lungs and intestines, relishing the body-heat before it steamed away. And the lucky sods in the skinning shed sported new woollen cloaks every day of the week.

My own department had none of these luxuries. I was overlooker at what was commonly called the covered wagons shed, but officially known as Imperial Overflow Facility, Number One. And our charges’ physiology varied too much to be a reliable source of heat.

-oOo-


It was the third of the month and the day shift was over. My workers had left for the night after hosing down their benches, blocks, racks, restraining hooks, knives and saws. I slid the shed’s door closed, grunting as I forced it through the thickened, near-frozen grease of its runners, my mind full of the sausages and mash I had planned for my evening meal. In the already-dark yard, beneath the only working sodium floodlight, a flatbed truck idled contentedly – the whirring fans of its heater audible even above the engine. In its cab were four Imperial fitters waiting patiently for me to leave in order to continue the commissioning of a new automated slaughtering mechanism. They were miserable bastards to a man – any attempted banter had only resulted in witheringly polite smiles Imperial-types affect when a member of the masses addresses them. They were fitters, for th'Emperor’s sake! Not priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus!

There came a sudden, rather startling shout from the poultry shed at the other side of the yard. A figure I recognised only through his voice –silhouetted as he was by the mercury glare from the open shed doors– was beckoning me over. It was old Curried Colin, night overlooker at poultry. “They’ve come back,” he shouted. “The gallinlights are back!”

-oOo-


The winter before had seen its own cold snap, though nothing like as long or intense as ‘04’s. It was then that Curried Colin discovered the gallinlights. Hundreds of thousands of birds had been processed during the Yule run-up (listen, our world had been cut off from the Imperium for millennia, so certain of the oldest customs are still celebrated, albeit not openly – and it’s not our fault we had the Emperor’s birth-date wrong), and, as Colin switched off his shed’s lighting early one morning, he saw the residue of such slaughter.

During that summer an automated system had been installed (precursor to the one I was to have). At the heart of this complex mechanism of hoops and conveyances was a v-shaped decapitation blade, and it was here that the gallinlights made themselves manifest as a scintillating blue glow.

It was just visible from the door, and, on closer inspection, was revealed to consist of a mass of crawling pin-prick lights that writhed and flitted randomly and almost hypnotically. There was no sound, no smell, and no feeling as Curried Colin’s hand –once he had plucked up the necessary courage– passed through the glow without sensation.

That day the weather changed, bringing cloud and cold rain. When Colin returned for his next shift the lights had gone. Apart from, I think, his wife, I was the only one he told about them. “You read all those ghost books,” he said, “These other bastards couldn’t care less ‘cause it isn’t paying their wages to look at pretty lights. But you’ve got some culture to you. You’d appreciate them.”

I had culture enough to know I wasn’t cultured (how could such a person be working in an abattoir?), but his words warmed me nevertheless.

-oOo-


Over the next year, usually whenever he came across me reading, Colin reminisced about his lights and we speculated over what they might have been, without conclusion. Personally I thought he’d been at the port, but I was willing, in my vanity, to entertain the old fool if he thought I was cultured.

Yet here he was, yelling over the darkened yard to me: “The gallinlights are back!”

I trotted over. Before I was within ten foot of him I got a whiff of his breath. “Jelfratzi tonight, Colin?”

“What? Oh, yeah,” he grinned, “Gallin Jelfratzi! Fresh, too! You’ve got a good nose, lad.” Colin ate a different curry every evening. He ushered me into the blazing white light of his shed.

The poultry shed is the noisiest in the abattoir. Just within its main entrance, along the left-hand wall, is the storage battery – racked crates packed with birds pecking at and defecating over one-another; relentlessly squawking and screeching at headache-inducing volume. Here a pair “hangers” suspend birds by the neck from constantly moving hoops for transportation into the plucking tunnel, the unfortunates’ indignant cries now accompanied with the squeaks and rattles of the mechanism. From the tunnel they emerge clucking or quacking in shock and dismay at their new comical appearance, bouncing like so many bags of water as they are carried on to the v-shaped blades. If they are lucky and the blades sharp, their heads will be cleanly sliced off just before the weight of their body is taken by conveyor up to the first floor gutting and packaging rooms. The unlucky ones? The ones that suffer blunted blades? Their heads are more torn from their bodies than sliced. It’s surprising how much a bird can scream before its throat gets stretched beyond use.

Then there’s the smell. To me and my, ah, accustomed nose, it’s merely a little musty. However, I’ve seen visitors and new employees, who managed to keep their breakfasts within them whilst touring the other sheds, puke copiously after only a few minutes of poultry miasma. There is something peculiarly other to the combined stink of feathers, guano, and guts; something almost alien that certainly isn’t present when slaughtering pigs, cows, sheep, or even my own concerns at covered wagons. Perhaps it’s a case of mammalian sensibilities –I won’t say sympathies– clashing with the avian? Perhaps even reptile, if our Imperial academics are to be believed.

Curried Colin directed me to a group of his workers gathered around the decapitation blades. As we approached they grumbled about lost bonuses. Colin attempted cheerful pacification, “We won’t be a minute. My mate here just wants a look.” Which, of course, caused every face to turn towards me in ill-disguised accusation. “Someone turn off the lights.”

For a moment no-one complied, then with a muttered, “Ah, come on. Sooner we let them look, sooner we can get our bonus back on track,” a switch clicked and contactors clunked open.

For a moment there was silence as the sudden darkness cowed the poultry in the racks. My eyes adjusted to a gloom alleviated only by extant lighting in other parts of the shed. Then, as Colin whispered, “Look at the blades – it’s brighter than last year,” the birds’ usual clamour abruptly resumed as if another switch had been flicked.

There it was – a glittering ball of pulsing azure, its heart bright as a candle-flame, fading beyond perception at six inches. It encompassed the decapitation blades (bloody and unchanged since last shift), and bobbed ever-so gently.

“Emperor’s sack, Colin,” I said, “I thought you were taking the piss.”

A hand thumped my back in the dark, and Colin’s dim presence at my side replied, “Not me, matey! ‘Ave a closer look.”

The other workers shuffled aside, grumbling again as they jostled one-another in the dark, “There’s Vigour ‘n’ Wellbeing issues ‘ere, you know.” But they presently became quiet – spellbound in spite of themselves.

Closer inspection revealed the globe consisted of billions of pin-prick lights that darted, danced, and merged –like Colin had said of last year’s phenomenon– almost hypnotically. Occasional specks of green and red moved at a statelier pace than the blue majority. I looked at Colin, and realised that, for all the apparent glow of the lights, none was reflected back from adjacent surfaces – I could hardly see his face. Mystified, I returned my attention to the sphere.

So absorbed was I that a sudden shout of, “Alright, you’ve seen them now. Switch the bloody lights back on. Colin, we’ve got bonuses to make!” and a simultaneous fluorescent blaze actually made me jump.

The gallinlights were rendered invisible.

Colin was beaming. “Beautiful, aren’t they, matey? And look down there.”

He indicated a bin beneath the blades. I bent to inspect it. At first I only saw –predictably– gallin heads. Uniformly gaping beaks exposing rigid red tongues; eyes seemingly glittering with life but actually glazed with rime; and all frozen into a single mass like a modern arts sculpture. Then, with a wince of unease, I saw just how wide the beaks gaped. They were open to the point were they actually split at the hinge, and in no few cases beyond even this to near-bisection of the skull.

Then, impossibly, there was movement. A head at the top of the pile twitched. There came a sharp, crack!, just audible over poultry racks, and a frozen red tongue was propelled two inches into the air before skittering over the icy mass and becoming lodged in a bloody stump.

“It’s the gallinlights making them move, matey!” Digesting Jelfratzi wafted over me as Colin bent closer to make himself heard over the clamour of the now-operating conveyer mechanism, “I think they’re souls. Gallins’ souls. And gobblers’, quacks’, anserines’ – whatever we kill here. I think the cold traps them on... on this plane! They can’t pass on!” He proudly emphasised the words, no doubt thinking they would resonate with one of my high-brow reading. “They’re trapped and trying to get out, so they move into whatever’s nearest. Like them heads. An’ the longer the cold and the processing goes on, the stronger, more concentrated, they get. Thousands o’ birds get killed on them blades, Matey, thousands at the exact same place.”

-oOo-


On the short omnibus-ride home, I considered the phenomenon.

Was Curried Colin’s theory right? Where the lights souls? They were certainly something – everyone could see them. And yet the light they produced did not reflect from any surface, only our eyes registered it. Physically impossible, surely? Like animated decapitated heads.

Accepting we had seen something impossible, something on a level beyond science, could we not say it was spiritual?

Eternal Emperor, I sound like a chaplain.

What of other animals? If it was deep cold that somehow stopped the souls “passing on,” what about other deaths occurring during this weather? Perhaps –as Wise Curried Colin had hinted– it was the fact that the gallins’ deaths had occurred at the same place: the decapitation blades. The souls congregated around that point, becoming denser and denser until they impinged on the physical world. Other deaths were dispersed and did not congregate in the same manner.

Where there gallinlights at other poultry sheds across the country while this demon cold continued?

-oOo-


Over the next couple of days Colin kept me informed. During breaks to avoid his workforce’s irritation, he regularly switched off the shed’s lights and studied the spectral globe. “It’s still bloody growing – big as medicine ball now. And I can’t let the head bin get more than half full – they jump about like bloody popcorn!”

Towards the end of the week there was unease in his voice. “It’s an Emperor-forsaken meter across, now, matey; and I have to change the blades every break. They’re not blunt, they’re bent. Gallinlights are bending them. And you want to see the conveyer shake when the birds come up. They’re getting strong, matey. Bloody strong.”

A couple of days later, late one evening (overtime for me – Imperium’s been busy), Colin announced that he had brought a gas heater from home. “I’m freeing them. Dunno what’s going to happen if they just keep growing. Don’t think I want to know, either. I’m going to let them pass on.”

Not for the first time I suggested contacting the press, but Colin would have none of it. He was of the firm belief that doing so would be the start of something fundamentally wrong, culminating in the involvement of religious nutters and cultists. Unspoken was the possibility of attracting the attention of the arbites, imperial scientists, perhaps even Inquisitors.

Like I’ve said: Wise Colin.

-oOo-


The next morning found him Dead Colin.

During the final break of the night shift he had decided to free his lights, and gone to do so. He wasn’t seen until two hours later when gutting on the first floor had complained as to the lack of rising produce. His body was found slumped beneath a pile of headless, blood-sprayed gallins. The forked decapitation blades were embedded in his neck – seemingly snapped off in a tumble perhaps brought on by a dizzy spell (something nobody had known Colin suffered from. But he was old, wasn’t he?). The gas heater stood nearby, on full blast.

The next night, after his body had been transported to the mortuary, I, and his workforce, with a palpable ritual solemnity, darkened his shed again.

The gallinlights had gone – seemingly passed over with the help of Colin’s heater.

Or perhaps they were just sated.

-oOo-


In the hills above the abattoir is a huge Imperial facility. I say huge, I’ve never actually seen the place, but sometimes, on cloudy nights, the sky above it is lit with fantastic displays of reflected light. What’s more, it produces a great amount of waste – a lot of which I have seen. It dropped from the sky not longer after Renewed Contact, when the warp storms that had cut our world off from the Imperium abated and we were once more smothered in the Emperor’s loving embrace.

The facility, amongst other things, problematically built infantry. Our Imperium-appointed planetary governor, Filidor Chax, had not –predictably– taken over from the multitudinous national governments with ease. Rebellions were dismayingly regular, and his Arbiters, backed up by a small retinue of Imperial Guard, were pushed far beyond their means. Doubtless he had requested more, but such things were in the hands of the Administratum’s infinity of scribblers, and decades might pass before his request was addressed. So, in the interim, he “experimented.”

And, being ideally situated (not to mention possessed of some aptitude for the task), the abattoir disposed of the “failed” experiments.

During ’04’s summer the facility’s output increased considerably. The covered wagons arrived twice daily; and, for every one entering our yard, another continued past – evidently production methods were improving.

The increase prompted the installation of the automated mechanism in my shed. Three days after Curried Collin’s death, we received a demonstration in its use by one of its junior designers.

“Well,” he hastened to add after so introducing himself, “Not designer as such. That was done by the new cogitators they’ve built. We just prompted them in the right directions. And they didn’t need much prompting, let me tell you. Scary place, the future.”

My workforce looked at each other bemusedly. I smiled good-naturedly. The man’s hair was a tangle of curly, greasy black; he sported bottle-bottom glasses that continuously slipped down his nose; and, to top it off, wore a stained white coat. Imperial types and their delusions of grandeur! Inquisitorial fitters and mad scientist bloody designers!

“Right, where’s the ‘On’ switch? Ha-ha. Oh, here it is.”

The system rumbled and rattled into life.

“From now on all arriving containers are specially adapted. The driver just backs up and a crane pops them into place at the door. There’s one there now, isn’t there? Isn’t there? Good. Just follow the numbers on the instruction panel here. ‘Nought’ is for the crane. That’s done. Now, ‘One’ for the doors. Who wants to press it? You? Come on, then. That’s it, very good. See how easy it is? Now for those, erm, what? Clients? Ha ha. Yes. For those clients that can’t make it in themselves, or aren’t inclined to, we have these automated prodders and claws. Just press ‘sub-One’ to activate – they decide themselves how to proceed. In this case he’s coming in quite happily isn’t he? He’s… My God! That’s monstrous!”

Somebody sniggered. The designer pushed his glasses back up his nose and collected himself. “Sorry. I fed the pictures into the cogitators too – should have known what to expect. Anyways. On to the conveyer belt… More prodders and claws. Poisons can be administered here if necessary, if you think they need quieting down. And if you think they’ll have any effect, I suppose. Then the table, where –as you see– clamps fix on wherever they can and our little beastie is dragged down… My, he’s a fighter, isn’t he? …Down, like so. The whole thing is perfectly adaptable to whatever comes through the doors, and rumour has it that there’s going to be a lot coming through those doors, gentlemen… Oh, sorry, ladies too. You all look… Now, what stage are we at? Four? Who wants the honours? Perhaps your overlooker?

I stepped forward. The designer was beaming. I pressed the indicated button, marked, “Four: Sectioning.”

Up above the large round table on which our “client” lay pinned and keening in what may have been distress, a roller began to unwind a barely visible mesh of wire. Once it covered the table’s area it rapidly descended.

“Monofilament,” said the designer as we watched, “Cut almost anything.”

And it did.

For a moment we were all quiet, looking at the six-inch sections of greasy flesh –no blood in this particular one– that still held to the “client’s” form. “‘Five’ activates the bin paddles, then it’s wheeled off to the incinerator. Any questions?”

Malcolm, an executioner who spent far too much time polishing his slug gun, asked, “Where’s the fun in that?”

-oOo-


The trucks came constantly twice daily now, with an occasional third or even forth. The news was full of organised international rebellion.

The automated mechanism worked perfectly. No matter the form of our clients –what a wonderful euphemism that is– it dealt with them economically and quickly. Thousands upon thousands were processed.

It was one morning in the last week of January that covered wagons’ version of Curried Collin’s gallinlights announced its infinitely more powerful presence.

-oOo-


For the first time in weeks, the sky was cloudy. The weather had finally turned and heavy snow was forecast – the terrible bite of the air was gone. Sliding the door to covered wagons aside I discovered my shed was still dark. Ordinarily I was the last to arrive, having been up to management for the day’s timetable. My workforce should have been preparing for the shift (which, since the introduction of the mechanism, basically meant putting the kettle on).

I stepped inside, reaching for the bank of switches.

My hand never touched them, as, with a screech, the door slammed shut and the lights flared – all shining blindingly and directly upon me.

Nothing in covered wagons was where it should be.

The automated slaughtering mechanism had moved. Its entrance tunnel was no longer around the bay where the wagons deposited their loads, but around the actual entrance to the shed.

I turned, clawing at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. I looked up. One of the mechanism’s prodding arms held it shut.

A sharp dig in my ribs told me another was about its designed task. A sharp whack! on the nape of my neck informed me it was not to be ignored. I stumbled forwards, pleading with the mechanism, for some insane reason apologising to it. But the arm kept up its beating, driving me on. It was joined by others, not all ending in clubs. Syringes sucked and plunged spasmodically (and I thanked the Emperor that we had never as yet had reason to fill the mechanism’s poison reservoirs), stabbing shallowly with thick needles.

Soon I was bruised and bloody, hunched over in instinctive protection of my head and torso, stumbling forwards. My clothes were torn to shreds and I began to steam in the cold, the moisture easily visible in the glare concentrated upon me.

I collapsed. Let the blows rain down. I knew what was at the end of the tunnel. I wasn’t going any farther. Surely someone had heard my screams?

But screams and an abattoir go together. And covered wagons produced lots of different screams.

The floor lurched. I was on the conveyer belt!

Frantically I tried to scramble to solid ground, but the blows and stabs were overwhelming. I was forced on.

Simultaneously the lights pivoted from me and flooded my dreaded destination.

I closed my eyes, but not before I noticed the smears of bright, fresh red on the sectioning table. I screamed again.

And suddenly the beating stopped. Was this a reprieve? Was I to be spared the mesh?

But no, the conveyer belt was still moving. I opened my eyes for an instant to see handling arms reaching for me.

Rapidly, easily, but almost gently, I was laid out spread-eagled on the slippery table. I screamed continuously now, mind overloaded with terror. But the process continued, as I knew it must.

Something fumbled at my face. Ice-cold metal fingers prised my eyes open, clamped my head in place. I watched the mesh unroll.

From somewhere behind I heard the incinerator roar, gas-boosted in preparation for the chunks of me soon to be tipped into it.

I watched the mesh descend, oh-so slowly, the malevolent souls operating, possessing it, revelling in my absolute horror. It was centimetres above me now… Millimetres…

It touched my nose. Pressed slowly in. Cut.

Blood spurted over my face, washed into my eyes. The pain, however, was all but cancelled by my previous injuries. The cold wire now tickled my forehead, began to cut into my boots…

And went no further.

For a full minute I lay there, actually shouting to the mechanism to finish the job, wanting death’s release. There came a hiss, a whine. Motors ran down. Pneumatics eased. The fingers at my eyes slackened, fell aside. I could blink the blood away.

The fail-safe of the mesh kicked in with the loss of power. It rose.

The shed’s lights suddenly fell back to their normal positions, chains clattering.

Up through a skylight and against the blackened brickwork of the incinerator, as my screams finally evolved into actual words, I watched flakes of snow softly fall.

The slight increase in temperature had been enough to allow the vengeful souls their escape.

-oOo-


'… request the presence of an Inquisitor. Filidore Chax will deny all knowledge, of course, but it seems unlikely to me that he is completely innocent of the proceedings at the facility. Whatever the truth, the experiments with the borders delineating the Materium from its terrible opposite must be halted – side-effects are already occurring and matters can only become worse. The matter of his cogitators, too, requires urgent attention – their power surely verges on levels proscribed after the Dark Age of Technology.

However, the experiments into genetics, specifically those pertaining to a constructed infantry, may be worth observing/ pursuing.

I leave the matter with you, Lord.'

–Imperial Extract.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Sun Oct 09, 2011 8:12 pm

To read comments on this on the old Bolthole, go here.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Squiggle » Mon Oct 10, 2011 5:41 pm

the chickens! the chickens! *slumps over*

love this :D
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Gaius Marius » Tue Oct 11, 2011 2:30 am

I was expecting a chicken daemon...

but seriously great short Chun.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Mossy Toes » Tue Oct 11, 2011 6:39 pm

Gaius Marius wrote:I was expecting a chicken daemon...

but seriously great short Chun.

Sorry, Chun is no Terry Goodkind.
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Oct 11, 2011 8:11 pm

Thanks, each. This one always was quite popular; but then again, everybody can relate to chickens.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Mossy Toes » Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:10 pm

What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:12 pm

Bumping chickens... such a picture that phrase evokes.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Skeats » Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:22 pm

Nice intrigue there. Also a nice step away from the norm. An interesting way of getting chickens into 40k! Though, if you change/take out a number of little things it would easily become an original short story rather than fan fiction.

I really like the first person perspective, especially with the frightening climax of the story. I used to have nightmares when I was younger about being strapped to a slab that was lowering me face first very slowly towards a a table saw - some kind of warped amalgamation of a James Bond death machine and whatever it was that Vader had Solo strapped into... sorry I digress.

Chun, I've noticed your comments around on other work, and should you ever get the chance to, I'd really appreciate you giving my Skalathrax: Ice and Fire a once over, as you certainly seem to know what you are talking about when it comes to writing ;)
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:44 am

Thanks for your time, Skeats. This was actually a stand-alone called Gallinlights Chickenlights. It's been 40k-ified to get readers here. Glad you liked it.

Is your story Warhammer? I made a rule some time ago that I would only read 40k here, purely through lack of time. There have been exceptions, though ;) .
Last edited by Chun the Unavoidable on Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Skeats » Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:18 pm

Ah, I see. That's actually a fairly smart way of getting your work across, because it falls into a category that has a lot of interest. It also, as i've said before, puts a bit of a step from the norm, which is always a welcome sight, and I've stumbled across some particular gems on this sight that are in a that same vein.

Yes, my short story (more novella length) is 40k... well, scouring period really. At the risk of ending up "spamming" my work on your page, i'll send it to you via message.
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby exitus_10 » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:45 am

How does one have a "witheringly polite smile" seems like an oxymoron. A shrinking or diminishing polite smile? Are you saying that their patience was seemingly wearing thin?
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Re: Gallinlights

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Sun Nov 18, 2012 3:07 pm

Probably. I did write it a fair few number of years ago.
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