Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Dreamers of Alamoi.” He takes us to a fantastical land that by turns feels firm under our feet and then fleeting as a curious dream…
The madman whistled an unfamiliar tune as he walked past the tangle-choked fields along a road in little better shape; before the plague, it had been surfaced with polished brick. Bricks that the dreamers hadn’t pried up or been chewed into gravel by the weeds and weather.
The guide followed close behind, scheming again.
The madman paused to light his pipe and take a preposterously deep drag from the tight-packed bowl. He inclined the stem toward his guide, exhaled blue smoke.
The guide shook his head. “The last time left me stumbling for hours.”
The madman shrugged. “I had hoped for the amusement of a repeat performance. Ah well. How far now?”
The guide squinted. “Another dozen leagues before it’s too dangerous to continue.”
“Too dangerous for you, perhaps,” the madman said, unveiling his madness again.
When they first met in the traveler’s inn a hundred leagues distant, the madman had said to the guide, whose name was Tog: “They call me Garen the Undreaming—among other less flattering things. Those men told me you know the way to Alamoi.”
Indeed, Tog had not seen Garen rest since they had set out from the inn for Alamoi, although Tog required sleep so it was possible that Garen had only waited to bed down until after Tog. Suspicious of the claim, Tog had only pretended to sleep one evening. Through slitted eyes, he had watched the madman drink from a wineskin, wave his hands in some elaborate pantomime, and mutter to himself for hours.
The novelty of it wore thin and Tog had drifted off, but not before he decided that it made no difference whether the assertion was true or not. Garen was mad in either case. He was especially mad if the claim was true; immune to sleep he might be, but immune to the effects of deprivation he was not.
Mad as he was, what harm to lead the man toward the city, knock him on the head, and take from him the curious bag of belongings he carried on his back? No harm to Tog anyway, and that was all that really mattered to him.
“Do you often meet travelers on this road?” Garen asked.
Tog made out the shapes of figures in the dawn mist slouching towards them. He touched the polished antler-hilt of the bone knife at his belt, reassuring himself of its presence.
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Jeremiah Tolbert is a writer, web designer, and sometimes-photographer. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son.