Dragon-Rain and Other Stories, a collection of my published SF and fantasy short stories, is now available from amazon sites as a kindle e-book.
Black Bon sorcery in a mythical Himalayan kingdom; a mysterious death at a fashionable London dinner-party; a bleak look at near-future medicine; an apocalyptic North America where the only things left to sell are stones. Here are nine tales of dark fantasy, shamanist rituals, the nineteenth century occult, near-future science and dystopic future worlds.
The title story, "Dragon-Rain", appeared in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, ninth annual edition.
An excerpt from "Dragon-Rain"
The sorceress Jatsang stopped at a bend in the trail to scratch a fleabite. Gazing southward, she grunted in dismay. The valley below – once as lush as a length of emerald silk – was now the colour of yak-dung. Where were the barley fields and pastures she remembered, the lapis lazuli pools and winding silver streams?
By the time she reached level ground her mouth was so parched she could scarcely spit. Nearby were the ruins of a well. In a mood of profound pessimism she peered into its depths. Something skittered along the bottom, rasping its wings in a way that set her teeth on edge. There was no sign of water.
"May you be happy."
Jatsang swung round to see who was behind her. An elderly monk was watching her with mournful, red-rimmed eyes. "May you be peaceful," he added. "May you be free from care."
"I'd be a good deal happier," observed Jatsang, "if I had something to drink." She waved a vague arm towards the arid fields. "What has happened here? The place has gone to wrack and ruin."
"Serpents," said the monk.
"Serpent-dragons, to be precise. A nest of nagas. At the bottom of our well."
"The very same. First they drank up all the water in the well, then they crawled out into the fields, and emptied the ponds and streams. And as you see, we've had no rain at all this year. You'll find the begging poor, my lady. Since the drought came, we have had no food for our children, let alone anything to spare for pilgrims."
Jatsang reached into her travel-pack and pulled out her five-pointed sorcerer's hat. She put it on her head.
"I beg your pardon," said the monk. He looked confused. "You are a sorcerer, a ngagspa? Of what persuasion?"
"Bon-po," said Jatsang. "Black Bon," she added ominously.
"I saw a Black Bon sorcerer once," said the monk. "He wore a black cloak, a skull on his head, and an apron made of human bones. He was riding on a great black horse." He glanced dubiously at Jatsang's drooping white skirt and grubby waistcoat, the jagged rip in the sleeve of her shirt, the greasy black rope of hair that hung to her heels.
Jatsang asked impatiently, "Do you think we tramp around the mountains in our ceremonial dress?"
"Then Reverend Lady, if you are indeed a sorceress, you are the answer to our prayers."
"This drought has been caused by magic. We need a powerful magician to lift it."
Jatsang drew herself up to her full height. "I don't do magic for hire," she said. "Where's your village shaman?"
“Eaten,” said the monk.
Dolefully, the monk explained. "He summoned a powerful demon to drive the nagas out of the well. But he got the last part of the spell wrong, and the demon ate him instead."
"How unfortunate," remarked Jatsang, without much sympathy. She had no patience with fools. "And what has this to do with me?"
"Reverend Lady, will you help us? Out of compassion. Think of the children. Many of them have fallen sick. Some have already perished...."
Jatsang felt herself wavering. In the back of her mind, like lines of elegant black script, rose the words of the Precious Guru: Mahayana, Secret Mantra, means to benefit others. It is essential for all tantric practitioners to cultivate great compassion in their being.
As though sensing her indecision, the monk leaned closer. His breath stank of hunger. "Reverend Lady, at least will you come with me to the monastery? Will you speak to our abbot?"
"Will you give me some water?"
"If need be, our last drop."
Jatsang shrugged, and followed him to a cluster of whitewashed buildings clinging haphazardly to the mountainside. Like all else in this stricken land, the monastery's aspect was ruinous. The monks looked tired and undernourished; the bottoms of their robes and their bare feet were grey with dust. The hum of prayer was dispirited, subdued; even the prayer wheels seemed to spin lethargically.
The abbot came out in person to greet Jatsang. When they had exchanged white scarves and he had settled her in a comfortable chair in his private sanctum, with a large jug of water close to hand, he said," I'm told you are an adept of the Short Path, and a ngagspa of considerable attainment."
"It is not my habit," said Jatsang, "to speak publicly of such matters. Even within these walls, demons may be listening. Let me say this, merely: that as mistress of tumo, I've crouched naked on a mountain peak in the middle of a blizzard, warming my flesh with my own internal fires. As a lung-gom-pa, I have crossed three valleys and three mountains in a single day. Moreover, I have created fire-demons – no less than thirty at a time – not to mention tulpa knights and various other phantoms of the mind....
"And how," interrupted the abbot, "does one so skilled in the mystic arts, set about expelling demons?"
"One performs chod," replied Jatsang. She spoke without enthusiasm. She had performed chod only last month, because she felt the need to keep in practice. It had not been a happy experience. "Again, it would be a mistake to divulge too much. Suffice to say, when one celebrates chod, one tends to stir up any malign forces that may be present in the vicinity."
"And once you have drawn these demons out of their hiding place?"
"Then I will challenge them to destroy me, and by surviving, I will show them to be illusion. If you cease to believe in the power of demons, they will cease to harm you."
A flicker of disappointment – perhaps even of dismay – marred the perfect serenity of the abbot's face. "Is it not within your powers to destroy them on the spot?"
"You forget," said Jatsang, "that the very essence of chod is love and compassion for all things. Even demons. A Bon sorceress does not destroy malign spirits. Rather, she persuades herself of their non-existence."
"I understand," said the abbot, looking unconvinced. "Before you begin chod, is there anything you require?"
"Several things. A sacred thunderbolt. A bell. A damaru drum. A thighbone trumpet. A moonless night. And silence."
"In two nights the moon is new. The rest is easily supplied."
"Very well, " said Jatsang. "Then I will spend the intervening hours in meditation. To celebrate chod is to court madness and death. One does not embark upon it unprepared."
First she gave some thought to the location. Ideally, chod should be performed in a place where corpses had been chopped to bits and fed to the wolves and vultures. But the important thing was that the site should be wild, and haunted by malignant spirits. The patch of ground beside the naga-infested well, she decided, would adequately serve her purpose.
All that night she prepared herself, praying to the old Bon gods: to Father Khen-pa, Master of the Heavens, riding on the White Dog of the Sky; and to Khon-ma, Mother of the Nine Earths, astride her ram. On the next night, an hour after midnight, under a dark thunderous sky, Jatsang pitched her ritual tent. It was ornamented, in the prescribed manner, with the words "Aum", "A" and "Hum"; and flags in the Five Mystic Colours fluttered from its roof. It was time to begin the ceremony: