The Alarm

By Harris Tobias

sfgenreA terrible clanging in the middle of the night roused me from my bed. I put on some clothes and hurried into the street there to mingle with my bleary-eyed neighbours. At first, we thought it was a fire but there was no smoke or flame to be seen. We stood in the cold and beat our arms, the cold air made ghosts of our breath. The clanging didn’t let up, so we traced it to its source. It came from the old tower on the edge of the village. The rough stone structure had stood there for as long as the village itself. Silent, locked and largely forgotten it stood watching over the village like a rotten tooth. Its thick oak door locked tight; the key long ago lost. I suppose a monkey, or an agile youth could have climbed it, but no one bothered. Now it had suddenly come to life and was sounding an alarm, and no one knew what for.

“There is one who might remember,” said the mayor, “Old Havermeyer, the beggar.” So we hurried over to his hut and shook him from his slumber. Old Havermeyer was so old that he was almost completely blind and deaf. He lived in poverty in a tiny shack on the edge of the village — subsisting on handouts and the begrudging charity of the village’s wealthy merchants. He hadn’t heard the alarm and didn’t understand what we were so excited about. So we got him dressed and brought him to the tower and placed his hands on the oaken door so he could feel the vibrations. Only then did realisation dawn on his wrinkled face.

“Ah,” he said, “the tower. The alarm sounds. The dragon wakes. We must flee.”

This statement caused no end of confusion amongst the good people of the village. Our village was prosperous and peaceful, unused to emergencies of any kind.

“What dragon?” many villagers wanted to know. “There are no dragons,” said others. “Superstitious nonsense,” interjected the more educated. The incessant clanging continued — shouting out all reason and rational thought, so we hurried away to the schoolhouse where we could hear ourselves think. We stamped the snow off our boots and lit the stove, and soon we could hear old Havermeyer tell what he remembered of the tower, the alarm and the dragon.

“When I was a boy,” he spoke in a weak quavering voice we had to strain to hear, “my grandfather told me that his grandfather helped build the tower. In those days the dragon would come every few years and lay waste to half the village. It would fly in like a great winged bird spitting fire, trample the crops and eat the peasants. It was a force of nature. Nothing and no one could stop it. The only way they knew to save themselves was to give it gold. All the gold. For if any of us held back, the dragon would know, and its vengeance would be swift. Dragon’s love gold more than anything, and, when they wake, they are hungry for it.”

“These are only old stories to scare the children,” said the mayor. “It’s been over two hundred years since your grandfather’s time, and no one has ever seen or heard of a dragon. It’s all nonsense I tell you.”

“Well, those old stories scared me plenty,” said the old man. “I for one have never forgotten them. They say a buried chain connects the tower to the dragon. One end is fastened to the bell and the other to the dragon’s leg. When the dragon stirs, the bell rings. It gives us time to get away or get our gold together; whichever way we decide to save ourselves from ruin.”

This was just too much for many villagers to absorb. The whole idea of a fire-breathing dragon in this modern age was ridiculous.

“I’m not going to flee my home or lose my fortune because of a bunch of old legends,” was the general consensus. “Or on the say so of a senile old man,” was the unspoken subtext. But the seed of fear and doubt had been planted.

“Do as you see fit,” said the old man. “My time in this world is nearly done. I’m too old to flee and I have no gold. I’ll stay and share your fate. I’m curious to know if the old stories are true.” And on this ominous note old man Havermeyer closed his eyes and said no more. At that moment the incessant clanging from the tower stopped, just as suddenly as it began. The sudden silence struck us all as louder and more worrisome than the clamour, for it meant that the dragon, or whatever it was, had either gone back to sleep or had broken the chain and was awake.

We were a tired and nervous bunch as we shuffled back to our homes. The sky was already beginning to lighten in the east, and we hurriedly agreed to meet again at noon the next day.

“Come to the village office,” said the mayor, “after we have had some time to think about what to do.” The mayor was a good man. A widower and my only real friend. He was respected by the villagers but not loved. I don’t know if the village had much love to spare.

***

The next day dawned bright and clear. Whatever sense of gloom and disaster remained from the night before was drowned out by a cloudless blue sky and a bright yellow sun. We joked and laughed at our fear as we went about our morning chores. Someone pointed to the mountain that towered above the village. It was ringed by clouds or was it dragon smoke? The townsfolk eyed their mountain nervously as if at any moment that old familiar friend might visit flaming death upon them.

That morning the children went off to school; the mill wheel turned, and the blacksmith’s hammer rang out. It was all so normal, the way it had always been, except there was an undertone of fear and apprehension that infused our every move.

At noon we all gathered at the mayor’s office to discuss further what, if anything, we should do. Suggestions ranged from taking down the tower to digging into the village archives for more information. Some villagers thought the whole thing was a hoax and others thought we ought to gather our gold together just in case.

Finally, the mayor stood up and spoke. “What we have here is a classic puzzle,’ he said to the crowded room. “There’s no denying that the alarm we heard was real. What we don’t know is what it really means.”

We all looked at each other and nodded. At last, someone was speaking sense. “The oldest man in the village remembers stories about a dragon and the old tower built as an alarm. No one knows if that is true. I propose we send someone into the mountains to seek out this dragon, if indeed there really is one.” This suggestion was met with general agreement.

“Furthermore,” continued the mayor when the hubbub died down, “I also recommend we gather our gold and jewels together just in case the dragon proves real. That way we can buy him off and save our lives and property. If there is no dragon, we have lost nothing. If there is, we have saved everything.”

The village rose to its feet as one and applauded the mayor’s good sense. The mayor asked for volunteers to go into the mountains and seek out the dragon’s lair. The room grew very quiet, and no one stepped forward.

“In that case I nominate Peer Hansel,” exclaimed the mayor. Every eye in the room turned to look at me, for Peer Hansel is my name. I blushed scarlet and bowed my head. My nomination was quickly seconded, and I was chosen unanimously.

In many ways I was the logical choice for so dangerous a mission. I was unmarried, childless and a relative newcomer, having lived in the village for only twenty years. Not only that, but I often spent weeks alone in the mountains writing and gathering herbs. I knew the mountains better than most, and I was the most expendable. As a bachelor in a village filled with families, I was always a bit of a social outcast. The matchmaker had long ago given up trying to match me with any of the village widows and spinsters. So I accepted the mission and told the assembly I would leave immediately. I had never been so popular. My back was slapped, and my hand was shaken by neighbours who hadn’t spoken to me in years.

“We will gather our gold and jewels here,” said the mayor. “I, myself, will record your donations. Everything will be returned when the crisis is over. Bring everything you have. Remember what the old man said about hoarding.”

I went home and packed my rucksack and my blanket and headed out for the long march into the hills. It was fine weather, and I made good time. As I climbed, the hills grew steep, and the trees thinned until I was above them. I could see the great mountain ahead and my tiny village far below. I thought about how I lived there for so long and yet was not accepted as one of them. How willing they were to send me off to find their dragon but not willing to invite me into their homes. They were a small minded, superstitious lot, cruel and stingy they distrusted everyone including each other. I thought about what I was doing. They thought I was brave. Maybe I was. I loved being out in the wilderness and looked forward to spending a couple of peaceful nights under the stars.

After three days, I stumbled into the village a soiled and ragged mess, my clothes charred and my hair smoking. I announced to the council that it was all true. “After a hard march, I stumbled upon the dragon’s lair. I was frightened and when the creature saw me, I was nearly devoured on the spot.”

The council gasped and sat in stunned silence as I told my tale.

“It was the closest of calls,” I continued, “The dragon is bigger and more fierce than anything I could imagine. It has been sleeping for two hundred years and it is hungry. It plans to ravage the village, devour us all and burn our homes to the ground.” The fear in the room was a physical thing.

Only one councilman had the wit to ask, “You spoke with it? It can speak?”

“Oh yes. It speaks all right, and it spouts fire with every breath.” Here I rolled up my sleeve and showed them my fire singed arm. They all gasped as one.

“How much time do we have? Did you tell it about the gold? What will become of us?” Now the whole group spoke at once. They were panicked and afraid as well they should be.

“Order. Order,” cried the mayor and pounded the table. “Let the man speak.”

“I told the beast about the gold and pleaded for our lives. Old man Havermeyer was right — only gold can distract the dragon from its hunger. I told it we would give it all the gold and jewels we had if only it would leave us alone.”

“Yes. Yes,” they cried as one. “Give it the gold and let it leave us alone. Let it sleep for another two hundred years.”

“I can take the gold to the dragon as I know the way. How much is there? Can I carry it myself?”

“Just a minute,” said the mayor. “The gold is my responsibility and there is far too much for one man to carry. I shall go with you and make sure everything is as you say.”

“Very well,” I said. There was that old note of distrust I had always felt in this town. The mayor refused to meet my gaze. He divided the gold into two heavy sacks which we placed on a wooden sleigh. We bid the frightened villagers farewell and headed out to bargain for the village’s safety. It was already late in the day. Thankfully, there was a full moon to light our way. We didn’t stop to make camp. Our sense of urgency kept us going all night long.

We trudged up into the hills, retracing the way I had been a few days before. We climbed above the tree line and looked back on the sleeping village. Around midnight we changed course and headed toward the pass between the mountains. The snow was deep and the going rough. We had not spoken to each other the entire way. It took all our strength to drag the heavy sled through the snow. We were forced to stop and rest many times. When we reached the pass, we continued over it and headed down the other side until we reached a fork in the road. There we stopped to rest.

“Did you remember to pay the boy who rang the bell?” I asked.

The Mayor nodded. “How about old Havermeyer? Did you pay him for his story?”

“I did everything you asked my friend,” the mayor said, getting to his feet. He slung his heavy sack over his shoulder. “Well, Peer,” he said, offering me his hand. “We are both rich men now, just as you predicted. The villagers will assume the dragon ate us and took the gold. They will be grateful for the peace it has brought them. Enjoy your wealth and may we meet again someday — though I doubt it.”

He went to the left toward Urchin and Samarkand, I went right toward Persia and Damascus. The mayor was right. We would never meet again.

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About the Author

Harris Tobias

Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. He is the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

 

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Please consider joining the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, a prime supporter and promoter of speculative fiction down-under.

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AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 286

A Fish Story
By Harris Tobias

A Girl Among the Stars
By Malena Salazar Maciá - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Aye Robot
By Tim Borella

Butt F**k Nowhere
By Col Hellmuth

Dreaming in the Clouds
By Yuki Fuwa - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Her Laughter, Bright and Sweet
By Myna Chang

Linda and Elton's Lucky Day
By Althea Hughes

Swimming with Daffodiles
By Marc Ruvolo

The Chartist
By Michael T Schaper

The Inverness Soliloquies
By Andrew Dunn

Zippo
By Ed Errington

AntipodeanSF June 2022

ISSUE 285

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far North Queensland. For more information, visit his Tim Borella – Author Facebook page.angle mic

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of disbelief.”

He believes stories might also contain an element of humour — however small — to enrich the plot and/or heighten the drama.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

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SF Quote

If your God is everywhere, if He is always watching, why should your people make houses to go to worship Him? Faced with an all-seeing, everywhere-being God, I would think what is needed is a place to hide.

Tad Williams, Caliban's Hour

The Contributors

diana grove 200Diana writes speculative fiction about weird people doing weird things.

Her short stories have been published in anthologies by Trembling With Fear, Night Parrot Press, Crystal Lake Publishing and Black Hare Press.

She also writes dark stories for kids, and they have appeared in The Caterpillar and Balloons Lit. Journal.

She lives in Perth with her feline friends, and you can find her on Twitter: <@ImaginaryGrove>.

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leon d furzeLeon D Furze moved to Australia in 2009 and now lives on a farm in Western Victoria with his wife and three children.

He is an English teacher and school leader and until recently stuck to writing educational textbooks and resources for other teachers.

After a lifetime of reading sf, he decided to give fiction a go, and hopes that it will lead to a long and fruitful career of writing strange, speculative, and surprising things. <leonfurze.com>.

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Jon Michael KelleyJon Michael Kelley is an internationally published author and novelist of literary speculative fiction.

His debut novel Seraphim from Evil Jester Press received stellar reviews, and he has been anthologised with such genre luminaries as David Morrell, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, John Skipp, and Thomas F. Monteleone.

His short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, to include the multiple award-winning anthologies Chiral Mad, Chiral Mad 2, and Qualia Nous (2014 Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Best Anthology) by Written Backwards Press.

He has also worked with music industry professionals as a collaborative lyricist, assigning copyrights of numerous authored song portfolios to a prominent New York City producer. Jon currently exhumes his inspiration from a small gold mining town in the mountains of Colorado. 

Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances.

His favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert.

Wes lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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 lynne lumsden green 200Lynne Lumsden Green lives in Queensland, Australia, though – in reality – she lives inside her head (it’s cosy in there). She writes both fiction and nonfiction.

She has had stories and articles published by Queensland Writing magazine, DailySF, AntipodeanSF, Every Day Fiction, Aurealis magazine, and in over a dozen anthologies of fiction.

She wants her stories to live in her readers’ heads.

You can find her blog at: <https://cogpunksteamscribe.wordpress.com/>.

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col hellmuthCol Hellmuth lives a quiet, uncomplicated life, off-grid in the Daintree rainforest of Far North Queensland.

He has scratched out a living in a variety of different jobs (and locations) over the years; these days he scratches out words in various sequences, and dreams of a day when he might be able to convert some of these ramblings into food.

When he is not writing or enslaved at work he is usually found bumming around his local beach dodging crocs in his kayak or jamming on the blues-harp.

He doesn't have any fancy letters after his name, or a pet cat, but does read a lot.

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Botond's bio is missing at his request...

ed-erringtonEd enjoys creating stories that ideally enable readers to relate to content with believable contexts — realistic relationships - and characters with something to say. All set at some exotic/ or imaginative but relatable point in the future and/or past.

He enjoys unpacking what characters make of the situations they find themselves in — and what they do about it — and why. Ed likes to incorporate the occasional political comment when fictional characters’ experiences overlap with those in the real world.

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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. He is the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

ps cottier 200PS Cottier is a poet who lives in Canberra, with a particular interest in speculative poetry.

She has been published widely at home and in Canada, England, New Zealand and the USA.

Two of her horror poems were finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards for 2020. Her latest books are Monstrous, which is a volume of speculative poems, and Utterly, which is non-genre.

PS Cottier is the Poetry Editor at The Canberra Times and blogs at <https://pscottier.com>

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Where you see strange dreams, cockatoos and other nonsensical nostrums congregate, there’s a good chance you’ll also come across our author.

By day he’s all manner of mundane things: a board member, business association manager, policy adviser, researcher and scholar - in Canberra.

At night he lets those wild ideas of his run, well, wild.

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kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the antisf.com.au archive.

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