Short Fiction: Their Courts of Crows

Cover image of "Their Courts of Crows" by K. A. Cook. The top half of the cover shows a black silhouette of a tree branch crossed with a longsword, with three crows taking flight around the branch. The bottom half has the text "their courts of crows" in a white fine sans-serif type in a black box above "k. a. cook" in black text on the cover's white background.Prince Paide ein Iteme has lost his father, his family, his people and his home to a conquering necromancer queen and her armies of the risen dead. A last horrific battle sees him forced to discuss surrender, but that conversation is no small amount complicated when said conquering necromancer is his mother. Who might not have been entirely wrong in her overthrow of Paide’s father… 

Genre: fantasy, short story, queer, free

Length: approximately 5 000 words / 20 pages

Formats: PDF | EPUB | MOBI

Vendors: Smashwords

This is a re-write/edit of a short story I posted to this blog a couple of years ago. It’s also the first thing I’ve published, in the sense of uploading it upon where other people might stumble, since my depression/pain/suicidal ideation worsened over two years ago. Oddly enough, it’s also been about a year since I really started writing and blogging again. I’ve had who knows how many panic attacks over deciding to do this–I don’t know how clear it is to others that writing knowing that other people may read it terrifies me, an anxiety that hasn’t gotten any better over this last year of trying to get back to doing some things again. (You know how psychologists say that if you just try and do something, it gets easier each successive time? I’ve never once experienced this. I’m sure this is a myth. It has to be a myth.) Everything I post on this blog of late is done through a haze of hand-shaking, heart-pounding terror, and while editing something I’ve already posted shouldn’t have been too scary, should is the operative word.

(All I can say is that being a creative with anxiety is an experience I won’t give to my worst enemy.)

But here it is, a book. Well, a short story, packaged like a digital book. I recommend reading this version, if you haven’t read it already, as there’s greater clarity about Paide’s position and–I hope–fewer wonky sentences. I also hope this is the beginning of going back to edit and format the many, many things languishing on my harddrive.

Unlike most things I write these days, this story doesn’t have a trans and autistic protagonist. Paide is pan and he isn’t neurotypical, but this is one of the few stories I’ve written purposefully for cis readers. A trans character is the motivation for both cis protagonists, but this story is really about being a good cis ally. And in one case, a cis ally with a horde of zombies.

Like most things I write these days, there’s no romance.

This is also set in the Kit March universe, and it may have a little something to do with a forthcoming side plot, if we use the word “plot” with a certain degree of looseness.

(File format note: if you prefer PDF files, please use my PDF link and not the Smashwords PDF. Smashwords is great for distribution, but a text document formatted for EPUB conversion makes a horrific PDF. My MOBI file also doesn’t have the awful added/additional TOC at the front, too. Actually, I’d honestly recommend only using Smashwords for their EPUB format. Everything else loses aesthetic as it goes through Meatgrinder.)

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Interlude – Resonance

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Interlude – Resonance: Kit lives by the rule of the crow and the rule of story, but neither, despite a life of guardianship, quite prepare him for the fate suggested by a coil of worn, brown leather.

Chapter count: 6, 100 words.

Content advisory: The fine art of making myriad references that come with partial or no explanation. An elfish king referring to a disabled, autistic, black, trans man as a “pet”, which is meant to say a great deal about the Greensward and its privilege. (It’s hinted here, but it doesn’t go unchallenged in the story.) References to Mitzie’s death, to Efe’s death, to the Lord’s death, to Darius’s slow approach to suicide, to the backdrop of the problem of violence/vengeance versus pacifism. Amelia very much calling March out on his manipulative bullshit, be it how he orates, how he misrepresents situations and how he uses the people around him.

Note the first: I’ve got a rotator cuff injury caused by computer mouse use that is spending months stopping me from doing just about anything computer-use-wise but type. On the positive side, I drafted a few chapters, but on the negative side, I’m incredibly slow at editing, formatting and posting. You know how slow I usually am because chronic pain? I’m operating on about thirty percent of that capacity. It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m nowhere close to healed.

Note the second: As a person once working in a warehouse, a person with splints on both hands, a person known by more than a hundred people as “Kim the WorkCover employee”, I would have sold my soul for the chance to hide my injury/disability. When you’re seen as nothing more than the splints, when your disability becomes the only thing the people around you ask you about, when you feel the other aspects of your person (including the abilities and interests for which you were once known) slipping away in the minds of those around you … you either hide it, if you can, or engage in defiant cripple-punk as a raised middle-finger to abled society. I say this because I think one of March’s secrets may seem absurd to an abled viewpoint, the hiding pointless—or too-easily viewed as an act of shame. It isn’t. Being defined by your visible disability by those around you, instead of being defined by your other attributes, is one of the many cruelties of ableism. And while the College is better on acceptance on other fronts, as someone who endures a shocking amount of unthinking ableism for my physical disabilities by well-meaning-but-ignorant people in autistic and mental illness spaces, I can’t believe that March wouldn’t be defined this way. Darius’s chapters, as he starts to navigate students, show just how much he deals with this kind of ableism … because ableism is so pervasive even disability doesn’t negate it.

I’ll also add that March himself, the perpetrator of so much unthinking ableism (and hypocrisy), is still as guilty of this as anyone else. The College isn’t meant to be an example of a wondrous world of acceptance as much as a metaphor for the experiences of the multiply disabled … where we find acceptance and community and meet access needs on one axis but suffer the pain of ableism in spaces that should be better on another. I don’t know what a space that is entirely non-ableist looks like, and I can’t imagine it. I just know that I think of a space with sound-proofing, access to subtitles, soft fabrics and plenty of food choices, among other access needs I have, and suffer the pain of everyone thinking I can just pick up a pen and paper whilst I never think about the problem of stairs. And I suspect most disabled people are more like me, in forgetting about the access needs of someone else, than we are ever willing to admit.

His best talents are those of being less than real.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Flight

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Flight: The obligation a rescuer has to a ward gives Darius a sense of purpose and the added benefit of avoiding Amelia, but finding Tes means negotiations with the belt and Tes hirself…

Chapter count: 10 890 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, restricted eating and hallucination. Depiction of cutting that is both blood magic and self-harm, given that it’s Darius. A few moments of executive dysfunction and the belt prompting as a result, although not in a demanding way. Self-harm and violence directed onto a horse and Tes because of meltdown; discussion of violence, overwhelm and meltdown. The anxiety and self-doubt over communication when that ability to communicate, through disability, is impaired.

Note the first: It’s hard trying to run a daily-updating blog and write at the same time. (I haven’t touched my other writing projects for months.) I am thrilled beyond measure that people trust me with their questions, but it leaves me few spoons left with which to write and redraft and redraft and edit. (And my pain has been severe, of course. Not to mention the insomnia.) I suppose we’re going to updating once every two months, as much as I’d like to have it otherwise. It might help to tell you that the next section is written, drafted and only in need of editing. It won’t help to tell you that we’re not even at the middle and I’ve reached 100 000 words two chapter drafts from now.

Note the second: Because I’m still very much trying to figure out how to be a disabled blogger on a busy blog and write occasionally, I haven’t yet figured out how to do anything that isn’t Tumblr. I’m pretty much posting here and running back to queuing stim toy posts. If you want to talk to me about anything, message me or mention me in a post as @eldritchesoterica on Tumblr: I’m more like to see that and respond in a reasonable time frame. Y’know, within a few days (probably) as opposed to never.

Note the third: Speaking as someone with executive dysfunction, it amazes me how in a situation I know exactly what I must do and can do it, but when it comes to everything less urgent, well, everything is harder. I really wanted to write a heroic protagonist who can step into beckoning hell like a bad-arse but struggles when it comes to the steps between “getting out of bed” and “leaving the room”.

Note the fourth: There’s this deep sense of shame connected with that, when I am excessively distressed, angry or frustrated (I know now the word is “meltdown”) I am not in control of my body and less able to effectively verbally communicate. I hit things and scream and swear. (As a kid when upset, I bit other people, and my parents talked at length about their extreme embarrassment and shame, not about why biting someone was the only language I had.) I know that this is Not How People Behave. I actively fear being like this and the judgement it brings, which is why I avoid situations that trigger this degree of feeling. People don’t know just how thin my veneer of control really is, how hard-earnt it is and how deeply rooted it is in self-hatred, fear and my parents’ shame of me. So, I wanted to write an autistic character who gets physically aggressive in meltdown, who self-harms, who hurts others, who loses all language but that of aggression, who experiences all those things I’ve been taught to never be. A character who speaks aloud those moments I’ve been taught to cut out of the story I tell about myself.

Don’t be less. Be here.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Skin

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Skin: Darius survives the gnomes and contemplates the stories told in scars. Amelia tries to make a well-trodden point. March waves a spoon. What do their words matter to Darius, though, when all he hears is the choking, insufferable envelopment of safety?

Chapter count: 10 500 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, grief, suicidal ideation, self-hate and hallucination. The belt being … well, the belt. The ableism in hating one’s self for not appreciating one’s formerly less-disabled body (see below). The word “broken” used frequently, and with a score of edges at that, by a multiply disabled man to describe himself. A little more description of the violence wrecked on Efe Kadri. Discussions on self-care edging around the fine line between blood magic and self-harm. The impact of hearing the word “suicide” voiced aloud. References to suicidal ideation. Amelia and March at loggerheads. Amelia’s spoon revenge is meant to be a nasty and horrible act wielded at an obsessive autistic, even though neurotypicals may not understand why this is so cruel.

Note the first: Darius’s self-hating “why didn’t I…” monologue only exists, to such an extent, because of the ableist world in which we live. It’s a construct of ableism. It’s also every part of me that looks back at everything I used to do with my hands, so unthinking, and wonder with grief that isn’t dead after six years why I took it for granted. (Why? Why didn’t I write then when it’s so hard for me to write now?) While it can be argued that, like Darius, I’ve been disabled from birth (autism), I’ve also become disabled in an entirely different direction as an adult (chronic pain) and I know the sheer gut-wrenching grief of having ability unexpectedly stolen from you, especially an ability that ties deeply into the person you were. I know, too, like Darius will realise, what it means to stare into that pain and knowingly do as much of it as you can anyway, because anything else is unthinkable. That can be difficult and dangerous for ourselves and/or the people around us. But to do otherwise is unthinkable.

Note the second: Oh, this chapter. This chapter. Ten drafts. I wish that were in any way hyperbole; I’d like to be exaggerating about the amount of times I’ve tangoed with this wretched thing. If I had more spoons available to me (read: weren’t trying to blog and write with unmanaged chronic pain) it wouldn’t have been such a problem, but since I have a chronic spoon shortage, it was.

Understanding isn’t the same thing as forgiveness, but it is, sometimes, enough.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Consequences

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Note the third: The species of caterpillar Tes calls “spitfire” bears no relation to the actual spitfire sawfly larvae (which aren’t caterpillars) and are very likely some variety of Chlenias moth (I think Chlenias banksiaria, but this has proven difficult to confirm online, despite these caterpillars and moths being exceedingly common in regional western Victoria). Knowing this, these “spitfires” (I was unable to find a colloquial name) are very likely harmless in addition to being incorrectly named. However, locally, I’ve always known them as spitfires and my classmates (I think knowing they were safe, for they cheerfully handled the caterpillars themselves) spoke of how much they’d hurt before tormenting me with them. The actuality, here, is rather irrelevant, although my intent is for Tes to later learn that speaking of a harmless creature as dangerous is another form of bullying.

You’ve the ability to dare a tower and dare magic. Dare this.

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K. A.’s Link Round Up

I don’t know if anyone here is interested, but I’ve been quite busy online in places that are not, actually, here and are borderline queer at best. Before I go back to finding ever more hellish ways to describe Tes’s adventures in a cobweb-enshrouded gnome-inhabited tower in the hope of giving you a chapter this weekend, I thought it would be nice to talk about what else I’ve been doing. As you might have noticed, the word autistic has become fairly significant in my language and expression. In addition, the nature of exactly how I am queer without gender (although still assuredly genderless) has changed and evolved. These things and a little less depression have given me all manner of new things to talk about!

Header Image link to Eldritch Esoterica Tumblr
I spend a lot of time on Tumblr these days. It’s interactive, one of my best friends is on it and the autistic community is amazing. My personal Tumblr is me talking about me, by and large. Mostly rants, crafts and random asides interspersed by rants. If you’re interested in me when I’m not trying to be vaguely psuedo-philosophical or writing fiction, well, here I am. There’s a lot of hate for Tumblr’s hate of the word queer and photos of things I make. I only update when I have something to talk about (quite like this blog) so I won’t spam your dashboard.

Header Link to Eldritch Ephemera Tumblr
Because my personal Tumblr feels like a diary and I wanted somewhere to reblog cool and thought-provoking things that aren’t mine, I made a Tumblr blog just for reblogging. If you’re not interested in me but you are interested in what I find interesting, this is the place for you. Mostly queer, disability and autism things ranging from discourse to positivity.

Header Banner Link to Stim Toy Box Tumblr
One of my passions – I think special interest, in the autistic sense, applies – has become stim toys. At first, it was just trying to track them down here in Australia. Then, because everything for sale on etsy stores was too international to be affordable and my life revolves around making shit – be it narrative, website headers or craft items – I had to try making them myself. Then talking about where I found stim toys and how other Aussie stimmers might get their hands on them became a thing … at which point it seemed pretty obvious that this interest needs its own space. Stim Toy Box is about collating information on finding, reviewing and making stim toys. The ever-growing tag list is an attempt to make all this information easy for other neurodivergent people to find and use. This takes most of my online time, these days, but the reception has been amazing. To have other people ask me questions or engage with the information here (both created by me and collated from other stimmers who review and discuss stim toys) is the most flattering thing.

Header Link: Abstruse Arcana Neurodivergent Arts and Crafts
What, you thought I was done with the absurd alliteration? As I said, I started making my own stim toys. Tumblr is good for many things, but long, image-heavy posts are not one of them. As I’d invented a toy or two of my own, and found a new way or two to make other toys, and had my friend asking me to write tutorials, I needed somewhere to do it. This isn’t like to be updated too often, but I have half a dozen tutorials in the works (read: photos sitting on my harddrive waiting for Photoshop). For those who have made it this far down the page, my first tutorial on bead ring necklaces doubles as pride jewellery, so for all those wanting to make pride accessories for those orientations and identities forgotten by crafters, you have an option! (If you can find grey pony beads. It took me months to find grey beads for my aro pride necklace.)

So that’s me. I’m probably never going to do Facebook or Twitter or all the other things writers are supposed to do. I’ve only got so many hand spoons. But I am around, doing things that involve abusing stock images, if you’re interested in who I am in spaces not here.

As for my writing, I’m trying to write Kit March and line edit (still) Great Aunty Lizzie. (It has occurred to me that Abe is pretty autistic. It has also occurred to me that Steve is autistic in the entirely opposite direction.) I’m also, sporadically, working on the first draft of What Was Meant To Be A Short Story And Is Now A Fucking Novella (Or Novel) with the working title of A Courtship of Magpies, otherwise known as The Book Where Darius And Efe Very Badly Take Down An Evil Lord And Figure Out Their Relationship. I think it’s an aro romance. (Or Darius thinking that, despite what the belt thinks, he doesn’t feel any inclination to romance … and now has to deal with a man who tries to make up for all his gaffes on the matter of Darius’s autism with grand romantic gestures. A man Darius likes … just not quite that way. Just in ways Efe thinks are quite that way but aren’t to Darius.) Writing an aro romance, though, is super fun. It’s a delight to have a character feeling everything I have in romantic situations!

Since, however, I suspect that posting two posts in a row that aren’t about Tes and fingernail-sized blood-sucking gnomes (who brought a civilisation to its knees) is a little bit cruel, I’ll hit “publish” and go back to writing about March’s inability to nail shut a door.

But not before I marvel at the fact that I’ve written a post in less than a thousand words.

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Language of Autistic Queerness

Increasingly, I’m feeling that there’s nothing about my identities as a queer person that can be separated from my feelings, experiences, world-view and personal sensibilities as an autistic.

Nothing.

I suspect that I’m queer because I’m autistic.

I don’t mean that people who aren’t cisgender, heterosexual and heteromantic must be autistic to be queer. I don’t mean that queerness is intrinsic to neurodiversity (although I will argue that neurodiverse people are more like to eschew cisheteronormativity and amatonormativity in a variety of ways). I’m trying to say that my identity as a queer person is complex, and most of that complexity, if not the entirety of it, exists because, as an autistic person, I have a loose, complicated relationship to many social norms and a body with very different requirements. In this case, I lack the deep, natural, unquestioned physical and emotional connections to experiences like sexuality and gender. That looseness provides space to think and question; it’s easy to reject normativity when you’ve only been anchored to it by the chafing, fraying twine of societal expectation. Even someone like me, trying desperately to perform allism (the state of being not autistic) and fearing the heaping of more difference on top the difference I repressed, still found it possible, over many years, to examine, test and accept labels that define and celebrate more of my differences. I still tried on labels like bisexual, lesbian, man; I still found labels like agender and queer.

The idea that a word like autism can group all the ways in which I have been different is new. I’m a baby autie, in terms of my space in the community, and I don’t deny it for a moment. I’ve been that kind of different all my life though, so the only arguable difference is that now I can retrospectively apply a word—autism—instead of the words I’m used to using, words like “weird” and “strange”. The real difference between me today and me of two, four, ten, fifteen years ago is that I now possess a word that owns, positively, my differences. I can own my autistic traits instead of shoving them to the background and pretending that they don’t exist from the fear that people will only like and accept me if I am half or less of the person I am. In spaces where I feel safe enough to use this word, I can deny nothing. I’m not broken. I’m autistic. I don’t think and feel like you, but I don’t wish to!

(There’s a price to pay for that difference of thought, being that I needs must live in a world not designed for me and experience a range of difficulties that are seldom accommodated or understood.)

This adopting of a new word does make visible to me, though, that there are many other things, including identities and complexities of those identities I am, that I have been pushing away because society tells me these things are abnormal.

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