Today sees the beginning of December. Two thousand and thirteen takes one last, deep, rattling breath as it summons up a final burst of speed as it hurtles towards two thousand and fourteen. Ready to pass over the baton and see the continuation of the Gregorian calender’s endless relay into eternity. Gleefully ignorant to the inexorable wheels of time, children across the nation rend tiny simulacra of doors in twain and loot the precious chocolate totems that dwell within. The united forces of consumerism dust of their festive arsenal and array it in full force before us. Ready to assail us in full force with tinsel and baubles and carols and seasonally altered prices. War and chaos are upon us my friends, it will come hard and fast, before rising to a terrible crescendo on the 25th. To a lot of you the 25th is Christmas Day, but to me? To me, the 25th is still Pay Day.
November ends. It ends with the sound of buzzing razors and clattering keyboards. It ends with the sudden realisation that no one looks good in a moustache. It ends with the realisation that perhaps spending a whole month writing 50,000 words wasn’t the best use of your time. The end of November is a time of shames and regrets laid bare. A time of rising panic and encroaching festive malice. The end of November is not a lot of fun. But I am here to ease your woes and salve your hurts with another batch of wordascopes.
And so we find ourselves on the home straight of 2013. The days evaporating away into the æther only to rapidly condense into the sticky and turbid liquid that will become 2014. November is a silly month. Scores of you will now be desperately trying to grow a manly moustache (and almost certainly end up looking like a prat.) Others of you will be hammering away at your keyboard like it has dishonoured you and your ancestors, as you vainly try and churn out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. These 50,000 words will almost certainly be purest, unadulterated dross. But for those of us who are follically challenged or don’t much fancy the idea of chaining ourselves to our desks for a whole month, I have an alternative. For as ever, the Pictonaut Challenge rumbles ever on with Regent; with gunpowder, treason and plot (Adjust proportions to taste.)
I come to you now from a world draped in cobwebs, festooned with skellingtons and dotted with lanterns both Jack-o and Snanny (it’s a Northern thing, we make them out of turnips.) The night covers the world, and with the setting of the sun comes the return of that which does not belong in our world. The dead stir in their graves and walk upon this earth once again. Ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists and malign spirits slip through the cracks in the fabric of existence and embark upon a mission of mischief, mayhem, madness and all-purpose merry-hell. Obviously the only sensible response to this is to dress up, devour high-calorie sugared snacks and inappropriately add the adjective “sexy” as a prefix to thing which it does not rightly belong. Or if you;re me: turn-off all the lights and pretend you’re not in just so people will go away and stop knocking on your door. But even with all this frivolity, frippery and social cowardice there’s a lingering feeling that there really might be something out there in the cold autumn night. Something hungry, prowling darkened streets and hiding in the bushes. Something on the hunt…
Arguments can be made for October being the worst month of the entire year. These arguments tend to hinge of two factors. Firstly there is Halloween. Halloween on its own is perfectly fine and innocuous, at least from a conceptual perspective. What isn’t innocuous is juvenile humanoids cruising the streets, jonesing for a sugar fix and pelting your front door with eggs if you have the temerity to be out when they come a calling. And secondly there’s the clocks changing. While we all sleep, time creeps into our bedrooms and gives us all an extra hour in bed. Now you’re probably thinking “Mister Verbumancer, sir? How is an extra hour in bed a bad thing?” Well for me it’s the equivalent of taking a 3 kilogramme lump of hardened steel, fitting it to a stout wooden support pole and using the resulting contraption to smash the bejeezus out of my careful recalibrated diurnal rhythms. I clutch the shattered and broken corpse of my sleep patterns, cradling it within my arms; I weep and I realise that I have to start all over again. Time is insidious, it takes and takes and whatever gifts it gives are all poisoned. It is callous, unforgiving, relentless and never around when you really, really need it. It hounds us and hunts us our entirely lives and then, in the end, it devours us. Cheery thought isn’t it? And by that extremely tenuous segue we come at last to October’s Pictonaut Challenge Hunting.
And so the sun does set on the month of September. Clouds gather and the nights begin to close in, but still summer ardently clings on with all the anthropomorphised might it can muster. Twenty degree days see-saw with fog so thick it hides every facet of the world. Summer cannot hold on forever and soon we will find ourselves in thunder, lightning or in rain. Already I have seen the drifts of curling brown leaves begin to form in the nooks and crannies of the village. Whole armies of conker shells lie shattered upon the ground, their shiny brown charges spilled and exposed. The year edges ever onwards into its twilight and into darker times. Times where mystery, magic and the possibility of things distinctly other does not seem quite as far-fetched as it did at the height of summer. It is the time of witches, it is the time of The Crone.
Today is a bit of a special day. Today sees the commencement of September 2013 and with this the Pictonaut Challenge enters its 25th month. It is now 2 years old. The enormity of that fact still hasn’t quite sunk in. The original idea was something of a fleeting fancy, a passing idea, something I thought I’d give a bash and see where it went. My readership remains tiny and close-knit but I have accomplished considerably more than I originally intended. For two whole years I have kept this little exercise going and for a man who has a singular lack of motivation or perseverance this is a rare and truly beautiful achievement. It also shockingly means I have something that could be referred to as “a body of work.” That on its own is a terrifying thing to realise. A thousand words? Every month? For two years? I’m quite proud of myself.
Since I am a scientist by profession and trade I can’t help but be drawn to the statistics of this little endeavour. And even just a cursory glance at them boggles the mind. The 24 stories (or wordascopes as I have taken to calling them) which I have written come to a total of just over 28,800 words, an average of about 1200 every month.
But of course I haven’t been alone in grappling with this particular challenge, others have joined in too. Our combined efforts have spawned a total of 71 short stories. Based on my average output this places the total cumulative wordcount at around the 85,000 mark. Just let that sink in for a moment. Eighty. Five. Thousand. That is an achievement not to be sniffed at.
So what image have I chosen to usher us into our second year? Behold The Crone!