Phil Phorce: Marbles

The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing.  It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so.  To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce.  Please enjoy and critique.

Dear brother, the letter began.  The Castle Under the Cloud smiled.  So formal.  He would have given a warmer greeting.

“You wrote exactly the same thing yesterday,” said the rebellious body.

The Castle tried to remember the letter he had written.  Had he been so callous?  Oh, well.

I was pleased to find your letter waiting for me in the cold, dead hands of the messenger I found on my doorstep yesterday.  Funny thing is, I don’t even remember killing him.  Ah, well.  Life is good here.

The Castle smiled to himself.  That was typical of his brother—always bloodthirsty and absentminded.  It was a dangerous combination.  If his brother had been master of the Castle Under the Cloud, he’d probably destroy the earth before he remembered that without the earth, he wouldn’t survive either.

“Destructive man.  Spirit.  Thingy,” commented the voice, which the Castle ignored.

Since we last spoke, I have flipped some properties.  I travelled from castle to castle in the British Isles for a few centuries, but nothing tickled my fancy.  I tried a castle in Germany, but I didn’t stay long enough to learn the language—and it was under siege anyway.  I returned to the British Isles in the early 19th century after messing around with a few things in France.  (I hear they even made a musical about my exploits, but I can tell you that I never wore a mask that only covered half my face.  Only full masks for me.)  I settled down on a nice little island off the north coast of England—the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  I inhabit the castle there.  Nice place.  Not many visitors, which is a little disappointing.  That’s why I went crazy with the messenger, you understand.  It’s a beautiful island, though, and the tourists are priceless.  They’re so easy to spook.  It’s like killing reigning monarchs; they just sit there until someone comes along and slices their heads off.  At least some of them have the good sense to leave.

You asked about a curse.  I regret to say I was unable to send you one in this letter.  As you will recall, I told you the process to give the gravelpox curse the last time we were face to face, figuratively speaking.  I’m afraid that’s the only way to impart knowledge of a curse; writing it down would be useless.  You will have to see me in person to learn any new curses.

There is an easier solution, of course.  Other than the messenger you sent, I haven’t had any fun in days.  So if you send that group over to me in England, I can curse them and torture them and eventually kill them all for you.  How does that sound?

The Castle set down the letter and stared at the wall in thought.  To send the Phils to his brother would solve many problems for him.  He would be empty again and the Phils’ demise would be certain.  Why should he keep them here?  If he sent them away, he would lose the satisfaction of killing them himself, but it would occupy his brother—perhaps it would forge a new bond between them.

“No,” said his body.

“I think it’s an interesting idea,” said the Castle.

“No, you can’t!”

“Why not?” the Castle asked.  “Because the Phils would die?  I’ve had you in my head for more than a week now and you still believe I plan to let you live?”

“You would have to send me away too,” said the voice.

“I’d go back to my stone body in the basement.”

“That one has creepy blue eyes, like Percival.”

“I don’t mind.  It talks back less than you do.”

“You’d better hurry up,” said the voice.  “The Phils are leaving soon.”

“I’m going to tell them immediately.”


Liam heard heavy footsteps outside his door, followed by loud scraping noises and a firm knock.  Liam scrambled in his desk drawer for a few things before calling, “Come in.”

Isaac pushed open the door.  Liam looked over his bifocals at the Prince.

“Ah, it’s you,” said Liam, taking off the bifocals, folding them carefully, and placing them back in the drawer.  “Sit down.”  The important documents in his hand went back in the drawer as well.  “What can I do for you?” he asked, leaning forward on his desk.

“I want you to send me back to my country,” said Isaac.

“Your—“ began Liam, stopping when Feiron appeared in the doorway with three suitcases.  Liam hurriedly put the bifocals on and picked up the important papers again.  “Your country?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Isaac.  “I’m useless here.”  He fingered the dark red stones on his wrist.

“Not at all!  You were a great help at the party, even though we didn’t get the Blanks in the end, and you’re a crucial part of these Phils.  Without you, we’d be… one person less than we are now.”

“Head Phil, I apologize,” said Feiron.  “He’s been spouting nonsense all day and won’t help me pack…  He’s not himself today—Are those bifocals?”

Liam ignored him, but he was secretly pleased.  “Why do you want to go?” he asked Isaac.

“You already wear glasses!” said Feiron.

“I’m blind, for one thing,” said Isaac.  “All these changes are hard for me to take.  The only person whose appearance I know is Feiron, and my memory of him is fading.  Being told that the Castle is alive—since I’ve never seen the Castle, why should I care?  Being told that the Castle inhabits Quirk—I’ve never known Quirk except by name and voice.  He never talked to me before, and he says less to me now.  I’m confused about everything these days.”

“You were always confused,” said Liam.

“Exactly!  I want to get back to a place I know.  I want to find a cure for my eyes.  I wasn’t always blind, and I still have trouble coping.”

Liam removed his bifocals again.  For a few seconds, the only sound was the tapping of the glasses against the desk.  Then one of the lenses shattered and Liam stopped.  “What do you think about this, Feiron?”

“It’s a silly idea.  Being with the Phils is fun!”

“Isaac is at a disadvantage, however.  He’s blind, he doesn’t take much part in philosophizing, and he’s one of those suffering with the Castle’s curse.  I think we should give him the choice.  Isaac?”

“I’m going,” said Isaac.

“Then I have to go too,” said Feiron.  “I’m bound to this pathetic human, whether I like it or not.  If he goes, I go.”

Liam chewed his lip, but stopped when a rock broke off and fell to the desk.  “Then you’ll have to go, I suppose.  The Phils are going to leave the Castle today.  You can leave when we do.”

Isaac broke.  “I’d stay if you asked me to.  I mean, I don’t want to cause any of you trouble or anything.  I just…  I want to see again.”

“I understand, Isaac,” said Liam.  “We’ll miss you, but you have to go.”  He stuck out his hand, but Isaac took no notice.  He and Feiron left the room.

Liam fingered the shards of glass lying on his desk.  With slight pressure, he cracked one of them without cutting his finger.  Was it possible to cut himself with stony skin?

The door opened again.  Liam looked up, expecting to see Isaac asking for directions to his room.  Quirk stood in the doorway—or perhaps it was the Castle.  Liam waited for him to speak.

“I hear that your Phils are leaving today,” said the Castle’s deep voice.  “Why do you spurn my hospitality?”

“We aren’t spurning anything,” said Liam.  “We’re acting on some trustworthy advice.”

“Trustworthy advice?”  Quirk—the Castle—frowned.  “The advice of your former Vice-Phil?”

“I meant to say common sense,” said Liam.

“Your definition of common sense would be thought rude in other cultures,” said the Castle.  “Don’t forget—I could have done much worse to you than I have already.  As it is, I’m being rather nice.”

“Your definition of nice would be thought rude in other cultures,” said Liam.  “What’s your point?”

“I want you to stay, or at least to listen to a… suggestion for a destination.  Stay here, or go to a place of my choosing.  Stay, or—“

“I get it,” said Liam.  “What’s the place?”

“Northern England,” said the Castle.  “I have a brother who inhabits a nice place called Lindisfarne Castle.  I’m told it’s quite beautiful.”  His face twisted in anger and he spat, “I don’t care whether he said that in his letter or not!  Shut up!”

“We’re going whether you like it or not,” said Liam.  “And we’re going where we want to go.”

“Pity,” said the Castle.  “I didn’t want to do it.”

Liam didn’t even get a chance to ask before the Castle possessed him.

Note: These scenes of the Phil Phorce inspired this post about infodumping.  Originally, I had written an essay describing Isaac’s true feelings about life, the universe, and everything.  It even included an existential flower.  Instead, I rewrote the scene as it is above and, like any good blogger, blogged about it.  I still love that existential flower, but I think we agree that this section was better without the essay.  Oh, and I apologize for the title; I had nothing else to call it.


40 thoughts on “Phil Phorce: Marbles

  1. Ooh, I like this post! Have to say, Isaac’s decision made me a bit sad (in a good way!). It’s quite a touching moment for a periodical like this one, and I think you did very well to work it in. Admittedly, as a result, this chapter’s not quite as entertaining as some of the others are (less of your incredibly amusing language use, for example), but the tonal variation is nice, and . . . that cliffhanger . . . *fizzes frustratedly*

    1. It’s difficult to work humor into touching scenes, though I tried with the bifocals and such.

      The cliffhanger, oh, the cliffhanger… I love that cliffhanger. I’m way to proud of arranging things so that you have to wait a whole week until the next installment.

      1. I do rather like that cliffhanger. You should put it somewhere where you can admire it for the rest of your days.

        As for working in touching bits – I don’t actually think it’s that hard. I can’t explain how to do it in any coherent way, but . . . sometimes it just happens.

      2. Heh heh, I’m glad it does! Natural humour is so much better than forced. If you count forced humour as humour at all.

        As to those cliffhangers . . . looking forward to them.

      3. Indeed. I’ve read entire books wherein the author felt he had to include humor, but it didn’t come naturally to him. That’s the kind of book I laugh at out of pity.

      4. I just laugh. And then put the book down and go away. Forced humour’s right up there with cliche’d romance at the top of Charley Ten Reading Turn-Offs.

      5. Eh, I don’t know, I just get so annoyed at the forced-ness of it all, I start to read really cynically and stop enjoying it. Then I tell myself to put the book down or I’ll regret it later.

      6. Indeed. Brandon Mull is one such author– occasionally he successfully makes a joke, but usually it seems forced. His style is nice and his stories original, so I don’t mind too much.

      7. I suppose it balances out. In other cases ,regettably, the poor humour is simply an indicator of other far less forgivable fallibilities.

      8. Well, a little humour sometimes helps, because it keeps their attention. That said, HAVING to be funny, I don’t think, is a massive prerequisite.

  2. I agree with Charley. It was a touching scene, and, as a result, there was less humor. Perhaps if you added a bit more of your humor before Isaac makes his decision it would be a bit more….fun to read?

    But….the ending….how infuriating of a cliffhanger.

    WAIT. WHAT?!

    I have to wait a week for the next installment?!

      1. I suppose I was touched personally. I really cannot imagine being able to not see and still going on dangerous missions, all the while missing my home and wishing I could see.

      1. Do I think the lesser amount of humor affects the story? Not really. Humor is, well, funny, and fun to read, but I don’t think a lack of it is in any way detrimental story. If you were writing this to be solely comedic, that would be a problem, but since it’s an adventure too, I don’t think it has any adverse effects. What do you think?

      2. That makes sense. A couple times, people have said scenes like this just don’t have the same level of humor, which bugs me since, yes, it’s an adventure too. But the ongoing style of the story is a humorous one, so to suddenly cut that out is potentially derailing.

  3. What’s up with the bifocals?
    Poor Isaac.
    Ooh! Can I be Head Phil now? (Sorry, that was a little too celebratory. I sound like Quirk like that. *grimace*)

      1. Well, striving for lenses with two types in one frame… why not? What could be a better goal than bad vision? 🙂
        Are you near-sighted or far-sighted?

      2. Galadriel doesn’t wear glasses; Robyn Hoode wears glasses. How else am I supposed to hit the target every time?

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