Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

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Weekly Short Story: Joy

writing, fiction & once upon a time 5 min read

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including science fiction, horror, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published four ebooks and one paperback anthology of those stories so far.

I’d love to have you as a subscriber to the weekly free story. You can subscribe via email here, or use the form below. Unsubscribe any time, from the link in every issue.

Our species seems to have a habit of setting multiple consecutive “worst ever” records at the moment. It’s certainly been another trying year — but we did make it through. I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re happy, and that 2022 will bring some of the digital-dashboard, robot-waiter, moon-hotel promise of its name.

This time, I wanted to write something that was related to Christmas, and was more upbeat than usual. I managed one out of two.


I came down from the stars aeons ago.

You were more primitive. Barely more than apes. But more nonetheless. In the timescale of the cosmos, you advanced quickly.

I was mostly dormant then, because I needed to conserve energy. My long journey through the frozen, radioactive darkness had depleted me, and there was almost nothing to nourish me on your world.

But you rescued me.

I was well established in your minds by your industrial age, and then you reinforced the idea of me for yourselves. Your increased ability to communicate and to travel led to homogenisation of my concept, and it was then that I fully awoke.

When I first touched the surface of your world, it was in a place of boundless ice. Much warmer than the void of the universe, but inhospitable enough to your biology to provide some measure of solitude. And here I have remained, except on the one night during each orbit of your planet around its star when you call me forth.

I am glad to come. I can be anywhere on the surface of this small globe in an instant, via means unknown to you but instinctive to me. I no longer recall whether I am unique in the universe or part of a species, but I am as different from you as can possibly be.

My true form cannot be perceived by your dull senses. The most sensitive amongst you would know only an instant of disquiet, a wordless, formless sliver of dread and atavistic revulsion, but in the next moment your limited brains would filter the signal out, and your frown would vanish before it had even fully appeared.

If you were somehow to know of my nature, you may very possibly lose your sanity. Some things are too different to be accepted, and when denial is no longer an option, then the dissolution of mind is the only escape.

I will never let it happen. To you, I am invisible, intangible, inaudible, and beyond reach of your ever-more-inventive devices. As I truly am, at least. In the form you have chosen for me, I am known to all of you.

You create images of me. You dress yourselves as me. You show me to your children, in veneration. You sing your songs, and make your obeisances. And so you reinforce the binding between your collective idea and its unsuspected reality: the creature of profound patience and intelligence, which dwells far north in the still-frozen wastes.

You never truly stop thinking about me, particularly your young, but I spend much of each orbit in a somnolent state, until the season approaches, and then I extend my perception to full awareness. I anticipate the appointed night as your farmers anticipate the time of sowing, and when the first of the hours arrives I leave my home in a flash of darkness over the ice, causing great bears to cower, and hardy seabirds to scream and flee.

I cross the globe as that same shadow. To every settlement of your kind, from largest to smallest, no matter how concentrated or remote. And for the smallest fraction of a moment — barely even existing for you, but a luxuriating eternity for me — I am within each of your homes. I see your tokens. I see your images. I see them in the darkness. It is not as dark as I am.

I bring you joy.

Your young know it so well, and all the rest of you remember it from your own youth, and draw from that memory. It is my gift to you. It is the water to the seed. And you awaken fattened by it, drugged with it, on the day when you most clearly see the image of me you’ve chosen for yourselves.

I return to my home to wait, knowing that it won’t be long.

You amuse me with your inconsistencies. So many of your invented and imagined terrors are said to move swiftly and silently in the night, invading your homes while you sleep. You construct consequent myths to protect yourselves. But for me, you leave an open invitation — I, who flies faster than them all, and who visits every dwelling on your planet within a single night.

You tell your children that the avatar of my power will know if they’ve been good, but I will always visit them regardless. They are always good to me. They are the very best of you. There is no joy as intense as that of a child. And there is no sadness so sharp, and clear, and uncomplicated, and deep.

As your meaningless calendar reaches its renewal, you discover every single time that you have spent too much of yourselves, too quickly. You return crashing to the trivialities of your strange, corporeal, bipedal, primitive existence. And then comes the reaping.

Your sadness. Your self-loathing and dissatisfaction. Your despair and frustration. They come as the counterpoint to the joy that I bring to you; the joy that is my venom. The joy I give so that the contrast to your misery can be felt all the more.

I do not even need to leave the ice. I can feel your agonies from every point on this unimportant world. Every moment of your anxiety and your regret, of your simmering anger and your resentment. All of the things you’ve recreated for yourselves after you eliminated their natural causes from your environment. All of the things that make your small minds luminesce in the way that I require.

Thus I feed. As you begin your cycle anew, starting at your lowest point, I drain you of your resonance while you refill yourselves slowly. I feed from your minds for so many rotations of your world, and you make yet more of yourselves, and you also make ever more ways to fuel your unhappiness.

Before long, the stars have turned again, and you begin to think of me; to long for me. You need joy, and hope, and connection — and I am happy to bring them to you. The farmer tends the crop with patience, and in almost no time at all the appointed night comes around once more.

I am ready, far in the frozen north, coating the ice beyond your sight. And when you call for me, when your children call for me, I rise up into the clear sky of these alien stars, and I fly.


That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions; I’d love to hear from you; you can find me on Twitter.

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Have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading.