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    Volume 12, Issue 2, May 31, 2017
    Message from the Editors
 The Axe by Mark Salzwedel
 Corporate Robo Renegade Piston by Nicholas Sugarman
 The Dratt Is Coming by Maureen Bowden
 Justice Enough by Eric Lewis
 Northwest Regional by John Sunseri
 Editor's Corner: Why It's Okay To Both Love And Hate The Movie Colossal by Nikki Baird


The Dratt is Coming

Maureen Bowden

       When moonlight bathes the earth, magic holds sway, and nothing is impossible, not even the horse-riders that emerged from Mr. Rafferty's hedge. By daylight it borders his lawn, which is barely spacious enough to accommodate two gnomes and a plastic birdbath from the local garden centre. Three white horses with flowing manes and glowing red eyes would have to defy the laws of physics in order to pass from my neighbour's bijou exterior living space, through a tangled border of brambles, nettles and Japanese knotweed, onto mine. However, I am a sorcerer, and I've learned to expect the unexpected.
       Don't panic, I told myself. They're probably harmless. Pulling myself up to my full height of five-foot-two, I called to the riders, "I am Gwenllian Llywelyn-Montfort, the last true princess of Wales, transported through time to the second millennium when I was four years old, to save me from Edward the First's mood swings." I was trembling, but determined not to let these three poseurs see it, so I continued with my Curriculum Vitae. "The blood of the great Welsh princes, the Plantagenets, and the Scottish and Anglo Saxon kings flows through my veins. I'm not afraid of you. Introduce yourselves and state your business."
       The leading rider, a woman, wore a long robe, the colour of a Hunter's Moon. Her waist-length hair was as white as her horse's mane, and a scrap of fabric was tied across her eyes. She spoke first. "Greetings, Princess. I am the Sibyl, the Blind Soothsayer. You'll find my presence in every civilization this world has known. I'm here to warn you that a curse known as The Dratt, that seeks to stifle all human endeavour, is about to fall upon the archipelago of Albion, which you call the British Isles." She tore at the binding around her eyes, and howled, "I foresee a battle between the oppression of silence and the voices of this land, but I cannot foresee the outcome."
       The second rider, a younger woman, wore a white robe, edged in purple, the colour of royalty, and a gold circlet rested on her long, black hair. "I am Cassandra, prophet and princess of Troy," she said. "I too have foreseen the Dratt. You, Gwenllian, have been chosen to lead your people against it."
       The third rider wore a blue bardic cloak, fastened by a clasp forming a red dragon, the emblem of Wales. When he drew back his hood I recognised the legendary Welsh minstrel who carried me here from the thirteenth-century. "It's been a long time, Taliesin," I said. "You're looking good."
       The old rogue grinned. "All right, Gwen. You done well since I brought you by yur, isn't it? You is a crackin' young woman now, see." He turned to Cassandra. "Edward was a nasty piece of work, back in the day. Locked her in a convent after her mam and dad died, and named his own useless whelp Prince of Wales, he did. I told you she's the one to fight the Dratt, look you."
       The Trojan prophet said, "Taliesin talks sense, for once, Gwen. May I call you Gwen?"
       "Yes, if I may call you Cass." I was her equal, and I wanted her to know it.
       "You may. As I was saying, the Welsh bard brought you here not only to save you from Longshanks' spite, but because your genetic heritage marks you as protector of these islands. In times of great danger an appropriate leader will always be called upon. This time it's you."
       "Hang on," I said. "There's a flaw in that theory. Ireland's part of the British Isles and I don't have a drop of Gaelic blood in me."
       Taliesin said, "I won't lie to you, Gwen, you probably does, as it 'appens. That DNA gets around like a Rock star with an over-active-"
       "We have Ireland covered," Cass interrupted. "Your neighbour, Donal Rafferty, is descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. He left on the Dublin Ferry three days ago, to take care of his own."
       "I wondered where he'd gone," I said. "I hope he knows more about this Dratt than I do. I haven't a clue how to fight it."
       Cass dismounted. "I have. That's why I'm here."
       Taliesin said, "Tidy. Count me in," and leaped out of his saddle. He always was a show-off. "I came by yur to see what's occurring, like, and to help you give the Dratt a good kickin', isn't it?"
       "Thanks Tal," I said, "and you, Cass." I turned to the Sybil, who remained on horseback. "Are you helping, too, or are you just here to hold the coats?"
       "No. I'll hold the horses."
       I led Cass and Tal into the unexceptionable, but cosy, bungalow in which I'd lived since I was four years old. Cass said, "Where are your foster-parents?"
       "In Africa, protecting elephants from the ivory hunters."
       "Are they the kind of people who always find a cause for which to fight?"
       I shrugged. "They're the kind of people who always do what needs to be done."
       Tal said, "Tidy. That's why I picked them to bring you up. They taught you well, see."
       The bungalow was in darkness. I pressed the light switch. Nothing happened. "Drat. There must be a power cu-" Realising what I'd said, I interrupted myself. "Has the Dratt caused it?"
       "Yes," Cass said. "It's disabled your power stations." She pulled back the curtains, allowing moonbeams to illuminate the living room. "That's the only light we'll have until sunrise."
       My head swam, and I felt sick. "What else will it disable?"
       "Combustion engines, and all machinery. It will drain every battery in the land and block the signals from communication satellites. You'll be cut off from the internet and from the rest of the world."
       "So our phones won't work?"
       Tal lounged on the couch and pulled off his boots. "No," he said. "Neither will the gadgets and gizmos the kids can't tear themselves away from. There's good news though, look you."
       "Really?" I said. "What's that?"
       "It'll freeze the cold-callers and stop the hackers in their tracks."
       I turned to Cass. "Tell me what to do."
       "The Dratt considers human creativity to be a pestilence. It wants to destroy all trace of it because it fears it, but it can't silence your voices. They are your weapons."
       "You mean if we shout it will go away? It surely can't be that simple."
       She shook her head. "It isn't. Humans alone aren't strong enough, but you're a powerful sorcerer. Reach out to the Great Mother Earth, and her little sister, the moon. Call their names, Gaia and Selene. Ask for their help. They won't ignore you."
       I wasn't so sure. I sent my consciousness soaring. Gaia didn't respond, but Selene did, and she told me what to do. I called through the ether to my fellow sorcerers' network throughout the land, and they heard me.
       "How can we fight this thing, Gwenllian?" they said.
       "Selene will help us, but we need Gaia, too. Take your people to the places where her presence is strongest, wait for Selene's light, then sing."
       They flocked to the mountains and hilltops, where Mother Earth's power can be tapped. If such places were too far away to reach without motor-powered vehicles, they assembled at her sacred sites: the ancient monoliths, cromlechs, barrows, stone circles, and the ley lines that linked them all.
       When the sun rose, Cass, Tal, and I led a mass of people to Snowdonia. We used horse and pedal power. Hundreds of bicycles took to the roads. A local cycling club provided three for Cass, Tal and me.
       Stables and riding schools brought out their horses. "The three beauties the Sybil's hanging on to would have come in useful," I said.
       "Problem there, Gwen," Tal said. "They only exists by moonlight, isn't it? A cloudbank breaks the beam and they pops out of existence like atomic particles with nowhere to go, look you."
       "Is this going to work, Cass?" I said. When you told your people what to do in the Trojan War it didn't end well."
       "That's because they didn't listen to me," she said. "If they had they would have burned that wretched wooden horse and the Greeks would have sailed home with their backsides singed."
       "You is doing fine, Gwen. You got things moving in Britain," Tal said, "but you needs to do the floating-outta-your-body business to see what's occurrin' with old Donal in Ireland."
       "I can't do that while I'm riding a bike. I'll fall off."
       "Grab a handlebar, Cass," he said. "I'll grab the other one."
       We rode three abreast. Between them they steered my bicycle. I wrapped my arms around their shoulders, and sent my consciousness across the Irish Sea to Mr. Rafferty.
       He sensed my presence. "Is that y'self, Gwennie, me diddy flower? How's the form over there?"
       "Under control, thanks. How's it with you?"
       "A divil of a carry on, an' no mistake, but we'll soon give this feckin' tool the bum's rush."
       It's worse than making sense of Tal, I thought. "Everyone needs to sing, Mr Rafferty," I said.
       "Oh, aye begorrah. I'll tell ya this an' I'll tell ya no more. We'll soon make the eejit fly-bitten codpiece scram up the yard, and when this shenanigans is over we're out on the lash to get bladdered."
       "Fine, but don't get too bladdered to find your way home. Your garden gnomes will be getting lonely."
       "Not for long, Gwennie, and you neither. My lad, Ruairi's coming back with me just for the craic, and when he has a gander at you he'll be turnin' on the blarney and giving you the glad-eye."
       I wished him good luck, brought my consciousness back into my body, and retrieved my handlebars.
       Cass said, "I hope he's sober. What's he doing?"
       "I'm not sure, but I think they're going to chase the Dratt, then they're going to get drunk, and Mr. Rafferty's bringing his son, Ruairi, to seduce me." I glared at Tal. "If you say 'tidy' I'll slap you."
       "Get over yourself, Gwen. You should go out more, isn't it? Young Ruairi's a crackin' lad and his pedigree's as good as yours. You could do worse."
       "Okay, let's forget my love life until we've driven off the fly-bitten codpiece."
       "The what?"
       "Mr. Rafferty's words. Not mine."
       We reached the foot hills as the sun was setting, and leaving our horses, bicycles, roller-skates and skateboards behind, we climbed the mountains on foot.
       I sent my consciousness throughout Wales and watched the choirs assemble in Snowdonia, the Clwydian Range and the Brecon Beacons. When Selene cast her light, making all things possible, we called on Gaia for help.
       The legendary bard's voice soared, inspiring us, as we sang the anthem beloved of rugby football fans, 'Land of my Fathers.' Those who didn't speak Welsh belted out the English translation.
       "Land of mist and wild.
       Where 'er I roam, though far from home,
       The Mother is calling her child."
       Now, the children were calling their mother, and she responded, channelling her power through our voices, making them her own, and banishing the Dratt.
       I sent my consciousness through the rest of the land. North of Hadrian's Wall the Scots sang, 'Flower of Scotland' and invoked Rab Burns' ghost with 'Auld Lang Syne.' The Highlands vibrated to the sound of the pipes. It was enough to put the heebie-jeebies up a regiment of Dratts.
       I doubted if the English would get much mileage from 'God Save the Queen', but I needn't have worried. 'Jerusalem' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' rang out from Scafell Pike, England's highest peak. It was 'Last Night at the Proms' multiplied by a thousand.
       In Somerset, a crowd of geriatric hippies climbed to the top of Glastonbury Tor and warbled 'All You Need is Love.' Not strictly true: you also need water, food, and basic hygiene, but it's a good song.
       Inner city gangsta congregations strutted and swaggered into the gymnasiums, where the acoustics are serviceable. Selene's light penetrated the windows, and her feminine aura invaded the domain of steroids and testosterone. She spoke, in a sister's voice, to each young male. "Let me hear it, Bro'. Sing." They hip-hopped and rapped at the Dratt.
       "De bitch in de sky
       she hang high and dry.
       She turn de tide,
       you run and hide.
       Go go Dratt, she say, no Dratt's stayin'.
       Go Dratt, dat's what de boyz is sayin'."
       As for the Irish, most of them have at least one banshee in their ancestry. In Eire they resurrected the rebel songs, 'The West's Awake', and, appropriately, 'The Rising of the Moon'. In the North they responded with 'The Green Glens of Antrim' and 'The Londonderry Air'. The Dratt had no chance against 'Danny Boy', but it wasn't just the feckin' tool I was worried about. When Irish blood is stirred they have a tendency to knock seven kinds of thingy out of each other, and if Ruairi Rafferty planned to seduce me he'd better be all in one piece.
       In every corner of the ancient land of Albion we created a Wall of Sound that would have made Phil Spector's eyes water. The Dratt banged its head against it, gave up, and scuttled back to its own silent sphere, to lie down in the Drattish equivalent of a darkened room.
       I sent a prayer of thanks to Gaia and Selene, and contacted my network of sorcerers, telling them to lead the people home. The mechanics, the boffins, and the geeks set their own kind of magic in action and within three days life was restored to what passes for normality in the twenty-first century.
       When the moon rose at the end of the third day, I walked with Cass and Tal, through my garden, to Mr . Rafferty's hedge, where the Sybil was holding the horses. Tal hugged me. "You takes care of yourself, Gwen, and when your mam and dad gets back from saving the elephants you tell them I'll be calling by yur again, see, and they can tell me what's occurrin' in Africa."
       I hugged him back. "Crackin'."
       Cass and I bowed to each other as royal equals. "Your technology is wonderful, Gwen," she said, "but the Internet could drop the unwary into a cesspit of Hades. Having lost it once, I hope your people will use it more responsibly and beware of the traps it sets."
       "I hope so too, Cass," I said, "but don't hold your breath."
       She mounted her horse, and turning back to me, she smiled. "Be optimistic, Princess. Once they learn to recognise a wooden horse for what it is, nothing will be impossible."

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