This is an excerpt from the first chapter of my latest story, The ghouls Of Oramo. It’s set in a post-nuclear universe, in a land that was destroyed by atomic bombs. There’s a lot of routes that I can take the post-war universe down, although I have a pretty concrete idea of the plot. I’d be impressed if you could figure it out just from this short extract – there are a lot of gaps to be filled in. I’m hoping to publish the full story in March or April this year, so keep your eyes peeled, and follow me on Twitter for updates! I’d be grateful for any feedback you can offer – this is part of the first draft, so this section may change in the final version.
My influences are the works of Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Fallout series of video games, although I don’t consider this to be fanfic.
From The Ghouls Of Oramo by Katy Preen
“Dad, is that where you’re going tonight?” Orba held up the leaflet. It read ‘Radiation-Induced Hypergeriatric Frontotemporal Dementia: Should We Fear The Feral Ghoul?’.
“Yes, that’s right. One of the talks the Medical History Foundation is providing for us.”
“Wow, it sounds really cool!”
“Are you sure? It could be a bit gory. It’s got a good turnout, from what I hear – I suppose everyone finds the macabre a little fascinating.”
“Yeah, I know! Ghouls are awesome!”
“And dangerous, don’t forget that, Orba.”
“Still pretty cool, though. Can I come with you?”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea – it might be a little unpleasant.”
“But Dad, we learn about brains and spines and all sorts of gross stuff in science class. And if I’m going to become a doctor I need to learn about as much as I can.”
“Well, hopefully by the time you go to university we’ll no longer have a ghoul problem. I suppose so – but if it gets too scary we’ll have to leave.”
“Yes!! Thanks Dad!”
“Come on now, eat your breakfast, so that we can get you to school.”
* * *
Radiation-Induced Hypergeriatric Frontotemporal Dementia: Should We Fear The Feral Ghoul?
In this session, Dr. Haley Am discusses the differences between the brains of feral and non-feral ghouls. The session is suitable for adults and accompanied children aged 12+. Dr. Am draws on her long and distinguished career as a geriatric neurosurgeon, and her prior roles in emergency medicine and palliative radiotherapy.
In spite of the complex-sounding title, this session is aimed at a general audience, with the intent of increasing public awareness of the processes and medical problems that can lead to ghoulism, and what it actually means to be classed as a ghoul. Dr. Am’s current project involves studying the border between simple hypergeriatricism and ghoulism, and the mechanisms that cause some ghoulish brains to deteriorate, leading to severe behavioural symptoms.
Refreshments are available from 6pm, and the talk starts at 6.30pm. Attendees are advised that the talk is expected to last for two hours, with breaks. There will be an optional Q&A session after the main talk.
* * *
Orba would hardly shut up on the drive to the museum.
“I’m so excited, Dad! I told my biology teacher about it, and he said I could do a presentation to the class about it!”
“Well, that is something. I’m so glad you’re interested in doing your homework; I can almost forgive the piles of unfolded laundry and that bedroom of yours that is never tided.”
“I promise I’ll do it this week, Dad. I just get distracted by brainy stuff, that’s all.”
“Like I said, I suppose I should be grateful for such a curious and intelligent child. But I’m still not holding out much hope for the laundry pile.”
“Oh, shut up, Dad!”
Dil laughed. Orba was so advanced, like her mother had been, but he did worry that tonight might be too much for her. Yes, she was extremely intelligent, but she was still only 10. He hoped there wouldn’t be any problems at the admissions desk.
Pulling up in the car park, there was a lot of activity. Many people were queueing, waiting for the exhibition room to open up, but there was also a sizeable group of protesters, which the curator had warned him about. They were mostly religious fanatics, and a group called Mothers Against Degeneracy. Why was it always ‘mothers’? These bizarre reactionaries are giving women a bad name, when most parents nowadays are forward-thinking enough to understand that suppressing information is what leads to problems with our children. That thought made Dil feel a little better about having brought Orba with him.
“NO DEMONS IN OUR TEMPLES” said one placard. Another read “GHOULISM IS A SICK DISEASE”. Huh, as long as the protestors don’t cause a scene, I suppose they do have the right to be here. It was strange that people still bothered to protest on ‘moral’ grounds. Our scientific understanding had advanced to such a level that few were outraged by developments in medical technology, or discussions of topics that might once have been controversial. We now knew that many things occur not because of social deviance or ‘meddling with nature’, but that there was a scientific explanation for most phemomenae.
Chel was working on admissions, so they would probably be ok. When they reached the desk, she commented on Orba’s presence.
“This is a big talk for such a little girl, isn’t it?” she winked and continued. “Ah, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it – I think we’ll all learn something tonight!” Dil got the feeling that Chel wasn’t letting on all that she knew, but he didn’t react to it.
“I hope so, this is one of our biggest events – don’t want to disappoint the masses. Just us two, please.”
“Here we are, two tickets. Hang on to these, they could be worth a lot one day.”
Dil and Orba walked into the hall. What a strange thing to say, thought Dil. She definitely knows something that I don’t. Dil and Orba found two spare seats that were next to each other – there weren’t many; the hall was getting full. Everyone would see the talk, as it would be streamed to the overflow room for those that couldn’t fit in here. It was nice to make it into the main hall, though. More authentic.
An attendant was strolling the aisles with a refreshment trolley. “Last call for refreshments!” Yikes, it’s 6.27 already.
“Would you like some juice, Orba?” Dil asked his daughter.
“Two pineapple juices, please.”
The curator walked on to the stage. “Two minutes until we begin, everybody.”
“Dad, why did you think this might be scary?” asked Orba.
“It’s just a not-very-nice subject, I feel. But you’ll learn about it one day, anyway, so we might as well use this chance.”
Orba thought her father was being over-protective. There were actual dangers to be worried about, like real ghouls, not some presentation about them. She did wonder what could be so terrible that they could tell us. Maybe it was the prospect of catching something like that ourselves. Or perhaps Dad thought that pictures of blood and guts might be a bit too much. Anyway, there was no backing out now. Orba was itching for the talk to begin. She was intrigued by weird medical problems, and she hoped to be giving a talk like this herself, one day.
The curator spoke again.
“Good evening all, and thank you for coming to tonight’s presentation. It’s a pressing matter, the existence of ghouls within our society, and how we determine if they are dangerous. I know that there are some of you with strongly held beliefs here – and you may have those views challenged. We have advised that this talk is for a mature audience, and attendee discretion is advised. Breakout rooms are available at the rear of the hall, on both sides. Now, without further hesistation, please join me in welcoming Dr. Haley Am.
The audience applauded as Dr. Am walked onto the stage, and then – there were a few audible gasps, followed by silence.
* * *