Chris McKenna was born in Scotland in 1983. After graduating
from university he worked as programmer in Scotland and then
Austria, before giving up his day job to explore the Far East.
Presently Chris is working as an English language teacher in
Asia and has lived and worked in many countries including:
China, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. We would tell you
where he lives now, but by the time we do he'll probably be
living somewhere else.
Learn more about Chris at his
Congratulations to Chris for being a finalist in the 2012 EPIC
Interview with Chris about Paradigms
The Secular Buddhist
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||In Scotland, in the years after an apocalyptic disaster,
the surviving people have reverted to clan life and are
living off the carcass of the old world. But not everyone
has forgotten the technology of the past and not everyone
has forgotten the mystical secrets of the ages gone before.
Propelled by an act of compassion, Malcolm, a young
clansman, finds himself lost in a land of physical and
metaphysical conflict that has changed far more than anyone
realised. But which path is the right one? Which Paradigm is
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Fantasy Book Review
Spiritual Fiction Bks
| Malcolm's breath became a sparkling
cloud, swirling lazily and dissipating into the frosty morning
air. He reached up with chilled hands, tightened his green
tartan scarf around his neck and wished for something more than
his worn leather jacket to keep him warm. Glancing around at the
others, he desperately wished he had a woollen hat like so many
of his clansmen. Despite his longish dark hair, which was at
least providing some warmth, he could feel the heat from his
body draining out through the top of his head and into the
persistent dawn winds.
"That's our target there," said Thomas, using his sharpened
metal pole to indicate a crumbling fire-lit house at the far end
of the eroding street. Malcolm nodded, drawing what was once a
kitchen knife from his belt, gripping it in his hand more
tightly than necessary. It was a gift from an old uncle given to
him two years before on his Risin, the celebration of reaching
He remembered that day well, the meagre food and the half
hearted way people had entered the ceremony. The resentment in
their eyes when they gave their gifts. It was supposed to be a
time of celebrating life, from a time when life was worth
His few years as an adult had taught him how hard people had
worked for those gifts and how they had risked their lives for
those little trinkets. He knew now why they resented giving them
to the ungrateful child he was then.
Only the knife from his uncle made him smile. He had known a
weapon was coming: everyone got a weapon from their family on
their Risin; it was traditional. But with supplies running short
and a host of boys celebrating their coming of age at the same
time, he had expected a wooden club or something equally common.
A knife, even a poor one, was a rare gift.
The thought came to him that people often looked like the
weapons they chose to use. Perhaps they were somehow drawn to
each other. Thomas, with his tall thin frame and long tapering
fingers, proved an apt example when compared to his spike.
He wondered if others thought he was knife-like in his
demeanour; he didn't imagine so. There was something of a
sleekness to knives he aspired to at times, yet he never felt he
quite managed to pull it off in the same way his generous uncle
His frame, while not fat, was a little more bulky than
Thomas' and much broader in the shoulders. His movements, which
could be considerably fast at times, often failed to master the
gypsy-like dance he felt a knife was deserving of. Perhaps he
had yet to find his own weapon.
He brought his thoughts back to the matter at hand, taking
time to survey the landscape ahead of them. All seemed
unnaturally quiet and still in the glittering streets. It was as
if some ice creature had arrived and sealed the houses in their
dilapidated state for the rest of eternity. Only the occasional
glow of cooking fires and the whip of a flapping tarpaulin, used
to patch one of the bigger holes, broke the creature's spell.
The houses were old. Older than anyone bothered to remember.
He could imagine they had once been quaint little buildings with
families and communities. But the last age had passed, and like
all things in his world, the houses had degenerated to squalor.
No one knew how to build anymore; all but the simplest repairs
were beyond them.
As the sun dragged itself over the distant hills, he caught
sight of a rag of tartan hanging heavily above one of the
fire-lit houses. He didn't need the bright lights of midday to
know its colours. It would be a dark blue background with
stripes of red and white running through it; the Likall clan
would display no other.
Another clansman, this one grim and bald, joined their little
group. Malcolm was sure he was cousin or relation on his
mother's side, but he strained to remember his name. The man
carried a weathered looking bat, perhaps once used for cricket.
Those days were long past; it had now found its true owner and
His arrival brought their total to four. Despite the nature
of clans and the intimate size of their group, Malcolm was
surprised he knew only his friend Thomas, although there was a
vague familiarity to the other two faces. Both were people he
had passed every day, but never really spoken to. It seemed
strange they would all be entrusting their lives to
Even the group leader, Calum, a well built man with a woollen
hat and a fire axe, Malcolm knew almost nothing about. He found
himself beginning to wish he had been assigned a better raiding
party with a proven leader. They always got the best loot and
the least casualties.
Calum had the look of a man who had been given leadership
purely because of his ageing years. If he had been placed there
because of some heroic display or cunning tactic then Thomas
would have known about it; his friend's ambitions in the clan
gave him an ear for such things.
An owl hoot signalled the start of the raid. No owls lived in
the clan lands any more, and Malcolm thought it an odd choice of
sounds. Any Likall guards in the houses below, on hearing the
alien sound, would be sure to know a raid was coming.
Thomas had once tried to convince the leaders to drop the old
signal in favour of something more stealthy.
"It's not about the signal, boy," he had been told. "It's
As the battle cry of the most eager raiding party echoed
amidst the broken buildings, they were certain the Likalls below
would be on the alert.
He didn't have time to think of much else, finding himself
running and then charging into the freshly lit streets. Other
raiding parties emerged, streaming like insects towards
prearranged targets. As they closed towards the weathered house,
they could already hear the sounds of fighting breaking out
throughout the thawing street.
Malcolm's doubts about their unproven leader were well
founded. Despite his muscular frame he was slow, maybe even
harbouring an injury. The houses' few occupants were already up
As the leader lurched his way towards the door, it swung
open, revealing a rifle wielding man dressed only in his jeans.
For a moment the man hesitated, perhaps thinking about the
rarity of the bullets, before discharging the missile straight
into the head of the raid leader.
He didn't have time for a second shot. Thomas, the fastest of
the group by far, grabbed hold of the muzzle of the gun,
thrusting it up into the air. A shot rang out, the second
valuable projectile whizzed through the roof of a nearby house.
A fast strike into the stomach with his knee by Thomas, followed
by a blow to the head with the flat of the metal spike, brought
the man crumbling to the ground, unconscious.
Suddenly someone grabbed Malcolm from behind; he'd been too
busy watching Thomas fight. He cursed himself for being so
careless. No matter how many times his friend had told him to
pay attention in raids, he always got distracted. It was like
everything was moving a little faster than his brain could
process. People like Thomas worked on pure instincts and reflex,
but Malcolm needed time to think and consider.
Luckily his attacker had no weapon, if the man had carried a
knife or even a spike like Thomas' he would have been dead. He
struggled, trying desperately to break out of the man's grip,
but like a fish caught in an osprey's talons, it was no use to
He writhed and shook, pushing back against the man's muscled
arms while trying to wriggle from their grip. But his attacker
held on, unable to incapacitate Malcolm while he kept thrashing
Then Thomas was beside them, smacking the butt of the
recovered rifle into the man's neck. The big man fell back,
releasing Malcolm as he did so, but it was not enough to knock
him out. Taking one look at his two armed attackers the man
fled, with Thomas giving chase at high speed.
The bald clansman appeared beside Malcolm; he had been caught
in a close fight with one of the young Likall and despite taking
a bruise to his face, had come out on top. Together they ran to
the house, pushing their way inside through the broken unguarded
Once inside, with a desperate hunger they searched for loot.
Clumsily and with impressive speed they began to strip the house
of its goods: Food, potential weapons, clothing, all were
bundled away into sacks. Nothing would be left behind.
Only a few moments of noisy looting had passed when they
heard a whimpering sound. The bald man saw them first, spotting
the two shivering figures hiding at the far side of the room.
Together an older woman and pretty young girl, whom Malcolm
assumed to be her daughter, crouched like terrified animals
under a small table. The older women looked at them sternly;
ready to fight to defend her child.
At the sight of them the bald clansman's expression evolved
to a cruel smile which spoke clearly of his intentions. He
dropped his sack on the floor and turned to the pair adopting a
crucified stance, ready to catch either of them should they try
Malcolm turned away from the scene towards the door,
breathing in deeply. He hesitated for a moment as the clansman
took the first hunting step towards his quarry. Then Malcolm
"No," he said, advancing decisively and putting his hand on
the man's shoulder. "C'mon, it's not our way."
The bald man turned to face Malcolm, looking into his eyes
with a lustful fury. Malcolm stared back, trying to hold the
flush of fear in his cheeks as the man's grip tightened around
the heavy bat in his hand. His veins throbbed as he held the
weapon, a torrent of blood pouring through them. His adversary's
fury was seeping into and infusing with the wicked-looking wood.
Crimes against women were not uncommon in clan raids and
rarely punished. The fact that the law and the clan Ring would
be on his side gave Malcolm little encouragement.
"It's not our way," he repeated, if somewhat quieter and less
sure than before.
Just as he was certain the man was about to strike, he felt
the presence of his tall, fast friend taking position at his
side. The bald clansman broke the stare, muttering something
unintelligible in a low growl. With a force, which risked
smashing the fragile objects inside, he grabbed his sack and
stormed off, shouldering past Malcolm on the way.
Thomas put an encouraging hand on Malcolm's shoulder for a
moment, before following the clansman out into the icy morning.
Malcolm looked across towards the woman and her daughter.
Both still remained crouched under the table, staring up at him
with hate filled eyes. A pang of anger rose up in him. He
deserved more gratitude than such malice after risking his life
for them. Had they not understood what was about to happen?
Then he remembered the half dressed man lying crumpled
outside. With a resigned sigh, he bent down despondently to pick
up his sack, as he did so, dropping a glass bowl which had been
sitting precariously at the top. He looked at the unscathed
vessel lying on the floor, before picking it up and running his
fingers familiarly over an old chip on its edge.
"Funny," he said quietly, not lifting his eyes from it. "This
used to belong to my family. We lost it in a raid when I was
still young." He reverently sat it down on a near by shelf. "How
long are we going to go on like this I wonder? How long can we
go on like this?"
"What would you know about it!" scolded the older woman
defiantly. "Get out of my house, you bastard!"
Malcolm stopped for a moment, lost in his own thoughts,
before decisively putting his hand into the sack and retrieving
small round loaf of bread. He placed it delicately beside the
bowl, as if it was more valuable than a bullet. Then, with one
last pleading look towards the two of them, walked out to rejoin
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