Billy and Dim is an 8-chapter advanced-level story. I originally wrote it with the plan to release all the episodes on the podcast, but I decided it would be too long. You can read the whole story here, and I will be adding chapters as I finish grading them (making the language easier). You can listen to chapters 2 & 3 here. The audio versions of chapters 4-8 will be released on Patreon over the next few months.
Do you want more conversational material to listen to in English? Do you want to find out all about my personal life and opinions? Do you want to learn authentic words and slang that British people use in everyday life?
Well then, Elevenses with Ariel is for you! Elevenses with Ariel is a short daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners. In it, I talk about my hobbies, my past and pretty much whatever I feel like. It’s fun and much more relaxed than the main show, and the listeners LOVE it! Many have said that it’s like sitting down to drink a coffee with me, although I’ll have a tea, I think!
You can listen to the first episode for free at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Eleven, and further episodes are available for $5 a month on Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. People are leaving comments and chatting about each episode, and I think you’ll really enjoy it. So again, you can listen to the first episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Eleven.
I look forward to having elevenses with you!
OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for advanced learners. The name of the story is Billy and Dim. This is chapter one. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dim1. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dim1. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So recently I’ve been doing the very narcissistic thing of reading my own writing. This is something very strange about being a writer. You write something and then you pretty much immediately forget about it. I wrote stuff even two or three years ago where I honestly can only tell you extremely vague things about the story. I can’t remember the character names, I can’t remember locations, because it all just kind of leaves your head once you put it on the page.
The reason I’ve been rereading stuff is because one of my friends actually has been reading some of my old work. So I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I used to write gay romance novels and publish them online, and I’m not going to put the pen name here because, um, I want to keep it separate from the podcast because the romance is very sexual. But if you’re really desperate to know what the pen name was and you want to read the romance, you can always send me an email at Ariel@EasyStoriesInEnglish.com.
Anyway, one of my friends, in a very lovely way, has decided to read through these old books I wrote, and I wrote all these books about three or four years ago. So I’ve honestly forgotten most of the things about them, but he had really positive comments to give on the one that he read first, and, you know, obviously it fed my ego hugely. There’s nothing better than when you’re a writer and people compliment you on your writing and you know they’re not just being nice, you know they really mean it. That’s like, ugh, it’s balm to our soul, it’s like, the best thing we can receive.
So he gave me these positive comments and I started thinking, “Well, maybe I should try rereading these books,” you know? I just opened up the document on my computer, just out of curiosity. One in particular was a trilogy of books about, uh, dragon shifters. So, people who can transform into dragons, falling in love. And I started reading, and I ended up sitting there and reading through the whole book in a few hours. And then I started reading through the sequel, and I read the whole of that that evening. And then, as I record this on Sunday, the morning I woke up, I got up and I immediately went to read the third book, and I read the entire thing over the morning. So I read the entire trilogy of books that I wrote over maybe 12 hours, even less… Maybe 14 hours? Yeah, I slept in between. But um, I read it very quickly.
This helped me realise several things.
One, I wrote those books better than I thought. At that time I really didn’t have a lot of self-confidence as a writer, and whenever people gave me positive feedback on my writing, I just thought, like, “Oh, but they’re just being nice,” like, I really felt like I was rushing these books because I was trying to keep up with the speed of other romance writers, and I felt like I was just, kind of, making stuff up and it wasn’t working very well, but I realised reading that trilogy, I could see a huge amount of growth in craft, in writing talent, from the first book to the third book, but even so, the first book was still very readable even though it wasn’t the most polished.
Another thing it helped me realise is how the planning method I used really made a difference. For the first two books, I just kind of used a very loose planning method, but after that I read a lot of books about, like, writing theory and story structure, and for the third book I used a planning method from a book called Story Genius, which is all about approaching the story from the character’s viewpoint and focussing on their emotional journey and writing a lot of, uh, background work on their childhood and their past before the story even starts.
So you write all these scenes that don’t actually even go into the story, but they have a huge influence on it, and I really felt like the character arc in the third book was really good. I don’t wanna boast too much, but I was like, “Wow, this is a coherent, developed character arc!” And it’s funny because that book was the same length as the first two, but it felt much longer, it felt much deeper and richer because the story was richer.
So that was really fun to see and it kind of confirmed that, OK, funnily enough when I wrote the third book I thought it was the worst. Um, and it took so much more work than the first two, and it was the one I struggled with the most, and I really struggled with, like, the political messaging because it was kind of more of a political story, which of course made it harder to write. But, looking back, even though it was more challenging overall, the end product was far better.
So I’ve decided, if I do write a novel again, I’m going back to that method, because it takes longer, it requires a lot of work, but I think the end result is really fantastic.
The other thing I realised is, I love writing romance, and I love reading romance. And this is kind of a surprising thing, because I started writing romance in my last year of university, and it was honestly because I was really depressed and I needed a goal in my life. I didn’t think I would be able to get a normal job and fit into that, so I wanted to make a living as a writer and I decided that the best way to do that was to write and self-publish romance because it’s the most lucrative, it’s the most profitable, genre at the moment, and probably will always be because everyone loves love, you know? We’re humans, we love love. But not everyone loves crime or fantasy or whatever.
So I started it purely as, you know, a kind of a financial thing and I had to of course research this genre ’cause I hadn’t read it much before, so I read loads of gay romance books, and I kind of fell in love with it, and I forgot this because I worked myself too hard. In the space of about two years I think I wrote eight novellas, so they were, you know, about half the length of a normal novel, but still it was a lot of work because I was trying, not very successfully, but I was trying to publish a book every month, because that’s the rate a lot of romance authors write nowadays.
Anyway, after several years of doing this I burned out. It was too much. I pushed myself too far and I got to the point where I just hated writing romance. For a time, anyway. I got a bit sick of it. And I kind of convinced myself that it wasn’t what I wanted. And then I started teaching, and then I started this podcast which, of course, I love in a completely different way. But it’s been really rewarding to go back to these books and realise, “I love writing this. I love this world, I love love! I love romance. I love those feelings. I love exploring it.”
And it’s really annoying because romance still has a stigma around it. People still look down upon it, especially a lot of romance that has sex in it, and that’s the main reason, you know, I don’t wanna share my romance pen name on here, is because it has a lot of sex and I don’t want to push people away, you know?
If I do write more romance novels, I don’t know, I would love to also do simplified versions for English learners, just like on the podcast, but um, well, if it has sex then it’s a bit more complicated. I guess I could just remove the sex parts, but often they’re very important within the story, so it’s tricky. I’ll have to think about that one.
But incidentally, and this is purely coincidental because I started writing today’s episode before I revisited these old books, today’s episode is the start of a romance story. It’s actually, funnily enough, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood is probably the most famous fairy tale, about a little girl who wears a red coat and she goes to visit her grandmother, but a wolf eats the grandmother and tries to eat the girl. But I decided, of course, to do my own twist on it, so everything is different.
Actually, I already did one retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, which was coronavirus themed, which you can read at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Red. But today’s episode, today’s story, is a much less literal interpretation. Basically, Red is not the main character and it’s a romance. Um, I don’t really wanna spoil it, but it’s certainly very different from my other retelling.
Oh and, by the way, “riding hood” is just like an old-fashioned word for a raincoat, a red cloak, because I guess in the past people wore these hoods, these coats to go hunting. So they were riding on horses.
Anyway, today’s story is a bit experimental because, possibly for the first time on the podcast, actually, it has multiple perspectives. So you’re going to jump between characters. We’ll see the perspective of one character and then the perspective of another character, because, you know, with romance, that’s kind of the classic thing now. You have some from the perspective of the protagonist, the hero, and then some from the perspective of the love interest.
Anyway, there’s not just romance in this story. There’s also magic and action and monsters and all of those fun things that you’ve come to expect from the podcast. So if you’re not a big romance person, don’t worry! There’s going to be other fun things as well. In fact, this first chapter has basically no romance in it.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A sorceress is a woman who uses magic. Sorceresses are like wizards or magicians, but sorceresses usually use evil magic. The male version of a sorceress is a sorcerer. The first Harry Potter book in English is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but in America they changed the name to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, because they thought children wouldn’t know what a philosopher was.
Cast a spell means to use magic. You wave your hand, or a magic wand, and say magic words like ‘Abracadabra!’ or ‘Expecto patronum!’. Sorceresses and sorcerers cast spells.
Wicked means evil, very very bad. So witches are wicked, in fairy tales, stepmothers are usually wicked, and so on. You might know The Wicked Witch of the West, a green witch from The Wizard of Oz. There is also a famous musical called Wicked based on this character.
Reminisce means to think back on the past fondly. When you reminisce, you think happily back on things that happened to you in the past. When you’re older, it’s easy to get lost in happy reminiscing.
Pollen is a yellow powder that plants produce. For plants to reproduce, the pollen must travel from one flower to another. Bees, wasps and other insects see the colourful flower and fly inside to drink its nectar. The pollen transfers onto their legs, and when they fly to another flower, it falls off, and the flowers can reproduce. Many people are allergic to pollen, they have hay fever, and they get very sick in spring.
A grin is a broad smile. If something is funny and unexpected, you might grin at it.
A werewolf is a type of monster. Werewolves are humans who transform into wolves when the full moon appears, so about once a month. They get very hairy, their teeth and claws grow sharp, and they go crazy and eat people. In some stories, werewolves can control their powers and transform when they want. In Harry Potter, Remus Lupin is a werewolf.
A waterskin is a leather bag that is used to carry water. Before bottles were invented, people used waterskins to carry water on journeys.
A rogue is a person or animal who lives apart from others and is dangerous in some way. For example, a rogue agent is a spy or assassin who works for no-one and does as they please. A rogue elephant is an elephant that lives away from the herd and can be quite violent.
When a room or object is bugged, it means some technology has been hidden in it that allows another person, far away, to listen in to what the people there are saying. In spy films, hotel rooms are often bugged so that people can listen in to conversations that the people in the room are having. Usually, a microphone is hidden inside a wall or an object to bug a room. In the case of this story, magic is used to bug an object.
An inn is a pub that also has rooms that you can stay in. In the old days, before hotels, people went to stay in inns, where they also ate dinner.
A tattoo is a piece of art that is made with ink that is injected into someone’s skin. People usually get black tattoos, but coloured tattoos are also possible. Tattoos are very painful to get, and they take a long time to heal. Tattoos fade and get wrinkled with age, but some people get their whole body covered in tattoos. Roses, hearts, names of loved ones and skulls are all common choices for tattoos.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support us on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners, as well as an extra story every month. Last week on Elevenses with Ariel I talked about crying, author woes, bubble tea, British culture and competitions that I’ve been in. To listen to these episodes and others, you can support us at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to our new patrons, as well as patrons who have increased their pledge: Adam Kolek and Agnieszka. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to us.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
Billy and Dim Chapter 1
Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t so little anymore. In fact, she was a full-grown woman, and not only that, but a powerful sorceress, too. The only remains of her past were the red riding hood she always wore, whatever the weather, and her nickname: Red.
Billy, for his part, had changed very little. He was the Big Bad Wolf, or at least, that was what the wanted posters and frightened villagers called him, but in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. Behind his thick muscles, woolly beard and rough shirt lay a soft heart. He was a great teacher to Red and he knew exactly who he was.
The two were an unconventional pair, but they liked it that way. They wandered from forest to mountain, town to village, begging and charming their way into room and board, and discovering the deep dark secrets of magic. It had been a long time since Billy had taught Red her first spell, in the ruins of her wicked grandmother’s home all those years ago, and yet Red felt like she would never learn all the possibilities of magic, for the world held countless mysteries.
‘Do you think they’re still looking for you?’ said Billy in his stony voice as they walked downhill.
Red gave him a questioning look. ‘And I thought I was the one lost in reminiscing. Have you been thinking back to that day?’ Just the mention of it brought a smell of burnt skin to her nose.
‘Yes, which is odd. There are far more exciting battles to reminisce about.’
‘I was thinking of… something important, when we started climbing this hill, but it was swept from my mind.’ Red blinked. ‘What was I thinking about?’
‘Hmm,’ said Billy. He sniffed. ‘There’s something in the air here. Look.’ He put his arm out and pointed. Gradually, she noticed what he was pointing to—a thin kind of pollen, almost invisible in the breeze.
The grin of discovery spread over the werewolf’s lips. ‘Perhaps our reminiscing is not as innocent as we thought. Have you heard of environmental magic altering thoughts?’
She loved the way he did that, always asking questions he already knew the answer to. Of course she hadn’t heard of it. Everything she knew about magic she knew from him. And yet, he always asked, as if he had as much to learn from her as she did from him.
‘No,’ she said, grinning. ‘That sounds like something worth investigating.’
They figured out which way the pollen was coming from and ran in that direction, jumping over logs and pushing through branches. Billy went ahead, as always, his werewolf strength allowing him to easily clear a path, with Red following behind him.
As the pollen in the air grew thicker, Red’s mind was flooded with ever more vivid images: the soup her mother had made for her when she was sick, her first kiss, the sight of her grandmother’s dead body, empty of magic.
She tried to erase the last one from her mind, but there was no use—it was immediately replaced by another image, and then another. Meals, smiles, tears and scenery flashed before her wildly.
Finally they reached the source of the pollen, a group of fat, heavy flowers similar to sunflowers in shape, although it was hard to see them through the fog of images in her mind.
‘Funny, I’ve never seen a flower like this,’ said Billy, kneeling towards it.
‘Is it dangerous?’
‘Dangerous?’ Billy said, staring into the flower. ‘Why should it be?’
Red’s first night with Billy played before her, the shine of the moon melting into the sunny forest. She bit the inside of her cheeks to try and focus herself. ‘It’s just like that spell…’
‘Spell?’ Billy muttered. He moved ever closer to the flower.
‘You know, that… Ah, where are we again?’
She was standing on a cliff by the sea, watching the fishing boats bring in their prize.
‘In Cracktooth’s arms,’ whispered Billy.
‘N-no. Who’s that?’
Red blinked. She was lying naked in bed, but she felt clothes rub against her. And why were there birds singing in her bedroom?
‘This must be a dream.’
‘No!’ shouted a familiar voice.
Red heard a ripping sound. The moon burst into stardust. The fishing boats sank into the sea. The familiar walls of her bedroom cracked away. She saw a friend standing in front of her, but what was his name?
‘Red!’ cried the man, shaking her shoulders. ‘We have to… Oh, curses!’
His arms swept under her, and he carried her through the forest—when had they gotten there? Some strange yellow dots flew all around her, getting thinner as they moved. Her stomach shook with every step.
‘Why are you running so fast? Granny, I still have a fever!’
‘No, you don’t,’ growled the man holding her. Billy, was that his name? ‘You’re in the Captian Forest with Billy, your handsome, strong, intelligent werewolf friend, who’s far better at spotting wicked magic than you.’
‘No more fairy tales,’ Red groaned. ‘Can’t I just sleep?’
They arrived at a river, where Billy threw her onto the ground.
‘Ouch!’ she cried.
The man pulled a waterskin out of his pack, filling it up and pushing it towards her.
‘No!’ groaned Red, crawling away. Her stomach felt warm, soft, comfortable, like the bed she lay on. No, was that grass?
‘Fine then. We’ll do this the hard way. Open your mouth.’
Red pressed her lips together and tried to crawl away, but Billy held her down with strong arms. He forced her jaw open, and she thought he was going to pour the water in, but instead he stuck two fingers down her throat.
Red sat up and threw up onto the grass. It felt like throwing up the remains of a fire, and when she saw the thick orange mess before her, she wondered what the Hell she’d eaten.
The images faded gently away. She wasn’t at home. She was in the Captian Forest, just like Billy had said.
‘But what about the ocean…?’ she muttered. She had smelt it.
‘Looks like you need another go,’ Billy said seriously, moving towards her.
‘No!’ said Red, holding her arms up. ‘I’m back, I promise. It’ll go, whatever it was…’
Billy nodded, threw her the waterskin, and got to work throwing up himself. He was more thorough than her, throwing up three times, until he was only coughing up air. Then he drank greedily from the river. Red sipped on water and looked at what had come out of them. The bright orange colour came from the bits of pollen, she realised, which had stuck together.
‘Just what was that stuff?’ she asked.
‘Nothing natural to here. It was planted, and perhaps enhanced by magic.’
‘You mean… a trap?’
Billy nodded. ‘I’m almost impressed, but it was obvious from the roots that the plants had been taken from somewhere else.’
Red looked around, but she could not see or hear anyone aside from birds and insects.
‘Do you think someone in the last town found out about us?’
‘No,’ said Billy, shaking his head. ‘This is a professional. Could have any number of reasons for coming after me. Us.’
‘And those reasons are?’
Billy chuckled. ‘We’ll save those stories for the road. I realised what it was the moment I started thinking about my ex. I have a strong charm placed on myself, to prevent such thoughts. Anything that can break that charm is powerful magic.’
Red raised an eyebrow. Billy had never talked much about his romantic past, and she desperately wanted to find out the details, but if he had charmed the memories away, it had to be unpleasant.
She was brought back to reality by the grumbling of her stomach.
‘Ugh, well there goes our delicious breakfast. And it took me so long to convince that bird to give up its eggs.’
Anxiously, she looked up at the sky. The sun was far lower than she would have liked. They were hungry, exhausted, and being followed by someone, and evening was approaching.
‘We have two options,’ Billy said, his voice low and soft. ‘We find food and set up camp here tonight, or we walk until we arrive in town, however late it is. What do you think, chief?’
‘I think it would be stupid to set up camp in a forest that might be entirely charmed against us.’
‘Exactly. Let’s get moving.’
Red drank from the river and stood up, groaning at the way her muscles ached. It was going to be a long walk.
‘When’s the full moon?’
‘Night after next. But don’t worry, I have enough supplies. Or maybe we could get rid of this hunter the old-fashioned way.’
So the rogue wolf was smarter than he looked. Demetrius was quietly impressed. Judging from his appearance, he had thought ‘Billy’ nothing more than a charming idiot with powerful uncontrolled magic, but actually the werewolf held a remarkable control over it.
As for the girl, he couldn’t quite decide about her. He had thought her a prisoner of the wolf, but she was far more independent than expected. Still, there was no doubt that the wolf would rip her apart if she tried to escape, assuming he hadn’t already forced her loyalty with a magical contract.
Still, he couldn’t feel sorry for her. She was dangerous, too, and from the report he’d been given about the incident with the girl’s grandmother, it was unclear who had committed the murder.
Demetrius’s first thought—that the pair would be unable to resist the temptation of unknown magic—had been correct, but he had underestimated their ability to handle it. Well, he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He made himself comfortable in the tree he was hiding in and listened in to their waterskin, which he had bugged with magic.
‘…find an inn to stay the night, and leave early tomorrow. Get as far away as we can.’ If the werewolf felt under pressure, he hid it well.
‘No time to stop for a little fun?’ Red teased.
‘That’s what got us into trouble last time!’ Demetrius could hear the grin on the werewolf’s voice, even through the gurgle gurgle of the waterskin. The werewolf’s voice sounded different through it, in a way that made Demetrius’ ears feel funny.
‘The potential for trouble’s never stopped you from doing something before.’
‘True, true. But I can’t stand the way you just sit and watch. Don’t you ever want to find some girl of your own?’
Demetrius forced himself to back away from the conversation. He had the information he needed: they were stopping at the inn in the next village.
Demetrius jumped out of the tree and climbed onto his horse. She complained as he did so. The old horse still seemed to hate him, though he could never tell why. Perhaps she smelt a bit of wolf on him?
‘No, that’s been long erased,’ he muttered to himself.
He adjusted his black wool coat, boiling hot in this warm weather. But he couldn’t take it off. He had promised.
He kicked the horse into action—he couldn’t even remember the animal’s name—and rode through the forest to the village of Noren. There, he put up his horse at the inn, The Beggar’s Hand, and marched inside to talk to the owner.
‘Demetrius Olomew,’ he declared, casually lifting up his sleeve to reveal his six-pointed star tattoo. ‘I require your assistance.’
The heavy woman did not look happy at the sight of the symbol, but she grunted and said, ‘What do you need me to do?’
‘I’ll need to prepare a meal and a room for some particular guests tonight. Would you show me to the latter now?’
‘Right this way, oh great one,’ she said, waving a hand.
Demetrius ignored her rudeness and followed her up the stairs. He couldn’t prevent a smile from pushing its way onto his lips.
Oh, he’d wipe the grin off that handsome face. The werewolf and his student were going to have a lot of trouble tonight, indeed.
END OF CHAPTER 1
If you enjoyed the story, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Go to Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. For just a few dollars a month you can get extra episodes, conversational podcasts, exercises, and much more. Thank you for listening, and until next week.