Don’t you think

society is weird? The way we pass people on the street and don’t make eye contact or exchange a single word with one another. A lot of us purposely do this on a daily basis. It kind of unnerves me.

And then we have all these nonsensical rules which have to be followed – this whole, intricate system of exchange (and exchanges). And then some people don’t say certain things because it’s impolite and you wonder what they’re really thinking. And we all live in these separate units; these little microcosms.

We gesture our thanks to drivers when they stop to let us cross the road, like “thanks for not mowing me down!” and sometimes they get annoyed if you don’t thank them. What is that?

If someone’s too cheerful or friendly in public, it’s normal to wonder why; to judge that person and maybe think they’re “not all there“, or think they’re hitting on you. Or both.

We drive around in these metal boxes with four wheels. We communicate a great deal through screens. We have this perverse, unrealistic societal idea of what beauty is.

Yep. Society is weird.

Prompt: Write a story where every paragraph changes the genre.

I will not say it was love at first sight because… well, it would be a lie if I did. But I will say he saved me from the inevitable. He swept me off my feet, if you will. I had been sat on the side-walk and I know how I must have looked: aged well beyond my years; unkempt… abused and unfed. And I was all of those things. But he came and sat next to me and started telling these awful jokes – I guess to cheer me up. And it worked. The next thing I know, I’m having a hot shower at his house – the first in weeks – and he’s taking the sofa while I sleep in his bed. I swear I slept for days and then I woke up and we talked for days. About our lives; about our futures (future); about how we like our eggs. And I could feel the flowers of love just beginning to bud between us. I began to trust again. And we kissed and the flowers bloomed.

But he’s pacing now and I don’t know how to get him to stop. He’s yelling – not at me, though he is kind of yelling at me – things… jumbled things. “What have you done? The police… what have you done?” He keeps repeating that line. And I look down at my hands as I sit down on the sofa where he slept that first night, except my hands are covered in a slick, shiny red. As is the bottom of my dress and my thighs are streaked with it too. I don’t know what it is but I want to get it off off off so I wipe my hands on the sofa and I see flashes of the man in my mind, his eyes dead and staring off into the distance. Blood. A pool of it spreading beneath his chest. And now he’s shouting at me again, right in my face, asking where the body is and who it was. “Damien? Damien? Anna, was it Damien?” He shrieks.

And I can’t reply; as though my tongue has been cut out of my mouth. So instead, I ask his late great grandmother to have a word with him: to make him shut up so I can think. As he opens his mouth (no doubt to begin shouting again), she grabs his tongue, but he still tries to speak for a while so she tugs at it – stretching it stretching it stretching it until I hear a faint pop! and it’s all coiled up like a snake on the floor – detached. Like my own, I guess, for I still could not utter a single word; still did not know what to say. I could feel his gaze on me and it was loud loud loud even without his tongue. His great grandmother refused to do any more; said she didn’t want to make him lose his voice forever.

Thankfully there was a knock at the door. I leapt to my feet, but thinking back I wonder how I wasn’t afraid it was the police. I think maybe deep down I knew it would be someone sent to help me. “I am Wren,” a voice called through the door – a deep, resonating, trustworthy voice, “let me be your guide.” So I opened the door while my love stood stock still, as though frozen in time. I expected to find a man, but instead I saw a centaur – one of those creatures from a myth. He was much older than I expected; his beard and fur were speckled with grey and his eyes told many tales. “Hop on. We need to act fast.” He said. Half in a daze, I jumped onto his back with difficulty, wrapping my arms around his neck (perhaps a little too hard) as I struggled to put my leg over his back without the help of a stirrup or two. Before I had quite got comfortable, he muttered “no time” in an apologetic tone and raced out into the dawn chill, trotting through the desolate streets.

“Mr. Wren Offaclees, please stop where you are.” The police, I thought. Wren paused and turned to face the policeman. No, sorry – old habits die hard – the policebot. It rolled closer to us. A compartment opened in its chest and it shot out a net, encompassing both myself and Wren. “Follow me.” The robot turned around. The net’s string – still attached to something inside the compartment – tautened and we were dragged along behind him. I could see curious faces peering at us from their pod windows in my peripheral vision, but whenever I tried to look at any directly, they would hide just before I could catch a glimpse. “You’re in big trouble, Anna,” the policebot said as it rolled its way to the station. I buried my head in Wren’s neck, even though I felt nauseous for travelling backwards. I didn’t know what to expect at the station and I didn’t know if I could be much help, for what had happened had become a blur in my mind – a goop of porridge, all mushed and mixed.

 


 

Is it normal to not know what you want? There’s something about Amelia in the final episode of Grey’s Anatomy that resonates with me. Besides the fundamentals (or what I view as the fundamentals, anyway), I don’t know what I want any more, and I don’t know if I want the things I potentially want for all the wrong reasons.

Hmm. Something to think about, I guess. Maybe life should just be played by ear.

Prompt: There is a secret parallel world which can only be entered by children under 16 years old. How do they keep the place secret despite social media, smartphones etc.?

Part Two


That morning, he woke me with food he had brought from his own world – crispy, fatty bacon and chicken eggs, served with black, strong coffee. I could tell from the resoluteness on his face that he had made up his mind, but I was too scared to ask him what he had decided.

Nathan had cleared away our plates and was covering the fire with dirt when he told me.

“I have decided to stay,” he said, “and see what happens when I turn 16. Who knows – I might be booted out once I come of age…”

He seemed solemn in his decision. Not wanting to seem too childish, I held back my happiness and nodded, allowing a small smile to dance on my lips.

“My parents will wonder where I’ve gone, of course…” He trailed off.

“Do you want to visit them beforehand?”

He shook his head. “It’ll only make things more difficult.” He said.

We occupied ourselves until 10pm, but then I could not concentrate on anything. Instead, we sat and waited for midnight to strike.

And it did.

I looked over at Nathan, who looked back at me. The church clock chimed twelve times and then stopped. We waited a minute. Two. Ten. Nothing happened. We both broke into a smile at once and I said what I had wanted to say since midnight had struck: “Happy birthday, Nathan.” He grinned – laughed.

We curled up together in an empty hay-filled stable next to the dragons and fell asleep soon after.


I awoke to my mother shouting my name: “Aria! Aria!” It was so persistent that I couldn’t ignore it even if I had wanted to. I moved Nathan’s arm, which had been strewn haphazardly across my chest, and padded across the stables, coming out into the blinding light of day.

“Your friend, Aria – Nathan – where is he?”

“What’s going on, Mum?”

“I heard from the Gimalean boy that he had heard a child was missing in the other world. A 16 year old child. Who fit Nathan’s description.” She studied my face, accusation not yet present on her face.

“He’s here to stay, Mamma, and he’ll help out as he always does and we’ll move out soon, don’t worry.” My words came out jumbled; all in a rush.

“Aria…” She looked stricken – scared, almost. “Aria… there will be fallout from this…”

“We would have never seen each other again, Mum.”

“Think of his parents… if something like this had happened to you…” She trailed off.

“But he can’t go through now anyway. We checked. He can’t even see the Doorway now.”

My mum sighed. She seemed far older than her years. “I guess there’s nothing we can do but wait,” she said, “bring him in for breakfast when he’s ready.” With that, she headed back into the house.


It was a few days later when I realised what I had done. Tom – a seven year old from the other world – was with us as we watched for the dragon in the lake. But he spent most of his time squinting at Nathan. When Nathan finally snapped at him, Tom produced a newspaper from his backpack with Nathan’s face on the front page.

“I knew I knew your face from somewhere.” Tom said. Nathan grabbed the newspaper and read the story, his eyes darting from side to side. With shaking hands, he put the paper down on the grass and walked away to the other side of the lake, muttering that he needed time to think.

I went back home and watched out for him, but he did not return until the early hours of the morning. He headed straight for the stables.


Before long, a town meeting was called. Mayor Kan said that, owing to the panic felt on the other side over the missing boy, they were thinking of closing the Doorway for good.

I zoned out after that, only catching phrases like “disputes with figureheads on the other side” and “risk assessment”. Though I squeezed Nathan’s hand and was grateful he was here, I realised how foolish we had been.


We grew older together and eventually committed ourselves to one another, but I could sense Nathan resented me a little. In fact, a lot of people seemed to resent me. I had not known how much Arkansa depended on the children and the other world, but before long, our town became run-down. Sure, the magic was still there, but it had lost some of its wealth and – more importantly – some of its life.

Though we stuck together for forty years, I fear we only stayed together out of obligation; if we had broken up, everything would have been for nothing.

Prompt: There is a secret parallel world which can only be entered by children under 16 years old. How do they keep the place secret despite social media, smartphones etc.?

Part One

There is a saying in my country – “break Arkansa rules and you tear the world apart.” I always thought it was something our parents told us so we would pass the message on to the visiting children. I didn’t know that I would witness Arkansas’s downfall myself – be the propagator of it, in fact.

When the dragons were very small and I was beginning to help out around the stables, a boy came to visit. I could tell he was from the other world: he had that starved look about him. Not starved of food or love or shelter, oh no. Starved of magic. He was looking around at everything, his eyes darting – taking it all in. There was a mixture of fear and awe in them which I saw in most kids who came through the Doorway.

I ushered him close and asked him his name – Nathan – supplied him mine – Aria – and asked if he wanted to help me tend to the dragons – yes, please.

I handed him a bottle of milk and we walked to the stables, chatting as we did so. He seemed nice enough, though a little shy. But you should have seen him with the dragons. They were usually fairly cautious creatures; hell, I would be too if my mother abandoned me and I was left to fend for myself so young. But all three of them toddled up to Nathan and when he knelt down, they found a way to perch on him. The green one I’ve taken to calling Nagassi even managed to flap its wings enough to land on his shoulder. Nagassi puffed little smoke clouds onto Nathan’s cheek as if to warm him.

He handled the dragons so carefully that I thought they would never listen to his commands, but still he managed to wrap Nagassi in her blanket (a task which has left deep cuts on my own hands) and hold her in his arms so he could feed her milk. I looked on, dumbfounded, as I fed one of the other dragons. He seemed dumbfounded and mesmerised himself; he hardly took his eyes off Nagassi.

Afterwards, we played in the woods nearby, playing hide and seek with the wood spirits and the wind. He visited each day after that and slowly our games became more adult; more intimate. Funny dating a man from another world. He knew nothing about Arkansa kisses – thought it weird when I dragged my tongue over his teeth. I had to explain that there was a myth in Arkansa where a group of people lulled their victims into a false sense of security by dating them, then they drugged them and pulled out their teeth while they were sleeping to sell to an apparently thriving market. So letting someone kiss you Arkansa style was the ultimate portrayal of trust.

But one day he visited and he seemed crestfallen. Said that he had heard a whisper on the wind that he would no longer be able to pass through the Doorway once he turned 16 – two days away. Having heard nothing of this (I thought their world was only made up of young folk), I asked around while he tended to the now-teenage dragons and found out it was true.

“Don’t go.” I said to him that evening as our bodies wrapped around each other beside the fire in our clearing in the woods.

“But my family, my friends…” He trailed off. He acted as though he would not do it, but he stayed the night – something he had never done before. I could feel the heaviness of my heart and knew his would be feeling the same.

Alarming

There’s a car alarm going off nearby. It has been going off for about five, maybe ten minutes. I swear the noise has changed, though I think it’s my mind playing tricks on me – trying to find another pattern to focus on rather than this maddening, repetitive whistle.

I like that car alarms all have their own distinct voices. Sometimes they suit the car, sometimes they don’t. Take my dad’s car, for example: it reminds me of so many things. Of the QI alarm when a wrong, stereotyped answer is said. Once I’ve fumbled with the keys and turned it off, I always hear that “woooOoh” voice in my head at the end.

When it goes off, I feel like a professional thief who has snuck into a museum to steal the rarest of all rocks, except something goes awry and the alarms blare and the lights turn on and I’m caught hovering by a rope over the rock – just dangling there, suspended, frozen in time while everything kicks into action around me. All the open doorways become closed – metal grates all rushing to the floor at once. Loud clangs echoing throughout the museum.

My point is that it’s a little Kia Picanto but it honks. Like you know the noise The Fonz makes to teach kids what to do when in danger? That kind of honk. An ugly, brash noise.

Even though that’s the case, even now I wonder if it’s our car that’s making the noise – this sweet but annoying little whistle of an alarm – but I can’t be bothered to get up and check. And I wonder if everyone else is doing exactly the same, and maybe that’s the whole problem, but I still don’t get up and check.

At last, the alarm has been turned off. Thank goodness it has been turned off. My brain felt like it was turning to mush.

And there we have it: a running commentary on a car alarm. Only quality posts on this blog.