My Little Pony: Friendship is Fickle!
My Little Pony, myyyyyy little pony....
I used to wonder what a true nightmare could be!
My Little Pony
Until you shared the horror with me!
Big,screams and wailing.
WAIL AND CRY:
From ponies who've fled.
Nowhere to run to.
Because we're undead.
YOU'LL WANNA HIDE:
It's an easy feat!
And soon your demise will be all complete, yeah my little pony
Do You Know You're All My Very Best...
Midnight Mayhem screams!
"Welcome to the afterlife, Midnight Mayhem."
Miserably, Gerald watched the other children dressed up for Halloween, his favourite holiday. This year he had no costume. There would be no ringing of doorbells, no scaring, no spooky houses to scream in and worst of all: no candy!
"Mom! I'm done visiting Gerry. I want to collect candy, now!"
"We'll leave shortly, Cody," promised his mother, but that answer wasn't good enough.
"I want my candy," Cody screamed before mysteriously falling silent.
A wind whistled through the cemetery. Gerald didn't feel bad about making Cody sleep. Bratty Cody could skip this Halloween. It was a small sacrifice. At least it was better than being dead.
"Alright, honey. Let's go."
Gerald smiled in his little brother's vampire costume and took his mothers hand.
Miserably, Gerald watched the other children dressed up for Halloween. This year he had no costume. There would be no ringing of doorbells, no scaring, no spooky houses to scream in and worst of all: no candy!
"Mom! I'm done visiting Gerry. I want to collect candy, now!"
"We'll leave shortly, Cody," promised his mother, but that answer wasn't good enough.
"I want my candy," Cody screamed before mysteriously falling silent.
A wind whistled through the cemetery. Gerald didn't feel bad about making Cody sleep. Bratty Cody could skip this Halloween. It was a small sacrifice. At least it was better than being dead.
"Alright, honey. Let's go."
Gerald smiled in his little brother's vampire costume and took his mothers hand.
1.Amy lay upon the soft grass and the daisies. She stared up at the clouds and tried not to panic. Having just woken up she could not remember a thing, not her family, not what she was doing last night, nor how she had gotten there in the first place. Really she was lucky to know that her name was Amy.
“Things could be a lot worse,” she reasoned, rolling over so that she was nose to nose with the flowers. She sighed as she inhaled their sweet fragrance. Forgetting her alarm, she focused upon the loveliness of the daisies and smiled.
Suddenly covered by a shadow, Amy looked up. Never had she seen a more beautiful girl looking down at her. About ten years old, she had curly black hair, warm brown eyes and rosy lips set into the most welcoming smile.
“I am so happy that you are awake, Amy. Are you ready to get going?”
Amy was at a loss. Who was this girl? Where were they supposed to be going?
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. I don’t even know where here is. It’s probably better that I stay here.”
The stranger’s smile slipped. Then her lip began to quiver.
“It’s me, Amy. It’s Marigold. Are you..are you saying that you have forgotten me? Amy, we have been best friends since we were four years old.”
“Marigold, I’m so sorry.”
At that point, Amy did not feel any suspicion, only guilt. Marigold knew her name, after all. Who was to say that she wasn’t telling the truth? Amy’s head was too foggy to think clearly
“Marigold, I don’t suppose you would still be willing to help me out? If we really are best friends then I am sure that you can sort me out in no time. Will you, please?”
Marigold grinned and held out her hand. Amy took it gladly, relieved that somebody knew what was going on.
As the two of them walked down the forest trail, Marigold started to hum under her breath. When she suddenly turned back to Amy there was a sparkle in her eyes.
“Say, A-my?” she sang. “We have all day to get you home so why don’t we make the most of today. If you could choose to do anything you liked or go anywhere you wished what would you pick?”
Something tells me you won’t be happy with the answer find my way home.
Amy tried to think. It was hard when she had zero clues about anything except for her name, but then she retrieved a glimmer of a memory.
“I’d love to spend time playing with Trixie. She always knows how to make me smile”.
Without understanding why Amy started pining for her cat. Everything was just fine and yet she desperately wanted to hold her more than ever.
It was Marigold’s turn to experience a touch of memory loss.
Suddenly recognition dawned upon her.
“Oh, your kitten. Can’t you see her any time? Oh well, I guess the heart wants what it wants”.
Amy turned around and gasped. Her gorgeous black and tan furbaby was running straight towards Amy, calling for her.
Amy did not care how she was here; she was just pleased that she could have a cuddle.
For a lovely moment, she was lost in soft fur and kitty love. Marigold may well have been staring at them for the whole time for all that she knew. When the two girls finally locked eyes, Marigold gave her a shy smile.
“Would I be able to hold her? I’ve never seen such a tiny kitten up close before.”
Have I never shown you Trixie before? It’s not like me not to share her with my friends, is it?
Again, Amy could not say for certain. Who was to say what kind of girl she was? For all that she knew she was a mean and selfish brat.
For the moment at least, Amy was feeling generous.
“Of course you can hold her.”
When Amy passed over her kitten, she could see that Marigold had been telling the truth. Her eyes widened as she realised how soft Trixie’s fur really was. At first the two of them were awkward together, but then they got to know each other. Marigold giggled with delight.
“I can see why you would want to cuddle her all day. She is a little sweetheart”.
Marigold passed Trixie back and then asked what was next.
“If you were given a perfect day to spend what would you like to do now? Trixie can come too if that is what you would like”.
By the way Amy was being swept up in her enthusiasm it was like she had the power to grant Amy’s every wish. Once again, Amy decided to humour her.
“ I would probably head out to the library next. I could spend all day there, sitting in the comfy chairs and reading every book I can get my hands on. I love a good story”.
Marigold nodded and replied that she did too.
Once upon a time a Queen gazed upon the snow falling outside of her ebony windowsill. Distracted by the snowflakes, she pricked her finger on her sewing needle and watched three drops of blood fall to the ground. Desperately, she wished for a daughter to call her own.
What on Earth?
For a brief moment Amy lost all sense of herself. The voice of a small boy had rung out in her head. It sounded like he was reading her a fairy tale from a storybook.
“I think that we should think bigger,” Marigold announced. Was it Amy’s imagination or did the girl suddenly look flustered?
“If you could go anywhere at all, where would you go? Think, Amy. Make it somewhere exciting and fun.”
“I was too sick to go to the fair last weekend,” Amy admitted unconsciously. “I cried for an hour when I heard that I had missed out. They travel from town to town so there was no chance of me getting to go another time. Who knows when I will get the chance to go again?”
Amy gasped as she registered what she had just said. Did she just say sick? Amy felt just fine and she certainly didn’t remember being sick. Why had she just said that? Could it be that she wasn’t okay at all?
“Brilliant suggestion, Amy. Let’s get going then.”
A second later Amy found that she had been transported.
Looking around her, Amy’s senses went into overload. She looked at the sparkling lights, the stalls of delicious food and all of the children running around having so much fun. Hearing the sound of joy filled screams, Amy looked up in time to see a roller coaster carriage zip past her head. She spotted a carousel, some boats, and a mountain where a log full of people had started plummeting down. Then she laid eyes upon that unmistakable castle.
“Disneyland! How are we in Disneyland? I don’t live anywhere near Disneyland!”
“We walked here, silly. How else? Boy your head is really mixed up today, isn’t it?”
Completely ignoring the logic of the situation, Marigold grabbed Amy’s hand and started running.
Amy forgot her fear and confusion as more and more wonderful things to see and do caught her eye. Marigold dragged her into a line and before she knew what was happening, Amy was spinning around in teacups having a marvellous time.
“I’m sorry, Trixie. Was that too much for you?”
Amy’s only regret was her poor kitty. Trixie’s green eyes continued to spin long after exiting the ride.
Marigold settled Trixie with a rub behind the ears before turning back to Amy.
“Did you have fun? Are you happy that we came here?”
Amy noticed the eagerness behind Marigold’s eyes. She felt like her friend’s entire happiness depended upon this answer. Amy nodded, for it was the truth. She loved it here and couldn’t wait to keep exploring the park.
Marigold grinned and then gave her an excited hug.
“I’m so glad. Where shall we go next then? The Haunted Mansion? Tomorrowland? We could always stop and watch the parade?”
Once again, Amy was overwhelmed.
“Do I have to choose?”
Marigold shook her head. If Amy wished it she would give her all of the time in the world to explore.
The two girls and a very stunned kitten ran around the park, making the most of their time together. Amy might very well have stayed swept up in blissful happiness if they had not walked past a beautiful young woman, greeting the guests as a very famous princess.
The girl grew into a beauty, with lips red as blood, skin as white as snow and hair as black as ebony; everything that her mother had wished for. Sadly the Queen had died and the Princess was raised by her father and her wicked stepmother the Evil Queen. The Evil Queen became jealous, for in everybody’s eyes, including the King, Snow White was the fairest of them all.
Once again, Amy had vanished, lost in the narration of a fairy tale. This time it had been read aloud by a young girl with an English accent.
“I don’t feel too good”, Marigold moaned. Was it Amy’s imagination or had she just blinked away a couple of tears.
“Sure you do”, Amy argued. She was enjoying her time with the brightly spirited girl. It was now her time to give Marigold some happiness back in return.
“You can choose next, Marigold. Where are we going to next?”
Marigold shook her head. This wasn’t how this was supposed to work.
“Fine then, I’ll choose.”
Amy considered her options. An idea struck her but it wasn’t something that they could do in this park.
“Do you know what I wish for the most. Our holiday cabin by the beach. I love swimming in the ocean so much that Dad calls me his little minnow. I wish that you could see it, Marigold. You have never seen a prettier spot.”
The roar of the ocean echoed across the beach. Sitting on her favourite striped towel, Amy looked out upon the white sand and the sea crashing upon the shore.
Marigold squealed with delight.
“You are so right, Amy. It’s gorgeous here. What do you say? Are you ready for a swim?”
A swim? How could Marigold be thinking of a swim when they had just one set of clothes? Amy looked down, debating whether to jump in anyway when she noticed how she was dressed. She was all set to go swimming, already dressed in her yellow polka dot swimmers and rashie.
Amy’s poor brain couldn’t take anymore. There was no way for them to have travelled so far and for her to have gotten changed without any memory of it whatsoever. The only conclusion that Amy could come to was that this wasn’t really happening at all. Was this a dream then, or something else?
Dream or not, Amy panicked as she noticed Trixie was already halfway down the beach, heading towards the surf. Trust her contrary cat. Trixie was the only furball in existence who actually enjoyed bath time.
“Come back here, Trixie!”
Amy ran towards the water. Trixie continued on her merry way, leading her mistress down towards to ocean. As soon as Amy felt the first splash of the salty water between her toes, it all came flooding back.
“Hang in there, my little minnow. Please open your eyes.”
Everything had gone wrong so quickly. One moment Amy had been splashing upon her boogie board having fun. The next moment, caught in a rip, she felt herself being pulled down by the current. Amy remembered waking up in her father’s arms upon the sand and learning that he had saved her life with CPR. He had sent her back to the cabin to rest but this wasn’t the last of her problems. Her chill turned into a cold. Her cold turned into pneumonia with a dangerously high fever to go along with it. Amy remembered holding her father’s hand, the sound of the ambulance sirens and then nothing.
“Oh God. I am sick. I have to get out of here.”
Amy turned to run back towards Marigold. The dream girl was already behind her.
“Marigold, I don’t know how much you have to do with this but if you are somehow holding me here you have to let go. I need to wake up. My father, my sisters, Isabella. They all must be so worried about me.”
Marigold closed her eyes for a second. Recognition hit her eyes.
“Isabella. So you already have a best friend, then?”
Amy nodded. How had she been able to forget about Issy for so long?”
“I do. Please, Marigold, if it is in your power, let me go”.
“Amy, I can’t do that…”
“What do you mean you can’t. This is my body, my life and my dream. If I want you out that is exactly what is going to happen. Get out of my head!”
Marigold looked crushed.
“Of course I will leave if that is what you want. All that I meant is that you were never a prisoner, Amy. I would have loved nothing more than to keep dreaming with you. I cannot begin to tell you how lonely I am. What I would never, ever do is hold you here against your will. Believe me, the only thing that I ever wanted was your happiness.”
“Run away, you poor child.” Snow White ran away from the huntsman and the Evil Queen, disappearing into the deep, dark forest. To cover her tracks, the Huntsman came up with a plan. Later, he gave the Queen what she most desired, Snow White’s heart in a box. Though it was, in fact, the heart of a young boar, Snow White felt like her own heart had been ripped out instead. She could never return home again.
Amy was distracted by an older girl with a very soft voice. When she awoke from the narration this time, Marigold was gone. Left only with little Trixie to comfort her, Amy held her kitten tightly and willed herself to wake up.
“What a sweet little cottage,” Snow White remarked. Desperate for shelter, the princess opened the front door and let herself in. When she saw the seven little chairs set around such a tiny table, she gasped. “Oh my! This must be the home of seven little children!”
This time Amy was aware of her surroundings. She didn’t see any dwarfs. Instead she saw seven children in hospital robes gathered around the bedside of a sleeping girl. They were reading to her out of a large, gold embossed book of fairytales. Amy moved closer and gasped as she recognised the girl in the bed.
“Marigold!”Amy was afraid, for Marigold as well as for herself. It was just dawning upon Amy that she was watching this scene floating from the roof of a hospital ward.
“Marigold! Marigold, where are you?”
Amy roamed the halls and the wards, desperate to find her. At last, Amy found everybody that she had been looking for in the same room. Next to her unconscious body was a doctor, her father and her little sister Stella. On the floor next to her bed, Marigold’s spirit was crying.
“Thank goodness, I’ve found you”.
Amy offered out her hand.
“I’ve found your body. Come on. It is time to bring you back and wake you up."
Marigold gave her a look of distrust”.
“Why would you want to help me? I imprisoned you, remember?”
Amy apologised. She had been so frightened that she had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
“You helped me to stay strong and to not be scared. I cannot begin to thank you. Let me return the favour and help you back?”
Marigold shook her head and curled into a ball.
’Those kids that you saw started reading me that story because I am so fair skinned. What they don’t understand is how much that story hurts me. Evil stepmothers are real, Amy. My stepmother made my father choose between us so often. I know that she was jealous of me. After we all moved into her house together, she made it perfectly clear that I wasn’t welcome. I had been out of home for almost a year before my accident and I did not hear one mention on the news or by the police that my father was trying to find me. I’m unwanted, Amy.”
Marigold sighed. Somehow she found the strength to smile bravely.
“At least while I am here I have the power to visit the other children in their dreams and cheer them up. I stop them from being alone and scared. Even when people like you come and break my heart, I still would not trade these moments for anything. I am exactly where I want to be, Ames. What we should be doing is sending you home.”
That isn’t right, Amy thought. How can you pretend that this is alright when earlier you were telling me how lonely you are?
Before Amy could question her again, Marigold grabbed Amy’s hand and placed it on top of the flesh and blood hands under the blankets. Amy’s vision went hazy and then she was staring up at the hospital ceiling.
Amy’s father grabbed onto her hand like a lifeline.
“Daddy? Stella? Am I going to be alright?”
Amy’s father cried out tears of relief.
“Thanks to you, my little minnow. For you to be awake means that the antibiotics have started to work. You are going to be just fine.”
Four year old Stella leapt onto Amy’s lap.
“Ima taking care of Trixie for you. Daddy said that she couldn’t come but next time I will sneak her in for you.”
Amy laughed. Secrecy was a skill that young Stella had yet to master. She sat up to hug her sister and nearly jumped when her eyes saw the foot of her bed. Though she was faint, growing fainter all of the time, Marigold was here too, smiling and watching.
“What’s your name?”, Amy mouthed to the friendly spirit. “I want to thank you properly.”
Marigold looked very surprised to be asked.
Amy shook her head.
“Your full name, please.”
‘Promise that you won’t laugh.’
‘My name is Marigold Primrose Snow.’
Amy managed one last thank you before Marigold faded away. Then she pressed her buzzer and called for a nurse.
Amy recovered in hospital for the next three days. She was so sleepy that most of it passed by in a blur. On her fourth and last morning, a nurse came in with what she had been praying for; a phone number. After she had finished talking on the phone, Amy’s energy was restored. About to leap out of bed to deliver the good news, she was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“I was hoping that you would stop by”, Amy exclaimed. “Come in.”
The seven storybook children were a diverse bunch. The eldest was around fifteen and looked to be of an Indian background. The youngest was a boy the same age as little Stella. As they crowded around Amy, she felt like royalty.
“Is it okay for me to say that you remind me of the seven dwarfs?”
The children nodded and laughed. The littlest boy made a correction.
“We’re the eight dwarfs now. We’re all friends of Snow White. Where did she take you? Was there ice cream?”
“We’re all friends of Marigold; he means,” added the English girl, Acacia.
“Amy, you’re not going mad,” promised Maraide, the oldest ‘dwarf’. “Marigold has visited all of our dreams at one time or another. I heard that she has been brightening up the ward for months now, ever since she was brought in. My old ward mate, Toby, handed me the storybook on his last day here. He told me it was our job to take care of Snow White, just like she has been taking care of us. What Alex, what all of us want to know was where did she take you? If we cannot get Marigold to wake up then sharing stories about her is the next best thing, don’t you think?”
Amy nodded. She shared her adventures with the children and assured little Alex that there was ice cream in Disneyland. In turn the other children shared their dreams with Amy.
Marigold had given them so much happiness. She had tried her best to grant every wish, to travel to the zoo with Nicholas, the basketball game with Ned and to the ice cream parlour with Alex. She had taken Maraide back to India, gone scuba diving with Bradley, skipped with Acacia for hours and even flown to fairyland with Lilybeth.
“Thank you”, Amy smiled after they had all finished. Then she let them in on her little secret; that she was about to try and wake ‘Snow White’.
“Will you all come with me? I think that you would all be a tremendous help.”
“Heigh ho”, Alex confirmed. Amy took that as a yes.
Maraide and the other shook their heads before adding to the chorus of Heigh Hos. Of course they would help.
Amy sat next to Marigold’s bed. The storybook children gathered around them as well.
Amy gently shook Snow’s shoulder.
“I’m going home today, Marigold so I have lots to tell you. I don’t want to say goodbye. I want you to wake up. So do the other children.”
Each of the seven took it in turns to hold Marigold’s hand and tell her how much they had enjoyed spending time with her. By the end, Amy prayed that Marigold had come to realise how mistaken she had been.
“You’ve made us so happy, Marigold. Don’t you understand? We don’t think of you as Snow White because of your fair skin. You remind everyone of Snow White because you are our Princess. Marigold Primrose Snow, you are so loved and so wanted. Come back to us. We could do wonderful things in real life. We might even make it to Disneyland for real one of these days. You’ll never know unless you try. Please Marigold, how can the two of us start being best friends if you don’t open your eyes?”
"How could that possibly work?"
The whisper was so faint that Amy could not be sure if she had heard it at all. She answered the question anyway.
“We would make it work. Isabella won’t mind if we become friends. Knowing her she will want to be your friend as well. All of us do.”
Then Amy delivered her news.
“Your father is coming to the hospital, Marigold. She was a very evil stepmother. The only reason why your father never searched for you was that she told him that you were already dead. She told him that you had drowned. You father was furious when he found out he had been tricked and lied to and he never wants anything to do with your stepmother ever again. He chose you, Marigold. We all choose you. Please choose us back.”
Awakened from her curse at long last, the sleeping Princess opened her eyes.
Words Take Flight Part 2.
Is Sir Robert really going to kill her?” Ari exclaimed with worry. Though he knew rationally that Lady Josephine was a fictional character, he felt strangely unsettled watching her ride towards certain death. Meanwhile, Priya was willing Sir Julian to action. More than anyway she wanted the frantic knight to focus and figure out the location of his missing fiancé.
“Work it out, Julian”, Priya called to the knight’s shadow, pacing above her upon the ceiling of the library. “You are every bit as clever as Josephine; you just need to start paying attention.
“Think, Julian”, the knight’s shadow urged himself, as he paced around their cottage. A note on Josephine’s pillow reading simply ‘I love you’ had already made him worried and suspicious. All that he needed was some clue as to where she may have gone.
“I need to get inside of your head”, Julian sighed. He closed his eyes, willing himself to think. Then he had an idea.
“Her letters. I wonder if I can find a clue”. Julian rushed to Josephine’s desk and rifled through her papers. As soon as Julian found the spy’s report and the notice of bankruptcy, the truth dawned on him. He saddled up Shadow and raced towards the village, praying that he wasn’t too late.
All eyes were fixed upon Robert’s cottage. Even Julian and Josephine were looking down upon their flying, shadowy steed.
“How is this even possible?”, Josephine wondered. Where was this place and why were their darkest memories appearing here to haunt them?
“It’s strange isn’t it”, agreed Julian. “I remember everything that happens next, and yet that is impossible. Everything was supposed to stop. For me, everything is supposed to…”
“Don’t say it”.
Julian looked over his shoulder and grabbed Josephine’s hand. Lovingly, he squeezed it.
He smiled and reminded her that they were together now.
“Just focus on me, my love. We are the ones in control, this time. Rest your head on my shoulder and listen to my breath. I’m here, Josie and I am not planning on going anywhere”.
“Do you promise?”.
As Julian smiled and nodded, she weakly gave him one in return. Josephine kissed him on the cheek and then buried her head in Julian’s shoulder. She prayed that the worst day of her life would all soon be over.
Even Ari anxiously watched on as Josephine knock upon the wicked knight’s door. Robert answer it and shot Josephine a cocky grin.
“You’re a little overdressed, my lady. Don’t tell me the King actually gave you a knighthood. If so, I feel sorry for every adversary that crosses your path”.
“Forgive me for not having you pegged as the trustworthy type”, Josephine replied. “Everybody knows that keeping a cool head isn’t your strong suit, Robert. I’ll take whatever protection I can get from your winning personality”.
Robert grinned approvingly.
“You are a feisty one. I like that”.
Lady Josephine grinned as well. For once she was thankful that Robert was flirting with her. Perhaps this meant that her plan had a chance of succeeding. She endured his sickening small talk for a few moments as she built up her courage. At last Josephine forced herself to say those horrible words.
“Robert, will you marry me?”
Ari’s eyes widened. He blinked and double check the text scrolling above him.
“Did I hear her right, Priya? Did Lady Josephine just propose? I thought that she was engaged to that other knight”.
Dumbfounded, Priya nodded. While Josephine and Julian were engaged, they weren’t married to each other yet.
“She’s saving Julian’s life, daddy. Look at the text. Josephine is offering her hand in marriage on the condition that Julian’s bounty is torn up. Robert needs to swear that he never lays another hand upon Julian as long as he lives”.
Ari frowned. What a horrible sacrifice for a lady to make.
“Do you think that Robert will accept the deal?”
Priya sadly nodded. She explained that Lady Josephine was the heir to an enormous fortune. Robert’s only loyalty was to himself. She was certain that he would be willing to cut all ties with the Shadow League in exchange for a fortune and an estate of his very own.
Robert’s shadow fell silent as he considered the proposal. Then he shot Josephine a grin that was pure evil.
“As fun as it would be to torture Julian with our union, I am afraid that I have to decline”.
Josephine paled. Robert noticed and snickered.
“Really my dear, you only have yourself to blame. If only you hadn’t been so vigilant in helping Sir Julian play the hero maybe we could have struck a deal.
Robert took a step closer to Josephine.
“You see, Lady Josephine, there is a bounty on your head as well and I intend to claim it. This way I will win my fortune and get my revenge”.
Josephine, Priya and even Ari gasped when they saw Robert draw his sword. Suspecting all along that it may come to this, Shadow Josephine drew her husband’s sword with a trembling hand and dodged the blow. While she did not possess the skill of a knight, her teacher was one of the kingdom’s finest. Josephine prayed that she had learned enough from her fiancé to silence Robert once and for all.
“I love you, Julian”, Lady Josephine whispered before moving in for the attack.
Priya and Ari watched the duel, helpless to change the outcome. Amazingly, Josephine was putting up a decent fight all on her own and had even managed to knock Robert to the ground. She smiled as she noticed that he was unconscious. Had she just won? Lady Josephine approached his body, not seeing the danger that lay ahead. Fortunately Julian did.
Everything happened so fast. A second after Julian had leapt from the bushes, Robert had pulled out his concealed knife. While the knight pushed Josephine to safety just in the nick of time, he wasn’t quick enough to dodge the attack. As the tiny blade tore into his side, Julian screamed. Josephine froze and looked like she was going to faint.
“Now do you see the danger of fighting battles that aren’t your own?” Robert gloated. It was an argument he had been having with Julian ever since they were kids.
“You were always so foolish in that respect. If only you had decided not to meddle with tradition the two of us would still be the dragon hunting champions of the Prismatic Kingdom. The only person to blame for your death is yourself”.
Though Julian was terrified and in agony, he attempted to replicate Robert’s cocky demeanour.
“Do you honestly think that you can intimidate me? I took a vow to defend this kingdom from evil, and I am proud to oppose you until the end. I have made a difference in this world, and I have known love. Even if you win this battle, you will never win in life. You are nothing, Robert”.
On most days, Julian was a quiet, modest man who detested gloating. At that moment, Julian was desperate enough to resort to insults. He had landed awkwardly on his injured shoulder, he was unable to reach his spare blade and on his other side, he was quickly losing blood. The knight had already come to terms that he had lost this fight. His only hope was his brave fiancé, creeping up behind Robert. He shot her a weak smile as Josephine silently bent down to pick up Julian’s fallen sword. If they stood any chance of defeating Robert, Julian had to hold his attention, even if it meant giving up his own life in the process.
As Julian had predicted, his words sent Robert into a fury.
“How dare you call me nothing. I’ll show you my worth. I’ll have you begging for forgiveness before your death”.
Robert reached for his sword and pulled himself to his feet. Julian tried to stand but failed. The only weapons at his disposal were his words and Josephine’s stealth and courage.
Do your worst, nothing”, he taunted. “I have nothing to fear, after all. You were always useless with a sword”.
“I’ll show you the meaning of useless”, Robert screamed. As he pinned Julian’s other shoulder to the ground with cold steel, he laughed in triumph. The villain was so blinded by revenge and his magnificence that he failed to see the lady assassin behind him, raising her sword. Then, with one swift thrust, she plunged it into his back. Josephine saw Robert’s eyes widen with surprise before they turned cold and lifeless.
Frantically Josephine rushed to Julian’s side. Undoubtedly he must have been in great agony, though he didn’t show it. Somehow Julian still managed to keep a brilliant, brave smile across his face.
“It’s going to be okay”, he assured her. “You are okay, Josie and you are still safe. I was so worried that you wouldn’t be”.
Josephine nodded through her tears. She felt that it was her duty to him to keep herself together even though her world was falling apart.
“Of course I am okay” she assured him. Josephine was reunited with the man she loved, after all. She brushed away his bloodied, ginger bangs and forced a smile. “Now it is my turn to look after you, alright? I am not going anywhere, I promise”.
The lady Josephine was as good as her word, however there was nothing more that she could have done for the dying knight. As much as Josephine encouraged him, cradled him, comforted him and loved him, Julian had already lost so much blood. Devotedly, helplessly, Josephine waited with Julian until it was time for him to draw his last breath.
Ari started to bawl.
“What was the point in that?” he cried, brushing the tears away from his eyes. It was a good thing that Robert wasn’t real. He felt like giving him a good kick in the teeth.
“Do you understand now why these stories are a waste of time, Priya. Is that how you want to spend your energy, crying over people who don’t even exist. It is ridiculous”.
Priya did not respond. She could have sworn that she had heard something strange and she was trying to locate the sound. Far too late, Priya discovered the source of the laughter.
Wicked Robert, free from his story, hovered above them upon his horse Quagmire and cackled. He helped himself to a hardback from a nearby bookshelf and grinned. Gesturing to the members of the Shadow League, he rallied his army and pointed down at Ari.
“He’s the one who destroyed us all. Bricks at the ready, league. Attack!”.
Selflessly, Priya threw herself upon Ari. As a storm of books showered down upon them, the poor girl took every blow of every projectile on behalf of her father. It wasn’t too bad to endure until a very well aimed encyclopedia connected with the back of her skull. Poor Priya was knocked out cold.
Josephine’s heart went out to Priya. While they had never met, deep down she considered her to be one of her closest friends.
“He’s hurting our girl, Julian”.
The furious knight could not bear to watch them throw another book at Priya. He grabbed for the nearest brick and wondered if he could use it to help.
“I wonder if Robert can fly without Quagmire”.
He pulled back his arm and put the experiment into action. As the expertly aimed thesaurus connected with Robert’s head, Julian received his answer. Robert dropped like a stone, disappearing into nothingness just before he fell to the ground. Josephine grinned and also grabbed a brick, ready to take on the entire Shadow League. The bounty hunters saw her, shrieked and also disappeared into thin air.
Ari pulled his daughter into his lap and shook her gently.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Pri. It’s my job to protect you, remember? Open your eyes, honey. Come on, Priya. Wake up”.
Priya smiled as her father’s kind words and opened her eyes.
“Aren’t you glad that I read romances now, daddy? You may not be able to see the lessons within them but I do. Julian and Josephine taught me that anybody can find the courage to protect the people that they love. Did it work? Are you okay, daddy?”
Ari grinned and hugged Priya. He was better than okay. He was fortunate to have such a brave and clever daughter.
“Are you okay, Priya?”
Julian did not know how he knew the girl’s name, but he called to her anyway.
Priya looked up at him and waved.
“Sir Julian? Lady Josephine?”
Julian nodded his head, and Josephine waved back.
“We’re fine, thanks to you”, they called.
Priya started to smile, but then she saw that the words above them had stopped scrolling. Only the last two words remained: The End.
“Are you both okay? Do you know what is going to happen now”?
Meanwhile, Ari scrambled to his feet and gave the pair of them a bow that would not have been out of place at court.
“I cannot apologise to the two of you, enough. This is all my fault, I am afraid. I should never have thrown your book into the fire. Are you… Are you going to disappear next? Is this how this works?”
The knight and lady looked at the smouldering book and then up to the smoke. A few minutes ago it had been as high as the ceiling, but now it was starting to dissipate. After exchanging a look, they shrugged in unison. They didn’t know.
“Now if you had only thought to ask me, I could have told you that there is almost nothing left. My life has already flashed before my eyes. Most of my characters have flown away and left me. Soon it will be like I never existed”.
Priya, Ari, Julian and Josephine all shared a look of confusion.
“Who is there?”, Sir Julian called, wishing that he had his sword.
“Who do you think it is”? the mysterious voice snapped.
“I said that there is almost nothing of me left. Who else that you know was thrown into the fire today? Come on, Lady Josephine. Surely you can figure it out at least”.
Josephine, still dealing with the revelation that she was a story book character, tried to think.
“My mother always said that all books have a soul. Is that who you are?”
“Very good”, the Book praised her. “I knew that there was a reason why you were one of my favourites. I am sad that we will soon have to say goodbye to each other”.
Very unlike himself, Ari was devastated.
“Does this have to be goodbye? I did this to you, and that wasn’t fair. Is there any way to make this right? Priya loves Julian and Josephine. It wouldn’t be right to make her say goodbye.
The Book snorted.
“That was your doing, Ari, not mine”.
Ari went rigid. Oh God, the Book was right. He turned guiltily towards Priya.
“ I am so sorry, Pri. I should have listened when you were tried to tell me how much the story meant to you”.
“Yes, you should have”, the Book interjected, still fuming mad. He had never asked for a fiery demise. The Book sighed, took a moment to accept its fate and then decided to look on the bright side.
“Fortunately I am just a tiny part of ‘A Chivalrous Romance’. Even after I am gone, the story will live on. That is assuming you have no plans of torching my brothers and sisters, of course”.
Ari hung his head. “Of course I won’t”, he muttered, feeling ashamed.
“As for what lies ahead for this Julian and Josephine, I have no say in their survival. Perhaps they will fade. Perhaps Priya will find the courage inside of her to save them”.
“She’ll save us”, Sir Julian declared. Without really knowing her, Julian liked their dearest reader and trusted her with his life.
“You will save us, won’t you, Priya?” Josephine called. As much as she had every confidence in the girl, the lady was worried that it was an impossible task.
“I’ll try to”, Priya replied. Immediately doubting herself and unwilling to give the pair false hope she added, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do, though. Do you have any ideas?”
Surprisingly, the answer came from Ari.
Instead of giving her a stern talking to and a reminder to stay strong and fight for her objective, Ari gave her a rare smile and a kiss on the cheek. Perhaps there was something to be said about the power of love after all?
“Just be yourself, Priya. If you are supposed to save them, then it must be something that only you can do. Just stay calm and believe in yourself”.
“Believe in yourself, Priya”, Julian encouraged her, certain that this was the key.
“Believe in yourself, Priya”, chorused Josephine. “You believed in us for all of this time. Let us believe in you”.
“Believe”, Priya repeated, psyching herself up. Then, her emerald eyes lit up. Of course, she was the only one who could save them.
Priya stood up, closed her eyes and started replaying the story from the beginning. She smiled as Josephine tried to deny that she was attracted to the knight and she laughed as they had their first fight. Her heart beat faster as they started going on quests together and fluttered as they began falling in love. Vaguely Priya was aware of Ari kneeling next to her.
“Hurry, my darling. I don’t want to alarm you, but the smoke is almost gone. They are starting to fade”.
“You are wrong”, Priya argued. She opened her eyes to confirm it. Sure enough, Julian and Josephine were still watching over her proudly.
“They will never fade. Not for me. I believe in the lady and the knight too much for that to ever happen. Julian and Josephine are real to me, and they will always have a place in my heart.
A breeze swept through the library as Shadow made his rapid descent, Still carrying Sir Julian and Lady Josephine, they were on target to knock Priya over, and yet the fearless girl stood firm. As they passed through her body, they disappeared from view but not from Priya’s spirit. She smiled as she felt the tingle of their love for each other and their most devoted reader close around her heart. When Priya closed her eyes and saw them smiling back at her and holding hands, she knew that the rescue mission had been a success.
The romance of the Knight and his Lady would live on inside of Priya for always. As long as there are readers of stories, the words within books will take flight in their reader’s imaginations and find new homes within their hearts.
Can You Hear Me?
Requested by name? That was new. Curious, I followed up the call.
I knock at the door. Nothing.
I open the unlocked door.
It was hard to decide what was more alarming, the room full of roses or the man tied to a chair.
“I’m Sargent Elizabeth Prince. What happened?”
You remain silent.
“Can you hear me?”
I stare into your teary eyes. Suddenly they glint and pull me to you.
Our memories and our love. How could I have forgotten?
After the kiss you smile at me.
“I love you, Elizabeth”.
The curse was broken.
My brother was born with a bewitching glint in his eyes. I thought that I was immune. Then he caught me gazing at you.
“Forget about it, Sam. Elizabeth loves me”.
“A charmed love isn’t real, Michael. We loved each other once until she started obeying you”.
Michael looked into me so deeply that my soul tingled.
“Whenever you see Elizabeth, you will walk the other way and your tongue will freeze. She will never know your love”.
The next time that I saw you, my feet carried me away. I was powerless to confess my love.
I am cursed.
“Some water? Just a moment”.
“Right, what’s our story tonight?
“Again? Don’t those bears deserve a days off?”.
“Once upon a time, three little… “.
“Act it out? Baby, I’m so tired”
“Don’t pout… fine. I’ll do my best”.
“Just a moment”.
“Right, where were we? You don’t remember? Were you even listening?”
“Start again? But we were almost finished.
“Don’t pout…fine. Once upon a time, three little bears……”.
“I put Mummy to bed, Daddy. She needed some rest”.
With Mummy sleeping on his bed, Dylan climbed in next to Daddy and fell asleep.
Words Take Flight Part 1.
As soon as Priya noticed the shadow cast over her page, she knew that she was busted. She didn’t dare look up at her father. There was no need to watch him losing patience with her, yet again.
Ari saw the paperback and snatched it out of her hands. He turned it over to read the blurb and made a face of disgust.
“A romance, Priya?” he snapped. Priya’s shoulder’s sagged as she sensed the lecture that was to follow.
“What is the point of me driving you half an hour across the city to study if you insist upon filling your head with this trash? It is your intention to apply to medical school at the end of the year, is it not? How do you expect to learn anything if you waste all of your time reading such meaningless fiction?”.
Reluctantly, Priya turned around to face the music.
“Take a breath, would you, daddy?”, she sighed, noticing that he was almost crimson with fury.
“What you need to understand is…”.
“Don’t you try and lecture me”, Ari snapped.
“This is what I think of your book and your excuses”.
With an angry flick of the wrist, Ari threw the book across the library. Priya watched on in horror as her lovely story slammed into a bookshelf and ricocheted diagonally downward. As it landed on top of the fireplace, ‘A Chivalrous Romance’ was swallowed up by the flames.
Priya gasped and then glared at her father.
“The librarians are not going to be happy with you”.
Ari, still in a state of shock did not reply. He would openly admit that he was a strict father, but Ari was only like that because he wanted the very best for Priya. Deep down he was a decent, law abiding man who wasn’t proud of what he had just done.
“I’ll compensate the library for their loss, of course”, he assured his daughter. Still not completely willing to swallow his pride Ari added, “though I have my doubts that the replacement will be expensive. Really, the library should be thanking me for ridding them of another frivolous love story”.
Priya shook her head, not caring in the least about compensation. As far as she was concerned, her father was responsible for the deaths of Sir Julian and Lady Josephine.
At first, there was a cloud of ash. Then, somehow the brave knight made his way out of the inferno. Still on top of his steed, Shadow, Sir Julian continued to gallop, unable to explain what had just happened or where he was going. Then, very unexpectedly, Shadow took flight. Julian fearfully grasped his reigns.
What on Earth was going on?
“What is happening, my love?”
Julian glanced over his shoulder. To his great surprise, Lady Josephine was sharing his saddle. Julian could not take his eyes off of her, and it wasn’t just because she was the love of his life.
“Can I help you?”, Josephine asked, noticing that he was staring.
“It’s your hair, Josie”, he explained finally. “I knew it was dark, of course, but today it looks less like ebony and more like a cloud of soot”.
Lady Josephine held up one of her smoky tresses and smiled.
“So I have changed as well, then”.
Changed as well?
Julian looked back at Josephine blankly. What was that supposed to mean?
Josephine laughed. There was a good reason why she insisted upon going on quests with Julian. Her knight was chivalrous and could wield a sword like no other, but he also had a talent of missing what was right under his nose.
“Julian, in case you hadn’t noticed, Shadow is flying. We’re not in the Prismatic Kingdom anymore, and we are surrounded by these strangely coloured walls. Besides, my hair is perfectly ordinary compared to yours. You are glowing so brightly that you look like a flaming torch.
Julian looked upward and noticed the strange colouring at once. Unable to properly examine himself, he plucked a hair and then turned it over in his palm. Instead of a regular, ginger strand it was glowing like hot cinders and making a soft crackling sound that reminded the knight of a bonfire. Sir Julian closed his eyes and allowed himself exactly two seconds to panic. Then he pulled himself together and turned back to Josephine.
“No matter what happens, Josie, hold onto me and don’t let go. I’ll look after you, no matter what happens”.
Josephine could read the fear in his eyes. Even so, she smiled at him.
“I know that you will”.
She didn’t mind that Julian was scared. The lady knew without a doubt if it was possible for the knight to do so, he would keep her safe.
“Likewise”, she swore, wanting him to know that she also had his back, no matter what.
Julian smiled back.
“I know that you will”, he echoed. He couldn’t be in better hands than Josephine’s. Within her beat a heart worthy of any knight. With no way to stop Shadow spiralling upwards, the two of them held onto each other and hoped for the best.
“Daddy, what have you done?”
Ari stared at the billowing fireplace and paled. The room was quickly filling up with smoke, and yet it made no sense. Besides the ash covered ruin that had once been Priya’s book, nothing else was burning.
“Who decides to build a fireplace in a library, anyway?” he snapped. Priya glared at Ari, still rugged up in his scarf and snow jacket and rolled her eyes.
Ding, ding, ding, ding.
Somebody had been sensible enough to set off the fire alarm. Priya heard the frantic footsteps around her but could not bring herself to move. Watching the smoke was fascinating; hypnotising. Ari rushed to his daughter’s side and noticed her wide, green eyes focused upwards.
“Priya. Priya, honey we have to get out of here”.
When his daughter did not respond, Ari shook her shoulders.
“Come on, Priya. We have to go now”.
Priya remained unresponsive. Then, her jaw dropped.
“Do you see that?”, she exclaimed.
“See what?”, Ari asked. Then there was a scream. The poor head librarian who had come to fetch the pair took one glance at the scene and started running in the opposite direction.
“It’s not possible. I must be imagining things. I did not just read that”.
Ari turned to the fleeing librarian. Unable to understand what the fuss was about, he finally looked up and read the opening line in the sky. Once upon a time.
Priya did not know whether to be frightened or awestruck. Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it. They were scrolling like the subtitles on a television screen, disappearing almost as soon as they appeared. While they were too quick for Priya to follow, she knew the story well enough to tell that Sir Julian was about to go questing to defeat the notorious Ridgeback Terror. When Priya read the words, dragon cave, her jaw dropped. Above her and to the right, she could actually see the cavern. Hiding within, she could just make out the flash of bright and terrified, amber eyes.
Lady Josephine gasped.
“Do you see that, Julian”.
Julian nodded. The cavern was impossible to miss. He was surprised that Josephine had not mentioned the strangest part; the fact that the knight riding towards it was himself.
“It must be a memory”, he remarked, unable to come up with another explanation.
Josephine then thumped him.
“Why would you remember that moment? I thought that I had set you straight about why you shouldn’t have hunted that dragon. Just because the Ridgeback frightened the townsfolk, didn’t make it right for them to chase him into that cave. His only crime was being himself. Were you even listening to me?”
Julian nodded. His lady had gotten her point across just fine.
“You chased me out of the cave, remember? You persuaded me enough to convince the King to make dragon hunting illegal throughout the kingdom. Yes, I was listening. Besides, the memory isn’t mine. I don’t think that it is, anyway”.
Fascinated, the two of them looked down and relived their spirited argument as they watched their shadow selves act out the scene. Time must have sped up for suddenly the scene had changed. Sir Julian was suddenly on his knees, offering the Lady Josephine a bouquet of wildflowers and begging her forgiveness.
“Sickening”, Ari remarked. Except for reading the classics, he considered escapism to be a waste of time. It was much better to read educational books with lessons that could be carried with you everywhere. With his daughter standing firm, Ari’s only options were to drag Priya to the exit or watch this sickening scene play out. If Priya had been seven instead of seventeen, he would have chosen the first option without hesitation.
Ari continued to watch the endless stream of words, and the flashes of chivalric nonsense acted out in front of him. As he endured quest after meaningless quest, followed by the knight proposing to his lady in a room filled with candles, his mind started to wander. Then, Ari noticed something strange. Was that the lady dressing up in her knight’s armour?
Poor Priya, who hadn’t gotten up to that part of the book started to shriek.
“Don’t do it, Josephine. Don’t go and meet Sir Robert. He is going to kill you, I am certain of it”.
Ari turned to his daughter for an explanation.
“I don’t get it. Who is this Robert character and why is she dressing up to meet him?”
Priya struggled to answer for she had started to cry.
“Robert and Julian used to be friends. They used to hunt for dragons together before it became illegal. Robert lived far beyond his means, so he had racked up quite a debt that he had to pay. No longer able to pay using the dragon bounties, Sir Robert lost everything, even though he is trying to hide it from everybody. The last that I read, Robert invited Julian for a visit in their home town, but it is a trap. Nobody knows it yet, but Robert is after his revenge. He wants to kill Sir Julian”.
“That poor woman”, Ari remarked before scolding himself. He hadn’t just cared about what was happening to a fictional character, had he?
“I was so scared when I woke up, and you were nowhere to be found”, remarked Julian. “What were you thinking? To go after Robert on your own was completely insane”.
“Maybe”, Josephine sighed. “At the time I thought that I was being rational”. While the lady hadn’t gathered enough evidence to know for sure, she had learned enough about Robert to be suspicious of him and his new associates. The leader of the Shadow League had put out a bounty on her husband’s head, and she had little doubt that Robert intended to claim the prize. With Sir Julian was more skilled with a sword, the poor knight had hurt his shoulder on his last quest. Perhaps Josephine should have told Julian everything, but at the time she had thought it wiser to keep the former friends away from each other for as long as possible. The best plan that Josephine had come up with was to reason with the corrupt knight and enlist his help to withdraw the bounty and stop the evil that they had once all sworn to oppose. As much as it hurt her to keep her husband in the dark, Josephine could not risk him entering into a duel that he could not win.
Terrified, Josephine rode up to Robert’s cottage, prepared to give up her own freedom and perhaps her life in exchange for keeping Julian safe.
End of part one.
As I stepped off the platform of the train station, a sleek, silver cab was pulling up to the curb. Assuming that it was taken, I dialled the number of the taxi company and waited for the line to connect. During this time, I watched the rest of the passengers descend the exit ramp. There were hugs and kisses from reunited relatives, and dapper men and women in uniform, loading suitcases into awaiting cars. Strangely, no one paid any attention to the silver taxi, even though the door was open and the driver was leaning against the door.
“May I be of assistance, sir?”
I looked up and noticed that the taxi driver was looking right at me and smiling. I smiled back. With her silver flecked hair and oversized glasses, she reminded me of my grandmother.
“Could I trouble you for a lift to Broadbeach?” I called back. It was already so late. The sooner that I could get to the hotel, the sooner I could turn in and get some rest.
“Of course”, she agreed. Relieved to be on my way, I pocketed my phone and made my way down the ramp.
The first thing that I noticed was how smoothly the taxi was running. I could not get over how quiet the engine was.
“Are all of the taxis like this on the Gold Coast?”
The cabbie grinned proudly.
“Electric cars are the way of the future, you know? Supposedly they are better for the environment, so they have my approval”.
“Incredible”, I marvelled, having never heard of anything like it before.
As the journey continued, we attempted some small talk to pass the time. She introduced herself as Johanna Stern, so I told her that my name was Matt.
“So is this your first time to the Goldie, Matt?”, Johanna asked.
I nodded, forgetting that my face probably wasn't visible in the darkness. It was then that I heard the roar of the ocean. I pressed my nose up to the window in an attempt to make out the view. Then, just around the next bend, I saw it. I could just make out the barrel of waves as they crashed upon the sand.
The cabbie laughed at my enthusiasm. A little embarrassed by my reaction, I explained that I had grown up on a farm. For the people who had grown up on the Gold Coast, the seaside was so normal that it was likely taken for granted. For me, I may as well have been on another planet. Seeing the ocean, was nothing short of incredible.
“I understand completely”, she replied. “I can also assure you that your assumption is incorrect. I grew up here and yet every time that I come to the beach it still takes my breath away”.
So Johanna lives here.
I grin, unable to believe my luck. During my tour of the States, I had started my visual diary. My intention was to create a new drawing of every new place that I ever visited; something that captured its unique spirit. I was very fortunate to have this chance to tap into some local perspective.
“If you could choose just one spot for me to visit this weekend, where would you recommend?”, I asked eagerly.
Johanna smiled with local pride.
"It is impossible to pick just one ".
"Please won't you try", I begged. I explained about wanting to add a new sketch to my diary.
“Somewhere picturesque would be ideal”.
Her eyes lit up. Recognising what I was after, she rewarded me with a list of beaches. She also named a place called the Starlight Tower which she deemed to be the best viewing platform in all of the Gold Coast.
“Have you always been interested in drawing, Matt?”
I laughed and told her that I was more than interested. Drawing was my life, and it was also what I did for a living.
“Can you make a living as an artist?”, she gasped.
I laughed, for it was the typical reaction from strangers after learning about my profession.
"I am very lucky, aren't I? I would have become an artist no matter what, so it is a good thing people are kind enough to throw some money my way every now and again".
I told Johanna that I had drawn every day for as far back as I could remember. I had continued to do so because I had no other choice. For me, the need to draw was equal to the need to eat, breathe and survive. Despite ridicule and the doubts of other people, I continued to follow my passion. I was well aware I was one of the fortunate few to be noticed and actually receive payment for what I do.
“I suppose you are headed to that convention this weekend, then?”
My writing partner and I had been lucky enough to be invited to showcase our latest comic: Deep Blue Sea.
“Hero-Con has been going on, ever since I was a little girl”, the driver reminisced. “My father only likes it for the taxi business it generates. He took me along once, but he wasn't impressed. According to him, it was a gigantic waste of time for everybody involved”.
I could not comprehend such a sentiment. There had nothing like it around when I was a kid, so my memories of attending conventions were all very recent. I had just flown back from my very first Comic-Con in Los Angeles. Just being there, let alone being invited to take part had been electrifying.
“And what did you make of Hero-Con?”
I hoped that Johanna had been more open minded to the experience. Johanna thought about it and frowned.
“I remember coming around to Dad’s point of view. Surely there are more productive ways to spend your time than dressing up, looking at drawings and playing pretend. That being said, I do remember that it wasn’t all bad. My mother made me a Star Wars costume to wear, which I was quite pleased with at the time. In particular, I was impressed with the wall of art and comics. It is hard to believe, but I used to be a lot like you. There was a time when I would carry a sketchbook everywhere. As you can imagine, the hobby wasn't tolerated for long in our house. There are times that I miss it. If only these weary hands weren’t so shaky, I might just consider trying my hand at drawing again”.
“You really should", I insisted. For me, drawing was freedom. If Johanna could even get a fraction of the peace and pleasure she used to from her art, then it would all be worthwhile.
Suddenly, Johanna turned shy. I could just make out the blush upon her cheeks.
“I could never”, she sighed. “I wasn’t like I was any good at it. Anybody who ever saw my pictures said that I was wasting my time”.
“Who cares?”, I exclaimed.
“Did you enjoy what you were doing? If you miss it, then it must have made you happy once. Growing up lots of people wrote my drawings off as scribbles, and I never cared. Your drawing are a part of you. That makes them important, even if you are the only one who will ever get to see them”.
“My drawing are important, hey?”, the Johanna sighed. “I suppose I should be glad that somebody thinks so”. A part of me inside died. Horrible memories of art school came flooding back to me. Pretentious Ms Sharp had been set in her belief that there was only one way to produce a quality piece of art. Heaven help your grades and self-confidence if yours was the wrong way. During the last thirty-two years, I had seen too many potential artists give in because of what others thought of them. To see this sweet woman fall victim to the disapproval of others was devastating.
“What did young Johanna Stern like to draw?” I asked her, hoping to re-spark the fondness for drawing that had been beaten out of her over the years.
“Flying monsters” she answered without hesitation. Dragons, harpies, gargoyles: Johanna had obsessed over drawing flying, fantastical creatures.
I wished that I had been around to know young Johanna. Her creations would have been an excellent pairing with my endless assortment of sea monsters.
“Then I think that is what you should draw now as well. Please give drawing another try. All that it takes is for you to believe in yourself”.
“Mmm hmm”, Johanna muttered. At that moment I knew that she was still a prisoner of her father's scorn. It was impossible for her to free herself of her doubt. I could ride in this cab with her all day and still never have any hope in convincing her to take a risk and try.
We rode in silence until she announced our arrival. I glanced at my watch. How could that be right? We had only been on the road for fifteen minutes. I did not expect to arrive at the hotel so soon. Shrugging this off, I paid Johanna her fare and waved her off into the night.
I should have been exhausted. I had only been back in Australia for a couple of days, and I was still trying to catch up on sleep. My eyelids were heavy, but I was unable to relax. Inspiration had struck, and my idea wasn't going to let me rest until it had been set free. I unpacked my one of my unused sketchbooks and my inks and started to draw. Panel after panel flowed out of me until unexpectedly I had a new story. At the end of it, I added a dedication.
For Johanna. Never be afraid to spread your wings and soar.
Day one of Hero-Con was amazing and exhausting. My voice was hoarse, my hand was cramped from signing and sketching, and I was all too eager to do it again tomorrow. For now what I craved was some time to myself to relax and recharge. With the rain spoiling any plans of visiting the beach, I thought back to Johanna’s sketching recommendations.
“Hey Maria, you haven’t come across the Starlight Tower in your travels yet, have you? I was thinking about going up there tonight and having a quiet sketch”.
My writing partner shook her head. To help me out, she flagged down our convention director and local guru Phoebe James.
When I asked Phoebe, she frowned.
“Sorry, Matt, I have never heard of it”.
Strange. Johanna had made the Starlight Tower sound like it was a big deal. One by one, each person I asked within Artist Alley denied having heard it. Horace even tried finding out where it was on his laptop and he had no luck locating it either.
“It’s fine”, I declared after a while, tiring of the search. Figuring the best solution was to go directly to the source, I retrieved my phone.
Having chased up the number of the company, Seashell Cabs, I made the call.
“Hello, I am after a taxi, please”.
The receptionist on the other end was very polite.
“Certainly sir. Can you please give me your details?”
I did so, then informed the operator that I would like to request a particular driver.
“Her name is Johanna Stern. She was very helpful the other night and it would mean a lot to me if I could request her services again”.
“I will see what I can do”, the receptionist replied. I could hear the rustling of papers through the phone line.
“Stern.. Stern…. Are you sure that you have the right name? I don’t see any Johanna Stern here on our payroll”.
I told her that I was quite sure.
“Maybe there is a mistake in your paperwork. Her name was definitely Johanna Stern. She is an older lady, quite short and she wears large tortoiseshell glasses. She drives one of the silver, electric cabs”.
There was a prolonged silence on the other end.
“And you are sure that she was working for Seashell Cabs?”
“Of course I am sure”, I snapped. Surely I had not imagined the bold lettering painted onto the side of the car. There had even been a seashell next to the logo, for goodness sake.
“Sir, I am sorry but there seems to have been a mistake. Johanna Stern does not work here, nor do any of our drivers have cabs that fit that description. All of our cars are gold. I have never heard of a silver electric taxi anywhere, especially here in the Gold Coast”.
Clearly uncomfortable, the operator hung up before I could pose any argument.
“Matthew, come with me right now”.
Maria was suddenly by my side. Supporting my weight, she guided me to a nearby chair.
“What happened to you just now? You look like you have just seen a ghost”.
Poor Maria. I knew that I was trembling and causing her to worry. Not having any other explanation, I settled for the truth.
“Maria, I think that I am losing my mind”.
Maria and Phoebe’s suggestion was an early night’s rest. They put the whole incident down as brain fog: the result of bouncing from convention to convention and not getting enough rest. Too tired to argue, I let them call me a cab. The car that came to collect me was yellow and depressingly ordinary. This driver had no desire for small talk which was a relief. I closed my eyes and tried my best to push Johanna Stern out of my head completely.
While I wasn’t required to be at the Convention Centre until 10 am, I couldn’t bear to miss the costume parade. Blending in with the crowd, I stood back and watched the assortment of heroes, villains and monsters, march, wave and dance down the streets of Broadbeach. After it was over, I made it back into the centre just in time to hear the end of the costume competition.
“And now”, announced Phoebe, “Here at the 5th annual Gold Coast Hero-Con, here are our costume winners”.
My blood ran cold. Had she just said it was the 5th convention? Not the 25th or the 50th? I could distinctly remember Johanna saying she had attended this convention as a little girl but clearly that wasn’t possible. I grabbed at an abandoned programme left at my station and saw the number clearly in front of me: 5th. I slid into my chair and made a mental note to have a sit down with Phoebe that evening. Maybe I was suffering convention fatigue as she had suspected. We had five more appearances booked across the country across the next few months. As much as it would hurt me to do so, if I was losing my mind, then it was probably for the best that I pull out.
Thankfully, my fans forgive me for being distracted and unwell. Having discovered early in the day that I was too disturbed to draw any commissions, I limited myself to signings and answering questions. As a replacement novelty, Maria tracked down some drawing paper and pencils and set up an art station for budding illustrators. ‘Have Maria Goldstein name your creature’ was her pitch. I did not mind that most of our visitors that day were kids. At least I could get some pleasure watching them express their creativity. The lapse in attention turned out to be a blessing. If I had been distracted by a fan, then there was a good chance that I would have missed her. The little girl, especially in this crowd was in danger of being swallowed up by it completely. An older man, presumably her father, was dragging her along at an alarming rate.
“I have no idea how you roped me into this, Johanna. I can barely breathe in here. Choose one last thing to see then I am getting us out of here”.
Did he just say?
I focused on the girl, examining her jet black hair and oversized pink glasses. She was dressed up as a Star Wars character but it was not Princess Leia.
I stood up.
“I like your costume, Johanna”, I called. I could feel Maria staring at me. It was the most spirited that I had been all day.
“You’re Rey from The Force Awakens, right? You have good taste. I love that movie".
Johanna and her father stopped and turned to me. Even though Johanna didn't have a clue who I was, she smiled right at me.
“I’m going over there, Daddy”, Johanna announced. The father rolled his eyes and walked up to the counter with her.
“How exactly do you know my daughter?” he asked. I ignore him.
“Do you like my sea monsters, Johanna?”
Johanna took a moment to scan my display wall. When she looked back at me, her brown eyes were sparkling.
“Uh huh. Did you really draw them?”
“Do you want to have a turn?”, I offered. “Why don’t you ask my friend Maria for a piece of paper? I would love to see your best monster”.
“Not another monster”, he remarked under her breath.
“Please, Johanna”, I begged, not being able to bear her being discouraged. Johanna looked from me to her father, and then to Maria.
“Can I have some paper please?”.
I watched as this six-year-old created her masterpiece. While it was far from perfect, it was easy to see what it was supposed to be. The majestic, forest green dragon was covered in leathery scales and its wingspan was fully extended. I could see its spiky tail and the fireball coming out of its mouth. Maria, God love her, whistled when it was done and dubbed it Flaminator. Johanna giggled.
“Do you mind?”, I asked, grabbing my pen and her creation. I drew my first picture of the day, firstly adding an ocean underneath Johanna’s dragon. Then I added one of my favourite creatures, the aerobatic Seaclaw Dragon. I drew it leaping out of the water, splashing the Flaminator with its spray. I finished with my signature and a message of encouragement.
For Johanna, from your number one fan, Matt Chastain.
Rummaging underneath my table, I found my sketchbook from last night and presented it, and the drawing to Johanna.
“Read this when you get home, okay? I hope that you enjoy it”.
Johanna took the sketchpad. She opened it. When she saw the griffins on the first page, she gasped.
“I love it”.
“Are we done now? Fantastic”. With his patience exhausted, Johanna's father dragged the poor girl away. As Johanna turned her head to catch one last glimpse of my art wall, I prayed that my comic would be enough to keep the girl inspired.
My mother used to tell me not to examine life too closely. It was much better by far just sit back and enjoy the ride. I have done my best to follow this advice over the years and not dwell upon my mysterious encounter. The best explanation I could come up with was that I was visited by a ghost that night. Was is a ghost of what could have been? An echo from another time, from a future Johanna filled with regret? There was no way to know for sure. The one thing that I do know for certain lies in front of me here and now. I am standing in line waiting for the most remarkable young woman. As she looks up and smiles at me, I beam with pride. I wish that I had been that professional and composed at twenty-one. Of course, I don’t expect for her to recognise me. Even fifteen years can seem like a lifetime ago. I wait patiently for my signature and then thank her before I leave.
I feel a touch upon my hand.
Johanna rummages behind her station. She pulls out a clear packet and hands it to me.
“It only seems fair that you get to keep a copy. I still have mine. I cannot begin to tell you how much it means to me”.
I pull the comic out of the packet and flick through the pages. Each panel was the same as the ones I had drawn for Johanna, except she had redrawn them in her own style. She told the story of the griffins, not just once, but many times. Flipping through I could see her progression as an artist over the years. On the back page, she had drawn two dragons entwined. The large one was blue, jagged and dripping with water. The second one, though smaller and covered with fine purple and green feathers, has an impressive wingspan and a fierce look in her eyes. Underneath, I read her inscription.
For Matt Chastain. Thank you, Dragonfather. It is because of you that I was able to find my wings and soar. From your number one fan, Johanna Stern.
I take another look at our dragon portrait, and then quickly turn away, in fear of causing the ink to run.
“You astound me, Johanna” I manage to say at last. I reach for my Dragonchild and give her a hug. I could see her wings, on and off of the page, and they were magnificent.