The Auction

“Shh, it’s happening now. I’ll tell you when to run.”

Corralled into a fenced in patch of ground, the children glanced nervously around, darting their heads down whenever an adult happened to look directly at them. They were beautiful children, flawless except for the dirt that had been artistically smudged onto their faces and under their nails and the mud that clung to the ends of their shorn hair. The decoration was meant to stir the sympathy of the adults surrounding the pen.

“Now?”
“Not yet. Hsst.”

Unfortunately for the children, most of the adults, the potential buyers, were wise to such tricks. Most of them looked for more telling characteristics – the arch of a child’s back, the straightness of their teeth, the shape of the ears, the expression in the brow.

“See the clocktower? That’s where we’re heading.”

The auctioneer got on his platform and began to call loudly for the buyers to choose the numbers they wanted and gather round. The children all had two-digit numbers tattooed – temporarily – on their foreheads and the backs of their hands. The adults took peering looks, barking at this or that child to raise his head or hold out her hands. Then the buyers would nod and head to the auctioneer’s podium.

“When he calls the first number and they open the gate to bring a kid out, that’s when we run. Got it?”
“Uh-huh.”

Watching the auctioneer explain the rules of the auction but not going closer were the adolescents, the sellers. Some of the children in the pen were their siblings, some were their small children. It didn’t matter. They were products and the sellers were professionals. They knew all the tricks. They’d been there once themselves. They watched the kids closely, keeping on eye on their gangs. The auctioneer called out for number 11, and a little boy pulled his thumb out of his mouth immediately and squared his shoulders. He didn’t cry. He looked at his seller and they nodded to one another. He walked towards the gate which was unlocked by a guard. It was a wooden fence, solidly build with spikes carved out of the top of the staves. It only reached about chest-height for an adult but it towered above the children’s heads, and there was barbed wire curling atop the spikes. None of the kids could climb it.

“NOW.”

Two of them ran, ran, fast and hard as they could, and one of them even managed to run past the open gate, but the guard caught her and threw her right into the runner behind her. They fell back into the pen and the gate slammed shut. Their seller came running over and looked at them through the barbed wire with a face far too calm to bode well.

“You just lowered your price for me by two thirds. That means you lose two-thirds of your security clauses in the contract.” She walked away from the two children who still sat on the ground, leaning against each other. She was mad. She also respected the little runts. She’d never had the courage to do what they just tried, not when she was that young. Now? Who knows what she’d do now. She was doing this, wasn’t she?

Mandy Meets the Goblins (Part 2)

” A goblin, of course,” said Rocky. “As a young lady like yourself should know already.” This puzzled Mandy. A lady? She, a lady? And how would she know what goblins looked like, anyway? The look on her face must have mirrored her thoughts, since Rocky spoke up again. “Well, maybe in this, this country you’re in, they don’t teach young ladies how to recognize goblins.”

“No, they don’t,” Mandy confirmed. “I’ve only ever heard about goblins in the picture books that Miss Turner has up at the school, and in those, goblins are big and really mean. You’re not mean, are you?” She’d already realized he wasn’t big.

“No, no, not at all!” Rocky looked shocked at the very thought. “We’re like… like… What is the word for someone who makes wishes come true?”

“A genie?”

“No, that isn’t it. A longer word. I cannot remember it.”

“A fairy godmother?”

“Yes!” Rocky beamed at her. “Goblins are like fairy-godmothers!”

Mandy took another good look at him. He really was quite green, and apart from the horns on his head, his skin seemed kind of strangely prickly looking too. He definitely didn’t look a thing like any fairy-godmother from the picture books.

“So,” she began slowly, thinking hard. “You’re here to make my wishes come true?”

“Well, it’s like this,” Rocky began. He tried to stand up again and fell over, so Mandy lifted him off the pillow and onto her bedside table where he could stand. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s like this,” he began again. “Goblins can’t exactly do that. Not exactly. No, what we can do is help you make a wish – only one wish, mind – come true.”

“But how does that help?” Mandy was disappointed.

“If you make a wish come true, it’s much more special than just having it come true all on its own, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” now she was getting angry. “I don’t care if it’s special, I just want my sister to stop being sick!”

Rocky jumped, with surprising speed, onto Mandy’s face and, feet on her chin, he held to pieces of her hair in his hands and leaned back so she could see his face properly. “Shush! Do you want your parents to wake up?”

Mandy shook her head, and Rocky along with it. She was a bit afraid of him now. He was very fast, and even though he hadn’t been mean, exactly, he’d been quite strict for a creature that was as tall as her hand. Once he’d jumped off her back onto the table, she whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“No need to be sorry,” he said briskly. “We’ve just got to get started. You’ve told me your wish already, right? You want your sister to get better.”

Mandy nodded vigorously.

“Let’s get started then!” He rubbed his hands together, and started bouncing around the room at incredible speed, dropping things into Mandy’s lap. By the time he’d finished, Mandy had in her hands a get-well card her sister had written for her when she was small and had gotten chicken-pox; a scarf that Mandy was trying to knit for her sister; a shoe that had been a hand-me-down to Mandy from her; and finally, a bouncy ball that they’d played with together.

“Um, what do I do with all of this?” Mandy asked.

“Look here – your sister gave you a card when you were sick, a shoe when you needed one, and a ball when you needed a friend to play with. You started to knit this scarf almost a year ago, but I can tell,” here he nodded wisely, “I can tell that you haven’t touched it for months.”

“I know, it was just too hard,” Mandy started to explain. And then she stopped. And then she thought. Her sister had stuck by her when she was growing up. But Mandy hadn’t visited her for weeks now, scared of what she’d find. She and her twin had used the neglected chores as excuses to stay away, but maybe their parents would have left the invalid’s room if she’d had someone else to sit with her for a while. But they couldn’t, since Mandy and her brother were so scared of seeing their big, strong, beautiful sister just lying there, listlessly.

“But,” Mandy began, as if she’d thought aloud. “But even if I finish the scarf, even if I sit with her, how will that make it better?”

“Maybe it won’t. But maybe it will. Maybe she misses you, eh?” Rocky stretched both hands over his had and held onto his horns. He swayed back and forth, smiling, and then, with a sudden, rushing noise, he was gone. A whisper remained in the air after him – it told Mandy that if she needed a little help, she could call on the goblins.

Mandy was never quite sure if she’d dreamed that night or not. She did, however, start going to her sister’s sickbed. She insisted on opening the windows and letting in sunlight and air. She forced her parents to leave and do some chores themselves. She knitted her scarf, sitting on the edge of her sister’s bed and getting tips from her on what she was doing wrong.  She got her twin brother to make up jokes and tell them to their sister and make her laugh.

She spent time with her. And neither Mandy, nor her sister, ever forgot that.

Writing Exercise: The Portal

It’s not every day that you see a portal. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a portal in my life. Well, let me amend that; I’ve seen portals, but they were just regular doorways or windows, a portal from one normal space to another. This portal, the one I saw today, was different.

At first, I wasn’t sure that what I was seeing was a portal. It looked like a shimmer of air – like the sort of shimmering that happens above the flames of a bonfire in a hot and humid night. As I drew closer to the wavering patch of air, I realized that if I looked at it out of the corner of my eye, I could see something through it. What I should have seen through it was just the trees, tall and boring palm trees, on the other side of the park. Instead, what I saw through the patch of air was something exceedingly odd.

It looked like a kind of demonic vortex: a sort of whirlwind of dark colors, weaving through each other and around and around the spiral they made, tumbling over one another and creating frightening images if I tried to concentrate on them. Sweat poured down my face in the summer heat as I kept turning my head this way and that, trying to see where the moving tunnel inside that patch of air led to. It was no use, however. The spirals of color just kept on and on inside that portal, and the ending was so far away it just looked like a black dot at the end.

The portal drew me towards it. I took a step, and another. I wanted to enter it, get swept up in that endless darkness and see where it would lead me. Before I knew it, my hand was inches away, reaching towards the shimmering air through which I saw the tunnel.

My logic kicked in. I snapped my hand back. I shoved both hands in my jeans pockets, like unruly children who had gotten away from me and needed to take a time-out. With one last, involuntary yearning, glance at the portal, I turned away. I turned my back on the fate that would await me if I entered that darkness. Now, at day’s end, my curiosity burns for that knowledge and my logic must sooth my imagination. “There, there,” it says in my mind. “It couldn’t have been anything good. There, there. It’s alright.”

Lucy’s Diary, May 27th

May 27th, Night, Library

Dear Diary,

Something is going on with R. I’m getting worried. He was supposed to be getting better, but when I visited him today I found him trying to claw his way across the floor. He was sweaty and feverish and I’m positive he was delirious at the time. The doctors aren’t telling me much, because they don’t have proof that I’m a relative.

Diary, I’m scared. I’m terrified, in fact. I feel like every flicker of a light or creak in the floor is someone coming to… to something – kill me, poison me, force me to tell them about R or about how far my parents spread their research on the Parazelli.

Forgive me, my thoughts are completely scattered tonight. I feel a knot in my stomach, and I’m pretty certain that if I try to get up now my whole body will cramp up due to my muscles being so tense.

I don’t know who to ask for help – I don’t know how to help R. But I have to help him. I have to find out what’s

Oh no. Oh no. This is too much. This is just TOO much. My phone just rang, and I answered it, thinking it was R calling me for reassurance that I’ll be there tomorrow morning. Instead, it was his doctor. He said he found my number on a note next to R’s phone and called me. R’s being poisoned. The doctor said that the police are coming in first thing in the morning to interview people at the hospital, because he was being poisoned with snake venom, which is not something that could accidentally have gotten into R’s food by a negligent nurse.

The doctor says R is going to be fine, they’re pumping antidotes into his system. But that’s not what I’m worried about anymore. The Parazelli must be very close, and they’re obviously sending us a message. It’s not like they thought R would die of poison while he’s IN A HOSPITAL. No, this is a warning.

Ok, I have a plan. Not a very elaborate plan, but a plan nonetheless. Something to get me through the night. The plan is this: talk to R tomorrow and figure this out. Yes. Good plan.

I think I better go to my room, Diary, and try to catch some sleep. And tomorrow I shall set my brilliant plan in motion.

Yup.

Lucy

Nightclub

As you enter, you hit not so much a wall, but rather a whole cathedral of sound. There is no escape, no corner where relief from it can be found. If you’re there, you’re not looking for that kind of relief anyway. No, if you’re there, if you’re one of the mass and crush of bodies that fill the place, you’re looking for the kind of relief that can be found only in surrounding and drowning yourself in sound.

Darkness – though punctured by swirling colored lights one moment and a bright flashing white light the next moment – is still the feeling and the living presence that dominates the space. You can feel it in every square inch, the darkness being beckoned and welcomed as a savior, as a necessity, as a living thing to be worshiped. The throng of people treat the darkness as a blessing, a way to keep their anonymity, a way to overcome shyness or fear, a way to live out their wildest sides.

The music is no less important than the darkness. It seems to induce madness, or perhaps levitate towards ecstasy, as people lose themselves in the movement, in the noise, in the never-ending thrum of the bass in their hearts and stomachs. Smoke coils endlessly in the air, the pungent smell of strong alcohol mixing with it, as cigarettes are lit one after another, as drinks pass from hand to hand.

A Bit Batty

In front of my apartment building, there is a small lawn, and then some hedges and then the sidewalk. On the lawn, there is a rather large palm tree with a thick trunk and large, swaying branches. The tree is very fertile and well-taken care of and so it is always heavy with the small, light-brown fruit that certain palm-trees seem to bear.

As I arrived home from work the other night, I saw the most beautiful thing, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since then. There are always bats around that tree – they like the fruit on palm trees I believe, or at least this type of bat must do. But that night, as I came home from work later than usual, there were a huge group of bats flying around it. There must have been at least thirty or forty of the beautiful, winged beasts, and they were going absolutely crazy, flying up and down and around the tree, weaving through and around each other, always pulling up in time.

They came so close to me that I could see the light through their wings – I could even see the fur that is spread sparsely on their bodies. I could see the tiny claw at the end of each of their wings. I stood and watched them for at least five minutes, my head just swiveling around and around, following their dizzying movements. Ah, but they are marvelous animals!