My Curious Guest

Note #1

I don’t want to say too much, because the story should mostly speak for itself. All you need to know is that the bones of this story literally came from a dream I had the other day (2nd March). This was all written in a single day. Besides poems and chapters, that’s the fastest I’ve ever written something complete. I hope you enjoy it, I’m rather proud of it.

Note #2 gives a bit of explanation about the story, but it’s at the bottom. If you don’t want to have anything explained, then just ignore that part.

DISCLAIMER: There is a lot of swearing and some potentially disturbing content.


One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.

~ Richard Bach

That man is considering killing his wife, or so I pretend. That blonde lady has deliberately dressed down to hide her wealth. That guy in the sharp suit is on the phone securing a shady business transaction.

As I stroll down the road, I tell myself these things. None of it is true, of course, it is merely a mental roleplay that I direct from the director’s chair of my mind.

Perhaps many people do something like this. Perhaps not. Either way, I do it because I find it makes the otherwise mundane trot down this otherwise mundane road, not so mundane. Maybe that’s strange to others. Good thing others don’t know about it then.

How a high-street in the capital can be so boring, is beyond me. Perhaps it’s the whole grass is greener thing, but–

Oh. There’s a person standing in one of the many windows in one of the many towering office buildings. He seems to be on the phone too. Perhaps he’s on the other end of the same call as the well-dressed man from earlier, and he’s providing inside information about the company. He’s a terrorist. Maybe he’s going to blow up the entire building.

In reality, I don’t want such tragic things to happen. But come on, nothing crazy ever happens on this street anyway.

“Stop him!” I hear someone cry out. Several screams follow from somewhere behind me.

Instinctively, I turn to see what all the fuss is about, only to see a sea of people who look as confused as I do. I look down the high-street, but I can see nothing of alarm. But then I hear more cries, and I realise they’re coming from beside me, across the road.

I spot a figure, clad in black barging through, knocking children and people aside as they do so. My thoughts are a flurry, adrenaline rushes through my body, and despite all this, I am still as stone.

The figure’s face is hidden beneath a balaclava as they rush into one of the high-street bank branches. I see the figure pull out what looks like a long pole. I think it’s ridiculous, but it’s enough to stamp terror into the faces of the people in the branch.

Curiously, he doesn’t try to stop the people that flee. No hostages then? This must be a quick hit and run. Get the money and get out. I can’t hear much of anything, but I see people dialling on their phones, obviously calling police. The robber seems to be trying to shake down the tellers, stabbing the space near their faces, and then nodding at the rucksack he’s placed on their desk.

Suddenly, a rather plump black woman in a green blouse approaches the robber. She seems to be trying to reason with him. She places one hand on her stomach and the other on her chest. No, not her chest, on a crucifix hanging from her neck.

The figure turns to regard her, but if he’s saying something I can’t hear it. All I hear is the cry that escapes the woman’s throat as he backhands her when she tries to put a hand on his shoulder.

The woman raises one hand in a forestalling motion, the other still on her stomach. I can just about hear what she’s saying. “Please! Please! Don’t hurt me!” The robber turns around, I only catch part of his muffled words. “…just don’t try to fuck with me!” The voice seems a lot higher pitched than I would have expected, despite the muffling.

And then a ginger-haired woman runs to tend to the black woman. She also raises a forestalling hand to the robber. All I hear her say is, “She’s pregnant!”

Is that why she kept putting a hand on her stomach? Jesus. I hope the baby is okay after the woman was pushed like that.

Why am I even still standing here? Why don’t I try to do something to help? But what could I do?

Just then, the sound of sirens pierces through the street racket. I look at the people nonchalantly driving past. They honestly have no idea that they’re passing a bank robbery, do they? Have I ever been one of those people?

I turn my attention back to the robber. I still find myself paralysed. It occurs to me that I might be experiencing shock. Or perhaps I’m just a coward, as usual. Unable to save anyone or anything.

The robber is looking around the room, as though looking for another exit. “Fuck!” he yells. He must have heard the sirens. He dashes out the entrance, leaving his rucksack and whatever money was in it behind. What a waste of everyone’s time and energy. If you’re going to do a robbery and force people to suffer through it, at least take the fucking money.

The robber looks in complete disorder for a path of escape. And then he looks across the street, at me. He runs straight towards me. Why? What did I do? Had I seen too much?

I have little time to consider the possibilities. Within a couple of blinks, he is dead in front of me. Thankfully he rushes past me, but then…

But then…

For a reason that I will probably not live long enough to understand, my hand moves of its own accord, and grabs him by the arm. Through the layer of leather on his motorcycle jacket, I feel his arm. It’s more tender that I would have expected. In fact, his entire figure is rather… petite.

With a grunt, he tries to strike at me with his metal pole. Once again, my body moves on its own, and reflexively, I grab it, and pull it from his grip. Now I hold the weapon. How on earth did that happen?

The strip of sight his balaclava allows him, also allows me to see the shock in his eyes. Wait… not his eyes. Her eyes. It’s a woman. I can see enough of the face to tell. And judging by the features, an Asian woman.

Once more, my body conspires against me. Betraying my thoughts, it grabs the woman by the arm and I run her down the street. She struggles, but the force of my hand trumps that of her own. I take a sharp turn, down one of the side streets.

“Let go of me!” she says. Now it’s clear to me that voice belongs to a female. I ignore her, still shifting us as far from the bank as possible. When I finally do stop, I find myself by my penthouse apartment.

“You need to come inside,” I say to her. “The police will get you otherwise.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” She shouts. “Are you fucking crazy?”

“I can tell you’re scared,” I say. But why do I say it? “I know you didn’t mean to do what you did. You can talk to me about it, alright?” No, no, no! That’s not alright, and why am I saying it is?

It’s the moment that more sirens sound from nearby that I realise that this woman is going to come into my penthouse, and I’m going to deeply regret it. But my words betray my mind.

“I can’t!” She says. “I can’t! I need to get the fuck away from here!”

“My penthouse is safe,” I tell her. “If the police come, I can hide you in my panic room.” My thoughts and words are not matching up in the slightest.

“Why?” she challenges with a frown. Actually, she has been frowning the entire time. “Why would you help me?”

“You can come in here now, and be safe now. Or you can try and make your own luck out there.”

Even with her face covered, I can see the hesitation on it. With her jet-black motorcycle outfit, it’s no surprise she was mistaken for a man at first glance.

“Fuck!” She shouts as she stamps her boots. “Fuck sakes!” She lets out a growl of frustration before conceding. “Hurry up then!”

***

“So why did you do it?”

We’re sitting in the living room of my penthouse. I’m quite literally on the edge of my seat, whilst she sits to my left, on the couch, absently gazing at the ashtray atop the mahogany table. She looks to be about my age, in her early 20s. With her long black hair tied into a ponytail, she looks so innocent. Resting her hands in her lap only further emphasises her youth.

“Are you going to answer me or n–”

“Why did you fucking bring me here?” She cuts in with a scowl. “And before you say it, yeah, I know I came in to your house. But why did you drag me outside of it?”

I stare down at my shoes, hands clasped between my legs. “I don’t know.” I sigh. I look back at her, she immediately breaks eye contact. “Come on, why did you do it?”

The young woman’s eyes turn to me and she gives me a wry smile. “I don’t know.”

I feel my chest tighten as her eyes fall on me. “H-how can you not know why you attempted to rob a bank?”

“How can you not know why you helped someone who attempted to rob a bank?”

That annoyed me. She was obviously parroting me. She’s lucky I even helped her, let alone give her the chance to explain. Why am I giving her the chance to explain? I should call the police, but they might reckon I’m an accomplice. I don’t need them skimming through my place. I might as well try to salvage a good story from all this. If the police do come sniffing, maybe I could use her story as evidence to dodge a sentence.

This entire situation makes no sense. I done three things I would never have thought possible. I not only tried to stop her, I did. I disarmed her with ease, and then, for whatever reason, dragged her back to my apartment. Now that I think about it, that doesn’t sound flattering or innocent at all. My story might need a bit of revising before I present it to the police.

I look at the woman, her soft features clear as day. Is that what it was? Did her exotic attractiveness captivate me? Did the maddening magic of lust cause me to lose all sense and act on some base impulse? Surely not. I’d seen plenty of women I find attractive, and whilst I wouldn’t have minded bringing them home, I never forced them to.

Besides, I don’t know her and yet I’m endangering everything I do know for her sake. Why did I have to be walking down that road at that time? Why did I have to see it? And why, for god’s sake, did I have to get myself involved?

I cover my face with my hands and let out a low grunt. I don’t even want to think about the ramifications of all this. “Look,” I say, my hands sliding down my face. “This is just a big mess, ain’t it? Just… just go, alright? And try not to get yourself into anymore trouble.” Oddly, I realise that my feelings don’t match my words. I don’t want her to go. I want to know the reason she did it.

Of course, I do. She provided a real-world drama that until now, I’d only been making up. Well, I had lived my fair share of dramatic experiences, but this was the first in a long time. I’m not surprised I’m slightly enamored by it. By her.

“You helped me,” she said, still looking elsewhere.

“Yes,” I said. Then, I muttered, “Unfortunately.”

“You didn’t have to do that. And I’m not sure why the fuck you did. Your entire fucking life could be shitty now.”

I repeat the words, “Yes, unfortunately.”

“It just seems like such a stupid thing to do.”

I clench my fist.

“Are you a stupid person?”

I take a moment to consider, and then, very honestly, I answer, “Yes, unfortunately.”

“Well that explains it then. But look… I think it’s only fair I explain my side of it.”

I perk up at that. Finally.

She nods at a framed picture on the table. “I noticed that photo of you and your brother.”

I frown with surprise. “How did you know he’s my brother?”

“Do you think I’m fucking dumb? I’m not you, you know. He looks like you, he’s blatantly too young to be your dad, and much too old to be your son, unless your family has shit genes.”

“Or very good. If he was my dad, anyway.”

“Whatever. It reminded me of my brother. But you look like you actually love your brother.”

“You don’t?”

“He was a piece of shit. And my mum, she was the spawn of Satan. Nah. She was his fucking spit. Spawn is too important for what she was.”

I wonder what any of this has to do with the bank robbery, but I just let her continue. I’m glad she’s talking at all.

“They made my life shit. I’m not talking about grounding me for not getting A’s type of shit either. I know that’s the stereotype, but honestly, I’d have preferred that to the shit I dealt with. Every fucking hour I was at home there was something happening. She used me as… like… an experiment. She wanted to test all sorts of weird shit on me. What happens when your daughter is beaten multiple times? What if you cut her here? What about there? How long does it take for her to adjust to you cutting her arms?”

I look at her arms, but they’re covered by her jacket. Not sure I’d want to see them to be honest.

“And then she gets your fucking brother in on it. He does the same things, but it hurts even more, because he’s a fucking boy. He tattoos parts of your body because he thinks it’s ‘artistic’. Your mum makes you sit at the dinner table, full of food, and watch as she and your brother eats, and you get the scraps. The dog’s scraps. Why? Because it’s so much more interesting that way.”

“See, my mum was all about making things more dramatic, more intense, more fucking painful. If it sounded fucked up enough, sure enough she’d give it a go. Or make me give it a go rather. Living her twisted life of splendour on my dead father’s money! What a piece of… argh!” She breaks into tears. “Why the fuck am I telling you all this?”

I was wondering the same thing. But instead of adding to the mood, I try to change it. “Because I’m a sweet, swell guy, of course.”

She grimaces, tears streaming down her reddened face. “What? The fuck you talking about?”

Okay, wrong move. More sympathy then. “L-look, I’m… I’m sorry that all this stuff happened to you.”

She shakes her head and brushes her hair out of her face. For a moment, I can see dark markings etched onto her ears, but her hair quickly conceals them again.

“What are you sorry for? You can’t be sorry. You have to actually give a shit to be sorry. And to give a shit, you have to know me. And nobody fucking knows me.”

“That’s not true. Have you never heard of unconditional love?”

“Bullshit!” She spits out. “All love is conditional! Even your parents fucking love you conditionally. My mum only loved me when I screamed. Your mum only loved you when you didn’t piss her off! Unconditional love.” She scoffs. “You’re chatting shit.”

“Yeah, but…” I speak weakly. I don’t know her life. I can’t pretend to know.

“Dirt and pain!” She continues. “There was a shit load of that. A shit load of dirt… that at times was probably actually real shit. There was just…” her words break off, overpowered by the sobbing.

My instinct is to try and comfort her, to hug her or something. But that feels like another wrong move.

“Dirt and pain. D-dirt and pain. Dirt and f-fucking pain. S-so, so, s-so much d-dirt. So dark and… s-s-so dark… and lonely. It was s-so hard… s-so… hard… to breathe.”

She submits to the tears, letting them pour out.

I can’t handle it anymore. Without thinking, I move to sit beside her, pulling her into an embrace. I’ve always had a thing about not leaving people to cry alone. I find myself gently swaying the both of us. She smells like a rosy perfume. Of course, trust a female bank robber to still smell nice.

“I wish I had killed them,” she hisses. “I wish. I wish. I fucking wish!”

Her words hit my heart. I feel something sloping out of my eyes, silently saying what no words can. Valstar, my older brother, once told me, “Your family is everything. They’ll be there for you on heaven and earth. They protect you here, they protect you from up there. If they could, they’ve thoughtfully arranged a nice sum of money and put it in a will for you, for after they die.”

I remember I gave him a cheeky smile as I asked, “Have you thoughtfully prepared a will for me?”

“You’re a shit Christian, Elliot,” He said as he smirked. “But we’ll see one day, won’t we?”

And we did. And he had. Valstar had left me his entire self-made fortune. That was just over five years ago. In truth, I’ve never felt truly worthy of it, and I doubt I ever will. I used some of the money to allow myself to live comfortably, with a hint of artistic style. I would have foregone the artworks I have hanging on the walls, but he was adamant that I make a living space I could feel comfortable in.

I’ve never really been one to spend inordinate amounts of money on material possessions that have little meaning to them. It’s a cliché to say that when you die, “you can’t take it all with you,” but there’s an undeniable truth to the statement that many understand, but rarely seem to live by.

It then occurred to me that this young woman who had experienced such tragic things through her upbringing, basically wanted to steal from others so she could take back what she felt life owed her. She wanted to elevate herself by bringing others down. She is everything I despise about the entitled. My brother built his fortune from blood, sweat and tears. Our family had next to nothing. From the sounds of it, a lot less than she had been born into, because we were lucky if dinner was anything more than beans and chips.

But then… she never got to actually live that lifestyle.

I watch her as she wipes away her tears. I can see what looks like genuine anger on her face. Even so, and even though I feel guilt about it, I consider the possibility she’s lying. People have lied about such things to escape conviction in the past, or in some cases, to convict others. A pretty woman crying is enough to turn on most people’s sympathy switches. Maybe she knows that.

But why devise this entire narrative just for me? I’m not a detective.

“Why did that woman have to be there?” She groans. “Fuck sakes.”

I wipe away my own tears. “Who? The pregnant one?”

There’s a note of remorse in her tone as she speaks. “Why? I didn’t notice. I just… I just acted. You know? Like… I just did it. I swear I didn’t know she was pregnant. If I had seen her earlier, I would have just fucking left!”

Perhaps it was wrong to challenge her on that point, but I had to know, “Why? Did you not need the money?”

“Of course I needed the fucking money! What do you think I was doing, going in to make a speedy fucking withdrawal?”

“N-no, but–”

“I don’t want to hurt people to do it. Yeah, I took that pole, just in case. But I…I-I don’t want people to have to suffer for it. I couldn’t take the money after that. It would be fucked up to take it.”

“But why did you do it in the first place?”

She just shakes her head and quietly says, “I don’t know.”

She really doesn’t know. I believe her. I believe her about everything. I can’t know what really happened in her childhood, but it’s clear that she’s experienced something truly traumatic. Her entire personality reflects it.

“Was this the first time?”

She nods.

“Will it be the last?”

She makes a face and shrugs.

I laugh a little at the gesture. She frowns at me.

“What?” she asks.

“S-sorry,” I say, composing myself. “It’s just you remind me of someone I once knew. A girl called Nina. She would often shrug in a way that made me laugh. I always remembered her by name and actions only, because I can’t recall her face.”

“Yeah? Do you think she had a nice face?”

I smile. “Probably.”

“Fucking shame then, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

I am obviously infected by the sombre air, because I begin to tell my own little sob story.

“I had always felt a closeness to Nina. My chest would tighten when I was around her, and I found myself stammering when she looked me in the eye. She was always extremely happy at school. Nina was one of those rare children who looked forward to learning, and hated the thought of going home. If there was an opportunity to stay for longer, she would. When everyone else was excited about half-days, Nina looked distraught. In P.E. the girls would often make fun of her for the scars on her body.”

I take a moment.

“I never saw Nina again after primary school. Nobody did. Because she had killed herself, and any future dreams I had of her. I found out in school assembly. My teacher spoke to me personally, because she knew I was close to her. It took me a while to visit her house, just to check. I think I was afraid it was true. By the time I did, there was nobody there anymore. Shortly after, I couldn’t recall her face anymore. It was as though the moment she took her life, all physical remembrance of her had been wiped from my memory. As though God has punished both her and me. Her for suicide, and me for not stopping it.”

I begin to wonder, is that what all of this is then? Is my reason for trying to save this woman my way of making up for not saving Nina? It still doesn’t explain why I stopped her before I knew she was a she. My brother is probably looking over me right now, saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways, brother.” Maybe he does. Or maybe I’m just a fucking idiot.

But if my past might have caused me to act irrationally, maybe hers did too. I muster the courage to say, “Do you think… maybe, your attempted robbery was more of a belated lashing out against your mum and brother?”

“Belated?” she looks confused, potentially offended. “Why the fuck would I lash out like ten years later?”

“I don’t know,” I quickly say. “But from the hurt in your voice, and the obvious sadness it still creates in you, it’s clear you’ve been walking around with their shadows stalking you. Maybe you just had enough, and went out to exact your revenge. But since they aren’t around anymore–”

“I went out to half-heartedly rob a fucking Barclays?”

“Yes,” I say confidently. “And maybe I saved you because I felt like it would redeem my… past mistakes.”

“Bullshit.”

“So, what’s the real reason then?”

She rolls her eyes.

There’s a long silence. Me and the girl just stare around the living room, taking in the various abstract art pieces hung on the white walls, taking in the vast bookshelves. Wait. That’s it.

I turn to her. “You robbed the bank for money, right?”

She pulls a face again, cocking her head. “Nah. I wanted to rob their fancy pens.”

I ignore her sarcasm. “I have money. More than I would ever spend with my lifestyle.”

She looks about uncertainly. “You sure about that?”

“I just know how to buy things that look expensive. It’s something I’ve learnt from back when I had no money. Trust me, compared to how much money I have, this really wasn’t that much.”

“Well so fucking what? Good for you then. You wouldn’t give anything to someone like me. You people don’t fucking share money. You just donate to charities to get a couple claps on BBC One and make everyone think you’re not a piece of shit. As if money will fix every problem.”

“Hey, I just said I wasn’t always rich. This isn’t even my money. It came from my brother who has passed away. But he was a Christian. I’m sure he would have wanted me to try and help others with this money after I had helped myself. Believe me, I’m more than comfortable. To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with all this wealth.”

“First-world problems much,” she mutters.

“Yeah, I know. Listen, I’m trying… no… I will help you, alright? Maybe money can’t fix every problem, but we live in the real world. And in the real world, it’s a pretty good start.”

She’s like me, but when I was much younger. My brother had been an entrepreneur. He believed he would make himself rich, whilst making everybody else around him feel good as much as possible. I always thought it was nonsense. I used to think everybody was out to get me, that people were ultimately twisted. But he showed me a better, and I dare say, truer perspective.

No amount of telling would convince this girl. I should show her, to prove to her through action that good people do exist in the world, and that sometimes, they come from the places you least expect.

After going to my personal safe, I return, with three bulky envelopes in hand. I’m proud of the slight thud they make as I set them onto the table. I smile at the disbelief on her face. “There’s £200,000 in total. If you ever need more, come back, alright? You can leave the banks alone now.” I chuckle.

She looks hesitant as she pokes at each envelope with a finger. She picks one up, opens it, and frowns. She shakes her head, her face reddening. “Why?” She says. “Why the fuck would you do this? It’s a trick ain’t it? You’re going to call the police, tell them I robbed you.”

I smile. “No, love. This is all for you.”

“Why? Because I reminded you of some fucking girl you used to fantasise about?”

“It’s more than just that. I think I’m supposed to do this. Maybe it’s my destiny, you know?”

“Bullshit.”

“Yeah, I know.”

After letting the girl use my shower, having an oven pizza, and suffering strange stares from my neighbors as I asked them for female clothing of specific sizes, it was time for my curious guest to leave.

The outfit was quite a mishmash, since the woman who owned the clothes was in her late sixties, and only had the random bits of clothing that her granddaughter would forget to take home, but it did its job. Besides, she was covered up enough in a common outfit, nobody would recognise her now. And the police would be looking for a man or woman in a motorbiking outfit. And how could you suspect such an innocent face?

I walk her just outside the building’s lobby area. Before I can offer to walk her to the nearby tube station she speaks.

“Hey, listen, I don’t need you to walk me or whatever, alright?”

I nod.

“Thanks.” She gestures to her rucksack. “For the money. Guess I ended up getting what I wanted anyway.”

I laugh. “Yeah. Remember, if you need anything, I’m here. Come to me before your local bank.” I almost laugh at the sound of that. Sounds like some marketing slogan.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I feel a hint of remorse now. I’ve grown quite fond of her vulgarity and bluntness. But she’ll come back. I hope she comes back.

“My family didn’t teach me much good shit,” she suddenly says. “But… even I know my manners. I should have told you earlier. My name, it’s Nina.”

I smile, nodding to myself. Of course it is. Of course it is.

“I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your friend,” Nina says sorrowfully. “I’m sure she’s proud of you, Elliot.” I can see she’s begun crying again. “I’m sure she’s really proud of you.”

Her words warm my heart. “Thanks, Nina.”

“Take care of yourself, alright?”

“You too.”

And with that, she’s off. I want to believe she will come back. But a large part of me knows she won’t. She’s too proud.

I stand outside the lobby area, paralysed with thought. I realise that this might have been one giant coincidence. But what if it wasn’t? What were the chances that she was Nina? The same Nina? The similarities… they were too much to consider.

It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be.

But I have lived a life of many regrets. Nina being the worst. If there was any chance, even a small one, that she was still alive, it was a chance I was willing to chase.

And so, I did. I chased after Nina, hoping, with every ounce of life within me, that she was in fact the same one.


Note #2

Okay, so that’s my first proper short story ever. As I said, I’m quite proud of it, and if you’ve read this far, I hope it was because of genuine enjoyment and not out of some weird sense of obligation. This note is mainly here to provide some explanation for some of the things in the story, because I’m all about accountability, and self-awareness.

Firstly, you may have noticed that the robber, Nina, was very quick to open up about her past. I would even say Elliot was too, even if only in reaction to Nina’s story. This may have caused you feel as though her emotion was a bit too heavy too early, and that it was melodramatic. The reason I never changed this, is because as I said in Note #1, this story came from a dream.

I’m sure you’ve had dreams before. You know that they’re not always, in fact quite rarely, do they ever make a lot of sense. No, this story is not supposed to be a dream, but the fact that it had enough of an impact on me that I felt obligated to churn out an entire story based on it in one day, made me think it warranted a certain level of respect to it’s original narrative.

When Nina begins to talk about ‘dirt and pain’, I wrote that part as close to what I could remember in my dream. In the dream I was crying at that point, and I woke up feeling extremely sad for this person who invaded my dreams.

And yes, Nina swears a lot. This is not something I’ve ever done with my writing until now. I’ve never explicitly written swear words, and the one time I do, it goes crazy. Nina swore in the dream quite excessively from what I remember, and it seems to fit her whole “rough around the edges” character.

To be honest, I’ve always liked female characters that are vulgar and had a bit of edge to them. Far more interesting than the every-girl by kilometers.

Mostly everything to do with Elliot, with the exception of the opening scene, was made up from the fragments of my dream that I had captured on paper. And no, Elliot is no longer me. The perspective of the story was obviously originally my perspective in the dream.

The thing is, even in the dream, I was a Christian, which in real life I am not. And I had an older brother, called Valstar. I don’t have an older brother, and if I did, I doubt he would have such a ridiculous name. But that was his name in the dream, so I left it in. It sounds like a Fantasy name, so it’s clear my writing has kind of crept into my sleep now. No escape for me.

With all that said, I’m not sure it ever truly was me in the dream.

You can expect many more short stories. I really enjoy changing it up from my usually longer form of writing.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say, and I’m out.

Peace!


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Learning From Success and Failure

The next episode of the From Zero Podcast is here! This episode focuses on what I think about learning from success, but also from failure.

iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/from-zero-podcast/id1204112738?mt=2

 

The Skill of Subversion

Episode 3 of the From Zero Podcast is out!

This week’s topic is about subversion and the skill required to adequately pull it off. I use the example of Chosen Ones, and refer to my own subversion of the overplayed trope, and share some of my thoughts and feelings on it.

To be honest, most of what you need to know about this podcast is already in the video. So I won’t waste words here, if you’re interested, take a listen.

iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/from-zero-podcast/id1204112738?mt=2

A Wild Extract Appears!

As a writer, I occasionally do some actual writing. I love talking about the writing process, but until now, I’ve never placed a sample of my writing in a public space for people to scrutinise. There are a couple of legitimate reasons for this, the primary one being that publishers tend to not like your work being out there. But “I don’t like that” is not the same as ‘that’s not allowed’ (well… if you agree with linguistic prescription, I suppose it is). 

So basically… it’s allowed. So basically… I’ll let you see some of it. 

This extract was chosen because I wanted some of my more current writing to be up for show, but also one of my more rounded chapters. The only context I’m going to give you is my current synopsis. Beyond that, you’ll have to guess and imagine. This will be useful for me, because only I will know what has come before this chapter, and it will be interesting to see how people interpret this solitary excerpt. 

I should forewarn you: it’s an entire chapter, so it’s rather long. But you guys probably love reading, so I’m probably preaching to the choir on that one.  

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say, and I’m out!

Peace!


Synopsis

A talking book tells a young girl the story of how the world fell to darkness. On the surface, this is a story about a chosen one and a misguided warrior, but beneath and between it all, is a scheming sisterhood, a world in revolution, and an imposing Cycle of Fate.

The story follows the paths of Auria and Parax, idealistic chosen one and egotistical prodigy, as they begin a journey of self-discovery down a path paved with adversity.

A mythical Order seeks to forge their ultimate warrior from the slumbering potential within Auria, and Parax aims to unravel the mysteries around her new superior.

All the while, the cunning Umbrisa is spreading life-sapping darkness across the country, her methods contrary to what was foretold, and as the protagonists will soon discover, so are her intentions.

This is a story of how a world came to ruin, of the all-encompassing influence of Fate, and the light within all things.


A/N: By this point in the book, there are terms which have been explained. So I’ll provide a small glossary for the ones relevant to this scene, so you can have a clearer understanding of it. 

Manipulation: Literally telekenesis.  
Materialization: The ability to create weapons from memory.
Lenria: A magic-wielding female-only race that are identical to humans. Together they are known as the Lenrian Order. 
Brands: Tattoos that signify a Lenria’s rank.
High-Paladin: A rank within the Lenrian hierarchy.
Sulira: ‘Sister’.
Varlet: The rank given to uninitiated children within the Lenria Order.
Wild Lenria: Uninitiated Lenria who live outside of the Order.


Extract

“I done it, High-Paladin Jaii,” Parax proudly announced. “I used Manipulation without my hands.”

Jaii remained staring down at the courtyard as she said, “I see.” There was not even a shred of surprise sprinkled onto the words. “At least you’ve managed to turn your arrogance to more productive uses.”

Parax grit her teeth, biting back a retort. She turned her attention to the shadowy face of the sky, staring at it’s sparkling freckles and it’s lone luminous eye. Night had always been Parax’s favourite time of day. The silence it brought to her surroundings was something she deeply appreciated.

But something else she deeply appreciated, was answers.

Parax reverted her focus to her superior. “High-Paladin, I have a question.”

“Ask.”

“As far as I’m aware, nobody in the Order teaches us how to use Manipulation like that. From the way you so skilfully done it, it’s obvious that wasn’t your first time doing it, so it wasn’t an accident. You also didn’t react much when I just mentioned that I’d done it too, so you seem to have been expecting that.”

“An interesting list of observations,” Jaii said patronisingly. “But I heard no question amongst them.”

Parax took a deep breath. She studied the brands on Jaii’s naked arm. She studied the long threads of black that hung down her back, stemming from her round head. She done this to remind herself that this woman was nothing more than just that, a woman. Then she asked her question.

“Where… where did you learn to use Manipulation in such a manner?”

Parax could sense a shift of emotion within Jaii, but the woman’s external bearing betrayed that feeling.

Time turned for slow and silent moments as she just stood there, hand on hip, peering off the top of the castle tower. Then, with a small smile she finally said, “I appreciate your boldness, Parax. But sometimes you need to know your limits. It should have been enough to discover it was possible.” She sighed. “Some questions are better left unasked.”

“But-”

“I tried,” Jaii spat out. “I just tried like you did, and it worked. Then I improved on it in my own time. There’s the answer to your mystery.”

Parax frowned, slightly shaking her head to herself, unconvinced. “But nobody would do that,” she challenged. “We’re taught that’s it’s too dangerous to haphazardly use our abilities like that. We’re too afraid of what might happen if we-”

“If you what?” Jaii cut in with a sharp snap. She spun on her heel, her tresses swung around with her. The moonlight perfectly lit up her dark face, bringing her cute features into clear focus. “If you step into the unknown? If you tap into your true potential?” She grimaced. “Of course they’d not want that.” she whispered those last words.

They? Parax thought. Surely she didn’t mean the Order? A High-Paladin wouldn’t question the teachings of the Order. Such rebellious thoughts would have been beaten out of her during training. But then… they hadn’t been completely beaten out of Parax either.

Curiosity clung to Parax like the cold air, and so she braced herself as she prepared to take further liberties. “You don’t mean the Order do you, High-Paladin?”

Jaii just scoffed before glancing to the side. She turned her back to Parax, peering down into the courtyard with those fear-ridden eyes once more. “You are dismissed, Sulira Parax.”

Just then, a snap of rage surged through Parax. She was so sick of Jaii’s easy dismissal. This woman had swiped away Parax’s dream for another three years. That single thought broke down all barriers that rank built between them. “Why did you make me lose my Higher Appraisal?” She yelled. “I lost because you used a technique I was taught to never use! So you better damned well-”

Before Parax could even utter the first letter of the next word, Jaii’s fist slammed into her face, sending her staggering. She steadied herself, her hand reflexively flexed, prepped to Materialize. Her other arm covered her nose.

Void-spawned bitch! Her hand strained as she restrained her mind from Materializing a weapon. Jaii stood before her, her robe fluttering in the sudden, aggressive breeze. Parax straightened, she wiped her nose, feeling the warm-wet liquid on her hand. She glared at Jaii with stone-set eyes, Jaii just stared right back.

In that moment, Parax pictured all the ways she could hurt the woman. Using Manipulation to throw her off the tower kept popping up.

But then the feeling passed, the wind calmed, and all angry thoughts were softly blown away. Well, most angry thoughts.

She shared a stare with her Mentor. A hundred words being silently spoken between them.

Parax could see that fire burned within the woman, a wild wrath starving for release. And yet, still laying beneath all that internal flame was a nagging fear.

What the Void are you so afraid of?

“You are dismissed,” Jaii repeated with sharpened severity. “I won’t say it again.”

***

“You are dismissed,” Parax mocked. “Talking to me like I’m some uppity Varlet. I should be her peer, not her damned subordinate!”

Parax paced up and down the small strip of space between her and Risa’s beds. Risa sat in the centre of her bed, bare legs crossed and her naked body concealed behind a plain white towel. “Sounds like a High-Paladin being a High-Paladin to me.”

“She’s hiding something. She clearly has some issue with the Order.”

Risa slightly cocked her head, a thoughtful look on her face. “That’s not too uncommon. Many of the higher-ups are Authoritarians.”

The Authoritarians were named as such because they held the political belief that Lenria were the most supreme of the three races, and should essentially rule over all of Aiga.

“Yes,” Parax agreed. “But that’s typically the Seniors. The Lenria who are actually engaged with politics.”

“Don’t be so simple,” Risa chided. “Anyone can be an Authoritarian and into politics. I’ve known Varlets who are.”

Parax ceased pacing, shooting Risa a confused stare. “Who are what? Authoritarians or into politics?”

“Both.”

Parax placed a hand on her face. “By the Fates.” She then considered Risa’s words. “I never really thought about that possibility, to be honest. That Jaii could be an Authoritarian.”

“It would make sense,” Risa supported. “They tend to dislike a lot of the Order’s current methodology. I mean, you said she didn’t seem too fond of The Lenria’s Tale, only Authoritarians are known to be like that. ‘Oh, it’s too soft and fluffy’,” Risa said in a mocking voice. “’The kids won’t learn a thing from it’.” She scoffed. “Because according to them all we need is ‘the hard facts’.”

“Nonsense,” Parax said with a shake of her head. Risa nodded. Parax began to undress, removing her robe and tunic.

“Still,” Parax continued. “It’s fairly uncommon for younger Lenria to have such beliefs unless it’s being taught to them from one of the older women. None of us know enough about the Civil War or the Mainlanders to talk about superiority and ruling.”

“Well I have no idea how old Jaii is,” Risa said. “Then again, I’m not sure anybody knows much about her beyond her name and rank.”

Parax folded her arms and raised a brow. “She’s that much of a mystery?”

Risa nodded fervently. “When me and Meihui were being transferred to her squad, Meihui tried to get some background on our new squad-leaders. She basically just looked at some documents and listened in to a lot of conversations.”

“Typical,” Parax smiled. She pulled out her folded night clothes from the wooden dresser beside her bed and began garbing herself.

“I would have investigated too,” Risa added. “But she’s the one who lives in the Citadel Towers, so it’s easier for her, and-”

“Yeah, I get it.” Parax chuckled as she adjusted the gown’s hood. “Not that you would have investigated anyway. But go on.”

Risa rolled her eyes. “I would have actually,” she murmured. “Anyway, there were more than enough boring bits on Senior Patrice. You know how Meihui is, there’s always got to be a little detail that she might have missed, so she recites all her lengthy notes to you in the most dry, dull voice. Ugh. Suffice to say, Senior Patrice was pretty boring. But there wasn’t much about Jaii, and what there was didn’t stand out too much. Considering she was a Wild Lenria, you’d think there’d be more talk about her.”

Parax’s bed let out a squeak as she sat on its edge. “Wait, a Wild Lenria?”

“Yeah,” Risa affirmed. “It was probably the only remotely interesting thing Meihui managed to find out about her. She rose through the ranks pretty fast, I guess.”

Curiosity shot through Parax like a leaden ball, her speech became swift. “What else? Did she find anything else?”

Risa shook her head. “Nothing of import. Just things as equally boring as Patrice.”

“You’d find a Misanese opera boring, Risa.” Parax sighed. “Are you sure there was nothing else?”

“Yes,” Risa shrieked. “Unless you want to know her eating habits?”

Parax gave Risa a broody look.

“Oh, seriously.”

“Look, this bitch is hiding stuff. I need to know as much as I can about her. Did Meihui say anything about when she was initiated?”

“No.”

“Void be damned,” Parax cursed. “Perhaps Meihui could find out for me.”

“I doubt it.”

“Why?” Parax challenged. “Almost everything is documented on the Isles. Initiations and the profile of each initiate certainly is. Meihui is a High-Archivist, so she should have the privileges to look at that information.”

“Oh I don’t doubt she could,” Risa explained. “I doubt she would. She’s been busy with her research recently.”

Parax tut. “She’s talking nonsense.”

“Tell her that.”

“What research could she possibly be doing? We’re not humans, we don’t do science. I don’t have time for her excuses. If she’s going to give me problems, I’ll just find out my damned self.”

“And how on Aiga do you plan on doing that?” Risa asked. “Isn’t the whole point of you asking Meihui because you can’t do it yourself?”

“Yes, and because it’s convenient. But I’ll settle only for results, not convenience. If Meihui can’t or won’t deliver, I’ll do it myself.” Somehow, Parax’s mind thought doubtfully.

Risa’s hands danced. “And break the rules, your oaths in doing so? For what? To find some worthless details about some woman?”

“She’s not just some woman,” Parax snapped. “She’s a…” A what? A mystery? A curiosity? A closed-book enigma draped in a complex web of perplexities? Those may have all been true to Parax, but she knew that none of them should have been so compelling that she was prepared to forsake her oaths for them.

It’ll probably turn out to be a load of nothing anyway. Her mind told her.

“Just leave it, Parax,” Risa said softly. “It’s not worth the hassle.” Parax could see the concern that overlayed her sulira’s eyes. “I get it. She’s an interesting character with a strong sense of mystery that appeals to your natrual curiosity. I understand all of that. But you’re undergoing extended evaluation, remember? It’s already going to be three years. Don’t do anything that could make it longer.”

‘Don’t question anything.’ That was the meaning buried beneath those words. Parax knew Risa meant well because Risa always meant well. But a well-meaning Lenria didn’t get answers.

But I can’t let her worry.  “You’re right,” Parax half-lied. She saw the worry clear out from Risa’s hazelnut eyes.

She knew there was truth, logic to Risa’s words. But there was a logic to Parax’s desire to know more, there was a logic to Jaii’s mysterious manners. Only a matter of weeks ago she had discovered that her abilities could indeed do more than she’d been told, that there was more than she knew about herself and the Order. If there were more things like that, why should that knowledge be withheld from her?

Sorry, Risa. But I deserve to know.

“Of course I’m right,” Risa grinned. “Look,” she said, moving to stand. “Gather your thoughts and all that. I’m going to have my bath, and when I get back, we’re going to mind wrestle.” She proceeded to the door before opening it. She smiled back at Parax. “I have to regain my honour for last time, you know.”

Parax found herself chuckling at her friend’s mettle. She laughed as she said, “Just get out already!”


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