A short story about a girl called Alice who finds herself in a strange school in the land of dreams.
“What is this place?”
“No one knows. It doesn’t seem to have a name.” A dorky looking girl beside me answered. She fidgeted with glasses that were bigger than her face. She wore a white but torn t-shirt, well-worn tight jeans, blue socks with pink fluffy clouds pattern and a book, as big as her, under her arm. “Do you think this is a dream?” She asked as she stepped back as if regretting asking the question.
“I’m not sure. Doesn’t feel like one but I don’t feel myself either.” I reached out and pinched her.
“Ouch!” She said rubbing her arm.
“You feel real.”
The hall had no ceiling but was covered by huge statues of animal heads. Looking straight up I found myself looking into the stony nostrils of a giant horse.
There were other people here, looking just as lost as I felt. It had the atmosphere of a first day at school. Girls and boys of varying ages and dress. Long Victorian dresses mixed with boys in grey shorts and tweed hats. American sport jocks in their trademark red jackets wandered among darkly dressed young wizards. The only noticeable similarity was that the clothes were idyllic stereotypes of what they represented, classic versions from our cultural collective, as if every one of them was playing a role in a vast ranging play. It must be a dream but I’ve never had a dream so vivid but yet it is so odd like a dream. If it isn’t a dream then how did I get here? If it is a dream then how did I imagine all this?
Oh my, what must I be wearing if everyone is in some costume? Perhaps I’m naked like those anxiety dreams I’ve read about? There was a mirror against one wall and I decided to look at myself.
My mouth would have dropped off if it could. I had been reduced in age quite considerable; I was now 13 perhaps 14 years old. I’m sure I was at least twice that a moment before but for the life of me I couldn’t remember exactly right then. I did remember vague feelings that 13 isn’t my best age.
I was wearing a strange dress for a little girl that had a very distinctive gothic feel. Black with puff shoulders and a big black bow tying up my hair. At least I was wearing boots and red and black striped tights instead of blue and pink socks. The oddest thing was that I felt comfortable. I was pretty sure that before this dream (?) that I would have been pretty shocked to find myself dressed thus.
That’s about when the woman on a horse seemed to appear beside me. She wore a long velvet robe and cap and seemed infinitely older than any of the people gathered. She winked at me. “Admiring yourself Alice?” She had a soft kind of laugh. I scowled and was about to complain to her as she obviously knew what was going on here but the horse moved forward under her command.
She wasn’t the only one. Along the hall, other animals bearing robed figures had appeared. A grizzly bear bore a blond haired gentleman of wonderful beauty and he waved to the jocks. An elephant carrying a person totally covered except for her eyes which seemed to sparkle, a huge peacock with brilliant feathers carrying a large fat red-faced laughing man whose heels were barely off the floor, a dragon’s head (for it’s neck extended back into the wall where it’s huge body must be) was mounted by dark robed albino man carrying a sword and many more beside. Each appearing under the same animal statue as the animal they were riding.
The woman on the horse strode out in the centre of the group I was nearest too. I got the impression that everyone was assigned to some group under each of the animal mounted figures.
“All of you follow me!” She commanded and then made the horse stand on its back two legs and turned one hundred and eighty degrees towards where there was now a door that opened. This must have been where she came from but I was pretty sure it wasn’t there when I looked in the mirror.
Suddenly there was movement and I was moving along with the group through the door.
“Fascinating isn’t it?” He was quite handsome, dressed in somewhat Victorian suit. I couldn’t quite place what period but then I figured perhaps it was just a fantasy of a Victorian suit. He had that high upturned collar that gave him a dashing look. “I suppose.” I wasn’t too sure what in particular he was referring too. It all felt very fantastical to me and therefore I was a little disinterested. Such was one of the notable qualities of adolescence that I remembered I didn’t like. “I believe we’ve all been assigned roles and that we’re all to play out certain plots…” he didn’t seem to be directing his comment towards me, it was more of a rhetorical statement, a pretentious out-pouring. But then again he was taller than me. Something I better get used to again.
“Like life really then, ‘we are but shadows on a stage'” I retorted. His eyebrows bent into a grimace at my comment.
“I suppose so… but I meant that it’s all been designed you know. That we are set up as certain figures and we’ll be played off each other until it comes to a conclusion…”
“We have no choice in all this?”
“Exactly. It’ll all play out and that’s that.”
“Hi” a tall girl with blond hair waved at us. I could feel my eyebrows repeating the grimace. She seemed much older than me and was all bouncy and nice. Her costume was very revealing but at least modern, I think. “I’m Mystic.” She brushed her hair back with her hand and reached out to shake with my handsome Victorian friend.
“I’m Matthew.” He seemed a little taken back by her in a way that seemed to me to be displeasure (which I guiltily took pleasure in) but Mystic took as embarrassment and brushed the other side of her long blond hair back to reveal her other soft white shoulder.
“Oh and who is this?” she bent down to shake my hand, which she didn’t need to do as I wasn’t really that much shorter then her. “And what’s your name?” I was about to spit poison but I bit my tongue.
“Alice.” I answered without shaking her hand. She smiled and said “Oh” and stood up again taking the full advantage at revealing her precious packages. I saw Matthew’s eyes expand as he got a rather full picture from his taller vantage point.
We were still all walking down this tunnel following the woman on the horse. Mystic bounced and said “Ok, well I’m sure I’ll see you all around!” Sparkle of her white teeth and off she went.
“My God Alice. I hope I never meet that girl again. She scares me.” I felt smug.
“Oops I’m sorry.” It was the nerd. She had bounced into me and nearly knocked me over. She was hugging her book and looking decisively nervous. “My dear Lady are you all right?” Matthew asked her.
“Yes, yes. I think so.” She righted her glasses and then opened her heavy book once again and continued reading. But Matthew pulled her suddenly over as someone came hurtling down the path tumbling head over heels and stopped. The woman picked herself up. Her lip was busted and her knuckles were red. She was wearing a heavy leather jacket and black t-shirt with some white symbol on it. A grin came across her face. She yelled back “is that it?” and started walking back towards a group of similarly clad girls and boys.
An incredibly tall man, who seemed to glide along beside us, turned his long neck and seemed to bend down towards us like a snake. “They have been fighting all this time. Me not understand how they do not do serious damage.” He swung his head from side to side in what seemed like an overly sad way and he glided on.
“Em. Thank you.” The nerd said, pushing her lopsided glasses back up her nose. She opened her book and kept reading.
“So what do you think are their roles?” I said, nodding to the gang.
“Trouble makers or maybe anti-heroes, time will tell I suppose. We are like all good characters in that we will be blind to our oncoming unchangeable fates.”
“That is a depressing thought. I believe we always have a choice.”
He smiled, “to be a good little girl or a bad little girl yes? Take that bookworm that bounced into you. Prefers books over reality, if we can call this reality. She’ll either be a comical character, passing through the whole experience without realising it or being affected by it. Or perhaps a dramatic character, diving into books to escape her terrible loneliness and perhaps her story will end by death at her own hands…”
“That’s terrible. Then we shouldn’t let it happen…”
“It is her fate…” I kicked him in the shin. “OW! That hurt. You’re not wearing soft shoes.” He was hoping on the other leg.
“I know. And I’m tempted to kick your other one…” He made a mock shocked look.
“Okay, okay. I admit I’m being harsh but such is drama Alice.” I left him hopping to go after the nerd but walked into Mystic. I could tell Matthew was following behind me but once he saw Mystic he started hopping the other way. “Oh, hello again, little girl.”
“No my name’s Mystic.”
I didn’t feel like correcting her. “Matthew said he wanted to talk to you.”
“Said it was urgent…”
“Oh I better go over and talk to him then. Thank you Ann.” I swear she nearly was going to pat me on my head but imagining Matthews’s face was enough to prevent me from doing something obnoxious. She nearly ran to find Matthew. Which left me facing three guys in long black robes and white face makeup. They stared at me. I stared at them. We didn’t say anything and I left them to find the nerd.
That’s when we stopped moving. We had come to another door. The woman on the horse shouted “Open!” But nothing happened. She yelled “open” again. But still nothing happened. She got off the horse and approached the door. I had failed to find the bookworm by now so I had wandered up to the front of the group. The woman sat on some rubble beside the door. There were remains of statues all along the wide tunnel to this door. I couldn’t tell what any of them were meant to be when they were standing.
“Ah Alice.” She looked up at me.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“All in due time you’ll be told. As soon as I figure out how to open the door. They’ve done some work on it you know.”
“All in due time?”
“Yes. You don’t want to spoil the surprise.”
“I’d rather know…”
She smiled. “You are definitely special. I can’t wait to see how you turn out at the final ball.”
“Help me up would you?” She was trying to get up off her stool of rubble. I went over to her and took her arms. But I really wasn’t much help, nearly falling over myself with the effort. But my hand did slip and something popped out of her sleeve. “Ah yes. That was it. The key.” She sat back down rather then continue the effort of getting up. “They put a lock on all the entrances, after the dogs incident we couldn’t be too careful. Fetch the key would you Alice?”
I couldn’t see it. I looked around the ground where I think it fell. “What you looking for?” The tall man craned his neck to ask me. “A key to open the door.”
“Perhaps a garden on other side. I would like that.”
I spotted a sparkle and kneeled down to pick it up. A tiny key, no bigger than my finger, but wonderfully ornate.
The woman was up and standing at the centre of the door. It seemed she had no real problems getting up now. She looked at me and said, “Do you want to do the honours?”
The horse shook its head and snorted. And as if that was a signal I walked to where the woman was. A small key notch existed between the doors. I placed the key in it and turned. Nothing seemed to happen.
There was a glimmer in the woman’s eye. “Open!” she yelled. And the large doors opened.
The corridors were a mix of straight gothic columns and arches and the rough raw walls of dark stone. Hanging between the columns were pieces of all kinds of art. There was something odd about all of them though, they were all unfinished. Half-complete marble statues that look like they were bursting into life from the stone. Nearly finished impressionist landscapes, which seemed washed-out but still retained their beauty in a haunting form. Sketches of everything, the beauty of the naked body, all types of houses and buildings and scenes from comic books. There were rough technical drawings of crafts of all kinds and other diagrams of impossible to decipher symbols. They had a tremendous element of sadness as if they were all ideas and art tossed aside by their creators yet presented in theses corridors they had a triumphant feel, a budding life, threatening us to be continued. Still it made me feel more sad than happy.
There were many corridors going off this one. Not in any particular order and just as many as these offshoots were straight as were twisty. None of us left the group as we walked along.
“My name is Miss. Melpomene. You can all call me Miss.” It was the woman. Even though she was far ahead of me I could hear her voice crystal clear. Hers was definitively an old voice but it was full of mischievous warmth. She wasn’t riding the horse anymore, the ceiling was too low and the horse wandered alongside her without being guided. “I assume by now you all want to know where we are and why. You are here to learn for one year. You will learn how to be creative in unique and special ways.” She stopped at a junction and called out for Mystic and said something I could barely hear about it being her room. “There will be lessons but you won’t be learning how to write or play music or build things. Yes you two are in there.” She directed a young dark skinned boy with a turban and another boy who was dressed like a 80s punk including the dyed red tipped spiked hair. “No. Learning how to do those things is for the other place.” She resumed her talk.
“Alice!” She called me and waved me up to the group. “You two have that room. Go in and have a look and meet us all later in the hall.” The bookworm was standing there. She looked at me and then Melpomene and a deep red flush came across her face.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her into the room.
“You can have that bed and I’ll take this one.” I announced. She didn’t say anything and sat down on the bed I had given her. It wasn’t a huge room but it was wonderfully cosy in a cluttered way. Old solid antique furniture leaned over the room. A beautiful mirror that had the silver fading away to yellow and framed in ornate black iron hung beside the bed I had chosen. There was a big desk at one end and a huge bookcase, which was twice as tall as either of us, full of ancient books.
The cupboards were full of things. Sports equipment, dresses, jewellery boxes, broken toys. I pulled out a teddy bear but when I got it out I discovered it had no head. I threw it on to my bed.
There was a wonderful big patchwork window at the end. I clambered over the bookworm’s bed to it and looked out. The sky was an unreal mix of deep scarlet red and clear blue but a thick mist hid the ground. I opened the window wide. “You shouldn’t do that…” the bookworm whispered. I leaned out and looked around at the building.
I couldn’t see an end left or right. The ground was lost in the mist but it gave the impression of being miles and miles high. We were on the top floor. I could see the roof. In fact I figured I could get onto the roof quite easily. The roof was adorned with little towers and chimneys. The little towers all looked disused and home for the birds. Except for one, I could see a little light in it but it faded away as I watched.
“Look! It’s amazing.” I said to the bookworm but she had her back to me and she had opened the book on her lap and had resumed reading.
I sat opposite her on my bed. I watched how her eyes quickly scanned each line. She hooked her finger in her mouth.
“What’s your name?” I had decided to start again and reached out my hand to shake hers.
“What’s your name? Mine’s Alice.”
I waved my waiting hand in front of her. She reached out timidly and took mine.
We found the hall quite easily just by following the corridor. Though it wasn’t what I had expected. I had expected a large grand hall, massive pieces of art towering down on us and some sort of grand display.
It seemed small. Lit by sickly fluorescent lights. And there was a queue. It was a canteen.
The blond hair gentleman, that I had seen riding the bear, smiled as us and pointed to a queue. I felt like an automaton as I picked up a tray on the way.
The food was in large stainless steal containers. It was some sort of mush, each container containing different colours of mush. “What’s that?” Dinah asked.
A pigish woman in a white coat (or perhaps it was a pig that just looked like a woman) behind the food said “carrots”.
“Carrots aren’t pink though.”
The woman/pig didn’t answer but handed her a plate and slapped some of the pink stuff, brown stuff and white stuff on it. Bits flew onto her glasses. There seemed to be little choice and I said nothing as I accepted the plate with mush on it.
The hall wasn’t as small as we first thought. In fact it was massive. Neat brown tables and plastic chairs were laid out in repeating intervals. Its just that they repeated out as far as the eye can see, like looking at a mirror that’s a reflection of another that’s reflecting the first… do you get me? It went on and on and on. And there was people sitting having food, occasionally popping up to return a tray. It had the effect of someone appearing between two consecutive reflections of a mirror.
“Is this for real?” I said. But Dinah had already started walking towards an empty table. I felt dizzy as she became part of the recursive view.
“Alice?” Her voice seemed far away. I shook my self, looked at the ground and walked towards the voice. “I found a table…” I sat down without looking up.
Once seated the odd effect disappeared.
“Are you okay Alice?”
“Yes… just a little disoriented.”
Dinah stuck one of her fingers in the pink mush and tasted it. “Carrots” she said.
The girl was large, not fat but well built. She stopped with her tray behind Dinah as we were eating. The girl had rolled up sleeves and it revealed arms like a man’s arms. There was a smell of cigarette smoke. A group of girls bounced into her and fell back. She didn’t even flinch.
I tried to not look at them, as I tasted the white mush that was apparently potato mash.
The group of girls started to look at Dinah too and started to circle the big girl. They reminded me of vultures they way the eyed Dinah.
Dinah was totally oblivious. She was munching on the brown mush.
Dinah was a tiny ant compared to this girl.
“I want this table.” The girl spoke. Dinah looked up but didn’t realise the origin of the voice was behind her. Shrugged and went back to eating. She was as involved with her food as with her books.
The girl reached down, it seemed like a gigantic motion and was thus slow, and grabbed the back of Dinah’s t-shirt and lifted her out of the chair, dumping her to one side. The girl laughed. The other girls laughed.
“You can’t do that!” I said, standing up and placing my hands on my hips. The girl stopped laughing. It took a moment for the other girls to realise they should stop laughing too.
“I don’t want this table now.” She shrugged.
“What’s going on here?” It was the blond haired gentleman again.
“Nothing Sir!” The girls all bellowed together.
“Yes there is! She pulled Dinah out of the seat…” I exclaimed.
“There there little girl. I’m sure there’s just some misunderstanding.” The gentleman replied. “Isn’t that right Lee?” He was referring to the big girl.
“Yes Sir. Misunderstanding.” The gentleman seemed to be waiting for something and so Lee’s filled the silence as quickly as possible with… “She fell out of her seat Sir and I was going to help her. The girls ‘ll back me up…” The other girls nodded with too much enthusiasm.
The gentleman nodded. “Okay girls on your way then.” Lee and her gaggle nearly ran off. The gentleman started to wander off as well. I was gasping. I ran around the table towards the gentleman but it was Dinah who stopped me. “Don’t. I don’t want any trouble. Please?” I helped her up and set her big blue glasses straight on her nose.
“Coo-ee!” It was Mystic. She had spotted us. She seemed to be wearing less or at least something more transparent. She sat down beside Dinah. “I think we’re all in the same class or some thing like that. Hi. I’m Mystic.” She stuck her hand out at Dinah.
“Dinah’s a nice name.”
“Thank… you.” Dinah seemed somewhat enraptured by Mystic. She had even stopped eating.
“You played a nasty trick on me earlier. Matthew didn’t want to talk to me.”
“And?” I said.
“And? It wasn’t nice. I thought you were a nice little girl.” Now I had stopped eating the pink mush.
“Alice is nice.” Dinah blurted out. My left eyebrow raised!
“So do you know if we have classes and such?” Mystic just ignored the comment and kept going.
“I believe we do but I’m not sure what” I said.
“I hope it’s something interesting…” Mystic said more to the air then to us.
“I hope it’s about books” said Dinah.
Mystic flashed her white teeth in a big smile at Dinah.
I had had enough. I grabbed Dinah’s hand and pulled. “We’re going exploring.” I announced.
“Ok girls, see you later.” Mystic gave a small wave.
We left her alone at the table.
The wind roared up the wall nearly knocking me off the tiny ledge. I held on as tightly as I could. “Come on Dinah. It’s not that hard.” Dinah was leaning out the window watching me cling to the wall as I edged along. She shook her head.
A brick came out in my hand but I managed to maintain my balance. Dinah nearly shouted in surprise.
I decided to try and find out what that light on the roof was. It really had looked easy from the window.
“I’m nearly there…” I had a tiny leap to make. Unfortunately I looked down. I could see the wall go down a long way into shadows beneath the mist. It made my head reel for a moment.
“Alice, come back. It’s too dangerous.”
I had figured that no real harm could come to us here. But now I wasn’t so sure. I felt as if my mind would make me feel the fall. It didn’t look pleasant in any context.
It was just a little jump after all, I told myself. If there was no danger I could do it with ease.
Before I had embarked on this I had seen the light from the little tower again and it faded away as soon as I spotted it. But now I could see it even brighter as if it too was worried about me.
I placed the tip of my boot at the edge of the ledge. I took a deep breath and held it.
Slipped, the slates under my hands just came away. My feet hit the gutter and stopped.
“It’s okay! I got over!” I yelled as much to assure myself as Dinah. Now that I was on the roof, it should be easier.
I clambered up and started to make my way along. There were several chimneys along the way that I could see. The first one was rather large so I hugged it as best I could and swung around.
“Alice!” Matthew nearly jumped. He was sitting on the top most edge of the roof and had had his back to me.
“Matthew. Nice to see you here. I thought I’d be the only one up here. What’s that in your hand?”
Matthew had a faded notebook in his hands that he had been obviously writing in. He jammed both the pen and the notebook into his inside pocket. “Nothing” he said as he crossed his arms rather hurriedly. I sat down beside him. He was going red in the face. The wind was strong and it blew through his air and gave him the look of a mourning lover from some penny-dreadful Victorian romantic novel.
“Show you what?”
“What you were writing.”
“No.” I mockingly pretended to make a grab for the notebook but he nearly lost his balance as he desperately attempted to avoid me. “Okay, Okay! They’re poems.”
“Can I read them?”
“No!” He was now scarlet in the face.
Abrupt change in conversation was obviously needed. He had clamed up like a turtle. I looked out at the view and it was breath-taking. I could see a half moon clearly hanging between the deep red scarlet clouds and the now black and starry sky. The mist constantly moved like a sea without a roar. “It’s amazing,” I said.
“Yes it is.” I could see a thought forming in his face and then it came out… “What are you doing up here?”
“Exploring. I’m going to see what that light is.” I pointed to the tower from where the light had been but it was dark and empty now.
“There’s a light there occasionally but it fades away when you look.”
“Sounds like a Ghost. Alice’s Ghost. Good ring to it. Could make a great story.”
“I don’t know yet. I’m going to find out. Coming?” I got up.
“Will you let me read what you write?”
His face went red again. “Maybe…” he mumbled.
“Ok, see you later!” I got up and made for the next chimney.
The little tower was made out of stone. Gargoyles that had faded to lumps adorned its edges. At one time it must have had windows but all that was left was the half-rotted frame. I hadn’t seen any light from it, climbing up to it. I sat down and took a breath. I was exhausted.
I put my hand down on a slate and the slate flew off making a terrible crashing sound as it went.
I heard a voice “oh my God she’s fallen!” I looked up and I saw an opaque face looking down at me. It glowed with the same light I had seen from afar. I should have been surprised or frightened but the ghost seemed more frightened of me and it quickly pulled it’s head back inside. I got up and looked in the broken window.
“I saw you. I saw you from my window…” Suddenly my vision was filled with light and voice yelled at me “GO AWAY!” but something in the timber of his voice failed to scare me. It had a tinge I remembered from sometime. And there was a smell.
The light faded away. That was not going to stop me. I started to climb in the window but then I felt myself being lifted and then thrown back. “Go away!” The voice pleaded.
“Hmm” I mumbled as I dusted myself off and got up. I went over to the window, stood as defiantly as I could, hands on hips, determined expression on face. That’s when I saw the bottle.
It rolled on the floor of the little tower. It had a little left in it and then the smell and the sound of his voice suddenly made sense. “Whiskey” I thought.
The bottle seemed to disappear in front of me. “Go away!” Its pleading reminded me of my father. “I’ll be back.” I said and went back the way I came.
“Help me back in!” I yelped. Dinah reached out her hands. The lights inside had all gone out inside. Dinah had changed into a long white night dress and the moonlight’s whiteness made Dinah look like some sort of creepy ghost with big glasses.
“The lights went out a while ago.” Dinah whispered to me as I fumbled to my bed. “I think we’re meant to sleep.”
“I’m not particularly tired though.” I declared but shortly followed it with a stifled yawn.
“I’m pretty tired too. I’m finding it hard to read with just the moonlight.”
There were some nightclothes for me under the pillow and I quickly got into bed. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was asleep.
“Alice? Can you hear me?” His hand was on my forehead and I felt I knew his touch. I couldn’t see him but I think he kissed me then. The dream image swirled away to be replaced by the inside of a rolling car. I had no control over it as it rolled over and over and all I could do was wait for it to stop.
The bright light was not particularly welcome. It glared in the big window and demanded my wakefulness. I reached out to the side desk and pick up the notepad and pen and wrote down the tiny fragment of my dream.
It took me a moment to realise what I done. I didn’t remember a pad or pen by my desk though I recognised it instantly. It’s worn brown and cracked surface covered in tiny doodles of bits and pieces. I use to write all my dreams in this when I was young and it was full of them. I flicked through them, remembering some and trying to recall others.
Dinah woke and made a bad attempt to fake a stretch. I think she had been awake for a while and had been pretending to be asleep waiting for me to wake. “What do you have?”
“It’s my little book of dreams. I used to write all my dreams down in it.” I opened at one page where I had drawn a monster with dragon wings chasing me across a field. Dinah straightened her blue glasses and looked.
“Did you just find it here?”
“Yep. Just beside my bed.”
“Everything about this place is weird…”
After getting dressed, breakfast was in order. I grabbed the headless teddy bear I had found earlier as we went out the door. I might as well act my age and anyway it’s kind of cute in a dark and anti way.
The canteen had changed. It was like a mediaeval tavern for kids, dark but colourful, dank but actually quite safe. The canteen display of food really felt out of place.
There were only people from our class. Many hadn’t even bothered changing from what they slept in.
The pig-woman behind the counter dolled out the same coloured slop as before though I think she was more pig this morning. Dinah didn’t ask what it was this time. We sat down beside Matthew who had just finished eating.
I could see Mystic eating her breakfast with a little spoon looking around at the other end of the table.
“Sleep well?” Matthew asked.
“I think so…”
“I didn’t. I wonder what happens now?”
The classroom was large and old. Everything was made out of dark polished wood. It was a massive amphitheatre that, by all appearances, could fit hundred or just two people. It was all centred on a small section at the front where a modern day electronic overhead projector seemed out of place. The hard benches weren’t particularly comfortable either. Dinah and myself hid in the corner seats furtherest from the centre.
Nobody told us to come to this classroom. A bell had rang and people started to leave the canteen. Matthew, Dinah and myself just followed them. None of us knew really what to expect.
A box fell from the ceiling right beside the overhead projector. A small cloud of dust rose. It was a small cardboard box no bigger then a shoebox. It started to shake as if there was something inside it. Everybody was standing, trying to see it.
“Excuse me! Excuse me! Could you let me out?” a squeaky voice escaped from the box.
A young man dressed like a medieval prince in velvet tunic and a sword by his side leap down to the box. He poked it with the scabbard of his sword.
“Ouch!” The young prince shook his shoulders, looked around at his fellow classmates and then with the edge of the scabbard prised off the top of the box.
It shook even more mightily than before and the young prince took a few steps back.
A leg shot out of the box. What was most bizarre was the foot was wearing ugly sandals and cord trousers. An arm shot out then. We could all hear the muffled grumbles from inside. With the arm it started to push on the ground and with a pop the rest of him popped out.
He wore a green baggy jumper with a large hole in the right elbow. He was bald on top but had long wispy grey hair from his sides. He wore thin round glasses on his pincer-like nose.
“Thank you Percival.” The young prince bowed and then offered his hand to help the man up. The man accepted and while on his feet proceeded to take out large piles of paper out of the same box and putting them in Percival’s arms. “Give one to everyone, will you?”
Percival looked bewildered as the man continued to pile on the sheets of paper until it seemed as if there was no Percival and the towering sheets of paper had legs.
Percival wobbled a little to the left and then right as he clambered up to the start of each row and deposited a pile of the sheets. I was amazed at how easily he seemed to find his way seeing as his field of vision must have been a wall of paper sheets.
Dinah handed me one of the sheets. It read rather strangely; ‘the streets are filled with jam which can be used on a nice piece of toast. The buildings are made of cheese but the inhabitants call it from�ge…’
“What do you make of this Dinah?”
“Something to do with the aboriginals?” she said.
“Thank you Percival,” the man said. “Attention everyone, my name is Mr. August.” The lights suddenly dimmed and the overhead projector came on. “That’s Mister” he put up a slide showing ‘Mr.’ then he continued with “A” and a slide of ‘A’, “U” and a ‘U’, “G – U – S and T” with an appropriate slide for each letter. “But you can all call me John but I prefer Sir.” I noticed some people were writing all this down but seeing I had no pen I couldn’t even pretend to be doing this pointless gesture.
“I’m going to tell you a little about where you are today and give you your first excursion so this’ll be your only class today…”
“Excuse me Sir…” somebody whimpered rather loudly but all I could perceive with the lights dimmed was a black shape with its hand up.
“John” Mr. August corrected him.
“John Sir, em, but why are we here?”
“That’s a complicated and deep question and not really my department. Best advice, ask the Gods or your headmasters might give you some guidance on who to ask. Where is such an easier question to grasp while why requires a course unto itself I would think.” He slapped up a slide with the words ‘WHERE ARE WE?’
“Please class, look at what Percival handed out. It is a sheet with some text on it. Read it to yourself now for a moment…”
‘Merry, Merry, Mary. The punctuation is all wrong.’ The text had changed! Not a mention of jam or cheese!
“Now class, look away from the sheet and then read it again. You’ll have a surprise!”
‘Horus had one eye. The other was sent forth…’ I looked over at Dinah’s sheet and I could see the text rearranging itself on the spot.
“An odd effect isn’t it? This is because we are somewhat in the higher levels of dreams and so the logic of dreams apply more so than any other logic.
“You see, we all dream and these dreams are most often individual dreams yet people dream of similar things, others claim to actually travel dreams and so on. Dreams have a reality. Common dreams have a lot of stability and form the great cultural mythos that waking man inherits.
“For example you can find Hell nearby; they let anyone in but only the dead can stay. Heaven lets no one in! Hell is quite progressive actually, great music nights; the Devil is one mean fiddler and sax player. Anyway, I digress.
“We are currently residing in a construct,” here he placed a slide with the word ‘CONSTRUCT’, “that has its own internal consistent logic and rules as formed by the construct founders…”
“Excuse me, John?” a more informed male voice interrupted.
“Sir” August corrected.
“Em, Sir-John, who are the founders?”
“Your head-masters and -mistresses of course. Wasn’t that obvious?
“Now do any of you write down your dreams?”
“Alice does!” exclaimed Dinah in a high squeaky voice. The moment of silence following struck her like a freight train and I swear, though one shouldn’t swear at all, that she seemed to actually shrink and turn bright red. I knew I should be embarrassed too but I think I was too surprised to be. I heard giggling and snickering in the dim light and instantly recognised it; Lee and her gaggle.
“Thanks for that high spirited but totally uncharacteristic outburst Dinah.
“So besides Alice, does anyone else?” No show of hands or other uncharacteristic outbursts. I nudged Dinah to make sure she didn’t disappear completely. She attempted a weak smile from under her glasses in reply.
“Alice, seeing your the only one would you come down to the front to help me?”
“I’m not suddenly going to be naked am I?” the possibility of that particular anxiety dream seemed frighteningly real. The class broke into fits of laughter. Luckily for them they couldn’t see the look I gave them.
“Good heavens no child. It’s not that sort of dream, but your thinking along the right lines. Just need to move your thinking sideways and a little higher!”
I pushed out past Dinah and walked down the middle aisle. As I walked I heard whispers directed at me “freak”, “teacher’s pet”… Lee’s gaggle.
“Help me with this…” August was pulling something else out of the box. I found it ridiculously heavy and I couldn’t grasp it properly, but with a strong tug from August it sprang out and sent me falling and landed me on my backside. He grinned as he helped me back up. What did he think was so funny?
There was a door freestanding beside the projector. With some drama he opened it and I could see a colourful town square with a little fountain and a bright blue sky.
“Class! Class!” Mr. August raised voice was barely audible over the small crowd that had come out of the door. Dinah and myself sat on the edge of the fountain, swinging our legs.
It was a real town square, with simple but warm redbrick houses and odd shops whose windows were bright and colourful.
The locals kept their distance but the feeling was mutual for the locals were rather bizarre. Some of them had strange textured skin or were even wild colours like blue or green, some of them were animals dressed up in clothes and walking on two legs.
But I felt that I had been here before that I knew the place. If this was a place buried in dreams perhaps I had been here before, in my own dreams.
“Lets go look around.” I announced to Dinah. She looked worried and glanced up at Mr. August who was failing to control the class. Already the gang with their white symbol had headed off.
“Class! Just some simple rules!!” August desperately invoked.
“Okay…” whispered Dinah.
The streets were all cobbled but each unique and different. We wandered down a street that was filled with furniture shops. All kind of furniture piled the street edges, from plastic modern deco to finely and not so finely crafted oak cabinets. People of all kinds (though all a little odd) wandered around the shop fronts and merchandise and chatted, argued and haggled with the shopkeepers.
We watched with fascination as a toad in an Armani suit attempting to put an odd sofa made from black shiny metal in small handbag. He managed to stretch the bag so much that it covered half the sofa. It looked so odd, the sofa half sticking out of the handbag with a toad trying to push the rest in.
It was then that a tall man stopped beside. He was rather high with pointed ears and shadowy eyes. He studied us over his long nose and then with a swirl pulled his long fancy coat and said, “Afternoon Alice!” and then pounded off.
“Wait!” I yelped.
He glanced over his shoulder like some caricature Victorian monster and walked faster. I started to chase him, Dinah running behind me. But he only upped his pace. I speed up and he broke into a sprint. We followed him down one street that seemed to be just an street of houses, then another that was bordered by large gardens and then another which crossed a short courtyard. And then we lost him.
We had stopped in a small dead end but there was only one door, a large wooden two-panel door. Dinah was wheezing, “where-did-he-gasp-go?”
Rather then answer, I pointed to the door.
We sat down and got our breath back.
“I don’t think we should go in…” Dinah said.
“But he knew my name!”
“Someone might have told him.”
“I’m going to find out…” and I walked up to the wooden door. There was a black brass knob but I couldn’t reach it. So I just slammed my fist on the door.
Instantly a little door opened above, big enough for someone on the inside to look out. But it was too high to see and instantly closed again.
I slammed against the door again and instantly the little door opened. “Down here!” I yelped. An eye seemed to peer over the edge down at us and then instantly the little door closed. But before I had the chance to sigh another little door opened in front of me. The eye looked me up and down while I put my hands on my hips and made a posture of frustration. The door closed and a voice said, “Go away.”
The little door opened again. The eye looked me up and down again and then peered at Dinah behind me who had got closer to have a look.
“I’m only letting you because of who you are…” The voice trailed off as the little door shut quickly but then there was a sound of jingling and a key turning in a lock and the door opened.
He had wings, semi-transparent but nearly as large as him. The wings occasionally flicked in and out. It made him looked knightly and snobby. “I suppose your happy now.” It was the same gent that we had chased but he discarded his coat.
“You’re a Fairy!” I exclaimed. Dinah reached out to touch one of the magical wings.
“You’ve always had the capacity to state the obvious. It makes for boring and unsophisticated conversation. The King and Queen are too busy to see you.” His wings flicked fully back to prevent Dinah touching them. “Don’t you know it’s rude to touch a Fairy’s wings!” he said to Dinah.
“Sorry, I didn’t know…”
“That was obvious.”
“Hey! She didn’t know, be fair!”
“I am. It was obvious. Now I must be off. I have an important package for the King.” And without any hesitation, his wings started to beat and he floated off.
“You know Fairies Alice!” Dinah said.
“All I know about Fairies are that they are rude!”
We were in a large spacious garden. Behind us was the wall of the building and the door but it was just a fa�ade. There was no real building.
There was white ornate benches, marble overflowing fountains, beautifully carved band stands and well groomed hedges that sported multitudes of flowers and colours and it was all filled with movement and light; fairies moved everywhere. Nearby a young group of girls ran after each other, further over another group hovered around, their movements animating their conversation and nearer an old couple sat on a bench singing to each other.
“So what do we do now?” Dinah asked.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged.
One of the young girls had spotted us and was heading towards us. She wore a transparent lace dress and had flowers intwined in her golden hair. Her skin was silky white and her eyes a large green. “Alice!” She exclaimed landing in front of us and grabbing my hand, shaking it vigorously. The other girls floated around, lifting and touching our hair and clothes. It was quite annoying and I had to swing my arms to push them away as if they were flies. “I’m so happy to meet you, my sister told me all about you!”
“Yea, the oldies don’t like you at all. They call you a troublemaker and what you did at the wedding! Oh that’ll never be forgotten!”
“You don’t remember? I wasn’t there. I’m only four days old and it was years ago.”
“You’re only four days old!” I exclaimed.
She smiled, “do you want to see our little place?” And at once the other fairies grabbed us under the arms and lifted us into the air.
They didn’t lift us very high but still the view was astounding. It wasn’t just a garden, it was beautiful land, filled with light and rolling hills and extended as far as the eye could see. There was a great white castle with flowing tall turrets and hundreds of fairies floating around it. They flew us over a great garden maze and a crystal-blue lake where naked nymphs frolicked and sang on the surface.
“What’s that building?” Dinah pointed to a white (every building was white) building with huge roman columns.
“The library!” the young fairy said.
“Can we go there?” Dinah asked us.
“Lets!” I said but the young fairy exclaimed, “you don’t really want to, do you? Old wingless is there…”
I could feel Dinah really wanted. I wasn’t really bothered, it was enough to be floating in the air with this magically land below us, but I nodded and so the group floated towards the fairy library.
As we entered, the other fairies floated away but our young guide remained. “What’s your name? You know mine.” I asked her.
“Daisy” she smiled. “Do we really have to go in? The wingless here is always so grumpy…”
Dinah had already climbed the steps and gone in. “I think so” I said.
Inside it was much darker, no windows so the only light was from little laterns hanging from the ceiling. Huge shelves touched the ceiling, thirty feet tall, filled with books. Hundreds and thousands of books. Dinah was gob-smacked. She gently pulled a book open and was a gasp. “Alice it’s…” and then her eye was caught by another book and she pulled that one out too.
Daisy sighed beside me. “Why do people like books. There just words. So boring…” She trailed her hand along the piled dust on the shelves.
“Who’s there?” yelled a voice and there was a sound of something shuffling along.
“Ug. Here he comes. Come with us Alice out of here, it’s so boring.” Daisy pleaded but it was too late. Dinah was sitting on the floor with small pile of books open around her. She was trying to read all of them.
“Just us, wingless!” Daisy yelped back.
“Huh! Is that you Daisy? You young whelp!” An old man bent over a cane appeared out of a corridor. He had big thick glasses and a bald shiny head but he was tall and even though the clothes he wore were rags they were somehow elegant and noble.
Daisy flew into the air and then raced forward to touch him on the head and fly up to the ceiling, the old man didn’t like this one bit and he swung his arm at her. It was then I noticed his wings. They were all crumpled as if a huge hand had scrunched them like paper.
“Stop it this moment Daisy. That isn’t nice!” I shouted. Daisy landed beside me and grumbled “sorry” with her head bowed.
“And so you should be. Now introduce your friends who seem infinitely more polite than you…!” the old fairy said.
She whispered to me, “he’s the worst of the oldies!” and then said, “This is Alice, a hu-man and her friend. Don’t know her name.”
“Dinah, an avid fan of books.” I said.
“I can see that. And book lovers are always welcome.” He said. “Philo is my name.”
Dinah was totally oblivious to the conversation and so was taken by surprise when the old fairy tipped her on the shoulder and asked, “Anything I can help you with?”
The old fairy Philo poured us tea from a china pot as we sat at the table. Dinah and Philo talked continually about books. Dinah would ask a question and he would answer and then she would have a hundred more questions of which he was only delighted to answer. He had offered us tea and cakes and we accepted. Daisy floated around Dinah and myself and in her boredom plaited our hair with flowers and ribbons.
The tea was nice, light with a flowery taste. The little colourful cakes were very sweet and I managed only three or four.
“What happened to your wings?” I asked out of the blue.
The old fairy smiled at me, “and I thought you were a polite nice little girl! It’s very rude to ask a question like that.”
He laughed, “and so was I! A Grumble monster did it.”
“A Grumble monster?” Dinah asked.
“Yes. It makes a low grumbling sound in the darkest moment of the night. It’s got the body of a lizard, a huge long neck and a massive television as a head. Legend says it drinks children’s souls and eats books. I heard it in the garden one night so I picked up my sword and went to investigate and low and behold it was there. Its huge claws are like the claws of lobster and it pinched my wings but I managed to chop its head off. It would have been a worse horror if it had found the library.”
“My sister says there’s no such think as a Grumble monster!” said Daisy as she was tying a ribbon in a complicated fashion in my hair.
“There is! I have the head to prove it. The head is still alive too. Do you want to see it? It’s a bit morbid.”
Dinah nodded and so he got up and asked us to follow him.
He led us to a door with three keyholes on it. He had a large set of keys in his pocket and it took him a few minutes to totally unlock the door. But while we waited, I could hear a low grumbling sound. “You must be quiet,” the old fairy whispered, “it sleeps. If it’s awake it’ll start to suck you in and then it’ll drink deep from your soul.”
“Don’t be silly wingless! My sister said there is no such thing as a Grumble monster!” Daisy was a little too loud.
“Shsss Daisy, you’re as rude as your sister!”
Daisy crossed her arms and said, “I’m not going in.”
“That’s okay Daisy, I’m sure you can stay out here.” Dinah offered.
“Okay, everyone be as quiet as you can and follow me” Philo crept into the darkened room.
There was no windows, no other light except for the head of the Grumble monster. It created a flashing brutal flickering shadow across the entire room.
It was a large square television, standing on a large pedestal and surrounded by a glass cage. There was something fleshy dangling from it’s back. That might have once been its neck. Pictures were on the screen, quickly changing as if someone was flicking channels too fast. It showed all kind of horrid images; news broadcasts of terrible accidents and violence, images from grotesque horror movies, snips from nasty porn movies, bloody action sequences and fights, sickening sports etc.
“It’s asleep…” the old fairy whispered.
“Why didn’t you destroy the head?” Dinah asked.
“Because it can not be truly destroyed, so it’s better to cage it” he answered.
It made morbid shivers travel down my spine.
But then the door was swung wide open and Daisy dashed in. She took fright at the hideous image and yelped.
The yelp was too loud! “It’s going to wake! Everyone out!” exclaimed Philo.
I saw the mouth open in the middle of the screen. It stretched so wide that if filled the screen and I could see all the horrid dirty sharp teeth. I could tell it was looking at me.
“Well Jason, what do you say now?” the blond hair woman handed over a pile of papers with her perfectly manicured hands. She had perfect tanned skin and wore a wonderfully fitting pink suit. The man behind the desk, obviously Jason, took the papers.
“What is this?” Jason said, standing up.
“Divorce papers. I’m leaving you and I’m going to take it all…”
From somewhere I could hear a whisper… “Alice! Alice! Snap out of it!” I could suddenly see the edges of the television and I started to drag my eyes away from the screen but then there was something else. “Alice you shouldn’t do that.” Jason was looking straight at me from the screen.
I was moving forward so fast, the landscape outside whizzing by. I had something, a steering wheel I think, in my hands. I couldn’t control the way the wheel turned.
A slap across my face and suddenly the image left my mind. The old fairy had hit me and thrown a blanket over my head. “Don’t move child.” He lifted me up and carried me out. “Don’t take it off until I locked the door!” I heard the door close and keys be jingled. “Its okay now, Dinah.” And the blanket came off.
Dinah was kneeling beside me, “Are you okay?”
“I think so…”
“I’m sorry Alice. I didn’t think its powers were still so effective.”
“How come you weren’t affected?” I asked.
The old fairy tapped the side of his head. “I have bandy eyes. Read too much. That’s why Dinah was okay too.”
Daisy was curled up in the corner. She was crying. “My sister said it didn’t exist! My sister said it didn’t exist!” She saw that I was okay and suddenly ran up behind me and hugged me. I could feel her shiver and her cold tears on my shoulder.
“Daisy, I warned you…” Philo said but Daisy suddenly shrunk behind me as if she was afraid of the old fairy.
“Can we go Alice, please, can we?” her voice was pleading.
“It’s getting late, perhaps Daisy should escort you back to town…” the old fairy said.
“But, but, but… the books…” Dinah said.
“Wait a moment Dinah,” and the old fairy wandered off leaning on his cane and a few minutes later returned with a small but old looking book. “You can take this. It’s a first printing. A gift for listening to a wingless fairy.” He gave it to Dinah.
“What is it Dinah?”
She said something but I couldn’t understand or make out what she said but I could tell she was enormously pleased.
So we thanked the old fairy and Dinah promised to return and it was only when we were outside that Daisy finally let go of me.
“You are a troublemaker Alice. Maybe the oldies are right about things.” She had been quiet escorting is back to the door. “But I still like you.” She pulled out of her hair a golden hair clip. “It doesn’t go with your soft black hair but it’s the only thing I have.”
“I have nothing to give you,” I said.
“You’ve given more then enough, you’ve shown me that not everything my sister says is true!” She kissed me on the cheek and hugged me and kissed Dinah on the forehead and gave her a hug too. “I hope you both come back but not too soon!” she smiled.
We got back to the courtyard in very little time. Dinah was still pulling the ribbons and flowers out of hair that Daisy had plaited with some skill. The door was still there and Mr. August was sitting on the edge of the fountain having a smoke. I saw on the other side of the square the gang from our class. They had a crate with them but they were waiting, not wanting August to see them.
“Hi Mr. August!” I said.
He quickly snubbed out his cigarette and said “what what?”
“You’re one of the last few. The rest have all gone back. Where have you been?” He noticed the ribbons and flowers still wrapped in my hair. “You look like someone turned you into a flower garden Alice.”
“We saw the living head of a Grumble monster and we had tea with a wingless fairy.” Dinah announced.
“No such thing as a Grumble monster. I should know, I studied dream monsters for hours.”
“But we did. Alice got a little zapped by it.”
“Yes, yes I’m sure what ever the fairy showed you was quite scary. Fairies are rather unbelievable but such are fanciful creatures. There is a whole category of them you know.”
As we talked with August, the gang sneaked through the door with their crate and as the last one went in he said “Night Sir!”
“What what? Oh yes, em, good night! Now girls you should go back as well.”
As we both wandered back to our room I wondered how I couldn’t remember the Fairies from before and what I could possible have done at the “wedding”. Dinah was absorbed in her book, her lips occasionally moved as she mulled on one of the words or sentences. I fingered the hair clip that Daisy gave me and placed it on my bedside table. I looked out the window to the dark sky and I saw that brief flick of light from the ghost in the tower.
“I’m not sure about this Alice.” Dinah trailed behind me. I was on a mission. The gang had brought back a crate of something and I figured that what was in the crate was the way to draw out the ghost. Dinah trailed behind me in her nightdress but I hadn’t changed clothes.
The lights were all dimmed and most of the strange school was asleep.
“It’ll be okay,” as we crept back down to the corridor. From one of the rooms, riotous laughing could be here loud music. They might as well have put up a flag.
We stood outside their door for a moment, my fist hesitating before knocking. The door suddenly swung out and a tall teenager with greasy black hair in his eyes stood there looking at us. “What do you want?”
“I…” I started.
“Who is it Jake?” a woman interrupted me from inside.
“That freaky kid in our class,” he told her.
It instantly crossed my mind that I was still wearing boots and one good kick but I never got to as Jake was pushed out of the way by a woman with intense eyes that froze me on the spot. She brushed her blond cropped hair out of her face.
“Well little girl what do you want?”
“I’d like some whiskey please.”
“What?” she said in surprise then she laughed and the gang inside laughed too. “What makes you think we have any drink? We wouldn’t break any rules here, we don’t want trouble.”
Dinah said in a low voice “I don’t actually think there is any rules against having drink, I’m not sure there are any rules…”
“It’s not for me. It’s for a friend with a problem,” I said trying to put on my most mature voice.
“A friend with a problem. I like that,” the woman said. She swung her head back and laughed again. There was something alienly mature about the woman, a bitterness I couldn’t understand. Adults are so strange, burdened with seemingly unimportant knowledge.
“For fuck sake, give it to her!” a man’s voice from inside. I heard someone rummaging around. “Out of my way…” a young man pushed her outside and came out, half closing the door in her face. She wasn’t happy. He had a long scar along the right side of his face but there was something honest about him. For a start he bent down so that he was face to face with me. “Here. Alice ain’t it?” He held out a half finished bottle of whiskey. “If your friend really does have a problem, it doesn’t help to feed it.”
I took the bottle. “I don’t plan to give it to him.” He smiled at us both.
“Mike are you doing them out there?” the woman’s voice was heavy with undercurrents of aggression.
“Don’t mind them, they’re loudmouths but they have hearts. Keep tough.”
“Thanks Mike.” He ruffled my hair but I didn’t mind him doing it.
It was eerily lonely on the roof. Dinah wasn’t able to make the leap so I was up here alone. There was a wind that whispered but it sounded like it was listening to my heartbeat. The sky and the clouds shifted constantly as if caught up in a slow moving sea.
I could see something move in the little tower. It didn’t take me long to make my way to the tower and as I got closer I could hear sounds that reminded me of drunken mumbles. I leaned on the faded gargoyle and said “Hello?”
The sounds inside the tower instantly stopped.
“I’ve got something for you…” I shook the bottle.
I heard something move inside.
“It’s whiskey, only half a bottle but it’s the best I could do.”
“I’ll just place it here on the roof beside me…” I placed it down beside me and sat down beside the side of the tower and made a mock yawn. “Oh god I’m so tired and it’s so late. Everyone else has gone to bed. I think I might snooze.”
I pretended to close my eyes but I kept one eye half open. In less than a minute of my mock snoring I could see a white wispy form stretching out to reach the bottle. I made a deliberate large movement right then and the hand pulled back. “I think I better go back. I don’t want to be too tired climbing over the roof.” I got up and headed back to my room with the bottle in my hand.
A few minutes later I was climbing back in the window. Dinah was still awake. “Did it work?”
“Do you think the ghost will be scary?”
The white form drifted slowly through the open window. It was cautious, looking left and then right. It made straight for the bottle and at that moment I leaped out of the bed and shouted “hah!” and Dinah pulled the window closed.
“What?” he said. It was definitely a he. His white opaque form floated in midair watching us. He was tall but bulky as if he had been very well fed in life. He wore a fanciful uniform but seemed raggy and dirty. The most noticeable thing about his face though was the wide curling moustache.
He looked at Dinah and then me in a panicked way.
“What?” he said again. He had a warm voice with a tinge of desperation.
“Hi I’m Alice,” I said.
“George,” he said.
“And that’s Dinah…”
“Can Ghosts really drink?” Dinah said on cue.
“Sadly no, not really. But I like the smell. Makes me remember what it’s like to be drunk.”
“Why do you hide up there in the tower?” Dinah continued her line of questions.
“I, eh, nobody likes ghosts…” he seemed truly downtrodden.
Dinah sat down on the bed. “Its okay. We kinda know what it’s like to be lonely.”
“You’re not afraid of me?”
“You’re not particularly scary, George. I think its you who doesn’t like people. But that’s okay too, because we don’t either.” I stretched out my hand to George’s ghostly hand and we shook. I could feel him but it was like squeezing jelly. Dinah shook his other hand.
He sat down beside us as if he had finally got rid of some great weight.
He told us a story about his life. He once was a general in some old war where they had horses and muskets rather than tanks and missiles but he had been on the losing side. As the war faltered he turned to drink to escape the despair and then in the midst of battle he had found that he had been killed. No pain, no fear, just a clear realisation that he was dead.
As a ghost he saw his army massacred brutally and so he fled into the night and found himself in the land of dreams.
We told him about the Fairies and the Grumble monster and he was suitably impressed but when the sun came he begged his leave and returned to his little tower. In the light he was practically invisible and for a few minutes weren’t even sure if he had left.
It took me another moment to realise he had taken the bottle.
We were late.
We had overslept and somehow missed waking up. The canteen was empty so we rushed to the lecture hall and without a moment’s thought burst in. There was a full breath inhaled by everyone as we entered. So we clambered quickly into the back row.
“Well thank you for joining us, Alice and Dinah.” There was an old lady in a bright flowery print dress standing beside the podium. “You’ll find your first exercise under your seat.”
I pulled out knitting needles and a ball of string.
“Do you notice that it’s just girls here?” Dinah whispered to me as I was trying to open the ball of string and failing at it.
“We’re going to learn how to do the cross-seven knuckle stitch technique…” the old lady drained on.
I looked around and it was true. I could see Mystic alone on one end of a bench, Lee and her gang of girls (she stared back at me when intensive bully-ness) and other girls of all kind.
“Where are the boys?” I whispered back to the Dinah.
“Alice and Dinah! What are you two girls talking about? I will have no whispering in this class. It’s un-lady-like and distracting. Stand up, stand up!” the old woman crooned at the top of her scratchy voice.
“I… I was wondering where all the boys are…” I said standing up.
She seemed thoughtful for a moment and then she said, “Well you see what you get for being late? It was all explained at the beginning of class. The boys are doing sport and the girls are here doing knitting.”
“Sport? Do we do sport later then?” I asked.
“Well, no. Why would girls want to do sport? Sit down both of you and don’t whisper.”
Minutes later, the old ladies words turned in a stream of nonsense that even Dinah was getting bored with and had taken to reading her book under the table.
“Lets get out of here. I’d rather be doing sport with the boys then learning to knit.”
“I don’t think we should.” Dinah didn’t even dare look at me in case the old lady spotted us. “We might get into trouble…”
Dinah closed her book. “I’d rather stay here…”
I pulled the book out of her hands. “Will you stay if you don’t have a book?” I said. She turned intently at me and made the closest thing to an angry face that she could muster.
“On the count of three we drop under the benches and crawl to the door. Ready?”
Dinah looked at me with a pleading look.
“Three…” and I rushed under the bench and started making for the end of the row. Dinah was quickly after me. I stopped a moment to see if the old lady had seen us but she was demonstrating some complicated stitching technique that would seem to involve the use of three different arms. “Quick, Dinah. She hasn’t noticed.”
“Yes Lee?” The old lady responded.
“Faster Dinah!” I yelped and we crawled as quickly as we could. There were only a few feet to the door and we’d be out.
“Where have Alice and Dinah gone Miss?” Lee said.
“Alice, Dinah, where are you?” the old lady asked in her overly polite but nasty voice.
We were just at the edge of the row. The door was a quick dash away.
“Miss, I’ll go see!” Lee got up out of her seat and was pounding up the steps. We were done for. We’d have to return to our seats and we’d be watched for the rest of the class.
It was then that Lee tripped and Mystic was tumbling out of her seat on top of Lee. “Now!” I yelped back to Dinah and we make the short dash to the door and were out in the corridor in a breath.
Mystic had distracted the class to help us escape. I didn’t know what to make of her now; perhaps she isn’t as dumb as I first thought.
I started to giggle as we stood there in the corridor. Dinah started to giggle too as we danced down the corridor.
It was a huge grassy pitch. The sky was black and the air felt full of the warnings of a storm. But the pitch was fully lit. The boys were all togged out in a variety of sports gear from rugby shorts, stripped t-shirt and leather helmet to American football protective pads to just shorts, white socks and top. There were two men at the edge of the field directing them. One was a coach, tight grey shorts, and white top with whistle on a chain and a shaved head. The other was dressed in rustic monks gown and a large hood that covered his head, he lent on a cragged long staff.
We approached cautiously but it was the monk who spotted us first. He flicked back his hood and revealed a youthful face with golden but tightly cut hair. He smiled at us. The coach though shouted aloud, “What do we have here?” He had an intense look in his eyes, a burning bitterness.
The boys stopped playing and the coach directed them to come closer.
“Aren’t you meant to be learning how to stitch and be lady-like?” The coach made this mock camp dance imitating what he considered to be a lady that made the boys laugh out loud.
“We don’t want to learn how to sow.” I said.
“Really? And you’d like to play with the men huh?”
“Hey coach, give them a test!” It was Mike, the guy from the gang who gave us the bottle, and he winked at us from the corner of his eye at us. The coach was thoughtful, “yes a test. What would you suggest Mike?”
“A sparring competition – three touches decides the winner.” Mike said.
“What do you say, girl?” the coach said, he put a mocking tone on the word girl.
“Fine by me.” I said, placing my hands on my hips. I could feel Dinah’s apprehension. I saw Matthew push his way through the boys and stand in front of Mike glowering at him but I nodded to him to signal that it was alright.
The coach looked at the monk and the monk nodded his head in agreement.
“And who is willing to take on this girl?” He asked the boys.
Jake, the teenager from the gang, stood out. “I am.” He was at least three heads taller than me and he looked really mean.
With that a circle was formed. The boys were all standing on the edges. Dinah stood beside Matthew. The coach and the monk stood inside the circle. Two lines were drawn and I stood at one and Jake stood at the other. He didn’t even bother to look at me as if the fight had already been won.
“Ready?” the coach stood between us.
We both nodded.
“Then, go!” and the coach stood back.
Jack ran towards me but I didn’t move, stood my ground. He had the height, reach and strength. So I waited until he was right on top of me. His arms reached out towards me to grab me.
I dropped and then spun efficiently and my leg connected with his unbalanced stride and in a flicker he was falling back.
The landing thud was felt by all. Then I punched him hard in the chest, as he lay stunned there. He gulped as if he was swallowing his tongue.
The crowd was in a total hush.
“That’s one for the girl. Get up Jake!” the coach said.
Jake stood up but was swaying slightly. He was winded and looked a little confused. He hadn’t realised that it was me that tripped him.
We took our positions again and the coach stood between us. “Go!” he said.
Jake hesitated this time and then started to approach. I didn’t move, waiting till he was in range. He had his guard up as he edged closer.
When he was in range, he was unsure. I made as if I was cleaning my nails. He hesitated then tried to reach out for me. My kick was faster and my hard boot found itself between his legs. He went down onto his knees and there was a groan escaped every male there.
I went back to the line. The coach approached Jake and whispered something to him but Jake pushed him away and stood up and hobbled back to the line.
“It’s two-nil to the girl. Ready? Go!” the coach said.
This time I ran towards Jake. He was frozen and in fright seemed to stumble back. I leapt and my boot connected with his waist. He fell over, more from moving backwards than my kick but it landed squarely.
“The girl wins!” announced the coach. There was silence until Mike started laughing. “Looks like you can join in,” the coach said in a resigned tone. “Okay girls, you better change.” He then helped Jake up and started ordering the boys around again. The monk came over to us and said, “You know you could have just asked.” He smiled and then pointed over to a small bunker-like building. “Lockers, showers and changing rooms are over there. You should find some sports clothes to your sizes.”
As we walked over to the changing rooms Dinah asked, “How did you do that?”
“I think I’m a black belt in shotokan karate in the other life though I’m not sure, can’t rightly remember. But I did remember the moves.”
“Cool.” Dinah said.
We got changed into blue gym skirts, white tops and runners and left our clothes in the lockers though we couldn’t figure out how to lock them. We joined the boys and played something that was mix between rounders and baseball. We didn’t do particularly great but it was fun. Dinah was quickly out of breath but the boys were fair and Dinah seemed to appreciate that.
Afterwards the coach ordered everyone to have a shower before going for lunch so we went to the girls changing rooms. The other girls had finished their class and we wandering around the pitch as we went in. Lee was scowling at us and I could hear phrases like “unfair” and “going to get ya” from her gaggle.
But I was chuffed with myself and it didn’t bother me at all.
We both had got into the showers quickly but then I heard banging and giggling. We were the only girls here so there shouldn’t have been any sounds. I quickly got out of the shower and went to where we left our clothes.
But they were gone! Taken!
Left on a hanger nearby was the most hideous dresses I had ever seen.
They were bright pink and satiny with ribbons and frills everywhere and little pink shiny shoes and white socks with pink ribbons on them.
“They’ve taken my book that Philo gave me too!” Dinah implored. “What are we going to do?”
I felt so stupid. The shoes were uncomfortable and the socks were itchy. I had to tie my long hair with the pink ribbons because I had nothing else. Dinah looked uncomfortable too, her knees looked cold under the frilly edge of the dress.
We tried to sneak back to our room but Lee was watching for us. She stood there with a grin on her large face and her big arms crossed. Her gaggle were pointing and giggling. I stared back at her but Dinah kept pulling me along.
Lee and her gaggle followed along beside us, pointing, laughing and teasing.
Others appeared after hearing Lee’s gang’s laughing. Many of them started laughing. Jake leaning near a wall with his arms crossed looked at down at us with a self-satisfied grin.
It was all too much for Dinah who started to cry and tried to dart off but Lee’s gang stood in front of her. “This is too much fun.” Lee said as Dinah started crying into my shoulder.
Matthew pushed through the crowd, Mystic trailing behind him. Some of the crowd dispersed but not many. He picked up Dinah and offered to pick me up but I refused and trailed behind him as he pushed back out of the crowd and made for our room, the sound of nasty laughter fading into the background.
“It’s a pity, you both look so sweet…” I heard Mystic say.
“It was Mystic who came out, found me and told me what was happening,” Matthew said as he put Dinah on her bed.
“It was Lee who did this. Took our clothes in the changing room while we had a shower.” I said. Dinah was crying into the pillow. I went to the cupboard to find something to change into but the cupboard was empty. There was just a piece of paper with the words “Ha-ha” scrawled all over it.
“I must admit it, they are the most hideous dresses I’ve ever seen,” Matthew said.
“I hate you Alice! This wouldn’t have happened to me if I hadn’t know you!” Dinah screamed at me and threw the pillow at me.
“I think I better go…” Matthew said.
“George!” I shouted from the window, “George are you there?”
“Yes, my dear girl I am!”
“Where are you? I can’t see you!” Something moved in front of me and I could just make out his wispy outline in the light.
“My, you two girls do look pretty. What’s with the change of clothes?”
“It was a nasty trick by a bully.” I explained.
“Oh, I see and suppose you’re not too happy.” Dinah was curled up on the bed with her back to me.
I sighed, “yep. We need to get our clothes and stuff back. Could you sneak by and get them for us?”
“I could but I think flying clothes might cause a bit of a sensation for you…”
“Flying… that’s given me an idea. Listen…”
Lee and her gaggle were hanging outside the canteen. There were still tons of people having lunch inside but for the most part the corridor was empty.
“Are you ready George?” I whispered.
“I think so. You girls don’t seem to be too heavy.”
“You ready Dinah?” She nodded in reply.
“Wah!” exclaimed Lee as we came flying overhead and pulled her hair on the flyby. We turned around in the air and came flying at them at full speed again. I turned to see Dinah. Her eyes were filled with wild fire that scared me.
As we came again, she scratched one of the girls with nails and laughed wildly. “Dinah!” I said but I felt dizzy as George brought us round again.
I heard a voice being called from afar. A male voice filled with concern. I tried to hear it clearly and the corridor and Dinah seemed to fade.
My mind seemed to fill with two sensations, somewhere I was lying on my back, frozen like cursed princess and the other I was in George’s grip as we flew towards Lee and her gang again. Both seemed unreal.
“Alice my love!” the voice was familiar but unknowable. My chest tightened and I was trying to breath in that other body. I coughed and spluttered and I couldn’t feel George’s hands anymore.
I couldn’t let this happen. I had to help Dinah, I had to… she was, is, my friend, I felt.
I spluttered and exhaled but it was in my own body, the one dressed in silly pink dress and with a sudden sharpness I was flying through the corridor back towards our rooms.
“This is fun!” Dinah said.
“Now the second part of our plan,” as George landed us in front of Lee and her gang. They took several steps back, even Lee seemed to shrivel a little.
“We want our clothes and stuff back!” I said crossing my arms.
“How are you doing that?” Lee asked.
“These dresses have magically powers, we only discovered it when we were in our room.” I explained.
“What? How can they have magically powers?”
“I don’t know, they just do.”
Lee seemed thoughtful and she stared out the dresses for a while.
“No. You can’t have your stuff back.”
“Why not?” I said.
“You can’t make us give them to you, no matter what you do!” now Lee stood tall and crossed her big arms.
I turned to Dinah and we both pretended to whisper to each other.
“Okay, what about a trade?”
Lee grinned, “those dresses for your stuff.”
“All our stuff including the book.”
“Done.” I said and Lee pushed one of her gaggle to go get our stuff. She returned with a large bag of our stuff. Dinah checked for her book and hugged it tightly to her chest. We took out some clothes and quickly changed from the hideous pink. It felt good to wear boots again. I could hear George quietly laughing with anticipation.
“How do they work?” Lee said as he looked at the dress.
“You have to wear it and then you just think about flying and point where you want to go with your hand,” I explained.
She started to undress and then put the pink dress on. It was too small for her and she couldn’t close it properly. “You have to wear the ribbons too and you’ll have to close it.”
“It doesn’t fit.”
“Well then you’ll have to stitch it close!” I said.
One of her girls pulled out needles and started stitching Lee up. One other from her gang who was small enough put the other dress on. Once they were all in and wearing the ribbons and shoes Lee turned to us and said, “So how does it work?”
They looked ridiculous and I couldn’t help giggling behind my hand. The dress was splitting at the seems and the ribbons tied haphazardly in Lee’s stringy hair looked stupid.
“Think about flying and then point.” Lee pointed her arm up and George obliged and picked the two girls up. George was having some difficulty lifting Lee for the girl was massive. Lee then pointed forward and they moved slowly forward. Lee was laughing manically as she flew.
The other girls from her gang followed underneath.
“Shall we follow and watch the fun?” I said to Dinah. She grinned in agreement.
George dragged them through the air but then stopped following Lee’s directions. He reversed directions and then moved back towards the canteen. Lee’s face suddenly turned from megalomania to panic.
The two girls were moving quite fast towards the entrance of the canteen. We stood there waving as the two girls flew in. Everyone in the canteen was taken by surprise.
Here there was two ridiculously dressed girls flying and everyone looked up as they floated in the centre of the canteen.
George flew them up to the fan that revolved slowly and he hung the two girls there leaving them rotating slowly.
“Hey, get us down from here!” Lee said. The crowd was quiet for a moment. Lee struggled, swinging her legs uselessly and desperately trying to unhook herself. But she came across a ridiculous image and then everyone started laughing. This infuriated Lee and her actions became more ridiculous and so much more humorous.
The blond hair gentleman, who was riding the bear at the beginning, jumped onto a nearby table and tried to grab Lee and other girl’s legs. He flailed around and made it all the more funny.
George’s invisible form beside me whispered: “how long should we leave them?”
“Just a little while longer.” I smiled.
Matthew had a faraway look in his eyes as he sat there gazing out at the night sky. His little book of poems was closed at his feet. I walked up beside him and he acknowledged my presence with a nod as I sat down beside him.
“We’re here for a while aren’t we?” he said.
“I think so.” I answered. I hugged my knees.
“If nothing else it’s going to be interesting,” he took a deep breath and sighed.
I was trying to remember, before. But there was nothing but fragments and dreams, the feeling of a prone body, a car spiralling out of control and a familiar unknowable male voice.
“Dreams are strange things, metaphors for human existence intermingled with fantasy and well of creativity.” The wind swept Matthew’s words into the air.
We sat in the silence of the wind.
It was going to be a long year.
If you want me to write more, then leave a comment!