Choosers

via A warrior at heart. — PROMPTUARIUM

She always wakes up at dawn. Despite her tired eyes, every day she swiftly prepares food for breakfast and packs lunchboxes we will bring to school. For my little brother, she makes sure to put the rice and stir-fry in separate containers, being a little too picky for his own good. She cannot bear to see him look sallower than he already is.

We waved her goodbye as soon as we got ready. It was as brief as her seeing us off because she needed to rush to work. She told me once her boss was very strict to his employees’ punctuality. It’s funny that he doesn’t maintain the same attitude when it comes to payday. Yet she stays. She told me that it was because he allows her to go home early to prepare dinner and be with us. She told me I would understand once I got older.

I am older now, and I still don’t quite understand.

She has had chances to take up a more stable job with monthly salary instead of the measly commission that can take months until it reached her hands. She doesn’t have to worry about me and Jaden anymore–he’s no longer a picky-eater and on Tuesdays, I tutor after school–we’re big enough to take care of ourselves.

That night we were about to tell her to reconsider the job, she beat us to it. She sat us down, telling us that she will be taking a four-hour night shift at a nearby hospital as a receptionist so we can save up. By we, she meant me, or more specifically, my college admission fee. She told us she wanted us to just focus on our studies and that she would still make it for dinner. We insisted on preparing it for her. She smiled and cupped our faces, saying, “I had no idea how I deserve such nice kids. Thank you.”

I beg to differ; we have no idea how we deserve her. But on the same time, I cannot comprehend the fact that she wants us in her life on the first place. Is it because of him?

He used to take pride in his family background, until it betrayed him. It left him even more insecure of himself, refusing to acknowledge that he needed help, only understanding. But there’s only so much understanding one can give, isn’t it? Silently, she chose to take to her two feet as she went only as far as tend to his wounds. After all, he needed to face his own demons.

Since he was as good as gone, why not consider it done then? I will. But she told me it was not a nice thing to say, and that she simply thought it unnecessary for them to lead on separate ways.

One time, I was awake when she just got home from her night shift. She couldn’t feign not looking exhausted anymore, so she said yes when I offered her some warm milk. As I massaged her shoulders, I asked her if she has ever regretted this, and she immediately answered no. I asked her not to give me a normative answer, and that’s when she said, “Well, there are a few things I’d wish would turn out differently, but never you or your brother.”

After some thought, I continued, “Have you ever wished not meeting him then?”

She sighed and said, “I don’t know, Sweetheart. Whenever I tried to recall how it happened, it always seems like the meeting presented itself to me. As was the decision.”

I still don’t understand why she chose to stay.

To be exact, I don’t understand why, despite telling us to live for ourselves, she never seemed to live for her own.

Since her mind has never warned her to stop, her body did. We joked about how her arthritis was more like a blessing than a curse, seeing how she had more time to rest. Still, she somehow manages some energy left to think about the minuscule of things; how I should stop wearing my old blouse to work and let her buy a new one for me, how my brother needs to at least iron his shirt, how we should not skip lunch, or how we should take our vitamins regularly. Since her mind resonates stronger than her body, she never stopped and there is nothing we could do about it.

And I don’t think I can never understand it completely; her willingness, determination and compassion.

There are times when I want to tell her that life is hard; that had I been given a chance to choose, I might not want any part of it–day by day, just trying to get by. There are times I want to tell her that I had never asked for it–to be alive. Not to blame her, of course, but it just seemed unfair that she found something worth living in me, while I do not want it on the first place.

Then I stopped trying to understand. Instead, I started reminding myself of what I know to be true.

I know that albeit everything, I am more than willing to always come back to her. She is home, and that suffices.

She still wakes up at dawn, and I still don’t understand her as much as she does me. But we know we will somehow see each other at the end of the day.

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A Lackluster Thrill

Source: Pensive

For the first and second part of this weirdass trilogy, clickity here and here.

“Why, you look like you’re… deep in thought.”

Jamie looked away from the window to find me standing near the door. As I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water, he remarked, “You’re off from work early.”

“The boss decided everyone should be home early for Christmas eve,” I downed the whole glass in one-go, “of course, I had to willingly oblige. Who the hell would miss a chance for a longer weekend?”

“Oh,” he responded, rather disinterestedly, “that’s good.”

Weirded out by this melancholic-reflective act he’s pulling, I decided to just ask him, “What’s up with you? Something up with the studio? I mean, you would usually begin counting days to Christmas since July.”

“Um, no, no, the studio’s fine… I just got paid for finishing a project, actually,” he began to wander off.

“Spit it out,” I demanded, “It’s been a while, but did the Drain Duchess screw you up somehow? Made you eat raw fish gills or something?”

Three weeks ago, Jamie and I set on an unlikely adventure in the sewers to save him from perpetually smelling like one and eventually be ousted from society. Mr. Nomura, our neighborhood fishmonger and guide, managed to set us an appointment to one of the Twin Sisters–whom I call the Drain Duchess for short–of this funky guild fish-merchants are members of, so that we can get Jamie out of his misery. Thing is, only he and Goh, the Guild’s caretaker, may enter the chamber to see her. More importantly, the Duchess herself has requested that he would not tell anyone how she looked like and how the meeting went. At first, because Jamie is at least completely cured out of the weird curse, I did not even bother to ask. But since then, I seem to spot him looking somewhat pensive more often than not. Out of concern, I started bugging him with specific yes-no questions as to make sure nothing bad happened to him then; that way, he won’t have to break the promise, should another jinx be put upon him if he blabbered out stuff. So far, I am sure that nothing violent happened to him, but I am yet to confirm if he needs to do or eat anything disgusting. As to the question I just inquired, he responded with an downturn on the sides of his lips.

“Ugh, no,” he disgustedly replied, “even if she did, you know I probably need to struggle for hours with it. I was barely there for 15 minutes.”

“I mean, the alternative is to have fish guts as your daily deodorant,” I made a case for it, “You would not hesitate that long.”

“Well, yeah, you’ve got a point,” Jamie mulled, “but, no. That didn’t happen. And that’s not what’s been bothering me.”

“So, what is it?” I took a seat on the chair of our dining table, gesturing him to sit on the opposite chair. Slowly, he walked away from the window to join me.

“You know the deal with how adventures are portrayed in books and movies, right?” he began, “It’s about overcoming hardships, but more than that it looked awesome. Some of the characters even got to do cool tricks and stuff…”

“And yours is about falling in the gutter, smelling even worse than just shit and venturing in the drain domain?” I interrupted.

“Let’s be real, who would not be pissed? Who would want to hear a story that starts with, ‘So once I fell down the ditch…’?” he retorted, “I’d bring this story down to my grave. You have promised not to tell anyone either.”

“And you have my word,” I asserted.

“Good. Anyway, what kinda upsets me is the fact that it all ended just like that. In a matter of minutes, problem solved. We went back to our simple lives.”

I paused for a bit to process what Jamie had just said, and asked him, “You do realize that you were about to get stinky for life and missed the chance to be alleviated from it, don’t you?”

“Yeah?”

“Then why would you bother thinking about how the adventure could have been more interesting?” I can’t stop myself from laughing, “Seriously Jamie, wasn’t it better that you didn’t have to go through, what, trials or riddles to sort it out?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“You were about to spend the rest of your life in the bathroom!” I exclaimed, “And if you tried explaining your predicament, not a single soul would believe you. You wouldn’t even get away with branding yourself as a lunatic artist. You’d lose your job, be forced to live in the street… or maybe the sewers! And you’ll stench forever…”

“Alright, enough with saying I’m gonna stink for life,” he butted in, “I got a feeling you’re enjoying that a little too much…”

I raised my hands up approvingly, “Okay, but you understand what I’m getting at, do you? Jamie, most people would want their problems to end as quickly as possible. You had a horrendously ridiculous one, and you got it taken care of, almost in a snap of a finger. That’s a good thing.”

He was silent, letting the words sink in. Then he nodded a couple of times before saying, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I mean, at least now I get to worry over if I will get another project for next year; not how to work and live in the bathroom…”

“Exactly!” I agreed, “And I lied to you earlier about being sent off early from work because, honestly, I just got fired.”

“What?” Jamie widened his eyes.

“Well, I resigned and the boss didn’t take it too well. But it doesn’t matter. Now we get to sweat over jobs together! I got some money saved, so don’t worry about my part of the rent…”

“No, no, let’s rewind this for a bit,” Jamie stretched his right palm in front of me, “I know you hate your job, Sam, but you actually quit?”

“I know, I know. I kept saying how I can’t risk changing jobs because of the sweet, sweet money I get from this one, but I guess I’m done being patient. Besides, it’s been 3 years and my supervisor understands. The big boss made a fuss of it, that’s all.”

Jamie doesn’t sound convinced which makes me a bit conscious on how strongly I come off as a coward, but hey, business is business. But then he said, “Okay. It’s just that I thought for a second you had raw fish gills for lunch,” he smirked as I rolled my eyes, “Congratulations then. Welcome to the Jobless Bums club. You’ll love it, for the first month, give or take.”

“Sounds good. At least we are not jobless AND smell like ditch.” We snickered at that comment. I was about to reach out for the cereal box and snack on it when Jamie beat me before I even touched it, putting the box away on the kitchen counter.

“Let’s just eat out today. I don’t reek like rotten fish anymore and you just came out of that tiger’s den. We should celebrate,” he stood up from the chair, “I just got paid, so my treat.”

“Shouldn’t say no to free food,” I followed suit, as we made our way to take our coats and wear our shoes, “what should we have?”

“Anything but fish. I am forever grateful to Mr. Nomura for the extra he gave us every weekends, but I swear we’re gonna smell like one soon if we have them any more often than that. No gutter needed.”

Les Miserables

A/N: I… don’t even know what this is. Bleurgh. Brain fart!

“Well, that sucked.”

He simply nodded his head in agreement. He let out a huge sigh as she patted his back. Then they sat in silence for a while, watching a few people ride their boards on the skating park in front of them.

“So, Christmas is gonna be awkward,” she remarked.

“Again,” he finished the sentence for her, “I mean, ever since I can remember none of the holidays in the family have been genuinely cheerful. You see, this is why I believe we all are better off apart from each other. Especially the old folks.”

She hummed in understanding, “Seems weird that they tried to stick together somehow thinking it would work out eventually, but never actually trying to be open enough to discuss it, dunnit?”

“You can say that again,” he sprawled on top of the grass, “like somehow things we’ll magically settle itself.”

“And they say that means there’s love,” she began to chuckle loudly, “what kind of masochist would even think that? No offense to your folks, man. Mine was just the same.”

“None taken,” he smirked, “speaking of which, how is it gonna be this year with your folks?”

“My sister’s gonna meet Ma with her boyfriend for dinner on Christmas eve. Imma travel with Pa, we’ll leave tomorrow. We’ll change places for Christmas day.”

“Seems like you guys found a neat system.”

“It’s better than how it used to be,” she shrugged, “I’m just grateful this year we didn’t get to meet the other relatives. Either they would look at me and my sister with pity, which is totally unnecessary, or they’d start talking shit about Pa or Ma, depends on which side we visited.”

“Ugh, yeah that could be nasty,” he sat up, again sighing loudly, “there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this whole thing. And this whole holiday spirit thing and being home for it only makes me pettier. I’d be looking at commercials one second, and the next thing I know I’d get annoyed on why everybody looks so damn happy. What the fuck.”

She laughed, “Oh man. We never really get used to it even after years of watching them fight, don’t we?”

“At least yours are giving some time off of each other a chance, man. Mine’s just… fucked up AND in denial. I can’t wait for next year to come. I’ll make sure to get accepted at least somewhere half across the country.”

“Yeah, now that Pa rediscovered a long, forgotten hobby and finally managed to get over the thought of being a lonely, useless, old man, I can’t be more excited to start living alone. By the way, come over to the ramen place some time, he’d be happy to see you.”

“Oh, right, I’ll have lunch there tomorrow before you guys leave.” He took his board and got up, “wanna hit the park again?”

“Sure,” she put her snapback on and tied her shoes, “feeling better now?”

“I guess,” he replied, unsure, “I mean, I know they will still be ridiculous once I get home, but oh well, what can I do? Let’s just skate and forget about it for a moment.”

“Sounds good enough,” she went up and picked her board, walking together with him.

As he was about to get on the board, he paused suddenly and looked at her, saying, “Are we gonna be fucked up like them, too?”

Perplexed, she replied, “I hope not. What makes you think that?”

“Looking at it every day of our lives, don’t you think it’ll influence us in any way?” he wondered, “this is depressing.”

“Oh well, shared sorrow is half of it,” she set her board on the floor, “we’ll be fine.”

She held out her fist, and he bumped his with hers, “Happy Christmas, man.”

“Yeah, happy Christmas to you, too.”

As they went faster and felt the wind blowing on their faces, he thought, maybe this is the kind of ‘sticking together’ that’s worth it.

Dining Hell

Dialogue Prompt taken from PROMPTUARIUM

“New arrivals!”

Feeling like I have just summoned air to my lungs, I pried my eyes open and found myself on a small boat, moving quietly to a shore. Looking to my left and right, I saw around six to seven more boats heading to the same direction. In front of me stood a hooded figure  right on top of the bow. Could it be I’m… dead?

As if answering my question, my sight directed me towards the left of my stomach. I saw red. I feel the vertical gash, but not the pain.

I am dead.

The hooded figure suddenly loomed over me; its hands gesturing for me to leave the boat. It turned out that we arrived to the shore while I was in a trance. I jerked up and stood immediately, making my way to the other souls–I reckon–who were gathering nearby the rocky land. A pale lady, in a gray, tattered dress, took a glance at us, then proceeded to lead us somewhere as she held a small lantern.

I felt like we have walked for hours in the darkness until I realized we no longer stepped on rocks and pebbles, but just a cold, flat surface. We took a right turn and as the lady stopped in her tracks, so were we. She turned to face us and opened one side of a curtain, signaling us to come in, one at a time. Again, I waited, to my own surprise, in deeper stillness.

Never had I thought anything, like death, could be this silencing. Suppose it is true that no one ever stops learning about oneself, even after death.

At that, I felt a shove from my back, and I stumbled through the curtain, only to find some sort of a dining hall with round tables filling the room, encircled with tall tongues of fire. The coldness before the drapes melted from my skin. I was pondering how odd it was to be able to still feel the temperature while being numb to my own wound when I heard someone call my name.

“Ms. Lea Ruskin?”

A waiter who somewhat looked like a black-colored mannequin with no facial features called to me. Again, I was too dazed with such oddity that I could only come up with a nod and eventually a squeaky “Yes?”

“Right this way,” he said, “if you would follow me.” And so I did.

The animate mannequin-waiter led me to a seat on a round dining table. Quite frankly, I was excited to get to sit down after the long walk despite not being tired–I assume my dead body is still adjusting to the fact that my lungs no longer supported my stamina–but approaching the table, I quickly wanted to just turn back and leave as I saw two familiar faces gasping at my presence. I prayed hard, hoping it could still be heard somehow, that the waiter will lead me to another table, but he had already pulled out a chair not two seats away from them.

“You!?”

“Well, hello, Mrs. Durand.”

“Of all people!”

“It’s nice to see you too, Aunt Marie.”

This is so reminiscent of the night Julian and I broke the news of the cancellation of the wedding. His mother and his aunt–her biggest supporter–were flipping mad, mostly at me. Seeing they still couldn’t get over it even after death, I guess it really wasn’t just because they couldn’t wear the matching dress they had custom-made years prior to the ceremony. Was it a childhood promise? One of the things in their bucket list? I can’t recall.

Mrs. Durand was quick to compose her cynical self as she cleared her throat and bit, “Well, I told her I’d save her a seat in hell.” I figured that was one of the things she screamed at me before we were ousted from the restaurant for the commotion caused mainly by her.

Not at our table!” exclaimed Aunt Marie, “oh, are we really held against everything we said when we were alive? When will the misery end?”

“I’m afraid not ever, Ma’am,” the waiter answered, reminding us that he was still there to witness the ruckus, “this is hell, after all. And yes, you are held against your every word.”

Then everything is as clear as day. I, too, have said something along the lines of, “There is no punishment in hell more cruel than actually having to dine in with the abomination that is my ex-fiance’s mother and her sister.” I thought remarks made when you are drunk and in pain after a failed engagement should not count. Unwilling to relent to this set-up, for the first time in my life had I been alive, I attempted to talk my way out of it.

“Look,” I began, “if it’s about not enjoying anyone’s company, I suppose there must be other tables you can take me to.”

“There isn’t any that repulsed you most, Ms. Ruskin,” he said, resolutely, “and so would it be most disagreeable to Mrs. Durand and Mrs. Leroy. We only served the worst you can possibly imagine. And more.” He pointed at my chair, willing I would take my seat immediately. I can’t seem to find a better argument, so I sat myself down. Then he bowed his head and left us.

Just as I thought this couldn’t get any worse, it did. The food that was served looks mouthwatering, but tampered with. No, not in any way there are maggots or whatever it is you saw inedible in a horror movie; they were just not served as you’d like it. My steak was still basically swimming in blood, while Mrs. Durand and her sister’s had it too overcooked for their own taste. Not to mention they had not enough teeth to chew things properly. The hole in my stomach oozed out some of the dinner–mostly the wine and the soup–which irked the sisters to no end. I couldn’t risk having the pudding, which used to be my favorite. The sisters skipped directly to tea, which made way out of their mouths and nostrils just as they sipped it. I did not dare ask why.

Despite the food being cleared out of the table, I am afraid we would not be ushered away from the table as early as we wanted to. The sisters kept at their nasty remarks for me, my “second thoughts” and whatever they see appropriate to hurt me. I kept quiet, not because I am incapable of retorting, but because I do not want them to think they get into me. I have always been good at enduring shit talks, and seeing them getting even more irritated with my lack of response allowed me a little pleasure.

And I’d settle for just a bit of it, lest they took me somewhere I truly can’t stand. Guess having tight lips do help you survive not only the world of the living, but also the dead.

But evidently, attempting to kill your ex-fiancee’s current girlfriend and ironically bleeding to death yourself may just win you a reservation straight to hell.

Mortifyingly Alive

“Jean,” a voice half-whispered, “Jean, wake up!”

My eyes tried their best to focus, fighting the throbbing on the back of my head. I felt really hot on the right side of my body, then realized the huge fire that would warm around 10 people just fine.

“Jean! Oh, thank goodness!”

I turned my head to the voice calling from in front of me, and found my friend, Dev. Hang on… weren’t we at camp before? Of course! It’s our last night here at Camp Wharton and we were on duty of washing the dishes on the river just nearby. The counselors are putting the other kids to bed after dinner, and we were supposed to join them soon after we are done with it. We were both pretty scared about being in the dark without supervision, so we were just talking if we are returning next year, recalling the best bits of the events. I thought it helped a bit, but then I remember a smack on my head, and… now I’m here, tied up in a knot on a slab of stone quite far from Dev, who was also caught motionless in a rope.

“D-dev? You okay?” was the first thing I can muster.

“Y-yeah, I guess,” he answered, “but we need to get out of here quickly, they are coming back!”

“What are you saying? Who’s coming back?” I asked, suddenly alerted.

“Shh,” he tried to keep my voice down, “cave trolls. They were hiding behind the cave behind the waterfall. One hit you with a rock, the other shoved me on a dark, stinky bag I hope wasn’t his stale underwear or something. I passed out because of the stench, but I managed to feign sleeping when they were discussing how to cook us…”

“Cook us!?” I jumped on my seat, but quickly remembered to lower down my voice to tell him, “look, Dev, I got a Swiss knife on my pocket…”

Dev was teary-eyed when he said, “Bless you for being an obstinate friend…”

“Shush,” I cut him, “now, once I’m free from this rope, I’ll slip the knife to you. Try to be as discreet as possible.” I was about to start cutting when we heard two voices arguing nearby. As if on cue, both of us pretended to be unconscious. I cursed under my breath since Plan A won’t work.

“I told you, Kevin, the best way to eat this little humans is to stew them!”

Apparently, they have not decided yet. That’s good enough.

“No, Don, my grandmama said we should deep-fry, and dip them with sauce!”

It was no easy feat hearing how you are going to be served for somebody’s dinner. I retracted my desire to even gulp in despair.

“Yeah right, and what did she die from? Heart attack? What a stupid way for a troll to die from! A greasy heart… urgh,” mocked the one called Don.

“But it was delicious enough to get by when there are no food around us,” replied Kevin. I can sense Dev was trying his best not to vomit at the idea that these trolls eat their own grandmother’s heart.

“Shut up! I wouldn’t want to imagine my heart being eaten by anyone, especially my own relatives!” Don argued.

“They have long been dead, and we’ve been hiding in the caves too long… scavenging for nothing but worms, spiders… or bats if we’re lucky,” said Kevin sadly, and most urgently he added, “that’s why we must make sure we cook these little things right! We might not have them for another century!”

“I am telling you for the last time! My Great Aunt Marge’s stew recipe is our best bet! Besides, we can save it for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch!” Don insisted.

“All right,” Kevin obliged, “since we cannot just waste the meat… but now we need to pick up the pot, and you hid it somewhere deep within the cave for some bloody reason!”

Don grunted, “only for special occasion like this can you use my pot! It’s been in my family for generations! I won’t let you use it to cook those nasty insect soup of yours! Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to fetch it. You stay here and watch for the little humans. They might be awake soon. We need to cook them before dawn, or else…”

“Or else we’ll harden to rocks instead,” continued Kevin, “got it.”

With four huge steps, Don went back to search for the special pot in the cave. A distinct foul smell came from somewhere near the fire, and I immediately worked out that’s Kevin the troll. I was hesitating if we should remain in our cover, but then Dev beat me up to the idea. Now, I guess, we improvise.

“Hullo,” he greeted the troll, “d-down here!”

The troll looked somewhat surprised, “Little humans do talk! I thought they were just like bats without wings.”

I took a peep and saw the troll was edging closer to Dev. I took the chance to cut myself loose. Slowly, I eased the knife to the rope, praying hard that the troll won’t pick up any noise. Dev picked up his voice.

“I didn’t mean to pry, Mr. Troll,” he began, “but I seem to hear you and your friend debating how to best cook humans.”

“And very polite, too,” Kevin bellowed, “that is true, little human. Do you suppose you know better?”

“Oh, well,” Dev sighed as if he was truly disappointed, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Troll. But you can’t eat humans.”

At this, the troll snorted in disbelief and began to laugh out loud, “What do you mean? Trolls eat humans all the time!”

Dev inquired, “But how do you know that?”

The troll stopped laughing. To my disbelief, he wondered, “Well, at least from what I heard from the other trolls…”

“But have you ever tasted any of us?” Dev boldly asked. I managed to cut myself loose halfway.

“Well, no…,” Kevin hesitated, “but it’s a tradition! And so it must be kept! Trolls eat humans when they can find one.”

“Traditions change, Mr. Troll. Humans no longer hunt for trolls,” Dev continued, “Also, we don’t taste good, if anyone hasn’t told you that.”

“But of course you do!” the troll insisted.

“Again, how do you know?” Dev repeated his question.

The troll cleared his throat and replied, “well, yeah… at least that’s what I heard from my folks… I can’t be sure…”

Dev chuckled more assuredly, “We don’t taste good! Or else, why would we not eat each other? You guys do it all the time! We don’t because we taste bad! Simply repulsive to the tongue.”

The troll fell silent. Then he said, “Well, you’ve got a point…”

At this very moment, I really cannot thank God more for Dev’s sharp wit and gift of gab. But then I manage to release myself from the ropes. I bit back my urge to shout out praises and watchfully crawl to the nearby bushes to get to Dev on the other side.

“… but trolls don’t taste that good either,” Kevin rambled, “we just don’t have anything else to eat, and we can save up the food up to two weeks.”

“Then why don’t you just eat another troll?” Dev asked.

“You mean Don?” Kevin shuddered, “I couldn’t possibly! We only eat dying trolls as a rule. Such a waste to let the flesh rot… Speaking of which, what took him so long? I better…”

As the troll just about to get up and search for his friend, Dev blurted, “He’s probably trying to get the special cookbook too! Nasty little thing got stuck in between shelves sometimes.”

Silence fell. Really, Dev? After that whole us not being cannibals thing, really? I thought as I paused from crawling, looking pointedly at the troll.

“You’re probably right,” Kevin sat back, “tough luck with finding that one.”

As both Dev and I both sighed in relief, also hoping we don’t jinx the luck that has been with us so far, I hurried to his side and cut Dev’s binds from behind the bushes. Dev chatted up to the troll again.

“I must say, your friend Don probably had found the book. He’s probably out looking for hares now since he knew humans are unappetizing.”

Kevin gasped, “Nooo! He would not just leave me here!”

“But you said you were just hungry,” Dev added, “I bet he knew now humans are disgusting and went on the other side to catch as much hares as he can find. There’s a lot in the other side of the cave. We ate them, too. They’re delicious!”

“Really?” the troll said, unsure.

“Yeah, us kids need to have at least one to fill our tiny stomachs, ” Dev egged on, “you, Sir, must need at least five!”

Kevin the troll was considering all of this, then he turned to Dev and smugly said, “So, you’re suggesting me to help him?”

“Well, a good friend will always help, right?” Dev nervously chirped, sensing the troll’s suspicion. I was desperately loosening a few more loops.

“I am helping Don by keeping watch over you so we can eat you before sunlight!” he bellowed, “and also this other little one!”

As he was busy looking for me only to find nothing but ropes, I managed to cut Dev’s and pulled him to the bushes, and ran for our lives. We can hear the troll shriek and stomped its ways towards us, calling out to his friend that their dinner had escaped.

“I told you for the zillionth time, Kevin: do not play with your food!”

“I was just talking to it!”

“Even worse! Dinners shouldn’t be able to talk!”

“I know! That is why I can’t help it…”

We can still hear them arguing as we try our best to find our way back to camp, which we no longer know if that would help with anything. I’m not sure that the counselors are even equipped enough to face trolls, of all other things living in the woods. We might be leading them to a feast instead!

 

As the trolls were a good distance behind us, I decided to change courses, away from the camp entrance. Dev was too tired to protest, so I led on and told him we won’t be held responsible for giving the trolls a banquet. He agreed as we circled the woods a few rounds more. Our only hope is that dawn would come soon enough.

And so it did. The trolls were already running back to their cave by the river, but it was too late. Their bodies harden to solid rocks right before our eyes; it’s almost excruciating to watch something whom you talked to not a few hours ago, actually turn to stone. When we recalled it would be our bones left beside the river instead, a shiver ran down our spine, and we were then undoubtedly filled with gratitude.

Yet we did have a moment of silence for the trolls. Hopefully their spirits will rest peacefully, but mostly so that we will also be free of guilt for causing them the inconvenience of refusing to be their meal–their last supper, unexpectedly almost.

Dev and I are quite sure we’re not signing up to any camps next year.

Freefalling

Source: Base

 

 

 

“What are you waiting for?” he inquired, “jump.”

I take a look at the busy streets far down before me. Fear strikes, and I thought this was just a dream. Yes, we ran through dimensions, moving circularly. We passed through distortions; expansions and reduction. White, red, black and mosaic rooms–we proceeded and left them all behind effortlessly.

Now that we end up on the rooftop of a building reminiscent to my childhood home, I am not as daring.

Perhaps it is the sense of familiarity to reality which escalates my hesitance. Suddenly, this realm doesn’t seem much like a dream.

“What if I did and died down there?” I asked him.

“You know what they say,” he replied, “‘you’ll only go as far as your faith can take you’. I believe those are the exact words.

I began questioning myself of the amount of faith I have, on where I should place it for assurance, or if any of that matters at all. I stepped back from the edge of the building, resigning as I consider my dwindled confidence. That was when he stopped me by putting his hand on my shoulders.

“What is it that scares you, child?” he slowly tightened his grip.

“Well, falling for one,” I told him, “and my life, obviously.”

“Didn’t we manage to go this far?” he turned me towards his gaze, “did you even doubt a second that we would be trampled by those walls before? Or trapped in any of those rooms?”

This certainly is no room. In fact, stepping at the grounds and being able to look at the walls weirdly made me feel far more secure than the prospect of it isolating me forever. But it is true, we made it unblemished up to now. Also, and I cannot reiterate too much, wasn’t this just a dream?

“You can still see the ground,” he said, as if he just peered through my head, “and you’ll be there in no time. Go, and release your fear once and for all.”

Surely, a dream is a dream. I could not miss out on the chance to do something I won’t and can’t do in real life. I took another glance at the view at the bottom. This time, I brought my feet to the verge again, steadied myself as I reached for his hand.

“Only if you come with me.”

He seem to understand. Quietly, he followed suit as he stood beside me and clasped my hand.

We close our eyes, felt the wind and took a deep breath.

We spread our arms, willing to let gravity take us down.

Suddenly I felt him grabbing my shoulder hard, and whispered, “You put your faith on the wrong man.”

He pushed me down, ruthlessly.

I realized iron doesn’t taste dreamlike.


A/N: I refuse to accept that I slept through Halloween because I was sick.
Here’s, albeit unsatisfying, an attempt to relive it.

Two (Lone) Wolves

An imaginary dialogue submitted for the prompt: Solitude

“Why do you think people don’t like to be alone?”

“Because they fear it.”

“Why do they fear it, then?”

“Well, some of the reasons I heard is just because they can’t bear going on life on their own, they don’t want to die alone, and so on. Basically it’s like fear of the unknown, and society telling them for years that having a company is, in any condition, better than being alone.”

“Do you think so?”

“Nope. I like being alone. Occasional company is nice, but I don’t mind solitude as a default. In fact, I stand on the other side of that opinion. I rather be by meself than spending time with someone I don’t like.”

“What about spending time with someone you like?”

“That’d be wonderful, I reckon. But there really is no guarantee if that person would stay the same over time. I mean, I would change, too. Sometimes for the better, at other times not so much. On another situation, I might think I change for the better while the other person doesn’t share the opinion. The same goes for what I perceive from that person.”

“So, you just can’t risk it?”

“Well, I’m definitely risking it with building friendship, aren’t I? Some grows stronger together, some grows apart. I know I’d get upset, but eventually I still learn from it, and I am fine with that. Other kinds of relationship are just far too risky.”

“You mean, something like a relationship or marriage?”

“Those depend on how they manage or define it, really. But of course to start it, either one needs to initiate the contact, dunnit? I just don’t think it as necessary, at least as of now.”

“Huh. So, do you not have any desire to start a family? You seem quite keen on kids.”

“For one, I don’t think a family should always mean parenting children. I have my biological family, and though I love them, I still struggle with some of the weird shit going on. Some of my friends and myself are quite closely knit, almost like a loving family, and I suppose that’s enough. Number two, I do like little kids, but that doesn’t mean I want to have my own kids. Pregnancy is nasty business, all the more is parenting. I think it’s better for me to take my time to consider if I ever want to have one of my own or adopt one. I can’t be permanently responsible of another human being yet.”

“True. There really is no point in rushing with that. Why would you be so eager to have the 50-50 chance to fuck up somebody’s life?”

“Yep. Not to mention I don’t really have any idea what is so good about the world that I want to share it with anyone by welcoming them to the world from me own body.”

“Come to think of it, it is rather selfish, innit? Giving birth?”

“As much as it is the decision not to… which partly why I didn’t see any reason to why I, or any other people, should be responsible to have babies and repopulate earth. Also, that is why it’s fine if some people want to do so. My point is that we are equally selfish in our motives, and there is no point arguing about it.”

“Right. Umm, we’re so gonna get roasted by having such perspective, aren’t we?”

“Since we’re speaking for ourselves, it should be fine. If we were to bring this up to Mum and Dad, on the other hand… well, let’s just take it slow. I ain’t getting thrown to a miserable pledge in front of the Almighty God just because they think I shouldn’t be dying alone…”

“… which everyone does in the end. And death doesn’t seem to be that scary anyways, as long as the passage to that is not painful.”

“Then let’s drink to that, shall we? To painless death!”

“Cheers.”

Fold and Bolt

A work of fiction submitted for the prompt: Legacy

Here’s the thing: the best legacy is knowledge, but having that with a sum of money would certainly help.

Not that I blame both my parents for not leaving me even a small amount of pocket money worth of a yellow-and-orange-dyed ice cream (hopefully not textile, although I should say some sugar would cover it just fine), but it really is a no-brainer that I won’t have to deal with a lot of shit right now had they did. In which case, I’m gonna buy that chemical-loaded brain freezer and sell it to Big Pete–the typical bully conveniently marking his dominion in a local abandoned shed across the street– behind his momma who’s worried about his weight; that way I can make a net profit of five bucks.

My name is Laurie, and I remember my mother used to tell me the name is from a book she loves as a kid called “Little Women”, while my father simply can’t argue for a better name. Up to today, I personally have not the intention to read it simply because I don’t want to be considered vain if I happen to enjoy the book.

It’s been about a year since they are gone and I have been living as a modern nomad. See, I beg to differ from being called “homeless” because I do have one in form of a tent, which comes in handy to support the lifestyle I adopted to fit my situation. Where did I get the tent, you ask? Well, as I have touched upon before, knowledge is the best legacy, but in my case, that is my only legacy… in hard-copy, if you catch my drift. My parents are both avid readers, and they have shelves of books in the little-rented apartment we used to live in before. After they’re gone, I sold most of them to secondhand bookstores, save for three I kept for myself: my father’s favorite, my mother’s and mine. I put enough shirts, pants and underwear in my nifty backpack, bought the cheapest tent, saved the remaining amount of money and went out of the place as quickly as possible.

Did I sound a little too detached? That should be credited as part of the legacy my parents left behind as well. Both of them are the very definition of lethargy sometimes I wonder how they ended up together. My father told me he was an only child, and his parents died in a car crash when he was ten. His aunt who then became his guardian died on a plane crash, which scarred him for life. My mother told me she and her older sister left home and changed their names to save themselves from their father’s gambling and alcohol problem, which at that point had gotten worse after their mother’s death. Her sister died because of the same illness their mother had three years before she had me. Will you look at that? Solitary life is just part of the family heritage.

They never really bothered to mingle with anyone personally, as we have never had guests in our house. Their jobs also does not seem to require a lot of long-term interaction–my father was a flower arranger, and my mother was a technician… talking about gender-bending stereotypes, huh?–to other people, and for the three of us, at least we got to eat regularly, and my parents afford to buy at least one book monthly, albeit some secondhand ones. My mother home-schooled me herself when she does not receive any calls. My father would read me stuff if he’s off from work. And I guess we were quite happy with the arrangement, seeing there are no complaints whatsoever.

We spent Sundays doing laundry together, at the rooftop of our shabby apartment, which quite surprisingly is almost always unoccupied. After we finish spreading all the garments to dry, the three of us would just sprawl on the old wooden bench to relax and enjoy the morning sun. At those moments, my parents would always tell me, “Son, one day you’ll grow up and we might not be around anymore. When that day comes, don’t let anyone hold you against what they think we did or didn’t do that they try to take advantage of. If that happens, don’t hesitate to leave, move on and never look back.”

Obviously, that is, to speak the least, cryptic for a ten-year-old. But one day, at the age of fifteen, I brought back some groceries only to find our abode, despite its already humbling qualities, in ramshackle; shelves knocked over, drawers opened, papers scattered, bloodstains on the floor; and my parents nowhere to be found. Whilst still trying to make sense of what happened, my eyes caught view of torn pictures of my parents separately, both seemingly taken from far away. That’s when I knew it’s the day; the day to leave, move on and never look back.

I didn’t even bother to call the police because I know I will leave a trace, and that’s exactly what my parents don’t want me to do. In fact, it appeared that they beat me to it. There was a police line barring the front door, which was ajar, but weirdly no one was there to investigate the place or even display a tinge of curiosity. I am convinced that dealing with the authorities would not help me much, and if by chance my alcoholic grandfather is still alive and them adults think that’s the best I can get, then no, thanks, I’d rather take the streets as I might end up there anyways.

Which brings me to today, contemplating in a crowded park whether I should give up my tent and be properly homeless.

Apparently, people have noticed and reported it to the authorities, and that is certainly what I have been avoiding so far. Life is cruel that way; it gave you exactly the things you don’t want or need, resulting in unending ironic envy.

That’s when I made my way to the nearest pawn shop, sell the tent and proceed to a nearby store to buy two chemical delicacies while saving up the rest of the money.  I cautiously approached the one familiar neighborhood, the one shed, and waited until the big guy dismissed his minions. Once he was on his own, he pulled out some sweets from his pockets, I made my less-than-dramatic entrance… well, not exactly as I waited behind the wooden wall of the shed where there are two punched holes.

“You’re not supposed to be eating that.”

Big Pete was perplexed and hurriedly put back the sweets in his pockets. Dum-dum. He could’ve just feign ignorance. Moreover he asked the obvious, “Who’s that?”

“Put it away, your momma’s on her way here,” I told him, and I swiftly hide on the opposite side so he or his momma wouldn’t see me. Just as I did, Big Pete’s momma was calling out his name, telling him there was a kid who asked for him earlier, saying he’s from school and has a science project together. Big Pete was making a fuss with his momma coming to the shed. I even caught her telling herself that it was just a phase he’s going through and she should’ve known what she did isn’t “cool”. She then apologized and told him she just want to make sure he didn’t miss dinner, which will be ready in an hour. After she left, he let out a sigh of relief. I made my way to lean next to the hole on the wall in the opposite side so he won’t see me.

“That was a close one.”

“Hell yeah, it was,” he still tried to catch his breath, “what do you want?”

Great, he doesn’t need any explanation of a tit-for-tat. I showed him two ice-cream sticks from outside the hole, “prepared you a treat. Just want you to pay them for five bucks each.”

“You think I would eat anything after that?” he sounded like he almost meant it, “and dinner is in an hour. She’ll know if I can’t finish it.”

“Come on, don’t sell yourself short,” I coaxed, “after all you can just tell her you want to eat less because you’re taking the diet more seriously.”

I can tell Big Pete was reconsidering when he muttered a soft ‘huh’. Then he said, “I’ll give you six bucks for two.”

“Uh-uh,” I disagreed, “bid higher or I’ll let her in a sweet little secret.”

“Pfftt,” he mocked, “and she’ll believe you?”

“Of course, I’ll let her know I finally found you and that we ended up having too much ice-cream together instead of working on the science project.”

“You sneaky little shit,” he hesitated, but then handed out a ten-dollar bill from the hole and grabbed the ice cream, “just this once, because I don’t have more one-dollar bills. Take it and scram! I’ll break your neck if you ever come here again or tell anyone else about this.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t,” I pocketed the money, “nice doing business with you.”

Before he changed his mind, found me with his minions and beat me into pulp, I ran to a nearby subway station, buy a one-way ticket to the farthest suburbs, and board the train. Just in case I don’t find the library for a free shower and a bedtime story, I hope the pawn shop there sells a tent that fits my budget.

As I stared blankly from the window, I reckon I might be wrong; it is not knowledge, and certainly not money (though I maintain both helps) which makes the best legacy. It’s probably something more primal, like survival instinct–which also makes it the worst for those unwanted and wanted at the same time.

Waiting Room

A work of fiction submitted for the prompt: Longing

The room looks old-fashioned: two plants on each side of the door, red-carpeted floor, polished wood pillars at the four corners, four doors divided equally at two sides of the room, and chairs at the other side. He saw a girl fiddling with her fingers, emitting a bored look which is expected for anyone who entered the room. She also had her earphones, an effort to occupy herself that doesn’t seem to work as much. There is only two other chairs available placed conveniently next to the girl’s left. Not wanting to bother her, he took the one on the far right corner.

Five minutes in the clock, he can sense the tedium filling the room already. If not, then at least it undoubtedly has tickled his nostrils. And just as the girl was putting away her earphones, his old, rather unwelcome habit whenever he gets bored strikes back: he started a conversation.

“Uh, hello.”

She looked up to him and disinterestedly said, “Hi.”

“Erm, I’m just wondering,” he carefully worded, “perhaps you know how long people usually wait here.”

“Depends on what you’re expecting,” she answered nonchalantly, “I’m now actually just contemplating if I should just give up entirely.”

“Oh,” he was taken aback, “do you, uh, mind if I ask you what you waited for, and how long have you waited? There doesn’t seem to be other people around, so…”

“That door over there to open and call my name, if you can see it,” she pointed to a door with a placard in front of it saying ‘The Old Times’, “I’ve been waiting for a couple of months. Finished my paperwork in 2 weeks, thought it’s a good enough sign. Now I can say I was wrong.”

“That’s what I’m waiting for too! I even finished submitting all the documents in one week,” he was aghast, “now I’ll be lying if I said I’m not worried.”

“Well, I’m not here to give you advice or persuade you with anything,” she remarked, “I am personally just exhausted already. I just thought I was not as a daydreamer as a guy who was waiting for ‘Certainty’ to open. Turns out this one hardly opens just as much. Don’t worry to much, though. I was probably just impatient. And if at the end of the day it won over me, you’re next in line.”

He wasn’t sure if that was a joke, so he just flashed her an awkward smile. He shares her opinion about the chance for ‘Certainty’ to open for anyone though. As much as people can hope, that door is just off limits. He even wondered why it’s still kept there, and why a lot still sign up and made it to the waiting list. But then again, most of them don’t even show up knowing that it took a while before the first on the list is admitted. He is suspicious that it’s simply still there because it keeps people’s hopes high up, which is kind of fucked-up if anyone gave it some more time to think about.

“Excuse me,” the girl’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “feel free not to answer my question, but… what brings you here to the waiting room?”

Weirdly, he rather welcomed the gesture and felt like a burden is going to be lifted from his shoulders, so he said, “No, not at all. Probably just to reminisce the short period of time I spent with a loved one. It was my brother. He passed away when he was four. I was eight. I noticed how it’s getting harder for me to keep the already vague memories I had with him, and our parents weren’t affluent enough to have even the cheapest camcorders back then. So I was hoping this will help.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” she sounded genuinely unbroken, no longer bounded by her previously indifferent tone of speaking.”

“No, it’s okay,” he replied as genuinely, “I actually missed talking about him. Mentioning him to my parents can be difficult, you know? Even though they might be the only ones left that truly cares about him.”

Silence and awkwardness consumed the room once more, until he was brave enough to ask her to return the favor.

“Uh, so, if I may,” he began, “why are you also waiting for ‘The Old Times’ to open?”

“I guess I owe you that one,” she smiled a small one as she folded her hands and told him, “to be brief, I am overwhelmed with certain dynamics I have in my close friendship with someone I probably have known my whole life. I am here to just… have a moment or two, reliving how it would be like had things not changed for the worse.

“Part of me realizes that this might be just another hurdle to overcome, and that probably a stronger bond awaits us, to be poetic about it, “she chuckles sadly, “but another part of me also felt like I might lose this person seeing how we have not managed to even agree to disagree. At one point, I felt pressured, and constantly frustrated even after trying my hardest to make my point clear that this friend can still respect me without understanding my choice. So, I decided to give this room a go when I saw it in the newspaper one day.

“At first I honestly considered trying ‘Certainty’, but not only the officers, even I can still smell the tendency of me never coming out of the room, so I thought maybe not. After giving it much thought, the next month I almost applied to ‘Consistency’, which I thought would probably give me an insight of what it would be if nothing had changed, but then I have learnt from my previous experience and some other applicants that, it’s as wishful thinking as applying for ‘Certainty’. I then thought I should just go to ‘The Old Times’ and see if the relationship is still worth the trouble, to refresh my mind of what we have been through together, and what the past hurdles are… just to give me some time to think clearly rather than just beating myself up because I feel guilty for ignoring all conversations whenever I sense it’s about to go downhill, which I thought is better than having an argument that will further destroy it, but then does it just the same.”

She let out a deep breath, “Well, whaddaya know? It does make you feel a little better talking about it. Your strategy kinda works.”

Now he dares enough to let a real chuckle because she did just the same. Suddenly, she got up from her seat and stretched.

“Are you leaving?” he asked.

“Yeah. I’ve waited all morning here, and I feel like it’s time for me to take a little walk because my backache is nagging at me again just now.”

“Oh, I thought you–uh…,” he hesitated to indicate she mentioned about giving up. She caught on.

“Well, who knows? Maybe I would. Even for a different reason, like me being clumsy and leaving my jacket again like last time. Anyways, the day hasn’t ended yet. And I suggest you keep yourself occupied or give yourself small breaks. Nobody asked you to constantly stay in the waiting room, especially on lunch time.”

And with that, she took her jacket and waved him goodbye. As the door closed, he saw her earphone and music player were left on the chair. He hold the thought for a moment, then shrugged and put the earphones on, thinking she most likely wouldn’t mind at all. After all, he is only following her suggestion.

The Bloody Bartender

Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.

A work of fiction submitted for the prompt: Mad Libs

 

As my fellow students and I wrote down the last sentence of our sit-in examination, the winter break finally commences. Before I know it, I have boarded my train home, looking only white, freshly fallen snow outside the window. I can’t believe there will come a time for me when going home doesn’t seem to be a bad idea at all, considering all my persistence to study somewhere far away from it.

I was right; I should not have been deluded with the saying “There is no place like home” too soon. Luckily I have prepared myself in case my parents woke up on the wrong side of the bed again, having a go at each other as if it was inevitable since my childhood. “Old habits die hard” seem to be the one I should have kept in mind more before deciding to have a relaxing holiday at home. But this time, instead of only being able to try to block the sound by pushing my pillows to my ears, I grabbed my coat and sneaked out of the house for a walk.

Yet it was only relaxing for the first fifteen minutes of it as it started to snow heavily once I made it to the ye olde part of the town near the outskirts, closer to the hills with pine trees surrounding it. I rushed in to the nearest pub for warmth and shelter, waiting for the snowstorm to die down.

The place seemed old-fashioned–the walls and floors, even the tables and chairs are made of wood, some cracks found here and there–but the very piece that welcomes you will be a bronze statue of a sharp-looking bird with a long crest on its head, attached to the wall opposite to the main door. In its talon was written what I assume was the pub’s name: Bird of Prey.

As I was about to take my seat at the bar stool, the bartender put her hand up and said, “Show me your ID first, lad, I’m not getting into trouble making liquors for minors.”

“Oh, right,” I opened my wallet and let her see my ID, “just turned 18 last month. And I’m going to have just a cup of hot tea for starters, if you please.”

“Goodness, I just realized you’re covered in snow,” she immediately prepared the drink, “milk and sugar?”

“Yes, please. Two teaspoons of sugar, thank you.”

She handed me the warm cup of tea, and I took it gratefully. I encircled the cup with my hands, and brought it near to my face as I inhaled the warm, wakening smell. After three sips, I no longer shiver in cold, and I was able to have a clearer view of the pub’s interior. There were only a few people inside, talking in quiet murmurs, or playing darts at the other side of the room. One person, a man around his mid-50s, took the stool in the far corner of my left, sipping a pint of ale. It struck me how odd they dress, almost like they live almost a century ago. Nobody seem to mind people wearing hats indoors here, but it seemed that every man wears their tall hat very casually, accompanied with their long suits or striped jacket. Some of the ladies wore their hair like what I saw in my grandmother’s photo of her own grandmother. Even worse, I just noticed the lady bartender, currently getting more pints of beer for a table near the frosty window, sports what it seemed like a wound in her left chest, with stains of blood all over her apron. Hang on, all of them somehow had scars in different part of their bodies; strangulation marks, ripped sleeves with gashes, burnt marks.

Just as I was still trying to process everything in my head, the bartender went back behind the bar. She must have noticed how I turn slightly pale when she asked, “You alright, lad? Want me to get you something stronger?”

My silence provides her an answer as she said, “Ah, never been to our special themed nights around here, have you?”

Oh, I thought, “Oh, yes… Yes, that explains everything now. I should say, everyone went all out on theirs as much as yours. Looks almost as real, the gunshot wound you have there.”

“Thank you, it was a last-minute attempt when I found an old burnt apron and some red paint in the attic last night,” she smiled proudly, “never have guessed I would dress as Irene Portsmouth. Now she is the legend of the town.”

“I’m sorry, I have lived here since I was younger, but I have never heard of her,” I replied.

Her eyes widened, “are you sure you’re from around here, lad? Everyone in this town should know her story!”

“Oh, spare the boy, Jenny,” the man on the far corner of the stool interrupted, “not everyone in this town enjoys their history class like you do.”

“Well, everyone should at least learn something!” the bartender, Jenny, furiously raised her voice, “What do they teach in schools these days? Those power hungry bastards must have messed with the curriculum to make us all more compliant than we already are, simply because they firstly conditioned to make us so.”

“Now, now, we shouldn’t be surprised,” the man slowly made his way to sit next to me, “mind if I join you? I reckon Jenny would be more than willing to share you the story, and I would like to hear it again. Right, Jenny?”

Jenny sighed and nodded quickly before she fill up some more dark bitter for the man, and more tea for me. He smiled a very familiar smile, and I gestured with my hand for him to take his seat. Soon, Jenny returned, and she began the story.

“Irene Portsmouth was very vocal in promoting the ‘check-and-balances’ system even when the term wasn’t coined yet. She came from humble beginnings–her father was a teacher, her mother was a governess before marriage and obviously, they taught her well that she was accepted to university when it was hard for any to get one. I reckon it still is now in many places, but well, at that time, it was the government’s first attempt to recognize women’s rights for education. She was an impressive law student and was a part-time barmaid, as she needs to support herself for her study once her parents passed away. Her friends, John and Peter, started to meet up with her in the pub where she worked with for small drinks after classes, and there they would have a friendly conversation about things they learn. There, they also got the attention of the regulars. One of the issues the town had back then was the minimum involvement of townsfolk when it comes to local legislation, and even then, most people are not aware that they posses the rights to be involved in the process of law-making by the public hearings in the town hall every Wednesdays. That’s when Irene and her pals spotted an opportunity. They first brought it up in the pub. Naturally, it became the most discussed topic the day after.

“More and more people became aware of the public hearing hosted by the mayor, and more people are increasingly involved in the meetings. At first, it was only attended by landlords or barons, who of course opted only for conditions beneficial for them, and they damn right made sure the mayor maintain such circumstance. ‘After all, two heads is better than three, four, or twenty, would you say?’; you know, something that will keep the mayor off from migraines because of ‘too much work’. Now that students and commoners are attending the meetings, they are put to somehow a less favorable condition.

“Once, a corruption case against the mayor and a baron was revealed to the public and the authorities. The case was brought to court, and the local prosecutor, also a professor who has been aware of the case ever since Irene wrote a paper on it for his class, agreed to pursue the case and the final verdict deemed both the baron and mayor guilty. As you may have guessed, some of those people high up in this town aren’t too happy with this, and they came up with a distasteful scheme against Irene and her pals as well as the prosecutor. They trapped the prosecutor in an unlikely situation that made him lost his credibility. And as for Irene, John and Peter, they were found lifeless down in the well of the local pub they used to go to. The owner was fetching some water when he found blood in the pail instead. The three of them seemed to have been shot with a revolver, with Irene still wearing her apron. Her friends usually escort her back home after her shift ends.

“You see that bird statue attached to the wall? It was a tribute the pub owner and his wife made for Irene and her friends. Irene remarked once that there was a mythical bird called the Garuda, which resembles an eagle, an archenemy of a serpent-like creature called Naga, and that people should not let ‘snakes’ take over too much power, just like the bird fights the serpent. So he went to the wood carver–also a regular–and ordered him to make this work of art.

“Wow,” I took a sip of my tea again, “do they change the name of the pub for her too? To be the Bird of Prey?”

Jenny and the old man looked at each other and laughed. After calming herself, Jenny said, “Are you sure you’ve been living here for a while, laddie? N’ah, they changed it to ‘The Bloody Bartender’. Darker, but sounds more like a pub name and it attracts more people. The Bird of Prey thing was the idea of the carver.”

“But the name does carry a message,” the old man said, “some people cower out and never talk about the incident anymore. But some were angered, so they kept the tradition. More students and locals hang in the pub to discuss stuff that matters. Well, at least, when I was a young man, exhausted after a day’s work at the farm. Boy, I miss those days when there’s a better way to understand the news.”

“Yeah, I reckon it’ll help me loads with my studies,” I told them, “I’m a politics students, and I learn nothing but the covertly shared perception that power-sharing is still a myth.”

“You study politics?” the man said, “why, Jenny here is studying the same thing.”

Jenny didn’t seem to like the fact that the man shared the information, “Yeah, well, that’s a long time ago. I’m just gonna be that lass–always the bartender, never the graduate. Well, at least, I’m not found dead in the well like Irene Portsmouth… oh, look, the storm died down, and it’s about time to close. Last orders, ladies and gentlemen!”

On that note, I bid farewell to the old man and Jenny for their story and hospitality. At least now I am not too distressed about my decision of going back home. I got an interesting story, albeit depressing, and now I know a place to go whenever my parents are having a row with each other.

Sadly, that thought was short-lived. I found no such pub called “The Bloody Bartender” (I even tried “Bird of Prey) the next day I went to the old town. When I asked Dad about it, he said the pub was closed years ago after a blizzard buries down the the west part of the outskirts exactly where it is located. He said my grandparents used to visit the pub quite often as students, and the pub also had theme nights every Wednesday. The locals decided to build a new tavern closer to the center of the town instead of reconstructing the pub in the same place since it is too close to the hills.

He never heard of Irene Portsmouth.