Dear Reader-- Perhaps I should begin with a brief word of explanation.
I am a writer. Not critically-acclaimed or anything; up till a few months ago, I've only had small articles for local journals and periodicals, a few "How To" books and poetry compilations.
My editor sat me down one day and told me to take a holiday; he suggested I take a trip to somewhere spontaneous as a drastic measure to add a note of unorthodoxy to my writing. He told me I was getting too predictable.
I returned home and sat at my typewriter. He wanted unorthodoxy? I would give him that. I had very little idea of where exactly the words would take me (which is highly unusual); what followed was like nothing I'd ever thought possible.
I am a writer, and this is my tale. -Laura
Once Upon A Time...
Oh, who am I kidding? They all begin with "once upon a time." You might as well broadcast at once, "All right, here we go into story mode! Prepare to hear things that are not possible in real life!" Because that is what we do, really; we hear a story and never once do we enter fully into it. We keep our feet firmly planted in a world our minds desperately long to escape, all thanks to those words, "Once Upon A Time."
What time? We say that all the ensuing story happened "once", but it's really a trick because we never specify any particular time, just "a time." As in "any time but now." Why not? What's wrong with the past or the present? My present happens to be very entertaining, perhaps more so than most.
For example, I'm sitting here at my typewriter in this musty old attic full of moth-ridden memories of yesteryear, stacks of boxes neatly filled with decorations waiting for their seasons and gifts to bestow upon future generations. My writing desk, a modest, old-fashioned garage-sale steal, sits right slap against the round window that peeks down into the next-door neighbor's back yard so I can chuckle to myself most mornings (such as this one) as I am treated to a ringside view of a circus none of the neighbors see: my next-door neighbor in his striped pajamas chasing their little black lab through the bushes. It happens all the time, and usually we all hear it, but the fence is so tall no one can ever witness it—except me. When I'm writing in the morning I can watch.
He has been chasing the mutt for ten minutes now. I wonder what he will do when he catches him. He never does, really. Oh, there he goes through the rose bushes! I see my neighbor stand surveying the thorns, scratching his belly through the paper-thin muscle shirt that barely contains his girth. I sip my coffee, settling down to watch the show. My neighbor grabs a shovel, but the minute he approaches the bushes and commits himself too far to turn around very quickly, zip! The black blur streaks from under the bushes and through the pet door to wait innocently for his breakfast. My neighbor has no choice but to fight his way out of the thorns. Even through the window and at this distance I can hear him screaming dire and impossible threats toward the house and the dog, who is no doubt being coddled by his wife, safely inside.
But I digress. Back to my question: what if we decided to treat a book like a swimming hole, what if we dared to dive right in, all the way in? No gradient progression, wading slowly into the water only as deep as one's shoulders, and certainly never out of reach of the shore—
I'm staring at the keys now; they seem to have taken on a life of their own. I am barely able to write as the whole contraption verily quivers with excitement at the prospect of me, the writer, coming unhinged. Dare I? What will happen if I do? Will I be able to return, or will I be forced to remain there, permanently separated from my world altogether?
Oh come now, pull yourself together!
What is happening?
You are a writer, are you not? Paper and ink are your world! You are not leaving, you are arriving!
I don't understand. How is this possible?
How is it possible? You have never doubted the scope and magnitude of your abilities before. You have always accepted the worlds you create.
Accepted? Well, I've written worlds, made them up, as it were, but surely they don't exist.
Of course they do not exist out there! But there is no way you can say they do not exist in here.
In the paper.
Scratch that, you mean "on."
I mean no such thing! I am a typewriter, I know what I am about! It is you who are confused! Ah, how can writers be so narrow-minded? Just stop correcting me and go through the door!
Did you do that?
What, you just noticed it? Now you are going to be like those people who you claim get on your nerves and ask yourself the point of writing fiction?
I should probably inform the readers that there appears to be a glowing door standing next to my writing desk. It's strange. It fades into the background while I'm watching the paper, but the longer I stare at the door, the more it comes to life and changes form: now a trellis full of ivy, now a curtain of lush hanging vines. Apparently I am intended to go through this door.
What do you mean "apparently"? It just so happens that this is the door you have been looking for every time you place your fingers on my keys, or put a pen to paper. You have searched for almost all your life, not knowing that all the time the door was right there for you.
Door? What are you talking about? I never needed to look for doors in any of my stories, and I really don't think I was looking just now.
You might be shocked to realize that anyone who has ever read true, great fiction has been through this door in their imagination. This is the door into the ImagiNation. Now is your chance to go through it physically, where so many of your readers have only been mentally.
Why haven't I heard about this door or noticed it before? Come to think of it, I have been using this typewriter to write manuscripts for years; why hasn't something like this happened before?
Well, let me ask you this: in all those manuscripts, as you say, did you sit down with your whole idea planned out already, or are you ready for anything, to let the stories of the ImagiNation tell themselves?
Planned, of course; woe betides the writer who doesn't plan ahead!
Oh really? Who are you to decide that? You want to know why you have never heard your typewriter or seen the door? Because you have had your face buried in your own white paper, telling your own story all that time.
Never you mind. At least now you have changed your tack. Congratulations, now get your rear in gear and go through that door.
Wait! What are you doing? Put me back on the desk!
You have to! Because
I am the only way you could ever get back through that door. Take me with you and the minute you lose me, you will be completely at the mercy of the fiction world until you find me again. Leave me here, and at the very least I will have the capacity to keep you alive.
Wise choice. Now you can go through the door. Well? Now what is the holdup? Go! That is the spirit!
This is the typewriter addressing you all. The Writer has gone through the Door. She will be fine; do not worry. I will relay her experiences for you to read in real-time. You just sit tight and wait for the story to commence. Some people think it is all the writer directing the story, but now I will show you how real writing happens! She has arrived. Good; let us read.
I began in a pleasant place. I stood in a grove of trees, looking around to get my bearings. Before me stretched a wide, sunny field dotted with blooming bushes and speckled with brightly-colored flowers. I stood just on the outer edge of a grove of trees that seemed to stretch to my left over the horizon, and to my right, all the way to a mountain range that dominated the landscape, even though it had to be many leagues distant. Behind me the grove was quite deep, though I could see a few patches where the trees stopped at another clearing. I decided to explore this one. As I turned and progressed deeper into the trees, I see flickers of light waver around my feet, like specks of dust in a beam of light—only these specks were quite large, emitting high squealing sounds, and they appeared in the shadows as well as the light. I attempted to walk quickly; these must be fairies, but I didn't want to find out the hard way that they're the vicious kind!
I tried to dodge the blinking lights, but they seemed to come from everywhere! I cross-stepped right into some vines covered in a sticky gunk that pulled my feet out from under me. Instantly, a swarm of six-inch high little people spread over me, hauling with them the same dark, sticky vines. I threw my arms about, trying to toss my captors and regain my footing, but to no avail.
As they wrapped me tightly in the vines, I noticed that the lights I saw were tiny torches in the hands of the creatures. The dark creatures grinned maliciously as they displayed considerable strength to lift me up in that cocoon of vines, high into the treetops. I had no idea what to do. I could not move, but would I dare call for help? What if the only creatures inhabiting this place were the same species as my captors—or worse?
The creatures cinched me up tight, but they were not done yet. A group of creatures came down the vines toward my head bearing a large yellow fruit. I cringed as their sharp foot-claws scrabbled over my scalp. Several of them climbed down the side of my face (pulling out hairs as they did) and pulled down on my lower lip, forcing my mouth open as the others crammed the fruit in as far as it would go. A burst of juice gushed out of my mouth and dripped down my neck. I tasted sour, rough rind and overripe melon. Cackling and chattering, the little creatures scurried away and left me hanging up there.
The woods were bathed in golden horizontal light as the sun set somewhere behind me. It would have been beautiful, I am sure, but in light of what had just occurred, there was an eeriness, an ominous tint to the dark shadows.
The sky grew black, and a light rain began to fall. Of course the tree canopy was so thick that no water penetrated, but I began to feel drowsy in the warm, thick air that accompanied the shower.
I don't know when I finally nodded off or how long I slept, but the next sensation to register on my brain was the sounds of gentle voices chatting. Where I had been very uncomfortable with my surroundings before, and very much frightened of the little black things, I detected that my present company, whoever (and whatever!) they were, would be much more soothing.
I felt something soft and fluttery persistently brushing my cheeks at annoyingly intermittent intervals. I reached up to brush it away—but I was still tightly wrapped in the green, vine cocoon. I opened my eyes and immediately regretted it. I could not see—not in the sense that I was blind and everything was dark, but there were so many bright lights in my face that my eyes refused to stay open. So I listened to the chatter around me.
“You say you found her like this?”
“Yes. The imps must have gotten her.”
“This does seem to be their trademark prank.”
“Aye, your Highness; they are not very bright.”
“Well, neither is this—being—if she allowed herself to be caught so thoroughly.”
“What do you suppose it is?”
“Your Majesty! It appears the being is waking up!”
I opened my eyes as the light died down around me. Standing on a platform of leaves suspended by vines about three inches in front of my face was a delicate, winged creature about six inches high. She smiled at me, and her wings raised and fluttered, sending off a brilliant light, which made me wince and close my eyes again.
“My apologies,” she said quickly, settling her wings and allowing me to open my eyes again. I stared at her. She had thick, dark hair piled atop her head and held in place by sturdy blades of grass. She wore a dress of exquisite beauty, some unknown, ethereal fabric, and her delicate feet were bare. She blinked her dark violet eyes at me. “You are a very large creature,” she observed, “We found you hanging here; I’m afraid the imps were up to their old tricks again. Can you speak?”
I opened my mouth and tried, “I…What—“ My voice was cracked, my body was numb for being wrapped so tightly for so long, my throat was dry, and I was totally confused. A fairy! A real fairy! What on earth was this place? What had I gotten myself into?
The fairy in front of me laughed, a high, jingling sound. “Ah, that’s still a problem, is it? You can understand me because we put fairy dust in your ears while you slept, but I cannot understand you because you must take fairy dust in your mouth.” She took off, hovering a moment before me. “I will be back presently,” she said, and flew away.
While I waited, a group of fairies flew around my face, combing out my hair with their tiny hands and smoothing a soothing substance over my face.
The dark-haired fairy returned shortly with a small berry in her arms. I recalled what she had said about fairy dust. “But that doesn’t look like—“ I began speaking to myself (being the only one, evidently, to understand my words), but before I could finish, she gently tucked the berry into my mouth. Involuntarily I swallowed.
The sweet, tangy juice flooded my mouth. I tasted blueberries, and a hint of savory cinnamon. It was altogether delicious—then it entered my throat. A transformation occurred, and it felt as if a fireball was working its way toward my stomach. I gagged in surprise, but, as the berry was already swallowed, there was nothing to choke back up. Whatever I had consumed along with the berry (or perhaps it was a strange naturally occurring aftertaste of the berry) tasted like the spiciest peppers imaginable and overwhelmed my taste buds.
“Water!” I gasped, careless of whether the fairies understood me, “water!”
The fairies seemed to know what I wanted, because a dozen of them flew down and brought up a small, hollowed-out burl filled with a clear, fizzy liquid. It tasted like apples, and it refreshed my mouth. The burning died, and I found that I could now speak to the fairies as well as understand them.
The dark-haired fairy returned, “My name is Perissa,” she said, “and if you are ready, we can untie the vines and let you down to a more comfortable seat.”
“Oh, yes please!” I sighed.
The fairies first cut me down from the tree, and then when I was safely on the ground, they began cutting the vines off me. It was such a relief to be free! I stretched out my arms and stood up against the tree, relishing the sensation of feeling returning to my extremities.
“Thank you,” I told Perissa as she landed on my open palm.
She curtsied, “Now perhaps you can tell us what you are and how you came here.”
I sat down on the lush, soft grass. “Well, I am a human—“
I got no further as the whole fairy population stopped and gasped. Perissa clapped her hands to her mouth, “A human?” she bent down to feel my hand, as if suddenly unsure of my existence. “Oh my! I always thought they were just stories!”
“Don’t worry about her,” a voice above my head called out. I felt something on my head, and when I tipped it forward, the voice cried out as a small body dropped into my lap. This creature was a male, and it had no wings. “Are there such a thing as wingless fairies?” I wondered aloud.
The young man stood and straightened his tunic. “Of course not!” he snapped back, “I’m an elf! All fairies have wings, of course!” he snorted at my ignorance for good measure. Smiling to myself, I plucked him up by one little foot.
“I’m sorry,” I said, letting him dangle, “I didn’t know. This is the first time I’ve seen a fairy or an elf.”
“Whoa! Okay!” the elf waved his arms frantically, “I get the picture! Put me down!”
I wasn’t about to let him go just yet. “Say please,” I demanded.
“PLEASE!” I could see the elf’s face turning bright red, even as small as it was.
I laid him gently on my palm, where he remained for several minutes as the blood left his head.
Perissa had gotten over her shock by now. “What is your name, human?”
I smiled at her, “My name is Laura; what is this world?”
“You mean you don’t know?” Perissa flew up and hovered in front of my face, the movement of her wings causing her to glow brightly. “How did you get here if you don’t know where you are?”
Would you believe me if I told you I had a conversation with a typewriter and walked through a door to get here? I thought to myself. I wondered if this world received many strangers. I was certainly the first human they had ever seen. I hazarded the most truthful answer I could give under the circumstances.
“I came here through a—a magic portal from a different world,” I burst out.
To my great relief, Perissa accepted this answer. “Ah yes, I have heard of those, but I was never quite sure where they were. This world, Laura, is called Phantasm. This realm is called the Fairy Glade.”
I looked around at the fairies flowing to and fro over the flowers and bushes, at the tall, strong trees with the dark vines winding round them, and the yellow fruits hanging from these vines. It was all so—magical. “It’s very beautiful,” I said to Perissa.
She bobbed in agreement, “Thank you; now, as much as we would appreciate your presence here, I’m afraid we have no accommodations for humans—and you wouldn’t want to get caught by the imps again.”
I shuddered to think of spending another night hanging from the trees. “No, thank you,” I assented.
“Very well then,” Perissa landed on a toadstool. “I—“
Just then, we all heard a soft whinny, and when I turned around I immediately jumped to my feet.
As if seeing imps and fairies and elves wasn’t enough, what should come striding toward us but a really, truly unicorn! I stared in amazement as it came prancing through the glade. It’s milk-white sides and the silver hooves sparkled in the sunlight. A pure-white horn extended from the center of its forehead, right between its eyes. I saw as it came closer that the horn had a velvety sheen to it.
“Ah, Jerak,” Perissa greeted the unicorn, “How kind of you to visit us.”
The unicorn spoke with a gentle, rolling voice, much like the whinny of a horse. “Ah, Perissa, I am only waiting to lose the velvet on my horn; until then, I am as free as a red-horn to move where I wish. But—“ he turned his head to cast a clear blue eye over me. “What is this?” he asked.
I detected an air of respect from the unicorn. I nodded politely and said, “I am a human, and my name is Laura.”
Jerak stamped in surprise, “Is that so?” he gasped, wagging his head, “Truly I find this amazing!”
“Please, do make yourself comfortable,” Perissa invited Jerak, “I was only beginning to tell Laura that she might be more comfortable in one of the dwarf-towns, where they might have accommodations more suited to her kind.”
Jerak glanced at the little fairies. He blew out his nose. “Does she know her way around Phantasm?” he asked Perissa.
The little fairy flew figure eights around the unicorn’s head. “I do not believe so; she has only just arrived, and the imps caught her last night.”
“Squirmy little creatures,” Jerak nickered in disgust. “Well, Laura,” he turned back to me, “have you any guide to help you along the way?”
I shook my head and turned to Perissa, “Perhaps if you or one of the fairies could—“
“Oh no!” Perissa gasped, flying over to me. “The dwarves, well, they…don’t take kindly to the Little Folk.”
“They trap them, mostly,” Jerak added, “Bring them back to town for entertainment and charge other creatures to watch them dance.”
“Like a flea circus?” I asked.
Both the unicorn and the fairy didn’t know what to make of my comment.
“What’s a circus?” Jerak asked.
“What’s a flea?” asked Perissa.
I shook my head as Perissa continued, “We can point you on your way, Laura, and we can provide you with provisions for the journey, but I’m afraid, beyond that, you’re on your own.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it!” Jerak neighed insistently. “Laura the human, I will be your guide, if you permit me.”
I was beginning to like this courteous, gentle unicorn. “Of course; I welcome your assistance,” I replied in the same formal manner.
Jerak nodded, “It’s settled then; to the dwarf-towns we go!”
“Before you leave,” Perissa said, “Let us supply you with food for your journey.”
One hundred fairies flew around the piles of fruits and vegetables and grains, packing into two large cloth bags, which they draped over Jerak’s back.
“Fare well,” Perissa called after us as Jerak and I departed down the winding road to the dwarf towns.