CWWC

This is for Creating Worlds Writing Camp (CWWC) hosted by Loren @ Let’s Be Lost.

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cwwc | challenge one

 

 

(Number of Prompts Used: 3)

I never told you.

But I wish I had. I know you will never see this letter, but I must spill or else everything will be bottled up inside me, and eventually they will become too much and burst me into pieces.

I am not a madman. I am a mere someone who happens to be stricken by a hereditary brain disease.

Those wicked men held this against me, all because of you, my friend. They hated you, and was afraid you would become too powerful. So they vented their anger upon me. They claimed that I was out of my mind, and that no one should be allowed near me. From that moment on, I was an outcast.

At first, I thought nothing. I said nothing. I felt nothing. I did not want anything to do with the world outside my window sill: where the rascals and the fools patrolled. For months after the rumors had been spread, I dared change nothing. I simply sat and stared out my window.

And sat. And stared while the rain pattered upon the window. I wished I could reach out and touch the wet droplets, but I could not. There was nothing between me and the outdoors but coldly transparent glass.

Weeks went on. I began to feel lonely, and yet I dared not venture out, for I wished to hear nothing else said against me. I lingered at home. I neglected my meals, and my typewriter sat unattended, for I had not written in weeks. There were unwashed cups in the sink and crumbs in my bed, and my eyes were tired before they opened. And yet I could do nothing but wait for no one, and watch for nothing.

And then I realized it.

This is not living. One sentence, four words, boring themselves and pounding themselves into my head day by day. I wanted to ignore them, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to, for I knew they were true. But I did nothing.

One day, I woke up and saw something lying on the floor next to my bed. I leaned closer and picked it up. It was a notebook that must have fallen from my shelf while I was sleeping. It’s cover was worn out, it’s pages were yellowed, and yet there was something special about it that made me want to make use of it.

So instead of putting it back where it belonged, I picked it up and fingered it’s pages. Deliberately, I reached over, grabbed a Sharpie and a scrap of paper, and wrote on the paper in bold, unmistakable handwriting: THINGS I WANTED TO SAY BUT NEVER DID.

It was an outlet for those bottled up feelings that had remained in me, it was a way for me to connect with myself. I would write in the book day and night, morning and evening. I wrote just what I meant to: everything I wanted to say but never got a chance to. I was happy. Even if I couldn’t interact with the world ever again, I could interact with myself. I could cry in my book, and laugh in my book, and write down everything I would wish to, without the strange fear that somebody would read it.

And then, one day, they came.

The warriors stormed the city. I didn’t even know what was happening nor who the attackers were. All I knew is that pounding footsteps had arrived at my doorsteps, and strange hands had busted open the double padlock without bothering to knock. Armed men held me at gunpoint and dragged me from the house as I screamed.

And then I saw you on the streets. You were armed as well, but no, you were not helping these bloodthirsty and terrifying men. You led the entire army of our realm on your horse when the commander fell, and even as a bullet pierced you through the heart, I saw you take down the exact same men who had carried me. Your eyes peered at me curiously before they closed, and you fell.

New hands seized me. I was dragged upon a bus and thrown into one corner.

It was dark in the bus, but still I could see the frightened faces of angry men and women. They were screaming and shouting. I couldn’t stand the noise, so I held my hands over my ears, buried my face into my shirt, and sobbed my heart out. I wasn’t sobbing for myself nor the danger I was in, friend, but I was sobbing for you. You were the only person I had left in this world, and now even you were gone.

The bus began moving, with a huge lurch. It sped through the night, and I fell into some feverish delirium. However, at one point, the bus stopped. It was having a problem with it’s engine. As the engineers tinkered with the front of the bus, I seemed to spot an opening in the back of the bus where I was lying. It seemed to be an emergency door, a trapdoor. And through it, I could see freedom. I could smell freedom. No matter if I died, if I died, I had to die free. Away from this vile situation.

With a terrible strength, I busted open the trapdoor, and amidst the gasps and shrieks of those around me, I tumbled out into the outdoors. Adrenaline surged into my limbs, and I made a mad run for it.

For three weary days and nights I wandered, having nothing to eat nor drink. I was in a wild wilderness, and I knew I had no hope of living. But I was glad of that. Life was nothing worthy of holding on to, and I was ready to die.

Ahead of me, the wilderness ended, and fields of wheat farther than the eyes could see stretched on. But before that was a courtyard, covered with roses, and with a statue poised on the threshold. With the last of my strength, I pulled myself there. I lay down next to where the statue stood. I looked up at it’s stone face. I knew I was delirious, but somehow I couldn’t help thinking that it looked like you. And somehow, I thought the statue turned its graceful head toward me. And winked.

The warm rays of the sun, the sweet smell of the roses, and the feeling of spring combined themselves into a rich melody that overpowered me. I smiled contentedly and closed my eyes for the last time.

cwwc | challenge 3

Number of Prompts Used: 3

 

He was born in a South American mansion.

And there he grew up happily. His father was a wealthy shipowner, and his mother constantly held dinner-parties and balls in their extravagant dwelling. He had several brothers and sisters, of which he was the youngest. He had everything done for him by servants, and not a care in the world.

From birth, Little Sebastian was one of the most fun-loving children who ever walked Planet Earth. Every time one of his father’s ships came in, laden with cochineal and indigo or some other precious substance, no doubt, he would run out to shore with all the strength his little legs could muster. He would then welcome it to port, waving his flag and screaming happily at the top of his voice. This sort of devotion was always returned by his adoring captain and the sailors, who always gathered some souvenirs explicitly to give him, and would fight over which one’s gift was best.

These tiny hands knew mischief, too. They would always be pouring ink into the bird’s drinking dish, placing frogs into a sister’s bed, splattering mud onto a clean white wall, or dislocating the springs of a chair. But as the youngest and consequently the most spoiled, Sebastian would always get away with these things. His affectionate mother tried not to pick favorites among her seven children, but often the mischievous boy escaped punishments that his siblings would no doubt receive.

At one, Sebastian was a little ball of flesh and bones. At three, he was an adorable captain of all childish schemes. At five, he was a winsome brown-haired, brown-eyed boy. And it was when the boy was only seven when it happened.

By a great stroke of misfortune, Sebastian’s father was losing all his ships by shipwreck or sale, and consequently, he was losing all his wealth. The seas were rough those days, and he had no money to buy new ships. The family was growing poorer.

Slowly, the atmosphere around Sebastian changed. He ceased to be treated to all sorts of sweets, goodies, and delights every day. When he asked for something, it was no longer always granted to him. He could no longer give such a hearty greeting to the ships that came in very often, for they did not come in very often. And when they did, they sometimes brought back disheartening news: shipwreck, higher prices, and more. One day, Sebastian noticed a grey hair in his father’s head.

And yet, despite all this, the innocent seven-year-old was absolutely oblivious to the problems that was plaguing his family.

His father sold half of their mansion. He sold his library. Meals became simpler and scarcer, and little Sebastian no longer received a new suit of outfits every week, or even every month. However, even as all this happened, he was ignorant of his family’s disastrous situation.

He did not know that they were nearing bankruptcy. And no, as the days went on, they were not just nearing bankruptcy. They were at the very brink of bankruptcy.

“Blood washes away dishonor,” he had heard his father mutter one day, but he knew not what it meant. It was only that fatal day that he heard a gunshot from his father’s study that he understood what was going on.

His mother was not home at the time; he and his oldest brother looked at each other fearfully. Sebastian shrank and hid himself in a closet, but sixteen-year-old Jonathan went up to investigate. He didn’t come back down for a long time.

His mother went up to find him kneeling by the dead body of his father. The noble man had committed suicide, because for the first time in his life, he had been unable to keep his word. Unable to pay a hefty debt which was to come in just tomorrow.

The family was bankrupt.

Sebastian’s poor mother sold their home and used much of their remaining money to buy a small shack in a rural South American region, where she and her seven children moved in. The mosquitoes there were rampant, and she caught malaria. Within a few weeks she had died, and Sebastian and his siblings were orphans.

They were taken to a rundown building which seemed almost too small to be an orphanage, but it was. Its roof sagged down, testing its weight against the wooden poles that stubbornly held it up. The floor was not floor, but it was a hard dirt: the kind that stuck onto your feet and when dried, was impossible to peel off.

This dirt stuck onto everything. The house had started out with a lovely shades of color: tan, dark brown, ebony, and white. The dirt had melded all those into one color: the same dull, grey brown.

The owners of the orphanage were an elderly couple: Mr. and Mrs. Lopez. They were terrifying people at first sight. Scrawny Mrs. Lopez had the longest nails and the most yellow teeth Sebastian had ever seen, and wrinkly fingers which frightened him every time they reached out to him. Her husband was certainly no better. Hesitantly, they decided to admit the seven children into their already too tiny orphanage. Sebastian blinked and stared at the other children as Mr. Lopez set up his bed in a room with three other little boys, and they blinked and stared back.

Listlessly.

A year passed. Eight-year-old Sebastian got a roof over his head and three scant meals a day from the Lopez couple, and in return, he did work around their house. Both owners were extremely impatient and demanding people, and as a natural mischief-maker, it was worse for Sebastian than for the rest of the children. When he didn’t finish his work or went to wreak havoc instead of doing his job, Mrs. Lopez would beat him with a switch. The growing boy didn’t get enough meals, and he was constantly hungry. In the summertime, waves of heat would circulate him as he tried to fall asleep, and in the wintertime, such freezing drafts of wind and snow would come through the leaks in the window that the poor boy would shiver all over, and his teeth would chatter.

It was obvious that the Lopez couple hated Sebastian more than anybody else, for they claimed he put on airs. As a result, the eight-year-old got the hardest jobs, the most harsh living conditions, and the least food than anybody else in the entire orphanage. His compassionate sisters always tried to sneak food to him, but it was never enough. It was a harrowing sight to see in the wintertime the poor boy, his lips blue, his feet frozen, his eyes large and reddened with crying, sweeping the sidewalk at 5:00 AM in the morning.

The time came that Mr. Lopez caught a disease. A quarantine sign was hung up on the door of the orphanage, and none of the children were allowed into his room, for this disease was extremely contagious.

One day Mrs. Lopez turned a hateful look onto Sebastian and handed him a cup. “Take this tea to my husband. It will make him feel better.”

“What then? Are you intentionally making me catch his disease?” The boy asked incredulous.

“I said take this tea to my husband.”

Overcome by this higher authority, Sebastian took the cup and made his way up to Mr. Lopez’s room. When he opened the door, to his surprise, he saw the man holding an ancient book to the fireplace, letting the smoke curl up and blacken the words of the book.

“What’s that, sir?” He asked curiously.

Mr. Lopez jumped. “What are you doing here, boy? Get out!”

“Mistress told me to take this tea to you,” he explained, holding out the cup.

“You’re lying! Get out!”

Sebastian shrugged. “I’m not lying, sir. Here’s your tea. What’s that you’re holding?” With the natural curiosity of a young boy, he snatched the book from the old man’s grip and held it up.

“It’s all burned,” he said disappointedly.

Mr. Lopez was staring at him as if he had been a peeled carrot which fell out of the sky from Mars. Sebastian winced as his gnarled hand reached out to take back the book, but he held onto it anyway, bracing himself for the blow. None came.

“Being so protective of a book you’re reading,” sneered Sebastian, “is not natural. I’ll bet you there’s some secret in this, something that will make me a better off person than I am in this detested orphanage of yours. In that case…”

Before Mr. Lopez could stop him, he had leapt out the window and broke his fall on the soft grass beneath. And as his master roared in surprise, he took a run for it, clasping the book the entire way as he made his escape.

He had planned this escape route so many times. So many hours he had spent agonizing over it, tossing and turning on the straw of his bed. He knew that the path he was so hopelessly treading would lead to a train station, and the train station to freedom and a happier life.

He had been running for several hours now, and he knew that Lopez were already giving up on capturing him. He had nothing to fear from that side, but that is not to say that he had no fear from the other. Between him and the train station was a large and dark wilderness, which was rumored to have the most frightening creatures hiding inside…

Suddenly, something hit his head, and he felt a sharp pain. He fell to the ground and blacked out.

When he woke up, he was in a whitewashed cell, with brick walls surrounding him. His eyes focused, and he saw a jail keeper standing in front of him. The jail keeper announced with a booming voice:

“You are in the cell of Time. That is all I can say.”

Sebastian gasped. “Why? Where am I? How did you find me? What happened to me? And–”

The jail keeper went over and wrote on the white brick wall:

“Ask no questions, and you’ll get no lies.”

Sebastian fell silent, and the jail keeper left.

The nine-year-old boy then saw that he was clasping the book he had stolen from Lopez so tightly that it had made deep red imprints onto his young hands. He opened it.

It was a treasure map marking a great fortune on the islands of Kropt Archipelago…

The boy fell to the ground and buried his face in his hands. Kneeling onto the floor, he made a sacred vow.

“Someday, I will break out of this haunting cell, find this treasure, unearth the riches, reward the good, punish the evil, someday I will find it and I can get my siblings a happy life and call my soul my own again…

cwwc | challenge 4

Number Of Prompts Used: 3

 

Dear Diary,

I am an artist, and I love nobody.

It is a strange thing, this nobody, I think as I stare at my sheet of paper which is stretched out across the entire wall. It seems like everybody in this world needs to love at least somebody. But I have nobody: no father, no mother, no sisters, no brother, and I want no husband.

Nobody. The words ring in my head as I mix my paints. Nobody. It persists as I carefully dip my paintbrush in the glossy black paint and touch it to the canvas. Nobody. It repeats as I stare in wonder at the ebony black brush marks it makes upon my paper.

I just want to stay here in my studio all day and paint the sky. Everybody knows I’ve been working on this painting forever. It’s a painting of the dark night sky and a strange arrangement of different planets. It is supposed to connote an indescribable feeling, and I have tried to make it express that. Like…the feeling when you love nobody, but when the world wants you to love somebody.

“He’s the perfect match, Marie,” I have heard them saying the other day. “Why, he’s perfect! I do not understand why you do not want to join your hand in his.”

I do not understand either. But somehow I know I cannot keep living like this. I simply cannot keep refusing him when he comes, ignoring him while he talks, and shunning him when he embraces. And everybody, just everybody in the entire town expects me to marry him.

I knew I could just refuse. I knew that as a human being, I have a right to. But somehow…I can’t stand it like this.

“Marie,” he said to me one day. “It’s your birthday tomorrow, right?”

“Yes,” I had said coldly, wondering why he had asked. I was not holding any event, I was not having a party. Who would I invite?

The next day, there was a knock on the door. It was the baker’s delivery boy. He held out a box. “This is for you. It’s from 212 East Chandler Street.”

I furrowed my brow. “Thank you?” I opened it. It was a beautiful pink cake with these words inscribed on it in pink frosting: “you’re so pretty.”

I gasped. I hadn’t had cake in such a long time, my mouth was watering. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “Who on earth would send me this?” Without bothering to answer the question, I took a knife and sliced the beautiful cake. I placed one of the slices on a plate and got a fork. The deliciously sweet aroma wafted to my nose, and I could almost taste the fluffiness…I lifted a forkful of cake to my mouth, liberally covered with frosting.

The mouthful was delicious. I sighed contentedly, but before reaching out my fork for more of my slice, I began to wonder who lived on 212 East Chandler Street. Suddenly, I realized it.

It was he who had sent me the cake. With a cry in which there was nothing human, I threw the entire cake onto the floor, complete with my fork, plate, and slice. The next moment, frosting was oozing between the soles of my dirty boots.

And yet, I can never escape him, I realize as I paint day and night in my tiny, rumpled, messy studio. I can never escape that pudgy thirty-five-year-old man with a reddened face and rumpled bracelets twisted around all five fingers.

I loath him. And yet, everyday, the world seeks to draw us together.

It is completely unfair. But they keep asking. They keep interrupting me as I test my paints on a piece of paper towel, or stencil on my canvas. “When are you going to marry him?” they ask daily. And they seem not to comprehend “No” as an answer.

There is no one forcing me to, but there is everybody forcing me to. It is cold fire, dry rain, sick health.

The other day, my best friend came as I was getting started on painting one of the planets. She looked at me. She never spoke, never made a sound, but the look in her eyes told me exactly what would happen.

The engagement contract is to be signed tomorrow.

I sigh as I dip my paintbrush in the white paint, the residue on it making it meld into a light gray. I sigh as slowly dab paint on the surface of my paper. Before my hollowed-out eyes, the planets I’m drawing seem to be coming alive. Perhaps I can run away to one of them in my sleep, because all I know…

I cannot marry him.

xo Marie

cwwc | challenge 5

 

Number Of Prompts Used: 3

I’m running along a muddy road

In great haste as if chased and pursued

From every direction.

there’s terrible images that flash at me

from every side, and bump into my

mind, but I am undaunted

mud splatters from the road and pours

freely into my face, but I

ignore it and just keep running.

the enemy is trying to make me stop

to scare me and frighten me

out of my existence, but I won’t.

a figure flashes before me,

dark, and blindfolded, half-naked, tied

hand and foot, but I rush past

because I know it’s all a scheme

to make me scream and flail and quit

but no, I won’t.

I have no clue where I’m running

or who I’m running from, nor anything

but I ought to run anyways.

ahead of me is rocky terrain and

the only path to freedom is out on a

jutted piece of rock which is overhanging

a dark abyss, with torrents that pour

and crash mercilessly, and would be enough

to drive me to doom in a minute.

so I stand at the edge, and I command

the waterfalls and storm and the violent sky,

and my robe billows majestically against the scene.

there’s the crashing of the waves, and the

rolling of the storm clouds, and

the confused cries of my pursuers

…and then there’s me.

cwwc | challenge 7

Number Of Prompts Used: 3

I’d always wanted to do it.

Since age 4, I’d dreamed of it. Since that first time my family vacationed in Florida. Since that first time I experienced the thrills of a water park. My eyes were completely drawn to the waterslides, and riding them like a normal kid wasn’t enough. Sure, I got plenty of chances to ride a waterslide in Twisty Gorilla Water Park. But that wasn’t enough for me.

The minute I set eyes on the Wahalla Wave, the biggest waterslide in Twisty Gorilla, my plan was hatched.

I had years to brainstorm from then, and I took advantage of them. By the time I was eighteen years old, I had everything completely planned out: I knew exactly what I had to do, when to do it, and where. I had done important spy missions – sometimes quite hazardous – to find out about things I needed to find out about.

I had grown a lot since age 4, when I rode my first waterslide. I was taller, stronger, and more well-built. I had a mop of thick dark brown hair. I wore all jeans and sweatshirts, now. I had headphones plugged in all the time. I was starting my first semester at the college of my dreams. I knew more. I had more friends, and a large sphere of influence. But one thing had not changed. Over the course of 14 years, I had not changed my mind even once that I wanted to ride the Wahalla Wave of Twisty Gorilla Water Park…on rollerskates.

It was an insane idea, and yet I hoarded it day and night. I dreamed that one day I’d skate all the way down an empty waterslide. To do that, I had only to stock my wallet, fly to Florida, rent a hotel room, wait for a holiday, steal a pair of keys, and bust in the waterpark. From there, I could fulfill my dream and then make my escape through the shuttle system of buses which lay 11 miles away from the waterpark. I could rent a taxi, drive there, and then bus all the way back to my home again.

It was a perfect idea.

So on the day before my nineteenth birthday, I kicked it into work. I packed my backpack full of things. I wouldn’t need much: only my watch, my fitbit, a pair of headphones, my iPad, my wallet, and most importantly, a pair of rollerskates. Serve me well, I whispered to the precious pair as I slipped it inside. I then slung the backpack over my shoulder and hailed a taxi to the airport. Before leaving, my best friend Evan jogged up to me.

“Hey, whatcha doing, man?” He asked.

“Flying to Florida to skate down a waterslide,” I replied soberly. He burst out laughing and slapped me on the back with an ejaculation of “Bon Voyage!” before leaving. If only he knew how accurate my statement was, he wouldn’t have laughed that day.

My airplane landed in Orlando, Florida. The kids of that city had hair every shade of the rainbow, just like I had been before I dyed it brown all over again. It made me feel uncomfortable and out of place, but regardless, I went to fulfill my mission. I took my backpack, plugged in my headphones, rode a bus to an inn, and paid my room and board. I then waited for Easter day: my birthday.

It came sooner than I wished.

It all passed so quick. Trying to walk stealthily and appear non-suspicious at the same time. Busting open the door of the office and breaking in. Scattering papers all over the floor in a frantic search for the key. Finding it in a coat pocket. Breaking in the waterpark and standing there, wishing I’d never started in the first place.

My eyes traveled up until they met Wahalla Wave. There were no waves that day, and they were dried out under the sun. Here was my time. Here was my opportunity.

The dank, wooden stairs as I cautiously ascended smelled of wetness and chlorinated water. I scaled every last step until I was at the top of the slide, and I thought I could touch the sky from where I was standing.

And then the moment came. That moment which I’d been waiting for all my life.

I strapped on my roller skates, tightening and retightening, checking each strap and each securer. I shook all over, and even though I was frying under the 80 degree sun, my teeth chattered uncontrollably. There was no backing out now.

I set foot on the landing and began to slide.

The wind whistled through my hair as I let my skates do the job. A world opened before my eyes: there was the slide, there was my skates, there was the open air and the beautiful trees…and then there was me.

I leaned forward to gain momentum. My olive green sweatshirt was doused as dew showered me from an overhanging branch, but I didn’t care. My dreams were fulfilled. I reached the base of the slide, unstrapped my rollerskates, and keeping in mind that breaking in and stealing keys was a crime, I ran.

I ran until I got to the bus station. I bought my ticket and ran towards the shuttle. And as I did, the digital sign flashed up at me these red words: LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.

Goosebumps arose. Was that for me? Was it telling me to get out? As a stopped short, there appeared a sheriff, holding a Wanted poster in his hand. He tacked it up, and I saw with a feeling of horror that it had my name on it.

I was in for it. All I had to do was reveal myself and argue my way out. I walked up to the imposing figure and took a huge breath.

“Hello, sir, I was wondering why you were tacking up a Wanted poster of me,” I said firmly, with resolution.

He started. He stared. And as he laughed a brilliant laugh, I looked up and saw that it was the same best friend of mine: it was Evan.

I laughed too. “Hey, dude, I always knew you were a sheriff, but I never imagined I’d be your victim, ever.”

He paused his laughter long enough to say this: “When you first told me you were going to skate down a waterslide, I thought you were silly. But now, I think that was pretty fun.”

I raised my bushy eyebrows.

“They’re looking for you all around now,” he said, an expression of worry darkening his face. “But oh – don’t you worry. Jump in my cab, and let’s go.”

I did as he told. His police cab zoomed down the street as if in a great hurry, blinking it’s red and blue lights. I sighed in relief and rested my hand in my hands.

“So, I was thinking.”

I turned to Evan expectantly. “You were thinking what?”

“After we’ve got this cleared up, and after we’ve settled back down to normal life, I had an idea – why don’t we skate down a waterslide again? Together. With me. Legally. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I clapped him on the back. “Sure, Evan. Sure it would.”

cwwc | challenge 8

Number Of Prompts Used: 3

Welcome to the Valley, fellow stranger.

Enter in, and the first thing you might see is long rows of dilapidated houses, some empty, most abandoned. Loud, rocky, and overall nerve-wrecking music blares from the windows of those houses which still contain inhabitants. Shouting never ceases there, any kind of shouting: from toddlers fighting over toys, from men hammering on the roof, from irritated teenagers with their headphones plugged in, or from exasperated mothers chopping furiously in the kitchens.

The people there communicate most by speech. As they have no relations outside of their cramped neighborhood, this does not prove a problem. Any very urgent messages are sent through speedy teenage volunteers. Sometimes, notes are tacked up in the elevator: sticky notes covered with all sorts of handwriting, which nobody ever bothers to take off.

In the wintertime, messages are scratched upon the frost gathered on the front window of cars. You can find all sorts of those if you care to look up. Some are extremely wordy:

Get me a bushel of apples at the store. Organic, mind you, and no spots. I want the medium-sized ones, please. It should cost around ten dollars. My purse is on the table.

Tell the young rascals Jabez and Tark that if they venture even one more time into my patch of melons, I’ll grab them by the collars and march them right to the Authority.

Some are more terse:

Party tonight at 8:00.

We should talk.

Just me and you.

It’s all long rows of houses arranged in a circle, and inner circles, until at last in the center of the city there are the three main buildings: the store, the school, the church, the bank, and the Authority.

The store. There’s only one, and as most of the remaining families there are farmers who grow and eat from their own gardens, it might be deserted as you enter. To greet you: a young lady not past her twenties, her white blonde hair falling over her shoulders, her eyes bored: loud and rebellious. She blares her trumpet at you with a listless stare. In front of her are scattered magazines, unorganized. Behind her, all kinds of pharmaceutical products threaten to fall over the very shelves they are on. Tic tacs. Milky Ways. Aleve. Advil. Their sickly orange labels glare at you as they clump together in their tight spaces. They haven’t been touched for years.

The school. It’s cramped in a hedge of bushes, and it’s full of small children running around, shouting their heads off. The only things that are taught there are math, science, and grammar. Three hours per day. No grades. No divisions. No social studies, no extracurricular, no lunch, no recess. Just thirty kids sitting in a humid classroom for three hours on an end as the teacher – the same one as last year, and the year before, and the year before – droned on and on. Nobody learned anything. It was just five years of the same thing day after day, required, and then you could graduate. No graduation party.

The church. Everybody is required to go there on Sunday mornings, yet hardly anybody is interested in doing so. They sing three hymns in succession, and then listen to 85-year-old Pastor Douglas preach a two-hour long sermon. The men fall asleep, the women sit poking at their bonnets, the boys wreak havoc, and the girls try to ignore the boys.

The bank. It’s where people get money and return money. It’s always crammed with employees. It’s always hot. It’s always filled with the smell of…money.

The Authority. This is where farmer boys are kept in the Prison Room for a day or two to teach them a lesson for stealing apples. This is where some are pardoned, and some are condemned. This is where everybody is led in the heat of anger, though where few are put on trial. This is where criminals of ten years get sentenced, sometimes to death, ever decreasing the Valley’s population.

No one stays in the Valley for very long.

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