Monday, 22 October 2012

The Prince

So I guess a good place to start with my blogging would be with a little story.
This one has been inspired by this week's Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terrible Minds.
(You can see the challenge and try it yourself here.)

I decided to have some fun with this and go all-out on the melodrama. So I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Prince

Annabelle looked down across the green below her. What a wonderful day to be young and carefree, she thought. With the sun on her back and nothing but sweet country air and wisps of summer breeze tickling at her bare neck and arms, there wasn’t a single niggling anxiety in her usually troubled mind. If only Dr. Breen could see her now.
She closed her eyes and lay back against the grass. Yes, this was heaven, or at least as close as she could ever get, considering everything that had happened these past months. Delusional, suicidal, slit and cut in all manner of ways. They said she’d never be happy, that she’d never find peace from her own mind. But they were wrong, she was proving that now.

She listened as the breeze rustled in the branches above her and water trickled across pebbles in the stream down the grassy knoll. A bird chirped, a bee buzzed and a small toad croaked gently by her side. She opened an eye to look at the creature. 

“You’re a strange looking one.” She said softly to the toad, a bloated thing, about twice the size of any other toad she’d seen and several shades brighter.

The creature stared up at her with its goggle-eyes and croaked again, turning on the spot to face away from her and display the shining blue and red hues across its back, before hopping forward through the grass.
She watched as it progressed into the open green and her curiosity piqued. Such a beautiful thing and surely not native to rural England, she thought, perhaps it was poisonous or an escaped pet? The only decent thing to do would be to capture it.

As she got up, dusted the loose blades of grass from her jeans and walked towards the toad, a small brown rabbit skipped into her path. She stopped, waiting for the animal to flee, but instead it stayed and regarded her with quivering eyes.
She stared back at it, aware that her toad was now some way into the distance.

“Shoo.” She waved her hands at the rabbit “Go about your business.”

With a twitch of its nose it was off, but not far, remaining several hops closer than was natural for such a timid creature. Such a strange situation, she thought to herself, to be stalked by a rabbit while chasing a toad. Perhaps the countryside wouldn't bring her the peace she was searching for after all.
She let the thought pass, her life wasn't welcome here. This place seemed to drip with enchantment, and her life was anything but enchanted.
She continued walking, keeping her eyes to the ground for any sign of the toad, when her foot came up against a block in her way, something wooden. She glanced up, expecting to see a tree stump or fallen branch but instead was greeted by the most impossible sight – a door.
A sigh escaped her lips and she closed her eyes tight. Another hallucination, how stupid she was to presume she could escape her own mind. Dr. Breen was right, running wasn’t the answer to her problems. But when she opened her eyes, the door remained in front of her. She reached out a hand and felt the grain of the oak beneath her fingers – no, this was no trick of the mind, this was real.

She examined the door carefully; a brass handle, an oak frame, yet nothing behind. It was merely a door, standing in the middle of the open grass without purpose.  A door begging to be opened, and who knew what opportunities or worlds or distant dreams lay beyond?
She laid her fingertips on the handle and hesitated a moment, turning back to the rabbit. It sat in the grass a few paces behind her, a natural look of fear pinned across its face. It twitched its nose and blinked, shuffling its feet in the grass.

“Should I open it?” Annabelle asked, but the rabbit continued to stare.

Foolish, she scolded herself, who asks permission from a rabbit anyway?

With excitement bubbling in her chest, she took a breath, gripped the handle tightly, and flung the door open.
The sight that lay beyond seized the breath in her throat and froze the blood in her veins. No English countryside, no new worlds, no dreams, no light; nothing.
She stared into the black emptiness in front of her and felt her heart sink deep into her bowels.

“What is this?” She said, as she tore her vision away from the darkness back to the sunlight, and back to the rabbit.
“What the hell is going on here?” She demanded of the small creature, but as she did so, a sound echoed from the empty hole behind her – a croak.

She spun back round, and peered into the darkness; there, at the brink, just beyond the door-frame,  sat the toad, gazing up at her with forlorn eyes and pulsing throat.
Without a thought, she reached to grab the amphibian, lest it be lost into the abyss. But as she reached out, the toad hopped away from her.

“No!” She said, surprised by the concern in her own tone.

She took a step forward, edging into the dark, and reached again. But again the toad eluded her grasp.

“God damn you.” She said, and took several strides forward, before all trace of light disappeared from behind her with a soft click.
Too far.

She spun round, her eyes darting in the emptiness but the doorway was gone, and the toad well out of sight. She sat down on the spot, wrapping her arms around her knees.

“They always warned you’d lose yourself in your own mind.” She said into the dark, without expecting response.

But here you are anyway.” The reply came from every corner of the emptiness.

She buried her head in her knees as she drew them closer to her chest.

“You’re not real.” She said “None of this is real. I’m having another black out, and when I wake up, I’m going home.”

You’re already home.” The voice responded.

She buried her head further and waited. That was all she had to do in these situations - wait. And when she had waited long enough the real world would return and she’d find herself strapped to a bed or with a needle in her arm. She shuddered at the thought, perhaps reality wasn't any better than this.

As she sat clutching her knees, a faint sound laced through the shadows, a tinkle, music, (if it could be called music at all) a strange combination of keys and tones, none of which blended to form any sort of recognisable tune. She raised her head to listen.
Yes; it was definitely music, but far out of tune, as though someone were playing on a broken harp or a faulty keyboard.

Do you hear my song?” The whispered voice echoed.

“It’s no song.” Annabelle replied “It’s just noise.”

She stood up and wandered in the dark, her eyes had begun adjusting to the new surrounding, and she could see that she was not in fact suspended in a state of nothingness, but was in a dark room with wooden floor and low wooden ceiling but without walls that she could see. It was mostly dark at least; but for a small glimmer of light several paces from her.

“What is that?” She asked the voice but received no reply.

She continued towards the ball of light and source of the flat song the voice had proudly claimed as its own. And as she neared, the light sparkled like a thousand tiny diamonds, beckoning her, calling her towards it. The noise which had seemed so garish now appeared to take form and voice of its own, singing her name in its flat chords.
She reached down to pick up the glimmering ball and turned it over in her hands.
It was a small round box, which rotated in her hand as she held it, the two halves of the sphere turning in opposite directions, glittering all the while.

“A music box!” She said in an almost childish glee.
In all of this darkness and uncertainty, it was as though she had found some hidden treasure never before seen by human eyes.

Yes.” The whispered voice said from behind her.

She turned quickly to try and catch a glimpse of its owner, and was unsurprised to look down at her feet and see her old friend, the toad.

“What are you?” She said.

Trapped.” The toad replied in its raspy tone without moving its lips.

“Trapped by what?”

The ancient curse. The only curse.”

Annabelle looked at the glittering ball in her hand and back down at the toad.

“Is this cursed?” She asked holding the orb out in front of her.

It traps my soul, and tortures my mind with its song.” The toad said with a whine. “It is my curse to remain trapped in this place.”

Annabelle looked at the little creature and felt a heartbreaking sadness wash through her. Perhaps this is a fairytale, perhaps she is a princess destined to save a prince from his exile in this dark place.

“How can I help you?” She asked.

Break it.” The toad replied quickly. “Smash it to the ground and end its song.”

Annabelle looked once more at the shimmering ball in her palm.

Do it.” The toad said, excitement bubbling in its raspy throat. “Save me from my torture. Restore me.”

Without another thought, Annabelle threw the sphere to her feet and watched as it exploded in a silent puff of tiny crystals in the air. The glittering dust whirled around her feet and legs and up into the air around her, catching her throat and fizzing up her nostrils as tremors erupted all around the dark expanse.

“What’s happening?” She said, trying to steady herself in the whirl of sparkling air as the ground beneath her feet quaked.

The toad didn't reply, and the dust whipped into a sudden storm of wild air and shards of crystal blasting against her face.

“What’s happening!” Annabelle shouted above the growing din.

Freedom.” A voice spoke out in front of her, but it was not the voice of the toad, or at least, it was not the the voice of the toad now.

She shielded her eyes against the gale and peered into the chaos, to see a shadow, large and looming in front of her. Her eyes widened despite the grit, and a scream fled her lungs and danced about the swirling air as the shadow set its glowing stare on her.
This was no prince, no prince of any world she could ever conjure up inside her own mind, no prince that belonged in any world other than this dark place of emptiness.

“Please...” She uttered, before the shadow engulfed her in the gaping chasm of its jaws, and the darkness was left to silence.

A few paces from the spot where the impossible door once stood, an impossible door which leads to an impossible place no passer-by ever returns from, a small brown rabbit sat and blinked in the sunlight. It flicked a fly from its ear and a tiny sigh passed its twitching nose, as it returned to its vigil atop the grassy knoll and awaited the next lost soul. 

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