Confusion infused

Ouch!

I jerked awake, surprised and irritated at the same time. A blinding light pierced my eyelids forcing me to look away, and only then did I realise that the comforting darkness had disappeared from our room. It was dawn, perhaps.

I felt another sharp jab in my ribs before I saw the cause. My cousins around me mirrored m uncertainty. Two large plump fingers reached out and grabbed three of us by the neck.

Oh, dear.

I’d dreamt of this moment, I won’t lie. For months shut up in that room, I’ve wondered what the outside looked like, and each day the plump fingers came, I wished to go along. I was disappointed every time. Until now.

Now, however, I was anxious. Are all three of us going, I wondered. What if they threw me back in, casting me away with the rest of my family? Oh, the shame of rejection. I can’t bear to face my cousins again.

But I needn’t have worried. The fingers took all three of us, and before we could absorb our surroundings, dropped us into a large glass jug.

Everything was so massive. I now saw that the fingers were attached to a big red arm and a round body. A speck of dark hair rested on a what looked like an inverted pot, stiff handles for ears.

I turned to the other side. From my place in the jug, I faced brown tables spread across the room. More round bodies with potheads. Some were big, some small. There was even one clutching something fluffy to its chest. A few sat while most stood, holding cups or bottles and fiddling with flashy cards between their fingers.

I couldn’t see much clearly. They were all mouthing at each other. I heard nothing, of course, but apparently they did and understood too.

I still couldn’t comprehend my place in this situation. What was this place? The moment I was picked, I knew I was about to fulfil my destiny—whatever that was. All along I’d dreamt of getting out of the box, but only now did it dawn on me that I’d never imagined what I’d do once I got out. Perhaps deep down, I never saw beyond the inside of that dank room.

Just then, the familiar red arm approached our jug. I opened my mouth, ready to ask what it all meant. Before I could utter anything, though, boiling steam hit my eye and water crushed my lungs siphoning the air out of me.

Uuuuuhhh

I inhaled in panic, and I felt myself rise towards the jug’s rim. I hadn’t seen this coming. Then again, I hadn’t seen anything. Beside me, my silent cousins were struggling too. We’d never spoken before, but just then, our eyes locked for a fleeting moment before I saw their colours vanish. They descended, swaying as they sunk to the bottom.

It was too much. I had no air left, and my organs were weighing me down. They felt heavier than I ever thought they could. My breath rasped as the world spun. My heart was telling me to give up. My brain already had.

And so I let go of my limp body, floating away with the water’s steam. The wind was pulling me further from the jug, but I managed a last glance before being swept away. As the arm fished our bodies from the jug, I saw what we’d left behind: a reddish concoction with a tinge of mint. And I understood. Perhaps that was my destiny—refreshing the sore.

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From the sidelines

Richard watched as Miles emerged from the shower rooms. Dripping in cold water, he shivered ever so slightly as he stepped on to the water’s edge and dipped his toes in the pool.

It was a warm day. It was his first big race.

Richard had observed him long enough to know that though a little thinner for his age, Miles had enough muscle strength to power through with powerful stokes. His height was only an added advantage.

Miles was now talking to his coach, signing intently to advice. Richard flinched at the sight of the coach. He hated every bit of alpha-ness that that emitted from him. He was a bad influence on Miles, Richard thought. But he had no right to say anything. After all, when it came to swimming, he was a mere spectator.

And that’s what he did for the next fifteen minutes. As the swimmers took their lanes, Richard was on the sidelines, unknown to the rest of the world, his eyes focussed on Miles’ flexed arms and ready-to-pounce feet. When the whistle blew, he took a sharp breath almost hurting his nostrils. It had begun.

The next few minutes were a blur. Richard heard yells of sadness mangled with cries of jubilation. People had crowded in front of him, blocking his view of the pool. The announcer overhead managed to make his voice louder than the rest of the din. “And it’s Miles who takes home the first place!”

Richard had never loved anyone more. Or been prouder.

The crowd suddenly split to let through a dripping athlete. Miles knelt down so he was level with his father’s wheelchair.

“Thanks, Dad,” and he hugged the once-Olympic swimmer.

Dreams

Jesse stared at her silhouette on the blank wall of her room. Through the thin glass window behind her, peeked a bleak winter sun partly shrouded in a mass of dark clouds. The first storm of winter was upon them.

Stationary, Jesse observed the figure before her. Tall and lean, the shadow had a staunch confidence she’d never felt. The cape around its shoulders seemed fitting, as if the superhero within had finally broken free.

Jesse had spent childhood days dreaming of the waking moment she’d discover her gift. She’d imagined and reimagined the training she’d receive from masters she’d only read about. The waning sun had brought out all her secret desires, laying them out barren for her to devour.

As the light faded and the shadow melded, Jesse stood in the gloom. It pressed upon her room, while she listened to the ghastly winds that raged beyond. Alas, the darkness revealed her for what she really was—a shivering teenager clothed in a blanket against the cold.

Stage fright

Silence rang across the room, ricocheting off the jelled heads and cloaked shoulders. As Mary scanned the room, too fast to linger on any particular eyes, a dry lump swelled in her throat.

Urgently, she gulped it down.

She knew how important her audience was, and as she struggled to make a connection with the faces looking back at her with piercing judgemental looks, she knew they were anxious to hear her speak.

Only she wasn’t ready.

She tightened the grip on her chair, stretching the sheen of skin that clothed her knuckles. Despite the wintry breeze that raged beyond, beads of perspiration lined up on her forehead.

They were all looking.

Will she stumble? Forget her lines?

Breakdown and cry?

No way. She wouldn’t cry. She was an adult now, and this wasn’t her first grade school play. This was real life.

They waited patiently. Impressive, she reminded herself, considering she’d arrived ten minutes late. Though with straight faces and pursed lips, they’d welcomed her with the respect she deserved.

And it’s only fair that she spoke. Now.

She took a deep breath and, “Let the proceedings begin,” permitted the newly-appointed High Court Judge.

Normal

Henry had a perfectly fine life.

In the small river town of Carr, home to no more than 200 people, he was the only person who travelled twenty minutes to work. He was the executive accountant for a law firm in the city. And no one in his town knew anything more about what he did. He didn’t mind.

Every morning, he’d catch the same 6:55 bus that dropped him off in front of his office. And at 4:30 every evening, he’d get off at the same stop outside the cafe, enjoy a good natured conversation with anyone in the vicinity, and walk home with a cup of black coffee.

It was his thing. It was his routine.

Every Friday, he’d show up at the supermarket where he’d always say hello to everyone. He’d get a bottle of wine, wave cheerily at the casher, and head back home.

That was Henry. Mysterious and nice to be around.

“It’s unfortunate he died.”

“They say it was a heart attack.”

The whole town whispered condolences at his funeral. He didn’t have any relatives that they knew of, and Henry’s employer in the city didn’t either. So the town mayor had taken it upon himself to organise the ceremony.

No one would miss Henry, of course. He was a simple, exotic young fellow who lived and then died without a fuss.

But when he didn’t show up the next few days, the swans and squirrels knew something was amiss. Henry had never missed a walk by the lake before.