Naomi yanked the emergency brake and turned the wheel hard. The lightweight car screeched into a turn and she released the brake again, pressing her foot on the gas. The little car shot forward and she deftly maneuvered it into a narrow alley, following its twists and turns with confidence. She slowed, then stopped, backing quickly into a tiny garage. She hopped out of the car and pulled the door closed, then turned, pleased with her performance.
Preston got out of the car, his expression inscrutable.
“Hmmm,” was all he said as he checked his phone, and Naomi grunted.
“That was the best ride you’ve had all week,” she said, jabbing a finger in his direction. “I can do this job, and for some reason you don’t want to admit it.”
Preston looked up at her mildly, his black hair fanning purposefully across his forehead. He shrugged.
“You know it’s not up to me.”
Naomi rolled her eyes.
“Right, sure, you have to send a report to your ‘superiors.’” She made quotes with her fingers.
“That’s right,” Preston answered, his eyes on his phone again. Naomi wanted to strangle him.
She allowed her anger to simmer a minute more, and then she sighed and turned, sitting down on the car’s bonnet.
“Look, I understood what you meant when you said you could help me out. I’m not expecting anything from you. What I am expecting is that you treat me like any other applicant, and you judge my performance based on its merits. Which, as you just experienced, was pretty f---ing awesome.”
Preston came to sit down next to her. He didn’t look up from his phone, but Naomi sensed the atmosphere between them was now comfortable. He was listening.
“It’s been a few years, eh?” Naomi nudged him slightly with her shoulder. She thought she caught a hint of a smile in response.
“I don’t know how you managed it. We were nobodies, we had nothing. And now almost everybody knows who you are. And here I am, just the sidekick, as usual.”
She was not imagining it; he was smiling. She allowed herself to reminisce for just a moment, remembering the two of them clambering over a climbing frame, pretending to be pirates or explorers or some such childish nonsense. She wondered if, in its own way, those make-believe adventures allowed them to survive the way they had.
“Always the chatterbox,” she sighed. “Even before the Selection.”
She felt Preston tense, and regretted bringing it up. He was one of the few people she had known Before, and even then they had barely kept in contact. There was something about not being Selected that made everyone ashamed, even though it was something they had in common. People didn’t like to talk to other people who hadn’t been Selected, and there was no one else left to talk to.
“There’s no point waiting around here, then,” Naomi said, pushing herself up and opening the garage door. Silently, of course, Preston got back into the car and Naomi followed.
“Where would you like me to drop you?” She knew the answer, but wanted to hear him say something, anything. It felt as though in the few minutes that had passed she had forgotten what he sounded like.
“The office is fine,” he said, and then he put the phone down. He stared straight ahead through the windscreen, his breathing rapid.
“Preston?” Naomi was afraid to touch him.
When he spoke, it was in a soft voice, deep yet feminine, and utterly unlike his own.
“There is no shame in being Left Behind.”
The voice was familiar, like something Naomi had once heard on the radio when she was only half listening, but she couldn’t place it.
“We are all of us Abandoned at some point. To mourn is to deny the inevitable. To suffer is unnecessary.”
“Ok, Preston, I don’t know what kind of batshit sermon you are spouting right now, but it’s freaking me out. I’m just going to get you home--”
As she leaned forward to turn the key, Preston’s arm whipped forward and he grasped her wrist tightly. His hand was frigid.
Naomi stared in horror as her friend turned his face toward hers. His eyes were bloodshot and tears were streaming down his face. He somehow looked both completely terrified and completely at peace.
“Preston,” she said, her voice quivering. “I thought it was over. No one has been Selected for years.”
He shook his head slightly.
“It’s not me,” he whispered in his own voice, straining to speak over whatever sound was filling his head.
“No.” The sound barely escaped her lips.
“No,” she repeated, twisting in her seat to grasp Preston by the shoulders.
“No one has ever come back from a Selection,” she said. “Why now? What’s happening?”
Preston shook his head again, straining to speak through another’s voice.
“Don’t be scared,” he choked. “They said you’ll be…”
And then it was all light, blinding, and a ringing in her ears so sharp she thought her head would vibrate apart. She had no sense of her body, no sense of time, and then she was suddenly standing in the middle of a busy street, tall buildings casting shadows on the people bustling around her, no idea of where she was, and no welcome at all.
The earth is experiencing a global health crisis. A pandemic. Governments are taking measures to attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19, some more appropriately or effectively than others. Almost everything I hear about the current situation of the world - on the radio, in op-eds, from those I speak with - has described it as surreal. Strange. Bizarre. Unprecedented. It made me think about the way we view the world as it normally is, and to try and decipher what it is about current life that seems surreal.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word surreal as follows: “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” Now, I’ve had many dreams that could be rightly described as surreal, but I’ve also had dreams in which, for example, I discovered an unfortunately drawn tattoo on my right arm and my good tattoo had switched to the left. Not particularly uncanny. However, this was also the dream in which I was in a huge house that was filled with cages and tanks full of exotic creatures, including a huge snake I was convinced had swallowed a human. So perhaps all dreams are surreal to some extent.
Surrealism itself has been reflected in art, theatre, and music for about a hundred years. People like René Magritte, Frida Kahlo, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí are artists that used their works to reflect a world devoid of rational thought. They instead highlighted and focused on the uncanny beauty of the unconscious and of dreams. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. The melting clocks are instantly recognizable as an example of surrealist art.
There are also writers and playwrights such as André Breton, Bertolt Brecht, and Antonin Artaud who contributed to the movement, as well as musicians like Erik Satie and John Cage. All of these works suggest a world outside of the norm but that is somehow familiar, a world in which dreams and reality blend together until you’re not sure what you’re experiencing.
All of this is to say, do I think what the world is experiencing right now, this crisis of health and structure, is surreal? I’m not sure. I don’t particularly think of it as such. I have woken up from dreams convinced that what I was feeling and experiencing was real, and although at times the feeling lingers, I am soon aware that there is an immediate difference between my unconscious state and my waking one.
And so far my life hasn’t changed dramatically since these measures were put into place. It does feel like between one day and the next there were the beginnings of concern to now increased anxiety about our future, but perhaps all time is in a sense surreal, because in some ways it’s impossible to quantify. But I have still been going to work, and just now my work hours have decreased. There have been shortages of certain items on grocery store shelves, but I haven’t changed the way I’m shopping. While I no longer have the option to go to the library or the museum or to my favorite restaurant, I’ve always been a homebody. I’ve always preferred my own company to that of others.
I should point out that I am trying my best to follow the advice of health care professionals and self isolate when I can. It is quite possible, and even likely, that I am a carrier of the virus without even knowing it. Given my continued work, I have been exposed to quite a few people over the last few weeks. I haven’t shown any symptoms yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t pass it on to others. So I am taking this issue seriously.
And my experience is perhaps unique compared to many others'. Many people are out of work. There are many who don't have a place to shelter in. I also recognize that this is taking an extreme toll on the mental health of the citizens of the world, particularly those in the health care field. Their experience is undoubtedly difficult and stressful, and I’m sure there are times they are unsure if they are awake or dreaming.
Is all of this strange? Yes. Is all of this uncanny? Absolutely. Shops that were usually bustling are now closed. I have received emails from every business I have ever patronized assuring me they are doing what they can to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and that’s just bizarre. There are events taking place that are completely outside my experience, and so seem in some way detached from reality. But surreal? I’m not sure this whole thing fits my definition.
Unless of course this is all just a program within the Matrix. Then we’re all already in a dream state, and good luck figuring out what “real” even means.
Part II of the thrilling story Liz and I wrote together! Read Part I here, and find out what happened in Liz's version here!
Now that the Carrier’s attention was elsewhere, the ringing in Tricia’s ears dulled. She saw Dominique, the Carrier leaning down over her, its putrid breath poisoning the air around her. Dominique was staring up into the monster’s face, frozen.
Tricia growled. She didn’t particularly like Dominique, but they had an arrangement, and Tricia would be damned if she saw anyone get dragged away by a filthy Carrier. Hell, she was already damned. Might as well do something about it.
Tricia reached deep within herself and pulled up the curse, urging the transformation. She felt her hair growing, her muscles expanding. Her clothing split at the seams. I just bought that shirt, she thought, before she leaped forward toward the Carrier.
Dominique’s vision cleared as the Carrier was yanked backward. She gasped, unaware she had been holding her breath. A huge ape-like creature was clinging to the Carrier’s head, furiously tearing at its cloak.
Dominique stared. She had never seen Tricia’s full transformation before. If she hadn’t known her cursed form, she wouldn’t even be sure it was Tricia. But she could still see the remnants of Tricia’s clothing clinging to her limbs, ripped apart at the seams.
The Carrier was trying to get Tricia off its head, but it couldn’t quite whip the chain around to catch her. But she wouldn’t last long like that. Dominique frantically scanned the chapel, desperate for anything that could serve as a weapon. She grunted in frustration. There wasn’t even an ornamental sword she could tear from a wall.
She looked toward the front of the chapel and saw the tall candelabra illuminating the altar. She ran towards it, calculating the risk. Dowsing the flames would give the Carrier strength; they thrived in darkness. But she had little else to use against it, and she hoped she could enchant it with a strong enough spell to at least discourage it from taking them.
Tricia clawed and bit at the Carrier’s hood, aware she was likely causing little damage. She was just hoping to give Dominique enough time to do something, anything. But she felt her grip failing, and even as she shifted to gain a better grasp, the Carrier grabbed her leg and flung her across the pews.
Dominique heard the crash and turned, catching a glimpse of Tricia as she fell. Cursing, she mounted the steps and snagged her bag, rummaging through it. She pulled out a bag of salt, blessed and intended for another ritual. But she had no other choice.
Grabbing the candelabra, she whipped it forward, the candle’s flames extinguishing as they flew across the room. Dominique whispered, feeling the metal warming beneath her hand as she imbued it with the most powerful spell she knew. Sealing the spell with salt, she lifted her head just as the Carrier’s chain wrapped around her midsection.
Tricia rose, pain throbbing in her ribs, just in time to see Dominique get pulled down the altar steps, the chain around her middle. She fell and was dragged backward, but she held fast to a heavy metal candelabra, and Tricia understood. She braced herself for a moment, catching her breath, then sped forward.
The pressure against Dominique’s stomach lifted as Tricia sprang up from the pews and leapt to tackle the Carrier. Her momentum was enough that the Carrier stumbled, and, using the candelabra for support, Dominique pulled herself upright.
With the Carrier momentarily distracted, its chain lay limp on the stone floor. Dominique lifted the candelabra, and whispering a few more words for strength, brought the heavy fixture down on the chain.
There was a terrible clang and light burst into the room. Dominique squinted against the light, but raised the candelabra and brought it down again and again, until with a tremendous noise the chain broke. There was a great rush of air and with a deafening screech the Carrier disappeared. Dominique fell to the ground, spent.
Breaking a Carrier’s chain wouldn’t kill it, but it would slow it down for a time. Carriers forged their own chains, and while one that powerful would be able to regain its strength quickly, Dominique knew she and Tricia had enough time to get to safety.
“Tricia,” Dominique said through a cough. Her limbs weak, Dominique dragged herself up but sat immediately in a pew, her muscles shaking with exhaustion.
There was a rustling across the aisle and Dominique saw Tricia stand, clutching her side. What remained of her clothing draped immodestly across too little skin. She blushed, looked away.
Tricia grinned, her teeth smaller but still deathly sharp. The curse fading, the hair that just moments ago covered her body was falling off in clumps, and her muscles shrunk, weak and ineffective. She too sat in a pew, grinning across the dark aisle at Dominique.
“Nice work,” she said, then winced. Speaking was painful. She might have broken a rib.
“But now I have to start over,” Dominique said quietly, and Tricia shrugged.
“You didn’t get swallowed by a Carrier. And a great one, at that. You should be grateful.”
Dominique’s eyes flashed, but she didn’t reply. She sighed, heaved herself up and made her way slowly to the front of the chapel, intent on collecting her things. She kneeled slowly, gathering the candles and sage she had set out so carefully before. To her dismay, most of the salt had spilled from the bag, but she gathered what she could and stored it carefully away.
She jumped when Tricia spoke at her shoulder.
“We’ll find another church,” Tricia said quietly, wiping a bit of her own blood from the corner of her mouth.
“I’m surprised you would offer,” Dominique said, tying her satchel closed. Tricia shrugged.
“We had an arrangement,” she said, smirking, and Dominique felt marginally better.
“We’ll have to find someplace to stay,” she replied. “The Carrier will come back.”
“I know a place,” Tricia said, wandering off, arranging the rags of her clothing into an outfit that covered her more vulnerable body parts. Dominique sighed and followed the older woman out into the night.
Another sister blog! Liz and I were in the same place at the same time so we decided to write together! We used the following prompts to write this story, taking turns writing paragraphs. Try and guess which sister wrote which segment. ;)
A woman in her late twenties, who is very selfish.
A woman in her late forties, who can be quite idealistic.
The story begins in a church crypt.
Someone is tormented by the memory of a dead family member.
It's a story about freedom.
Your character has to do some quick thinking to keep ahead
Tricia ran her finger along the arm of the statue, then brought the finger to her mouth, wiping the blood from the edge of her lips. She felt the angel was a tad sentimental, but it wasn’t her family she was laying to rest. She hoped Dominique would come soon. She was growing bored.
A voice echoed through the chapel, and Dominique strode out of the shadows near the distant front doors.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. She wiped the blade of her dagger clean as she walked, and sheathed it at her side. She frowned at the blood on the angel statue.
“Did you have some trouble, too?” she asked.
Tricia smirked, and Dominique scowled.
“We had an arrangement,” Dominique said, pouting. Tricia shrugged.
“No, you asked me to not eat people, and I said I would try.”
Dominique glanced down at the body lying at the statue’s feet and frowned.
Trish crossed her arms as Dominique stepped closer, lowering her voice, as though there was anyone else within earshot.
“Trish, is that the priest?”
Tricia shrugged again and made a non-committal sound. Dominique’s face filled with worry. Tricia lowered her arms and rolled her eyes.
Dominique closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Well, at least you didn’t eat...all of him.” She began rummaging in her bag. “Let’s just...do this and get out of here. I brought sage and the candles. And chalk to draw a pentagram. Could you fill this up?”
Tricia looked blankly at the small vial Dominique handed her.
“Holy water, Trish. From the bowl over there.”
While Tricia wandered over to the silver dish a few steps above them, Dominique pulled a lock of hair from her bag and laid it gently down on the cold stones.
“It’s got to work this time, Sarah,” she whispered to herself. “I can’t keep doing this.”
A clatter came from behind one of the pews and both women spun around.
The church was empty, but Dominique drew her dagger. Trish’s nails grew and she bared her sharpened teeth. They moved forward together, each eyeing the space between the pews as they advanced. The light was dim--the sun had just set and there were only a few candles lit at the altar.
The clatter came again. This time it sounded like something metal falling to the stone floor. It rang loudly in the small chapel, and Tricia suddenly brought her hands to her ears.
“Dominique…” she said through gritted teeth.
Dominique heard it too, but it didn’t affect her as it did Trish. The ringing went on, far too long for a normal object, and suddenly Dominique knew what was in the church with them.
It was the Carrier.
Dominique crouched to the ground, squeezing herself in between a row of pews. She was lucky. She hadn’t begun the ritual that would allow her to save Sarah’s spirit, or the Carrier would sense the magic in her. Tricia, on the other hand, was exposed and reeked of the magic that had caused her transformation.
“DAMMIT,” Dominique whispered again. She brought her dagger up to her lips and whispered a few words into it, until it began to glow a faint blue. It was a risk but she didn’t see what choice she had. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stood.
The Carrier was only a few rows away, its eyeless face turned toward Tricia, who stood stock still near the altar. It took one gliding step, and the long chain it carried clanged against the stones.
The chain was long--Dominique had seen grown men strangled by Carriers with chains of only ten or twelve links, but this one was made of at least fifty. The Carrier took one ragged breath in and then let out a wet growl. Dominique heard Tricia snarl in return.
Dominique stepped into the aisle with her dagger raised towards the Carrier.
With horrifying speed the Carrier turned toward her, its chain whipping through the air toward her neck. Dominique quickly dropped to the ground and felt the whoosh of air over her head as the chain swung past, narrowly missing her scalp. Taking advantage of the few seconds she had, she scrambled forward on her hands and knees and lunged forward, burying the dagger with its magical augmentation deep into the Carrier’s flesh.
To her horror, the dagger froze and shattered, falling to the floor in pieces. Had she used the wrong spell? She had felled only two Carriers in her past, but they had been much smaller, much weaker.
She heard Tricia shout. The Carrier leaned down over her, its putrid breath poisoning the air around her. She stared up into the blank face, silently pleading forgiveness from her sister, prepared to be borne away into the darkness.
Detective Strakowski leaned forward, cupping his chin in his hand. He was bored. Dusk had seeped across the street over an hour ago, and the night had turned chilly and damp. He ought to close the window, but couldn’t bring himself to get up. He scratched his cheek. He needed a shave.
No, what he needed was a case. A real one. None of this “my spouse is cheating on me” or “I lost my prized possession” crap. He thought freelancing as a private eye would give him some excitement in his life. Boy, was he wrong about that. He should have listened to the others.
The other detectives who had tried it before had told him it wouldn’t work. That no one could afford a real private eye, not in this part of town. For some reason, Strakowski thought he would be different. That he would attract a different type of clientele. But so far, nothing. Zilch. Nada. Just the same old stuff he was told he would get.
He couldn’t bear to tell the others. He didn’t want them to think he’d failed. They were good people, even if they didn’t always share the same idea of a good time. They called him “Stag” for some reason, maybe because he was single, preferred to do things his own way. But it wasn’t clever. His first name was Ron.
He was about to give up and lock up for the night when someone tapped lightly on the door. He sat up, quickly rearranged his desk, tightened his tie.
“Come in,” he called, hoping he didn’t sound too eager.
The door opened, and for a moment Strakowski was unsure if he had actually fallen asleep at his desk and was now dreaming. The woman that walked through the door was the most extraordinary person he had ever seen, resplendent as though she was glowing. He had met a lot of people in his line of work, but never anyone as bright and beautiful as she. She was something special.
And he should know. He didn’t really like going to the movies, but he had seen every one of her pictures.
He stood quickly, the chair squeaking uncomfortably behind him.
She held up a hand and Strakowski snapped his jaw shut. She closed the door behind her and adjusted her wrap. It was made of a plain but clearly expensive material, and she held it tightly around her. Underneath she wore a plain navy suit, as though she was in disguise. But the cut was too modern, the cloth too fine. Even the hat pulled low over her eyes didn’t have a single crease. If she was pretending to be an ordinary person, she wasn’t doing a particularly good job.
“My name is Helena Trent,” she said, lowering herself into a chair, Strakowski awkwardly following suit. He would know that smooth voice, that impeccable bearing anywhere. Verity Park was in his office.
But if she was using a false name, inquiring at a private eye in Little Ama, that could only mean one thing.
Strakowski tried to still the butterflies in his stomach. She couldn’t be here alone. There must be bodyguards somewhere. He took a glance at the closed door, then at the open window. This office was not in any way suited to protecting a famous movie star. He stood quickly and moved to the window, closing it with effort. Ms. Park watched him, barely turning her head. He quickly pulled the curtains closed and moved back to the desk.
“Um, what brings you here, Ms…..uh, Trent?”
Ms. Park gave him a small smile, and Strakowski’s heart fluttered.
“Something of mine has gone missing,” she said, enunciating perfectly with her low voice.
Strakowski felt a thump of disappointment. Another one of these cases?
“Could you describe the item?,” he asked, trying his best to sound professional.
Ms. Park’s smile deepened and her eyes glinted. Strakowski’s disappointment turned suddenly to apprehension. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small circular object, leaning forward to place it gently on Strakowski’s desk. Strakowski started to gasp, his breath caught, and, rather than turn the gasp into a meditative throat clearing as he intended, instead began to cough. Ms. Park began speaking over his distress.
“This is a family heirloom,” she said, folding her hands elegantly in her lap. Strakowski nodded, his face red.
“This piece here is a part of a set. This half here I keep with me at all times. The other half was stolen two days ago from my home.”
“I assume it was kept in a vault or a safe?” Strakowski managed through his cough.
Ms. Park nodded.
“If you can help me, I will reward you most handsomely. But I require your absolute discretion. Is this something I can trust you with?”
A thousand questions ran through Strakowski’s mind. Why him? How did a thief manage to steal something from one of the richest people in the world? Why bother stealing an item that by itself was probably worthless?
Taking a sip of water, Strakowski managed to finally clear his throat. This is what he had been waiting for. This was his chance.
“Of course, Ms. Trent,” he replied, pulling out a notebook. He tried to ignore his feelings of disquiet, and the look Ms. Park gave him, which he might have described as sly.
“Now, what can you tell me about the Discretion Mirror?”
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.