As nights grow colder
And days become shorter
We scramble towards
The annual tree slaughter
Black Friday kicks off
Shipping swarms of people
In holy communion
To our modern Cathedrals
The year looming ahead
Fills us with ambition
The New You is waiting
What’s your resolution?
In this Caucus race
A pause for reflection
A moment to ponder
For what am I grateful?
For cosying up
In the warmth of a home
For sharing a meal
Sheltered from the cold
For raising a glass
In jovial cheers
For friends to accompany
Through laughter and tears
For early train rides
When it’s still dark
Cramming a chapter
Before reaching work
For the carpet of leaves
Gleaming under the sun
Padding the streets
Of bustling London
For a family to join
In celebration of Yule
This winter solstice
I truly thank you.
A few moments of silence. Then the wailing resumes. A trail of blood slithers in from under the door. In the corridor we await our turn. Some are already lifeless, petrified by the realisation of what lies ahead. Others frantically search for a way out. There is none.
The door unlocks.
In another world
The Northern Sea
With a salty breeze
We wander through
The Grand Bazaar
And from desert plains
We count the stars
In another world
An unknown land
We run for cover
Hand in hand
The cosmic rain
Yet we´re the same
Across these realms
I seem to find
You always there
Right by my side
But in this world
Gone are those days
For here we went
Our separate ways
The Magician’s Writing Club
It was Dana who broke the silence.
You know, this is my first time camping.- she ventured. She glanced at Mia before quickly turning back to the coach window.
Hmm? - Mia kept her tone deliberately neutral, her eyes fixed on her empty juice carton. From the seats behind them she could already hear giggling. After a few moments, when Dana seemed distracted, she turned to shoot her friends a quick smile. She felt a sense of relief as they waved back pulling funny faces. It was important for them to understand that she was only doing this because she had to do it.
When Miss Brown had given her the task of keeping the new girl company during the school trip, Mia had reacted just as the teacher would have expected her to.
I knew I could count on you, you're such a kind person! - exclaimed Miss Brown concluding their meeting.
Mia beamed back at her but the praise provided no consolation. It was her seemingly kind nature that got her into these situations.
While she felt sympathy for Dana, she was also well aware of the implications of her assignment. Since her arrival at school a few weeks ago, Dana’s rank amongst her peers had already been firmly defined. On her first day she had walked in wearing an old-fashioned looking dress below knee length. Tom had asked if she was wearing her grandmother's clothes, to the classroom's delight. That day in the playground she had sat by herself reading a book. This became a regular occurrence. In P.E. she was always the last person to get picked. Last week Clara said she spotted a cockroach in her hair during assembly.
Mia knew that the cockroach story probably wasn't true. She also knew that the veracity of the incident didn't particularly matter. It was a consequence and not a cause of Dana's unfortunate fate.
While setting up the tent Mia and Dana hadn't exchanged more words than strictly necessary. They finished as it was getting dark. Now, sitting side by side on their sleeping bags, the silence acquired an increasingly uncomfortable tinge. Mia sighed audibly and started unpacking random items from her backpack.
I've read that one. It's one of my favourites. - Again, it was Dana who spoke first. She pointed at the book beside Mia.
Oh, this one? - Mia asked stupidly.- I got it from the library yesterday.
Without knowing what else to say she turned back to her backpack and fiddled with her torch.
Have you brought anything to read? - she added after a while.
Oh, yes. - replied Dana. She grabbed her bag and took out a worn out book with a spooky looking house on the cover. She handed it to Mia. - It's my brother's. Have you read it?
Mia flipped through the pages.
No, not this one. I've read other books from this collection, though.
She actually loved the collection but having something in common with her new companion wasn't something she really wanted to admit publicly, given the circumstances.
You can borrow it after I've finished. - offered Dana.
Thanks, but don't worry, I can get it from the library. - said Mia returning the book.
Dana put it back in her bag.
Do you mind if I use my torch for a bit? Unless you wanted to sleep now. - she asked.
Sure, I'll read for a while anyway. - said Mia.
Dana took out a notebook and switched on her torch. Mia switched on hers and settled down with her book. Now that they were each focused on their separate activities she felt more relaxed. But she couldn't really concentrate on reading. What was Dana writing? It didn't look like homework.
Is that a diary? - she asked finally.
Oh, no, it's an assignment. Not for school though, just for a writing club. - replied Dana waving her hand dismissively.
Mia returned to her book but now she definitely couldn't read.
Is it the magician's writing club? - she blurted after a few moments.
Oh, you've heard of it? - asked Dana looking up from her notebook. - I just joined last week.
Mia had desperately wanted to join the magician's writing club ever since she first saw the poster at the local library over the summer. That same day as soon as she got home she started writing a story about a haunted forest inhabited by spirits. When it was finished she proudly shared it with her family, who loved it and encouraged her to submit the piece. However, when she tested the waters back at school, Camila had simply informed her that it was nerdy. That night at dinner Mia announced that she wanted to join the ballet club with the girls instead. When her mother asked if something had happened to make her change her mind, Mia ran up to her room and slammed the door.
I think I've heard about it somewhere. Do you have to, like, write about wizards or something? - she asked.
No, you can write about anything, really. - replied Dana. -There's a competition on now. The best ones will be published in a magazine.
Oh, cool. Good luck then. - said Mia.
She switched off her torch and got into her sleeping bag, though she didn't fall asleep until hours later.
The following morning Mia crept out of the tent very early. She was the first one to arrive at the breakfast area. Her friends showed up nearly an hour later, their hair up in identical plaits. They ran up to Mia in stitches and dived straight into a story about a horse they'd caught wandering around their tent. This was followed by a detailed analysis of the upcoming hike and a debate about whose footwear was more appropriate for the expected rain.
So, anyway, how is your new friend, Mia? - asked Clara after it was unanimously agreed that her shoes were most definitely not appropriate for hiking in the mud.
Oh, I wish I was in the tent with you guys. - said Mia trying to steer the conversation away from Dana. - We could tell ghost stories until midnight!
Has she used your hairbrush? - interjected Camila causing the other girls to shriek with laughter.
No way, I kept it under my pillow! - lied Mia.
The girls giggled approvingly. That was close.
That's disgusting. - she added, asserting her position.
From the corner of her eye she could see Dana approaching. She pretended not to notice as she sat by herself on an empty bench.
Do you think she'll try to hang out with you during the hike? - asked Clara.
Ugh. I hope not, she's tragic. I actually feel sorry for her. - declared Mia plaiting her hair.
Your heart’s desire
What does your heart desire? – asked a voice.
It was the last day of the half term holidays and the arcade was jam-packed with weekend wanderers. Where had the voice come from?
What does your heart desire? – it repeated.
Adriana identified the speaker. She grabbed Jon’s hand and dragged him across the pier to the machine in question.
What does your heart desire? Merlin will grant your secret wish. INSERT 20P. - it read.
A robotic looking wizard observed the pair from behind a filthy glass.
I have to try it! – exclaimed Adriana. She searched her pockets for a coin, her fingers still sticky from the cotton candy they had just shared.
On receiving his payment Merlin moved his hands mechanically.
Your wish has been granted! – he declared.
I know it´s stupid, but just in case. - said Ariana sheepishly.
Actually, I might give it a try too. – replied Jon. He inserted another coin into the slot. – You never know, right?
Adriana gazed at her (Merlin willing) future husband. His eyes glistened under the autumn sunset. They shared a brief glance and during that moment she hoped, no, she knew that he had wished for the same thing.
They walked up to the railing accompanied by a soft salty breeze. Behind them, the noisy crowd quietened down. The pair stood in silence for a few moments.
What did you wish for? – Jon asked finally.
Adriana could feel her heart beating faster.
We can´t say, otherwise it won’t come true. – she whispered.
Shame. – said Jon. He had been wanting to come out to his friends for some time now but never managed to find the right moment.
Facing the endless sea, the pair dreamt on.
Even in normal circumstances, concentrating during a Data Protection meeting at 9 am would have been hard enough. With the added complication of Sofia’s revelation it was virtually impossible.
She took a deep breath and tried to recall the mindfulness workshop they had been forced to take last “team-building Thursday”.
Right. Grounding. Acknowledge five things around you.
But amongst the weary faces, sloppy notes, cups of cold coffee, half-eaten croissants and black clouds forming outside… the same thought emerged with absolute certainty:
Humanity has seven days left.
Was no one else aware? But she already knew the answer. It had always been like this. For years she had been shrugging off her visions. They didn’t exactly fit in with the succesful businesswoman persona she was going for.
But today, despite her best efforts, she could not banish the thought. It hung above her; a palpable and undeniable truth, more real than anything she could see before her.
Excuse me. –she said feigning a sudden illness.
On her way out of the meeting room she stepped on the HR officer’s foot, hard. She realised then that she’d been wanting to do that for some time.
Sofia hurriedly collected her handbag, her coat, her boss’s wallet from his coat pocket, the company card from the drawer... The meeting was scheduled to last for another two hours.
She slid out of the office and into the world, a brand-new world. She had seven days to enjoy it.
I’ve never had a blackout before but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose. It’s the only possible explanation for me waking up in this shabby looking hotel room with this agonizing headache. Gazing at the noisy ceiling fan, I wonder where the hell I am.
I realise my phone is sitting on the bedside table. No battery. The floor is littered with empty beer bottles.
On the opposite wall the Virgin of Guadalupe stares at me sympathetically from within her frame. As if by divine intervention, a series of images unravel before me; the airplane, the taxi, the shots, the dancing, the champagne, the wedding… My wedding! I make it to the bathroom before I throw up.
I need some fresh air.
Buenos días! – calls out a man behind the desk in the run-down reception area.
I nod and walk up to a stand announcing pyramid tours and snorkelling trips. I pick up a wrinkled brochure. Teotihuacan it is, then.