32. Set up new laptop – Done on 1.2.15
33. Put all files onto external hard drive and new laptop
59. When I get a new laptop, put Photoshop onto it – It took hours and used up my Mum’s entire February bandwidth allowance, but this was finally done on 1.2.015.
Goals in progress:
13. Take the stairs instead of the lifts to increase fitness (27/41)
72. Donate 1,000,000 grains at http://freerice.com (89,000 / 1,000,000) – 36,000 grains donated in Feburary
93. Read 100 books by authors I haven’t read
27.2.15: Finished When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
94. Watch 26 movies I’ve never seen starting with each letter of the alphabet
5.2.15: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (B)
8.2.15: Elysium (E)
29. Clear out backlog of surveys in email inbox – Done at the beginning of January.
47. Cash in recognition vouchers - Done in mid-January
55. Buy a laptop – After over a year of saving, I finally did this on 18 January. A good chunk of the money came from the work recognition vouchers above and lottery winnings.
62. Buy new black/grey jeans to replace the ones with the hole in the knee – Done on 4 January. After trying on a baffling array of sizes, I think I even got ones that actually fit.
95. Find a new TV series box set to get into – Done on 18 January. There are quite a few TV series that I randomly stopped watching with a few seasons to go, probably because they started airing at strange times, or were cancelled, on UK TV. Most notable is Charmed – I watched it for seven seasons but didn’t watch the eighth and final one. So I’ve made a list, and I’m starting with House, Season 5, mainly because my mother already has it.
Goals in progress:
2. Write monthly Mission updates on LJ – Doing this now!
5. Replace money withdrawn from savings account as from 1 January 2010
35. Stop complaining at work (14/21)
42. Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day planning for the next day (14/21)
66. Buy new trainers – I thought I’d done this but it turns out top part of the trainers are basically made out of a couple of layers of netting, so they’re not exactly suitable for London in winter.
71. Donate 1,000,0000 at http://freerice.com (53,000 / 1,000,000) – 53,000 grains donated in January.
72. Perform at least 20 random acts of kindness (1/20) – 6 January: Gave a seat on the tube to a pregnant woman. I think this is really just something a decent person would do, rather than an act of kindness as such, but I’m counting it for now.
82. Keep a personal diary for at least a year
83. Write something good that happened in personal diary, at least one a week for a year (4/51)
87. Post a message on all Facebook friends’ walls on their birthdays
92. Read 100 books by authors I haven’t read (2/100)
13 January: Finished The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
21 January: Finished The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby
93. Watch 26 movies I’ve never seen starting with each letter of the alphabet (4/26)
4 January: X-Men: Days of Future Past (X)
9 January: The Help (H)
12 January: The Dark Knight (D)
15 January: Guardians of the Galaxy (G)
“Sugar!” Dan gasped. “How did you manage to get hold of that?”
“It might be cut with cocaine or anything.”
“But I need it!”
Dan sighed in resignation, then produced a small container of coffee powder. “So do I.”
The caffeine jitters soon kicked in after their small, shared cup of sweet coffee and they both groaned in ecstasy.
“I’ve missed this,” said Dan.
“So have I. But I got this for a reason. We have work to do.”
Carey and Dan were fraud investigators. It was a job that sounded interesting, as if it might involve travelling undercover to the Cayman Islands, but it mostly consisted of sitting in front of a computer doing research. A lot of research.
This investigation was the most important of their lives. They were investigating England’s coffee crisis.
Oh, everyone knew the history. Somehow, Microsoft spellcheck had replaced the word “Mauritian” with the word “Martian” in every document produced by the British government. The people from the sugar-producing island of Mauritius claimed it was racist to call them aliens. When the government refused, rather rudely, to apologise, Mauritius put embargo on all exports to England and England had a sugar situation on its hands.
Just as the British people were getting used to a life of artificial sweeteners, several official publications were released where “Brazil” was replaced with “Brazen”. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of coffee, reacted in much the same way as Mauritius. It was the official start of the coffee crisis.
By the time “China” was replaced with “Chimp”, England had been blacklisted by most of the world’s sugar, tea and coffee producing countries. Carey shuddered as she remembered that time. The Coffee Riots. The consequences of a caffeine-addicted workforce all experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The collapse of Microsoft. It was obvious that some form of sabotage had taken place. But the British government was too busy to investigate.
Until now. Carey and Dan were two of several investigators contracted to find out exactly what had happened.
By 11:00pm the caffeine crash had kicked in. Carey, slumped in front of her Mac, put her head in her hands and groaned.
“We must’ve looked into the background of hundreds of Microsoft employees and not found a thing. It may not have even been one of them.”
Dan sighed wearily as he stared blankly at an old news article on his screen. “Maybe you’re right, let’s call it a…” He stopped abruptly and gaped at the headline. “Wait! I think I’ve got it!”
A week later, a police raid took place in an average house on an average street. An average looking man was arrested. He was, indeed, a Microsoft employee who had somehow encrypted a bug into the spellcheck to replace certain words with other words after the document had been saved.
The reason was in the article Dan had found: WOMAN DIES AFTER 14 CUPS OF ESPRESSO. The woman in question had been a software development engineer at Microsoft and had drunk fourteen cups of coffee to try and stay awake during a particularly demanding project. Her husband had decided to get vengeance on both Microsoft and the coffee industry at the same time.
He never explained why he started by targeting England’s sugar supply, but they do say revenge is sweet.
Those words seemed to be haunting Brooke. Every time she used the internet, there they were, on a banner advert or a popup. She knew there must be a logical explanation, like she’d clicked on a self-help book at some point, but that didn’t explain the flyer pressed into her hand as she walked down the road, or the note that fell out of her library book.
She tried not to think about the ways her life needed to be fixed because, frankly, it was too depressing.
She arrived at work at Data Direct (“Data solutions for all your business needs!”) in time to hear Alice, her colleague, saying “I’m not going to the meeting tomorrow, it’s not my job. Brooke can do it.”
“It’s not my job either” Brooke said. After all, she was just an administrator while Alice, who had reached the lofty heights of Account Manager, actually was supposed to take meetings.
Alice pretended not to hear her.
Brooke logged on and a message immediately appeared in the middle of the screen. Fix your life. Click here. She gaped at it. Where had it come from? She wasn’t even connected to the internet.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Alice’s phone. “Brooke, could you answer that? And would you mind getting me a coffee? I’m a bit busy,” Alice said. Brooke glanced at her screen. She was booking a holiday online.
That was the final straw. Brooke clicked on the message.
Brooke sighed and picked up Alice’s phone.
When Brooke arrived home that evening, there was a man waiting outside her flat. She frowned and tried to push past him.
“Brooke Smith?” he asked, stepping in front of her. “I’m here to fix your life.”
Brooke paused and stared at him. He was quite nondescript, apart from his eyes which were very dark. Not merely brown, but black, as if they were all pupil. And was his skin just a shade too pale?
On the other hand… Brooke considered her “plans” for the evening. They consisted of eating some beans on toast in her freezing, tiny studio flat; watching some TV and then going to bed. Alone.
“Come in,” she muttered.
The man handed her a large, ancient-looking book and a fountain pen. “You simply write how you want your life to be fixed in here and it will happen.”
“There is, of course, the small matter of payment, which will be determined at a later date.”
“You’re kidding, right? You seriously expect me to believe that writing in some old book will change my life, and you’re going to charge me an unspecified amount? Get out.” Brooke’s hand went to her phone, and she wondered how quickly the police could arrive.
The man smiled slightly. It was not a reassuring sight. “I thought you might say that. Would you consider a 30-day free trial?”
Brooke considered it. No payment, and all she had to do was write in a book. What could possibly go wrong?
“OK then.” She started scribbling.
“It has to be realistic, things that could conceivably happen. You can’t be a millionaire with a different toyboy every night.”
Brooke crossed out what she had written and started again. Some time later, she handed the book back to the man.
“Brooke Smith, welcome to your new life.”
Brooke awoke the next morning in a perfectly ordinary bedroom in a perfectly ordinary flat. Except… She jerked upright and peered around. It was a bedroom. She lived in a flat with actual rooms, instead of a studio. And there was a man in bed next to her! Again, there was nothing unusual about him apart from the fact that he was in her bed.
Brooke carefully slid out of bed and got dressed very quietly. She didn’t want to wake… Carl, she realised. His name was Carl. Anyway, she didn’t want to interact with him until she’d had a chance to explore her brain and see what else she could “remember” about this new life.
She found herself going to Data Direct which, considering what she’d written in the book, was exactly what she was supposed to do. She approached her desk and realised her nameplate said “Brooke Smith – Account Manager”. It was all she could do not to punch the air with triumph.
“Alice, I’m a bit busy, could you get me a coffee?”
The next 30 days passed happily. Apart from one thing. As the end of the trial approached, the carefully constructed fiction of Brooke’s new life seemed to start crumbling. Oh, there was nothing obvious, nothing Brooke could actually put her finger on. But Carl seemed to be giving her puzzled looks, as if he wasn’t quite sure why he was going out with her or even who she was. Alice was becoming sullen and resentful, as if she realised she wasn’t really supposed to be an administrator. Occasionally the walls of Brooke’s lovely new flat would fade into transparency, and behind them she’d see her slightly grubby studio.
On the final day of the trial Brooke found the man once again waiting outside her flat.
“Your free trial is about to expire. Have you made your decision yet?”
Brooke started to panic. She couldn’t go back to her old life, she just couldn’t.
“Yes!” she blurted out. “I want to keep this life!”
The man produced a contract, seemingly out of thin air. “Sign here, please.”
Brooke tried to read it, but the words seemed to be moving and she suddenly had a terrible headache. She grabbed the fountain pen, and hastily scribbled her name.
The man grinned, and Brooke flinched. What was wrong with his teeth? They seemed too sharp and surely there were too many of them?
“I’ll be back later to collect payment. In the meantime, enjoy your new life.”
As Brooke stepped through the door, she realised she still didn’t know exactly what the payment was. But Carl was waiting for her, and she firmly put it out of her mind.
How had it come to this? I wondered. I was 32 years old. Why was I standing on ice being shouted at because my flapping was insufficiently penguin-like? In fact, why had I even taken up ice skating in the first place?
It all started five years previously at Winter Wonderland, an annual Christmas Fair at Hyde Park. Apparently the Winter Wonderland experience is not complete without ice skating, which was why I found myself on its rink despite various misgivings.
Anyone who’s been skating at Christmas knows the rink has two distinct, separate areas. There’s the Slow Lane, consisting of terrified people clinging to the barrier. And then there’s The Middle, which involves people whizzing fearlessly around. The thing is, those people tend to have more confidence than skill. There’s at least one person who’s completely out of control, only able to stop by crashing into something or someone. You take your life into your own hands if you venture into the middle.
For the first fifteen minutes, I was one of the people creeping around the edge in the slow lane. The problem was, it was cold and boring. I thought about giving up, but I had paid for an hour so I was jolly well going to use that hour. I decided there was only one thing for it. I went into the middle.
Once I’d got used the leg-sweeping action that’s unique to ice skating, I discovered it was… amazing. It was the closest thing I’d ever come to flying (without the aid of an aeroplane). I’d never felt so free in my life. I tottered off the ice, yelping “I want to do it again! I want to take lessons!”
I almost changed my mind the next day. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t been skating properly at Winter Wonderland and had only been using one leg to push myself forwards. The result was that one thigh was in agony while the other was fine.
I took the lessons at the start of the New Year. (In fact, it was one of the few New Year’s Resolutions I actually kept). And the thing about ice skating is, it’s addictive. I originally just wanted to learn to skate forward nicely. Once I’d figured out how to skate using both legs, it was onto skating backward. Then it was turning. Five years later, I’m still skating and my teacher is trying to get me onto jumps and spins. (I’m resisting.)
Sometimes I think that I’m completely unsuited to skating. I hate the cold, I’m clumsy and I don’t have any sense of rhythm. I’ve had funny times on the rink (my teacher shouting “Skate! Skate! I’ve just knocked over someone’s coffee, GO!” springs to mind). I’ve had scary times, such as catching my toepick in the hem of my trousers and twisting my knee on the way down. Sometimes I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Especially when my rink was an hour and a half away from my house and the only way home involved waiting at a deserted bus stop after dark in the middle of winter.
But then I remember what it feels like to fly, and I know it’s worth it.
* For those of you who are interested, “flap like a penguin” was a technique used to teach us how to skate round a corner backwards on one foot.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to another episode of Star Search – our Saturday night search for a singing star!”
The audience clapped and cheered. Silas Howell, the show’s creator and Head Judge, smiled in satisfaction. He knew the applause was mainly the result of a big sign saying “APPLAUSE,” but he soaked up the adulation anyway. It was, after all, mostly for him. His fellow judges and mentors were complete nonentities. Advising the boys was a former boyband member who had gone bankrupt and was now desperate for the money. The groups were being mentored by Kevin, mousy, nondescript man who had once managed a mildly successful girl group in about 1989.
“Next up, the girl with the voice of an angel – it’s Angel!”
Silas snapped out of his reverie, sat up and actually paid attention. He was Angel’s mentor and, unlike the previous two acts, she actually had a chance at winning this thing. Although making him another few million pounds was just an added bonus. No, there was much more at stake than that…
The monitors zoomed in on Angel, looking particularly vulnerable with visibly shaking hands. She then proceeded to sing a beautiful rendition of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up. Predictably, the audience went wild.
Less predictable was what happened to Silas. A bolt of power shot through him; he felt stronger, faster, more alert. His very skin seemed to crackle with energy and, if the cameras had been on him, viewers would have noticed his eyes glowing.
His power was in the music.
Or rather, his power was in the subliminal messages he’d carefully inserted into Angel’s backing track. They contained incantations that opened rifts into the demonic world below. Viewers would unthinkingly chant them when they hummed along to the song, made a cup of tea during the advert break or after the show finished. And the beauty of it was, they had no idea what was happening. They were just doing what the music told them.
Oh, it was a slow process. After all, there were only so many subliminal messages one could insert into a two minute song. But the world had already started to feel the effects. Malignant forces were seeping through the partially open rifts, and the violent crime rate slowly but steadily rising. It was the perfect plan. After all, who would connect it to an innocent teenager singing classical music?
By next week, Silas reckoned, the rifts would be wide enough for all of demonkind to get through. And then… well, all Hell would break loose. Literally. And Silas would be the Demon King, ruling over it all.
One more week, Silas thought. I just need one more week and then the world will be mine…
One week later
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Star Search – the Saturday night search for your singing star! In a shocking twist, it has been decided to bring back one of the acts. So, from the Groups category, please welcome Bad Boyz back to the stage!”
Silas sighed wearily as Kevin wittered on about how pleased he was that Bad Boyz had been given a second chance. Yes, there needed to be a Shocking Twist in every series to keep the audience watching, but Silas found it all so tedious. When would they just get on with it?
Finally it was Angel’s turn. She sang Nessun Dorma and, as usual, she was pitch-perfect. Silas gasped at the energy that crackled around him. The divide between the human and the demon worlds was so thin, Silas could practically feel the flames surrounding him. It would happen after the show had finished. The world would end tonight.
“Next up, it’s Bad Boyz!”
Silas winced as Bad Boyz ran onto the stage. He momentarily forgot about his incipient world domination as he stared at them. What had Kevin done? They appeared to have been styled as schoolchildren, complete with shorts and blazers. Silas may be a demon, but he would never be that cruel.
The group started singing.
Yeah, the bad girls are always catching my eye
Yeah, the bad girls are always spinning my mind
It was terrible. The styling was terrible, the lyrics were terrible and at least one of the Boyz was flat.
And yet, the audience loved it. They were on their feet, cheering and singing along. Silas suddenly let out a gasp. The surge of power he’d just experienced seemed to be flowing out of him, the demon world receding by the second as the rifts he’d so painstakingly opened, inch by inch every week, started to close. What the hell was happening?
He glanced over at Kevin, who gave him a smug smile and a wink. Silas peered more closely at him. Was that a halo glowing around his head or was it a trick of the light?
“You’re not the only person who can insert subliminal messages into songs,” Kevin murmured after the show was over. “And people are inherently decent. They’re more receptive to messages from an angel than messages from a demon. Remember this. The forces for good will always have representation on Earth.”
Silas glared at him. This wasn’t over.
It was cold. So very, very cold. It had been trapped down here, in a cave at the bottom of the sea, for such a long time it barely knew anything else. It thought it had once been a man but memories of any kind of human life had long since faded. All that was left was the cold, and the dark, and the intense pressure of the sea above it. And a single memory: A conch shell. Somehow, it was now part of the shell.
It had one overwhelming thought: Escape. Oh, it had tried. It instinctively knew what to do but something had never been quite right. And so it had lain in wait all this time.
Until now. A human, a diver, was approaching the cave entrance. Of course, other divers had appeared in this cave before, but this one was… different. He was... good. His goodness positively shone out of him, so he almost seemed to glow.
A name floated into its mind. Jared. Something akin to excitement stirred within it as it realised this was what it had been waiting for. Jared was the one.
It stretched out its consciousness towards Jared, and started calling to him.
The call wasn’t working quickly enough. Jared had entered the cave but was just swimming aimlessly. It imagined tentacles reaching out towards Jared, entering his skull and weaving themselves into his brain, and started calling Jared’s name in time with his heartbeat.
The call got faster and louder as Jared’s heart started pounding.
Jared had been swimming in ever more frantic circles but suddenly stopped and looked straight the shell. It felt its excitement rising as Jared swam directly towards it. His hand reached out, and…
The world exploded.
At least, that was what it seemed like. It saw through Jared’s eyes, everything that Jared had ever seen and felt. The soft, white sand of the beach. The azure blue of the sky and the golden dazzle of the sun. And the warmth. Oh, the warmth! It was all too much. Or rather, it was almost too much.
Through all that, one word hammered through it. ESCAPE. ESCAPE. ESCAPE.
And then everything changed. Yes, it was still under the sea but it was viewing the underwater world through the slight haze of a scuba mask. It could move. In fact… it was free. It gazed around in wonder, taking in the lush vegetation and the jewel colours of the fish, before swimming away as fast as it could. It never wanted to see this place again. The last thing it saw before it left was the accursed conch shell. In some ways it was a plain thing, a faded pastel pink in stark contrast to the rich, bright colours that surrounded it. And yet there was a beauty to its simplicity, its curves and irregular textures.
It fancied it heard Jared screaming, but that couldn’t be right. After all, shells can’t scream.
It reached the surface and somehow managed to scramble clumsily onto the boat.
There was a few seconds’ delay before it remembered its name was Jared and it was a man now.
“Jared? Jared? Are you OK?”
“Um, yeth. I mean, yes.” The words sounded slurred. It may take a while to remember how to use a mouth.
It… he couldn’t wait to reach the shore. He had so many plans. The first thing he was going to do was blow up that underwater cave. He didn’t care that everything living there would be killed. He couldn’t risk that shell ever being found.
This was intersection week and my entry corresponds with sarcasmoqueen's topic, Rapture of the Deep, which can be found at http://sarcasmoqueen.livejournal.com/201
The people who knew about it called it a speakeasy where people could, indeed, speak easily. It was a large open space that was surprisingly well-lit, given that it was in a windowless basement. There was a bar along one end, with tables scattered around the rest of the room. Some of Bohemia’s patrons were already there, writing stories, painting or even just reading while enjoying a glass of Scotch.
Out of all of those things, the only one that was not illegal was the Scotch.
This was thanks to the Freedom from Disinformation Act. Sanctioned by a government desperate to stay in power during a time when media stories were growing ever more lurid and ever less truthful, the Act was originally quite simple. No lies were permitted within news articles, everything had to be provable.
It didn’t stop there, though. Eventually, anything that was not the absolute truth was rendered illegal by the Freedom from Disinformation Act, leading to most art forms being banned. But, as we all know, banning something just makes it all the more desirable. It wasn’t long before the speakeasies sprang up.
“Hi Jonathan”, she greeted the man behind the bar. He was the owner of Data Analysis Ltd, a programming genius and a secret fiction supporter, which was why he’d created Bohemia in the basement.
There was a brief silence, as if it had taken him a couple of seconds to register she was there. “Oh, er, hello Brenna,” he replied.
“Is everything OK?” Brenna couldn’t help but notice that the place was a lot more subdued than usual.
“It’s Aidan. He’s gone missing; I’m fairly certain he’s been taken for re-education.”
Brenna shuddered. Re-education was what happened when someone was suspected of producing disinformation. No-one knew exactly what it was – torture or hypnosis were popular guesses. The people Brenna had met who’d been re-educated had a confused, unfocused air about them, which made Brenna think it was some form of brain surgery. She had no intention of finding out for certain.
“The thing is, when he’s being… re-educated, he may talk about Bohemia.”
Brenna stopped in her tracks. If that happened, they were all in danger of disappearing in the middle of the night.
“So what do we do? Are you going to close down Bohemia?”
“I have a better plan than that. I think it’s time to take the arts back to the masses.”
“I thought all fiction was deleted a few years ago?”
“Remember the first principle of data: Nothing is ever really deleted. It’s there; it’s just a question of finding it.”
There was another problem, though. Everyone in the world had a flatscreen, which they used for work, communication, research… to run their lives, really. The flatscreens were all linked by the Network. But the Network also monitored every webpage accessed and every keystroke typed. If people wanted to be creative, they had to do so offline. The members of Bohemia read hard copy books that were falling apart with age and then carefully hidden, and stories were written out by hand. Most people found they could easily think up stories but, as handwriting was no longer taught, it was writing them down that presented a problem.
“But if we go looking for lost fiction, the Network will know instantly.”
“Like I said, I have a plan.”
The next day, Brenna slid a memory stick into her flatscreen before switching it on. Instantly, a Network-wide virus was released showing enormous amounts of questionable activity.
Suspect sentence string detected: “Once upon a time…”
Suspect sentence string detected: “Unidentified sources state…”
Suspect search detected: “Gone with the Wind”
Each fake search appeared to have originated from a different place. While Network officials were frantically trying to investigate them all, Jonathan, Brenna and the rest of Data Analysis Ltd were frantically hacking into the Network’s archives and downloading stories and films and songs.
Six months later, nothing had changed. Brenna was starting to wonder if she’d risked her life for nothing. Jonathan, however, was biding his time. He knew that, after the Red Herring virus had been released, the Network would be monitored even more closely than usual. He needed to wait until things were back to normal.
Then one day it happened.
People switched on their flatscreens and stared at them in shock. Instead of their usual calendars, to-do lists and news, all sorts of amazing things were happening on their screens.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…
I wandered lonely as a cloud…
One song glory, one song before I go, glory…
They knew it was Disinformation. They knew they shouldn’t look, but should switch off their flatscreens and report it immediately. And some people did just that. Many other people, though, found it too compelling to look away.
Creativity was back.
“And they all lived happily ever after” was a quote that struck terror into the heart of every Fairytale princess. It sounded innocent enough but the first generation of Fairytale princesses who had disappeared into the sunset with their “handsome prince” to live “happily ever after” had never been heard from again. True, some of them probably wanted to sever all ties with their old lives but you’d have thought they’d at least send a letter, if only to gloat. It seemed as if when someone left to live “happy ever after,” they just… disappeared.
Princess Genevieve was determined that this would not be her destiny. The rules were quite clear in the land of Fairytale, though. All princesses had a story. And the stories were always the same: Some terrible fate would befall them when they were in their late teens and they would be rescued by the handsome prince, at which point their story would end.
Maybe Genevieve couldn’t change her fate, but she resolutely decided that she would not need a prince to rescue her. By the age of eighteen, she’d already tamed a dragon (dragons love steak) and hacked down a jungle of thorny vegetation that had started growing around her castle (and had to salt the earth to ensure it wouldn’t grow back again).
The problem was, Genevieve thought as she strolled through the forest at the edge of the kingdom, she couldn’t keep doing this forever. Fairytale would keep throwing curses at her and eventually there would be one which she wouldn’t be able to beat. In fact, she was so preoccupied that she didn’t realise how deeply into the forest she’d wandered and realised with a start that she was quite lost. Think, she told herself grimly. You taught yourself orienteering for this very reason. But it soon became clear that orienteering wasn’t going to help her. This was an enchanted forest, one which kept growing so she could never escape. Genevieve glumly walked onwards, just waiting for a man on a horse to appear.
Instead, she stumbled into a clearing containing a well. Genevieve knew to be wary of wells (wishing or otherwise) especially when they handily appeared out of nowhere. This one, however, seemed to have noises emanating from it that didn’t sound like running water. Genevieve peered cautiously into it, keeping as far back as she could in case anything reached out and grabbed her. What she saw, though, was so amazing that she found herself leaning further and further in, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
It appeared to be some sort of… town, Genevieve supposed. But it was unlike any town she’d ever seen. The buildings were so tall they seemed to scrape the sky, there were carriages which were moving without being pulled by horses, and more people than she’d ever seen in her life. And the noise, which was what she’d noticed in the first place – a cacophony of rumbling and hooting and voices. And it seemed to be so close, as if she could simply step into the well and land in this strange new world.
Genevieve’s head whipped around as she heard an extremely unwelcome sound coming from behind her: The clatter of horse’s hooves and a male voice calling “Don’t worry Princess Genevieve, I’ll save you!”
Genevieve turned from the forest to the well, then back to the forest. She knew she only had a few minutes to decide her destiny but, as far as she was concerned, the choice was clear. Genevieve jumped into the well.
Five years later, New York:
Jenny was perturbed.
It’d been five years since she’d stepped into the well and ended up in New York. Her tiny Brooklyn apartment was freezing in winter and boiling in summer, and she could only afford one meal a day. All in all, it was a far cry from being a princess in a castle. Jenny loved it. Here, there was no need to be suspicious of old women in case they were actually witches, the apples weren’t poisoned (unless you counted the pesticides), and the furniture didn’t talk back.
Today she had walked home through Prospect Park after her shift at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, home of the singing waiters. (All Fairytale princesses had beautiful voices. People had told her she should audition for Broadway, but Jenny wanted to keep a low profile.) As she walked, the trees seemed to grow denser and taller, until the place was more like a forest than a park, and she could’ve sworn she heard approaching hooves. She’d started to run and, as she emerged onto Eastern Parkway, everything seemed normal again. Jenny shuddered and decided to avoid parks in future.
As she stepped inside her apartment, she wondered if her roommate was home. Tony was another reason why she loved her new life so much. He was her best friend. Jenny had never had a friend before and she quite liked it.
Jenny knocked perfunctorily on Tony’s bedroom door, walked straight in (it was that kind of friendship), and screamed in horror. Tony was standing in front of a full-length mirror, muttering something that sounded a lot like a magic spell. Jenny glimpsed a very familiar-looking forest in the mirror before she hurled a book at it. Unfortunately it didn’t break (the book was only a softback) but the forest did disappear and the mirror went back to showing Tony’s reflection.
Tony spun around. “This isn’t what it looks like! I can explain!”
“Could you please stop speaking in clichés?” Jenny snapped. “What the…? Who the hell are you?”
Tony took a deep breath. “When I was a child I was known as Anton… in Fairytale Land.”
Jenny looked at him sceptically. “I don’t remember an Anton.”
“I was supposed to be a ‘handsome prince.’”
Jenny tried, with limited success, to stifle her snort of laughter. Tony was a great many things: He was kind (he volunteered at a cat shelter every weekend) and he was funny (once or twice he’d made her laugh so hard she’d peed a little). But he was skinny, wore incredibly thick glasses and had adult braces. He was certainly not “handsome”.
“But when I was a child it became obvious that I could never be the ‘handsome prince’. Apart from anything else, I’m so shortsighted I’m practically blind. I could barely walk around the castle grounds without bumping into a tree, let alone rescue a princess. It’s not like they have opticians in Fairytale Land! So my fairy godmother brought me here. I knew who you were the moment I saw you. I suppose it takes one to know one.”
“What were you doing with that mirror? Because let me tell you, I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid going back to Fairytale Land.” Jenny grabbed a biro and waved it menacingly at him, to show she meant businesses.
“I’d already realised that. But did you think Fairytale Land would just let you leave? Haven’t you noticed its magic is getting closer and closer?”
Jenny, thinking of her walk through Prospect Park, nodded.
“I was trying to work out how to stop it from dragging you back.”
Tony was interrupted by Jenny yelping and pointing over his shoulder. The forest had reappeared in the mirror, clearer than before. She tried throwing a book at it again, but the book simply vanished into the mirror. To Jenny’s horror, she saw a man on a white horse appear, getting closer and closer.
“Don’t worry Princess Genevieve, I’ll save you!” he called.
“Is that all you can say?” Jenny muttered.
He got near enough that Jenny could see he had a square jaw, high cheekbones and flowing dark hair. He was indeed quite handsome, if you liked that kind of thing. A (well-muscled) arm reached through the mirror.
“Tony!” Jenny yelled. “Before I go…”
And she kissed Tony.
At that moment, the forest and the prince receded until they vanished, and Jenny somehow knew she’d never see them again. This may not be the “happily ever after” from the fairytales, but it was hers.