Shitty Days

Phil had a bit of a problem: the universe didn’t like him. People tend not to realise that the universe has its own views, they don’t realise that it has thoughts at all, let alone desires and certainly not a sense of humour. Sometimes the universe does things we can appreciate, like creating beings which can appreciate. But sometimes the universe does things we don’t like, sending meteors careening off towards a planet filled with life or causing earthquakes; it does not do these things cruelly, it is simply indifferent. The universe was not indifferent to Phil, it actively played pranks on him, deliberately trying to bring mischief to his life. It hadn’t always been that way…

One morning, Phil woke up to his alarm as per usual, but sitting next to his bed was a short, elderly man on a stool, swinging a pocket watch in his wizened hand with a pendulous motion. “You will go back to sleep,” he began, “you will forget about work for today.” Before he could object, before he could even panic at the sight of an intruder, Phil had fallen back to sleep and forgot about going to work.

Later that morning, Phil woke up without his alarm. There was no little old man, the window was closed, the bedroom door locked. An odd dream, he thought. Phil tried to sit up, but the effort it took was enormous. He felt his body begin to be pulled down into the bed, it was agonising, his head, neck and shoulders stayed where they were, pinned firmly down, as his legs and torso were being stretched for miles down through his bed. His body was on fire, his eyes boiling, his flesh blistering. He was ready to give up and die when he passed out.

Phil woke three days later, he did not know the time as all of his clocks were showing different times. He got out of bed, his back was aching, and stumbled to the bathroom. As he stood in front of the sink, cleaning his teeth, his phone rang – it was work – he felt a sudden lurch and was thrown to the floor, his head hit the mat with a thud. He shook himself then stood up, paying no attention to what was around him, or rather what wasn’t around him. His bathroom had disappeared, his house had disappeared, the whole planet had disappeared. He looked down, but there was no down, there was space everywhere he looked, distant stars as far as he could see. He clung to the mat, struggling to breathe, slowly freezing. He closed his eyes, trembling violently, then opened them again and was back on the bathroom floor, his toothbrush resting near his head, the toothpaste smeared along the tiles. It was the last of the toothpaste.

Phil spent most of the day buried in an ant-hill with only his head poking out. The ants which owned the hill tickled him all over, crawled over his face, burrowed into his ears and prodded his eyeballs with their tarsal claws. He had resigned himself to this fate when his phone rang again. He agreed to go out for drinks – anything would be better than the ant-hill.

None of Phil’s clothes would fit. They had all been altered. His trousers were too long, his shirts were too tight or missing sleeves, his socks seemed to be paired between one the size of a sleeping bag and one which barely covered his big toe, his shoes even appeared to be made out of cardboard. Nothing he wore looked good, but he still found the resolve to go to the pub despite looking his absolute worst. Finally dressed, he walked down the stairs towards the front door. His staircase was nothing unusual, boasting the standard thirteen steps, but over three thousand steps later he had reached the bottom, sweating through his mismatched clothing, still unaware of the actual time.

He reached for the door handle but could not grasp it, like in a dream where the usually tangible becomes intangible, as though he was vibrating at completely the wrong frequencies and passing straight through the gaps in the atoms. This torturous phantasmagoria drove Phil to bash the door out of frustration. He heard a creaking. The door handle was suddenly physical again, but the door hinges were starting to buckle. He threw caution to the wind and opened the door; the wind threw him back against the stairs without caution. He charged head first against the forceful gales, he knew he didn’t have far to go to get to the pub. Everyone he passed on the way was heavily armed. He saw all manner of weapons, mostly guns, swords, the occasional axe, a cricket bat, and even an unusually large, muscular man with a peashooter.

He wasn’t strong enough to open the pub door but managed to sneak in when, what must have been a fourteen-year-old girl with a fake ID, opened the door with ease. The pub was crowded, he spotted his friends in amongst the throng, past a large group of girls. There was a deep rumbling beneath the music, at first he thought the bass had been turned up, but it was getting louder. The wall at the other end of the pub came crashing down, waves smashed through the droves and slammed down on Phil. It forced its way up his nose and mouth, choking him. It pounded his ribs, putting pressure on his chest. He tried to breathe but felt the fist of the water thumping down his gullet. His body buffeted off the bar, the tables, the walls, as the waves carried him back towards his home.

He washed up onto his bed, where he curled up into a ball and cried himself to sleep. The universe doesn’t do that sort of thing to Phil every day, it often leaves him alone, but sometimes it just takes the piss. If anything knows how to really take the piss, it’s the universe.

First Kiss

They stood, gazing nervously into each other’s eyes. Oliver had placed his left hand on Sarah’s waist, his right hand, slightly sweaty, was palm to palm with hers, their fingers intertwined. She was trembling, but Oliver didn’t notice. He was breathing slightly heavily and his heart was trying to force its way out of his chest through his ribcage as she bit her lip invitingly.

Months had led up to that moment. Neither of them had been keen on the prospect of dating, but after countless furtive glances and repeated fleeting eye contact, their mutual friends finally forced them to act on their attraction. This led to a lot of awkward messaging, a lot of ambiguity and misunderstanding as they both repeatedly bottled attempts to ask the other out, but eventually they agreed to meet up, alone, with neither daring to call it a date.

The date that wasn’t openly acknowledged as a date wasn’t a complete disaster. Oliver wasn’t able to drive and had forgotten to book a taxi, so they had to get the bus. Sarah nervously rang the bell on the bus early, resulting in them having to cross a very muddy field – she was too embarrassed to admit her mistake and stay on the bus for two more stops. They eventually arrived at the zoo, where Oliver hoped to impress his date with some esoteric facts about the animals there; some might refer to Oliver as an animal lover, but he prefers animal enthusiast, not due to some fear that people might accuse him of bestiality, though he wouldn’t put it past them, but because he could honestly say that he has only ever loved one animal – his pet cat, Jones. His mental fact-file of animal trivia had gotten stuck on just one section – sex. ‘Did you know,’ he blurted out, ‘that female spotted hyaenas have an elongated clitoris called a pseudo-penis?’ They weren’t even looking at hyaenas at the time, as they are not to be found in the reptile enclosure.

The first part of the sort-of date led to the second, the meal, where Oliver mostly worried about pairing the wrong wine with the meal, though neither of them were drinking wine. They ate in relative silence, mostly reverting back to the quick, stolen glances they were more used to. She was damn near perfect, or so he reckoned. He could overlook the occasional grammatical errors in her messages, the way she dressed as though she was about to spend the evening on the couch, her lack of understanding of quantum mechanics and her distaste for Fifth Element. She was flawless. Oliver insisted on paying the bill but was overzealous with the tip. When they left the restaurant, Sarah ended up having to pay for the taxi.

Oliver and Sarah got out of the taxi together just outside her house. Oliver was feeling bold and yet terrifyingly nervous at the same time. The wine he hadn’t drunk had somehow gone to his head on top of the beer he had with his meal. She was intoxicating enough without alcohol. Oliver found his hand toying gently with hers, his other moving to her waist, and he leant in to kiss her.

At first, he wasn’t sure what he was doing, but it was amazing. Her lips were so soft, her tongue teased his, her hands pulled him in tighter. He felt the warmth of her body next to his, feeding into him, making him feel stronger. His body tingled, he felt electricity in his fingertips, in his toes, his hair was surely standing on end, he’d never felt excitement like it. The pounding in his chest was drowned out by the most ethereal choral music, entire hosts of angels in exultation for him, singing his praises to the heavens.

His mind went blank, had emptied in one orgasmic pulse, then filled again, slowly, liltingly. He felt the rhythm of her entire being as he saw everything. The entire universe, every particle, every antiparticle, every galaxy, every black hole, every flow of time and imaginary time, from beginning to end and end to beginning. She was melting into him, every inch of her body was consumed by his, every thought in her mind absorbed into his essence. They were one, now and forever, united by a kiss.

The first kiss. Sarah would never forget it. She’d always had a soft spot for Oliver, he looked at her as though he wanted her for who she was and not just another pretty girl. It took him a while to ask her out, but he didn’t dare call it a date and neither did she. It was an immensely awkward day, but there they were, outside Sarah’s house, pushing each other’s boundaries. Then he kissed her. It was tentative at first, but nice. She began to feel relaxed and pulled him in closer, she did not want the kiss to end too soon. He was warm, he’d been sweating a fair bit all day too, but it wasn’t too noticeable. He seemed to be getting hotter, it felt like he was melting. She felt herself unable to pull away, being pulled in tighter, his gravity was increasing; the parts of her body closest to him felt as though they were being torn away from her back, like some warped tug of war with her body. The pressure was intensifying, she felt her flesh searing as vibrations shattered her bones. Her febrile mind was rent into pieces as he forced his way into every memory, every private fantasy, every dream. Everything went white.

Sarah awoke in a prison. She could see out into the world but could do nothing. It was dark, it was lonely, there was no way out. She had been broken beyond fixing, she didn’t even want to be fixed. She wanted nothing. No life, no thoughts, no desires. Nothing.

Oliver stood alone outside Sarah’s house, looking up at the stars. He felt Sarah’s warmth deep inside him, smiled to himself, and went home. He had everything he wanted. It had been a good kiss.

 

The end of the world

George had traipsed through snow, his feet lazily crunching into the freshly laid blanket on the hill, the sound of the world turned down low so that all he could hear was his own shuffling. He picked a spot at the top, overlooking the town in which he grew up, and sat down. He felt the cold, wet snow soak through his trousers, but he didn’t care. It’s nearly the end of the year, he thought, but what have I done? A discussion began to bounce around his head. Well, you didn’t get that job you wanted, you failed your driving test, you’re still single and you’ve lost a few friends.

No, think of something good, something positive, he implored himself.

How about that pretty girl you finally talked to at the start of the year? You know, the one whose name you daren’t even think of in case she just so happens to be psychic, even though you don’t believe in psychics.

See, that’s a start. She makes me think. I like people who make me think. George was almost being optimistic.

But you’ve only spoken to her twice. To be fair, that’s pretty pathetic. Hardly progress.

Have I really done nothing? Have I really wasted this year? Am I too lazy? Too incompetent? Too scared? Where have I gone wrong?  Questions would not stop flooding into George’s head, it felt as though his mind was filling up, ready to burst.

You’ve not gone wrong, you’ve just not gone right. It’s not the end of the world.

The flooding of George’s mind suddenly stopped. The thoughts evaporated, leaving those final words to echo around the void. The end of the world. The end of the world. The end of the world…

George jumped to his feet and ran. He loped through the snow down the hill, running faster than he had in a long time. The end of the world. He bounded across a usually busy road without looking and headed for the woods which flanked the river. By now he would normally be doubled over with stitch, but none of his muscles seemed to realise that they were being used. He ran effortlessly, muttering five words to himself – “The end of the world.” George glided through the trees, skipped steps when he met stairs and found himself eventually running by the side of the river. The rushing waters spurred him on, nature’s chorus singing to him, “The end of the world.” Then he stopped. Before him was the bridge. It was the sort of bridge which you could tell was the pride and joy of the architect, the product of thousands of careful hours of potentially treacherous building for its Victorian construction team, a bridge which could tell a million stories of travels, companionship, love, death and more.

George slowly walked out onto the bridge, taking in the view of the snow-covered countryside. A small country church sat covered in snow near the horizon, like a perfect postcard picture. George climbed onto the side of the bridge, and, without a second thought, jumped into the water.

He felt only the thrill of the jump. He did not notice the iciness of the water, he just let it wash over him and began to swim. George had never been the strongest of swimmers, he didn’t even get to the deep end during swimming lessons at school, but he swam as though he was built for it, cutting through the water at record-breaking speed. He navigated the murky waters of the river, casting a large wake behind him, threading his way through canal systems and past weirs with only a single thought: the end of the world.

Shadows grew long in front of him as the Sun set to his rear, but even his shadow was struggling to match his pace. He felt the river widening as he smelled salt on the air – the sea was ahead. The end of the world. The first wave crashing against his face exhilarated him, he felt the tide flow with him and against him, trying to drag him out and force him back, but George was too forceful, too strong. The waves grew bigger and bigger, rain crashed down upon him as he headed into the heart of a storm. Lightning tore the sky in two, illuminating the way to the end of the world for a multitude of incandescent moments. The sky crashed itself back together, thunder resounding across the crests of the waves, reverberating through George’s mind, urging him on. THE END OF THE WORLD, announced the thunder.

The last swell of the storm carried George further ahead. He did not need to rest, but the sky was relaxing. He floated on his back, the gentle, rhythmic rippling of the water’s surface was meditative, his body slowly swaying. It should be daytime right now at home, he pondered, but out here it is night. He did not know the constellations, he could not even find north in this sky, but he knew where he was going. The end of the world.

The gentle flow rocked George to sleep. When he awoke, he could not tell if it was night or day; those words seemed to lack meaning. Everything out here was different. Well, almost everything. A plastic bag floated into George’s hair, a Woolworth’s bag, which George promptly pocketed. Can’t have that mess out here, he assured himself, then joked, man’s mess is everywhere, and that could be the end of the world.

George sensed something up ahead. No, he thought, that was wrong. George sensed nothing up ahead. The waves in front of him just disappeared, they did not crash into a barrier, they did not rush forth as if going over a cliff; they simply disappeared and reappeared, and disappeared and reappeared. George righted himself, not expecting to find his feet on the loose ocean bed, but he stood tall, taller than ever. He felt huge, Brobdingnagian even. He was standing proudly at the end of the world. No, he thought, that was also wrong. He was standing proudly at the edge of the world.

He didn’t know what he had expected to find at the edge. Everything just sorted of ended. Stopped. There was no barrier, though there were stars which seemed at once to be right in front of him, like some very expensive hyper-realistic wallpaper, and at a great distance, like stars should be, many of them twinkling in our sky long after they had died in their own region of space. Without hesitation, George closed his eyes and stuck his head through the wall of sky. When he opened his eyes he saw nothing. It wasn’t even black. Just nothing. Emptiness, but not. Everything at once if you took it all away, but not a lacuna, not fillable.

What had he expected? Turtles all the way down? A passage into another world where he was perhaps more successful? Some sort of afterlife, an affirmation of a single religion for which he could swim about evangelising? Was this vacuum the answer? No God? No beyond? Just… this?

Everything raged inside him. Every thought, every fear, every embarrassment, every frustration, every excitement, every pleasure, every feeling of anger, envy, self-pity, self-loathing, all churned inside him. He bellowed into the void, “WHAT IS THIS?”

There was no echo. No response.

“WHAT AM I FOR?”

Nothing.

“WHAT CAN I DO?”

Nothing.

“HOW CAN THIS END?”

The questions in his head ceased. A vortex of noise rose from a whisper to a cacophony, every voice of every person who George had ever affected was speaking all at once. Everyone whose life he had changed by virtue of simply being in it was speaking to him through the maelstrom of mutterings, cries, shouts and even measured tones. He could not grasp any sentences but the words filled his head. There were words of anger, of pain, of fear. There were words of hope, of caring, of compassion. There were words of love, of desire, of passion. There were words of teaching, of instruction, of guidance. But jumbled together he could make no sense of them, the noise was becoming unbearable. His head hurt. He thought about jumping. I’ll do it, he thought aloud, don’t think I won’t.

The words grew louder. He could feel himself about to explode or collapse. He leant slightly forward, ready to let himself go. The words all revolved rapidly around his head and merged into one sentence. Every voice spoke as one and every voice meant it. George’s family and friends and acquaintances were all speaking to him. People he had yet to meet, people he might never meet, people who had died before he even came into being, were all speaking to him. The universe was speaking to him. And they all said one thing:

“George… I love you.”

Stunned, George stopped thinking. He felt his heart swell. A lone tear trickled down his cheek.

And he fell.

George became alert with a jolt. His arse was numb, his legs stiff, and the cold breeze on his exposed face penetrated down to his bones. She was looking at him quizzically. The pretty girl he’d met at the start of the year was sitting next to him, taking some amusement at him falling asleep where he sat. There was a whole world in those eyes, a world he wished to explore. His face was on fire, George was surprised that the heat was not melting the snow for miles around, he felt her eyes piercing through to his soul, every insecurity and lack of achievement was boiling inside him, bubbling up to the surface for the world in her eyes to see. He heard a faint rustling. A cracking sound brought him back to reality. There, he saw a hand extended to him, holding a piece of chocolate. Fruit and Nut – his favourite.

The smile on her face and the taste of the chocolate combined to bring George to his senses. He noticed a small, white ball of fluff frolicking in the soft snow, noticeable because of the flopping, pink tongue bouncing around. The girl had a dog, or something resembling a smaller version of a dog (George didn’t really consider anything that small to really be a dog). They chatted for a short amount of time, enough to keep George thinking for the rest of the day, but she really wanted to sledge down the hill so George agreed to take it in turns. As he watched her slowly picking up speed in her cheap, plastic sledge, the living snowball she called a dog chasing after her, tongue lolling, George smiled genuinely for the first time in what felt a very long time. Perhaps tomorrow, he thought, I’ll swim to the end of the world, but not today. Today is good.

 

D.I.

The time came to leave. She had been allocated her new home, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all led to this. First she had to find it. Her future residence was busy moving about, unaware of her impending arrival.

His name was Dominic, or Dom to his friends. He’d recently changed his diet, after putting on a bit of timber during his mid-twenties, and switched to assorted foods which mostly came in green. They sometimes came in brown or yellow, but he didn’t think that those colours suited him, and neither did his toilet. He travelled around a lot, due to his fondness for hiking and his propensity for catching the wrong train whenever he felt like napping on the move. Dom was not an easy man to find at the best of times, which he almost realised once when a trip to go mountain climbing resulted in him floating around the North Sea in a dinghy.

Dominic did, however, have a distinctive scent, which she had picked up thanks to the help of her clan. Dom smells like most men, largely inoffensive when not sweating, unless your nose is incredibly sensitive, in which case he smells oddly like burning plastic inside an igloo made of frozen cheese (you know it when you smell it).

She, whom we shall call Bonnie, though her actual name can only be pronounced if you have the right number of tongues, found him wandering around in a forest pushing around a shopping trolley in desperation, somehow unable to find the cabbage. Bonnie’s clan watched him for a while, hanging unnoticed from the branches of the trees, using their furry, prehensile tails to lower themselves closer. It had taken them weeks to figure out his scent and track it, they were not going to ruin what might be their one chance at success.

They hatched a plan. Bonnie and two others would rush off ahead, where they would try to find a big rock to hide up a tree. The others would find all manner of pebbles and pinecones to launch at poor Dominic. They would force him to run, right towards the waiting rock, where he would be knocked unconscious. Several weeks tracking Dom should have told them at least one thing – he would go the wrong way. As the first projectile was lobbed in his vicinity, Dom ran in the wrong direction, wailing like a small child who has just been informed that ice cream is a figment of their imagination.

Feeling deflated, Bonnie began the depressing walk home, destined to die alone. A failure. That’s when they found him. The bump on his head appeared to be growing as they watched, slowly stretching up towards the sky, as Dominic was on his back. He’d run head first into a tree and knocked himself unconscious.

Bonnie’s time had come. Her new home was ready, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all came down to this. The clan held his mouth open, as Bonnie crawled in and slid down his oesophagus. It was a tight squeeze, but she had practised and found it relatively easy. She reached his stomach and paused for a moment to take it all in, tentatively walked in circles to find the most comfortable spot, then curled up into a snug little ball. She let out her last breath, a satisfied sigh, and passed away with a smile on her face.

The Dance

The short story theme this time was “a life changing decision”. I didn’t get any votes this time, ah well.

The Dance

The first was the One, and he taught the dance. The Ancients learnt their steps patiently, dancing at first the dance of light. Solo they moved, spreading to the furthest reaches, pushing light into the darkness, following the rhythm of the One. His guidance led them to one other, teaching them the ways to move their bodies to create beauty and harmony, building the dance in complexity. They grew in knowledge and love of one another, memorising each move, forging unity in a dazzling swirl which shall never fade from memory. Their bodies moved with increasing intensity as they filled the darkness with light and colour. But the One had never the intention to be the sole leader of the dance. All that is would use his steps, yet would repeat them to their own desires.

He displayed to the Ancients a beautiful dance, full of splendour and harmony, with bodies moving in ways which they had never thought possible, yet he did not teach them these ways. They saw a world take form, with bodies seeming to collide yet keeping their grace. They met one another and each transformed the dance of their partners, guiding them into a dizzying spin, full of power and intensity. More entered the dance, and the Ancients saw oceans form, moving to the most incredible rhythms. They witnessed continents join the routine, rising and falling, moving with the water and against it. They pushed each other to new heights, the air blew over the lands and waters, and they took the dance in new directions, building and building with unceasing beauty.

The One said, “This is what may become, but you must dance your own dance and create in my name, for I shall be sending others when the stage is set.” And with that message he sent forth the Ancients to dance their own dance, but for one of their number. He chose for himself a favoured one; the most beautiful of all the Ancients, for the stage was not set. The favoured one was not able to understand, and so kept a partner, refusing to let go, not wishing to dance alone. The other Ancients were astonished and feared the wrath of the One, for disobedience leads to chaos in the Great Dance. They were not of the knowledge that this was all in keeping with the One’s will.

They were clumsy in beginning, striving desperately to do as they had seen. They danced and they danced, day and night, and times came when it was almost as beautiful as that which they had been shown. But they faltered, not often, but enough to cause them dismay, for the perfection of the dance of the One was always beyond reach. Some of the Ancients tried to learn new steps, and the Earth shook and cracked, the seas roared and clashed, the air blew violently over the land and seas, where even fire did spew forth. The dance continued, yet not the dance of their desires. The Ancients feared that the One would end their dance without sending the favoured one, but he showed no such displeasure. He waited, for the right moment drew near, and commanded the favoured one. “You shall be life,” he said, “And you shall dance with unparalleled elegance, filling the world with new dancers, and they will learn your dance.”

And so it was that life entered the world, spreading far and wide. Life’s partner followed and they began their dance slowly and steadily. The Ancients were in awe of Life and rejoiced in her every move. The dance of Life changed the ways of the waters, where her dance had begun. It transformed the air and moved steadily over the land. Her partner followed, obsequious in her shadow, constantly in line, constantly guided. He grew jealous of Life. He wanted for himself the ability to change the dance and win praise from the other Ancients. It built inside him as his partner grew in confidence, adding new dimensions to the dance. As he followed Life he learnt from her the ways of creation, of how to move in new ways.

The tension and envy built, dwelling close to the surface of his heart. All of the other Ancients were creating, yet he only followed, and eventually he found the courage to try something new. At first these steps confused Life, but she recovered gracefully, moving with them and adapting to the changes. Her partner started to try to lead the dance, but she would allow no such thing. The tension they created transformed all, pushing Life to her limits, which she always surpassed. The dance of the Ancients would never be the same, as Life and her partner exploded in confidence and courage. Their dance swarmed the seas from the depths to the shores. They caressed the land and transformed its face. They took to the skies and grew in the confidence that there were no limits, seeing their future in the stars. The One had willed it all. They performed, thinking for themselves, and the One smiled.

Occasions arose when Life and her partner would lose control and the dance would come close to a halt. But Life was learned in the ways of the One and she kept the rhythm flowing, taking the lead over her reckless partner. She led many dancers and they were blessed with their own abilities, each one as precious as the next. They danced in the seas and on the lands, in the air and looking to the stars. From them came new dancers, some of which were able to lead their own dances. The One saw this and chose to complete the dance, for his will to be done in fullness. He came down into the dance and he was Love. He filled the new dancers and danced with Life, sharing in the dance with her partner and all of the Ancients, to a rhythm which will be without end.

Kingdoms – Old story

Another old one, written around five years ago (but with some minimal tweaks). I think this was more a cathartic exercise than an attempt to write a serious story, but I thought I would share anyway.

 

Kingdoms

I pace the balcony, sliding my fingers across the polished railing as I soak in the gentle warmth of the evening sun, looking out across my kingdom, seeing smoke rising from the chimneys as the people below live their lives. From up here I can see everything, from the mountains in the west to the sea in the east. It is a small kingdom, but it is a proud kingdom, known for its scholars and hardy working class. On the other side of the mountains, accessible by a winding mountain path and some abandoned tunnels lies another kingdom. The neighbouring kingdom is smaller and is known for its art and the stubborn but lovable nature of its people. Relations with this kingdom were always amiable, trade boomed and communication was near constant during the golden years. Messengers were sent constantly down the winding pass, often crossing paths and needing only to exchange messages midway. Calls for aid were sent by smoke over the mountains and were always answered with the utmost haste.

The earliest events between the two kingdoms involved aid in war, during the start of my reign my armies strayed into enemy territory and were outnumbered 5 to 1, a call for aid was sent out and our neighbours responded valiantly, fighting to the last man. The greatest turning point was when the neighbouring kingdom was devastated by a mighty armada. The damage far exceeded anything the kingdom had experienced; all the fires, earthquakes and sieges combined had not caused this much devastation and the citizens required aid desperately. The kingdom was unanimous in its democratic decision to aid those in dire need; we provided it swift and effectively, we sent aid constantly, food, materials for repairs, soldiers to protect the cities and allowed many to migrate to our strong kingdom, doing anything we possibly could. They were built up to full strength again, able to support our nation during brief times of famine and other such times of need. There were times when the two kingdoms appeared as one, merging together, uniting to fight common foes, disasters and times of strife.

The balance was sadly not to last; as populations increased so did tension, seemingly exponentially. The first signs were when we began trade with another country; although the trade was short-lived it had massive effects economically on the relationship between ourselves and our closest neighbours. They also began trade with others, setting in motion a political movement which sought to deny immigration from my kingdom, and sadly they succeeded. We sent envoys over to negotiate a change but acquiescence was not on the cards, instead they chose to deny there being an issue. Messengers were now struggling to get over the mountains as harsh winters blanketed the mountains in snow and ice. When the snows receded, communication did not return to its previous level as one would expect. Trade had been cut off almost completely; our export rate far exceeded our imports as they suddenly only required amenities they could not acquire elsewhere.

There were times when my people were able to enter through their gates, though they were often glared at and ignored by the people there. They had started letting waves of immigrants in from the countries they were now trading with, immigrants who had no respect for my citizens and were prone to excessive violence. This exacerbated things between us; we declared war on the countries of the immigrants and sought to wipe them out, further alienating our once loving neighbours. Our efforts at war were feeble as we were struggling from lack of support and sufficient information on our opponents, resulting in a few squandered skirmishes which did nothing effective. It was a useless waste of valuable life which only resulted in a divide within my own kingdom.

A shift in opinion occurred amongst my people and I hastened to listen. It was decided that a peace offering would be made, but before we could manage it a band of warriors set off across the path with a desire only for blood. A veritable pogrom ensued in the streets of our once beloved neighbours; with none spared as men I once called my own massacred many. The kingdom retaliated understandably and caused as much damage to us, if not more. They blocked up the winding pass and attempted to destroy the tunnels underneath the mountain. I sent many messengers out with a desperately deluded desire for reconciliation, both over and under the mountains. Communication slowly somehow started again and hope arose on the horizon once more, but it came at a cost.

A new age had begun within the other kingdom with a new king taking the throne. This new monarch was ruthless, waging wars against any who stood in his way, encouraging the raping and pillaging of many an innocent village. He was known for mercilessly entering towns post-battle and selecting from the people there. He chose women for his harem and men to be slaughtered for his entertainment. All hope was lost and communication stopped once again, coming as a unanimous decision from the people. The difference this time was that it was not blocked; instead we welcomed visitors from our neighbouring kingdom and trade picked up again naturally as the hostility subsided. We heard many stories from the kingdom with the appearance that another revolution was due, we hoped for deposition or abdication of the ruler, though we knew that our hope was in vain, for now. Instead, a new line of religious teaching had infiltrated their society, which came as a huge surprise to us as we had been embracing it this entire time. The king had new advisers who were devout yet naïve, so through them we set up new relations and can only look to the future in hope of success with new means of building broken ties.

I pace the balcony, sliding my fingers across the polished railing as I soak in the gentle warmth of the evening sun, looking out across my kingdom, seeing smoke rising from the chimneys as the people below live their lives. We are stronger again and the people below me are back to living their lives as they should, with hope. I look to the west at the winding pass as a horse-drawn carriage loaded with goods starts the arduous trip through the night, a sign of things looking up. I look to the east and see calm waters, stretching out into the unknown. There is less hope in the unknown so my gaze travels to the west again and I smile, strengthened by the vicissitudes permeating our relationship with our brethren over the mountains, embracing the experience of the traversal of devastation to find a new state of equilibrium. I smile again and return to my chambers, sleep will bring the future closer and I am eager to see what it holds.

 

[2012 edit: it held war with others, resulting in some aid from the west. Perhaps another tale to be told…]