Above the Clouds

They floated across a layer of cloud upon a blue and orange swirled carpet. Jasmine waited for the cloud to thin. Looking down she could see a huge river stretch out until it was lapped up by the sea. They had just passed over three mountains; the mountain of Promise, Hope and then skilfully zigzagged past the last, Despair. She remembered the tales her nanny had told her of the three giants that used to sit upon them and quarrel. The giant of hope and promise had tried to persuade the giant of despair to see the light in the world. But the giant of despair had argued that all the light in the world did not make up for all the misfortune. And they had argued like this for hundreds of years until Hope and Promise eventually despaired. When the giants died they were all three of them were buried together  on the Mountain of Despair, which is why it’s the biggest.

“Jasmine, will you marry me?”

“All the magic in the world won’t earn you my heart.”

“Why did you come upon my carpet, if not to marry me?”

“I thought it would be a nice trip. Can you take me back now please?”

Ajmer grabbed her long black plat wrenching her head back. Her pupils became huge. He stamped a kiss upon her screaming lips,

“Hope you enjoy the trip.”

With one quick arm movement he had tipped her over the tasselled edge.

He peered over the edge. She fell through a layer of cloud and he did not see if she fell into the sea or onto the rocks.

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Fooling Around

Could she do this to him? She hadn’t meant to. She hadn’t seen him for so long now it almost felt like he didn’t exist. The police-woman sitting opposite her smiled. She was utterly devoted to seeing justice done. Damn! Why couldn’t they just drop it? Ashley looked her in the eye. She would have to give her statement.

Her and Jerry had been fooling around for months. They’d sneak into the equipment cupboard at the back of the gym. They hadn’t really gone very far, just heavy petting.

“I’ve got something to tell you Ashley,” his eyes darted to the floor.

She waited.

“I can’t meet you here anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m seeing Holly Roberts.”

“That little slut.”

“Bye Ashley.”

He walked out of the large gym cupboard and through the sports hall.

He thought he could just walk out on her? Ashley hadn’t actually thought she’d cared about Jerry. But as she stood all alone in the gym she felt her nose go snotty and her eyes dampen.

Quickly she wiped her eyes with her green jumper sleeve.

But at lunch her friend Megan had noticed the puffyness in her face,

“Ashley, what’s happened?”

She hadn’t wanted to sound pathetic, who cries over a fling? She was angry,

“Jerry… Jerry, raped me in the sports hall.”

The words had just seemed to tumble out her mouth.

“That’s awful! Ashley this is terrible.”

Tears had sprang back into Ashley’s eyes and Megan had put an arm around her.

That was far as she had meant it go; she just wanted her friends to scowl at him. He deserved that for what he’d done. But goody-two-shoes Megan had gone and told Mrs March,

“Ashely can you please see me in my office.”

Megan had no idea what Mrs March had wanted, she presumed it was about all the late homework. Mrs March asked Ashley to sit, then dipped her head so she could look over the top of her glasses. Her voice was soft,

“Megan told me all about what happened.”

Ashley didn’t know what to say, her stomach wavered.

“I know you must be very scared, but I’ve spoken to the school and we’re going to take this to the police. Jerry has been suspended.”

Her mother took half a day off work so she could pick her up. Someone must have rang her. That night she’d made Ashley spaghetti bolognas with brie cheese and then given her a hot chocolate. Her mother sat near her as she sipped it. She asked what had happened. Ashely had said she didn’t want to talk about it. Her mother nodded and told Ashely that she understood, whenever she did want to talk she was there. Just before she went to bed her mother had come in Ashley’s room to kiss her goodnight on the forehead.

Ashely lay awake, staring at a hole in her ceiling with several cracks coming from it, they seemed to be spanning further and further across her ceiling. Everyone believed her. It was as good as true wasn’t it? They were both under sixteen, Jerry probably wouldn’t get into much trouble. It was too late to say anything. Everyone was being so nice to her. What would happen if she said she was lying? Her teachers would hate her, her friends would hate her, even her mum would hate her. And then there was the police! Part of Ashley had liked everyone fussing over her, in-fact that evening when her mother had made her a hot chocolate she’d felt special. But right then, as she lay alone, the thought of the next morning caused her stomach to tremble. She breathed in short gasps, it was as if the lie was on top of her forcing her into her mattress.

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Stage Fright – Two Peas in a Rocket

E: Shit, audience looks bigger now,

L: Smile, wipe the sweat off your brow.

E: Can they see into my sole?

L: You should hide, burrow, like a mole!

E: That one looked away,

L: Yes he did, their talking, everyone’s bored!  Don’t take all day!

E: Can they see my paper quiver, 

L: definitely.

E: I’m all in a dither!

L: Stop glancing round, stop shifting,

You’re letting them know,

You’re ruining the show!

E: That one’s still paying me attention,

L: He’s thinking what a fool!

Standing there thinking you’re cool.

Everyone thinks this poem’s trite,

E: Trite?

L: trite, rhymes with shite

E: Any chance it means something nice?

L: Means petty and unimportant.

They’re not laughing at your wit. You’re not clever

They’re laughing at you, they’ll do it forever!

E: H-hello e-everyone. 

L: Are you mumbling? You’re mumbling.

Move on to the next one,(pause)

well now you’re fumbling! 

say something, Say anything!

 Your act is crumbling!

E: “Hey, urm di-did anyone see the solar eclipse the other month? Wasn’t all it was hyped up to be was it?”

L: No! not that. Why did you say that you twit

E: Thought it’d be funny.

L: No-one laughed, it was crumby.

Just read the poem, go!

E: Can’t.

L: What do you mean can’t?

E: They’re all looking at me. I refuse. (pause)shan’t! 

L: Course they’re looking. You’re on stage!

E: My poems not very good, shouldn’t put it on the page.

L: Why didn’t you think of that before going up?

E: My Boyfriend said I should go for it.

L: Can’t you see? He would wouldn’t he?

E: hummmmmmm (noise)

They’re going to hate me, I want to quit!

L: Cool it!

E: Can’t! Think I’m going to cry.

L: Don’t do that, just don’t. Pretend you’re confident. Lie! 

E: I feel faint.

L: Are you breathing?

E: No, I’m heaving.

L: Breathe!

E: Can’t, not until I’ve finished the poem,

L: Say it quick.

might do the trick

“It’s too late to step back

what else can I lack?

Do I stay to splash in the sewers.

A star with no light,

no-one would know I was there,

and if they did, why would they care?”

(pause)

L: Get down! Step of the stage. Now!

Don’t stop to bow.

(Steps down off stage)

You should be ashamed.

E: I am.

L: Take a picture, get it framed.

E: Why?

L: You’ll remember how lame you and won’t try again!

E: (breathe) Shame

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Huanguagang Park (Martyrs Park) – ToaJin.

It was not a park. It was Wales. Someone had taken the whole of Wales, knocked the houses down and let forests grow. I planned to spend a quick half hour looking at a few pretty trees but found myself sucked into a Narnian paradise.

It was not a place just for old people to feed ducks, it was dense with life; people were playing badminton on the grass, there were table tennis tables interspaced between trees. Men sat in circles on the grass playing a game that looked like checkers, but after watching them for a while I realized it was far more complicated with numbers on the black and white squares.

Welcoming me into the park was a ridiculous, fat, spikey-haired statue, with a wedge-like smile taking up a third of its face. It had its arms outstretched in greeting. Behind it stood a map, confirming my fears about the magnitude of the park; as I traced the paths with my fingertips I realized that an entire museum was hidden within the forest. It was speckled with hundreds of monuments; The First Uprising, Martyrs Memorial Garden, Tomb of the Fifth Emperor, Memorial for the Second Revolution, Tao Mow Bridge…..

I decided I wanted to visit ‘The First Uprising,’ but I am unsure as to whether I actually made it there. I travelled down large stone paths and then switched to smaller rabbit trails; trees decorated with yellow star-shaped leaves and bark intertwining with hair-prickled roots and snow-veined ivy created a jungle on both sides. After a good thirty minutes I emerged to find a house-size sandstone carving. It depicted a battle; angry men adorned in war attire charged each other with spears. I wondered when it took place and walked over to an information plaque, but found it was all in Chinese. Next to the plaque was another map.

I headed towards The Pool of Silence. Despite its name, and the fact that there were actually very few people there, it was anything but silent; never before have had I heard bugs sound like chain saws. Hundreds of thousands of them must have being hiding around me, super charged crickets they were blasting out sound with all their might. I gazed over a picturesque pond; little oriental bridges crisscrossed the clear water.  Small ornate archways with benches lined the outside, one of two young couples hiding, sitting nervously next to one another; I averted my eyes as I passed, leaving them to indulge in each other’s company. I hopped across five stepping stones, being careful not to lose footing on the wet marble and felt as if I were walking upon the pond itself. On reaching the other side I decided to ignore the maps (also ignoring the Beware Snake warnings) and spent three hours exploring Maître park. I can honestly say if I visited it a hundred times, I could easily never tread in any one of my previous footsteps. My feet slightly swollen, I made my way to one of the four exits, The South Gate, returning to a densely populated market street. As cars beeped without reason and women selling fruit and clothes shouted, I was almost in disbelief that the place I’d walked through really existed.

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The Price of Life

I see a fish head, cut from under its gills; it is still alive and seemingly unaware of its disembodiment; it opens its mouth, gulping for air. I imagined it human; a head and shoulders squirming. It makes a jump off the table, but a woman grabs it and whacks it with a large wooden plank five times. It stays still. My friend Freya didn’t see, we walk on.  She’s looking for a pet.  We’ve been told we should buy one from a proper licensed shop, but she likes the idea of saving one in the market.

“It’ll die within a week!”

“No it won’t, I’ll make it better.”

“But they are already ill, and they haven’t had inoculations.”

“If you were ill, and hadn’t had inoculations wouldn’t you want someone to save you?”

There is no arguing with her. I was brought up in a small farm town, but she was raised in central Newcastle, away from farms and slaughter houses.

We both dive to the left as a motor bike beeps, skimming my thigh as it passes, we continue down a narrow but bustling street. Pink fruit with spikes and green half apple, half crab-like fruit are two of the many varieties being sold that I do not recognise.  Freya holds her nose as we pass a butcher’s, duck and chicken carcasses hanging, heads still intact. I inhale the sickly sweet smell, but do not enjoy it. We pass along more stalls, hundreds of bracelets with big clunky looking beads, and multi-coloured bras hung up by the dozen. We’re careful not to linger long for fear of overzealous sellers harassing us.

We stop at a sparsely put together stall comprising of several small cages. Two kittens huddle in one, with just enough room for them to stand and turn. There is a bucket of Terrapins forced to bask waterless in the sun, and another tank with small gold and blue fish attempting to swim in half an inch of water. Freya’s face has gone cold.

She crouches down by the kittens. One is completely still; the other is missing patches of fur on its head and seems to have some yellow swelling beneath the skin. It rubs its partly balded head against the bars frantically. My roommate caresses it with a finger, when it nuzzles she can feel its bones. There is no food in its bowl and no water in the bottle.

“Monster! Bitch! How can you keep animals like this! How would you like it?”

The woman owning the stall laughs while making her way over.

“You like? Good price!”

She doesn’t understand my friends insults, yet Freya insists in making some more. It is then that I see it; it is small, yellow and pathetic. I hope Freya won’t notice. She is still arguing with the woman.

“Let’s go.”

I gently grab the sleeve of her top.

“Oh, my God!”

It’s too late. She’s seen it.

A chick is in a cage alone, on its side and almost 2D through dehydration.

Freya gestures a cup to the woman, pretending to drink.

“Water. It needs water!”

But in our hearts we both know it is too late for the chick, all but its opening and closing beak is paralyzed. The woman laughs. She points to a cage packed so full of chicks that they are standing on top of each other.

We persist to pour a splash of water next to the chick from our own water bottle.  Irritated, the woman reaches down, picks the chick up by a foot, and hurls it into a nearby bin.

Freya is dumbstruck and I regret to say that I’m emotionally invested in the chick now. I rush over to the bin. Its little beak is still opening and closing as it lies upon a pile of torn up magazines and old straw from animal cages.

“What shall we do?”

Freya is now next to me. I take my water bottle and pour its entire contents into the bin, filling it five inches high. We leave vowing not to visit a Chinese pet market again.

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Avatar Mountains

Cubes upon cubes of green and pink tinted rock; every slender mountain looks like a deserted Jenga tower, leaning too far left or right, moss and trees  growing in-between bricks. Some of them are pointed like seashells that have spiralled from the ground, others flat; sky stepping stones which reach past the clouds. A few have formed into clusters and fused together, they resemble pipes coming from the world’s largest organ. The sky fades behind, I watch the sun bounce off each mountain top before rolling into a valley, and lowering itself onto the shortest peak; for a second it’s held as a rounded trophy.

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A World of Ice

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Fat clotted-cream coated icicles hang down leaves, completely encased by ice. I take off a glove melting the surface ice around a dangling twig using warmth from my thumb and forefinger. The rough frosting quickly turns clear; beneath a centre-metre of ice I can see its delicate body, complete with reddened buds. Every rock, branch and beam is coated with crystals upon crystals upon crystals until they can barely stand, Pinocchio icicles have formed beneath every leaf; each tiny peak resembles a whitened sky-scraper, upside-down cities drape the mountain.

Each thin leaf has become a wedge and snakes of ice peal from grass blades. Giant tooth-like fangs hang so long that they have become fossilized. But when I look closer they look more like lamb tales or feathers; delicate and soft. I trace my finger along a leaf; still vibrant green towards the middle, but frosted thick like a wedding-cake round the edge. I press an ear close and can hear the minuscule crystals tinkle like a xylophone as they break. Like mashed potato the snow on the path has been crushed into triangles, stars and spirals by the patterns of people’s boots. I push along a path with overgrown trees, tied to their branches are red rigamorphafied ribbons that crack if you bend them; The Forest of Wishes, each one is inscribed with black Chinese characters.

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The cold finger’s of the trees scrape across my face until I reach a white crusted bridge lying between two precipices. The fog on either side is so thick that wind cuts through it giving me glimpses of the Immortal Peaks. A large gust drops downwards, causing the fog to sink and now the peaks look baseless, as if they could be floating. The bridge hovers, I test it’s suspension with every step. On the other side I can just see the red triangular turrets of a hibernating temple deep within the mountain.

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