The Dragon Outside, Part 1

The cold, morning air felt like a godsend to Naima after having almost melted in the over-heated house. Her mother was anemic and always needed the heat to be on a few degrees higher than normal. She loved her mother and would live in a one-thousand degree home if that’s what was necessary for her mother to be comfortable. Stepping out into the cold was the gift the universe gave her for being understanding, at least that’s what she told herself. It was all okay in the end. Naima was well-cared for and her mother was happy.

As she ventured off into the forest behind their cottage, Naima remember the words of her mother: “Don’t go off too far and make sure to come back before the dusk settles.” She smiled at the advice of her dear mama. One day she would realize that Naima was 19-years-old, no longer a child, and that she’d already had her fair share of brushes with danger, though she’d never tell her mother that. In the land of Basab, unless one stayed inside all day, one would have had at least one meeting with death. The land was not so friendly to those that wished not to explore and learn its defenses and offenses. It would be the unsuspecting, mindless wanderer that would succumb to the vices of the Earth with no mercy granted.

Thick patches of moss grew on the trunks of the trees throughout the forest. Naima liked to get up close and wiggle her nose in them to take in the moist, earthy smell. She enjoyed breathing on them and creating clouds of condensation even more, feeling as though she were creating a kind of communication with the tiny ecosystem, as though she was its queen and gave it her blessing to make sure the inhabitants were treated fairly and kindly. She imagined a world of tiny people there having a party, dancing in the vapors.

Despite her tiny adventures around her home, there wasn’t much for her to do those days. After the king set off for a trip to a land they didn’t even have a name for, the people were made to wait for his return until they could press on with their daily affairs. While the soldiers that did not accompany the king were busy guarding the kingdom, the rest of the people busy being wary of potential intruders. No one wanted to attend their lessons, no one wanted to work full days. Naima would have normally worked in the seamstress shop, but she was placed on leave until the king’s return.

That left Naima to roam as she pleased, anywhere within the walls of the kingdom. There was one problem, and that was the fact that at one end of the Kingdom there wasn’t a clear boundary, but instead, a thick, deep, dark forest that most would not dare to explore unless they had the proper equipment and a team. Thick walls of bushes with sharp thorns, quicksand pits, and swamps covered in leaves made to look like simple forest floor were the defenses that acted as a trap to unsuspecting explorers. Naima’s cottage was already close to that area that many in the Kingdom called the Devil’s Foyer.

Day 10 – Growing Up

Photo Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

One day you’ll wake up and realize that there is more weight on your shoulders than they ever told you there’d be. If you’re someone like me you’ll grin and bear it for a while. You’ll walk around in the world lonelier than a man who’s six feet under, surrounded by people who love you, but don’t know how to love you. You’ll feel okay for a while, under this weight, accepting that being alive comes with a whole hell of a lot of responsibilities that you never asked for. Some nights you’ll pray that the burden was just a little bit less, just a little bit lighter, and then maybe you’d be able to walk a little taller, with a little bit more confidence. Days go by, and then weeks go by with your prayers going unanswered.

Maybe you’ll cry and throw your fists up at the sky in frustration with the unfairness of it all. You can’t help being born the way you are, no matter how hard you try to change into the person the world says you need to be, you just can’t. It’s impossible. It’ll feel better for a little while, after you get that off your chest, but the uncertainties will start creeping back in and you’ll start to feel the weight again, and you’ll realize that this isn’t the way you want to live.

Being an adult, you’ll find, is more like being a misunderstood child in a grown person’s body. A lot of us never really grew up, you see. A lot of us had to overcompensate for what we missed out on in our childhoods; playing games like children do in these big bodies, waiting for someone to see that we’re just crying out for attention, a hug, someone to pat our heads and tell us everything’s going to be alright. The thing I learned is that if we want that, we have to be that, but most of us are too caught up in our own problems or are too afraid or too ashamed, and it ends up being a shame that we can’t help each other.

I’m telling you all of this because you don’t have to wake up and realize this, you have the ability to change this world that you live in if you want to. You can be the kind ear or safe place, if you want to be. You have to be okay with looking beyond your troubles and struggles and see that everyone is troubled and struggling. I hope you do that, when you grow up. Remember what I’m telling you now and find a way to make peace with this world. 

Day 8 – Dream Catcher, Part 1

Photo credit: Daniel Hourtoulle from Pixabay

As I made myself comfortable in the well-worn in armchair, its velvet hugging my clothes as if to tell me that I was safe to relax into it, I could hear the howl of the wind as the winter storm grew stronger outside. The warm, dim light of the sconce lamps on the walls flickered, casting a haunting glow between the paintings. Dr. Murray, my psychotherapist, had left the office briefly to speak to the receptionist, though I figured he was probably also going to the loo. He was a highly sought out therapist, and my guess was that he had so many patients throughout the day, even on days such as this, that he had to use any open chance to handle his business.
 
He was a kind-natured fellow, an older gentleman; quite stout in stature with a little balding spot right on the top of his head.
 
“Alright, Mademoiselle Loraine, I’m back.” He said as he shimmied into the chair behind his desk. “We have made great progress, in my humble opinion, in a very short amount of time at that.” He smiled at me and clasped his hands on top of his desk.

I flashed him a small smile in response.
 
“You don’t think so?” He asked, as a look of surprise appeared on his face.

“Um,” I started, “I’m still having the nightmares without the visuals. Except now, I hear them, but I still don’t see them.”

“That is progress, my dear! When you first came in to see me, you complained of nightmares, but you could only feel them. Everything else was all black. Then you began to see light, and now you can hear them. What have you been hearing?”

“Well, it’s all muffled, so I can’t really make it out. Oh! But I can see very blurry outlines of figures moving about, nothing at at all distinguishable though.”

Dr. Murray nodded. “I see, I see,” he paused and looked at me, “any other developments? Inside of the dreams or in your waking life?”

I tilted my head curiously and gave the questions a bit of thought.

“Not in my dreams, no, but I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say in my ‘waking life.’”

“Oh, yes. Carl Gustav Jung, a famous psychiatrist and psychoanalyst believed in the concept of synchronicities, which holds that two separate events that seem to be coincidences may actually have a meaningful relationship. His biggest anecdote about that was of a woman he was treating, who in the middle of her appointment with him, told him about a dream she had. In her dream she saw a golden scarab.

“As she was telling him about the dream, an insect flew into his window. When he turned to see what it was, he opened the window and caught it, only to find that it was as close in resemblance to the scarab the woman had seen in her dream that could possibly be found in that area of the world.”

My heart began to pound against the inside of my chest, as warm waves moved down my body. The thing was that I had experienced something like that.

“Actually yes.” I began, “Though I can’t make out the exact sounds from my dreams, I was able to hear a muffled melody of some sort, something unfamiliar to my waking mind. However, when I went to the library over on 57th and Ashby last week, the one with the gorgeous lobby, I could’ve sworn that the same song was playing softly in that lobby. I remember thinking, ‘what a strange coincidence.’ However, now I’m afraid that I may have been wrong.”

“Hmm, yes. That is quite strange indeed.” Dr. Murray slowly moved his head up and down, seemingly pulling in information from somewhere deep inside of his mind. “How about this? I have a good friend and colleague of mine who’s a hypnotist, Dr. Dandridge is his name. I believe we might need his expertise to pull what’s trying to uncover itself from the recesses of your subconscious. By all means, if you’re not comfortable with this, you can decline-“

“I’d like to do it.” I said, not meaning to cut him off. “I mean, I’m sorry, I’d really like it if you brought your colleague in.”

He chuckled. “You must be quite eager to get this nipped in the bud.”
 
“Absolutely. It’s a strange life to live having nightmares that you can only feel, but you can’t see or hear.”

“I can’t even imagine. Rest assured, we will take care of this. I’ll reach out to you with some openings for both myself and Dr. Dandridge before the end of the week.”

I rose to my feet, both nervous and excited about our next appointment. Would the hypnotist be able to pull the hidden nightmare from my the recesses of my mind? If so, what if it’s something so horrid that I purposely hid it from myself so that I would never have to face it again? What if I regret it?

Dr. Murray left his chair to meet me at the door and patted my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, my dear. Whatever we uncover, I’ll be sure to make things right.” He said as he escorted me to the door.

His reassurance was comforting, but I couldn’t help but think that we were about to uncover a monstrosity.

Day 7 – A Curse, Part 1

Percival bit his lip as the bank teller, Lucy, typed in the information for his savings account in the database. The serious look on her face plus the really fast typing she was doing gave him butterflies and made him rapidly tap his foot on the recently waxed floor. Lucy never looked over at him, not even to provide him a little reassurance. Surely she must be aware of the energy of anxiety oozing from his being, and know how to ease a customer’s worries.

The thing was that his mother, a woman taken to overindulging in spirits, as well as with slot machines and Texas Hold’em, was not to be trusted most of the time. He loved her, undoubtedly, but she had a way of guilt-tripping him into doing the most self-damaging things in order to get what she wanted. She would arrive at his apartment in the early hours of the morning, much before dawn, and ring his doorbell nonstop until he answered. Every time she did, his heart would sink into his stomach, for he knew exactly who it was. Her greed left no trust in his heart any other woman, and even if that wasn’t the case, he feared that she would leech from whatever woman was insane enough to be in his life, to eventually drive the woman out of it.

If it wasn’t for the fact that his mother had been eerily quiet for the last two months, he would not be standing in the bank at that moment. The longest she’d ever left him be was three weeks. He wasn’t quite sure how she would have gotten his bank account information, but he knew how she could get when she was desperate. Lucy’s eyebrows raised as she finished typing, then followed the brow raise with a deep breath.

“I’m just waiting on the system to finish loading, Mr. Goddard.” She glanced briefly at him above the rims of her tortoiseshell glasses.

Percival had over $50,000 saved up in that account. One might assume him to be quite foolish with his savings, wondering why he wouldn’t put it to good use in an investment account or real estate. He had many reasons, but the number one reason was his need for deep research. With his office job where he often worked overtime, it was near impossible to think of anything else besides work. He was a man of many excuses.
“Mr. Goddard, your account balance is…” Lucy pulled out a pen and paper and wrote it down. 

$53,731.42

Percival’s whole body relaxed. He wanted to kiss Lucy and ask her if she was free that evening, but being Percival, he would never pull a stunt like that, no matter how relieved he was. 

“Thank you, thank you so much.” He told her instead. He took the piece of paper with his balance on it and neatly folded it into his pocket before he turned to walk out of the bank. He was curious though, where was his mother and why hadn’t she come around? 

Day 6 – You Looking At Me Looking At You, Part 1

Photo cred: Streetwindy

I hurry to get to get to the elevator before it closes. My morning hadn’t gotten off to such a great start, plus it was raining and the buses were running late. One of the heels on my favorite get-out-of-the-door-as-fast-as-I-can pumps, the matte black ones with the pointy toes, broke off as soon as I put them on. To top it off, I’m officially 5 minutes late to a very important practice presentation meeting for the real deal presentation with an investor tomorrow. It feels like I’m in one of those nightmarish movies, the ones where with every step you take your legs get heavier and heavier and your destination gets farther and farther away. Before I can reach the elevator hall, I feel lighter but I also hear harsh flutter of papers scattering and folders falling to the floor. Heat flows in heavy waves up my face as I turn to look behind me and see a trail of papers forming a line a couple of feet away, ending near my feet.

Everyone is either on their way to their offices or standing around, chatting it up with cups of coffee, all looking over at me, but no one helping. I rush to pick up the papers, one by one, all now out of order. Murphy’s Law won’t stop playing in my mind, as I think of all of the possible ways my boss will kill me once I finally arrive to our floor. How did the papers even fall out of my messenger bag anyway? In a momentary break from picking up papers and stuffing them in whatever folder I can, I see that my zipper has broken. Great.

I resume picking up papers, but as I do, a young gentleman around 28 or 29 squats down on one knee to help me. He has on black, circular-framed glasses, with a large tuft of black hair flowing over his eyebrows, dark jeans stretchy enough to allow him to get down on the floor in that manner, and a blue tweed blazer. He’s got a little goatee trying to grow in, as if he hasn’t had access to a razor in a few days, but also as if he’s been trying to grow it for months and this is all he’s got. I want to know which one it is. I shake the thoughts away and begin picking up papers again, feeling the wave of heat move up my cheeks again.

We continue picking up papers in silence until, without either of us realizing it, our hands touch as we reach the last one. I look down at my hand and then up at him, who is already looking at me. When my eyes meet his, all time stops. The sounds from around the building lobby slow down and fade away, leaving just the sound of my heartbeat and both of our breathing. Even those sounds are muffled, reminding me of the moments right after plunging into a deep body of water when the surface stills and you’re just hovering underwater. Calm. Serene.

His eyes are the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen up until this point in my life, and I find myself thinking that I don’t think I ever want to look into any other pairs of eyes except for his ever again. There’s nothing particularly special about them; they’re your basic dark brown irises with black pupils. I can tell he’s got some kind of East Asian background, if it’s not his full background, though, so maybe it’s that. He doesn’t break his gaze either, nor does he remove his hand from mine. All of the morning’s events faded away with the rest of the world, and all I want now is to reside in this moment, for at least a little while. 

Day 5 – C-Sweet

Charlotte held her chin in her hand as she scraped her fork slowly across the empty plate. No food had touched it at all, and she was getting hangry. She wasn’t the type of person to lash out at others when her stomach was neglected, but that day she felt that she might not able to control herself. Why hadn’t she been able to take a break away from her colleagues to eat? This normally uncommon situation was becoming more and more of an issue, and she wasn’t appreciative of it at all.

When she started, the work culture at her company was laid back – people could come in when they wanted to, so long as they completed all of their tasks before the end of the day; there were ping pong tables at each corner of the building, including the roof; there were beanbags all over the place that you could just plop right into. However, the company was under the rule of a new CEO, and she was an absolute nightmare. Everything that Charlotte had loved about the company was slowly disappearing, though she’d been putting up with most of it without a complaint.

The one thing that she was finding she wasn’t fine with, however, was the working lunches. Even though they were called “working lunches” there was more work than there was lunch. And now, she had to wait even longer for dinner because the restaurant was backed up. An angry growl vibrated Charlotte’s stomach and sent zaps of pain all throughout her abdomen. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in through her nose. The chatter and dish clinks of the restaurant started to fade away. She held that inhale for ten seconds, allowing the pain of hunger move to a less prominent part of her attention, and then she exhaled. She repeated that sequence twice more.

She recalled the mindfulness breathing technique from her meditation teacher, remembering her words: “There will be times when you want to hurt people, when you want to lash out in anger or frustration. In those moments, choose mindfulness. Choose to take less than three minutes to step away from those emotions, from a potential negative situation that may last you well over three minutes in consequences. Just close your eyes and breathe.”

While the mindfulness practice was usually helpful, she found that the hanger crept back up little by little. To make matters worse, from the corner of her eye, she caught the shiny, platinum blonde hair of what looked like the head of her CEO. Wait, was that her CEO? She rose up from her seat to get a better look.

It was.
 
Charlotte’s hanger swelled within her as she watched the CEO laughing and smiling, as though the CEO’s employees weren’t out in the world suffering because of her draconian work policies. The CEO was seated in one of the reserved areas and was immediately brought a basket of bread, a basket of bread that should have been on Charlotte’s table. Charlotte’s lips curled up into one of the saddest frowns ever to appear on anyone’s face in the history of mankind, ever. With that frown, another strange thing started to appear on Charlotte: dark, greenish-blue leathery skin and sharp, hard scales. She wasn’t aware of these new formations, as she was attempting another round of mindfulness.

As she finished her last exhale, her whole body was covered in the leather skin and scales. Concerned stares and whispers emerged from the other patrons of the restaurant, which didn’t help matters at all. In fact, Charlotte’s temper began to flare as she shot angry glares at the innocent by-eaters.

While you’re staring, why don’t you offer me some of your appetizers? Huh? HUH?

Murmurs filled the restaurant as Charlotte grew to be about 1.5 times her size and as her fingers turned into sharp, claw-like phalanges. The wait staff and nearby patrons began to leave the area, leaving plates full of food and empty glasses of wine to create a smell smorgasbord that riled Charlotte up even more. She shot a dirty look in the direction of her CEO who was, at that point, stuffing her face with the exact same appetizer that she’d ordered and had yet to receive.

That was the last straw. Charlotte flipped her table and terrible roar and began to stomp over to the CEO. Neither the CEO nor her guests had any awareness of what was taking place in the restaurant. As Charlotte strong-armed tables out of her way, her teeth turned to fangs, sharp canines now protruding from her mouth. Everyone from the CEO’s table dived out of the way once they saw what had arrived.

The CEO was taken aback and almost ran herself, but there was something familiar about this creature. She squinted her eyes and ran through all of the faces she held in her memory rolodex, until she saw the one of the quiet girl from the morning project meetings.

“Charlotte…Wellston? Is that you?” The CEO placed her hand on her chest.
Charlotte let out an unintelligible grunt, and before the CEO could say another word, Charlotte opened her now abnormally large mouth as wide as it could possibly open, and fit the whole CEO inside of it. In just a few munches, Charlotte was satiated; her hunger was finally gone. 

Day 4 – Your Dance

The atmosphere is a little dry, reminding you of your middle school principle’s office – no prospects of fun anywhere. The DJ isn’t making things better either, what with her 101 BPM songs she’s been playing. Everyone is simply standing around, drinks in hand, either conversing, avoiding eye contact with other people, or avoiding eye contact with the dance floor. You want to leave, but you just dragged yourself out of your apartment where you’ve been feeling that autumn/winter funk, that maybe-I-should-finally-invest-in-a-UV-machine-funk. It had been ten days since you’d gone out for anything other than groceries and to check your mail in hopes of receiving a letter from you-know-who. Yeah, your ex, the one who disappeared into thin air last year and finally showed up in your Instagram DMs saying they flew to Nicaragua to find themselves and would write you soon.

No, no. You can’t go there, otherwise you’ll definitely leave.

The crowd is starting to get a little thick. The bar/club is one of those split level joints, with the Top 40s playing upstairs and the more dirty, underground House music playing in the basement. People from all over the city come to chill, dance, meet up with friends, dance, probably do some illegal paraphernalia, dance. Summertime you would be all over the place getting down. No drink in hand, sober af, making love to the dance floor. Maybe you’d have your shades on doing double duty – making you feel invisible and invincible while also blocking out the ridiculously bright laser lights. Like, who’s in charge of those anyway? You’ll never know since the security guards never talk to you when you try to spark up conversation.

The DJ’s spun 2 whack songs so far, but she’s mixing in something…something…something kind of funky. There’s this slightly spastic yet warm, familiar feeling happening in your glutei. The song is deep and the kick has this knock to it, knocking on the door to your heart. It’s got a bit of an off rhythm, one more beat between every 3rd and 4th, with the bass humming right between each kickless spot. It starts growling a little bit, then it goes back down, then starts again. Nasty animal. Your neck’s got a little roll going to the beat. Those random snare rim hits, the high pitched ones that are like sprinkles sprinkled all over the track, the ones that make you lose your mind, their volume is increasing slowly.

Your booty spasms get stronger and your legs start doing rolls, inching you closer to the dance floor. Oh no, no no no. A shiny synth just brushed over the top of the intro. Your torso tells you “goodbye, I’m doing my own thing” and starts gyrating, no cares. Then your legs and your torso and your head get together to make a cohesive dance unit, pulling you right up to the DJ booth. Your eyes are closed so you can’t see the DJ smiling and nodding at you, nor the followers you’ve called along with you.

You let go as though you’re in a church giving yourself up to the Holy Ghost. But for you, the club is your church and the dance floor is your pulpit. The congregation can’t take letting you have all that spirit to yourself, so they join you on the dance floor. Yes, you finally leave your worries on the altar, and let the beat carry your burdens away.

Day 3 – A Vessel for a Trip

She sat in the passenger waiting area, her frustrations deflating from walking behind inconsiderate individuals unaware of their surroundings, those people who’d stop right in front of her to look at their phones or to turn around or to pull scarves out of their pockets to blow their noses. Despite a pandemic having changed the travel industry, it did not, unfortunately, increase those people’s awareness.
 
The passenger area was less chaotic, though, not too many people traveling these days. She feared that she might be labeled ‘crazy’ for not having a ‘proper’ reason to be traveling. What was ‘proper’ though? Should she sit around in her hometown, in between comfort and discomfort, waiting for something to happen that never would? On top of that, should she allow some disease to prevent her from living her life? Or, in the least, figuring it out?
 
She wasn’t as young as she used to be – old enough to drink and have lived through those days, but young enough that, unless she had the misfortune of having had acquired a secret terminal illness, she wouldn’t be dying any time soon. She was tired of life making all of her decisions for her, no matter what in the world was going on.

So she sat, and waited, and watched the people. The people with their faces covered, the people who ushered children, the people who talked on cell phones a little too loudly, the people that hugged one another, the people that social distanced. She was, for the first time in a long time, comforted. And comfortable with her decision to fly over halfway across the world to a country she’d never visited before, to teach English to children.

In a way, she felt she had to go. To end the monotony of her life, she had to go. 

The airline attendants began their preparations for boarding. She could tell they’d done this many times, for instead of it being a mechanical display, they were almost fluid, water-like in the way that they opened the terminal door, announced any last-minute standbys, and began pushing those in wheelchairs up to their designated waiting spots. This was their thing. She felt solidarity with them as she went to go find out if teaching was her thing.

She got up and walked over to the window where she could see the giant bird she’d soon be embarking. This is it, she thought, I’m about to leave this country for a year. And, almost ceremoniously, she placed her hand on the cool glass in a silent goodbye. 

Day 1 – Outside the Window

It’s Thursday, post-afternoon, that lazy time when things simultaneously slow down and speed up, but for different reasons. Outside of my window a plane is in the process of landing, and I can hear the robotic voice of the train system letting passengers know that they must wear mask in order to board.

A man screams, “Go away!” at someone, and I imagine it’s either a stray cat, maybe the one that’s been crying outside my window for the last couple of nights, or an imaginary friend who’s overstayed their welcome. 

The wind blows, swaying the thin, dry leaves of the palm trees. I am not comfortable here any longer, I think, but I just arrived. What has changed? I don’t have to open the sliding doors to know how unbearably hot it is outside. Is it the heat? Was I inadequately prepared?

The thoughts tumble around in my head as I gaze without a focal point off into the distant mountain range that is surely home to aliens. Here, in this daze, I let the discomfort fade into the background and just enjoy the view.