I Buy My Own Wedding Ring (song)

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I take myself out on dates

And the only one pays is me

And I buy myself jewellery

And give myself hugs

‘Cause only someone who’s loved can love

 

I give myself a crown

A tiara of silver

‘Cause I’m a queen

Living the dream

And it goes well with my hair

And I know what you’re thinking

She’s a little bit crazy

But if you knew the life I’d been living

You wouldn’t judge me

 

Chorus

I bought my own wedding ring

And I like it

Less than you think

I’m a girl who…

…needs a guy

A prince to be mine

One without a crown

And no kingdom

 

I wear a dress and look amazing

The prettiest girl alive

I’m covered in jewels and bling

Even if it’s not bright

And I’ve got a sharp mind

I know how to calculate

Exactly like a mime

 

The people all stare at me

In my imagination

They all gaze openly

At this beautiful specimen

And I have no pride

I’m kind and pure as they come

 

Chorus

 

Bridge x2

Please someone come for me

Someone tall and nice-looking

You won’t regret

Your choice

I’m a champagne glass of prettiness/I love myself too well

+

Chorus

Click here to listen to this:  https://vocaroo.com/i/s0FQP9R1ZGtC

 

 

 

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A Lost Princess

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Are princesses meant to be like this? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know everything there is to know about princesses. I know that we are meant to find love, very soon, and very quickly, because that’s just what princesses do. I know that we are shy and demure, but filled with a shining light of our own. I know that our prince is waiting for us, just around the corner, even if we have to kiss a lot of frogs to find them.

But are we meant to be like this? So stumbling, so unsure? Surely I can’t be the only princess around who feels this way. Do you? What do you mean, you’re not a princess? Look at you. You’ve got the dress, the tiara, the—costume? What? As in, for a play? You mean you’re only pretending to be a princess? Then who are you? What is your life like?

It isn’t easy? You have to—to WORK? Surely not! A beautiful, lovely lady like you should spend her time sitting in an ivory tower, waiting for her prince to come along. Who would pay the bills? Bills? What on earth are bills? Don’t you—isn’t your father—oh, to hell with it, you mean he isn’t the king? He isn’t anything? That what is he? Dead? Oh. Oh dear. I’m sorry. Oh, not dead, he’s just not with you anymore. Then where is he? With another—with someone—oh my. You’re life is tragic, indeed. It is almost as if you’ve been cursed. What do you mean, that’s not the worst of it? What! There’s a chance you might never find your prince? Are the words issuing from your mouth right now the truth? How can you possibly now find your prince? That’s like the sun not rising tomorrow!

Listen, I’ve been through this kind of thing before. People think princesses have not an ounce of sense in their head, and spend their days beautifying themselves and going to grand parties. Well, that’s not true. I’m well-versed in The History of Princesses, The Geography of Kingdoms, the study of various languages, including Bullfrog, and many more, and my opinion is—you are pulling my leg, young lady! This surely cannot be your life. A beautiful lady such as yourself deserves a better fate. Come, come with me, to my kingdom. You shall be given gowns and pearls to wear, and you will find your prince. Come with—with—oh dear, I was sure there was a doorway here just a minute ago. Where did it go? What did you say? Portal? What’s a portal? What do you mean, the way back is gone? Where am I, exactly? What on earth is Washington, I’ve never heard of such a kingdom before. Let me ask my Geography teacher, she’ll know. I’m her brightest student, I’ll have you know. Now, if I could just get back…Listen, dear, are there are princes in your world? Fairy godmothers? Wishes and curses? Do you have any wishing wells? Well, how else do you get the things you want? Through TEKNOLEGEE? What kind of magic is teknolegee?

You know, all this bother is really rather putting me out. I think I need a good lie-down. I don’t suppose you happen to have a bed soft enough for a princess’s skin? What was that? The Princess and the Pea? A story?? Silly child, that was my cousin. Now, if you could just wave that magic wand of yours and use some teknolegee to whisk me back to me own kingdom, that would be much appreciated. I don’t believe it. You’re eating your wand. A preztel stick? What’s a pretzel stick? How old are you? Twelve? Does your kingdom have a king and queen, and how do I reach them and speak to them? Tell them it’s urgent, will you. I appear to have been stranded in a kingdom far from my own, due to witchcraft, and I intend to get back before my prince comes. Who is Donald Trump?

I Self-Published The My ENTIRE Fantasy Book

Featured

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Dear dreamers, I have an announcement to make. As you can probably tell from the title of this post already, I have decided to publish one of my books online, free for anyone to read. I decided to publish this one first, instead of “The Dragon Train”, a children’s book that will be coming soon.

The title of the book is “The Hive”, and here is a quick blurb:

The Hive is a place where enormous bees and people co-exist, in perfect harmony. Zoga, a human, is just another harvester, who spends her days collecting pollen from flowers, and going on errands. But a mysterious green energy crystal from the Scorpion clan begins to throw things into chaos, and with the imminent arrival of the Ant King and his army, can Zoga save her home, and everyone in it?

I published it on a site called Wattpad, and for anyone who is interested in reading it, you can click HERE.

My self-published short story “Zodiac”

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Aries was a constellation in the form of a ram, that stood on his hind legs. He was alive. He moved from place to place, shimmering gently, his aura a dark blue, and threaded with tiny lights like stars.
One day, he woke up and found that the sun in the sky had grown to tremendous proportions. The sun was the closest star to them in this part of the galaxy, Zorgia, where they lived. It blazed, a beacon of light. He was curious. He wondered why this had happened. So he went to the bull constellation for help, to ask him what was going on. The bull constellation’s name was Taurus, and he lived to the east of the galaxy. Like him, he had a blue aura, like deep, bluish light, and he had tiny lights threaded throughout his body, with several of them forming his horns.
“You want to know why that star has grown so big?” The bull constellation, Taurus, sighed. “It is reaching the end of its life. Leave it be, little Aries.”
Aries, however, was not satisfied with this answer. He went over to Gemini, a pair of twin constellations, one a boy and the other a girl. They were floating, up near the highest part of the starlight city they called Zorgia, and twirling around and around, whispering things to one another.
“Do you know why the sun has become so large?” he asked. “Taurus says it is because the sun is dying.” He looked down at his hoofs; they were a see-through blue, and glimmered with tiny spots of light. “Do you that think is true?”
The Gemini twins nodded. “We do, little Aries, we do.” They smiled and floated around their dress, and shirt and pants, flowing around their bodies, like silk through water. “The sun is going to die, it is, it is.” In unison, just like the way they spoke, the two twins jumped over a bank of starlight, and vanished from sight.
Puzzled, Aries decided to seek out the wise Cancer, a crab that floated in the starlit waters of the seas of their galaxy. As he came up to the crab, treading light over the sea’s starry banks, with a gurgle of interstellar bubbles the crab surfaced, a great, bold, blue thing, with pincers that glimmered, and stalks for eyes. He was a galactic creature of few words. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a very clever constellation—he just liked to measure out his words carefully, to think and ponder before speaking his mind.
Still, Aries, young and impatient, found it rather difficult to wait. He asked the great crab his question, and the crab stood still, in the water, for several heartbeats. Then he pinched him, gently, on the arm, with the tip of his left pincer. “My dear little one, one day, I will become like that star. Ten thousand trillion years from now. Do you see?”
Aries did not see. In fact, he was beginning to think Cancer had spent too much time in his sea of starwater, and his mind had become waterlogged, living amongst the bubbles and other galactic star sea-creatures. So he bid him a polite farewell, and said, “I hope you do not drink too much starwater anymore.”
It was a rude thing to say, but he couldn’t help it. It wasn’t as if Cancer didn’t know the kind of constellation he was; brash and unthinking, young and inexperienced. He would forgive him, he hoped. Now. Who else was there to ask?
He made a brief stop at Leo’s home, a wide land of endless starry dirt, with plenty of stars—small ones, only of course, for him to eat. He was a constellation Aries had always felt rather shy about talking to.
As usual, the great lion constellation was busy eating stars, batting at them playfully in the air, as they twinkled and sparkled, before swallowing them whole. They travelled down his throat, down into his belly, where they glimmered and glowed, joining the fabric of his being.
Aries, who kept stars as pets, tried not to look too upset, as he asked the mighty lion constellation, “Why is the star up there,” he pointed to it, “so big?” The lion constellation thought for a moment. Then he opened his great mouth, and replied, “That is because it is now becoming the mightiest star it can be of all, just for a short period of time.”
“And after?” asked Aries, hoping he would say it would continue to be mighty and strong.
“After it will die, and no longer be great and mighty.”
Distraught, Aries gave his thanks and quickly left the starry land, in search of someone less brutal, more patient and understanding. It was then, as he was flying along through the air, that he bumped into Virgo, a beautiful constellation, in the shape of a human woman.
She was calm, attentive, and rather quiet, but Aries had always rather liked her. “Aries, what brings you to this corner of the galaxy?” The stars inside Virgo’s body, tiny lights, flickered and glowed. Aries tried his best to sound calm, too, but he failed. “The sun—my favourite star—has been growing bigger and bigger, and everyone says it’s going to die soon. Please tell me that isn’t true.”
Virgo thought about this for a moment; then she said, gently, “No. It’s not true. It won’t really die. It’ll just be—different. Transformed. Bits of it will fly outwards, at incredible speeds, and make up other parts of the galaxy. It won’t die, exactly—it’ll just be turned into something else.”
Aries blinked. This was worse than he had thought! If it died, at the very least things would be over and done with, but if bits of it were everywhere, he would never be able to forget about her dear star, and its shining, awe-inspiring brilliance. Quickly, he flew away, leaving behind a befuddled Virgo, who wondered, and hoped, desperately, that what she said had been the right thing to say.
No. It was time to move onto drastic measures. Libra—well, she was just a set of scales, bluish and translucent, stitched with tiny pinpoints of starlight. She didn’t talk, or speak; instead, using her weighing platforms, she answered yes or no questions: right weighing platform for yes, left one for no, dipping the weighing platforms downwards on either side of her body.
Aries approached Libra, cautiously: in the past, Libra had been known to get startled if you moved too close, too quickly, and refused to answer your questions. “Is that star up there really going to die?” he asked. “Yes,” said the tilt of Libra’s scales. Aries was greatly saddened. “Will it die very soon?” “Yes,” came the answer again.
Disappointed, Aries felt resigned, and was leaving Libra when he came across Capricorn, tussling with Sagittarius. The two constellations were joined together in a headlock, Sagittarius’s human arms wrapped around Capricorn’s great head, and Capricorn’s horns curved around Sagittarius’s head.
But when they saw Aries passing by, looking so sad, they quickly broke out of the headlock and came over to him. “Aries?” asked Capricorn, licking his injured hoof. “What’s wrong?” “Oh,” said Aries, close to tears. “Nothing, really. It’s just that a favourite star of mine, the sun, is about to die.” He pointed up at it, with one elegant hoof, and the two others, Capricorn and Sagittarius, followed where he was pointing with their eyes, and, slowly, nodding, they understood his predicament. Sagittarius licked his lips. Both he and Capricorn had lived long enough in this universe to know when a star was dying, but they didn’t know, despite their wisdom, how to break the news gently to a creature as sensitive as Aries.
Capricorn cleared his throat. “No, er, that star is not dying.” He shot a warning look at Sagittarius, who was beginning to frown. “No. It’s just—putting on a show. Yes.”
Arie’s face lit up. “Really? You’re not lying to me?” “Of course not,” said Capricorn, nudging Sagittarius in the ribs. “Why would we ever do such a thing?”
Heartened by this, Aries went on his way. After a while, however, his thoughts grew dark again, and he thought it might be best to get a second opinion. So he went over to where Aquarius lived, a huge chamber of watery starlight, on the north coast of the galaxy. She was busily churning the starry waters with her jug, tossing the waters this way and that, so that it shone and gleamed.
Aries went over to the older constellation, and asked,” Is that star up there dying or putting on a show?” Aquarius didn’t say anything. She could be quite preoccupied at times. But, finally, after a last sweep of the waters with her urn, she said, “Hello, little Aries. You look very tired. Why does the fate of this star matter to you so? It is only a dying star, after all.”
At this, Aries burst into tears. Aquarius was discomfited. She didn’t like seeing Aries cry. No-one did. So she thought of the only thing she could say, and said it, even if it wasn’t completely the truth. “The star is moving on. It’ll go to a different place. A better place.”
Aries blinked. “Really? After it—dies?” “Yes,” said Aquarius, nodding sagely. ‘That is exactly what will happen. A place stars go after they die. A safe place.”
“But—but I don’t want it to go to this other place!” He didn’t even say good-bye; poor little Aries fled from the distraught Aquarius.
He was walking so fast, on his hind legs, he didn’t even realise he had waded into a great, starry pond. He stood on the edge of it, the water up to his ankles, crying.
Up from the waters appeared Pisces, two fish who always travelled together. Like all constellations, they were translucent and dark blue, their scales knitted of stars. They gazed up at Aries, with their orb-like eyes, and said nothing. High up in the higher reaches of the galaxy, something was happening. Aries, standing in the water, kept on sobbing, oblivious to what was going on. “Watch,” gurgled Pisces.
Abruptly, Aries stopped crying, and looked, lifting his head upwards. High up in the galaxy, amongst the stars, the greatest star of all, known as the sun, was beginning to grow larger. In fact, it seemed to be inflating before their very eyes; and before long, it was the size of an enormous ball, hanging there in the starry heavens.
Aries stared, in absolute awe, his jaw gone slack. He was just thinking about whether or not he should run away, before it burst and exploded, but to her surprise, the explosion was very slow, and magnificent. Starry dust rained down on the galaxy of Zorgia, as the star burst apart into thousands of pieces of star matter, whirling away into the rest of the galaxy.
It was the most beautiful thing Aries had ever seen. Maybe dying wasn’t so frightening, after all. And what was more, after the star fragments blew away, what was left was the core, a tiny, soft, glowing pinpoint of light, rather like an echo of what the great star had been.
“See?” said Pisces, as they stared up at it together. “It’s not so bad now, is it?” “No,” said Aries, staring up at the star’s core, which flickered faintly. “Not at all.”

To My Future Boyfriend ( A Song by a Dreamer)

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A love letter to my future boyfriend
Hope you’re all good and handsome
And kind as daisy
Hope we’ll reach our old years
And be fine

But, oh my future boyfriend
Will you ever understand
The depth of my emotion
In the palm of my hand

For I am an endless sea
In which you shall drown
Better stay away than
Leave a smile for a frown

‘Cause oh my future boyfriend
Do you know what you’re getting into
Really…?

I’m a mad girl
I’m a bad girl
Yes I can be crazy
As hell
I will do things to you
Which will make you go blue…
…in the face.

Oh my future (hu—I nearly say husband here in the song!) boyfriend
I will be ever so soft
Kind as the clouds are
As they pass on by

And I’ll write you songs
I’ll write you books
I’ll make up words
And give you shy looks

Oh my future boyfriend
Do you really know me?
I’m not an ordinary girl
And very hard to please
Because…

I’m a mad girl
I’m a bad girl
Yes I can be crazy
As hell
I will do things to you
Which will make you go blue…
…in the face.

I’m a mad girl
I’m a bad girl
Yes I can be crazy
As hell
I will do things to you…
…but you know I love you too.

Click HERE to listen to it, or click the link below:

https://vocaroo.com/i/s0IPSNY7aFPL

This song was inspired by country songs, and is only loosely based on myself: I don’t believe I am that crazy or mad (to a certain extent, yes), but, generally, it’s about a girl who is afraid of what her future boyfriend will truly think of her—which, I guess, we all are, in the end.

I’m Not Evil…I Think.

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So. Dating has been on my mind recently.

And no, before you ask, I am not getting lonely, or desperate, or some needy combination of the two. With God in my life, and writing, and books, and anime, and films, and Youtube, and a potential cat and job in the age care industry in the future (did I word that correctly? The cat and the job are separate—though I would be glad to look after elderly people’s cats as well), and loving family members and a couple of (okay, I sometimes have to pretend I’m someone I’m not around them, but I’ve long ago realised that for creative, bookish people like me, who has yet to find another writer in her entire life, to maintain acquaintances and not seem cold and rude I have to put on a mask sometimes—and they’re more like acquaintances, to be fair) friends, I am not in a bad place. Anymore. Which is good.

Though everytime I feel myself getting a little too happy and hopeful with how things are going on at the moment, I remind myself that there are people in the world right now who are starving to death or have lost family members to murder and that shuts my overload of happiness right up. I don’t think it’s fair for some people to be so happy, while somewhere else in the world, someone is miserable enough to want to die. So, a tip: tone down on your own happiness, if you are fortunate enough to have it at the moment. Is that too pushy?

I ate chicken today. I hate eating meat, but sometimes my body just craves the protein, so I cave in. Today, while walking home, I passed these walls put up by the council around a building site, and they had been literally covered in pro-vegan slogans and writing, and recommendations to watch a 2005 film called “Earthlings”. I decided not to watch it. I can’t handle seeing any form of cruelty or pain. In the past, during moments of complete rage at people who I deemed had hurt me in some way, and pure malice, I did wish death on some people I had come across, but that part of me, after I have started to get closer to God, has been eradicated. Sometimes, I am surprised at how easily I could turn into a monster, if pushed far enough—never enough to actually hurt someone in real life, but enough to imagine hurting them. It’s a dark side of me that I am horrified of. That’s what comes of having a vivid imagination, I suppose.

Anyway. Back to dating. Last night, I prayed to God to wonder meet someone—yes, a romantic interest—who would fall in love with my creativity or something like that, and decide I am the light of his life, and keep me safe forever and ever. He would be tall. He would be Christian, and love God. He would like cats. Or just animals in general. He would be a writer. He would be creative. He has to be a fan of animation, whether it be Pixel or Disney or Studio Ghibili or anime. He should like books. Actually, make that a must. And then after that I prayed to get published, and then I prayed for a cat, and then I daydreamed a little, and then I fell asleep.

I’m sure you’re finding all this fascinating. This really is just a ramble, isn’t it, about my own little world. Welcome. What does the entrance of my world look like, you ask? Why, it is a fairy door, of course! A stone arch, covered in brambly white roses. Only the kind of heart can pass through, though a little darkness is allowed, of course. Otherwise it would be so boring. What was I talking about again? Oh, yes. Dating.

I actually figured out the most perfect way for a writer to meet someone. It would be for the two of us to find ourselves sitting next to each other in a library or on a train or some other public place, reading each other’s books. And I’d look up, and be like, “Hey, I wrote that,” and he’d look up, smile, and say, “Likewise.” And it would be the most romantic, to-die-for thing ever, because I am the kind of person who would die for my own writing (you think I’m joking, but if it was between my life and getting published, I’d choose the latter in a heartbeat, without batting an eye), and who would protect books and fantasy world inside books, animations and films, to my dying breath. It is the only place where I have felt truly happy, and belonged. So to meet someone that way—through books—is kind of a happily ever after for me. I calculate that the chances of it happening in real life are close to—the chance of everyone in the world deciding to stop eating meat even though it is available. Which are zero.

I don’t want to have babies. Ever. The world is overpopulated enough that having children, in my eyes, is a selfish thing to do. I want to adopt. Three children. But to do so, at least in Australia, I would need to have a partner. It’s not going to be easy. I love children almost as much as I love cats.

As for things like sex…well, everyone has hormones. We all got here somehow (excluding children who are born out of horrific circumstances, like rape). I suppose, under the right conditions, I would have the same urges as everyone else. But it’s not that important to me, because sex, like all physical pleasures, is incredibly short-lived. Sure, I’ve walked into a shopping centre or somewhere and thought—golly, he’s good-looking! Then, I take a closer look at him, at the way he talks or interacts with other people, and I realize, instantly, with my magic personality reading skills, that we would never be compatible. I worry, sometimes, that I won’t ever find someone who “fits” with me, psychologically. Still waters run deep.

My last post, about animations, anime and all sorts of stuff, is probably one of the best ways for someone to understand who I am. I am fantasy. Creativity. That’s it. There’s honestly nothing else. My favourite books in the world are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. And by favourite, I literally mean just imagining what happens in the books inside my head is enough to get me high with happiness. This is probably getting a little dull, but my passion for writing, for magic, is infinite. The only thing greater than it are things I care about, like the environment and family. Animals. I might not throw my books away for animals, unfortunately, or my mother (I am a hideous person, because the absolute truth is, since I don’t feel close to her, if I had to choose between publishing my own books and my mother’s life, I would actually find myself completely stuck and uncertain—and tempted to save the former), or a group of strangers who I have never had any contact with (honestly, if someone had to sacrifice my life just so their books could exist—I would gladly die for the greater good. I’m not kidding on this one. If my death, for instance, would have allowed Hayao Miyazaki to keep living, I would do so in a heartbeat.  And after I’ve published all of my books, of course, and only if the death is painless), but if it was a choice between my sibling, who I love more than my own life, or Mother Nature itself, who is everything to me, or Jesus, I would sacrifice my books (and by books, I mean the novels I’m currently working on).

I’m not a horrible person. I don’t think so. Maybe a little obsessed and egotistical. I just love books more than anything else in the world. And this might sound completely deranged (feel free to slap me in your mind), but when it comes down to it, I could imagine myself giving the OK to kill someone if they were going to do something horrible to my books, like use magic powers to erase all my books out of existence so that they were never published, never where even there. Just a random fantasy of mine.

This is what I was born for. To write. And I’m not even that good of a writer. I trust it all to God—everything, my future published books, my writing, my literary skills, my creativity. To hard work and practise. It is my purpose. Oh, and to do a heap of charity work until all my money is gone and I die of old age, surrounded by books and cats. All this is kind of hard to explain to people. Even when I tell the people closest to me that I must get published during my lifetime—or die, deep inside my soul, into an eternal blackness, the moment I take my last breath—they scoff, shrug, laugh it off.

It’s that important to me. Not because I want to be published and go, “Hey, I’m better than you, because I wrote these published books!” or for the fame, or for the money. I honestly believe my books need to exist, because they are very unique and pretty, and people have to have this burst of creativity God has gifted me.

Ha! And I promise I am not psychotic, or delusional, or plain crazy. I just know. I just know things. And I probably sounded really insane and evil in this post, spilling my thoughts out like this, so my dear dreamers, feel free to unsubscribe from your Dreamerrambling, who I am sure you all now believe is a demon.

Oh wait. This was meant to be about dating. In case you were wondering—a man who wouldn’t sacrifice his own life so my books would get to reach people is not a man I want in my life. Muahahaha.

Half of this post was tongue-in-cheek. I promise. I’m pretty sure I would sacrifice my own books in a heartbeat if it would save a pig screaming in fear from being slaughtered in front of me. Or a human being. It’s just easier, isn’t, if you can’t see it happening.

Chinese Animations, Anime, and old Barbie films

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I’ve been watching an anime recently, called “Fairy Tail”.

For those of you who have been living under a rock (sorry, that’s mean), anime is a kind of Japanese animation usually targeted at kids or young adults. It’s quite whizzy and wonderfully creative. There are all these wizards, who are part of a guild titled “Fairy Tail”, who go on all sorts of adventures fighting evil. The currency in the world is jewels, and each wizard has a unique ability; Lucy’s, for instance, is a young woman with the power to open doorways to let celestial spirits come through to the human world to fight on her behalf, Natsu is a dragonslayer who uses fire magic, and Grey an “ice-maker” wizard, who can block attacks with walls of crystalline ice conjured out of nowhere, and generate a multitude of ice-centred assaults. And there is Erza, of course, a lady with scarlet hair and fiery with determination, who can fight with a host of different equipment, re-equipping with the ease of a bird flying in the sky.
If my poor summary of the brilliant anime sounds a little appealing to you, I would recommend you check it out on Youtube; the first episode is HERE.
You know, it occurred to me that I have never really shared with my viewers some of my favourite animated shows, even though they form such a large part of my daily life and happiness.
I mean, there are the obvious ones, like the famous Hayo Miyazaki movies. But there are others, some of which many Western viewers may not have ever heard of, and which I grew up watching.
Alright, so here are some of my favourite animated movies (just click on the titles to get directed to the movies on Youtube): Barbie as Rapunzel, Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, Barbie in Swan Lake, Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. I know what you’re thinking—Barbie! As if I would ever watch anything so childish. But trust me, I grew up on these animated films, and they are literally works of art, that have age-old themes, such as the importance of bravery and kindness. Also, talking animals are always a good thing.
Oh gosh, I can’t believe how excited I am to tell you about these animated pieces of bedazzling beauty. Growing up, my parents also let me watch a lot of Chinese animations—we would put in this old-fashioned VCR, the animations were on CDs—and it really is a shame they are not more well-known outside of China. One of these is a short animation whose title, directly translated, is “The Snow Child”, though “The Snowman” would also work. HERE it is. Everything that happens is so easily understood you don’t even need to know the language to get what is going on. A little rabbit helps his mother to pick mushrooms. And a snowman comes to life. It is the most tragic, exquisite thing ever. My mum told me I cried watching it as a kid.

Another beautiful animation is called “Ne Zha Conquers the Dragon King.” HERE it is. Up until recently, I thought Ne Zha, the heroine of this story, a child, was a girl—but in fact, she’s a “he”, a boy. That was an unpleasant revelation for me—there’s a lot of Chinese animations about little boys, a reflection of the gender gap that still exists—but it made a good impression anyway; I mean, she’s a girl blessed with magic, who fights dragons, after all. And there’s a beautiful deer.

“Monkey King”, or “Sun Wu Kong”, who is the monkey in the film Journey to the West, is the old, original Chinese animation of the story, and it is absolutely brilliant. HERE it is, and it has English subtitles, and though this is only the first of many—it is a long journey—it was the only one I was really able to find on Youtube. I would upload them myself, but I have long lost my old CDs, which makes me very sad. It’s about this monkey who is bestowed with heavenly powers, has quite a mischievous and fiery-tempered personality, and decides to take on the entire heavens and its rulers all on his own. The music is astounding.

Mewmewpower is a Japanese anime about these girls who can, effectively, transform into cat-like people with superpowers. HERE it is. Honestly, typing that, it sounds rather lame, and the target demographic is young women, or girls (I watched it as a child), but it is still quite a pretty anime to look at.

Last of all is a Chinese animation series called “The Calabash Brothres”. HERE it is (seriously, just click on it for the opening music). Calabash means a type of gourd, and in this whimsical yet high-stakes story, seven boys are “hatched” out of calabashes each a different colour of the rainbow, each with different powers, to fight an evil monster who can transform into a serpent and takes on the appearance of a beautiful woman. The animation sparkles—literally, you’ll see what I mean—and the music is the kind of music that is beautiful but entirely different from anything around in Western countries.

It kind of kills me how little recognition these animations, especially the Chinese ones, get around the rest of the world—and the little widespread award recognition old Barbie movies and some of the beautiful animes floating around get—so please, do yourself and both the creators of these works, many of whom are long gone, a favour, and have a peek at some of them. They are too beautiful to disappear beneath the morass of modern day entertainment.

To be honest, sharing these animated shows with my readers is kind of the most wonderful thing ever, because they formed such a great part of my creativity and psyche. Without these movies and animations, my heart would be cut out. I would not be who I am. I would not be a storyteller. I would not be a writer. As I girl, I sat in a living room and sat glued to the screen, entranced by the magical worlds unfolding before my very eyes—and some part of me alresdy knew, at that point, who I would want to become.

My self-published short story: The Library of Owls

owll.jpg

Like all the owls, Sival was born in one of the many nests clustered in the attic of the library.

The first thing he clapped eyes on was a shaft of light lancing through a hole in the roof, golden and swirling with glinting dust motes. Its beauty shot through him like honey. He suddenly wanted to speak, to cry out, to share what he saw. But all that emitted from his beak was a feeble warble, which his mother, curled up exhausted next to the nest, took as a cue to cram a fleshy worm down his gullet, just a little too hard.

Sival choked, his first words stifled. Black despair poured over his initial wonder like tar. He spluttered. He gagged. He very nearly died. And so it was that when the other owlets ricocheted like tiny balls of fluff among the rafters of the attic, warbling to each other, Sival did not join in, and he did not make a sound. He only stared out the round window set into the wall beside his nest, a window that looked out on steam engines and carriages, well-dressed men and women, a riot of smoke and noise, none of it the least bit comprehensible, and thought his own thoughts.

To the elders, when Sival’s mother prodded him to their musty roost on the other side of the attic to shed some light on her son’s reticence, this was not a bad thing, this silence. On the contrary, it was a strength, for it would make him all the more easier to train.

Their training began in a backroom of the library. All the owlets chirruped with excitement at leaving the attic for the first time, but were soon silenced by the pearlescent gaze of the elders. That was the first rule they learned: talking during the day would now be forbidden. Even at night they were  only allowed to hoot softly to one another, so as to not get out of habit. One particularly mischievous owlet, upon receiving this ban, hooted at the top of her voice, the power of her cry nearly lifting her off her talons.

From somewhere in the library beyond the walls of the room there came an echo. A cry, exploding with fury, louder than anything the owlets had ever heard, or could make themselves. One of the eldest – the largest, and to the rest of the owlets the most frightening – flew over to the recalcitrant owlet’s side and slashed her across the face three times with his talons, leaving a cross-hatch of gashes seeping dark blood. The owlet trembled with pain, but made no sound. Those marks would eventually fade into scars, but never truly disappear, as a reminder to everyone of the consequences of making a sound.

Their training consisted of flying back and forth in that cramped, dusty room whilst trailing stone weights from their ankles. Day after day, they wove between old cabinets and files and abandoned chairs in utter silence, save the soft sussurus of twenty pairs of wings, while the elders watched on.

At first, as it always is when you try to do something new, it was difficult. Owlets twitched their little wings desperately, dipping and rising in their efforts to reach the other side, their beaks silent but their hearts screaming. Some made it only to collapse in a sprawl of feathers, unable to rise even when prodded. Still more fell out of the air like stones, spraining their ankles, twisting their wings. If any owlet made a sound, even a peep of shock, he or she received a sharp slash of talons.

Sival fell, again and again – sometimes he could not even rise into the air while weighed down with the stones. All that time spent with his beak pressed against the window had done little for his wing strength, and the same elders that had once viewed him as an object of potential now stared at him with blank disapproval.

At night, aching and exhausted, gazing out at the night beyond his window, the moonlight bathing his feathered face white, Sival wondered: Why? He could not fathom the reason behind their training. But he kept silent, as he had since the day he was born, and there was nothing to ask except the night and the moon and the stars.

As the days lengthened into weeks, the owlets grew accustomed to the weight of the stones, and began to fly back and forth across the room with ease, pinwheeling and zipping. Eventually even Sival could accomplish the journey with little effort. The elders nodded to one another. From then on, the weights were removed and replaced by books which they gripped in their talons.

For the first time they were allowed access to the library beyond the training room. Compared to the attic and the back room, it was simply enormous, with its towering shelves of books that reached all the way up to the raftered ceiling, row after row of them, and great lamps protruding from the polished wood-paneled walls, shining like tiny suns.

Here and there squatted a green armchair, while at the front of the room, near the beveled glass doors, squatted a low desk covered in rolls of curling parchment, as well as a inkwell with a sprig of black feather poking out of it. Sival surveyed all this with interest. In the language of the owls, there were certainly no words for “book” or “chair”, but all owls have keen eyesight, and all certainly possessed pictorial classifications for the objects they saw.

So when the elders taught them the various symbols to recognise on the spines of books, using a wooden board inscribed with them, it did not take the owls long to commit them to memory, and to seek out the correct books accordingly. The elders showed them strips of paper, upon which the symbols were arranged in various orders. They taught them tricks to get the right books, such as memorizing the first and last cluster of symbols rather than the entire row. And though it was never spoken, implicitly the owls knew that books were sacred things, only to be carried and never opened. They spent their first day in the library flying to various parts of the library to fetch the right correct books. Many errors were made at first, and the elders’ beaks tightened in distaste as book after wrong book were deposited at their feet by their tentative students.

It was here, however, that Sival excelled. His visual memory was excellent, and that very first day, after absorbing the layout of the library, he brought every book correctly, and the elders looked on with silent approval.

He was burrowing his head beneath his wings that night, filled with quiet, satisfied pride, when he heard a scuffling noise from the corner of the attic. Thinking it might be a mouse – they sometimes made nests in the walls – Sival padded over to investigate, only to find the source of the sound to be owls were bent over an open book, their necks jerking back and forth in inquisitiveness. Sival peered at the book, too. Neither paid him the slightest attention, accustomed as they were to the strange little owl who never spoke, and did not join in their games.

Hundreds of scratches, like the markings of talons on the attic walls, covered the pages. Strange. They looked just like the symbols on the shelves and the spines of the books, only multiplied a thousandfold. One of the owls gave a hoot of irritation, ripped out a page with her talons and stuffed it into her nest. The other followed. The sound of quiet tearing filled the attic. Sival returned to his nest, his sleepiness evaporated, thoughts broiling with those symbols. What did they mean? What were they? Who were they for?

Finally the day arrived. Why this particularly day was so important, no owl knew, but there thrummed in the air a sense of expectation none were immune to. The elders prodded the owl into the little niches set into the wall by the desk – like books, thought Sival, we’re like the books lined up on a shelf – and then the first creature came in, just like ones Sival saw strolling on the ground outside his window.

What a monster it was up close! So tall, so thin, and such strange, limp sort of wings, no feathers at all!  It stepped up to the walls of niches, reached out one arm; there was a soft clunk, as something fell through a slot in the ceiling of Sival’s alcove to land at his feet: a wooden stick, inscribed with symbols. Dutifully Sival bent his head and committed them to memory. Then he soared out into the dusty reaches of the library, eyes sharp and scanning for the right shelf, before depositing the book at the tall creature’s feet and nestling back into his niche. He watched the creature pick up the book and turn to the creature next to it and open his strange flat mouth and speak.

“I say Mr Offinal, you’ve got some damn smart birds in this library of yours.”

“Nothing smart about it,” replied the other creature, in an oozing voice that made Sival think of the slimy backs of worms. Its eyes looked different from the other one: they were obscured by round pieces of glass that glinted in the lamplight, the kind of material that made Sivel’s window. “They’re just well-trained.”

Whatever the creatures were saying, Sival could not understand it; it was all just a jumble of nonsensical sounds to him. But he watched as the one with glass opened the book, pointed to the pages, hooted some more in that slimy voice, and slowly an understanding formed in his mind.

Those scratches, somehow, were another way of speaking. Somehow, those scratches were the same as speaking, but on paper, preserved forever. He didn’t know how this thought occurred to him, but the moment he did, he knew that he was right. It was if another world had unfolded around him. To somehow communicate through these scratches, let others know what you were thinking – it was like magic! What was the secret? How had the creatures done it?

So it began what Sivel thought of as his true training. Fetching books was easy – any owl could do that. But to understand the scratches in the books? That was another thing entirely. He stole pages from the nests of the owls who had ripped apart the book and squinted at them by moonlight. But no matter which way he looked at them – if he was even looking at them the right way, that is – they remained stubbornly incomprehensible, no more than dead insects on the page.

He began listening closely to the sounds the creature’s made. Rather than go to sleep like the owls when no tokens clattered at their feet, he stayed wide awake, listening and listening. For weeks the sounds remained unintelligible. Then slowly some sounds began to stand out: the creatures always made the same sounds when they left, and when they came in.

One creature, a small one, liked to sit in an armchair and while a bigger creature spoke to her from the book. Sival made friends with her, perching on her shoulder and watching intently each time she visited as her fingers pointed to the words and pictures as she read. In this way, month after month, he connected many of the sounds with the words, and many of the words with meanings.

Years passed. Over time, the more he understood of this new language, the further apart he grew from his feathered brethren. They paid little enough attention to strange silent Sival before, but now blatantly avoided him, as if sensing his new wisdom. By now only one of the five elders still remained. She spent most of her time in the attic with her head tucked under her wing.

Eventually Sival stole a book, and found himself able to read swathes of it, though not understand all he read, as some words, despite him being able to make the sound of them in his mind, were not attached to any meaning. These he skipped. He read of creatures who journeyed to far off lands, of creatures who lost their homes, of sad creatures whose parents and friends did not understand them, and his little owl heart warmed and soared and grieved along with them. It was then he realised he was lonely. Very lonely. Perhaps that had been one of the reasons he had so immersed himself in his new task: to forgot the fact that while owls around him slept side by side at night and were even starting to pair up, he still slept alone in his little nest by the window with only the moon and the stars for company.

One day when the small creature visited again, coaxing him onto her arm from his alcove, Sival looked her deep in the eyes, then flew towards the table at the front of the room. She followed, a little cautiously. “What is it?” she whispered. “Do you want to show me something?”

Sival tried to nod. He bobbed his head once. It gazed down at him with its dark enormous eyes, uncomprehending. He pattered, talons clicking over the wooden surface of the desk, to the inkwell. Picked up the black feather between two talons, as he had seen a creature hold it many times. The little creature watching on made a funny sound in her throat, one she always uttered when happy. “Oh, what are you going to do, little owl? Write?”

Relief radiated in Sival’s feathered breast at that. She understood! And now, maybe, he could make her understand him. Slowly he began to write, scratching the wet tip of the feather across an empty page of parchment. Above him, there was a quick intake of breath, but he ignored it, concentrating. Splotches of ink coated his talons. He tried his best to copy the symbols from the books. When he finished, he stepped back and surveyed his work. The words weren’t half as good as the ones in the books, but it would have to do. To his disappointment, when he looked up, the small creature had disappeared. He swiveled his head. Where had she gone?

In a sudden flash the parchment was snatched up from beneath his feet, sending him tumbling across the desk. Lying on his back, he found himself gazing up into the face of the creature with the glass circles over his eyes, the slimy voice, who peered down at the words Sival had written. Beside him, dwarfed, stood the smaller creature, wide-eyed and staring at Sival. Sival felt a surge of pleasure at hearing the creature with the glass circles read his words aloud, even if it was in that unappetizing voice.

Hello. Nice to meet you.” It peered down at the smaller creature, who ducked its head beneath its gaze. “You’re quite sure it wrote this?” The smaller creature moved its head up and down strenuously. “Oh yes! Yes, I saw it with my own eyes.”

So they didn’t believe him, did they? Well, he would make them listen. He would make them understand. Quickly, dipping the feather into the inkstand again, he repeated his performance, this time with the larger creature watching.

When he finished, hands shot out and grasped him tight around the waist. He squawked and squirmed in surprise, dropping the black feather.

“Oh, don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him. What are you going to do with him?”

The creature grasping Sival said nothing. Its forehead glistened with moisture like the condensation on Sival’s glass window on winter nights. It twisted its fat neck to look around at the library, at the owls huddled in the niches, at the few circling among the shelves like tiny puffs of clouds, and those perched on armchairs or lamp holders, silent and watching with their quiet tawny faces and liquid dark eyes. Its talons tightened so hard around Sival he was afraid of being crushed, and suddenly he was afraid of something else, something he could not put into words or pictures or thoughts. Something he wasn’t sure he even understood. Had he done the right thing? He had only wanted to talk to his friend. Clamped in the creature’s sweaty hands, a worm of doubt curled in his gizzard.

They took him away from the library, to a new room, one with more chairs and tables. They placed him in a cage, which was like a nest with no way out. Everyday the little creature came and opened a little door in the cage and slipped him some food. Sometimes, when the other taller creatures were absent, it even slipped him a book, or some parchment to write with. It always looked tremendously surprised and excited whenever it read what Sival had written.

 Why take me

 “Oh, because I forced uncle to promise to let me keep you! You’re the most wonderful creature I’ve ever owned!”

Though he missed his mother, missed his roost by the window, the soft warbles of his clan, this comforted Silvan somewhat. He had been chosen, singled out; his years of learning had all paid off.

Other times the creature would lift the drapes from his cage and sit by him and talk until its hooting grew soft and its eyes quiet. Sival felt safe with it. Still, it would be nice to be allowed to fly around a bit, and he wrote this request the morning after he had arrived, scratching away while the creature stared. It picked it up once he finished it and read it, eyes darting back and forth, tongue poking out between its soft beak. Then it lowered paper and looked at him.

“Let you out? Oh but uncle said I wasn’t to. He said I mustn’t. He said you were a – a demon. You know, I had to beg him to let me keep you as a pet. Do you understand what I’m saying? Sometimes I feel like you understand everything.” It passed one talon across its face. “Oh, I suppose it won’t hurt. Just a little while. I’ll shut all the doors and windows.”

It opened the cage door. Sival hopped out, stretched his wings with a quick flutter. Then he leaped from the edge of the desk and soared and flew and spun around the room, heart beating a fast exhilaration. He had forgotten the joy flying afforded. Then the creature left, having been called away by another creature in the building, and he was alone.

He explored the room that he had gazed upon for so long from the confines of his cage. He perched on the windowsill and peered outside. From his time in the attic, windows were familiar. But this looked out on something different. Not a road, swarming with the tall creatures. Instead…he cocked his head. Pressed his face against the glass. Outside came shouts and cries. It was a street, a great expanse of grey. Strung along it from tall sticks were white lengths of rope, and strung along the ropes were tiny bundles, like the kind the creature wore on its fleshy talons when it was cold.

He looked a little closer, eyes focusing.

A squawk of shock tore from his throat.

They weren’t bundles at all, but row upon row of owls, pegged upside-down to the ropes by their talons. His mother. His clan. Smoke rose from their charred feathers in black tendrils. They were being killed. They were dead.

When the small creature returned to coax him back into his cage, Sival bit it on the finger. It shrieked, even louder than the shouts outside. More creatures poured into the room, all of them hooting louder and louder. Tight talons gripped Sival, shoved him roughly back into his cage in a puff of loosened feathers. Sival lay on his side, eyes dull. The cage lifted; the world beyond the wire swayed, changed colours.

He had not meant to bite the creature who had been so kind to him. He had not meant to bring death upon his clan, for he knew now, with a strange knowing, a strange certainty, that it was he who had killed them. If he hadn’t written those words, if he hadn’t tried to read the books…

 He was placed in the hands of a creature with a yellowed, jutting mouth and a missing eye, who stuffed him in a glass cage shaped like an upside bowl. In there, day after day, Sival wrote down names, symbols arranged in a line, which the creature read to him, spitting the words into a little brass pipe attached to the top of the glass cage. Blurred faces peered at him, magnified by the curvature of the glass so that their mouths looked big enough to eat him as they had eaten his clan. Sival wrote. Each time he spelled something right he received a slip of gristle; when he got it wrong, he got nothing. He went hungry. He wrote until his talons ached, symbols after symbol after symbol. No longer were words his freedom, but his prison.

And one night, when the sight of those burning bodies roared in his mind and words swirled like hundreds of writhing black worms in his vision, he threw himself again and again against the glass cage, again and again, battering himself against the glass, until it slid off the table and splintered with a crash on the floor.

Despite his disorientation, he took to flight, aiming for the square of light, the open window. The creature with the jutting yellow mouth leaped to its feet, shouting, talons reaching out, but Sival was quicker. One final wingbeat, and he was free, soaring away and up into the white sky, the wind ruffling his feathers, high above the little brown buildings that lay beneath him like so many closed books. The sun beat hot upon him, a dead blank eye.

Sival flew towards the light, towards the horizon, headed for a forgotten land of no name.

 

 

INFP Word Association

Words INFPs (or Daydreamers) Like              Words Non-Daydreamers Like

Celestial                                                                     Definite

Lunar                                                                         Space

Equestrian                                                                Consideration

Sugarplum                                                                Think

Knight                                                                        Internet

Glittering                                                                  Leader

Lacewing                                                                  Teamwork

Toffee                                                                        Question

Castle                                                                         Measure

Corset                                                                        Restaurant

Clockwork                                                                 Dog

Unicorn                                                                     Building

Delicate                                                                      Soon

Pirouette                                                                   Digital

Winged                                                                     Wildlife

Daffodil                                                                     Inspire

Bejeweled                                                                Holiday

Nightgown                                                              Adventure

Honeysuckle                                                          Creativity

Dewdrops                                                                 Medical

Potion                                                                       Action

Skeleton                                                                  Comedy

Sinewy                                                                     Bay

Lackadaisical                                                         Airplane

Shipwreck                                                               Baking

Quintessential                                                       Choreography

Inferno                                                                    Romantic

Ramshackle                                                           Broken

Poison-ivy                                                              Conceptual

Dollhouse                                                                Ticket

Bubblegum                                                            Outdoors

Confetti                                                                   Good

Sinister                                                                   Values

Raven                                                                       Fine

Kitten                                                                      Beautiful

Decrepit                                                                 Personal

Suitcase                                                                 Journal

Sombre                                                                  Perform

Contort                                                                  Amazing

Princess                                                                Heroic

Carapace                                                               Conflict

Blackened                                                            Resilience

Apothecary                                                            Freezing

Viper                                                                         Total

Arctic                                                                       Fashion

Ocean                                                                       Bass

Violin                                                                      Reflection

Octopus                                                                  Stadium

Sewing-machine                                                   Prawn

Gauntlet                                                                 Streamlined

Gilt                                                                           Decor

Witchcraft                                                              Possibility

Extra-terrestrial                                                     Position

Emeralds                                                                   Baby

Drenched                                                                Generation

Whisper                                                                 Announcement

Spyglass                                                                      Income

X-ray                                                                         Makeover

Lagoon                                                                        Success

Vineyard                                                                     Alcohol

Staircase                                                                        Store

Fragrance                                                                     Taste

Silky                                                                             Purpose

Azure                                                                             Sleep

Delectable                                                               Controversial

Blueprint                                                                    Vegetable

Umbrella                                                                    Satisfied

Wraith                                                                         Difficult

Swirl                                                                           Recognise

Ribcage                                                                           Detect

Swan                                                                                  Slim
Statue                                                                             Sawdust

Bowery                                                                             Beam

Strawberry                                                                       Jealous

Hexagonal                                                                         Afraid

Gargoyle                                                                             Dock

Orphan                                                                             Relationships

 

Some words are just a little prettier than others, if you know what I mean. Feel free to add your own to the list. ❤

My self-published book “The Castle” (Written by an INFP)

The castle rose against the night sky like an enormous hilltop of jagged stone, its turrets too high for Anling to make out the tops of them. She had never laid eyes on anything so magnificent before and the experience was altogether too wonderful for words. Perhaps if the events hadn’t unfolded the way they had, she wouldn’t have come, but it was too late for that now; and as the truth sank in she started moving forwards over the grass to the door so that she could enter into the first of the rooms. To her surprise she found herself inside more of a sitting room than an actual one, with chairs and sofas scattered around the place and beautiful flowers arranged in vases sitting on desks and tables. Over by the right wall there stood a magnificent statue of the sorcerer who had built this castle, a fellow by the name of Fabien Mon Cher, who never knew what madness it was that overtook him and made him desire to construct such a holy colossal thing of rock and magnate in the first place. Barring that, there was nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary about the room at all; as far as Anling was concerned this was just the time and place to be for her, otherwise how else would she know how to stand by her own truth wherever life took her?

Other women stood in the room at the walls in differently-coloured dresses and attires, some of them barefoot and pale-faced like her, wearing peasant clothing, others with pinched expressions, worn dresses, and the prideful air of those who had enjoyed wealth and status, but had now fallen into ruin. So far many had tried to get the bag of gold, but none had succeeded, and rumors had it that peculiar secrets lurked within the castle walls, the kind of mysteries that would make your skin curdle and blood writhe in your veins just to think about it. If so, then the world could come crashing to an end, for nothing would stop her from reaching the place where she wanted to be at the end of all the rooms, to receive her grand reward of a bag of gold to feed her family. It was all very well for the rich—they, after all, didn’t have mouths to feed and work tremendously hard for their money, while she, Anling, was well-versed in the intricacies and hardships of life without a roof over one’s head or bread in one’s stomach. Oh yes, the life that the poor lived was a sad and sour one indeed if Anling were honest with herself, and not only did she not want to live it anymore, she didn’t want anyone else in her family and friends to either. Besides, it wasn’t as if she didn’t want to enjoy moving through the rooms as well—that, after all, was an additional pleasure that she was certainly looking forward to. But if she were truly honest with herself, she knew in her heart that when the hours whiled past and the rivers and streams ran dry, the light of the sun would one day rise and bring joy and abundance to all; but until that day happened, the only thing she could do was move through the rooms one at a time and reach the prize at the end. For her family, for her friends. For her people.

A gong sounded, reverberating through the room, and all the women turned as the door that was set into the brickwork to their left slid open by itself to leave the way to the next room clear. Quickly, picking up her skirts with her hands, Anling ran into the room at the heels of the other women, her heart and soul singing inside her chest in a way it had never done before. Excitement was thick in the air, and the women rushed down a corridor and then left into another one, finally arriving at a dining room that had a fine table set out in it with a beautiful feast laid upon it. Apples, apricots, geraniums in vases and bowls filled with seeds, it was a bounty unlike anything Anling had seen before in her life, rich and mouth-watering. She stepped forwards, hands reaching out for the bread that lay on a plate at the edge of the table, picked it up and stuffed it inside her mouth. The sweet doughy softness of it was an elegant song upon her tongue and past her lips, the universe reverberating in single-toned laughter that ran into her veins like stars. Never had she tasted bread as good as this; and all around her the others, hungry and starved, some of them slipping loaves into their pockets, were tucking into the bread as well, taking large bites of it to fill their stomachs and prepare them for the rooms that lay ahead.

Why they should feel so terrible after eating the foods was not something they realised until after the last bites of food had been swallowed, and Anling found herself suddenly starting to expand outwards at her fingers and toes, her legs blowing up like bags of pigs’ blood. She screamed, along with everyone else in the room, the tinkle of cutlery falling like rain through the air as all down the table women dropped the spoons and forks they had been holding to clutch at their legs and arms. Many of them collapsed onto the ground where they stood, writhing in agony. A fire in Anling’s veins started, burning and terrible, scorching through her body from the top of her head to her toes. “Please! Make it stop!” The years that she had spent under the sun toiling in the fields until the skin on her back and her arms turned browned and painful was nothing compared to this, and she wanted nothing more than to douse herself with a bucket of holy water to cleanse herself of the food’s demonic influence. Yesterday’s coins that she had spent on little dolls for her daughter’s funereal, arranging them with the flowers beside her grave, flashed through her mind like sunlight. If only she hadn’t spent that money, then perhaps she wouldn’t have felt compelled to come to this castle in the first place and risk her life like this.

Still, there was nothing to be done about that, not when she was already here, and Anling staggered back onto her feet and over to the table and snatched up a goblet of wine and, throwing back her head, drank its contents in one a single swallow. The effect was instantaneous: all at once, the fire in her veins went out, as if it had been extinguished, and her fingers, arms and legs shrank, returning to their normal sizes. Fortunately there seemed to be plenty of wine to go around, and Anling watched from where she stood at the centre of the table along one of its sides as the other peasant women—well, they weren’t all women of low birth, some looked as though they could be duchesses, and more than a few of them common housemaids and ladies-in-waiting—did the same, picking up goblets and drinking them.

All except one. It was a woman with very long black hair that swept the floor, clad in a dress that looked more like armor than clothing. She alone did not pick up a goblet and drink. Instead, she simply stood there, her eyes shut, a beatific smile on her face, as her body swelled and ballooned, until it suddenly caught fire, and she burned away to ashes where she stood. The entire thing could not have been longer than a few seconds, yet for Anling it felt like a tiny eternity. Dead. Gone. Just like that. But it was the smile on her face that had so disturbed her, gentle and serene, as if she had waited a long time for this to happen. As if she had been receiving a gift instead of a curse. What kind of life must she have led, what deeds had she committed, that would make her happy to die like that? Anling didn’t know, and she didn’t much desire finding out. With the other women she went out of the room into the next one, the door sliding out of the wall from it when they reached it, into the largest place Anling had ever set foot inside in her entire life.

It was all white marble, a blinding white, like snow, with beautiful vines curling about all over the place in the cracks and fissures marring its surface, and at its back wall there sat several bathtubs. They were constructed of porcelain and into different animals, a tortoise, a dog, a pig, a goat, a rooster and a lion, and they sat there, bright and shiny, looking as though they were waiting for someone to climb into them. So Anling did, walking over to the one on the left, the pig, and climbing into it so that she stood inside it. It was very beautiful. In front of her were golden taps, with tiny lettering on their sides, and she bent over and squinted at them to get a better look. BELIEVE. That was what the words were, all down the golden spouts. To think there was nothing else in the world but those words would have been an understatement. Anling felt as if she had not only been stripped of who she was after reading them, but that something had changed inside of her. She would believe. In what, she did not yet know, but the word felt right in a way nothing else had done so before, and when she looked up from them and found the room was filling up with water, great floods of it sweeping through the place to crash against the marble walls, she wasn’t the least bit surprised.

Instead she simply put her hands to the taps and started to steer the bathtub over the waves, turning them to the left and right. It was not difficult, like steering a ship or anything complicated; her fingers seemed to know which way to turn the taps without her even asking them to, and soon she had reached the other side of the room, where the water stopped. She got out of the bathtub and onto the ground at the door. There were other ladies there who had made it across, and they stood there at the edge of the room, facing the wall of water that their bathtubs still floated on. Forever would Anling remember the sight of the last of the bathtubs as it came swimming across the waters towards them, with a woman of pale complexion and yellow ringlets standing inside it. It was the dog, and as it came towards the edge of the water, the bathtub suddenly came to life, and the dog threw back its head, let out a long howl, and thrashing about its legs sank underneath the water. They watched it drown, and the woman with it. It was over in seconds. Anling turned and followed the other women out of the room, her hands trembling and her heart cold inside her chest.

In this next room, plants of all different shapes and sizes sprouted from the white floor, twisted together inside the room, too thickly for Anling to see the brickwork. The other ladies started climbing up the greenery, scaling them as if they were ladders. Anling stared up at the plants; the brickwork was there, at the leafery and stems: the room was a lighthouse, the brickwork glimmering in between the leaves at the walls. Leaves tickled her slippers at the vegetation of the brickwork on the ground and Anling started stepping up the plant, grabbing hold of leaves higher up for balance. It was not hard; the leaves were soft and springy, and simple and light to walk on one after another. In no time at all, Anling got to the highest of the plants and lifted her head into bright sunlight. Looking around, her eyes fell upon a toadstool in the centre of the leafy expanse, its red cap with a little tea party set laid out upon it. Around the table sat the other women, seated on leafy chairs that grew up from the vegetation around the toadstool. It was the neatest and prettiest thing Anling had ever seen. Out her slippers climbed from the last few leaves and onto the leafy ground this high up in the room, and over thick leaf she walked to the toadstool table and sat down in the empty chair that was left.

“What are we meant to do here?” asked the woman in the pink dress with the ruffles. “I don’t see any tea. ”Maybe we’re supposed to make it ourselves, out of the leaves around here.” “You think?” “I don’t know. Perhaps.” “Ah, ladies. So glad you could join me this fine evening.”Anling stared. On the table there suddenly stood a mouse next to the teapot. It had long whiskers, brown fur and sharp yellow teeth, and it wore a black top hat, a black suit and carried a black cane in its gloved left hand that was topped by the tiny carving of a cat. It grinned at them, and swept off its hat in an elegant bow. “Greetings. Mr Zuku by name, teacups are my game. In a little while, each of the teacups sitting before you will fill up with a special, magical brew of astonishing properties. One among them will be poisoned; the others will simply have a few certain nasty side effects. Whoever drinks the poisoned tea will not pass from this room to the next. You are allowed to trade your teacup for another’s if you wish over a certain time period. So, are we clear?”

Without waiting for an answer, the mouse tapped the end of his cane on the spout of the teapot, and all at once, colourful teas filled the teacups before each of them, blue, red, yellow, orange and black. Anling looked inside her teacup, and glimpsed tiny, little droplets leaping up from its blue surface exactly like miniature dolphins. Everyone else was staring intently at their teas as well, their brows furrowed and mouths drawn into lines. “On my watch,” said Mr Zuku, tapping his wrist, and the game began.” “I don’t see the point in trading with anyone,” said a woman with dark skin in a purple dress seated on a leaf opposite Anling. “There’s a one in six chance any of us will have the poisoned cup, so why trade? It’s not as if we can exactly tell which is the tea that will send us straight to heaven or hell in seconds.” “I don’t know,” said another young woman in a pretty ruffled dress with the brown ringlets and ruddy face. “I’ve heard that most poisons tend to be dark in colour, like yours.” The tea sitting before the woman of the dark skin tone was of a vivid purple, the same shade as her dress. “Oh, you think so?” “Oh, to hell with it, I’m just going to trade. Better safe than sorry, and I have a bad feeling about this teacup. Anyone?” The lady in the blue dress and the short golden hair showed her teacup to everyone around the table. “Well, any takers?” “Nope,” said the woman in the ruffled dress. “Not me. I’m keeping mine.” “What about you?” The woman—once a duchess, by the look of her worn finery, though her beautiful face was pinched and starved— stared at Anling from across the table. “Do you want to?” “No thanks,” said Anling, “I’d rather not.” “Fine, then. Can I just ask then is there anyone who wants to trade around here or are we all just going to sit here until this mouse tells us time’s up?”

“Time,” said the mouse in the top hat, who now sat on the spout of the teapot with one leg crossed over another, “is already up. All ready, then? Drink up! If you don’t, you are out of the game and into the loony bin.” Anling put the rim of the teacup to her lips and took a sip. Please don’t be the poisoned one. Please don’t be. The tea tasted of sugar and berries, and as she swallowed her heart beat faster and she waited for what would happen next. All at once, a funny tingling started in her fingers and toes, and looking down at her hands, she saw that green webbing had appeared between her fingers, thin and stretchy, like those of a frog’s. All around the table, the other women were gasping and crying out as magical transformations took place on their bodies, wings sprouting from collarbones, horns from heads, tails from backs that curled through the air at their heads.

It was uncanny. Never had Anling seen anything so strange. But before she could even get a second glance at the others there came a sharp scream that tore through the silence like a knife, and turning to her left, she saw that the woman in the dress with the ruffles and ribbons was screaming her head off like a banshee. “What on earth has gotten into you?” asked the woman sitting next to her, but she went on screaming, too caught up in her own pain to even hear her, and before their eyes she started turning into a rabbit. It was the most astonishing thing. Slowly, as if watching a film being played backwards, her body shrank from that of a woman’s into that of a small, pale animal, and in less than the blink of an eye sitting there before them on the chair was just a little rabbit, its pink nose twitching. There was a long silence, and then the mouse said, “Well, I guess that’s settled, then. The rest of you move on while I stay here and tend to this little one.”

“Let’s go, shall we?” “Alright.” Anling trooped after the other women into the next room through a door on the wall to their right, and they found themselves standing in another room with golden discs floating about inside of it, revolving back and forth in layers up through the room. “Well,” remarked the lady in the red dress, and before any of them could even move she was already running and leaping onto the first of the moving discs and starting to rise upwards into the room like a fairy standing on the moon. Anling had never seen anything more wonderful in her life. It was like a Christmas tree, only better, because it moved and shifted about all over the place like a kaleidoscope. She wanted to run up and jump onto the first of the discs but before she could take a step three of the other women  did the same, leaping forwards like gazelles and onto the discs which quickly rose up and took them out of sight. If she had not been so full of nerves about being inside the castle perhaps she would have thoroughly enjoyed this bonanza of a room. Instead all she could do was wait for the disc to come back down again, this time empty of any of the women. With trepidation Anling took a flying leap onto the first of the discs and landed on the golden surface with a hard thwack that shook the entire room.

‘Oops, that wasn’t meant to happen,’ she said to no-one in particular, but there was no-one to hear her and without further ado she lifted her head up towards the next golden disc, which revolved up and down a little above the one she stood on. Oh, it was all very well talking about things, but actually doing them was very hard work—the next jump nearly took all the wind out of her, it was so high. That couldn’t be helped; in life, one must go on with things after all. With that in mind Anling jumped onto the next disc and then the next, until she was two or three discs away from the last one at the very top of the room. Getting there would be an easy matter; that, at least, was what she thought: but in the very next moment something strange and terrible happened. Every disc in the room started to shake and shudder as if they were being banged together like cymbals, and suddenly, figures appeared on the discs like dolls put onto them by a child. They were men and women in beautiful clothes and dresses, wearing masks that covered their faces so tightly that it looked as though they couldn’t breathe. Over to the right of the figures on the disc she was standing on a little keyhole appeared in the brickwork that glinted and sparkled, and at her right elbow one of the dancers  took hold of her hand and pulled her against him into a dance.

It was not the most comfortable position to be in, but Anling wasn’t complaining, she had never felt so warm and contented before all of a sudden, as if she were right in front of a fire that toasted her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. ”Well isn’t this just smashing,” said the man who had her in his embrace, ” aren’t you just having the most marvellous time?” ”Yes, I suppose,’ whispered Anling a little uncertainly, not sure whether she ought to speak up or not. ”I love dancing,” the man continued, ”absolutely love it, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, wouldn’t you agree?” ”Yes, I think so,”Anling whispered again, dreamily, for she felt herself becoming rather sleepy, her eyelids drooping shut. That was when the first cry went up, and she blinked twice and opened her eyes to find thousands of little stars flittering in the air around her, spinning and twirling. It was the most wonderful thing she had ever seen, and she cried out in delight—only for her shout to turn into a howl of dismay upon finding them transforming into ugly, black beetles that whizzed about the place to sting and bite. Dancers everywhere scurried in all directions with their hands over their heads and faces to protect themselves from the stinging animals while Anling stood in the centre of it all, untouched by any of the bugs.

Feeling a little ill, Anling jumped onto the next disc and then the next, where she discovered the other women huddled in a corner as a swarm of the flying things attacked them. But if they expected them to stop doing it if they just stayed close together in a single spot, then they were sadly mistaken, very mistaken indeed, for the longer they stood there, the more the insects drove at them, until very soon not one of the women was not screaming or howling in pain and terror. ”What a lot of old nonsense this is,” said Anling to herself, and she reached out her hands and started clapping at the beetles, crushing them in mid-air as they were about to fly at the other women. Pretty soon all the bugs lay scattered at their feet, dead and wasted, with not so much as a quiver in their wings or legs. ”Well that’s that,” thought Anling and suddenly hovering by her left ear was a golden key. She took hold of it and went with it over to the keyhole in the brickwork she had spied earlier to the left of the room, and put it inside it and twisted it.

Immediately the most beautiful golden door appeared nestled amongst the bricks like a treasure casket, and with her heart in her throat and wings singing in her ears, Anling grabbed at its handle and pulling it open stepped inside. Perhaps if given the chance to do it again she would have done otherwise and walked back when she had the choice: but instead she went through the door and into the new place without a backward glance, and looking around found herself in a beautiful garden. Trees, flowers, rocks and rivers, glistening fruit hanging from boughs and lovely trellises with vines crawling all over them that seemed to twitch in time to some strange music or beat. What magnificence, what glory! How could she have ever thought entering the castle was a bad idea if her eyes could feast on this?

Well, it wasn’t to last, for in the very next moment there came rattling from the other side of the room, and this time Anling saw four enormous doors, not one, slide open in the brickwork. How strange. Why on earth were there four? Did they need that many for all of them to move through? And that was when she realised, turning back and looking around, that there were only four of the women left, including herself. Just four. How could that possibly be? Surely barely more than a few seconds ago there had been at the very least six of them, or even seven, and now there was so little. Goodness gracious me, the competition was narrowing down fast, wasn’t it? Funny how things worked like that in life; one moment you were there, the next you were not. As for what she would do next, the answer was clear of course—walk through one of the doors before any of the other ladies did.

But when she ran across the grass and came to one of the doorways she found herself unable to cross over its threshold, her body held back by an invisible barrier. Well, this was certainly peculiar, why on earth should there be something blocking the way when there were no bars or chains? In all likelihood the world was coming to an end, for all Anling knew, for she couldn’t get her mind around how exactly she would get past them. Then an idea struck her and she turned around and went over to one of the large vegetables that sat in patches of dirt on the ground at the base of one of the trees. It was a pumpkin, fat and squashy, with little tendrils running up from its head to its base, and beside it sat a watering can of pure gold she had spied earlier. She picked up the watering can, and tilted the spout towards the pumpkin, and at once the miraculous vegetable started to grow, blossoming outwards in a burst of fervor. In moments the pumpkin was as big as a carriage, sitting on the grass before her, and then it really was a carriage, fitted out with wheels and windows, seats and curtains.

How delightful, and now, what else to water, if this magical can made things grow to enormous sizes? Oh, I know, thought Anling, and she started pouring water on a beetle that was crawling over a leaf at her feet, whereupon the little creature sprouted up at once into something as large as a small dog, though much more frightful-looking, with beady little black hairs and antennae that quivered at the air like violin strings. Now if there was one thing Anling detested, it was finding out the thing you wanted the most in the world was out of reach, and so without hesitation she dragged the beetle over to the carriage by its back legs and attached it to the harness at its front. There, perfect; that made the perfect conveyance for her to travel through one of the doors. All that was left was for her to get into it.

However that proved to be no easy feat, for she soon found out the doors in the sides of the carriage did not budge if you pulled on their handles, nor did any of the curtains at the windows move when pushed at with her fingers. Now, thought Anling, what am I meant to do? Just stand here and wait for certain death? Over to her right the other women  were doing the same thing, watering vegetables with other golden cans as well as insects of their own, a butterfly getting itself hitched up to an eggplant carriage, a caterpillar to a watermelon the size of a small house with stripes that ran down its sides in big, wide strokes. Interestingly enough, not one of the ladies spoke, as if what they were doing was a sacred act to which they were bound to silence; but then just like that the silence was broken by a sudden fluttering noise at the doors on the other side of the room. Butterflies, blue and wonderful, rose up in flurries and clouds of fluttering wings to the doorways and started gathering into shapes at their thresholds, and it took Anling a moment to figure out what they were making: numbers. She watched, her heart fluttering in her chest, as the number three appeared in each of them, then the number two, the butterflies fluttering and shifting as they moved into the new formation, and at last the number one, and then, with a sound like leaves falling from a tree like rain, they dissipated, and the way past them was left clear. A countdown. The race had begun.

The lady in the red dress  was the first to start, and whipping the harness to make the caterpillar it was attached to start to move: and move it did, writhing its way forward over the grass and flowers, an enormous, fleshy mass that made Anling feel sick just to look at, and through the door it went, fast as lightning in the blink of an eye. The other women were not far behind, the insects of carriages scuttling or flying their way forwards too quickly for Anling to make out the occupants inside them except for a blur of reddish hair or green dress. At this rate she would be left behind, and feeling the panic start to well up inside her chest like bad blood, Anling grabbed hold of the reins of her carriage and yanked on them just a little. The effect was instantaneous; at once the beetle started scurrying forwards as if taken hold of by some kind of madness, shooting its way over the other plants and through one of the doorways into the corridor beyond.

Luckily enough the bricks were bright and sparkling, for otherwise it would have been too dark for her to make out a single thing and she wouldn’t have been able to steer straight, let alone manoeuvre around corners. Finally there appeared a bend at the end of the corridor of the door she had gone through and the backsides of the other carriages came into sight, glossy and shiny, bright and beautiful. Gritting her teeth, Anling held onto her reins tightly and silently urged in her mind for the beetle to go faster—and as if by magic, it did, surging its way forwards in an extra burst of speed that nearly took her breath away. My goodness, Anling had never been on such a wild ride in her life, and in moments she was abreast the other women: they were neck-in-neck, all four of them, with none of them looking like they would be stopping anytime soon. Pretty soon there glimmered a light at the end of the corridors far ahead of them, and with a cry of delight, Anling shot into it first, out onto a bridge thin as path just wide enough for one carriage to pass over at a time. To either side of her roared waterfalls that crashed down from stone aqueducts that were shaped like arches, and before long another doorway appeared at the end of the bridge towards which she was hurtling. Marvelous, magnificent, brilliant and exhilirating: it was like nothing Anling had ever done or seen before. But her momentary joy was broken when there came a sudden jolt to her carriage at its left wheel, and turning her head around she found herself looking at the head of the caterpillar, green and monstrous, nosing its head at the spokes of her left wheel. Now that’s enough of that, thought Anling; and with a cry that tore out of her throat she wrenched the reins in her hands to the left so that her back wheels hit the caterpillar right in the face and sent it hurtling off the bridge and down into the waters below, the carriage with it.

Mermaids seemed to scream in a long, high ululation as the carriage went tumbling into the rushing depths of the waves, and onwards Anling went, straight through the doorway at the end of the bridge into a beautiful room filled with dresses. Yes, it was literally full to the brim with gowns of all different shades and colours, blue and green, red and yellow, pink and fuchsia, purple and turquoise, all of them floating in the air close to the high ceiling, while on the ground more dresses were being made, twisting this way and that in mid-air as if invisible women were dancing inside of them. Spools of thread and needles, scissors and tape, twirled around them, tucking in a hem there, pulling in a sleeve here, yanking a frilled collar a little more tightly there. If there ever was a time when Anling wished she could not be in the castle, this was it, because she had never seen anything so eerie before in her life; just the sight of it all made tingles and tickles run up and down her back and arms.

Very soon there was another rattling of wheels behind her, and beautiful sounds of running water filled her ears as a golden spout suddenly appeared in the brickwork beside her head and a golden bucket on the ground beneath it. What was it for? Intrigued, Anling brought herself closer to it and watched, open-mouth, as the most glorious splash of rainbow-coloured paint came pouring out of the tap and into the bucket in a gush of vividly-coloured spray. On instinct Anling picked up the sloshing bucket by its handle and carried it over to where the dresses twisted and turned about like pretty, invisible women, their sleeves trailing the floor in long, beautiful sweeps of frills and dark lace. On arriving at one of the dresses, a bit of ribbon curled out from its waist and dipped itself like an eager snake into it, coming out black instead of blue, before proceeding to slither through the air back over to the red dress and twist itself neatly into a bow around its waist.

Whether or not that was the point didn’t matter; evidently she was meant to go around with this bucket to each of the dresses and find a way to paint each and everyone of them. Perhaps it was the task she was meant to do in this room. Over she went to the next dress, a blue one with lace trim, and before her very eyes its sleeves shot out and into the bucket, splashing some of its contents onto her. Anling cried out as her skin started tingling as if worms crawled beneath it, and in moments the shade of her skin had transformed from a pale brown to a deep indigo at her elbows and wrists. In the next moment, a blizzard of scissors shot out at her like a flock of silver birds, their legs snapping open and shut. Anling screamed and ducked, dropping the bucket in the process so that its contents flung themselves over the floor in a puddle of bright, multi-coloured paint that started seeping into the stonework at once, turning the bricks into all sorts of funny colours, red and greens, purple and oranges, pinks and reds, oranges and blues. However it wasn’t long before another one of them came flying at her again and this time she was not ready for it and there came an almighty crash as several of the buckets that had been floating near the ceiling dropped into the room as well, sending their contents splattering onto the surfaces of the walls and the floor so that wherever she turned or stepped there was some magic paint for her slippers to soak into.

Could this possibly be true? How on earth was this mayhem supposed to make any sense, what wizardry was this? Going backwards was not an option, and afraid and panting, Anling dashed for the door at  the other end of the room, so that in mere seconds she was at its threshold and desperately yanking and pulling at its door handle and escape from this horrid, nasty room for good and get leave of this place forever. Just then, two shrill notes pierced the air and a flock of tiny needles jumped against her arms and legs, sticking into her skin like the needles of a porcupine. What pain, agony, blinding—screaming, she turned from the door and tried to get rid of them, hands batting at the places where the needles had gone in and floundering about like a mad woman. If ever there was a time for her to get out of this place, this was it, but she was trapped, stuck, no place to go, just herself and the dresses, and the other women nowhere to be seen. Sitting there in the puddle of paint that had spilled onto the floor at her feet she tried to get her bearings again and return to the world she had felt comfortable in; but she couldn’t and she knew that, deep inside her soul, she would see this through to the end: and with that realisation Anling stood back up and grabbed one of the scissors out of the air when it whizzed at her and, wielding it like a knife, batted the scissors that flew at her next, the sounds of them hitting against each other similar to the tinkling noises of cutlery dropped onto hard floor.

For a second there she thought it was all over; but that, in fact, was not the case: a moment later, the shrillest note yet went through the air and all of a sudden beautiful flowers started sprouting from the ground at her feet in a riot of ecstasy out of the paint that had dropped. Before anything else could happen, Anling stumbled to door and wished she could find a way for her own life to never truly contain terrors such as these ever again for as long as she lived, but still the door would not open. She grew frantic and tried pulling as hard as she could, tugging and yanking and screaming, but it wouldn’t move, not even a little bit. “Help! I need somebody to help me!” “We’re here! We’ll help you!” Out of the carriages at the other side of the room two women hurtled out of it and rushed over to help her pull at the chains. With a creak and groan the door slid open, and with the way through clear and unbarred, they went out of the room into the next. Nothing very much interesting was on the other side of the doorway, just blackness, a pitch-darkness that seemed heavy and deep enough to swallow her right up like the mouth of a whale, and Anling couldn’t help but feel as if she felt as if she couldn’t stand to be inside this castle for another moment longer when the lights blinked on. The world brightened, and finally Anling was able to look around and see where they were. It was a nursery, by the looks of it, neat and tidy, little bed in the corner and lots of little toys, teddy bears and skipping ropes, dolls and blocks, piled up in the corner by the bedside table. Dangling from the ceiling was a little chandelier in the shape of a spider, its little crystal droplets tinkling on its golden, curved legs.

“Ah-ha! I was waiting for you to come see me,” and Anling jumped, as from a box on the bed painted purple and yellow a Jack-In-The-Box leaped out into the air, waving its arms around with a silly, red grin on its face, the bells on the ends of its hat jingling and tingling. “Lookeee! Whoopee! Here we go again! More little girls to play with! What shall we play, what shall we play, what shall we play, what shall we play, oh what shall we play? I want to eat all of you up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, tasty, yummy, yummy, yummmyyy!” Grotesque, thought Anling, but there was something tragic about it; and instinctively she knew that the key to getting out of this room lay within the box itself, the very one the nasty thing bounced up and down out of.

“No, I don’t want to play,” and the lady of the dark skin and purple dress turned to go. Her feet hadn’t taken a step when a shout growled through the room and the Jack-In-The-Box in one enormous bound jumped out of the box, across the room and at the woman. It was all over in a matter of moments: after the thing had finished with her there was nothing left of her except some tatters of violet fabric and bloodstains. “Oh my God!” The other woman covered her face with her hands and started to sob. “This is too much, too much!” She shook her head furiously. “I want to leave!” “But you can’t.” The Jack-In-The-Box smiled at her, bouncing up and down from its little perch on the bed again, happy as could be, the bloodstains around its mouth difficult to discern from the lipstick it had smeared across it. “You’re never leaving this place ever again. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, everrrrr!” Instinctively Anling realised the thing was preparing to jump once more: and with a shout she leaped for it first, knocking it to the ground. They tussled, wrestling over the floor over and under each other: and the thing bit her twice on the cheek and neck. She bit back, hard and ferocious, right onto its face; the shrill sharp note pierced the air that she had heard in the room with the dresses and before her eyes the Jack-In-The-Box died, melting down the way butter will do if it is left out for too long in the sun, oozing in a dark puddle down the sides of the box with the tiniest “yipppeee…” “Okay, that’s enough, let’s get out of here, alright? Let’s go.” Over to the right wall of the room the door started to open by itself, and Anling ran through it at the heels of the other woman, into whatever little, horrible room awaited them next.

It was quiet. Too quiet. None of the other rooms had been this silent before, not even the one with the plants. Heaving and out of breath, Anling tried to take in her surroundings but found herself unable to breathe or focus properly long enough to see anything about her. But exactly where was she? Hard to say, for this room was almost as dark as the one they had just left had been before the lights came on. Just how were they to attack whatever would come at them next in this room if they couldn’t even see anything? Gosh, the wait was getting tedious. On her head she suddenly felt a peculiar tickling sensation; and before her eyes beautiful emeralds shivered through the air in front of her face, swirling after another in the shapes of stars, triangles, umbrellas and story books. Beautiful—but what were they for? She didn’t know. Didn’t have a clue. All answers spurted into life soon afterwards when the lights finally came on and Anling could get a good look at where exactly they were. It was a room, but unlike any of the rooms they had seen before. For one thing it was far larger, a cavern of a place, and for another, the brickwork was green, not black or white; and what was more, interestingly enough, indigo butterflies pirouetted in the air, their little bodies wearing little heads with human faces, noses and cheeks.

Underneath them the brickwork started to tremble and shake and then shift apart into different parts like the sections of a strange and elaborate cake or pie. Knowing the earth might swallow the two of them at any second, Anling and the other woman moved towards each other, onto the biggest of the parts—and just in time too, for at that same instant where they had stood the ground split open into the darkest of chasms. “Yes, this is it! The last room! Going to make it, I am!” No, thought Anling, thinking of her dead daughter, you’re not. I am. Moving closer to the lip of the rock they stood upon, she stared over the edge into blackness—no, not that, it wasn’t that, there was something there, if she could just make it out—-up through the gloom the head of an enormous beast thrust itself, its mouth open wide and roaring, drool spilling out from between its lips in thick sprays. Ugly, emerald, eyeless, like the head of a collosal worm, it threw itself at the edifice she and the princess were standing on, causing it to shudder and shake.

Other things were starting to appear in the room, slowly but surely, before their very eyes: obstacle courses, reaching from the top of one edifice to the next, arranged neatly as furniture in the bedroom of a beloved child. “Hallelujah! I’m so close! I’m almost there!” Eager to be the first to get started, the other woman sprinted for the first of them, at the edge of the edifice they were standing upon, an obstacle course constructed entirely of pink ropes, stretchy and pink, little hummingbird’s bright as gold fluttering all about around it. Screwing her face up tight the other woman started to climb onto it, grabbing the ropes for support; but she hadn’t gotten halfway over it when the first of the birds darted out and pecked at the pink rope, snipping it. If she hadn’t been holding onto one of the ropes so tightly using the fingers of her left hand doubtless she might’ve hurtled into the abyss. But she didn’t, instead the woman went on climbing, her golden dress twisting about her legs, and even though more of the hummingbirds darted out and pecked at the strings, severing them, they didn’t deter her and she managed to arrive at the edifice at the other end of the obstacle course in record time.

“If you just could’ve seen for a second the truth that lay behind this door you might have tried a little harder,” the other woman yelled out over from the edifice she stood on. “What do you mean?” Anling didn’t understand what in the world the woman was talking about. The woman grinned, and somehow her smile was even nastier than that of the mouse’s or the Jack-In-the-Box’s. “You know what I mean. The bag of gold all the peasants want.” “What?” “You can’t even move from where you are standing, can you?” It was true; she had been trying frantically to take a step for the last few seconds, but could not move an inch from where she was standing. What in the world was going on? How could this be possible? “It’s magic, in case you were wondering.” The other woman was climbing onto the next obstacle course, a beautiful swing that carried her up and into the air like a kite each time she swung on it so that her hair flew back and her dress billowed about like a sail. “What do you mean?” “I mean, that this was the way things were meant to be. The way I planned it, all along.” On she went, swinging higher, until, at the highest point of the swing, she let go and flew through the air and landed in a cat’s crouch on the next edifice. “You’re doing this? How?” “Yes, I’ve got a little magic up my sleeve, so what? That’s the name of the game, don’t you see? We’re all here to get the best for ourselves and I was just brave enough to take it.” She was clambering onto the next one now, fast and sure, a series of ladders that ran up against each other in the shape of beautiful hexagons and triangles. “You don’t really believe there is a bag of gold at the end of an enchanted place like this, do you? Because I don’t. Nasty lot of blabber. Way I see it, that’s how things are meant to be. I am the princess of this land, after all, and if there’s anyone who deserves to have any wish she desires granted, it’s me.” Definitely there was a faint mist in the air around them, growing stronger with every passing minute, and Anling couldn’t believe her eyes as the years started to fly off the woman—no, the princess—-like the peeling layers of an onion. It was incredible: she was literally shrinking before her very eyes into that of a child’s body even as she climbed up and down the ladders. Just what exactly was going? Too late the princess seemed to realise what was happening, because the years did not come back no matter how much she climbed or clambered and it was as if they had never been. Now she would forever stay a little child, too afraid to move a single step further. Gosh, thought Anling, and to her surprise she discovered that her feet were no longer stuck on the floor anymore; in fact, they were free to move as she pleased in every and any direction she desired.

But she didn’t move at a first, only stared, flabbergasted, as the little girl who had moments ago been the beautiful tall princess climb up the ladder swift as a little monkey in an attempt to get to the other edifice before anything untoward happened—but she was too late, for at that very moment, all the ladders around her let out a nasty squeak, and without further ado disintegrated into the abyss, taking the princess along with it. It was a long drop, and the princess had a loud and powerful voice, so her scream echoed in Anling’s head for a long while after it had disappeared from the air. There was no time to waste, however, and she started clambering up onto the first of the obstacle courses, which had transformed into a row of bridges tied together by pretty pink bows that made them shift and bob about in the air each time Anling stepped from one to the next.

When she reached the next edifice, she discovered that the obstacle course had been replaced by the tiniest little chicken flapping about in the air who had to be fed lots of seeds that floated around it before it could fly over and carry Anling to the next edifice, where she faced down the monster itself, lunging and leaping up from the abyss as it tried to eat her. All she had to defend herself was a sword that sat on the edifice at her feet and she picked it up and defended herself as valiantly as her entire heart and soul could, finally piercing the creature right in the eye and sending it tumbling into pitch-blackness. Now there was nothing left to do but wait, for no further obstacle courses were left for her to climb onto or cross, just the empty air, the sound of her own breathing, and an acrid smell, like apples that had been left out in the sun for too long and gone black and rotten.

“Hello? Is there anybody there?” No response. Well this was a pretty little piece of work indeed, wasn’t it, to have come all this way and bested all the other women, only to end up at nowhere at all, and Anling was just starting to consider turning around and going back the way she had just come when a loud voice boomed through the silence. “Stop right there.” Anling stopped. “What do you want?” “What?” “What do you want?” “What do you mean?” “I mean exactly what I say, what is it that you want?” What she wanted, more than anything else in the world? To feed her family. And to be loved, Anling supposed, wasn’t that what everyone desired? To be held close and treasured, sacred and divine. But that wasn’t going to happen, was it? No, no-one ever loved her the way they loved other people, it just wasn’t the way things worked. Possibly she knew that there was someone out there who would understand her, but that person wasn’t whoever was talking to her right now. In the deepest, darkest recesses of Anling’s mind there sat the secret wish that one day, if she tried hard enough, worked long enough, someone out there would keep her. Not leave her, as people in her life had done, someone, anyone. Someone other than her family, who she treasured but whom did not understand who she was. But it wasn’t meant to be, that was what she had learned over the years, it wasn’t the way things turned out, not in this world, and likely she would forever be doomed to misery and loneliness.

“No, that is not true.” “What do you mean?” “That is not true.” In that moment, it didn’t matter to Anling who the voice really was, just that it was talking and comforting in a way she had never felt so comfortable about talking to anyone else before. “I love you.” “You do?” “Yes.” “Why?” “Because whatever you believe about yourself is whatever will come true. By believing yourself to be unloveable, you make yourself unloveable. You are the source of your own pain and despair. Everyone is. Do you not see? We’re all perfect, just the way we are, but somehow somewhere along the way we forget that. And in order to return to that state of divine perfection, we must listen to our hearts.” It didn’t really make sense, what he was saying, yet something in his words comforted Anling. “So what do I do now?” “You must prepare yourself. There are great trials ahead of you. The land and the country are in tumoil, and need your salvation. But I will be there for you every step of the way. Do you understand? All you must do is follow what I command you to do.”

The voice stopped then, as if it had never been there at all, and Anling, upon staring around, saw that there now hovered in the air in front of her the most beautiful sceptre, carved of gold and decorated with pearls, and a golden crown. She reached out and grabbed hold of them both, and the objects came away from the air and into her hands, where they sat, heavy and frightening, for they were royal objects, belonging to the king and queen. It wasn’t a bag of gold, that was certain, but it was something better, that would not only save her family but other people who had suffered under the weight of their chains. No matter what happened next,  there was no turning back, or choosing a different path; this was her destiny, whether she liked it or not, and she would see it through to the end, just as she had moved through the rooms of this castle. With that, she leaped up onto an edifice that had appeared in the air to the left, through a doorway and into the lands beyond, her hair flying out behind her in the wind and a melody inside her heart that no man or woman alive could stop from playing.