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My Terrible, Horrible, Heroic Summer

Writing Prompt #1: Write about going back to school after summer vacation.

Writing Prompt #5: Write out the best or the worst day of your life.

I dreaded going back to school after such a summer, dreaded seeing the breathless looks of admiration and hearing the praise from teachers and students alike. I didn’t want to endure the fame when all I felt inside was agony. Finally though, the day came, and I went.

“There he is!” I heard a girl whisper to her friend as I walked down the hall.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. I saw him on TV.”

Everyone had seen me on TV. I must have given a hundred interviews in the last two months, but the worst was the one they played over and over, the one right after it had happened, when I was dirty and out of breath and wearing that blood-stained T-shirt that I couldn’t bear to wear again, but couldn’t bear to throw out.

My first class was English with Mrs. Robins. “I want everyone to write about what they did this summer, okay?” She giggled slightly and glanced over at me. “When you’re finished, maybe I’ll get a few of you to read yours out.” She glanced over again. Other kids were looking too now. We all knew who would be the first person “randomly” chosen to read.

I played baseball with my friend Terry, I wrote. There, I was done. I’d done that.

Mrs. Robins walked by, looked down, and frowned. “Write about the most important thing that happened to you. You know.” She gave me a meaningful look and walked away.

I closed my eyes and for the first time in more than a month, I let myself go back to that overcast Saturday morning when it had all happened, when I had become a national hero. The worst day of my life.

*        *        *

It had rained the night before, on that day, and when I left my house before dawn and walked the mile and a half to the bus stop, the air smelled clean and freshly showered. It took the bus forty minutes to get to the city and then fifteen minutes for me to walk to Precious Angels Orphanage. Lily was waiting for me outside. She took my hand, almost shyly, then leaned over and kissed me softly on the lips.

“Was it hard to sneak out this time?” I asked as we walked down the street, heading downtown.

“Nah, Frances was fast asleep. Easy.”

“Will you get in trouble?” I asked. She shrugged and squeezed my hand.

We walked all the way down to the harbor and had ice cream at a small parlor. My ice cream melted as I watched Lily savor every bite, letting her eyes close in silent pleasure.

“Do you ever get ice cream in there?”

“Of course.” She snorted. “It’s not Oliver Twist.” Then, grasping her bowl in both hands, she crossed her eyes and in a terrible British accent said, “Please sir, may I have some more Rocky Road.” I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. It was then, when I was gasping for breath and trying not to pee myself, that I realized how much I loved this girl. It made me glow inside, like I was Ironman with an untouchable arc reactor, powered by Lily.

“So what do your parents think of me?” Lily asked, as we walked along the beach, watching the waves roll in. There was an odd smell of rot in the air coming from somewhere out to sea.

“They’re dying to meet you,” I said.

“What did you tell them?”

I shrugged. “The truth.” I looked out to sea, not looking at her. Lily coughed and wrinkled her nose at the smell but I felt like it was at me, as if the stench of my lies were rolling off me.

No one knew about me and Lily. It wasn’t that she was an orphan. It wasn’t that her mother had died of a drug overdose when she was five and she had never had any other family. I knew that wouldn’t matter to my parents, that they would love her like a daughter. They would love her so much they might even try to adopt her and then . . .

And then she would have parents who loved her and everything she’s ever dreamed of and I would have lost her forever because you can’t date your sister even your adopted sister, ran the frantic undercurrent of thought I would never allow to be voiced, not even in the lonely sub-basements of my mind. If no one knew, no one could ever call me petty or selfish, or accuse me of maybe, just maybe taking everything away from Lily because boyfriends might come and go, but parents are a strictly limited commodity.

The smell was getting worse and I was just about to suggest we get back to the city when the ocean started to recede, like watching the tide go out in fast forward. The word tsunami bolted through my mind, and I looked out to sea, dreading to see that mountain of briny death rushing towards us. What I saw was even worse.

It was some sort of thing rising from the water, taller than any known animal, crawling on four legs out of the sea until its vast barnacle-encrusted bulk was swinging free of the water. It was not heading directly for us, but towards the city.

Lily was smarter than me. She was already pulling at my hand, trying to run not towards the city but away from it down the beach. I ran with her, but turned back to take one last look. A tail whipped out of the water and sliced towards us, four feet above the ground. I dropped and pulled Lilly with me, but she stumbled and fought to stay upright. I screamed at her, “Get down, Lily!” but as I said her name, I heard the sickening crunch as the tail hit her and threw her across the beach.

The next moment, I was kneeling beside her, praying with all my might, although I could see it was hopeless. She had just enough life left to squeeze my hand before she died.

No cameras caught the next five minutes and so no one knows how I did it. They’ve even tried to hypnotize me to find out. Here is all I remember: wet, foul-smelling scales that went up and up like a mountain. It was like a dream, just climbing that mountain of horror, fueled by rage, hoping to find Lily at the top, knowing it was all in vain, climbing anyway.

They tell me that I must have climbed up the creature’s back and stabbed it in the eye with a piece of driftwood. I have to take their word for it. They found me lying on the dead creature’s head, my arm up to the elbow in its eye socket, still clutching a three-foot piece of driftwood like some poor man’s Excalibur. I’ve seen video of that, so it must be true.

Four people died that day on the beach in the space of five minutes, including Lily, but they were practically forgotten as people breathlessly calculated and exclaimed on how many lives I had saved. No one connected me with Lily. No one questioned the blood on my shirt; they didn’t know it was hers, and I didn’t tell them. It was like I still wanted to keep her all to myself, even the bloody shirt and the pain that ate away at me like cancer. I couldn’t go to her funeral. I held one for her by myself, the night after my appearance on the Late Show. I thought about joining her, decided against it.

*        *        *

I opened my eyes. Everyone else in the class were still writing, describing in detail that one camping trip they took, the girl they met at the movies, the swimming party they went to. Mrs. Robins was still glancing my way every few seconds, silently urging me to write the glorious hero story they were all expecting.

I took out a clean piece of paper, took a deep breath and began to write:

This summer I lost someone I loved. Her name was Lily.

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Cage Jumping and Dragon Punching – Fantastic Travelogue #11

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

Synopsis: I was hiking in the mountains of Korea when I got lost at night and came out in a strange valley. I couldn’t understand anyone, but I found out they knew Chinese characters. I met a young woman name Ain-Mai, and later, her brother Sing-ga. While I was there, a creepy woman appeared. Ain-Mai and her brother told me that the creepy woman was named Hengfel and came from another world. Hengfel eventually captured all three of us and brought us back to her world. They took Ain-Mai away and put Sing-ga and I in a room with a bunch of other men who all looked drugged. It looked a bit like a harem. They gave us something to drink, which made Sing-ga very sleepy but had the opposite effect on me. We got out and found Ain-Mai in a cage, hundreds of feet above the floor, in a room with thousands of cages.

Cage Jumping Dragon Punching

I leaped, straight out over two hundred feet of empty space and landed on the top of the nearest cage. It was a crazy thing to do, but luckily my confidence in that accelerated state was equally matched by my ability. The cage started to swing as it reached its apex, I leapt again, bounding from cage to cage, towards the cage where Ain-Mai was trapped.

As I was jumping from cage to cage, I began to notice details about the room and cages. The ones I had landed on were empty and the bottoms were open on all of them, as if the bottom had split into four parts and fallen open. There was a wide lever on top of the cage that I could see was connected to the cage floor. The floor of the room far below was stained and splashed with red and tiny white bones were scattered wantonly around. It didn’t take long to put all these implications together.

This was the dragons’ feeding ground. People were kept in the cages until a dragon pushed the cage’s lever and the prey fell and died on the hard floor, far below. Then the dragon went down and ate them.

They’re like vending machines, I thought with horrified fascination. I am still glad that I never saw one in operation.

empty cage

I was getting closer to Ain-Mai’s cage. It had stopped descending about ten feet above my current level, just five cages away from her. I couldn’t tell if I had been spotted or not, but I couldn’t turn back now.

Ain-Mai saw me just before I leapt onto her cage. The look of hope and amazement on her face was clear. I jumped and landed on the side of the cage, my fingers clinging to the bars. I tugged at them, but even as strong as I felt, I couldn’t tear steel bars away.

“Hold on!” I said, miming for her to hold onto the bars with her hands and feet. When I saw that she had, I climbed up to the top and stomped on the iron lever. The floor of the cage collapsed and Ain-Mai gave a little scream.

I was still just working off adrenaline and drug-induced bravado, which was probably good, since otherwise I would never have had the nerve to do what I did next. I climbed down the side of the cage until I was hanging from the very bottom. Then I reached inside, through the pieces of the collapsed floor, and grabbed onto the bars on the inside. I swung down and started climbing up the inside of the cage, next to where Ain-Mai was clinging on for her life. She was crying and holding onto the bars with a death-grip. It took me a lot of coaxing to get her to take her hands off the bars and scramble onto my back. Then she was on and death-gripping me around the neck instead.

She was pretty light, thankfully, but going back was much slower. There was a very tricky moment at the bottom of the cage. I was hanging on by one hand on the inside and reached out to grab the outside of the cage. However, with Ain-Mai on my back, we couldn’t fit through the triangular pieces of the floor that were now hanging straight down. I yanked and jerked us back and forth, scraping her back and my front pretty badly against the metal floor plates. Finally, what I had to do was relax and let myself hang down as far as I could go, all our weight on four of my fingers. Then, finally, we slipped through and I could start to climb up the outside again.

I had been too busy to notice before, but we had definitely been spotted now. People were shouting above us and I could feel the cage start to rise. I leapt off, just making it to the side of the next cage. My hands didn’t hurt, but I could see that they were pretty badly scraped and both were bleeding.

Then as if that wasn’t enough, here came the dragons. I guess they didn’t like me running off with their food. The first few just flew nearby, but then one came straight it us and I kicked it in the snout. I couldn’t jump as far now with Ain-Mai on my back so I had to get the cages swinging and wait until they were close to each other to jump across. It was slow going.

They were a bit like this, except with no ridge on the back and their legs were shorter. Source.

They were a bit like this, except with no ridge on the back and their legs were shorter. Source.

On the fifth cage, two came at me at once. I punched the one under its jaw and tried to kick the other one, but it bit into my hiking boot and ripped most of it off, tearing into the sides of my foot with its teeth. This was how things went for another five minutes or so. I fought them off as best I could and slowly, cage by cage, moved back towards the wall. I was mostly worried about Ain-Mai, that one of the monsters would come up from behind and snatch her off my back. I kept whirling from side to side, keeping them all in sight.

I looked ahead to the wall and saw that Sing-ga was climbing up the plates on the wall. Idiot, I thought. There was no way he could do anything except get himself killed. He was moving painfully slowly. The dragons were still intent on me, but if they saw him, it would be like a drunk geriatric fighting a tiger.

I made a leap to the last cage, only to see a dragon rushing at me from below with jaws open wide. I manage to twist in the air to avoid getting my legs bitten off, but then I was falling. I reached out blindly and grabbed the dragon’s body as it went by.

There wasn’t anything else I could do, but this was danger of an insane level. The dragon responded by snapping its body violently like a whip, trying to shake us off. Ain-Mai was gripping my neck so hard it was cutting off my air. I reached around the dragon as far as I could reach and started squeezing it with all my strength. I heard a few bones crack and the dragon gave a roar. It slammed us against the nearest cage and then headed to the wall to scrape us off there.

It turned towards the wall, and there was Sing-ga, clinging to the wall and swaying like a drunk. The dragon seemed to forget about us for a second and went straight for Sing-ga, jaws open. Just as he got there, Sing-ga stuck out his hand and I saw for the first time that he had a piece of broken spear in his hand.

When had he picked that up? I marveled at the presence of mind he had to pick a weapon on our way out of the room. His hand was shaking as he held it but the dragon did not have time to turn away. The spear went straight into the dragon’s mouth and out through the back of its skull. I managed to leap from its back and grab the wall plates as it crashed down.

I learned something about dragons that day: they are cannibals. As soon as the dragon we had been clinging to plummeted to the floor below, the rest of the dragons sped straight down, fighting each other to get at the body first. Apparently dragon meat tastes delicious.

Ain-Mai slid off my back and onto the plates on the wall, but she was shaking so hard I had to keep an eye on her, as well as Sing-ga. Somehow we all got back down to the corridor. I was bleeding from my foot, my hands and several other places and the other two were exhausted and Sing-ga was still not doing well. My dizzying self-confidence was starting to dim a little, but there was nothing to do but go back down the corridor. So that’s what we did.

(to be continued…)

 


I am . . . a Superhero – Fantastic Travelogue #10

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

Synopsis: I was hiking in the mountains of Korea when I got lost at night and came out in a strange valley. I couldn’t understand anyone, but I found out they knew Chinese characters. I met a young woman name Ain-Mai, and later, her brother Sing-ga. While I was there, a creepy woman appeared. Ain-Mai and her brother told me that the creepy woman was named Hengfel and came from another world. Hengfel eventually captured all three of us and brought us back to her world. They took Ain-Mai away and put Sing-ga and I in a room with a bunch of other men who all looked drugged. It looked a bit like a harem. They gave us something to drink, which made Sing-ga very sleepy but had the opposite effect on me.

I am a Superhero

Sing-ga was acting like he was drugged. He was moving slowly and unsteadily and seemed to be having trouble staying awake. I was having the opposite sort of experience. Whatever they had forced us to drink had made me faster, stronger, and smarter than I had ever been before. It was the same liquid, so obviously, the stuff had a very different effect on my physiology than on the others. I honestly think that while I was in that state, I could have learned a language in a day. At least that’s how I felt.

I tried to explain to Sing-ga how I wanted to escape, but he was not in any state to communicate. Not that my plan was all that complicated: punch the guards and run out, try to find Ain-Mai, then get back to the circular room and . . . I honestly don’t remember now if I had an ending to that plan. I had a lot of confidence though.

The guards came back ten minutes later and I could tell immediately they were furious that we hadn’t changed. The lead one started yelling at us and lowered her spear at me. I grabbed it by the shaft and pulled it out of her hand. Then I cracked it in half. I can tell you, there is no greater feeling of satisfaction than snapping a two-inch-thick spear in half like it’s a candy cane.

It was on then. Forget getting me to change clothes—they were trying to kill me now. I ducked under a spear, punched the lead guard in the chest, probably breaking a few ribs. The other guards backed off a bit and then I was suddenly surrounded by guards, maybe fifteen of them. However, I could tell that some of them were illusions. They all moved the same way, like puppets on the same string. That must have been what had happened in the forest when I tried to escape.

Honestly, I don’t exactly remember much about what happened next, except that it felt really good. It was a confusion of ducking spears, punching, and kicking whenever I saw an opening. The next thing I remember clearly was the guards lying around, unconscious, injured and bloody. There was also a man on the ground whom I had apparently punched in my excitement. Oops.

None of the other men had really reacted, although they were all watching by now. I felt like uttering a William Wallace yell and leading this rag tag army to freedom, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. So I grabbed Sing-ga and pulled him out the door, taking one last look at the defeated guards lying on the ground as I left. Man, I wish I had my camera!

I didn’t know where Ain-Mai was, but I went in the direction I had seen them take her. Sing-ga seemed to have recovered a little and was trying to keep up with me, although it was hard. I was probably sprinting. The corridor we were in was mostly deserted. I say mostly because every now and then, we would come across one of those funny little four-legged creatures about a foot tall that moved really slowly. We flew by them and they didn’t seem to pay us any attention.

The corridor ended before too long, opening into a monstrously big room and even as hyped up as I was, I stopped short in amazement. I couldn’t tell how big the room was—perhaps half a mile square and a few hundred feet high. It was filled with thousands of cages suspended by chains from the ceiling. A lot of the cages were empty, but I saw figures in some of them. At the same time, there were cages being raised and lowered from holes in the ceiling.

I didn’t know what to do. The corridor ended here and I couldn’t see Ain-Mai anywhere. Sing-ga was gasping and reeling behind me as if he had just run a marathon.

empty cage

A cage began to descend from the ceiling, about two hundred feet away from us, and inside I saw Ain-Mai. She was crouched in the corner of the cage and a few strands of her long, black hair came out through the bars and floated in the open air.

I didn’t think hard on the situation; I just acted. The closest cage to me was about fifteen feet away horizontally, but also about twenty feet up. The walls were covered with overlapping plates that stuck out and gave a lot of good hand and footholds. I bounded up this, and then, when I was a little bit above the closest cage, I leaped.


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