This story contains some foul language and crude humour
They called it The Magic Castle. True, the burnt old building out in the woods certainly didn’t have the splendour of anything at Disneyland, yet it still gave Laura that tingle of fairytale familiarity when she had discovered it. It was settled in the woods, where all magic stories happen, and it was a spot where nobody had been. No graffiti, no litter left about, a special castle for Laura and Jim to spend their evenings. Their own private little paradise where no-one would find them. Where no-one would care for them.
Their sanctuary away from the world.
Laura spent so much time with Jim that their other friends would say that they were conjoined, but Laura did make sure to have plenty of time to herself, to be alone with her thoughts. Her mum, for one, didn’t give a shit about her, and she returned the favour, so she was able to read her books and browse the web for random videos and even Skype her mates in peace. Not to mention she could pretty much go out whenever she wanted, and spent a lot of that time scouting locations for her and Jimmy’s nights out, like her life was a Hollywood movie. Well, if her life was going to be a flick, it needed to be spectacular. The sets needed to look like they didn’t belong in this boring earth.
When she had found the Magic Castle in the woods with its windows resembling wounds and its foundation rotting away into the passage of time, she brought Jim to see what he thought of it. Normally his seal of approval would be ‘wicked’, but this time it was ‘no way’, and when he said that, she knew she had found something special.
So it was settled. First they’d go to the bar to get in the mood then they’d bugger off to their new little spot, and they’d be prepared. The blue neon and forgettable music of the bar would provide a nice contrast to the wonders of nature, and the toilets, with their secret blowjobs and drugs would sure to get Laura energized.
Friday night came. Laura took the taxi to the bar, wearing her favourite garb. Jim had got there before her, and was already guzzling down a WKD. He had bought one for her as well, what a nice chap he was. After she grabbed his little gift, they headed towards one of the bar’s sofas and collapsed as if it were their own.
Thus began their pre-adventure conversations, despite the fact that they both led boring lives and had really very little to talk about. Jim had got together some money and got himself a new computer game Laura could not for the life of her remember the name of. Still, it had zombies, and Jim couldn’t get enough of those damn things. He also said that if zombies did attack, he would protect her from them. It was a sentiment he had been said so many times it had lost all meaning, yet she still smiled when he said it.
They spent a couple of hours in the bar, spending their time getting more drinks, chatting with each other, and staring at the other patrons. A group of girls out on a hen night, some poor bloke drinking alone, and a couple of old friends near them blabbering loudly. As they left, Jim began talking about how he liked going to the bar because he felt it was like a museum. ‘It’s a display of, you know, us, really. Loads of people, all different.’
‘Yeah. You know, I go on a lot about games and…TV and all that, but the real world, you know, it’s much more interesting. Like some great big museum.’
He went on about it for about five minutes after they left, pondering what future aliens would think if they found the building among the ruins of society, but all Laura had to say was, ‘You don’t half say some daft things sometimes’ and he shut up. Wouldn’t want to ruin this magical evening.
Laura and Jim walked away from the bar and towards the entrance of the woods. Seeing the thick trees with their spindly arms illuminated by her phone made Laura think about all the times Jim likened this setting to his favourite horror movies. She had seen some of them, and had even enjoyed some of them, but she was going to think of this as her magical fairytale forest, not a place where zombies would eat her.
‘Hey, did that branch just move?’ Jim said as soon as they entered.
Oh god, this again. Laura rolled her eyes and smiled. ‘Yes, Jim.’
It took a while of trekking – the deeper, the better – and Jim did get caught on some thorns at one point, but soon they reached the fabled place, the darkness adding more mystique to its rotted walls. ‘We’re there,’ said Jim, Captain Obvious as usual.
So now that they were there, what were they going to do? Laura knew full well what Jim would do if he was alone in a secluded area, but he daren’t if she was there. So…it was just staring at the night sky and then making out by a wall like what they did every Friday. But it would be different because it was a different place.
So. Lie down on the floor and look up at the sky. Oh look, the moon is full. That’s always a good starting point.
‘I wonder who originally lived here,’ said Jim, peering at one of the windows.
Laura turned away from him and focussed on the sky, though she saw flames in her mind’s eye for a split second. ‘Who cares?’
‘Well, they were people…I guess…’
‘Just look at the sky.’
And so he did, even getting a chance to put his hand on Laura’s shoulder. The two then held each other closer, and listened to the hooting of an owl, the distant flapping of a bird, and a tiny bit of…squelching?
‘Jim,’ said Laura, as she got a sudden small shock in her stomach, ‘I think somebody’s coming.’
‘What do you mean “yeah, so”…oh…’ She stood up, looking about. There came the rustling of leaves again, followed by a little pitter-patter. Well, there went the magic. There went her discovery.
She looked through a window, picking up her torch once again. Once again, the dark enchanted woods were illuminated by her magic portable light, and though the hoo-hooing of the owls continued and Laura swore she heard a clack, but she saw nothing and felt nothing. Whatever presence she felt of another figure had all but vanished.
‘Well, is there anyone there?’
‘No,’ said Laura, sighing. ‘Must have been my imagination.’
‘Oh, that’s what they always say.’
‘You know,’ said Jim, standing up, ‘When the teenagers out in the woods are being stalked.’ He wiggled his fingers, right until Laura slapped his hand.
‘Knock it off,’ she said as she walked away from the Magic Castle, though she couldn’t decide if it was to see if there really was someone out there, or just to give Jim some time to be alone with his nutty thoughts. Still, all she did was walk about in a circle among the leaves for ten minutes or so before returning to the Castle.
She saw a giant mouth.
Right in front of her was something that resembled then mouth of a lamprey. This head sat atop a bent, giraffe-like neck, connected to a pulsating blob of a torso. Attached to this torso was a gigantic mouth, open wide enough to reveal rows of teeth like rocks.
All Jim could do was stare like the dullard he was.
After grabbing him by the wrist, Laura ran through the woods, closing her eyes just so she didn’t have to look at that hideous creature. Hearing the crackling of leaves behind her only made her quicken her pace. Though she caught thorns and branches on her face and hat, and Jim got his fair share too, but she didn’t notice. Only when she felt the breeze of the world outside the trees did she open her eyes, battered Jim still in hand.
‘What the fuck was that thing?’
‘Language,’ came a voice.
There stood the figure. Dropping Jim, Laura froze – if only at the fact that something so fat could have outrun her – and her eyes became fixed on the being’s head. It moved like an owl’s.
The fangs in its head pulsated. ‘That was rude of you to run off like that.’
Oh god. It talked.
It sounded like a British accent…Laura thought it odd she would think that, considering she was British herself. No, it was a parody of a British accent, like a poor impersonation of Basil Fawlty. Her mouth was too dry to speak back, and her limbs were useless at that moment, so she let the monster continue.
‘It is a shame you avoided me; you seemed to be some quite interesting specimens. The human courting rituals have always intrigued me, and I know someone who has wanted to document all of them.’ Though the fangs throbbed, the mouth on his stomach remained still, yet Laura paid more attention to the latter than the former. ‘Oh, yes. I also find it fascinating that you use your mouths to both talk and eat.’
Once again, Jim stared stupidly at the blob, but as Laura gained control of her body again, and managed to blurt out ‘Whatareyou?’
‘I’m afraid you’ll be unable to pronounce my species’ name,’ replied the creature, ‘In fact, I’m only speaking your language because of this handy device.’ He gestured towards a circular contraption hooked to his back – it was then Laura noticed the eyeballs lining his arms. ‘It reassembles my language into something you humans find comforting.’ His head twisted in that owl-like way again.
‘I think what Laura meant was,’ said Jim, somehow breaking out of his stupor, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘Oh,’ he said, holding out a claw. ‘I’m actually a tour guide. My kind has become very interested in the human race, and I have been looking for interesting places. For example, that house you were just in. How did it burn down? Who were the family that lived there?’
‘Yeah,’ said Jim, ‘I was just thinking that.’
‘Shutup.’ Another blurt. After swallowing, Laura attempted to put together a sentence. ‘C-can’t you just stay wherever you are and…um…open up a museum or something?’
The thing chuckled, and his gigantic mouth chuckled with it. ‘My child, is not this whole world a museum?’ he said, raising his arms to punctuate his point.
‘No way,’ replied Jim, mimicking his gesture, ‘I was just saying that to Laura!’
‘Jim…’ Once again, Laura grabbed Jim by the wrist in an attempt to drag him back into the car, yet Jim remained firm.
‘You seem interested. I could use someone like you, my boy.’
Laura tugged harder.
‘Yeah, I’d like that.’
Both Jim and the monster had vanished, leaving only Laura, who was on the ground, rubbing her head. The woods, the pavement, her phone, all spun around as if she were drunk. In fact, they span faster and faster until they formed into a little portal and next thing she knew, Laura was back home.
It was a dream then. A hallucination. Some bugger had spiked her drink, perhaps.
No monsters. No aliens.
Still, something chewed at her heart, forcing her to give Jim a call. ‘Jim, are you there?’
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘Oh, thank god.’
‘You should have been there, you should have.’
‘With that guy. The one with the big mouth. He really opened my eyes.’
‘No, he took me back to his world and everything. Real weird it was.’ Thus he began a long description of the creature’s world, full of twisted architecture and wondrous creatures walking through misty expanses. There, Jim and the creature spoke in length about potential places where the creature could give his tours, and, using another device, they visited the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and even soar over the skies for a bit, and there was even time for Jim to go back home and have a kip.
‘You’re an idiot,’ replied Laura, and hung up.