I failed National Novel Writing Month for the first time in 4 years; I'll try and explain myself a bit later. In the mean time, here's everything I managed to write before I gave up. I ended somewhere around 20,421 words (that's 30,000 short of my goal). But you know what I didn't end up with? Anger. I felt myself getting angrier, and angrier as I continued. When I realized I wasn't enjoying the story I was writing -- I lost my will to continue. There will be another time for me to pick up the shattered pieces of my young adult story. November 2014 was simply not the time for me.
Below you'll find every disjointed, crazy paragraph I managed to write in November. For posterity's sake, I like to keep and share my creative process. So here it is, and I'll return to it later when I have an ending and a better idea of the story as a whole. There are plenty of things about this story that I enjoyed; and I know I could happily expand upon it and rescue it later. For now though, I'm pretty done. I need to get back to The Burning City.
What I Learned During National Novel Writing Month
I'm not a pantser. I thought I was; I was wrong. I need some kind of structure or pre-planning, or I end up with characters named Lettuce or purple, singing, dish washing toads. True story. No, really, I just wrote it in Pizzamancer on a day I was hard up for words, and that was what happened. I was going for whimsical, not insane.
I can give up and not feel bad. I did give up, for a few days at a time, where I didn't think or even consider writing. I discovered that the material I had chosen to write this year just wasn't my speed. I wasn't interested in it most of the time. So when I sat down and forced myself to write: I'd become angry. A slow, deep burning kind of angry that slowly consumed my entire day. So after an anger-induced nap, or outburst, or another nap, I'd end up ruining an otherwise perfectly good day of writing. So I learned to step away, to let it go, and my happiness with the story returned when not forced.
I learned I can't be trusted to control myself when my favorite new video game is released in November, even half-way through the month. I absolutely played more hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition than I had spent writing.
So note to self: BioWare, if you release Mass Effect 4 in November... I already know I'm going to fail NaNoWriMo 2016.
I learned that deadlines really are key, but so is having a plan, and a good support system. I don't feel I had any of that this year. I'm certainly not blaming anyone but myself for the failure of my story, I am the only person to blame. But I'm choosing not to be upset by my failure. It means I can return to writing The Burning City, and I have a slush pile of "Young Adult Crazy" story to climb over next time I want something to work on. That's a new genre: Young Adult Crazy. Or YA Whimsical. Or YA "Why do they keep calling things food names?"
#Pizzamancer Days 18 until I gave up... for National Novel Writing Month
a story of epic portions
by Michelle Brumley
“Who's the runt?” Jared asked. He was using his best guard dog voice; the one he saved just before punching people in the face. Suzi was always amazed at how intimidating he could become with just the change of his voice. He went from relaxed football player to shoulders forward, teeth bared, concerned-older-brother. At the drop of a hat, there he was: hackles raised, fists clenched, and all questions.
Questions Suzi wasn't in any mood for.
“Jared, not now--” She tried to push past him, forgetting suddenly that he was twice her size and stubborn. She didn't make it very far.
“The lady asked you to move,” Tom's voice sounded behind Suzi's shoulder.
“'The lady' huh? Suzi, what have you told this guy? She's not a lady--”
The sound of sliding metal made Suzi's ears twitch. Goosebumps ran along her arms. Even without knowing what Tom had done, she somehow knew he had drawn his sword in the middle of their hallway. Jared took a quick step backwards.
“Must be one of your comic book 'friends,'” Jared's words were a bit venomous as he eyed the sword that Tom held. “It looks pretty convincing though. Whatever. You nerds don't hurt yourselves with your toys.”
Jared pushed past Suzi and Tom stepped in his way.
“Oh, Tom, is it?” Jared slapped the sword away with the back of his meaty hand. He caught Tom off guard and the sword fell from his hand. “Go and play, nerd. Just don't get too close to my sister.”
“Jared,” Suzi hissed. Her brother smirked, rolled his shoulders and wandered down the hallway.
“I'm going out—don't make a mess while I'm gone. And I'm bringing Emma home tonight; you and your nerd friend had better go play somewhere else tonight.” Before Suzi could tell her brother what she thought about him and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, the door front slammed shut.
Tom bent down to pick up his fallen sword.
Suzi wiped a tear from her cheek before Tom could see it.
“Ignore that asshole,” she said with a forced smile. “Let's get you in to some real clothes. Jared might have something that will fit you. It might not smell the best though.”
Tom's nose wrinkled.
“Is that—Jared, a prince here? The way he spoke to you...”
“Jared? A prince?” Suzi raised both eyebrows and shook her head. She couldn't imagine a world where Jared was giving the orders.
“No, thankfully he is not. He's a football player, and a big one. His muscles didn't leave much room left over for a brain, or trivial things like emotions.”
Tom removed his book from his pocket again and jotted down notes.
“What are you writing with?” Suzi asked, half-heartedly hoping it was an ink quill. There was a feather on the end of it that seemed to match the one from his helmet.
Tom held it up; it was a thin tube made from metal, with a clear center. Gears turned inside and she could see ink drifting through the air.
“It's called a 'pen.' Do you have those here?” Tom asked. He clicked the end of it and the ink changed color.
“Well, yeah, we have them—but they don't look like that. Did it just change color?”
“Yes, it did. It's—well, never mind. It's probably a word that wouldn't make any sense here.”
“I thought you came from a kingdom of castles and—pizza. That pen has metal, and gears, and changes color. You sound like your castle is somewhere in Las Vegas.”
“Las where?” Tom frowned, and Suzi realized she had lost him again. At least they both felt the same. Tom must have felt her uncertainty and continued. “Prince of Anywhen, remember? My kingdom has things from any time, and any where. This pen happened to be one of many that fell out of the sky during a dream storm.”
Suzi wasn't honestly sure what to think. Her father seemed convinced that there was something right, and yet very wrong, about Tom. Jared wouldn't even give the strange boy a chance. Suzi certainly had met a lot of weird people in her first year of Lakewood Community College, but none quite so convinced—or as weird—as 'Prince' Tom.
Prince Tomato, she corrected herself. How did an entire 'kingdom' end up naming things wrong? Or after pizza? It was like their ancestors got a hold of a children's book and a cookbook from the 1980's, drew some pictures and poof, their language was born.
If things from all over fall out of the sky when it rains... that's not far from the truth. It could have happened. I wonder what a dream storm is. She wondered if they had churches there, and if they may have based their entire religion off of a flying pasta dish. Or if monsters and candy fell from the sky all at once.
The image of a pan of Lasagna with bloodied teeth was prominent in her mind.
"Sunami--" Tom asked, "are we going to stay in this hallway all day? I would like to change from these clothes for the night, in case that," Tom frowned, "what did you call him? An asshole? In case that asshole comes back to laugh at me."
She wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but it was enough to clear the Lasagna picture from her head.
“Right. Clothes. You'll want them.”
“You make that sound optional—is this some strange custom I'm not familiar with? Clothing that is a choice?”
Suzi couldn't help but smile. Oh, she could really have fun with this one.
“Oh, my dear prince. You have much to learn.” Suzi pushed the door to her brother's spare room open. He may have had his own apartment, but he had never really moved out. His room looked like a bomb went off. Jerseys from high school, his Sigma Alpha Llama t-shirt collection, a throw blanket with a naked woman on it—all covered the floor. Half-opened bags of potato chips and beer cans acted like a floor of crunchy leaves. Post-it notes with girl's phone numbers, a dozen drunken selfie photos and a map of Lakewood lined the wall. Suzi navigated her way through the sea of garbage and clothes to Jared's dresser.
She pulled out a few t-shirts and held them up, lining the shoulders up with Tom's shoulders. Jared was nearly twice the girth and height of the prince, although Suzi was guessing they were around the same age.
“Here, try these on. I'll find you some jeans. And a belt.”
She handed the pile of smelly shirts to Tom and found a few pair of decent looking jeans and a belt with an awful belt buckle that doubled as a bottle opener. She groaned as she even considered putting Tom in anything her brother might wear.
“People wear—kitchen utensils, on their clothes?” Tom held up the belt with raised eyebrows. Suzi closed the bedroom door in his face.
“Let me know when you're done changing.”
Sunami didn't have to wait very long at all. Tom opened the door with his former tan-colored lace-up shirt and trousers over one arm. The rest of him was covered in ridiculousness. He was wearing Jared's jersey, that part was technically correct. Except he had used the beer bottle opener belt across his chest and turned the jersey in to something like a dress. That didn't require the jeans Sunami had set aside, apparently. And somewhere in the mess of it all, Tom had found himself a pair of cowboy boots.
“Tell me there is another option for clothes, when you stop laughing.” Tom frowned. His messy hair fell over his eyes as he tried his best to look regal. It only made Sunami laugh harder. It took her a good five minutes to catch her breath long enough to let Tom walk out in to the hallway. He peered in to Sunami's room.
“You have another closet. May I?” Tom smoothed down the front of his Sigma Alpha Llama jersey with as much dignity as he could manage. Sunami couldn't answer or she'd start laughing again, so she just nodded. She had to put some distance between her and the prince, so she walked out to the living room and slumped in to the over-sized couch. She heard some rustling and banging sounds coming from her closet but the images that came to mind ranged from prom dresses to her video game cosplay costumes in the back of her closet. If Tom managed to find her one-and-only prom dress, she wondered if he'd actually fit...
She was too busy playing video games to notice when Tom walked out and sat down on the couch next to her. She did notice him walk in front of her, though. He had managed to shimmy his way in to a pair of her skinny jeans. And they looked damn good. She paused the game and swiveled her head like an owl to watch him sit down next to her.
“Are those my jeans?” Sunami asked with an impressed nod.
“I can't breathe. We'd usually call something like this a corset, but I've never seen one that goes over your entire lower half.” He poked a finger at a leg that looked like it was being devoured by a snake made of denim. Somehow, Sunami wondered if that snake now existed somewhere in Anywhen.
“I haven't worn that t-shirt in years. It's one of my favorite video games. Stand back up, prince. Let me get a good look at you.”
Tom tried very hard to stand. He bent at the knees a few times to make sure he wasn't losing circulation in his legs. He was wearing an old faded t-shirt that Sunami had bought at a video game convention a few years ago. It was dark purple with the image of a famous princess on it. And a dragon. And he had found one of her black dress shirts, rolled up the sleeves and thrown it over the top. He was pleasantly fashionable. And those skinny jeans made it hard for Sunami to concentrate.
“OK, you can sit down now. Wait, what did you find for shoes?”
Tom was barefoot. He wiggled his toes in the carpet.
“We have a material in Anywhen, in the halls of the castle. It's like this--”
“Carpet,” Sunami said as Tom pointed at the floor.
“It's like this carpet, but it changes feeling. Warm like the sun, cold like the snow, and changes colors and patterns. I never wear my shoes at the Anywhen Castle... but your carpet appears to be broken.”
Tom wiggled his toes one last time before settling down on to the couch. He seemed afraid to touch the fabric but before she could ask—he slumped heavily in to the fabric. Stiff as a board.
Tom reached in to his t-shirt and pulled at the chain of his hour glass necklace.
“It's not broken, is it?” Sunami asked as Tom studied the sand that refused to fall.
“I don't know. I won't know until I sleep for a night in this world. Sometimes it takes a while for the magic to remember, and wake up.” He gave one last look at the stand, shook the hour glass, and tucked it back beneath his shirt.
“It's been a long day already, and I have to get up early for class tomorrow. Let's get you settled in for the night, OK?” Sunami stood up from the couch as she spoke. She waited for Tom to pry himself from his impossibly stiff position on the couch.
They returned to Sunami's room and she, like the tusnami she named herself after, spun around the room and cleaned up as quickly as she could. She pulled spare blankets out from her closet, cleared—very carefully—a stack of comic books from her bed and found an extra pillow near her dirty laundry.
“You can stay here,” Sunami pointed to her bed. “I'll sleep on the couch.”
“The asshole said he would be returning with a woman. He said for us to be gone by then.” Tom said as he sat down on her bed.
“I'll just... sleep on the floor, then.” She had already forgotten about Jared and Emma. She flipped on her TV and turned it to one of her favorite music channels, to drown out any sound that Jared may be inclined to make. Tom fell in to her bed with all of his clothes on, bare feet sticking out of the blankets. He rolled over on to his side and faced the wall. She assumed it was some form of modesty, but before she could question him, she heard Tom begin to snore. Sunami shook her head, changed in to a t-shirt and shorts, and made a bed on her floor. She fell asleep reading a comic book and watching TV. She heard Jared return home just as she was nodding off.
“Hello, is this thing on?” Sunami tapped her smart phone and watched as the voice waves registered the sound. After her last trip to see her psychiatrist, when she told Doctor Abigail about meeting Tom, she had been given a new set of prescriptions. And an assignment to juggle between class and work.
“I was given this assignment by Doctor Abigail. I'm supposed to keep a diary of things I remember, and try and point out things that may not be one hundred percent... real.” She cringed at the thought. She wasn't psychotic. She wasn't making things up. But her Doctor certainly didn't believe what she was saying, and Suzi had a hard enough time lying to regular people.
“I met Tom two days ago. He—well, I've already told you how I think he showed up. I returned the keys to the moped owner and gave them what cash I had left as gas money. They took a picture with me and Tom, said they'd put it on the internet and called it good. Said it was the most excitement they'd had all year. That part seemed pretty real. If a bit... weird.”
“Everything seems weird these days.”
Suzi took a deep breath and tried to focus on what Doctor Abigail had said.
“Tom showed me his pen—it had gears, and ink that floated in the wrong direction. He said it wasn't anything special, but to me—I think it's the most amazing pen in the world. It changes colors. He says it's magic. I'm pretty sure it's from Japan. That part let me see what was true, and what wasn't really there.”
“Jared can see him, and my dad can see him. I don't think that Doctor Abigail is right, that Tom is just my own hallucination. Why would other people be able to see him? Are they playing along?” Sunami sighed. She didn't know who to believe anymore, least of all herself.
“Tom certainly does strange things, and says strange things, but I really think he's just confused. He's nicer than most guys I've met, even if he's weird about it. Sometimes he's quick to anger, and I really don't think he should still carry around his sword. I've been meaning to convince him to leave it at home. Or, in the car, at least.”
“I think that I imagine things the most when I'm relaxed.” That was a new realization for Sunami. “Tom tells me these stories about dragons—except, his dragons are made of pizza, and there are these big flying cats, but he calls them something else---and even if he's totally mad, his stories seem to make everything else go away. I don't remember my mom's gone, I don't remember I have bills to pay. He has a way of making me feel like nothing else in the world really matters, except what we're about to do--”
“Sunami, are you almost done in there?” A knock sounded on the bathroom door.
“Yeah, just a minute!”
There was a short pause and then Jared's voice sounded again.
“Your... exchange student, nerd, friend, whatever. He's trying to wash his clothes in the sink. Can you do something about that?”
Suzi stood up from the edge of the bathtub where she'd been sitting, trying to get some privacy to record her diary. Tom followed her almost everywhere—even once in to the bathroom until she insisted otherwise—and she had very little space to move in her room as it was. And she certainly wasn't going to record her journal where her big brother could hear it.
“Diary, I'll continue later. I have to go and rescue Tom.” She saved the recording on her phone and opened the bathroom door. She could smell kitchen soap all the way down the hallway. Jared had his clothes and towels ready and brushed passed her. He slammed the bathroom door shut. She wondered if Tom really was doing something crazy, or if Jared just wanted to use the bathroom.
The bubbles drifting down the hallway was all the answer she needed.
Somewhere, somehow, Tom had found string and managed to hang it from the front door in to the kitchen. His wet, dripping clothes were hanging from various paper clips and chip clips—including her favorite one with Googlie Eyes that looked absurd holding a pair of socks. Water and soap bubbles were everywhere. Tom was whistling away, scrubbing at his tan colored shirt with a kitchen scrubby brush.
“My brother tells me you're washing your clothes in the kitchen sink.”
Tom stopped whistling and looked up at her.
“Is this your kitchen sink? I thought it was an odd place to put a laundry room. I suppose that's not a washing machine, then.” Tom turned to look at a pair of jeans sticking out from the dish washer. How he managed to get the door closed and make the machine run, she had no idea. Soap and water was frothing over the sides as the dish washer happily washed a pair of jeans and whatever else Tom had thrown in there.
“No, that isn't a washing machine...”
It took Sunami most of the morning to help straighten out the mess in the kitchen. She was last for her first math class—also, because she was trying to keep Tom from following her to school. He was not content to wait at home for his “guide,” but Sunami couldn't miss another class. Luckily she only had one today, and no other appointments.
She skipped lunch break and made it home early afternoon. She was relieved not to find soap bubbles, or smoke, or a giant mess when she opened the front door.
“I haven't gotten an angry phone call yet from Baldwin, Miranda or my mother, but I should probably go down to the Frying J see if I can get my job back. That botched pizza, and the mess yesterday...” She cringed at the thought. “You can stay here if you want--”
“I'll come with you.” Tom moved quickly from the couch. “Although, I'm not riding in another 'cab.' That was severely unpleasant.”
“No, no cab. I'll drive this time. Dad gave me some money just in case.”
Sunami waited in her car until the last possible minute before she was scheduled to work. She saw Baldwin, and that lanky black cat, wander around the store. She didn't see a single customer stop. Everyone just kept driving by. She took a deep breath and walked across the parking lot. She heard the car door close and knew Tom was following her.
She pushed open the front door and as soon as she saw Baldwin, she started defending herself.
“I know I left the kitchen in a complete mess yesterday, and I may have ran away with someone's pizza, and it may have ended up all over the kitchen--”
Baldwin gave her a blank stare.
“Am I fired? Do I still have a job? Because I really need it right now, and the mess was an accident, and then I panicked and ran away, like any normal person would do.”
It was that exact moment that Sunami realized she was standing next to a man who was wearing a sword at his belt.
“Sunami, wait--” Tom began.
“OK, well maybe not normal, but you get what I'm saying. I left yesterday and I'm coming back today to make it right. So, do I still have a job or..?”
The old maintenance man shrugged and pointed towards the kitchen. Sunami frowned and walked back towards the kitchen. It was spotless. There wasn't a trace of pizza or dragon behind. The freezer door was back where it belonged, and there was no sign that a dragon or pizza had exploded in the first place. Tom followed closely behind her and was ignored by Baldwin.
“I tried to tell you, but you talk so much when you're determined.” Tom said as he indicated the sparkling kitchen. “I mean, it's such a rare trait, a woman who speaks her mind. You'd be devastating at Court.”
Sunami leaned against the counter. She still had a job, and by the look Baldwin gave her—he had no idea what she was talking about.
“He doesn't remember, does he?” Sunami said.
“No, he doesn't. In fact, I think now he's convicned you're crazy.”
The word made Sunami twitch slightly.
“So, why did it all disappear? And more importantly, how did my entire mess get cleaned up?” Sunami asked as she searched the floor for any speck of pepperoni or dragon scales. The one mess that still remained was the dishes from the rest of the day, all stacked in a dirty, soap-filled sink. Baldwin was nice enough to leave them for her.
“A 'clean and forget,' spell. It's a bit chaotic, though. Sometimes it forgets to do things, sometimes it cleans the wrong people. I cast it before we left.”
“So it—cleans up, after your magical arrival, and makes people forget what happened?”
“Yes. And sometimes it cooks you dinner, as an afterthought.”
“How do I learn that spell?” Sunami laughed. She didn't have a better explanation for what had happened, and the kitchen was clean and no one seemed to remember that she had left the kitchen in a total disaster. Baldwin didn't seem to notice anything, though. He may have just repaired it all, and Miranda would fire her when she got back on Monday. For the time being, however, Sunami was content with whatever world Tom wanted to live in: the one where a 'clean and forget' spell was a real thing.
Her shift went by quickly; Tom hung out I the kitchen while she worked, telling her stories of Anywhen while she rolled pizza dough and deep fried chicken wings. She changed the garbages, pulled frozen breakfast sandwiches from the freezer to the walk-in cooler for the next day, and even had time to make salads.
Tom couldn't understand why anyone would eat something out of a plastic container, though he did admit it looked nice. Sunami had never really been good at any of her jobs. And although it was only day two, and she had followed Miranda's detailed instructions, she didn't feel she was doing an awful job. If the kitchen had been destroyed and everyone had remembered what happened—well, she didn't want to think about that.
Just before was going to start doing the dishes for the night—Baldwin walked through the kitchen doors. He took a look from Sunami to Tom, then held out a piece of crumpled receipt paper. By the chicken scratch hand writing, she knew it was a to-go pizza order. From the same lady as the night before. She waited until Baldwin left and handed the paper to the prince.
“This is what I was making when I summoned you here early—this. Does it make any sense to you?”
Tom looked over the receipt paper and nodded.
“You're actually lucky you messed up the last time, Sunami. This isn't just any portal spell, this is meant to bring someone through by name. Someone very dangerous. Maybe a witch, or something worse.”
“A witch? Why would someone want to summon a witch—through a pizza?”
Tom paced the kitchen. He studied the receipt paper.
“How much longer do you have until the order is due?”
“Usually about 20 minutes.”
Tom checked the hour glass at his chest. Sunami noticed that the sand had turned red.
“Whoever is going to pick up that pizza knows exactly what they're doing. They're probably a witch, too, and will be expecting someone to meet them. I need to see how this plays out, Sunami. This is the first clue I've gotten that something else from Anywhen is here. We have to cast the spell.”
“What? Why? How would bringing another witch here be a good thing?”
“They're going to expect that spell to happen. I'm guessing your boss is a witch, and would normally do this. You said she's out of town?”
“Yeah, she's gone for one more day.” Sunami pulled down a to-go pizza box and shook her head.
“This is very important, Sunami. I can't fight off a witch yet. I'm still too weak from the portal, my magic hasn't caught up with me yet. If we don't summon that witch, there's going to be a fight. I'm afraid I can't protect us if that happens.”
“Can't we just run away? We could just run away. No one ever expects that.”
“I can't run. I'm already running out of time. I have to do this, with or without your help.”
Suzi tightened the apron around her waist.
“Let's do this.”
The ingredients list was longer than the last time but she had Tom to help her read them. He fumbled his way around the kitchen but they were still done in half the time. The pizza smelled like cinnamon and radishes, and looked nothing like it. Tom watched the pizza carefully as it cooked.
“So, what is this—this witch is some kind of pizza mage? She uses ingredients that look like they'd go on a pizza, in just the right shape, says a few words and casts a spell?”
“We'd call her a Pizzamancer. There's bone meal in the dough, and the ingredients are... less than... something you'd actually want to eat. They're a branch of Necromancy, except their medium is herbs, spices, and teleportation.”
“Instead of dead people.”
“Yes. They don't cook the dead.”
“Bone meal. Like, ground up bones?”
“Sumami, we don't really have time for this.”
“I just want to make sure if I die, I don't end up on someone's pizza!”
Tom turned away from watching the pizza begin to bubble. He looked around the kitchen as though he was making sure they were alone.
“Yes, Sunami. The most powerful bone meal is still human bones. It's old magic.”
A shiver crept down Sunami's spine. Suddenly, the pizza didn't smell appetizing in the slightest. In fact, she thought she might be sick.
“We're not alone. We can't talk any more about Anywhen. I need you to take the pizza and give it to the lady, and return to me. As quickly as you can.” Tom said. He stared out the kitchen doors to the inside of the Frying J. Sunami saw the black cat with gold eyes was back, sniffing and dodging his (or her?) way through the store aisles. She boxed up the pizza, pushed her way out the kitchen doors and walked up to the front desk without another word.
The same woman from yesterday appeared, wearing another inappropriate dress and different color nails. She still had the same rat dog tucked beneath one skinny shoulder. Sunami hadn't noticed the woman's eyes until now: they were dark, almost black. No, she was certain, today they were black. Her lips twitched to a smile, like a delayed reaction, at the sight of Sunami's pizza box. The day before, Sunami had run away and the box had never been delivered—instead, Tom had fallen through to the kitchen in the back. The woman didn't seem to have any recollection
“I ordered a pizza. Miranda said she was going to make it special.” The woman pet her dog and studied Suzi. “Who are you?”
Sunami got a serious case of deja vu. She blinked and handed the woman the pizza box.
“Miranda's not here. My name's Sunami.”
The woman's black eyes narrowed slightly.
“Sumami. That's a strange name. You must be Miranda's new—cook. I hope she taught you how to read the instructions.”
Sunami nodded and watched as the woman opened the pizza box. The smell of cinnamon was overwhelming. The woman inhaled deeply.
“Yes, that is perfect. Miranda taught you well.” The woman reached in to her purse. She set a silver-colored coin on the table.
“A tip.” The woman smiled and turned to walk away with her pizza. Sunami watched the woman leave the store, and then looked at the coin.
“She just paid me in Canadian, I think.” Sunami spoke over her shoulder as she heard Tom open the kitchen doors. He ducked down so the woman couldn't see him.
“Is she gone yet?” Tom asked. “We'll need to follow her.”
“Follow her? You want me to leave my job again to—wait. I'm not so certain we'll have to. Look.”
The woman dropped the pizza box outside in the parking lot. It was dark enough, and the Frying J was obscure enough, that no one else would be visiting.
“She's going to summon someone right now.”
“Do we have to do anything? Hide? Take notes?”
Tom crouched down and moved across the store to the window. He tried to get a better look, and motioned for Sunami to follow.
The pizza box began to rumble and smolder. Smoke boiled out from the flimsy cardboard until it wrapped itself in to the shape of a cocoon. Black and gray tendrils of smoke circled tighter and tighter until a bright flash of light lit up the night sky. Sunami swore she saw glitter fall through the air like some terrible Vampire movie.
And where the pizza box one lay, stood a man. He wore the same heavy-looking armor as Prince Tom had arrived in, except his looked dark and tainted. It was more than tainted—the metal was an ominous black. He was tall ane slender with the same long-ish black hair as Tom.
“Great. Not even a witch. Now we have another knight. And an evil knight, by the looks of him.” Sunami mumbled.
“How can you tell he's a knight?” Tom asked quietly.
“Well, she certainly didn't summon a cook. And besides, look at that armor. People don't give nice people armor that looks like that. They'd scare everyone away. And that mace—holy cats. I bet he could do some serious damage to someone's car with that thing.”
“Or their face.” Tom winced at the thought. “Yes, he is a knight, and he has just as much magic as I do—if not more. He must have followed me through with the help of the witch.”
“Uh, you mean, help from us.” Sumami decided to change the subject. “What's he doing here, anyways? Is he part of the problem in Anywhen? Has he come to take you home?”
“No, he has not. I believe he's come to try and keep me from going home. He's here to find the hero I seek as well, but instead of saving them—he's here to kill them.”
“Wait, wait. I know this story. Is that guy a robot, too? From the future?”
“A robot? ...No. What's that?”
Sumami shook her head.
“Well, I'm no expert in witches and evil knights, but I think it's time we got out of this place before they find you. If he's looking for the same person you are, we'll run in to him eventually.”
“We can't leave, Sunami. Well, I can't.” Tom said. He was nearly whispering as he stared out across the parking lot and tried not to be seen.
“We need to get close enough to see who it is, but we can't be seen. I have just the right spell.” Tom twisted off the top of his hour glass and tapped a single grain of purple sand in to his palm. He sealed the hour glass tightly.
“You have to move closer, Sunami. Here, take my hand.”
Sunami hesitated. Her psychiatrist warned that if she was having an especially vivid episode, that interacting with her surroundings may break the illusion. She didn't want it to go away. She moved closer to Tom but didn't take his hand.
“Is this close enough?” She asked, as Tom dropped his hand. The prince nodded. He held the grain of sand tightly in his hand. The world around Sunami shimmered and her vision looked like it was under water. The fading evening lights turned from soft rays to sparkling stars. The lonely street lamp had never looked so alive.
Tom held his finger up to his mouth and Sunami nodded. Together they walked forward slowly, getting closer and closer to the woman and her mysterious stranger. As they walked, the world shifted and bubbled around them but focused the image straight ahead. She felt like she was in some kind of gerbil ball.
The woman and man spoke at length but their voices were garbled. They, too, sounded like they were under water.
What a useless spell.
Tom stopped a few feet away. Sunami felt like the witch and the knight could see them, and she certainly didn't feel hidden. The voices became a little clearer, and their faces floated in to view.
“...the witch who normally casts the spell. She's gone, and left her daft apprentice behind.”
“The spell nearly transported me here without my head. She needs to get rid of that apprentice. At least get someone who can read.” The dark knight rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck to the side, just to make sure everything was still attached. “They must have used Toad's Tongue instead of Toad's Lung. Can you smell that?” He sniffed the air and shook his head in disgust.
Sunami didn't smell anything.
“Calm yourself, Lettuce. The effects will wear off soon enough. Did you bring your hourglass?” The witch asked, and pointed a long, ring-covered finger at Lettuce's chest. The prince nodded in return and pounded a gloved hand against his armored chest.
“We need to leave this place, and find Witch Miranda. Why they insist on this dreadful names and places, I'll never know.” Prince Lettuce said. Miranda and her strange new company walked down the pavement. A large black trunk rumbled up to the curve and opened the passenger side door. Someone held out their hand and helped the knight inside the trunk, and Miranda walked around to the other door.
Then they were gone.
“Do you know who that is?”
“That,” Tom said with a sigh, “is my brother, and my greatest enemy. And now he's followed me from the chaos of Anywhen. We've got our work cut out for us, Sunami.”
“We? Wait, wait, is his name really Lettuce?”
Tom took a deep breath and began walking back towards the Frying J kitchens. Sunami followed after him.
“He mentioned my bosses' name, Miranda. He called her Witch Miranda. They must be working together. That's helpful, right?”
Tom didn't respond. This was the darkest she had seen him, and she didn't like it. So she decided to change it.
“So show me this 'clean and forget' spell.” I think you owe me.”
Even though the witch and the evil knight had left, the dishes hadn't bothered to follow. Baldwin was out sweeping away the remains of the pizza box and flicking his cigarette butt at a cat walking down the street. The Frying J was closed for the night but Sunami wasn't about to leave the sink full of dishes—unlike the maintenance man. By now, it was pretty apparent her bitch of a boss was actually a witch of a boss, and she really didn't feel like getting turned in to a toad. Or, whatever it was witches did to people who disobeyed them. Grind their bones up in to flour and put them in a pizza, apparently.
“It would do me some good to practice my magic. I have a feeling I'm going to need to use it soon.” Tom said. “But we're going to just do a 'clean' spell, it's not safe to use too many memory spells. That man--”
“Baldwin? The maintenance man?”
“Yes. Baldwin. He doesn't appear as though his brain could handle another memory spell.”
“Cleaning spell it is. Hit me.”
“I most certainly will not.”
“No—never mind. Show me the spell.”
Tom shook his head. “You have such strange customs.”
“The magic of Anywhen comes from the sand.” He pointed to the hour glass around his neck. “So, anyone with the sand, can cast the magic. Most of the sand is gone now though, kept deep within the vaults of the Anywhen Castle.”
“So they only let the princes have sand? And witches?”
“Well, I'm supposed to use the sand to protect the kingdom. The witches have stolen it before, broken in to the Castle, or tried to make their own. My family has control of the sand, being the rulers of Anywhen. That includes my brother, generally considered to be evil. The problem with the sand is that—anyone, and anything, can use it.”
Sunami was just glad to have him talking again.
“What about your language? How can you speak my language, but your words are all messed up?”
“You mean speak English, but sometimes have no idea what you're saying?” Tom asked with a small smile.
“Long ago, before the sand was collected and protected, there was a man. A book fell through the sky, and the man read the book—and our words were created. I believe now that the book was from your world. But the book did more than just teach everyone words. It brought along with the words themselves. Pictures and pizza and dragons, the words took the magic and ran, and thus Anywhen was born. It's a place of chaos, and magic, and danger.”
“And cleaning spells. Tell me how this isn't going to go wrong.”
“The magic is reliable. It's usually the people who are not. Imagine having any spell at your finger tips—and then, two doors down, a child gets a hold of it and suddenly you have a giant cat wandering the kingdom. Or a witch gets ahold of it, and an entire village is turned to toads who wash all her dishes.”
“Toads! I knew it.”
Tom unclasped the hour glass necklace. He unscrewed the top and carefully rolled out a single grain of purple sand. It glowed with it's own fuzzy, purple light that illuminated the walls.
“It's beautiful,” Sunami breathed. Tom closed the hour glass and tucked it safely behind his t-shirt. He dropped the sand in the soapy water. The water bubbled and frothed and turned blue, then pink, then began to glow like the sand. Purple water filled the sink—and toads came spilling over the sides. But they weren't slimy, warty toads, they were purple skinned and smooth, with glowing yellow eyes. They sang in little toad voices, and hopped from dish to dish, kicking pizza pans back and forth.
There must have been a dozen of them—singing in their deep, toad voices and tossing dishes without complaint. Sunami washed as the sink slowly emptied, and watched as the dishes flew through the air, were dunked in clean purple water and laid out to dry. One toad hopped across the floor and looked up at her with its big, yellow and black eyes.
“Is it real? Can I touch it?” Sunami asked.
“Yes, it's real. For now. Soon, it will return to Anywhen.”
Sunami knelt down and held out her hand.
The purple toad hopped closer and with a loud croak—hopped on her shoulder. She squeaked at first, the wet legs of the toad were warm and soft, the exact opposite of what she was expecting. The toad leaned over—and kissed her cheek with a loud smacking noise. She heard it giggle before it dove from her shoulder in to the dish water.
“I think that toad just kissed you.”
“I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.”
Sunami watched until all the dishes were washed and the toads finished their songs. She could have stayed in the kitchen forever.
And then wondered if she needed to call Doctor Abigail. She shook her head, and watched as the toads lined up along the rim of the sink. Each toad turned and bowed to Prince Tom, then to Sunami, and hopped in to the sink. They disappeared beneath the purple water, and the water turned clear. The toads, and the music, had gone. All that remained were a few stray bubbles and a pile of clean, sparkling dishes.
“Let's call it a night, Sunami. We know my brother is here, and we know he's with your boss. That's more information than I had before, and I'm exhausted.” Tom finally said, when Sunami began to check beneath the water and dishes for any left-over toads.
Tom waited until he could hear Sunami snoring before he snuck out of the house. Just to be certain, he used a single grain of sand to cast an extra sleep spell on her—just to hold her through the night.
He had never had to use magic on a friend before, and he didn't feel right doing it. But Sunami kept snoring, with a curious little smile and curled back up in to a ball on the floor. He pulled the blanket over her shoulders, stepped over her sleeping form, and crept down the hallway.
He could hear Jared snoring down the hallway. He must have passed out on the couch. Tom pressed himself against the wall, carefully edging his way through the dark living room. He could smell something, he though Sunami had called it “cheap beer,” and it was certainly coming from the living room. Jared was asleep, face-down on the living room floor with a crushed can in his hand. A woman, a little older than Sunami, sat on his back with a video game controller. She was staring at the TV and pushing buttons, laughing as she did so.
Tom had watched Sunami play enough of her games to know the woman did not have the game turned on. She was just giggling, staring at the screen, and elbowing Jared every time she thought she “lost.”
Yes, it was most definitely “cheap beer” he smelled, and he was glad to slip out the front door without disturbing them. He stepped out in to the cold night and wished he still had his cloak. He reached in to his pocket and withdrew the map that Sir William had given him, with a time and streets circled. He just walked around the corner when he noticed Sir William's car parked at the corner. The two bright lights on the front flashed once, then twice, indicating it was safe. Tom approached the car.
“Are you wearing my daughter's jeans?” William asked as he waited for Tom to fasten his seat belt. Tom struggled with the contraption for a few minutes before Will reached across and clicked it in to place.
“These are... yes. They're dreadful to walk in, but she she insists I can't wear my Anywhen clothing.”
“And she's right to insist. Although, I should get you a new pair of jeans.” Will said with raised eyebrows. “What little magic I have left alerted me to someone else coming from Anywhen.”
“Yes. Sunami and I went back to the witches' lair, the 'Frying J,'” he used his hands to make symbols in the air like Sunami did when she was being secretive, “and we discovered that her boss was a witch, and right in the middle of summoning someone. I thought it was a witch, and I knew that if we didn't help, the person expecting the summoning spell would be suspicious.”
“So you finished the summon?” Will asked.
“Sunami did. She's got quite a gift for Pizzamancy.”
Will slammed the breaks on the car. Tom strained against his seat belt as the little car screeched to a halt in the middle of the dark road.
“I need you to understand something, my prince.” Will's voice was tense. “My Suzi-Q may be good at Pizzamancy, she may be good at Necromancy, she may the best Stromboli trainer Anywhen has ever seen—but they won't see it. Because my Suzi-Q will never return to Anywhen.” William's knuckles were stark white against the steering wheel. For a brief moment, Tom saw the fierce knight the old man once was. Before Tom could formulate a reply, the car was moving forward again.
Rain began to fall and drowned out any future chance of conversation on the remaining ride. Tom was thankful, he really didn't know what else to say until they got someplace safe. He got the feeling he was being watched, and he didn't like it. William parked the car outside of the Costume Emporium and put it in park. He didn't say another word as he opened the driver's side door and stepped out in to the rain.
Tom had no choice but to follow; Sir William had news, and Tom needed it. He did make a note, however, not to mention Sunami or Anywhen, or even magic, in the same sentence ever again.
Prince Tom had been a young boy when Sir William was famous in the castle walls of Anywhen. If he had ever met Sunami, or “Suzi-Q” as William called her, he couldn't remember. Sunami hadn't recognized him, and he hadn't recognized her, but the way people aged within Anywhen and Elsewhere was different. Tom had studied Elsewhere and their customs—he reminded himself to study their language more—and still couldn't tell exactly how many years versus years it was in each world.
Even when he returned home, although he may only have spent a few days in Elsewhere, years could have passed, or just hours, in Anywhen. His kingdom could be gone already—or may not even have noticed he had left yet.
He nearly bumped in to William as they stood outside in the rain and the old man fumbled to find his keys. He unlocked the first set of locks, then a second, then a third. Tom noticed that the fourth lock was magical and no one else could probably see it. The little toad that slept within the fourth lock cracked one lazy, yellow and black eye, and made sure it was Sir William. With a melodic croak, the door pushed open and the frog went back to sleep.
Tom could still smell the pepperoni from when the Stromboli had attacked earlier. It made his stomach churn and he hoped that whatever news Sir William had for him, he made it quick. They took their wet footsteps through the store and back to William's office.
“What's so important that it couldn't wait? I had to cast a sleeping spell on Sunami just so I could make it out here.” Tom said as he sat down on the chair.
“You cast a sleeping spell on my Suzi-Q?” Will asked as he sat opposite of the prince. “No matter. We need to be quick.” William opened his desk drawer and removed a long piece of rolled up parchment. It was made of wax paper and the edges looked slightly darkened.
“Is that a map?” Tom asked. William nodded as he flattened out the wax paper across his desk. To anyone else, the paper was blank. Tom knew better; this paper was stolen from a Pizzamancer. He used a paper weight and a set of keys to flatten out the corners. He reached in to his desk and found a sandwich bag full of flour. He sprinkled the flour across the paper, spoke a few words in a forgotten Anywhen language.
The flour moved of it's own accord.
[[ Where the hell does this map lead?! And why is it important? ]]
>> Lakewood Resort << This is beginning to feel more and more like Silent Hill.
A scene where Tom sneaks out of the apartment and is picked up by William, where they discuss the situation with Miranda and the Witches. Tom discovers that his “sleeping spell” doesn't work on Sunami, since she ends up following him...
“How come your sleeping spell worked, and mine didn't?”
“Wait, your sleeping spell? What is he talking about dad?”
“Dear diary,” Sunami began.
[[the evil Knight, Tom's brother, will see Tom in the Sigma Alpha Llama jersey. Tom and Sunami will have to attend the dance to lure the Knight out.]]
If she took his hand, it could unravel everything. She could lose the illusion forever; the Prince of Anywhen would erase from her imagination. She may never see him again. It was a chronic hallucinatory disorder, some form of psychosis, triggered by depression and anxiety. That's all Tom was, a . A friend she had created to help cope with her own, anxiety-filled life.
That's what Doctor Abigail said.
And yet, Tom stood there, holding out his hand.
Take it, and she'd lose him forever.
Don't take it, and she'd lose him forever.
Sunami closed her eyes. It was her anxiety, and missing her medication, that kept him around. That made and kept his reality: her reality.
“Don't make me come to you,” she whispered. “Maybe if he takes my hand, it'll work the opposite. Maybe he can step from my mind, in to my life.”
“What are you saying, Sunami?” Before she could open her eyes and explain—Tom took her hand. It was the first time they had touched [what about the time on the scooter? He was in his armor, did he have gloves on? Does that make a difference? Was there a separate seat behind her?], she had made certain of that. Doctor Abigail told her not to engage her hallucinations, that it would only make them more persistent and harder to discern from reality.
Sunami didn't want her reality.
She gripped Tom's hand once, tightly, and moved closer to him. She was finally able to hear the music. Tom's white-and-purple eyes looked down at her and he smiled.
Is it magic, or is it psychosis?
[[Something will happen – Tom won't be able to return home. They'll remember the BOOK in William's shop, and they'll finally have the key to open it. Prince Tom will be able to return home—and take Suzi with him. ]]
[[ The Fraternity is the Sigma Alpha Llama; they have an old Llama mascot named Sal. Sal likes to drink beer and eat pizza, much to the delight of the fraternity boys.
An opportunity for Suzi to deliver a pizza to the Frat House, maybe on her first day? Then when she gets back—all hell breaks loose. ]]