Chapter 32. Write a Novel Challenge.
‘Just keep going….. Of course, that was easier said than done,’ Neina thought to herself, retreating from her mind back into the harsh reality of daylight. She sank into her office chair, struggling to keep her conflicting emotions in check as they coursed through her body like a river in spate; unpredictable and ever-changing.
Reaching up to her neck, she suddenly felt the scratchy fabric of the Argyle scarf draped around her – but she could’ve sworn she hadn’t put it there. Dismissing it, she buried herself in her work, plans flowing out of her and sculptures forming in her mind seamlessly. She loved her job. She’d thrown herself into it from the first day she arrived at work – and she would throw herself into it until the day she left. The recognition that she, Neina Nyala, was in a job that she loved and she deserved had felt like the most powerful thing she could ever receive. But like everything in life, it came with a price. The hours were longer and the work was harder. The deterioration of her engagement was perhaps the hardest sacrifice she had been forced to make; for her work she had paid the highest price. Still, she pushed on through.
Glancing around the room she spent every waking hour occupying, the room she had earnt, she felt immense pride. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right about her office. The lights were too bright and the colours too harsh. The voices she could hear were almost distorted…
All at once, spools of inky blackness melted into her surroundings and folded Neina into a sea of darkness until her office was no longer visible. Drowning. It felt as if water thicker than ink and blacker than night was pouring down from the ceiling, filling up the office. She could have sworn, as she went under, that the last thing she heard was the faint sound of a man laughing.
Finally, the dark gave way into soft rays of sunlight. Her office chair melted away into a yielding sand that cushioned her, as she sat with her back against a mountain of granules, reaching up towards the sapphire sky. She opened her eyes to find herself back in the desert of the Mors world. Terror gave way to confusion as she watched the sand skitter in the gentle wind, the golden grains stretching before her for miles, each delicately warmed by the heavenly glow radiating from the sky. In the sunlight, a rainbow of colour cast itself through the desert, lighting it up with a prism of hues as it caressed the dunes. Graceful golds twirled with ostentatious oranges, colours leaping from mound to mound in a ballet of endurance.
For the first time, she wondered if perhaps the two corners of her brain weren’t so different after all – if the heaven and hell were both merely the product of her own imagination, one fed by a lifetime of stories from every corner of the globe.
She was finally shaken from her admiration of the desert by the throaty chuckle of a man. Struggling to sit up and glance over, she eventually found the man in the Argyle scarf from her childhood. He seemed remarkably calm – and almost smug – that she’d found herself back here again.
“Janus?” she asked, confusion running through her brain as she tried to figure out how her world had melted back into this cesspit of terror and danger. For the first time Neina realised that she did not feel afraid.
“Welcome back,” he drawled, leaning back on his elbows while still maintaining eye contact.
“What am I doing here?”
“You haven’t figured it out yet? That’s a pity. I thought you had more intelligence than that,” he replied haughtily.
Anger flared through Neina. A lifetime of being told she wasn’t smart enough, or talented enough, had instilled in her a raw exasperation that seethed out. Reining in the anger, she instead decided to admit her lack of understanding aloud.
“Come on kid, think,” he urged, closing his eyes and relaxing back onto the sand, fiddling with the same scarf that had been round her neck only moments ago. Despite his apparent serenity, Neina could tell he was monitoring her keenly.
‘Think?’ Neina felt like a million things had happened in the last few days – how was she to sort through them all to work out why she was back here again?
‘Envy? Pride? Maybe it had something to do with the sins? Or was it something to do with the tasks she had been forced to complete? And then there was the man – scarecrow – lying across from her, a wicked smirk settled across his features. Janus.’
She twisted the name over in her brain as it echoed and ricocheted around her head, she was scraping at the corners of her mind to identify the significance, the reason it sounded so familiar. Then she discovered it. ‘Lurking in the corner of her mind was the memory of the summer that Ryder had spent obsessed with Ancient Roman myths and legends. Janus, the Roman god of “duality,” Neina realised aloud, glancing up at the man lounging across from her.
“Very good Neina,” he affirmed, nodding his head. “God of duality, doorways, beginnings and endings at your service.” He mockingly bowed his head at her, a wreath appearing on his head; an emblem of his arrogance and power.
“So you’re not here?” she asked, unsure of the world around her and the man sitting in front of her.
“Do you think I’m here?” he asked curiously.
“I think – I think this is a puzzle, one big puzzle,” she began slowly, realisation dawning on her.
“Keep going,” he urged, smirking as he recognized the understanding in her eyes.
“You’re part of the puzzle,” she continued, “and so are Isla and my mother. But I don’t have all the pieces yet – and some of the pieces I have don’t fit?”
Janus nodded. “Correct,” he said, pushing himself up from his reclining position. Neina went to stand up next to him but found herself stuck. She struggled as Janus began walking away, whistling to himself.
“Wait,” she called after him, desperate to extract more answers from him.
“One question only,” he said, tossing the words over his shoulder provocatively, still retreating slowly.
Neina wracked her brain for the one question that would give her the most answers. “Is this real?”
He stopped, turning around to face her with a smirk on his face. “I suppose that’s up to you kiddo.”
He shrugged and faded away into the distance.
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