Chapter 8. Write a Novel Challenge.
The room was musty with age but the seeming normality of it was unnerving. A waterlily, crumpled and dry, sat solemnly on the centre of a large table. Surrounding it, six chairs lay undisturbed and perfectly uniformed. An oil painting hung gently on the dim grey of the wall, depicting a vivid sunrise. The rich oranges and pinks juxtaposed the rest of the room to such an extent that Neina found it hard to look at the picture without squinting. The only real light in the room erupted from a couple of candles on the table, instant proof that this room lay separate from time as was humanly measured. How could a candle keep burning in a room that otherwise appeared untouched for near eternity? Ignoring the impossibility of it all, the candle flames continued to dance their timeless waltz, flickering and fluttering without the slightest trace of a breeze. They illuminated various cracks and crevices embedded into the walls and floor whilst casting ominous shadows.
Neina rubbed her eye, only then did she realise that it was damp. The salty residue of tears rested by the corners of her mouth, begging her to notice them. If the room had been filled with monsters, laced with traps or occupied by a minotaur, she would have been less scared. It was the normality, the familiarity that scared her. Because it wasn’t normal, nor familiar but it almost was. Almost. The cacophony of silence that had once surrounded her now felt like it was trying to engulf her. Trying to drown her in its emptiness. For a second, just a second, Neina wondered if she should submerge herself in it. She could shut her eyes and lie down; would it matter if she never woke up? Did she want to wake up again? This, all of this fantastical blur, had occurred far too fast.
It was almost enough to make her laugh as she traced her fingers over the bleeding wine stain on her blouse. A thick and rich Merlot, fruity and vibrant. Neina ran her hands down her skirt, the same black pencil that she had been wearing, well, before. Before the tunnels and the doors and the monsters. Before the mazes and the riddles and this mystifying room. Before her dreams and memories had intertwined as one. She took a breath. Drawing in the dust and the age, sucking it down into her lungs; revelling in it. She allowed her tears to escape, to celebrate the absurdity of it all, and she allowed herself to laugh, for much the same reason.
“Neina?” whispered a young woman, materialising from nothing and taking a seat on one of the chairs. It creaked a little under her weight but other than that, nothing changed. Perhaps a minute ago, Neina would have screamed but instead she was perfectly calm. Why? Neina wanted to be scared, just like she’d wanted to be angry with Frankie all those hours ago but had found herself lost in defeat. The tranquillity filling her insides, pulsating through her veins and invading her brain, that wasn’t defeat. It was more of an acceptance. It felt right the woman should be here, it was almost as if Neina wanted her to be here.
“Freya,” Neina allowed a hint of a smile to pass her lips, “Is it really you?”
“Do you want it to be?” was all the woman replied. Her face should have been beautiful. Her jungle-green eyes were laced with expensive mascara, her lips were voluptuous and dressed in a warm shade of red, her smile was sweet and gentle, but she wasn’t beautiful. Or even pretty. In fact, she was quite possibly the ugliest person Neina had ever laid eyes on.
Three men appeared at the table, each pulling out a chair in unison. None of them spoke a word but it was obvious who they were. The tall man, silvery haired and decorated in wealth was Frankie. The shortest was almost a boy, he had the raw hands of a farmer and the eyes of an elder, but he was no doubt Ryder. The third, was Quinn, a little taller than Neina remembered him but the depth of his obsidian eyes was unforgettable. All four of these people, so familiar and yet so distorted. Their faces looked almost normal, almost real, but just like Freya’s they were grotesquely garbled. Neina took it as proof that these were no people at all.
A flood of memories knocked Neina to the floor. She could smell the autumnal breeze, hints of warm apple crumbles and fresh earth. Freya was beaming as they walked, hand in hand, out of the exam hall. Her cheeks were rosy, and a scarf was hanging loosely around her neck, framing the beauty of her face. Neina was scowling, not a single question she had wanted came up on the paper. Three hours spent mindlessly drumming a pencil onto a desk, eventually leaving a mark. She was becoming irritated with Freya’s utter jubilance, why was the world working in her favour? Then, losing control of herself, Neina set free her anger in the form of a storm of insults upon Freya. Every insecurity that her best friend had was suddenly being targeted. That was the last time they had spoken; until now.
“Freya, I’m so sorry!” Neina burst into a fresh set of tears, forgetting to care if this vision of ‘Freya’ was fact or fiction, “I didn’t mean it. Any of it. I hated myself for screwing up the paper and you were just there. I was an awful, awful person and an even worse friend,” Neina’s whole body convulsed with sobs. Instantly, Freya’s face transformed into the stunning masterpiece that it used to be. Everything aligned, configured, returned to normality. She smiled. A subtle smile. And then she was gone, leaving not a hair to trace.
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To read Chapter 6, click here.
To read Chapter 7, click here.
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