What’s The Next Step? – preface
“Darn it, Trisha.”
“I did not do it on purpose you know.”
“Now where do you suggest we go? You brought us here.”
“It’s getting dark. Where are we?”
“Oh be quiet. Let me think.”
“I suggest we go that way.”
I remember meeting my friends in the school canteen. It was early morning and the sky was still dark. As I trudged over to my friends, I could see what they were doing. Amalina was standing next to the table while talking to Tyng. Teva and Daphne were sitting on the bench while talking. I could also see Ling sorting out her files on the table.
“Hello people!” I greeted when I placed my bag on the bench. I received greetings in return. “So what do you plan to do today?” Teva asked. “I don’t know. We’ll think of something. Maybe we can all hang out after school?” I said while giving Tyng a look. Tyng always raced home when the school bell rings. I always wonder what she does at home. “Alright, I get what you mean,” Tyng replied.
As soon as she said that, the bell rang, signaling that assembly is about to begin. I hurried with Ling and Daphne to our perfect meeting. Time passed by very quickly. One minute I’m being yelled at by a crazy teacher, then I was laughing with my friends before I was being reprimanded for something I didn’t do.
I was pretty glad when school was over. My friends and I rushed down the staircase. We practically fought our way through the throng of students. Amalina looked so violent. Nevertheless, we made it to the bottom.
“FOOD!” exclaimed Teva while we walked quickly towards the gate. All of us used a shortcut unknown to students in the school. We were about to cross the road when it happened.
“Back!” Ling shouted but we moved to slow.
“Hey you!” I yelled but the vortex closed itself anyway. I looked around me and saw that my friends and I were stranded on a land surrounded by tall green trees. “Darn it, Trisha,” I said while I helped her to her to get on her feet.
I’m a logical person and I couldn’t understand what happened. All I remember was someone shouted at us to move back and then we were given the choice to go home or somewhere else. We ended up here because Trisha mumbled something inaudible but whoever it was heard her and here we are.
“Why didn’t you wish for home?” I practically screamed at my her while the others looked around them in confusion. I threw my hands up and checked my surroundings. I was trying to figure out how to get out this place but a thought hit me.
I’m going to miss the dance.
“Teva, you coming?” Tyng called. “Huh?” I said in confusion as thoughts were running in my mind. “Amalina suggested that we go that way. It’s the only path anyway,” Ling said as she pointed it out. “Well, let’s go then,” I said.
We walked in a group silently. We were not in the mood to enjoy looking at the stars when it was night. Tyng suggested that we sleep in the forest when it proved to be too difficult to walk in the dark.
“Are you crazy? There might be beasts or monsters wanting to eat us!” Trisha said loudly. “Well, what do you suggest then?” Tyng said in an irritated tone. “We have to make do. It’s too dark and we’re all tired,” Daphne piped up.
Amalina, Tyng and I went to look for firewood while Daphne and Trisha helped Ling to set up a makeshift tent. It was not comfortable searching in the dark. I stumbled a few times and Tyng helped me to get up. We have more or less of what we needed to get through the night.
“This is the best we could do,” announced Ling as the three of us dropped the pile of twigs on the ground. The tent was large enough o fit all of us. Our roof were the canopy of the trees and our mattresses were the grassy ground. Thank goodness we brought our school bags and had PE. We used our PE clothes as mattresses and our bags acted as pillows.
Amalina lit up the pile of twigs before joining us in our tent. All of us stared at the fire.
“I haven’t touched my packed lunch,” Tyng said as she offered her sandwiches to all of us. “I hope there are no mosquitoes,” mumbled Trisha. I tried to sleep that night. I could feel the ground on my back.
All of us woke up with muscle aches. Our fire burnt out and I could hear birds chirping. After a few stretches. Ling said that it was better if we get going right away. I suggested to my friends that we gather twigs and anything that might come handy as we continue our journey.
We ate berries that we found along the ay and prayed that they are not poisonous. We even ate a bit of my leftover lunch. This journey proved that we weren’t fit. Our bags were already weighing us down and we haven’t gone that far.
My mind drifted to Ryan. I felt bad for standing up to him. He must be really angry yesterday. Not to mention humiliated. I wonder how my family reacted when none of us went home. Teva tried to call using her cell phone. “No line. Figures,” Teva said and pushed her phone deep inside her pocket.
“I smell chocolate,” Ling said suddenly. “Huh?” Amalina said as she continued walking with her heavy bag. “Food! Food means civilisation!” Trisha yelped and ran up front before any of us could stop her. We raced after her. Teva was unusually fast and the rest of us couldn’t catch up with her. Daphne, Amalina and I stopped running and panted. Ling also stopped midway and turned back towards us.
Then, we heard a menacing growl. The rumbling sound got louder and louder. “Oy! Run!” Ling said and sprinted when a cloud of dust was coming towards us. We ran back towards our campsite. “Climb the tree,” Amalina shouted urgently. We scrambled up the tree and left our bags on the ground. It wasn’t hard at climbing. It was as if we were lifted by the branches.
Teva and Trisha ran past and they were lifted up by the branches too. “Help!” Trisha shouted. “Shh!” Amalina shushed Trisha. “Don’t make a sound. I’ll explain later,” said the tree. My friends and I looked at each other.
What we saw later was unbelievable. A throng, maybe hundreds of Oompa Loompas ran past below us. They broke everything in their path. The tree manages to hide our bags in a safe place. The Oompa Loompas also trampled on the weaker ones. I realized that they were covered in chocolate and smelled so delicious. After the Oompa Loompas ran past, the tree we were sitting on lowered us down. We turned to look up at the tree who has a face on the trunk. It was smiling at us. The tree reminded me of a character in Lord of The Rings. The movie was marvelous.
“Thanks for letting us hide in your..uh..” I began.
“You’re welcome. Do be careful next time,” the tree replied while twisting side by side as if it was stretching.
“ So where are we? What is the name of this place?” Daphne piped up.
The tree lifted one of its bushy eyebrow.
“You’re not from here?” the tree asked.
We shook our heads and smiled a little. Is he going to crush us?
“Well, I better introduce myself. You can call be Albert. Welcome to Inkspell,” Albert said and bowed slightly.
Leaves fell on us. I caught a red leaf.
“Keep the leaf. It might be helpful later,” Albert the tree said. “Thank you. Inkspell, you said. Are we in a book?” I asked.
Albert just laughed.
I still feel so tired. We were chased by Oompa Loompas and now we were talking to a tree. We must be mad but everything was real. How could I see my dream vividly and I’m able to touch, feel and smell my surroundings. I hurt from pinching myself over and over.
“Stop that,” Ling said as shehit my hand. We walked again after talking to Albert the tree. From what I gathered, we were in a fantasy world called Inkspell. We are not in a book, so Albert says. The tree could not give us the present year but he did give us directions to a nearby home.
“You will never lose sight of it. I mean you won’t miss it,” Albert said. Sigh. I forgot to mention that Inkspell is pretty topsy turvy. It’s all messed up. We passed by a destroyed Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka moaned to himself. “Hello. What happened here?” Trisha asked while still walking. “My latest invention. I didn’t know it would give my Oompa Loompas a sugar rush,” Willy Wonka said to himself.
We were also chased by mutant berries. Luckily Ling was smart to run on the rocky path. The berried soon ran out of juice when it landed on the sharp stones. We got scratches and some bruises but it was way better than being eaten by mutant berries.
We had to stop to rest after that. We sat on a large rock. I realized that we were on a hill and we were overlooking a large meadow below. The sun beat down on us while a small breeze blew by. “Inkspell is crazy,” Tyng muttered. “But beautiful,” Trisha said. She closed her eyes and twirled around.
“Did you see how huge the mutant berries are?” Amalina asked. “Please don’t remind me,” Teva said. “We better move on or we’ll spend another cold night,” I said. “Albert said it should be a one day journey,” Ling said as she got up. We continued walking accompanied with lots of grumbling and complaining. We crossed the meadow. Butterflies and fireflies flew in front of us. Birds flew above us, like sheltering us from the sun.
“I wish I could fly,” Trisha said dreamily and pretended to fly across the meadow. “Me too,” I said and followed Trisha. We laughed a lot. Both of us were ahead from the rest. Teva and Tyng avoided the puddles carefully but trying to move fast as well. Amalina was staring at the leaf Tyng picked up a while ago. Ling was walking with a smile on her face.
“We have one more hour to go,” Amalina said as she rolled up the leaf. We hurried our paces.
I guess it was the tiredness and what if thoughts that made all of us crabby. I thought everything was going on well and then suddenly one of us snapped at everyone. We were delayed with all the arguing and it was about to get dark.
“If you did not act selfishly and discussed with us we would be home!” Teva yelled. Trisha and Teva looked at each other eye to eye. Amalina lit the pile of twigs while I helped Tyng to position our sleeping areas. “Look, I’m sorry ok? What do you want me to do? I want to get home as much as you do. We all do,” Trisha yelled back.
The stars were out again. I lay on my bag stared at the stars. I could see Orion. Trisha cried beside me and was comforted by Daphne. I sat up when my back ached and made my way to Teva who sat by the fire.
“I was cruel wasn’t I?” Teva asked as she wiped away her tears. “I would like to say no,” I replied.
“We need to stick together to make it out of here.” That’s what Tyng said everytime we were about to start a journey.
“Yeah. Sorry. I just miss my family and Kuhen,” Teva said. I tried to keep myself composed. They don’t need another teary friend tonight.
“I wonder how Tyng could be so calm. Amalina and Daphne look pretty steady too,” Teva added. She was trying to sleep now. “Tyng never cries,” she said and yawned. “They roughed it out before in the woods,” I replied and tried to sleep too.
I woke up with a start. Everyone was still sleeping except Tyng. She was adding more twigs to the fire. It was still night time. I shivered as I sat right beside her. “You’re up early,” Tyng said. “What do you mean?” I said. “According to my watch, it is 3 a.m. now,” she said. “What time did yu wake up?” I asked while I warmed my hands.
“Can you help me? Just a small favour,” Tyng said and looked at me. “Ok. Shoot,” I replied. “Just look at me,” she said and I did. “Do you see any difference?” she asked after awhile. I shook my head. I looked at her again.
“I miss my family and him. I miss my warmth,” I blurted. Tyng looked at the fire. “Thank you,” she said and added more twigs to the fire. I blinked. “Whoa. What just happened?” I asked. “I thought of a theory,” Tyng said. I listened intently. “We have gifts in Inkspell,” Tyng said. I stared at her blankly.
“Look at what Teva did today. She ran like a gazelle and ran as fast as lightning. I’m not sure whether she realized it,” Tyng pointed out. Her theory made sense a bit but I wasn’t fully convinced. “I think I just made you blurt your secret,” Tyng said to me and laughed. “No, I made you blurt your secret. You told me about the theory,” I argued playfully. We argued and teased each other for awhile.
“You’re good in weighing actions,” she told me when we stopped laughing. “Do you miss Ryan?” I asked her. We met Ryan at a party and both of them were supposed to be go out the day we appeared in Inkspell.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t turn up for the date and there’s no chance to explain to him or to make him understand. You know how he is,” Tyng said and shrugged.
Tyng explained the whole special gift thing to us in the morning. It caught all of us by surprised and got our minds reeling. We must have been so absorbed with our worries that we ignored the obvious.
So far Teva, Ling and Tyng already knew their gifts. Teva has speed, Tyng can literally make us spill our guts and Ling can tell the outcome of future actions. Everyone was in a slightly better mood than yesterday. Teva and Trisha forgave one another.
“Please keep our dissatisfactions aside so we could find a better place to spend the night in,” Tyng pleaded as we got ready to move again. I lead the group again. I glared at the map and kept double, triple checking. I really want some friendly company. The tree said the family we’re heading to are very kind and nice.
We continued to eat berries along the way when we got hungry. We got accustomed to the taste of the berries that we could even tell the colour of the berried by tasting it. The birds brought us fruits like apples when we got really thirsty. “Poisoned apples,” said Teva evilly. I grinned mischievously.
We were walking and eating the apples when we were greeted by arrows. “Duck!” cried Ling and Tyng. We dived into the bush nearby. “Halt! Hold fire!” a voice shouted. The voice belonged to a male. “It’s safe now. My apologies,” the voice said. Ling peeked through the bushes and nodded. We got out of the bush and absorbed what we could see. The man has long silvery hair an his ears were pointed. The group of men, or women, with bows and arrows must be his bodyguards. He looked royal.
“What brings you lovely maidens here?” he asked with authority. Trisha blushed while I grimaced. Tyng and Teva raised an eyebrow. “We got lost,” Ling said quickly when none of us spoke up. “Stay a night with my family. We heard that you were coming from Albert,” he said and motioned us to follow him. The guards split up and allowed us to walk in between them.
The guards helped to carry our belongings. “Questions later,” he said when Tyng was about to speak. Tyng clamped her mouth shut.