Story for Strange Times is a short story by Amber Batty for SHOUT, The Courier's online youth platform.
As I got out of the car and grabbed my schoolbag, fatigue set in.
School today was tough, even more so than usual. We had an exam, had to write an essay and to top it off, we had sport. Ugh... sport.
And it doesn't help that Jordan is in sport class with me. Every day he finds a new insult for me. At first it was easy enough to ignore, but soon it started getting personal. He kept bringing up my sister who lives overseas and that 'she moved because she hates me', and stuff like that. I could go on and on about how much I hate him.
The sound of keys brought me back to reality as Mum unlocked the front door.
"Let's see long it takes for Emmy to start chirping a phone ringtone," Mum sighed. And sure enough, as soon as we set foot inside onto the wooden floor, Emmy was chirping away in her cage.
I laughed. She always does this.
"Miss me?" I opened the door to her cage and patted her head with a finger, and she stopped chirping.
As Mum walked up the stairs, she called out, "I've got a bit more work to do, so dinner will be a little late tonight, okay?"
"Okay Mum!" I called back, before following her up the stairs and turning right to my room.
As I opened my bedroom door, I basically flung myself onto my desk chair and grabbed my notebook and a pencil. Ever since I started writing this story about a month ago, I've been continuing it almost every day.
Writing is my hobby- well it's more like an obsession, actually- and it has been for about four years now, ever since grade six. Make-believe and fantasy was always something I loved, so having the choice to become an author when I grew up inspired me to try harder and write the best stories I can.
So far, I've written 12 and posted them all online- some were fairly short with only five or so chapters, while others took months to complete.
Right now, I'm writing a story about a girl who gets lost in a forest and meets a strange, furry animal who is fighting for its life. The girl takes it in and they become friends as she tries to find her way back... ah, sorry. I'm rambling on again.
Anyway, I began writing on it for about... oh gosh, like two hours? Since I was so tired from school, eventually I think I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the first thing I realised when I looked around was the lighting. The moon was shining through the window, and it felt more eerie than usual. After I came to my senses, I got hit with the cold. Freezing air was coming out of the window... even though I don't remember opening it. Despite that, my first thought was Mum.
I immediately jumped out of bed and reached for the doorknob... but out of the corner of my eye, I saw a green tinge. I stepped away from the door and turned to it... and there were leaves. Lots of them. In all corners of my room, like they had just naturally grown there.
"...This isn't right." Was all I said.
This couldn't have been a prank. What kind of prank involves putting leaves inside someone's bedroom? And even more puzzling, WHO would pull a prank like this on me?
I decided to investigate my room for anything else weird. I started with my bedside table, then my desk, then my shelves... the leaves seemed to be it, but I opened my closet to find a... tree?
A tree... in my closet.
I put a hand out to touch it, and it felt real. Of course, at this point I was questioning my sanity, when suddenly I heard a scratching sound near my bed. I instinctively jumped, but I slowly crept towards it, at this point now invested in this elaborate illusion.
As I sat next to my bed and put a hand on the side of the doona, I took deep breaths.
"M-maybe it's just a lost cat or something," I whispered to myself reassuringly. That could be why the window was open. Now feeling a little more brave, I slowly lifted the doona that was obscuring the underside of the bed from sight- and something fluffy jumped out of shock and ran out the other side.
"S-see? It was just a cat after all! Finally, something normal in-"
And then, from across the room, I see it turn around.
This 'cat' has... glowing, drooping ears.
"H-huh?! I-is... is this thing safe," I let out, frantically. The creature immediately runs towards my shelf.
"Wait! I didn't mean to-"
Too late. It runs into the bottom row, knocking expensive books onto the floor. "... startle you."
I sighed. What is happening to me?
I slowly approach the shelf, being careful not to suddenly yell like last time. As I slowly duck towards the floor, I see a shaking, glowing ball of fluff in the corner of my shelf. I scared it pretty badly.
I should let it know I'm not trying to hurt it. So, as quiet as I can, I whisper, "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to scare you. I was just... surprised to see you in my room, that's all."
I put a finger out towards it.
It slowly turns around, shaking less, and looks at me for a few seconds. I can see it closer now. It has long, droopy ears like a bunny, with glowing green ends. Its eyes are big and bright blue, and it has a short dog's tail, with the white, fluffy body of a cat. After studying me for a while, it slowly inches towards my finger, before finally sniffing it and pushing it with its forehead.
I breathe a sigh of relief that it isn't dangerous, and it walks out of my shelf and sits in front of me.
It seems lost... maybe I can take it in? I'm sure Emmy wouldn't mind another animal to be around, and I don't think it'd be too expensive to care for. Still, I'd have to ask- wait, oh my gosh, Mum! I forgot about her!
"Sorry little guy, but I need to see my mum."
It looks at me curiously as I walk towards the door and put my hand on the doorknob.
It looks like it wants to come with me
"Okay, you can come, but don't cause any trouble, okay?"
It follows me... I'll take that as a yes.
I turn the doorknob and... the wooden floor is covered in grass. Why am I not surprised?
I turn right to my mum's room and open the door... and where I'd usually see her sitting at her desk at her computer, there was nobody. She wasn't here.
Now concerned, I walk down the stairs, to feel that same eerie air as my room. She didn't leave the house, did she? She works from home, and she always tells me if she's leaving.
Suddenly, I feel air moving behind me. I turn and see the bunny cat, but that was a lot of air. It couldn't have done that. Was it Mum? It could be, but- I freeze. Suddenly, an icy cold feeling hits my entire stomach. Barely being able to move, I robotically tilt my head downward to see a transparent but dark hand going right through my chest.
I stifle a scream as I use all my might to turn around - a creature the size of a human that looks made entirely out of dark-coloured bubbles. It doesn't have a face, but I can tell it wants to hurt me.
My feet slowly stumble backwards as I try to take in what I've seen, but it keeps slowly walking towards me.
Knowing I'm eventually going to be against the wall, I frantically look around for somewhere to run.
Before I know it, my foot hits the wall- when suddenly the bunny-cat jumps in front of me and a big green forcefield appears.
The bubble creature became stunned from the light of it, so I took the chance to run. Bunny (that's what I'm calling it now, by the way) follows me, and soon we're in front of the front door.
The bubble creature recovers and stares at us for a few seconds, before morphing into... my school bully?!
It- or rather he- now charged towards us. Terrified, I sink to the floor my head in my hands, as Bunny makes another forcefield.
"I can't take this anymore," I cry out. "Why is this happening to me? Where is Mum? Where did you come from?"
I look at Bunny.
"And where did HE come from?!"
Bunny looks back at me with its blue eyes, before nudging my arm and looking back at the Jordan doppelganger. From what I can see through my tears, he looks even scarier now.
Bunny points to a tear that's fallen onto the wood floor, then back at the doppelganger.
"...Am...I making it stronger...?" I whimper. Bunny nods.
"S-so... if I'm not scared, then it'll become weaker?" Bunny nods again, this time with a more determined look in his eye.
I wipe my tears away and slowly stand up. "T-then... for the sake of Mum, I'll... I'll try."
The doppelganger backs away a bit and holds its stomach. It's taking effect already.
Seeing it weaker already makes me less scared. I gesture for Bunny to lower the forcefield, and run towards the monster. He stumbles backward this time, before I can even lay a finger on him. I lunge forward and punch as hard as I can. It goes through thin air, but it seems to hurt him badly.
Bunny, now next to me, makes another forcefield- but this time, it's as small as a hand. Knowing what to do, I hold it firmly and glare at the monster, who is now holding his stomach and kneeling on the floor.
Looking at the doppelganger clearly now, I let all the times Jorden hurt me go through my mind.
"This is for knocking me over all the time!" I punch with my left hand. "This is for making fun of me!" I punch again. "And this is for insulting my family!"
I step back and throw the forcefield like a frisbee as hard as I can towards his neck.
"Wake up already!"
I let my eyes adjust to the artificial light. I'm on my bed, and my bedroom light is on. I turn to my head to the right and see my mum standing next to my bedside table.
"Wow, you were out cold. Took me five minutes to wake you up, that's a new record," she jokes.
"M-mum! Um... what time is it?"
"Eight o'clock, sweetie. I got so distracted with work that I completely forgot. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay. I shouldn't have overworked myself with writing that story. I was tired anyway."
"Sounds like we both have problems, huh? Anyway, dinner's ready. Come downstairs when you're ready." She leaves.
Knowing what I'd find, I walked to my shelf and ducked down to look at the bottom row... books.
That dream felt so real... Bunny, the trees and grass, the doppelganger... all of it.
With an idea forming, I quickly run to my desk and shuffle through the pages of a notebook titled Magic Forest (Working Title), finding a concept drawing of a cat with green-tipped ears.
Finding an eraser and pencil, I erase the pointy ears and draw longer ones that droop towards the floor, and colour the ends.
"It looks better with bunny ears."
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