A series of short interactions and thoughts of different people that all take place on the same bench. 1 I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel. I could barely catch my breath. My gut had been punched all the way to the ground. He was still talking. I saw his mouth moving but I couldn’t register what was coming out of it. Seven long and - what I had considered - happy years. Future plans and dreams. All gone. In the space of a few words. A man in an over coat was walking by. He was all I could focus on. Tobias was pleading with me now, repeating the words I’m sorry over and over. But it was meaningless. I had lost him. How could he do this here? 2 Sometimes I don’t want to think. Sometimes I can’t think - it’s too much for coping with day to day life. But here, this bench, where we would sit and eat ice-cream and watch the seagulls fly out over the ocean, I can allow myself to think. Feel the pain of his absence. Remember his smile and carefree laughter. His innocent, musical laughter. This is where, for a very brief moment, I can imagine he is still here. This bench is the only spot that isn’t tainted with a single bad memory of him. It is the only place I can let the tears flow freely from my face without being ashamed that I haven’t yet got myself together, and where I can admit to myself I never will. A man hurried by. He must have seen my simultaneous smiling and crying and thought I was crazy. I don’t care. This is a special place to me now, where I can privately and whole-heartedly absorb myself in the thoughts and memories of my perfect boy. 3 This place was different to the rest of the country he had seen. For one, everyone here was far more welcoming of dogs, which was great. Mika loved the attention and boy, did she get a lot. He looked down at Mika, his best friend, and gave her a loving scratch behind her ears before throwing her ball. He breathed in the fresh sea air and looked at what surrounded him. An old man following a narrow path under some trees. A small patch of grass. Quaint cottages. A strip of sea beyond the town. Nothing particularly spectacular compared to the far away towns and countries he had seen in the last year. But there was something about it, something that made him feel warm, something that made him feel like home. Mika came rushing back, her ears flapping in the wind and her tongue falling out from behind the ball she held in her mouth. He smiled at his companion. 4 “So, did you bang?” Olivia’s eyes twinkled. “You are so disgusting!” laughed Poppy, who followed up with a slight nod. “Oh my god! FINALLY! I thought it might never happen!” Olivia squealed with delight, her best friend had fully sealed the deal with the new squeeze. Of course, Olivia already knew the answer as soon as she saw Poppy, she was glowing. “It was pretty great…” Poppy revealed, a mischievous grin forming at her mouth. “You know I’m going to need all the grizzly details.” “Olivia no,” Poppy squirmed, “There’s a guy over there, he might hear!” “Oh, come on Pops! He won’t hear. Look, I can’t call you cobwebs anymore! At least give me the details as compensation!” “Let’s talk about something else. How was work today?” “Wildly uneventful. How was your sex?” Poppy put her face in her hands and laughed again. She knew Olivia wouldn’t let this go. “Okay! Okay.” Poppy sighed. “YES! Tell me everything.” 5 I needed to get out of that room. My study is cosy and sweet. It’s peaceful in there and I am surrounded by comforting books and comics. Inspirational quotes and some passages from my favourite writers line the walls. I made it a special place that isn’t tainted by the outside world. A place that inspires me to write. But today was different. Today I needed the noise and bustle of the outside world. I hadn’t left the house in weeks, torturing myself over the same chapter. Writing, deleting, swearing, drinking, repeat. I picked up my laptop and left, desperate for the outside to turn on some sort of switch in my head. The fresh air felt good, I should probably open a window sometime. As I walked the normal route towards the town, I took a left that I don’t usually take. A narrow path led through to a small grassy area with a view of the town and the ocean. A man was leaving as I arrived, so I took his place on the bench, opened my laptop and breathed. I looked out into the water. “You’ve got this.” I told myself. 6 “You and Kirsty have been getting quite close recently, what’s going on there?” Anthony asked coyly. “Ah, nah man nothing there. We’re just friends.” Noah expressed awkwardly. “You sure? Feels like you’re hiding something from me.” Anthony enquired, giving Noah a wink. “No, really it’s… it’s not like that. At all…” Noah fidgeted in his seat. “Hey, I’m just playing man.” Anthony hadn’t seen Noah so nervous before. He was never nervous. “I mean, it’s really… not like that. With- with any girl…” Noah stammered, trying to find the right words to say. Anthony blinked. “I know man but don’t worry, you’ll find the right girl one day.” Anthony was starting to feel a bit awkward himself, what was up with Noah? “No, Anthony…” Noah was beginning to see that Anthony wasn’t going to get any of his hints. Feeling his anxiety rise tenfold, he knew he had to say it. “No, Anthony. I want to find the right guy.” Noah held his breath. Anthony took a second to process. “Oh. My bad, dude. You’ll find the right guy one day.” Noah waited for Anthony to say something else. Anything. He felt a weird tension in the air and prayed this wouldn’t end another friendship. Anthony seemed lost in thought, fixing his gaze on an older gentleman ambling his way along the path. “I just told you I’m gay, man.” “Yeah, I’m trying to think if there’s anyone Jess might know.” Anthony continued gazing until the man moved out of sight. “Oh! maybe John? He’s kinda cute. I think. I’ll show you his profile.” Noah blinked back thankful tears as Anthony pulled out his phone.
Tiny & Silver
A dungeons and dragons fantasy, where two high-level adventurers embark on a new business venture. The cavern entrance looked like a black hole, absorbing any sort of light that might try to enter. The two girls stepped inside, their darkvision disregarding any need for torches. Tiny surveyed her surroundings, taking note of goblins hiding around certain corners – a renowned ranger, opting for fire magic over bows and arrows. Despite this, her tracking skills were far beyond any other. Her red hair tousled around her shoulders. She was wearing a dark green cloak, which had pockets of every size lining the inside. Underneath that, a simple tunic with leather straps, knee high boots and leather bracers. Her blue eyes almost glowed in the gloom. Tiny looked to her best friend, Silver. A half pixie with iridescent wings that had a pearl shimmer when caught in light, and hair the colour of a poisonous frog that was cut short by her chin. Her eyes were the colour of liquid gold, and her skin had a slightly grey hue. She wore a violet dress with a sheer slip. Her spell book and pouch hung on a strap over her shoulder. Silver was not a renowned warlock like her friend, but quite liked her enemies to underestimate her because of it. It meant she could make them apologise after she outwitted and defeated them. “Honestly, this might be your best idea yet. Absolutely genius. I can’t believe no one has thought of this before.” Silver was rambling while Tiny proudly nodded along. “Well, most adventurers never come back here once they pass level seven. At 25, they’ve already beaten Ilfrit’s ice cavern. After level 50, they’ve all but forgotten what it’s like to be a lowly level 2 or 3, scrambling for supplies, xp, gold for gear upgrades-“ “Except us!” Silver beamed, her wings fluttering with excitement. “Yes, except us.” Tiny continued, “do you remember scrabbling for some piddly common crystals? Awful time. It’s essentially a win-win, low level and lazy adventurers get some helpful goodies, and we get to put money into our travel pot! Anyway, the idea came to me when we were by the bonfire the other night, do you remember? And that poor level 1 was scared out of his wits. Woefully underprepared. He probably didn’t even skim read the tutorial signs.” Tiny shook their head. “Everyone is so cocky until they’re alone in their first dungeon.” Silver agreed, rolling her eyes. “So, what do we need from here?” Tiny took out her list to show Silver. Adventurer Kits level 1-10. Ironwood x 5 Goblin liver x 3 Obsidian x 1 Standard bomb x 2 Standard health potion x 3 Common crystal x 3 “So, from this cavern, we can easily collect plenty of Ironwood on our way to the boss who should drop the Obisidian after being defeated. We just need to wait out his respawn a few times and we should have enough for our first batch of kits.” Tiny explained. Silver marveled at Tiny’s organization. The two strolled through the cavern, picking up Ironwood here and there, flicking away the packs of goblin attempting to fight them. “These goblins are just not giving up. Can they not see how high level our aura is?” Tiny complained as she cast a fireball, knocking out several monsters and causing several more to scurry away in terror. Silver chuckled, “Tiny, they’re goblins. They don’t care about levels, they just want to fight and rape. Nasty little things.” Disdain took over her expression as she sent another one crashing into the wall. revealing a heap of Ironwood where it stood. Satisfied, Silver balanced it all in her arms and wobbled over to Tiny, dumping it at her feet. Tiny looked at Silver. “What are you doing?” “What do you mean ‘What am I doing?’” Silver patted down Tiny, searching her pockets. “I mean, what are you doing?” Tiny tried swatting Silver away, utterly perplexed. “Get off, ya weirdo!” “The bag of holding, obviously. Where did you stash it?” Silver poked and prodded around Tiny’s body like a terribly cheap massage. Tiny stopped fussing, furrowing her brows in confusion. “…you were supposed to have it?” “No,” Silver rebutted, “you said you would bring it...” The two bamboozled girls focused on each other for a long time, realization setting in. “No,” Tiny countered, “you said YOU would bring it.” “But why would I say I would bring it if I thought you would bring it?” “But I didn’t say I would bring it!” “Ok, look, look. Let me check.” Silver closed her eyes and calmly hummed, sending herself into a deep trance. In her mind’s eye, she saw the bag of holding, sagging sadly by their front door. Her eyes snapped open, as if she had woken from a nightmare. “It’s… at home.” She reported. “Well of course it’s at home! If I don’t have it, and you don’t have it, like you said you would, then where the hell else would it be!” Tiny cried. Silver screwed up her face in an attempt to hide tears threatening to spring from nowhere. “There’s no need to shout.” She pouted. “At least we know it’s safe and not lost somewhere. Besides, I told YOU not to forget it and YOU said YOU wouldn’t!” Tiny folded her arms tightly across her chest, her face blossoming red with frustration. She knew any retort would end up going around in circles, even if she was right. After a long inhale, Tiny squeezed her eyelids together and let out her breath slowly. “Right. Well. We are in this situation now, we just have to deal with it.” She cleared her mind of frustration and opened her eyes to see Silver looking at her expectantly. “Any ideas?” “You’ll just have to be encumbered.” Tiny stated. “Encumbered! I hate being encumbered! I get all sweaty and snappy! I am terrible company when I’m encumbered, why would you want to put yourself through that? Why not you?” Silver whined. “No one likes being encumbered, Silver.” Tiny narrowed her eyes. Clearly, Silver was not going to admit it was her fault, nor was she going to agree to extra weight so readily. And it certainly wasn’t Tiny who forgot the bag. Tiny didn’t want it to have to come to this. But there was no other way. Without word, Tiny slid her hand into her front breast pocket, and produced a deck of black cards. Silver’s eyes widened as Tiny sat down to shuffle the cards with remarkable complexity. “House rules, Silver. Aces high, black queens are jacks and jacks are kings. Two and four of diamonds counts as low rollers but the three is the trick card. Trick cards are in favour. Clubs are out and spades gain ten.” Tiny was gibbering rapidly. Silver sat on the ground opposite and patiently waited for Tiny to stop prattling and opened her mouth.“…What?” Tiny, with a very serious tone replied, “I thought it sounded cool. Normal rules. No magic. Rock, paper scissors for who goes first?” “Sure.” Tiny won and promptly dealt the cards between them. The next four minutes were a whirlwind of intense card playing. Both girls put down cards and picked up cards. They played tricks and got tricked. Tiny threw down cards with such gusto that she smacked a goblin trying a sneak attack and the girls giggled as they watched it crash into another group, knocking them all over like bowling pins. After the fifth minute, Silver and Tiny were down to one card each. This was it. The deciding round. The top card on the pile was a red. Tiny had a red, but it was Silver’s turn. Silver frowned and hovered her hand over the pick-up deck, catching Tiny’s eye. “SYKE!” She yelled as she propelled her last card down to the pile. A plus four card. Silver had won. “NOOOOO!” Tiny howled. In a rapid burst of anger, her eyes flamed red and the deck of cards set aflame. “Well that’s just not sportsman-like, is it?” Silver teased. She picked up the Ironwood and stuffed it into Tiny’s pockets, her face irate, but powerless to do anything to stop it. “Luckily, we’ve got enough Ironwood,” Tiny mumbled to herself, “so we should just go straight to the boss. The livers shouldn’t be too heavy, and my maxed out stamina should mean I’ll make it home without too much exhaustion.” Up ahead, Silver was flitting around, taunting Tiny about being too slow. “Hurry up!” Silver called with glee, freely hovering near the boss door. Tiny ignored the heckles as she trudged along at a painfully slow pace. Once she arrived at the door, huffing and puffing, she reminded Silver that this boss should only need one Eldritch Blast to take down. Silver nodded and pushed open the bulky double doors. They stepped out into the rocky chamber, high pillars strategically placed for adventurers to dodge behind. A pool of spitting lava bubbled in the middle, sputtering small flaming balls around the room. “Ugh, it’s like a spitting frying pan of oil. And way too hot in here!” Tiny complained. “I don’t remember it being this uncomfortable.” She grumbled. “I think because we were hyped up on adrenaline for our first boss fight.” Silver mused as she folded her wings, and walked up to the lava, readying her aim. Her aim readied and true, she steeled herself for the boss to jump out at them. She remember how scared she was when she was first here and if she was being honest with herself, she might still be a smidge scared. Half a percent scared at most. She just didn’t deal with jump scares very well, even if she knew they were coming. At some point during her train of thought, she realised she had been thinking for quite some time, and the boss had still not revealed himself. She turned back to Tiny who shrugged and looked just as baffled. “Uh, hello?” Silver inquired. “Is… anyone here?” Tiny finished. Nostalgia was replaced with confusion as Tiny cast her detection spell and concluded that the boss was definitely in the lava and conscious, so he knew they were here. “Excuse me! Are we going to fight or do we have to drag you out?” Tiny threatened impatiently. The lava bubbled intensely and out of the flaming ooze, stood, or rather, cowered, a sizeable fire elemental. His vague human shape was hunched over, his arms in front of his face. “I don’t want to fight you. Don’t hurt me.” The elemental whispered. Silver lowered her arm, bemused. “You… don’t want to fight…?” “That’s right.” His arms now wrapped tightly around his chest in what he hoped looked like defiance, but was more like he was hugging himself for support. The girls were truly dumbfounded. “But… you’re the boss fight. We’ve never met, or even heard of a boss who didn’t want to fight!” Silver protested. “And before today I’ve never met, or even heard of max level adventurers coming back to a dungeon suited for levels 1 – 7.” The Elemental retorted. “I suppose you have a point…” Silver agreed. “I refuse to end up like those goblins out there. What are you doing in a place like this anyway? You certainly don’t need the xp. ” The Elemental asked, his voice tinged with annoyance. “You respawn though, don’t you? So you’d be fine?” Tiny questioned. “OH.” The Elemental sneered, “So it’s ok to slaughter me for no apparent reason because I respawn? Never mind that it might be a horrendous time for ME! Never mind that it might be physically and emotionally taxing and the only things I have to talk to about it are gross little goblins?!” Silver, having an idea, spoke up. “What is your name?” “My.. my name?” The Elemental seemed surprised. “No one has asked for my name in years. My name is Sanskrit.” “Well, Sanskrit, we are Silver and Tiny. Pleased to meet you.” Silver stuck out her hand for Sanskrit to shake, which he apprehensively took. “I’m a warlock, and I can sense you would like some companionship. Is that right?” Sanskrit bobbed his head, suddenly shy. Tiny, now understanding what Silver was getting at continued. “Well, we are looking for obsidian, which we know you have a lot of here. If we could have some, we could get you a friend.” Sanskrit shifted uncomfortably, thinking of his precious hoard. “What kind of friend?” Tiny smiled and sculpted smokey air into the shape of an eagle. “Something like this?” She asked. Sanskrit shook his head. “Maybe something… smaller? I wouldn’t want it getting involved in the fights...” “Understood.” Tiny then re-weaved the air into the shape of a small puppy, complete with waggling tail. Sanskrit let out a soft gasp of delight and enthusiastically nodded. Silver stepped forward, taking out a small pouch of sand from her bag and sprinkled it over the figure, breathing life into it. The puppy bounded into existence around the two, both wanting to be chased and stroked, not sure which one to stick with. Silver cast a fire protection spell on the puppy and directed it towards Sanskrit. Sanskrit opened his arms, splashing gooey, searing lava muck everywhere. The puppy leaped into his arms and nuzzled into Sanskrit happily. “He’s going to need a name!” Silver reminded Sanskrit. “I get to name him?” Sanskrit’s eyes seemed sparkle. “I’ll call him… Teman. What a good boy he is! The best boy I’ve ever met! Yes you are, yes you are, such a good, handsome boy!” Sanskrit launched into a string of praises for his new friend. Silver reached out to hold Tiny’s hand as they appreciated this precious moment. After a little while, Tiny cleared her throat loudly. Sanskrit seemed almost surprised they were still there and realising why, he clicked his fingers and a hidden door towards the side of the chamber groaned open. “Take as much as you like, whenever you like. This little guy is priceless.” As he nuzzled Teman’s nose. The girls thanked him and loaded themselves up with Obsidian, ready for the tiring trudge home. “We did a good thing today.” Silver reflected. “Couldn’t have gone a better way.” Tiny beamed. “Once we’re out of the cavern, we should just order a summons. I do not want to walk the whole way.” Tiny suggested. Silver eagerly agreed. “We should stop for food on the way, as well.” Silver added. “Absolutely. We’ll need a good amount of sustenance for the assembling we’ll have to do tomorrow. Whoever kills the least Goblins on the way out has to pay!” Tiny shouted as she unsuccessfully tried to stumble ahead.