Chapter one - Six year olds, bees and stuff
Arthur wanted to be a writer, but he didn't want to be any writer. He wanted to be the best. He believed he was destined to write the sort of literature that lifted a tired man to his feet by his testicles. Almost every available space in his bedroom was crammed full of books of every kind, from action and adventure to historical and horror. Many a day he spent in his room reading, be it epic novel or humble cereal box. Nothing could curb his fascination with the printed word. He thought of so many ideas for stories. Brilliant ideas, bad ideas, five in the morning ideas (he kept a block of paper beside his bed for capturing those slippery, fleeting moments), big ideas, small ideas, world changing ideas, naughty ideas and truly amazing ideas. This is the tale of one of those ideas. But beware! For this is also a tale of danger, a tale of mercy and woe! So begone you quaffers (1) of camomile tea! Begone you sissies and cowards! Still here? Good. Then here we go...
Arthur awoke with a start , more weird dreams, he seemed to be getting a lot of those recently. Some were bizarre swirls of colour and light, others were warped representations of the real world, glitchy and fractured, like a computer program that's been copied once to often. And that voice, so strange... Best not think about that for now said his second thoughts. Hang on, I may need to interrupt this riveting story for a moment and explain what second thoughts are. First thoughts are normal, everyday thoughts, everyone has them. Second thoughts are thoughts about the way you think and third thoughts are similar to normal thoughts but more independent, like you're sharing your head with a kindly old uncle sleeping in a chair in the corner who occasionally wakes himself up with his own flatulence, makes a comment, and then falls back to sleep. To have second and third thoughts on top of first thoughts is rare. Arthur was part of this minority. Most that have this gift may go through their whole lives without knowing it, believing it is normal and therefore to be ignored. Some use it to make history. Anyway, psychology lesson over, back to Arthur.
He sat up, last nights book sliding off his face and landing on thecarpet with and unceremonious (2) thump. Must stop falling asleep with my nose in book like that said his first thoughts. Why do I keep making mental notes like that which I never remember? said his second thoughts. He checked his alarm clock, it said 6E:93 (it never had beenq uite the same since he had tried to dismantle it and then put it back together again, he once tried to write a manual for it in it's modified state but gave up after the 40-page mark). He could read his clock well enough, except on Wednesdays, or in February, or every 29th minute, or quite a lot of other times for that matter, but he still loved it and wouldn't swap it for any other clock in the world. 6E:93 generally meant five in the morning. He turned to look out of the window. The moon was still high, with stars hanging beside it. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon stormy seas he thought. Is subconscious quoting normal? said his second thoughts. Still bleary-eyed from so little sleep, he attempted to get out of bed. What he actually did was roll out of bed, duvet and all, and onto the floor. He got up and left the room, nearly braining himself on the doorknob by tripping over a book strewn on the floor. A classic, he reflected, the most trip-overable of all genres because of their size and bulk, rivalled only by magazines due to the gloss covers, but they're not really a genre. He clambered down the stairs, clinging to the handrail to stay upright. He got to the living room and sat on the sofa, the cushions sighing as the air escaped out from underneath them.
He usually did this if he woke up early, he could relax and read his daytime book. Arthur was always in the middle of reading at least three books at any one time. He had his daytime book (for reading at home), his bedtime book (for reading in bed) and his school book (for on the bus). This system meat he was ever short of reading material, a common predicament he absolutely detested. For every pun he found, every interesting phrase, was stored in his ever-increasing repertoire of literary magic. He sighed and looked down at the sofa. He liked that sofa. It was similar to his clock in a way. It didn't do it's job very well, but it was nice. The springs made strange noises as he moved about. So far he could play Ode to Joy on it just by moving his weight about. He was also making progress on When the saints go marching in. On that sofa your troubles just seemed to melt away. And it was so easy to get to sleee-. His face fell down into the book.
"Wake up, Arfa. Wake up! WAKE UP!" Meet Wilbur. Wilbur is six (or, as he insisted, six and five-sevenths) and he is one of Arthur's younger brothers. He likes chocolate, bugs and raw coffee. In the same cup, if he can get it. He also likes money, mainly to get more sweeties. Currently though, he was perched on Arthur's chest, belting out his 'time to get up' song. The 'time to get up' song mainly consisted of the same words repeated, over and over again, the louder the better. The 'I wanna cookie' and 'I hate baths' songs were also similar in that respect. Arthur rolled over, causing Wilbur to land in a crumpled heap on the floor of six year-old child and pyjamas (made for an eight year-old) that were assured to be a 'perfect fit'. Wilbur immediately bolted for the stairsyelling "Mum, mum, Arfa tried to kill me!" Some said Wilbur had a 'big imagination'. Arthur thought he was a lying little brat. The only 'big imagination' Wilbur had was for moneymaking schemes and methods of obtaining the coffee jar. Arthur hefted himself off the sofa and went upstairs to get ready for school.
Arthur was just getting out of the front door, half-slice of toast still in his mouth, when he spied Benton struggling with his coat. Benton is Wilbur's twin brother, and his polar opposite. Wilbur liked bugs and screaming, Benton liked books and sleeping. Benton was also interested in science, he had once found out a 'daubenton' was a type of bat and had insisted in being called that ever since (that was the only strange thing about him, otherwise he was just a normal, albeit very studious, six year-old boy). Arthur helped him with the zip on his coat and disappeared out of the door.
"Thanks, Arthur!" Benton called after him. Unlike Wilbur, Benton could tell the difference between 'th' and 'f'. And, although Arthur would never say it, he definitely preferred Benton over Wilbur. He knew it was cruel, but he couldn't help it.
Arthur was walking down the street to the bus stop, occasionallystopping to avoid the bees that flittered incessantly around, that was the trouble with living in a country town that took pride in its beekeeping. He liked the town he lived in, just not some of the things in it. Mostly the bees, always to... buzzy. Arthur liked the sunny weather, but no one else truly appreciated it, they just complained if it wasn't sunny. He turned around and looked at his house, a strange juxtaposition of new styles and old. It had started out a small farming cottage, with extensions being added by people throughout the ages. Sometimes it made funny creaking noises, the estate agent that had sold them the house said it had 'plenty of character'. You could have to much of a good thing.
He reached the bus stop and attempted to sit down on the strange bench things that most bus stops have, the ones only tall people can sit on. Every day he tried to get up on, every day failed. He reckoned it grew as he did. Letting out a sigh, he set down his rucksack and got outa manuscript of a short story he was working on. Often he would sit down at the bus stop and write a bit of whatever he was working on, sometimes homework, sometimes just for fun. His teachers often wondered why every third line of his homework was shifted about half a centimetre to the left, but they never asked. Arthur tried all he could to deal with the ridges on the tall-person seat he used as a desk, but they still made his work look slightly shaken-up.
After about ten minutes the school bus clattered to a halt behind him. He packed up his pens and the manuscript and got on. The school bus was a fairly old minibus that was due for replacement 'very soon' (3). Occasionally it made a banging noises that made everyone jump, even if they had been on it every day for years, like Arthur. The overhead light didn't work either, every time it went over a bump (very common on the old country roads (4)) it flashed. Bearable in bright noonlight (5), not so on dark winter mornings. Thankfully the sun was high in the sky, as it always was in July. The bright sunlight lit up the picturesque view of the valley, the scenic surroundings only tarnished by the fact that the windows on the bus were cloudy and beige in some parts.
The rest of the bus journey was also similarly boring and uneventful, but not in a bad way. Arthur liked the quiet (save the occasional exploding noise), relaxing journey winding around the sweet countryside. Often he was roused from his slumber-like state when the sunlight beaming through one of the many cracks in the bus caught him in the eyes. After about twenty minutes the bus ground to a halt with a particularly loud bang outside his school. Arthur thanked the driver, Maurice (everyone liked Maurice, but no one ever saw him when he wasn't driving the rickety old bus), as he always did and set off across the school grounds.
The school gates were always open. When Arthur had once asked the headteacher about this, he had been told abut the school motto (which was in Latin, no one knew why, or even what it meant) and never stopping learning or something like that. The real reason was that they had rusted open ages ago and nobody had bothered to do anything about it, so when Arthur asked why the front door was always shut (someone had lost the key) and they had to get in the back way, the headteacher told him he'd better run along to his next class.
The rest of the school day was all fairly normal. Same broken water fountains, same oh-my-god-there-is-a-bee-in-the-classroom panic, same grumpy French teacher, same boring English lessons. As far as Arthur was concerned, English lessons didn't teach you to write, they taught you how to hate to write.
He was just leaving the school grounds when he heard a mobile ring, which in itself was a strange thing because there was no one near him and his trilled with a high-pitched beep, a strange buzzing sound, like this one. The buzzing got louder. And louder. And louder. He got to the rusty school gates and peered around the corner, then realised that it wasn't a mobile phone. A man was chasing after a large yellow and black cloud of bees, whirling a net above his head. This sort of sight was not overly uncommon in round there, as most villagers kept bees and occasionally a hive fell over and smashed. This startled the bees somewhat. No, not somewhat, lots. Startled bees are best avoided. Arthur edged back round the corner to avoid the ball-shaped cluster of buzzing creatures, letting it fly past harmlessly. A panting man rounded the corner in hot pursuit, but not quick enough to see which way they went.
"Whichwaydidtheygo?" garbled the man, trying to catch his breath while speaking, and not really succeeding at either. Arthur didn't really recognise the red-faced person panting in front of him, but he pointed in the direction that the swarm had gone in. Once he had gone, Arthur's mobile started ringing, and for a moment he thought the bees werereturning. He got out his mobile, and saw a text flashing on the screen. It read:
wrking lt go 2 nans
He looked at the bottom of the screen, it was from his mum. He looked back up at the message. Why did texting have 2 (sorry, to) mean neglect of vowels? He put the mobile back in his pocket and set off for his nan's house. It was only a few streets away.
He made his way down the old cobbled streets, head in the air, bag on his back and one eye out for more bees. His route took him past the town hall. He looked up at hall, admiring the stonework. Big old building. Check. Strange Gothic spiky things on top. Check. Strange-smelling fountain out the front. Check. Everything seemed present and correct, no tears in the very fabric of reality or anything like that. He walked up to the fountain, he had plenty of time to kill, anyway. When it had been made it had been an intricately carved bee's nest, the green marble shining brightly with clear, clean water gushing out of the spout. It had had years of wear and tear since then. It looked like a dribbling fish. For a moment it reminded Arthur of Wilbur, in a way.
He got to his nan's house about ten minutes later, mainly due to the meandering around he did to avoid getting there. Arthur's nan was the sort of woman who liked things proper. She always wore the same pink dress (or perhaps just had many of the same kind) and shapeless ashgrey beret. She also was the sort of person the announced 'I know you're listening' to an empty room, on the logic that if no one was, the didn't hear, and if someone was listening, it scared them witless (6) (7). After he got in the house, Arthur looked around a the pinkfloral wallpaper, mainly due to boredom, but also to stall the moment when he got in to that freezing part of the house nan called her living room. Nan was always sitting in that room, always in that chair that creaked horribly, always staring at him (8) as if she was trying to bore through his skull with the power of her mind. He walked forward and slowly turned the handle.
Nan was there, but she had a different look on her face than usual. 'Oh no,' he thought. 'She's going to tell me a proverb.' Nan occasionally liked to pass on a proverb she'd heard from somewhere to the younger generation. Unfortunately, her memory wasn't getting any better so she generally got the first part close enough and had to improvise the second part. What would she say this time?
"Keep your feet on the ground and umm... your head in the clouds," she murmured. Nan didn't really do much but murmur these days, with the possible exception of standing upon a stool, screaming at a mouse. Cliche. Yes. Dignified. No. She used to not murmur at all, speaking with confidence and flair, before granddad left. She had been much happier then, often proclaiming the amazing exploits they had when they were young. Growing up together. Explorers on the Amazon. Marvellous French cuisine. Sunset on the Ganges. But granddad left five years ago, she never was the same again. On the last day she saw him, he had been sitting in his chair in the corner, contemplating an old piece of yellow paper, chewing on the end of a pen. He did this often. This time he crossed off something saying 'Happiness'. The next day he was gone, just leaving a note talking about having a fulfilled life and being time to move on. It broke her heart. Nan would never know this, but at the top of his page there was 'Scavenger Hunt'. The next day a car number plate, a bike chain and a length of hosepipe were reported missing.
"I'll be sure to remember that Nan," he replied, edging towards the doorway where he could work on his manuscript in peace. If she didn't notice, he could escape quietly into the corridor. Then he heard the word he dreaded. "
Waaaiiiiit." The word stung him like a red hot poker. Now he could only hope against the inevitable.
"Don't you remember to give nanny a kiss?" No one at only thirteen should have to go through such an ordeal every week.
Two hours later he was at home, walking around the house and putting the horror to the back of his mind. The BBFC would rate his nans house to at least an 18. He looked out of the window. Benton was in the shed doing 'science'. Something green was leaking out from under the doorway. He decided to find out what Benton was doing. He just hoped those pet glowworms were all right.
He got to the shed and opened the door. The smell hit him like a mallet. Billowing smoke were pouring out of a jar on one of the workbenches and a sticky, green, viscous substance coated the floor. To Arthur's relief, the glowworms, and Benton, were all right. As the jar let out an extra-large cloud of smoke Benton staggered back, the tar-like stuff emitting a strange sucking noise beneath his boots.
"That," proclaimed Benton, "was not meant to happen."
"Umm... What is it?" Arthur asked.
"No idea. Stuff."
As Benton said stuff seemed to be the best way of describing it, but such occurrences were common in this shed, as the light was dim and the instruction booklet that came with Benton's chemistry set had very small print. Mistakes were often made, with varying results. Most of them were like this, but the stuff was a nice touch. Arthur decided to leave Benton to it, there was a mop and bucket in the corner.
Arthur headed back inside to check on Wilbur. He was in his room. He called it 'his room' but Benton slept in there also. Wilbur was just particularly possessive. What concerned Arthur more, however, was the item in the middle of the room, cardboard boxes and duct tape wound together to create some kind of stairway object. Wilbur looked up and spotted Arthur, and sped into action to pack the small mountain of cardboard away. Arthur stood back, Wilbur had somewhat different, albeit interesting, methods of packing things away. The blur of young child launched up the bunk bed ladder and onto the side of the mattress. It then jumped off the side and onto the contraption, which then flattened into a neat circle about a metre in diameter. The blur then swept the circle out from underneath itself and stowed it in under the bed. All this in just four seconds (9).
"Stylish," commented Arthur, it was the only thing he could manage.
Now then, stop for a moment. Imagine time was like the pages of a book, skip the boring bits. No! I hear you cry out. I need details! Well, firstly, stop crying out like that. This is only a story, remember. Secondly, you wouldn't want to read it. Arthur's life is normal and, for now, fairly insignificant, no one wants to read about that. Only if you really had nothing else to do and happened to be at a loose end (10), would you even consider reading about something normal. Thirdly, I don't want to write about it. I have better things to do, and if that is a problem you can either: Send your complaints to me on the back of a £100 note or we can sort it out in the car park at half seven, all right? It's your own time we're wasting. Right, let me get on with the story. (11)
Arthur had gone to bed a few minutes ago. Quietly reading with the bedside lamp on, casting long shadows over the dimly lit room. He could swear that it created more shadows than it dispelled. Most lamps do. After about ten minutes or so (12), he settled down into the bedclothes and drifted into the realms of sleep...(13)
Chapter two - The Dream
Arthur sat up and looked around. What would his subconscious cook up for him this time? Not many people are capable of normal thought in dreams, although Arthur was. The dream he was currently in was just another abstract vortex of pinky-orange light, many were like that. Shame. Hang on, something felt strange. This was confusing. In an instant, he felt himself catapulted forwards with a bizarre force. That was bad. He plunged screaming through the bright whirlpool of shining colours. He didn't like this, but at least something interesting was happening, for once. This all felt too... real. The light turned into black clouds, flashing with lightning. The lightning pierced the darkness which had fallen over the strange reality, lighting up something the centre of his vision. With a great groaning sound a circle of light opened up, it seemed to be made of the flashes of lightning. When that appeared he realised just how fast he was moving. It raced towards him, or rather he raced towards it. Arthur fell, still screaming, into the light. Everything went white. Followed by black. Wait... He could hear voices. He's coming round. Is he all right? Has it worked? Intriguing... Arthur sat up and screamed a bit more. Despite his study of many books and even writing a manual for what a hero should do in a bizarre situation, screaming still seemed to be the best option. Careful. He opened his eyes. As well as people standing around him, a small, green, mottled creature was perched on his chest and a curtain of translucent blueish light rippled around him. His writer's instinct (14) kicked in. He worked out the creature to be an imp. Innumerable fantasy novels Arthur had read told him this. This dream was getting even more interesting by the minute. He looked round more. There were people around him, but not as many a he first thought. A boy and a girl, both of about the age of ten, were on is left and right, respectively. An old man in a large mauve tunic was in the corner of the room, doing something with two glass phials and a pot. By his feet was a humanoid creature about five foot tall, but it's skin had a pale blue tinge and it seemed to have a great many arms. While he himself was unsure, Arthur's writer's instinct told him that it was a kind of homunculus. This all took roughly a second (15) for Arthur, for that is the nature of writer's instinct.
"So," proclaimed the old man, raising his arms in the air. "It works!" He lowered his arms. "Apologies, my name is Nilrem. I greet you as a friend. He walked across to Arthur and snapped his fingers and the blueishness dissipated. The imp then leapt to a nearby wooden table, of which there seemed to many in the... cave. Arthur seemed to definitely be in a cave. The walls were composed of earth and roots were dangling from the ceiling. Among the roots, lamps of varying size and shape were also hanging up there, casting long, damp light over the room. Some with no visible form of attachment.
"I am well aware that you may be surprised at this current turn of events" the man continued. His accent certainly was not one Arthur had heard before, but not unfamiliar. "Now, firstly, are you feeling all right?" By Arthur's standards even those two sentences were very bizarre. Dreams come out of your subconscious, feeding on past experiences, so where could the accent have come from? Also, dreams share your way of talking, all your sorts of mannerisms, but Arthur would have said something along the lines of 'Are you OK?'. While about to continue this train of thought, he suddenly remembered he had been asked a question. Even in dreams, it always helps to be polite.
"Umm... Yes, thanks" he stammered. His vocal chords felt a little funny after the whole vortexy-portaly thingy (16).
"Good, good..." The man turned around to inspect, the bubbling pot he had be doing something with just a minute ago. "How about your toes?"
"Yes! Small, find them on the end of your feet, most people have ten..." upon the most he glanced towards the homunculus but then the pot began bubbling ferociously. Then, Arthur realised he couldn't feel his toes. He looked down at his feet, his clothes were different, his pyjamas were missing and he had no socks, instead there was just a simple brown cloth tunic. He pondered on this for a second and then got back to the matter of his toes. They looked all right.
"I can't feel them!"
"Do not trouble yourself," again, he definitely had a different way of talking. "Drink this." Nilrem scooped a small cup of the viscous purple liquid from the pot and handed it to Arthur. Arthur took it graciously and inspected it. It had a wooden lid. Arthur opened it and a great glob of viscous liquid flew out the top.
"Careful! It's cooling!" Nilrem said. Arthur slammed it shut again.
"What was that?" he exclaimed. Strange flying goop is not nice. Full stop.
"A simple potion to help with your feet. Just with a little taolf leaf"
1. Quaffing is similar to drinking except you spill more.
2. Not that books sliding off of your face should have a ceremony. Then
again, if you had nothing better to do...
3. No one could give an exact date, and probobaly never would...
4. Which were also due to be redone 'very soon'...
5. There is no such word as noonlight, but Arthur thought there should
6. Like 6 year-olds hiding in a bookcase called Wilbur (The six year-old
being called Wilbur, not the bookcase).
7. Not to say nan did not have a bookcase called Wilbur. Nan is strange
8. Well, more of at a place six inches behind his head. Nan was a bit
short-sighted.the top of his page there was 'Scavenger Hunt'. The next day a car
number plate, a bike chain and a length of hosepipe were reported
9. Actually it was 4.329452 seconds, but no one was on hand with a
stopwatch at that point, so that little gem of information was lost forever.
10. If you do happen to be at a loose end, would you kindly make sure it
doesn't drop off.
11. Bored already? Try counting mung beans for hours of fun.
12. Ten minutes 36.0274793689235 seconds. It truly is a shame no one
times these things.
13. Does anyone else find apparently meaningless ellipsis' annoying?
Just me? Oh well...
14. Writer's instinct: A function exclusive to certain people in the lower
part of the brain which, when in danger, overrides pretty much anything
else the brain does. This makes the brain identify (or at least try to)
whatever it sees. This is why a writer's first thoughts on something are
not to find shelter, run away, etc.
15. 1.2547353344583 seconds. Sorry.
16. Got a better name for it? Tough.
Feedback for Quantum Chicken
This is an exceptional piece of writing which uses language confidently and fluently. Quantum Chicken is not afraid to experiment with either language or ideas or the way he puts the story together. This is a quirky tale told from the viewpoint of the narrator, Arthur, who wants to be a writer. Quantum Chicken shows us Arthur’s personality through his narration and therefore his thoughts and feelings. And Arthur thinks a lot - especially about his own thoughts and feelings. This is called reflection. Arthur does this exceptionally well and in a very humorous way:
‘Second thoughts are thoughts about the way you think and third thoughts are similar to normal thoughts but more independent, like you're sharing your head with an kindly old uncle sleeping in a chair in the corner who occasionally wakes himself up with his own flatulence, makes a comment, and then falls back to sleep.’
Quantum Chicken uses simile in a very sophisticated way here to show us how Arthur watches his own thoughts. This tells us he is interested in the workings of the mind but because he refers to ‘flatulence’ we know he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Quantum Chicken shows us that Arthur knows he can be full of hot air.
Quantum Chicken uses imagery in an outstanding way to describe Arthur’s dreams:
‘Arthur awoke with a start , more weird dreams, he seemed to be getting a lot of those recently. Some were bizarre swirls of colour and light, others were warped representations of the real world, glitchy ad fractured, like a computer program that's been copied once to often.’
The computer program simile also tells us that Arthur is a computer boffin. By describing Arthur’s dreams, Quantum Chicken takes us right inside the mind of his character. We are so close to him that we cannot fail to identify with him.
As readers we also like Arthur because he is extremely funny:
‘He sighed and looked down at the sofa. He liked that sofa. It was similar to his clock in a way. It didn't do it's job very well, but it was nice. The springs made strange noises as he moved about. So far he could play Ode to Joy on it just by moving his weight about. He was also making progress on When the saints go marching in. On that sofa your troubles just seemed to melt away. And it was so easy to get to sleee-. His face fell down into the book.’
The idea of practicing tunes on a sofa with dodgy springs made me laugh out loud.
But this is only one of the many funny parts of Quantum Chicken’s sophisticated and witty story. His story works because we like his character and because at times Arthur speaks directly to his readers so we feel we know him. This clever writing about thinking uses language exceptionally well. Q.C. kindly let us use parts of the story in a workshop on features of sentence structure for all the members of Lightning Writing.
Q.C. is so ambitious in his writing. Footnotes are usually used in scientific or academic writing, but Q.C. wittily uses these to address his readers directly and to continue to make jokes with us.
I loved this piece and the commitment of Q.C. to his writing. It was original and quirky and funny and simply a pleasure to read. If I was going to be picky I would mention his sentence construction. It is so important NOT to join sentences by using commas. It is also important to have a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end of a story before you start so that your writing is tight and does not wander off and lose your reader’s interest. However I am sure that this would not have happened with ‘Waking Dreams’. Like Pineappleexpress, Quantum Chicken was ambitious in his scope and had there been more time, we would have seen that his story did have a definite direction.