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Chatterbox: Inkwell

Story written by

Story written by yours truly


-Shadow Sojourn-

They say that when in the Shadows, the white arrows point the way. Not the blue ones; those lead back to the beginning. Not the red ones; those lead to bad things. And not the green ones; those lead to shortcuts, missing the whole point of the journey. But the white arrows show the path that is wanted, that is needed. The white ones lead gently and leave room for dreams.

They also say that the Guide—a cat, python, or raven—determines the path taken. The Guide, not the traveler, decides when and where the journey starts.

Are you ready to begin your Shadow Sojourn?

You lounge on the bench, bored while your friend shops. You aren't really into their hobby, so you wait outside. You fidget. You pace. You check the time. Your friend still isn't done. Sitting down again, you daydream.

Abruptly and rudely, a sleek black raven lands on the armrest of the bench, startling you out of your fantasies. "What?" you ask. "I don't have any food."

It stares at you with impatience. You notice a scrap of paper tied to its leg. Gently, you untie the string and unfold the paper. It reads, "Adventure Awaits," in elegant cursive. The raven lightly pokes your arm with its beak, and then swoops up to land on your shoulder. Expecting sharp claws to dig into your skin, you flinch, but the raven perches comfortably.

"You know, I kind of feel bad calling you 'it.' How about ‘she’?" you query. Head tilting, the raven nods. "Cool!" you exclaim. "You can understand me! And how about a name?" Not really expecting a response, you're surprised.

"Muninn," she rasps. You grin. A talking raven!

"Well then, Muninn, where does this adventure start?" you ask. She peers ahead, at a door underneath a blue and purple awning. A white arrow gleams from the shadows, embedded deep in the door. "That way?" you say, already moving.

You stop. "Oh, wait, before we go." On the opposite side of the scrap of paper, you write, "Gone on an adventure. Don't worry." You leave the paper underneath a rock on the bench so your friend doesn't worry if they find you gone.

Opening the door with the glowing arrow, you smell fried dough and butter from the other side. With the door out of the way, the night sky stars shine through, which shouldn't be possible considering this doorway is attached to the side of a building. Whatever. You already have a magic raven on your shoulder. What's a little more peculiarity?

But the sight underneath the sky is what really takes your fancy. A proper carnival, bustling and noisy, waits in front of you. The only real difference between this fair and the others you’ve been to is that the lights illuminate the night instead of catching your attention in daylight.

Scampering up to the entrance, you ask how much money for a ticket. The man in charge of the ticket window smiles and says, "Free, if you have a proper companion."

You point to the raven. "See, this is Muninn." She caws obligingly.

"Here you are then, two silver-rank tickets! These give you unlimited access to all rides and concession stands until you leave. Have fun!" he tells you. You thank him and dash off, Muninn lifting off your shoulder to flap beside you. 

Everyone around you wears a variety of clothes from all over the world and speaks in a myriad of languages and accents .The rides, on the other hand, are all classic ones. Vibrantly colored lights flash from all directions, signs advertise the most extreme thrills, and dirt pathways lead visitors to ever more attractions. 

A shimmering white arrow sits on the ground, pointing to a ride. "Muninn! Ferris wheel!" you shout upward. She lands on your outstretched arm, and you get in line.

Anticipation builds as you sit down in one of the compartments. You aren't super fond of heights, but the Ferris wheel feels pretty mild. Plus, it's a classic carnival ride, so you have to go at least once.

Once all the other riders are set, the wheel starts turning. From this high up, the people and even the concession stands look tiny. And then, as your booth begins descending, you get the weird sensation of falling, sending a thrill through you. A couple more rotations, and then it's time to get off. 

On one fork of the path, there's a red arrow. You go to follow it, but Muninn warns, "Not the red ones! Only the white ones!" You're confused, but you agree to only follow the white ones.

You don't spot any white arrows, so you just wander a bit. Becoming hungry, you look around for a food stand. A blue and white striped booth, surprisingly, sells your favorite food! You walk up to the counter and order a single serving.

"Ticket?" They ask. You obligingly show them your silvery ticket. "Here you go then!" they smile and hand you the food. 

You smile back and say thanks. At a nearby picnic table, you munch on your snack. "Time to leave soon," Muninn says.

"Awww, already? We just got here!" you complain.

The raven tilts her head. "Yes, but it is time to leave."

You sigh, but quickly finish eating. "Okay, let's go."

"The arrow is there." Muninn points to a dirt path with the correct arrow. You stand up, discard your napkin, and set off for parts unknown.

The path leads out of the fairgrounds and into a tiny grove of spruce trees. Leaving behind the sounds and smells of the carnival, you and your companion wind your way along a path far too long to fit in the tiny patch of forest. The dark undergrowth presses in, but it feels more like a familiar blanket than a place for dread.

A breeze rustles the leaves, and owls call across the woods. Freshly rained-on earth smells like gentle decay. Murky and blurry, darkness obscures the delicate twigs and rough bark of the trees. White arrows lead the way at every fork in the path. Between two trunks, lights pierce the blackness. An antique inn-slash-tavern is barely visible ahead. Wooden beams support a covered porch, real thatching covers the roof, and frosted glass makes up the well-lit windows. 

You’re relieved at the thought of a warm bed and a hot meal. The forest wasn't scary, but it was a lot of walking and the weather was chilly. Muninn flies beside you, just as tired as you.

Pushing open the door, you survey the other travelers already seated at circular wooden tables. A woman with a python draped over her head gestures you over. Why not? You sit down across the table from her.

She doesn't speak English, and you don't speak her language, but you both manage rudimentary communication with gestures. She shows you a silver library card. You suppose that she’s been to a library instead of the carnival. In return, you show your silver ticket. 

Her python slides onto the table. You’re a bit wary of snakes, but this one is a Guide, so it can’t be too bad. The woman points to the snake and says, "Daisy," and then points to herself and says "Basira."

Your raven says "Muninn,” and you say your own name. A waiter interrupts your sort of conversation. You order your favorite hot beverage, comfort food, and a hard-boiled egg for Muninn. 

Relaxing into your chair, you realize how hungry you are. Luckily, the food comes surprisingly quickly. Hurriedly, you dig in. Once you finish eating, the waiter comes back and asks if you'd like to stay the night. Muninn decides for you and answers in the affirmative. You bid farewell to Basira and Daisy to go book a room for tonight.

Turns out all you had to do was present your ticket to get a room. After you brush your teeth, you crawl under the quilts and fall asleep on the soft pillow, with Muninn perching on the arm of the rocking chair.

When you awaken, you yawn and sit up. The bed is really cozy; you don't want to get up, but Muninn pokes you with her beak. "Yeah, yeah," you say, waving a hand. Yawning again, you notice a set of clothes on the bedside table in your size. You don them and then follow the white arrow pointing out the window. Even though you've slept for hours, the sky is still dark and starry.

You're nervous climbing out the window, but outside is an asphalt road. You turn back around to look. The window is now a perfectly normal door on the side of a brick building. 

Neither too lonely nor too busy, the suburban town is just the right amount of crowded. Everything is gloomy, but the streetlights illuminate plenty. You follow the glowing arrows along the road until they show you to the front door of a dilapidated bookstore. To your left, rows of shelves extend farther into the shop than you can see. Books of every shape, color, material, and size line the shelves, enticing you with their unknown stories. To your right, a woman stands behind a counter, and behind her, a menu sits on the wall, offering coffee, hot chocolate, muffins, and scones. 

She looks up as the bell dings above you. "Hello? May I help you?" she says. You ask if she has the next book in your current series. She smiles. "Oh, of course! Right this way." You follow her among the dusty mahogany bookshelves. A gold-covered tome catches your eye, so you stop. You call to the woman, "Wait! What's this one?"

She turns to follow your gaze. "Oh, no, don't touch that one. It's not meant for travelers." 

"What?" You ask.

"I mean, it wouldn't hurt you or anything, but . . . knowing everything about the Shadows and the Guides and the arrows, well, it just isn't meant for visitors," she tries to explain. Like the other confusing warnings, you simply accept it. 

You shrug. "Okay. Lead on, I guess!"

The owner of the shop relaxes. You fall in behind her, and Muninn takes flight again. You pay for the book by showing your silver ticket. Purchase safely in hand, you leave the nostalgic bookstore. Muninn mournfully says, "You must leave soon. It is almost over."

You don't want to go back to your normal, boring life. You don't want to leave this strange place full of adventures and whimsy. "Do I have to?"

"All journeys come to an end." She points toward a white arrow leading to a ladder that disappears into a hole in the grassy ground by the side of the road. "Back home," the raven explains.

You glance from it to Muninn. "I hope to see you again?" 

"Farewell," she caws, voice melancholy. You bid one last goodbye to your raven, and then you climb down the ladder.

Back on the bench, you watch your friend finish shopping. "Sorry! I hope you weren't too bored," they say. You smile. "You don't have to worry on that count." You hold up the book. "I definitely wasn't bored."

Maybe someday you'll get to go back and find out the secrets of the shadowy path: the golden book, the red arrows, and the always-dark sky. After all, someone has to supervise the ticket windows and wait on the tables and manage the bookstores. Maybe someday, you'll be one of the ones who show travelers the way.

You repeat, "I definitely wasn't bored." And you smile, remembering your Shadow Sojourn.

submitted by ?? Illusion ??
(April 19, 2022 - 6:14 pm)

Ooh, your writing is impeccable, mate! What an interesting concept and little tale~

submitted by Jaybells, age Obscure, Lost in the Universe
(April 19, 2022 - 11:48 pm)

Why, I'm honoured you think so highly of my writing!

submitted by ?? Illusion ??
(April 24, 2022 - 4:16 pm)
submitted by top!
(April 23, 2022 - 7:03 pm)

Holy muffin. INCREDIBLE

submitted by :O
(April 26, 2022 - 5:23 pm)

I'm flattered!

submitted by ?? Illusion ??
(April 26, 2022 - 6:13 pm)

That was a lovely story! Your writing style is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it!

submitted by Flamarestii
(April 28, 2022 - 5:42 pm)