I used to wish what I wrote was real. This world we live in is so drab and dull, and my stories are always full of vibrant colours, with wonderful and fantastic flights of adventure taking the characters to places I can only imagine. I always wanted to *be* that person, or at least to be able to go to those same places.
And then, one day, that most magical thing happened. Or, that’s what I would say if this were a more cliché story.
Normally when I write, I lock myself in my room, turn off the lights, and turn on some music. Occasionally, when I’m having difficulty finding inspiration, I’ll turn on the television, or I’ll flip back and forth between my writing and some interesting article online, or maybe even a video game. But then there are the times of writer’s block, where diversions don’t help at all, and no amount of staring at the blank screen produces any words of worth.
That’s when I’ll just pack up my computer, or a notepad, and go for a walk.
This story began on one of those walks. (Okay, so maybe there’s a little cliché here; don’t sue me).
So, staring at that blank screen, I grabbed a pen and my journal, partially filled with my scrawlings, its cover black with silver filigree, stuffed them in the pocket of my black trench coat, and headed out the door. It was a rainy day in San Francisco, which I normally rather enjoy, so long as I can stay mostly dry. Coat and cap accomplished that fairly well, so, with a deep breath of the fresh air, I squared my shoulders and put one foot in front of the other to head down the street.
Amber streetlights glistened off wet roads, and raindrops hissed as they burned in the electric charge of the spiderweb of overhead streetcar cables that is so ubiquitous in much of the city. My feet took me towards the ocean, letting gravity take me as I strolled down the hill. On a whim, somewhere around 40th, I took a left and headed further downhill toward and through Golden Gate Park – perhaps the temporary absence of walls on either side of me would let my mind wander in the right direction.
The greenery was refreshing, and I lost myself in my thoughts until I found I had wound my way through man-wrought forest, past the South Windmill and stood upon the edge of the park at the Great Highway. And there I spied a building I certainly did not remember. Not that I hadn’t been to Ocean Beach that often, or out on that side of the park – quite the contrary, I was quite familiar with all of the city, especially this area. And I swore that there had never been any building here, let alone the bar upon which I had stumbled.
It certainly looked out of place, and like something one would never forget – a grungy wooden structure, it looked a hundred years old. Front doors swinging open in the breeze, it opened onto the highway, as if inviting the ocean to come on in. And above those creaking doors, a blue neon sign flickered and hissed in the rain: “The Wonderland Bar.”
Intrigued at this anomaly, I had to go in and investigate, and so I did.
If the exterior aberrant architecture seemed odd, what I found inside just heightened the sense of preternaturalness. The place had a dark, smokey interior, with only some dim lighting at the bar, and again over a pool table off to one side of the door. Disparate groups gathered in corners and around tables seemingly haphazardly placed about the room, populated by people the likes of which made him pause to wonder if the Bay to Breakers race was today. It certainly wasn’t October, but sure enough, the room was filled by very costume clad individuals. About the only ones who didn’t seem as if they were about off to some party were the party of individuals playing pool – 3 greasers in denim pants and leather jackets, and 3 svelte men wearing only assless chaps and leather suspenders. The latter weren’t too terribly out of place, this being San Francisco.
Shrugging, I headed up to the counter of the bar, finding myself greeted by a short, stout individual wearing a blood-red shirt with the words “In Infinitio” scrawled thereupon in a large gothic script. Putting away the glass he’d been cleaning, he greeted me.
“What can I do ya for, Bubs?”
“Liquid inspiration. Surprise me,” I responded.
“Ya look like yer goin’ to need a lot of it – here’s the whole jug.” He placed upon the counter an unlabeled flagon, stoppered with cork and wax. After producing a pocket knife with a beaten wooden handle, he pried the wax from the cork, freeing it from its former captivity.
I tilted my head to one side, clucked my tongue in appreciation, gathered up the carafe and accompanying cup, then made my way to an empty chair at an empty table with a dimly flickering amber lamp overlooking. Taking a seat, I placed the jar and glass upon the table, pulled out my journal and pen and placed them before me. Then into the clear glass I poured the delightfully golden fluid which spilled from the flagon’s mouth, took a sip and found a touch of honey dancing upon the tip of my tongue. Smiling, I uncapped my pen, opened my black book, and began to write.
My pages quickly filled with flights of fancy – castles in the air, monsters both noble and fierce – dragons, faeries, changelings, and beasts bizarre - and an evil tyrant lording it over them all. I wrote for hours, draining the flask as I went, until I found the jug to be empty, and page upon page of my journal filled with my scrawling script. And once I had drained the last drop from my glass, and no more would pour from the mouth of the unmarked vessel, I capped my pen, closed my journal and carefully placed the twain back into the pocket of my coat, and made my way back out of the bar.
It was dark out when I left – I’d been in there all day, apparently – and the day’s gloom was replaced by the play of amber lights against darkness and shadow, now and again washed out by the blazing blue-white of passing headlights. Golden Gate Park not being a place one walks through alone at night, I went a different route back home – up the Great Highway, the soft susurrus of breakers washing against my ear from across the beach across the road, a quick jog through the parking lot of the supermarket and the Russian deli to Balboa, and thence back up the hill.
Satisfied with a day of prolific writing, I slept well that night.
I slept in ‘til noon the next day – I usually do – and when I awoke, I was ravenously hungry, and so I sleepily slipped on something presentable and stepped outside to head up to the tacqueira around the corner. A few minutes later, and a delicious burrito in my hand, I snagged a steaming cup of java from the café next door and headed out on a walk up to the Presidio.
It was a foggy day in the Outer Richmond, but that was hardly unusual. It made for a pleasant walk as I alternately munched my meal and sipped coffee. It took several blocks of uphill strolling and half the brown brew before my half-lidded eyes began to open all the way and my mood similarly began to perk. By this time, I was at the top of Geary, the fog started taking on a smoky smell – also hardly unusual on a foggy day, the result of many fireplaces alit to warm chilly homes).
Presently there came from ahead a great screeching of tires and the thundering BOOM of metal slamming into metal at speed, following by a cacophony of screams of various voices. The din began to rise, as if approaching, then was as suddenly overwhelmed by a jet-like roar, and the fog began to glow with an unsettling, wavering orange-red that grew brighter and brighter ‘til the fog shredded into thin wispy filaments, parting to reveal a disastrous scene.
A tangled mass of metal filled the street, cars tossed at odd angles as if some child had be playing with his Matchbox toys. Rubble from nearby toppled buildings lay atop and amidst many of the wrecks, and flames hungrily licked the air from autos and homes alike, replacing the silver-white fog with an air filled with flickering red, orange, and black..
And then the flames and smoke suddenly parted as by giant invisible hands, and through the gap swooped at once the most magnificent and most dreadful creature upon which I’d ever laid eyes. Its wingtips kissed the housetops on either side of the divided 4-lane road. With a body the size of a bus, its tail flicked behind it as some serpent of equal length lashing at unseen prey. The shimmering orange-red of flames flickered in reflection from its glimmering obsidian scales, a fire-lit night counter to the day-time blaze. I stood stark still filled with fear and awe at the sight of this magnificent creature.
And even more breathtakingly, behind it, hanging in the air above the rooftops of San Francisco, poised a multi-tiered citadel of fantastical flying buttress, crenellated ramparts and parapets, and tower upon tower, putting those of Neu Schwanstein to shame. But far from shining, its stones seemed to consume the light of day, an ebon pitch that competed with the dragon’s scales in their bid for deeper darkness. Its looming shadow blotted out the daylight over the city the next hill over.
As the dragon swooped past, the downdraft from its wings swirled smoke up into the air, billowing and obscuring the floating fortress beyond, and allowing my attention to shift to the small solitary figure running down the middle of the street, ducking just in time to miss the swipe of the giant claws as they clutched at the empty air where she had just been. Every bit as out of place as the flying reptile and absurdly airborne island of rock and stone, she was simply the most stunning vision of the female form I’d ever laid eyes upon. A tiny woman garbed in elaborate finery of yesteryear, she couldn’t have stood more than 5 feet in height. Her azure velvets trimmed with silver lace had more the look of something I should see in an Elizabethan period piece than on someone running for her life down the middle of Geary Street amidst ruined cars and masonry.
And what how did I react to all this? Like an oaf, I stood there staring, with my mouth hanging open in utter awe.
Quickly gathering her skirts after her sudden dive, she immediately launched herself into another run in my direction as the dragon climbed and wheeled about, clearly intent on another pass. And still I stood there, a completely mindless dolt, taking in the entire fantastic scene as dragon and girl both closed on me with extreme rapidity. Fast as she was, the dragon was faster, and so they both reached me at just about the same time.
“Get down, you idiot!” the petite girl yelled at me in the most amazingly musical voice as she leaped upon me, her momentum carrying me to the sidewalk mere moments before claws the size of scimitars swept through the space I had previously occupied.
The sudden impact with the cold hard concrete had almost snapped me out of my unreality-inspired daze, enough so I was able to stammer “Th-thanks,” while staring up into her strikingly silver eyes and her raven hair poured down around me in a veritable waterfall of flowery fragrance. I was near lost in her when she quickly exclaimed:
“We must hasten away this instant!”
Nodding, I rose as she clambered off me, and, both of us looking up over our shoulders in a crouch in an effort to ascertain to where our winged doom had gotten, we began to creep towards the corner of the building at the nearest intersection.
As our steps took us closer to our hoped-for escape, the windows of the shop next to us visibly shook as the air trembled with a tremendous reverberating, bass roar, a sound reminiscent of grinding metal, the long echo of kettle drums, and the deep drone of a didgeridoo. We broke into a run together as one, fleeing the shadow of our terror.
Swiftly, we reached the corner, the turned immediately downhill and raced down the slope, letting gravity take us faster than we could possibly have achieved on our own.
The sudden turn gave us some respite from the beast as it took some time for it to once again climb and pivot until it could line us up once more, making another pass at us while we sped past cars and people, some reacting as I had, just standing and gaping, while others screamed in terror and dove for doorways or whatever else was nearby and handy for taking cover.
How we managed to evade pass after pass of the great dragon’s claws and flames, I do not know, but we did, and soon we found ourselves tripping over roots as we plunged into the brush at the edge of Golden Gate Park, trees providing a much welcome protective canopy. Coming to a halt some yards into the overgrowth, we paused with our hands on our knees to catch our breath.
“Just what… what is going on here?” I asked in between gasps.
“I do not think we have time to discuss that at this very instant. We should first retreat deeper into this wood here,” was her reply.
Nodding, I followed her deeper into the park, and we soon found ourselves on one of the many dirty paths heading downhill and westward. We followed it.
As any path does in the park, this one intersected many streets, across which we dashed as quickly as possible, and when it brought us to Spreckles Lake, we kept to the trees so to avoid the open area presented by the dark green waters. After a period of silence, we came upon the edge of the clearing within which the Bison Enclosure lay.
I thought I’d seen enough wonders at the top of the hill, and yet, within the fence stood one more, shining whiter than anything had any possible right to do, the dungy brown of the bison amidst which it stood starkly contrasting strongly with its purity. Its hooves seemed not quite to touch the ground, and an iridescent radiance glowed about them, and that same radiance shown from the ends of its near transparent main and tail. The majority of its hide a silver-white as no other, and upon its equine head perched a spiraling mirrored silver horn.
Again I stopped, in the open, to gape, dumfounded.
“Is a unicorn.”
“What. The hell. Is going on?” I asked, complete with Walken-esque pauses.
“Milord, I had rather hoped you would be able to enlighten me as to the course of events, and the very bizarre environs in which I find myself.”
A shadow fell over us, and I gazed to the sky. There, wheeling in circles above us, was the dragon, but it seemed to be making no attempts to close the distance. I realized how out in the open we presently were.
“Why isn’t it diving on us now?” I inquired aloud.
“Did you not know, milord? That yonder is a unicorn, so you said. A great source of magic – not even a dragon dare harm one. We are safe so long as we stay nearby.”
“Well, that’s no good. We can’t very well live the rest of our lives in the Bison meadow,” I pondered, then, nodding, came to a decision. “Follow me, I think I know where we might be able to find some answers.”
And I began to retrace my steps of the previous day, down the winding paths past the windmills to the edge of the park by Ocean Beach, and there, as the previous day, stood the ramshackle building with its blue neon sign. Into the Wonderland Bar we went.
All the same odd patrons of the previous day were still there, and suddenly my companion was no longer out of place, but just one more brilliantly colourful character amidst a roomful of disparate peoples. Wasting no time, I went straight to the bar, for some reason convinced that short stout man behind the counter had answers. He looked up at me as he polished a glass with a rather dingy grey cloth.
“Well, what have we here, bubs? I figgered ya’d be back. Not with a looker like that, though, no sir.”
“Just what the hell is going on?”
“Whadaya mean, bubs?”
“You know what I mean! Dragons! Castles! Damsels in distress! A freaking UNICORN!” I screamed at him, my voice rising in pitch, as I felt my sanity attempting to slip away with each word that escaped my lips.
“Oh, dat. I’n’t dat watcha wanted? Your stories to come alive?”
His last words were like a punch in the gut.
“Are you saying that all of this is my fault?”
“You *are* the one that wanted your stories t’be real, arencha? Well, what didja expect, bringin’ magic and dragons into dis here world dat ain’t meant for ‘em?”
I stood there for a moment, at a complete loss of words.
My unnamed rescuer stepped forward, “If he be the cause of these calamities, might he not be their ruination likewise?”
“Aye, p’rhaps, p’rhaps. But it’s up t’im just how,” he spit into the glass and rubbed some more, “but, keep in mind, once it’s here, ya can’t just make it go *poof* as dough it never were. Dis here’s a logical world yer men have built.”
“I have to sit down,” I said, and staggered away from the bar to collapse in one of the more comfortable leather chairs in a corner. Then I sank my head into my hands and moped for several minutes, dwelling upon the barkeep’s words. The girl, I still didn’t know her name, sat next to me and patiently waited, watching me.
I looked up her, drank in her beauty, then returned my gaze to the floor as a I began to think, aloud.
“So, if I wrote all that into being, I must write a solution for it, somehow. But I can’t just make it vanish in a puff of smoke, I have to actually write something that makes sense.”
I looked back up into her eyes, “You said the Unicorn was a source of magic?”
“That I did.”
“And the dragon won’t harm it. Is that because it relies upon magic to survive?”
“Indeed, it does.”
“And that citadel, with the tyrant inside” (I knew who ruled in the citadel – I had written him, and I did not want to encounter him), “that also requires magic to stay aloft. If the tyrant and his legions get out, what the dragon has wrought will pale in comparison to what he’ll do to the city.”
She merely nodded in response.
“I know what I have to do.”
Trembling, I withdrew my journal from my coat pocket, and with it, my pen. Tears began to flow as I touched pen to paper. I filled several pages before I finished, then, capping my writing instrument, I returned it to my pocket. Slowly, gently, I closed my pages within the black covers and similarly replaced it. I looked up at her, and all I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
She placed her hand upon mine, “You did as you had to do, milord.”
Nodding, I stood. Then with step after leaden step, I made my way to the exit of the bar. And before I passed through the portal, I noticed the petite woman had not followed. I looked back, quizzically.
The expression on her face was one of sadness, and she remained speechless.
Instead, the barkeep spoke up, “She can’t pass through dose doors again, bubs. You just wrote her out – she’s as much of magic as was dat dragon. If’n she walks outside now, she dies. Dis bar will be her prison for da rest of her days, tanks to ya.”
Not shocked at all, I addressed her, “I don’t even know your name.”
“Better dat way, bubs.”
He was right.
I stepped through the swinging doors, knowing I’d never see her again.
On the way home, I passed the dragon, fallen upon the Northern Windmill, draped like some fox stole across a rich woman’s shoulders, its tongue lolling out of its lifeless mouth. Then I came upon the bison enclosure, and there I found the cooling corpse of the Unicorn, a single arrow through its throat.
When I got home, I turned on the news. On the screen were images from above of a smoldering castle amidst a ruined Marina District.
All of it was my fault.
I don’t know that I will ever write again.