The latest storyaday.org prompt is a very serious one:
There is a llama sitting on the seat beside you, drinking coffee. No one else finds this odd. He turns to you, about to speak.
This time, I wrote a portal fantasy, where the narrator goes to great lengths to avoid falling into any magic portals (and inevitably does).
Chewed Up and Spit Out
I’ve always been wary of stumbling into magic portals, even though so-called rational people insist there’s no such thing as magic in this world. Believing in nothing more wondrous than the daily grind, and the corporate chain stores filling this cookie cutter city, doesn’t seem to have done them a bit of good.
That’s why I believe in magic, but I’m smart about it. You can’t just go blundering into any old portal, because you never know where you might wind up. The most suspicious objects with portal-potential, of course, are mirrors and wardrobes. I do own an antique wardrobe, but you’ll never catch me leaning too far inside it. If a coat falls down in the shadows at the rear, that’s where it will stay. I own mirrors, too, but only ones narrower than the width of my shoulders. Still, just to be safe, I never touch them directly. They only get cleaned with a mop held at arm’s length.
By now, a savvy reader will be thinking: “Aha, but clearly you’ve forgotten chimneys! And books, what about books?”
To which I reply: my chimney is boarded up*, and I strictly use an e-reader. Only a reckless fool would ever crack open the cover of a book.
(*As an addendum, in the interest of full disclosure, my chimney was not initially boarded up for magical reasons. A bird flew down it one day. I don’t think my nerves have ever recovered.)
Likewise, I enjoy a nature walk as much as the next man, but will never venture through a stone archway. If a forest appears a little too enchanting, it’s out of the question. Wide-open meadows are highly recommended, so long as you never fall asleep in them — be especially wary of fields full of flowers, with white dandelion seeds drifting on a warm breeze.
I trust by now you’re suitably impressed with my bonafides, so you’ll understand that the event which recently befell me was entirely unavoidable.
As I was walking along a busy sidewalk one day, shortly after an afternoon downpour, some barbarian on a Segway came barreling toward me. I might have been killed had I not leapt off the sidewalk into the street, where — to my great misfortune — I landed in a puddle.
Once again, astute readers will recognize that a puddle is no great danger while it is still raining. But in the stillness after a storm, a puddle’s surface can settle to a mirror-like shine. This is already a dangerously magical time, when rainbows might abound and there’s a mysterious, petrichor scent upon the air.
I barely had time to fret over my drenched pant legs and socks before the rest of my body plummeted straight on through the puddle to the other side.
I landed on my feet, in a very similar puddle, which splashed filthy, oily water all the way up to my chin. My jacket sleeve wiped it away, but I feared I’d never be clean again.
At this point, I still wasn’t fully aware of what had transpired. I thought my sudden plunge from the curb, and all the excitement, might have induced a momentary dizzy spell, nothing more. Seeking soap and water, I ducked into the nearest coffee shop without even bothering to read the sign.
What I saw inside, however, made me forget all about locating a washroom. In fact, I needed to sit down right away.
Wearing a taut, unconvincing smile, I nodded to the llama seated beside me. He sipped from a delicate porcelain cup clasped by two large toes. Likewise, was the matching saucer. If anything, the tableware was a stronger indication than the llama that something was terribly, terribly amiss. What kind of bizarro coffee place didn’t serve cheap paper cups, with flimsy cardboard sleeves?
None of the other patrons found him odd. They probably found me odd, since they were all llamas, too.
I’ve always been fairly chatty — not to a fault, I hope — but this time I was at a loss. I opened my mouth. Realized I couldn’t quite form words. Then shut it. My second attempt resulted in another false start.
The llama’s head slowly swiveled atop his long neck to look me over. “Is there something I can help you with, sir?”
Oddly, his ability to speak felt like the least disconcerting revelation so far. What exactly did I need, or expect, help with? By now, I realized I’d fallen victim to my greatest fear — a magic portal. But if this world was anything like my own, the average llama was no more aware, or credulous, of the existence of portals than the average human.
I shrugged and settled on small talk. That had to be a safe way to start. My eyes fell to his plate. “I haven’t eaten here before. How are those scones?”
The llama’s lips peeled back, and he sprayed me with spit.
Horrified, I spluttered in disbelief, and removed my jacket to use as a giant handkerchief. “Why would you do that?!”
“To defend my food, obviously, as is proper,” the llama said quite stoically. “You must be an out-of-towner.”
“You could say that,” I said miserably.
“What’ll it be, hun?” A waitress hovered over my table, chewing cud like bubblegum and tapping her hooves.
I would have liked a cup of boiling water to pour over my befouled face. “I could really use a coffee, but I don’t have any money. At least, probably none that you’d accept.”
The waitress promptly spat on me and left.
Half-blind, I yanked napkins by the handful from a shiny metal dispenser and wiped my skin raw. “This is ridiculous. Why did she spit on me?”
“You announced you’re lower in the hierarchy, so it’s customary to establish dominance. Really, I should be spitting on you again, for that reason, but I can see you’re having a tough day.” The llama sipped from his porcelain cup again. “Many magazine sellers, along this street, also offer remedial guidebooks. I don’t suppose you can read?”
“Of course I can.” Assuming llamas’ writing was as easily understood as their speech. Though I still had a tiny phobia about physical books.
While I was still debating my next move, a shaggy brown llama sidled up to my table. “Hi, sorry, we couldn’t help overhearing you don’t have any money. My friend would like to buy you a coffee.” Her neck waggled toward a nearby table, where another llama shyly waved. “She thinks you’re cute.”
My jaw dropped. “Ew, that’s disgusting!”
The llama spit on me and stomped back to her table.
“Argh!” I buried my head in my arms and glared accusingly at my neighbor, the gentle-llama. “What obscure custom did I run afoul of that time?”
“None,” he said with infinite dignity. “You’re just a jerk.”
“…Okay, that’s fair.”
And that was only the beginning of many misadventures in this realm of llamas, which I have yet to escape.
If this message in a bottle reaches you, upon the shores of another world, take heed of my example. Don’t share my terrible, horrible fate. Beware magic portals! You never know where they’re hiding, or to what nightmare they’ll lead.
Thanks for reading!