Mantra

by Frederick Chagnon

It’s 1:37 a.m. The party around me is loud. Too loud for my taste. I feel the semi-regular beat in my chest, but I have no desire to dance. There are too many people for the size of the apartment. I didn’t want to go, but my roommates convinced me to come. What a terrible mistake. It would have been so much better to just watch TV and eat pizza all night. Maybe have a glass of wine too. Instead, PBR and a suspect-looking jungle juice. I can’t believe I spend an hour doing my hair for this.
People are talking, dancing, and laughing all around me. I stand to the side of the room by myself. I don’t feel any connection with any of them. The friends I came with are flirting with some guys on the dancefloor. I was supposed to be the wing-woman, but I guess my services are no longer required. My drink is now luke-warm and tastes horrible. I don’t even want to know what was in it. I pretend to keep drinking it nonetheless. It’s what you’re supposed to do in a party, right?

I notice that some guy is checking me out from across the room. The collar of his polo shirt is popped and he’s wearing a linen cap upside down. Obviously, he’s also wearing boat shoes. Let’s call him Stereotypical Bro. Alright, he just downed his drink and is coming my way. WHY? He clearly has had too much to drink. He better hope a cop won’t ask him to walk in a straight line, because he’ll clearly tip over.
He’s almost here. He pushed some people over to get here. He’s standing next to me, pretending to talk to some other people. I do my best to not look at him. Maybe he’ll be interested with someone else and forget that I exist.

Obviously, I couldn’t be so lucky. I feel his hand going inside my afro. Now, it would be even more awkward if I don’t turn around. Plus, someone needs to tell him that it’s not acceptable to start playing with other people’s hair without permission. I turn around and face him, a blank stare on. He reeks of alcohol and weed. He must think that he’s so hardcore and edgy. I recognize the type. I know exactly what he’s going to say.

“Heeeyyyy.” Wait for it. He managed to slur even this simple word. I don’t say anything and let him continue. “So, you know…” Wait for it. Any second now. “I’ve never been with a black girl before.”

There you go. Another win for Stereotypical Bros everywhere. I don’t understand why these people think this line works… Am I supposed to take pity on you and allow to you to have sex with me? Or am I supposed to feel happy that you have noticed and chosen me? Literally everything is wrong with this. It’s probably the worst pickup line in the history of bad pickup lines. It’s not like it’s original or anything. All my friends have heard it a million times. Now it’s my turn. I got to say something before he says something more.

“I’m happy that you brought up your lack of experience.” Pause to let him understand what I’m saying. He’s rather slow at this stage of the night. “But I’m not looking to be disappointed in 5 minutes or less.”

After a satisfying split second of confusion, I turn around and start to walk towards my friends. I don’t want to hear him reply. It will undoubtedly be horrible and cringey. Oh no, he didn’t. I had made maybe two steps before he grabbed my arm.

“Come on baby, don’t be like that.” I cross my arms and my expression clearly says ‘don’t mess with me right now.’ “You make it sound like a challenge.”

Staying as emotionless as possible and keeping my arms crossed, I proceed:

“First of all, I am not your ‘baby’. Second, that wasn’t a challenge. It meant ‘no’.” I turn around and leave once again.
“Hey! Where are you going?” This time, I don’t turn around. I just wave him off. Bye Felicia.

I finally escape from Stereotypical Bro and join my friends on the other side of the room. The music is still just as loud and annoying. My friends are clearly not all there anymore and have all been rejected by the guys they were “dancing” with if you can call it that. Apparently, they had found some younger, drunker girls with bigger tits. Boo hoo hoo. What a pity. Everyone is displeased at this point, and we decide to leave. Finally. We find our shoes in the hall and go downstairs.

I forgot how cold it was. The air was so stuffed and smelly inside, it feels good to breathe some fresh air. The wind is blowing through my clothes. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I imagine myself on top of a mountain. It is absolutely silent. I stretch out my arms and the wind pushes them back ever so slightly. I can almost feel the warmth of a sun rising.

The reverie ends with the disgusting sound of one of my friends throwing up on the sidewalk.

I open my eyes and found myself on the same sidewalk as before. The sunrise has been replaced by the city lights. There are a few cars passing by, their tires screeching past yesterday’s puddles. The sounds of the party are muted, but still present. Annie is holding Lin’s hair as she’s throwing up in a trash car. I pull out my phone and surf on various social media platforms. Obviously nothing has happened in the dead of night. I notice some guy walking by. He’s wearing his pajamas pants and a wrinkled t-shirt. He looks silly. Maybe I look just as silly with my going out clothes.

I look back and the struggle is still clearly real. There’s a bus coming. It stops in front of me. I hadn’t even realized I was at a bus stop. Without looking back, I climb in. I haven’t even checked which bus it was. It doesn’t matter. I just want to be somewhere else. Anywhere. The doors creak when they open. The driver looks so thin. I would have given him a granola bar if I had one. A boy’s got to eat.

I go sit at the back, finally removed my heels, and put on my headphones. I don’t know why I sat at the back. It’s like the worst seat in the entire bus, which is empty by the way. It’s too late now. It’d be awkward to go sit somewhere else. Then I remember that I’m alone and laugh. A quick low laugh to not disturb the peace inside the bus. I don’t change seats though.

The first song is “Dinah” by Thelonious Monk. I recognize it with the first few piano notes. I love it, but skip it anyways. It’s way too happy. I scroll through my artists. That’s when I notice that the bus has stopped and that someone else is climbing on. Ah! Earl! That’s perfect for my mood. I press play and Huey comes on. The new passenger is that same guy I saw earlier walking with only a shirt on. That will teach him to go outside at night without a sweater this time of year.

I have a better look at him once he sits down at the front of the bus. I decide that he should go outside more. He’s way too white to be healthy. He has wild brownish hair that fall over his eyes. How does he even see where he’s going? He’s pretty cleanly shaved though, so maybe it’s just his night hair. I lose interest soon and pull out my phone again. Once again, nothing new. I put it back in my purse and fall asleep rather quickly. I don’t remember making it past “Mantra”.
I woke up suddenly when I feel the bus accelerating. I’ve never seen a bus going so fast before. The other passenger is talking to the driver. I put my iPod away and go tap on his shoulder.

“What the hell is happening? Where’s the driver?”
“The driver’s gone,” he replies with a singing accent. Maybe he’s from Mexico? I don’t know, he doesn’t look too Mexican to me. That’s not too important right now though.
“What do you mean ‘gone’?”
“Tell me if you find him. We need to stop this bus. The engine is about to overheat.”

I stand there for a few seconds, waiting for him to do something. Nothing. So typical. Just let me do all the work, right?

“Hold on.” I kneeled and rip some wires apart. See? That easy. I stand up and hear the engine shutting down. “That should do it.” There was just one other problem. “Why is the bus not slowing down?”

He doesn’t have a chance to answer. A bright flash of light illuminate the entire bus. Then, all black everything.

I wake up and the bus has stopped moving. It’s awfully quiet. What just happened remains a mystery. With great difficulty, I stand up. Random Stranger is still passed out. I leave the bus and feel grass under my bare feet. I try to turn on my phone to know where we are, but the battery died. Obviously. There are no lights coming from the bus. A few seconds later, my eyes got accustomed to the darkness. 10/10 is not the city. In front of me, there’s a giant mountain and a forest. It looks similar to the one I imagined before, but not really. It’s confusing. Birds and animals are singing/eating. There’s also a river nearby.

I don’t know how long the other guy will be out, so rather than sitting there and feeling sorry for myself, I go in the bushes to gather some firewood. There’s a small fire going when I hear some noises from inside the bus. Someone must have woken up. He steps out of the bus, looking even worse than before.

“Well, look who finally decided to wake up,” I say.
“How long was I out?” he replies.
“No idea. My phone died as soon as we got here.”
“And where’s ‘here’?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. It sure ain’t the city,” I say, waving my arm.
“So I’m guessing you have no idea what happened last night either?” he hopefully says after a few seconds.
“Not the slightest clue,” I say in all honesty.
“I should have stayed in.” Really? Is that all you’re going to do? Complain?

“Yeah, well I guess we’re in this together now. We better find a plan.” He doesn’t say anything. I’m pretty sure he’s going to have us both killed soon.
“Hey, is your iPod still working? This silence is giving me the creeps.” Sigh. I am definitely dying tonight. I can already picture the headlines ‘Foreign student Chanell Ngochie found dead in the woods. Probable cause of death: stupidity.’ “Ah, that’s funny. I was just thinking how I would have listened to Earl last night if I had brought out my own iPod.”

What follows is some rather pointless conversation. That was time that could have been better spend doing something useful. I break off Shane (his name) in middle of his sentence. I hear some branches cracking nearby.

“Shhh,” I say to shut him up. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Maybe I’ll kill him first if he doesn’t grow a brain soon.
“Shut up and listen.”

Something is walking on leaves and twigs. We go hide behind the bus, where we can’t see 3 feet in front of us. We turn around to look at each other, when we both screamed in horror and surprise. A smallish creature stands in front of us. He roughly looks like a cartoon monkey with orange fur. Except he has a human figure and is wearing clothes that would have been fashionable in 17th Century England.

“Apologies for startling thee fellows. It was never part of my intentions. Pardon me for missing introductions. Robin Goodfellow is the name, at your service. You may call me Puck for convenience.”

The strange little creature bowed down to salute us.

“Uh… Thanks?” Shane replies.
“Wait a minute… Puck? Like in the Shakespeare play?” God, have you never read Sandman? How do you not catch on to that reference?
“The very same, how’s this old chap doing?”
“He’s been dead for 400 years,” At least, he has some idea who Shakespeare is. That’s a mild relief.
“Wait a minute, you’re not actually Puck , are you? I mean it’s impossible, fairies don’t exist.” It’s gotta some sort of practical joke, right? Right?
“Impossible? Don’t thou knowst where thou art?”

And that’s the story of how Shane and I ended up in the Kingdom of Fairies

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