“Today is the last day for the submission of Harness on the prompt “Fantasmo”. Have you submitted your story yet?” – These were the words that popped up on my newsfeed, the moment I browsed my Facebook early morn.
“Gosh! Is it July 31st already? How time flies!!” – I wondered, staring outside the window, trying to imbibe some ideas from Nature for weaving my Fantasmo story.
Didn’t I introduce myself? My bad! Well, I’m Sunita Sahoo, a software engineer by profession who recently developed a passion for writing stories and poems. I came across this group called Penmancy, a few months back while browsing Facebook. The various writing challenges they conducted every month – Quintale, Penmuse and Harness, awakened the creative writer sitting dormant in me and since then, I was unstoppable! The Penmancers constantly encouraged me through their kind words and helped me hone my writing skills through their constructive feedback. I had submitted my entries for Quintale and Penmuse, however, my submission for Harness was still pending. Reason, you ask? Well, to be honest, I ran out of ideas. Every morn I opened my laptop and stared at the blank Word Document for hours together, wondering what to write! Today was no different.
“If only I could gulp a magical potion that would trigger a plethora of ideas inside my head for weaving a fantastic story!” – I pondered, resting on a couch, munching my fav Colocasia chips. The gentle breeze caressed my cheeks, those mellifluous melodies of chirping birds and rustling foliage seemed like a lullaby. My eyelashes felt heavy, and I drifted off into a restful slumber.
**Few Hours Later**
“Wake up, Sunita!” – A stentorian voice pricked my ears, and I woke up instantly to find myself lying in the mossy mattress of the forest floor, surrounded by humongous trees which stood firm and poised like hoary fortresses. The sunlight perforated the forest canopy in patches, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the moted dustlight. The coquettish wind carried the fragrance of wild berries and mulches. The forest reverberated with the sounds of screeching jays and scurrying squirrels, munching nuts and acorns strewn all over the moss-clad forest floor. Standing beside me was a cute furry being, resembling a cotton ball, fluffy, pristine white radiating a dazzling aura.
“Hurry up! We’re running out of time”– The voice brought me back to my senses.
“Who are you?” – I asked, bewildered.
“You can call me Aparna. Don’t you need the “Wisdom Potion” for completing your Fantasmo story?”
My eyes widened in amazement.
A figment of my imagination?
A myriad of bewildering thoughts hovered over my clueless mind. I tried reminiscing the sequence of events that happened before I landed here. Nothing seemed real.
“Here, take this” – Aparna handed me over a map.
It seemed to be a forest map having four blue dots across four specific regions and a blinking red dot in the center.
“Now listen to me very carefully, Sunita. The four major ingredients of the Wisdom Potion are – Red Orchid (East), Blue leaf (West), Phoenix feather (North) and Violet Mushroom (South). You’ll find them in the four regions of this forest as indicated by the blue dots in the map. The red dot indicates your location. This map will guide you towards your destination.”
I was reminded of the treasure hunt game I used to play during my childhood days. The winner was bestowed with a surprise gift. In my case, the prize was the Wisdom Potion. Exhilarated, I thought of giving it a shot.
“I’m not done talking yet! Since you’re unacquainted with this place, there will be four different guides accompanying you to these four locations. Your job is to collect these ingredients within the stipulated time and these guides will help you throughout your quest.”
“Sounds exciting!” – I exclaimed!
“After collecting all the four ingredients, this map will be transformed into a carriage, and it will transport you to the castle of the renowned sorceress of Plutonia. You need to hand over the ingredients to her and she would prepare the potion for you.”
My eyes gleamed with excitement and joy. An exhilarating “Fantasmo” adventure was all I needed to break free from the shackles of the mundane routine.
“Oh! I missed to state the most important fact. The time allotted for completion of this task is 24 hours. Hurry up and get going! Your time starts NOW!”
Before I could utter another word, Aparna vanished into thin air. With mild trepidation in my heart, I mustered courage and set off towards the Eastern Forest for collecting the first ingredient – the red orchid.
Following the map, I headed towards the eastern blue dot which seemed quite distant. I wondered, if I could make it on time by foot. As I was about to give in, streaks of light started emanating from behind the bushes which caught my gaze. Curious, I headed towards the bushes and was flabbergasted seeing a giant winged unicorn. An ethereal beauty with a spiraled horn emanating from its forehead, opalescent fringed outstretched wings resplendent with lustrous sheen and satiny white silken mane shimmering in golden delight. For a moment I was hypnotized by this awe-inspiring magnificence.
“Stop staring at me so intently! I’m charming and I know it!” – The unicorn grinned from ear to ear.
“Oh! I assume you’re my guide. So, what’s your name?” – I blurted out, suddenly feeling embarrassed of my actions.
“They call me Lalitha! We don’t have time, girl. Hop on and let’s head to our destination.”
I climbed onto her back and lo and behold! We soared through the sky. The frolicsome and exuberant birds were seen gleefully playing hide and seek and hurling those wispy cloud balls on our faces in sheer delight. Soon, we reached our destination as the blue dot in the map coincided with the red blinking dot.
“Here we’re, lady! Let’s get going!”
There appeared a menacing serpent, about ten feet long slithering furtively, its lustrous scales glistening in sunlight, forked tongue occasionally sticking out, wobbling, with those venom dripping to the ground, transmogrifying into mephitic fumes and creating a nocuous miasma, toxic enough to asphyxiate a person.
“Ummm..Lalitha, how do we deal with that monster?”
“Huh! Don’t underestimate the power of Lalitha” – Saying these words, Lalitha shut her eyes and started exuding a mystifying golden aura which instantly cleansed the miasma.
“I can’t be vanquished!!” – The incandescent serpent shrieked and attacked Lalitha exposing its deadly fangs.
“Lalitha, watch out!!!!” – I screamed in terror.
A graceful Lalitha bowed her head and her spiraled horn pierced deep into the body of the Ophidian, rendering it lifeless.
Within seconds, the serpent’s body became evanescent, and a scarlet red orchid bloomed.
Misty-eyed, I jumped with joy yelling, “We did it, Lalitha!”
Lalitha hugged me tight and whispered, “Congratulations, Sunita! My role ends here.”
Bidding her farewell, I headed towards the western forest for the second ingredient – the blue leaf.
Surprisingly, this time the blue dot hovered over a lake. Confused, I followed the map and the series of events that unfolded subsequently was a sight to behold. Resting on the lakeside, was a prepossessing mermaid, bestowed with emerald eyes, enticing enough to lure you into a hypnotic trance, silky blonde tresses flowing like a river stream, sericeous skin brighter than star and fairer than pearl, tail glimmering as if studded with thousand diamonds reflecting a myriad of vibrant hues as seen in a kaleidoscope.
“Ah! You’re finally here. I’ve been waiting for you, Sunita” – she spoke in a soft voice.
“Yes, Glad to meet you, Miss….”
“Ramya is my name. The blue leaf lies inside the lake. Please follow me.”
“Errr…Ramya, sorry for saying this but I can’t breathe under water.”
Ramya plucked a nitid scale from her tail and handed me over saying, “Here, take this. Keep it with you always. This will let you inherit certain traits of a mermaid.”
I accepted the scale gladly and Ploosh! I plunged into the lake along with Ramya. Hundreds of multihued fishes greeted me with smiles and bubbled kisses. A plethora of lurid jellyfishes paraded and illuminated the sunlight-kissed lake with a myriad of colors which seemed like underwater fireworks display. I was tantalized seeing those suave mermen waving and winking at me, exchanging flirtatious glances.
“Sunita, do you see that person alighting from the chariot?” – Ramya asked me, pointing towards the extravagantly dressed man adorning an embellished crown.
“Yes, who is he, Ramya?”
“That’s Poseidon. He paid a surprise visit and that’s the reason the kingdom seems so boisterous today.”
Never had I imagined meeting the Greek God of water this close! Not even in my dreams!
“We’re here at the destination.” – Ramya’s voice dragged me back to reality.
Amidst the muddy underwater soil, bloomed a cornucopia of shrubs with coruscant blue leaves sparkling like sapphire. Excited, I swam towards the leaves, unaware of the danger lurking within.
Alas! It was too late. I heard the tumultuous footsteps of someone approaching me. Shuddering, I turned back to find a black gooey monster glaring at me as a ravenous beast glares at its prey. I had read about this creature back in my world. That was a Leviathan! Before I could escape, he overpowered me and hurled me to the mucky soil. Slimy drools, dripping off its teeth, fell all over my face. A thunderous growl!
“Ramya, help!!!” – I closed my eyes and shrieked, cold to my bones and shaken, filled with consternation and abhorrence.
“Open your eyes, Sunita. You’re safe now” – The assuaging voice of Ramya dispelled my fears in an instant.
A valiant Ramya was seen standing fearlessly with a trident on one hand, her eyes brimming with undeterred will and indefatigable spirit, and the Leviathan reduced to ashes right under her feet. I hugged Ramya and burst into tears.
“Thank you so much, I owe my life to you, Ramya.” – I muttered sobbing incessantly in her arms.
“Thank Poseidon instead. The moment I informed him about the impending danger, he lent me his trident and I rushed to your rescue.”
Wiping my tears, I glanced at Poseidon who was seen smiling from a distance. I bowed my head in reverence and plucked one blue leaf from the shrub.
“Cheer up, sweetheart. There goes the second ingredient. Let’s swim towards the shore. Another guide is awaiting your arrival.”
We both swam towards the shore, and I bid farewell to Ramya. The clock was ticking, and I had 12 more hours to collect the other two ingredients. With a confident smile, I headed towards the Northern Forest for the third ingredient – the Phoenix feather.
From the name of the ingredient, it was obvious that I had to collect a feather from the wings of the legendary bird, Phoenix which seemed to be a daunting task.
“Sigh! I wonder who my guide would be for this quest!” – A sudden feeling of despair wrapped me in its cocoon.
“Huh! Demotivated, already?” – I heard a voice coming from the sky. Surprised, I looked above and was stunned to see a pulchritudinous blue dragon hovering over my head. Colossal build, body covered with spikes and lustrous scales emitting a blithesome aura, fiery red eyes emanating ferociousness, razor-sharp claws and pointy teeth ready to rip that flesh of foes.
“Umm..Are you perhaps, my guide?” – I enquired feebly.
“Yes, you guessed that right dear. My name is Urmi. I’m here to help you in your quest for Phoenix feather.”
“Glad to meet you, Urmi. I had always imagined dragons to be red. A blue dragon also exists, wow! Would you mind if I made a request?” – The curious being in me enquired avidly.
“Sure, go ahead Sunita!”
“Back in my world, the books depicted dragons as extraordinary creatures who could breathe fire charring their enemies to ashes. Can you show me, just a little, if possible, please?”
“Huh! I’m disappointed Sunita. You hurt my feelings. How can you stereotype all dragons as one and the same – breathing fire, scorching people! I mean, seriously!!! Do I even look like a marauding beast to you? I’m extremely sorry for not coming up to your expectations!”
An aura of gloominess overwhelmed me. I didn’t mean to hurt the sentiments of Urmi. Damn! Those books were to be blamed. I felt so bad for bringing up such a sensitive topic.
“Hurry up, we don’t have much time left. We’ve to head towards the mountain where the Phoenix resides.”
“Sure, let’s go!” – I hopped on to Urmi’s back and we flew towards the mountain. Somehow, the experience I had while flying with Lalitha was quite contrasting in Urmi’s case. Those birds seemed too scared to approach her, considering her “ready to kill” demeanor and hid under the clouds. Urmi frowned seeing those terrified birds and flapped her wings rapidly to disappear from their sight.
Ah! I understood why she felt bad about my question earlier. Although she was placid and affable at heart, the birds judged her based on her outward appearance which made her feel dejected. My question would have seemed so puerile to her! I wanted to apologize, however, an awkward silence stood as a rock between us.
“Here, we are. This is the Phoenix’s nest” – Urmi splintered the silence as she landed on the ground.
The Phoenix could be seen sleeping peacefully in its nest. This was my golden chance. I tiptoed towards her and plucked a feather carefully from its gargantuan wings. As I turned back, I stumbled upon her egg which cracked instantly. The Phoenix rose from its slumber and was engulfed in a rage seeing the plight of her egg. She grasped me in her claws and emitted a tumultuous sound which sent a chill down my spine.
“Urmi, help!!!” – I yelled incessantly.
Hold on! How can Urmi help me in this scenario? She can’t even breathe fire!
But even if she breathed fire and torched the Phoenix, would that really help? Phoenix are known for rising from their ashes anyways!
Conflicting thoughts hovered over my mind and finally I accepted my defeat, ready to be devoured by the Phoenix.
“Given up on me, already? Huh!” – Urmi retorted.
“You know what Sunita, it’s true that I don’t breathe fire because I breathe ice!” – Urmi flaunted her skills proudly as she metamorphosed the Phoenix to a frozen mannequin. I was utterly dumbfounded seeing Urmi’s unique power.
“I’m sorry, Urmi for judging you all this time” – I bowed down and apologized to Urmi.
“Never mind, people misunderstand me always! Time is running out. You’ve to collect the final ingredient.”
I kissed Urmi and then headed off to collect the last ingredient – the Violet Mushroom.
As I set off towards the Southern Forest, a mesmerizing pixie caught my attention. She was about the size of a neem leaf, dressed in green, exuding a radiant glow, giggling and scattering pixie dust as she flew by.
“Hello, are you, my guide?” – I asked hesitatingly.
“My name is Mithila, glad to meet you partner!” – She tee-heed and hovered all around me frolickingly, bathing me in her golden pixie dust.
“Aaaaachoooo!!!! I’m so allergic to this dust!!!”
Throughout my journey, she kept giggling and showering me with pixie dust, and I was irked.
“Can you please stop doing that? It’s choking me” – I said sternly.
However, my warnings fell into deaf ears, and she repeated her actions all over again. Fortunately, we reached the valley where those violet mushrooms grew and owing to my past experiences, I scrutinized every nook and corner of the valley to ascertain that there weren’t any impending dangers lurking this time before taking any action.
Heaving a sigh of relief, I plucked a mushroom, and it spouted a violet toxin right on my face. Reality dawned upon me. This situation was no different than what was encountered with the venomous serpent back then. The violet toxin had the same effect as that of the miasma, however, for some reason, I wasn’t impacted a bit.
I turned towards Mithila with a puzzled look on my face. She giggled and explained, “You see, my pixie dust has the power to create a protective barrier around a person, making him/her resistant to all toxins. But the effect lasts only for some time. So, I’ve to keep showering the dust from time to time for a prolonged effect.”
Ah! That was the reason, Mithila kept sprinkling her pixie dust all over me throughout our journey for safeguarding my life, yet I had been so impertinent towards her. I realized my folly and apologized to her for my discourteousness.
She smiled and waved her miniscule wand and the map suddenly transmogrified into a carriage. At that moment, I was reminded of Aparna’s words and realized that I had collected all the required ingredients for the wisdom potion. Bidding Mithila farewell, I ascended into the carriage and was ready to meet the sorceress of Plutonia.
The carriage landed in front of a portentous castle. I alighted from the carriage and Poof! The carriage disappeared in an instant.
“Ah! It’s 9:00 PM already!” – I mumbled.
Miniscule fays could be seen sleeping in the lap of the waning crescent moon. The wispy and fluffy clouds, keeping them warm and tucking them to sleep. I could only imagine those euphoric and ebullient dreams; the bazillions of twinkling stars would be weaving!
The castle gate went “creaaaaaaaaaak”!
Mustering courage, I entered inside the gate and stood right outside the door. The door was embellished with a hanging wreath of sage, chamomiles and lilies. The door plate had these letters carved on it – “Monica’s Manoir: Enter at your own risk!”
“Ah! So, the sorceress’ name is Monica” – I pondered.
Before I could knock, the door opened by itself, and an orotund voice welcomed me – “I’ve been waiting for quite some time now Sunita! Welcome to Monica’s Manoir.”
Standing right before me was an enchanting sorceress with a pointy hat, clad in black from head to toe, stirring a cauldron, humming a song and staring at me with anguine eyes. The moment our eyes met, she emitted a maniacal cackle, and I could literally sense thousands of frenzied bats screeching and hovering all around me which freaked me out.
Monica stretched out her hand towards me. I meekly handed her over all the four ingredients that I had collected earlier and patiently waited for her to speak. She added those ingredients one after another into the cauldron, stirred the mixture, poured it into a glass bottle and handed it over to me saying, “Here’s your wisdom potion. Drink it in one shot. Now!!!”
Without a second thought, I gulped the acrid potion in one go. Monica smirked and snapped her finger and a luminous wormhole appeared right beneath my feet which sucked me in. I could see the faint faces of Aparna, Lalitha, Ramya, Urmi, Mithila and Monica on the other side of the wormhole which gradually faded into oblivion.
A loud thud! I woke up to find myself on the marbled floor, wondering what exactly happened!
“I’m back in my abode! So, this was all a dream! Huh!” – I felt disappointed.
“Damn! It’s already 12:00 PM! I slept too long.” – I cursed myself and headed back to my couch for weaving my Fantasmo story. The moment I opened my laptop, I was astounded to see the blank Word document filled with innumerable words titled – “The Hunt for the Wisdom Potion”.
I read the contents and was shocked to realize that it depicted the exact sequence of events that happened in my dream. Starting from the rendezvous with the fluffy being – Aparna, the unicorn – Lalitha, the mermaid – Ramya, the dragon – Urmi, the pixie – Mithila and the sorceress – Monica – Every single emotion that I had felt back then was a part of this story. Tears of joy started trickling down my eyes.
“Thank you, comrades!” – I expressed my gratitude to my mythical friends and gleefully mailed my Fantasmo story to firstname.lastname@example.org . The Wisdom potion really did the trick!
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