Forced fiction 3: bottom, cabbage, concealing, promotion, strip

(What is forced fiction?)

[This one was tough. Two two-hundred-word false starts, at least twenty four hours of unproductivity and a session on 750words to force extraction of every thought that drifted through my mind, however insignificant, later...]

[Disclaimer: All persons and scenarios portrayed her are fictional, and any resemblance to real people and places is entirely coincidental.]

Life circumstances twisted and turned, times changed, redundancies occurred, and one way or another, I found myself living with my mother again. I'd been back in the family home for two whole weeks before I became suspicious. The house routine had changed little in the years I'd been away. My mother worked her way through consistent mountains of laundry and ironing, courtesy of my siblings. She cooked and cleaned and tended the garden. She complained that the house was always a mess and that she never had time to read or play the piano. She claimed to relish rainy days because she could resist the allure of the outside world, and do chores in the house.

She incorporated my laundry into the household cycle and it was easy to let her take over. She ironed clothes of mine that I hadn't ironed in years, insisting it was necessary. She was critical in conversations with neighbours and family friends about having to 'look after' me again now I was home, but wouldn't let me cook for myself and swore she loved having me around the house.

She was at home all the time during the summer. She had a job change to look forward to at the beginning of the next school year. It involved fewer hours and less responsibility. To her, this was a promotion, and she frequently mentioned how much she anticipated creating a new routine around her work, finishing chores in the afternoons and having weekends free for gardening and baking.

Her hobbies truly were the household tasks, and she was always engaged with them. But she was right. The house was always a mess. Not dirty, just untidy. Disorganised, cluttered, in a way that is entirely excusable for a family with toddlers, for example. It had been in this state for my entire life, so it took a while for me to notice. I confined my own mess to my bedroom, and my slothful brother and workaholic sister had organised their lifestyles to create barely a ripple in our mother's day-to-day running of the home. So as a lifelong and proud homemaker with near-enough grown up children... why wasn't every room spotless? I'm not just criticising. She regularly bemoaned this fact. She had time and inclination and no-one to hinder her. In addition, the hours she spent in the garden resulted in fresh vegetables and endless fresh floral arrangements in the kitchen. Yet the garden was in a similar state of disarray to the house. There were weeds; vine plants spreading well beyond their allocated area; paving slabs misaligned; borders overflowing onto footpaths.

I reiterate that I never had a problem with this habitat. The place was homely rather than cold and inhuman as an immaculate room can be, and the garden had character. I was simply baffled by her unexplainable inability to control this entirely normal environment, despite an obvious desire to do so.

That's when I started to wonder if my mother was not all she appeared to be. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that she was concealing something.

From my bedroom window one morning, I watched her make her way slowly down the garden path, stopping every now and again to turn the head of a flower, or pull up a weed. She made it to the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and spent five minutes hunched over the cabbages; I assumed, picking off the caterpillars.

Then she vanished.

I blinked, and squinted at the spot where she had been kneeling. There was no corner for her to have disappeared round, and no mysterious hole in the earth through which she could have fallen. I figured if I was ever going to find out what was going on, now was the time.

I noticed nothing unusual as I approached the vegetable patch. Crouching down in the same place my mother had been, I peered at the leaves of the first cabbage, mostly shredded to lace by the caterpillars that were creeping over the surface. I remember thinking how big some of the caterpillars seemed to be. Then how big the cabbage was, then all at once the ground beneath me had transformed from soil to some kind of soft, green, fibrous fabric.

I froze as I realised I had materialised in the midst of a hub of bustling activity. People... creatures... flurried around me, mostly carrying things, sometimes dragging things. Seconds passed, and my presence didn't appear to have altered anyone's course so I relaxed a little.

Ahead of me, the green expanse stretched out for perhaps a mile before the ground started to curve upwards, becoming almost vertical before disappearing from view into a tangle of vine-like tendrils. The surface itself was divided into sections by smooth, pale green elevations that looked a bit like really long, curving speed bumps, and it was between - never over - these divisions that the residents of this populous land scurried. And as for those residents... My first assumption had been that they were oversized bugs, but surreptitious closer inspection made apparent various more humanoid features, exaggerated into insect-like shapes. Human hands on the end of an elongated arm with a backward elbow joint; an extra pair of otherwise perfectly ordinary jean-clad legs; shining organic body armour; curling antennae; uncomfortable looking food pipes replacing noses and mouths. I observed all of this as an aside, however, as my primary focus at that moment was locating my mother, who I assumed had to be here somewhere. Seeing nothing in the immediate vicinity, I rotated one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and was confronted by an infinitely more explorable landscape. I appeared to be at the end of an enormous driveway, lined on either side by slim, but unsymmetrical, strips of partially polished tree bark. Each strip was about twelve feet tall (twelve feet, that is, relative to my current scale) and angled a little outwards. At the end of this driveway stood a grand, turreted structure; immense, green, and in places, shimmering. It was a palace for sure, and it was in that direction I headed.

Surrounding the entrance there were no guards, just an increase in the density of busy looking individuals. I crept through easily, taking care not to bump anyone, and entered through an open archway. This entrance hall was at least the size of a football field and had a floor of polished tiles which contained animated patterns of swirling green and white. Matching flights of similarly extravagant stairs to my left and right spiralled upward to meet a balcony above the doorway, and above my head. A small and oddly proportioned crowd was gathered at the other side of the hall, and in the centre of them I could see the back of a familiar head. I darted left and climbed a little, both to hide behind stair railings and to gain a better vantage point from which to watch the scene before me unfold.

My mother was flapping and flustering and apparently issuing instructions to those around her, as every few seconds a creature would stand to attention and scuttle off purposefully, and mum would relax for a moment. I wanted to hear what was being said before I made my presence known. At the top of the stairs it became apparent that the balcony continued inside the walls of the room, and was connected to an opening at the top of another flight of stairs I could see further in, almost above my mother and her entourage. This passageway was unlit, and I encountered no opposition. I stuck my head out of the final, smaller, doorway, and was able to hear everything. But by this time, only five insect-men remained, and she appeared to have finished her list of commands. She had had a list, as well. I saw her tucking it into her apron's front pocket, before sighing, placing her hands on her hips, and surveying the room.

"I wish that mess was cleaned up," she tutted, frowning at a vase in the corner. The vase had been upturned, and shards of porcelain poked out from a heap of soil and scattered petals. Muddy water was starting to pool across the glossy floor.

Nothing's different then, I started to think; she still hates untidiness here, but still can't find the time to cl... But it was clean. My mum was leaving the chamber, entourage in tow, through a small doorway nearby, and the vase was intact again, back in place upon its table. Jaw still hanging, I scrambled down from my hiding place and crossed the now deserted chamber to peer through after her.

Her pace was fast, and she was almost at the far end of a dimly lit corridor by the time I got there. Her posse and she turned a corner and the light disappeared completely; I ran on tip-toes to catch up, and realised that the green glow illuminating the area around her was provided by the bulbous rear end of one of her minions. Keeping my distance, I followed the now silent party through corridors for a few more minutes. They stopped, and I couldn't see why until I heard the turning of a key in a lock, and a heavy sounding door creaked open. They entered swiftly and the door clicked closed; there was no way I could have manoeuvred through it in that time without being seen. I contented myself with peering through the amply sized keyhole.

The room beyond was high-ceilinged and decorated with luxurious red upholstery. Several of the squishiest looking armchairs I have ever seen were arranged around an empty fireplace, and a huge and intricate tapestry adorned one wall.

"I wish someone had arranged my cushions for me," I heard my mother whine. Nobody in the room moved, but a satisfied smile appeared on her face, so I could only presume the cushions had just arranged themselves. She slumped into one of the chairs and groaned "there's a whole stack of old books that need sorting out and getting rid of, that bookshelf is just overflowing with junk."

The bookshelf in question was also out of my sight line, but three bin liners appeared behind my mother's chair, packed full of angular objects that looked suspiciously like books. One was labelled 'Charity Shop', one 'Car Boot Sale' and one 'Recycling'. One of the insect-men who had been on standby reached for them all with three of his six arms, and heaved them over three of his six shoulders.

I leapt back from the door as he approached and spun around, backing against the wall and holding my breath. If he saw me, he gave no indication, and continued down the corridor, back the way they had entered.

I pressed my face to the keyhole once again, in time to hear my mother complain that a fire had not been prepared nor lit, and to see one spring into life in the fireplace. She leaned back into the chair and reached around to a coffee table by her side. Her hand met with a bare glass surface and she moaned. "Oh, no-one fetched the post in!"

A stack of unopened mail materialised on the table, and she flicked through, extracting a magazine sealed in plastic wrap. The wrap was removed, tossed aside, and taken care of by a plea for her floor to be litter-free. I heard her slowly turning the pages of the magazine, and decided I'd seen enough.

That explains everything, then.

🏷 fiction forced fiction story writing

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