I am in awe of Madeline Munro, A.K.A Mad Maddy, the newcomer to our year twelve class at Aspiring Academy. Disowned by her father, an esteemed government official, for her ‘scandalous behaviour’ resulting in expulsion from two previous schools, Maddy lives with her spinster aunt. With rope-like Rasta hair, cut-off overalls and chunky Doc Martens, and a passion for dirt bike racing, Maddy, unapologetically, stands out. We witnessed her prowess in martial arts the day Tough-guy Tauntington foolishly provoked her. In a lightning flash, she floored him with an expertly executed move.
Everyone is wary of her. But I, Nathaniel Norton, the captain of the debating team, a drama club member and school magazine editor, revere Maddy. As the token scholarship student in our year at this prestigious school, I am an outsider like Maddy. Except, I’m not at all like her. She wears her differences defiantly like steel-plated armour.
Mr Hudson scrawls our next paired writing assignment, a fantasy story, on the whiteboard. The perfect opportunity for me to speak to Maddy for the first time. After all, what could be more fantastical than Nerdy Nat working with Bad-arse Mad Maddy?
In front of Maddy’s desk, I shuffle my feet, ‘You want to be partners?’
‘The fantasy writing assignment. Do you want to be my partner?’
Maddy shrugs. ‘Whatever.’
I glance theatrically around the classroom. ‘It’s not like anyone else has asked you.’
‘No one is rushing to ask you either. I guess we’re stuck with each other. I loathe fantasy. Fairy tales are lies told by adults to trick kids.’
‘Fantasy is not just fairy tales. Fantasy can be dystopian like alternative worlds, where there are struggles against oppression, leading to revolutions and wars, reflecting the real world.’
Maddy’s eyes glimmer. ‘Action and gore and death, that’s more like it. Let’s write a dystopian story.’
‘Let’s not. Everyone wants to write the next Hunger Games or 1984. If we write something old-world with a utopian vibe, our story will stand out.’
‘Like you and I don’t stand out already?’
‘Not me. I’m invisible.’
I continue. ‘Our story will be about a tribe of little people like in Gulliver’s Travels who live in a network of underground tunnels in a magical forest.’
‘Where the trees walk and talk, and beetles which live in caves emerge as dragons at dusk breathing flowers, spreading love.’
‘I was kidding.’ Maddy folds her arms and sinks lower on her seat.
‘I’ll write the first part tonight.’
‘Maddy, do you want to hear what I’ve written so far?’
Opening the notebook, I read. ‘In a time long ago, in the far-away mystical forest, lived the peaceful Immortals, a tribe of minuscule people, no taller than the wild daisies growing in the woods. The Immortals lived in tunnels and maintained the health of the forest. Beetles who lived in caves transformed into dragons at dusk. Known as Beegons, these creatures breathed not fire but sweet-smelling flowers. The trees wandered across the forest floor on their broad trunks, chattering and laughing.
In a nearby valley flanked on all sides by snow-covered mountains lived another tribe of tiny people, the Disgruntles. A disagreeable people with upside-down mouths and back-facing ears, the Disgruntles had, over time, destroyed many neighbouring kingdoms. They deployed an army of vicious vultures who attacked from above and venomous vipers who invaded the land. On demolishing these noble kingdoms, the Disgruntles absconded with valuable treasures. But no matter how much they acquired, the Disgruntles remained disgruntled. What point was there having all these treasures but a limited life span to enjoy them? Seeking everlasting life, the Disgruntles turned their attention towards the peaceful forest, towards the Immortals.’
‘What do you think?’
‘Not bad. The Disgruntles will attack the Immortals and demand the everlasting potion, but will the Immortals outsmart them?’
‘That’s up to you.’
‘Since you like the action stuff, you write what happens next.’
‘Can’t. I’ve a dirt-bike practice, and writing isn’t my thing.’
‘You can do it, Maddy. Throw in as much blood and gore as you wish. Have fun.’ I hand her the notebook.
‘Okay, here’s what I’ve added.’ Maddy clears her throat. ‘In the darkness of night, the Disgruntles marched to the edge of the enchanted forest. They carried the vipers in baskets on their heads. Bows were slung across their shoulders, and quivers with needle-sharp arrows hung on their backs. In a kettle above, the vultures flew, ready for attack.
On arrival, the vipers were released amongst the trunks of the mighty trees. Slithering across the forest floor, tunnel entrances were quickly discovered and entered. Screams of horror and pain erupted from within the tunnels. The Immortals staggered from their havens. Some needed to be carried in a comatose state, while others bore bloodied wounds. The circling vultures above spewed great chunks of vomit, coating the trees. The trees howled and wailed as their highest most branches drooped and withered with the slimy syrup trickling through the leaves.
The Beegons emerged from their caves, breathing sweet-smelling flowers, on hearing the commotion. A clanging sound filled the forest as a fine metal net dropped from the claws of the vultures and covered the woods, trapping every creature within. The Beegons fell to the forest floor, covered in flower petals.
Encircled by the Disgruntles, the Immortals embraced each other in confusion and fear, ‘‘Give us the potion for everlasting life,’’ chanted the Disgruntles, stretching back the strings on their bows.
‘‘Everlasting life cannot be given to another, for it is within us,’’ spoke the chief Immortal.’
Maddy closed the notebook.
‘What do you think? Enough action?’
‘You said you couldn’t write. That’s awesome. Vivid and tense, with a clever twist.’
Maddy’s cheeks tinge with a red glow. ‘Thanks. Let’s forget the story for now and ride through the bush. I’ve got a spare bike.’
‘No thanks. Dirt-bike riding isn’t my thing.’ I take a sip of my syrup.
‘What is that concoction?’
‘This? A magic potion made from wild berries.’ I try to lighten the mood.
‘Yeah, right. What is it really?’
‘A syrup made from berries that my mum drinks to relieve her M.S. symptoms. In her words, it’s magic.’ I shove the syrup and notebook into my backpack.
‘Your Mum has M.S? That sucks. I find a ride helps me forget the sucky stuff in life. How about it, Nat? C’mon, you can do it.’
Reluctantly, I agree. Maddy hauls the bikes from her aunt’s garden shed. She straddles her bike and zooms off. I swing my leg over the bar and start peddling, gripping the handlebars tightly. Bouncing along the narrow, bumpy track, I wobble. Thin branches flick my face, the bush becomes darker, and I lose sight of Maddy. I career down a hillside with a sharp bend at the bottom. Maddy, standing on the edge of the curve, screams. ‘Brake!’
My feet slip from the pedals, a gnarly tree root jerks the front wheel sharply, and the handlebars are wrenched from my grasp. Maddy grabs my backpack as I race past. The bike crashes to the ground. As Maddy and I fly through the air, silvery tree branches brush against us. Our bodies become coated in a suit of armour. The notebook flutters from the backpack, and we land within the book’s pages. Our armour jangles loudly as we crawl onto the forest floor from the book.
Surrounded by tiny people with upside-down mouths and back-to-front ears pointing bows and arrows at us, we spring to our feet.
‘What’s happening?’ Maddy whispers.
‘We’re in the story. Think quickly.’
‘Who are you, and where have you come from?’ A disagreeable voice speaks.
‘We’re the Formidable’s from another world. We’re the keepers of the magic potion for everlasting life you desire.’ She grabs the syrup from my backpack.
As the chief Disgruntle reaches for the bottle, Maddy whips her head around. A hank of her rope-like hair wraps around his neck. She tugs tighter. His eyes bulge.
‘Throw away your bows and arrows and free the Immortals. Remove this net, tidy up the mess on the trees and restore this forest to its glory.’ Maddy says.
The Disgruntles throw down their bows and arrows and instruct the vultures to clean the slime and gunk from the trees. The Beegons emerge from beneath the flower petals and comfort the Immortals.
Maddy disentangles her hair, releasing the chief. ‘File past me, and I will sprinkle you with the potion.’
‘No, give me the bottle.’
‘For the potion to work, the syrup must pass through my magic fingers.’
As the last Disgruntle files past, an Immortal reaches for the bottle. ‘What is this stuff really?’
‘A magic potion for everlasting life. As a peaceful people, the Disgruntles will never attack your kingdom again.’
‘We both know there is no such thing as a magic potion for everlasting life.’