- A girl (she was looking at a weird glowing apple thing, which I ignored)
- A cat painting on a canvas, which was coming to life
- A cat peering into a crystal ball with a fish in it
Given the card with the girl on it, I asked for a female name from our list, and the random name I was given, was "Mandy Atherton."
So, with 20 minutes to write, here's the very short story that came about. Please note that the story deals with a subject that some readers may find upsetting.
Live to Dream
She's used up all her savings to get here. This dank, stinking alley, that snakes between the warehouses like some black vein of despair. She can hear the cries already. Whimpers really, punctuated occasionally by a shrieking howl or plaintive meow.
Mandy Atherton clenches her eyes shut as she stares through the window. Cage upon cage is stacked as high as the ceiling, each one holding a dog or a cat.
She sneaks another peek in the window, sping a youthful Chinese man, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, who casually lays down his meat cleaver and strolls off. She prays his killing spress is over for the day.
Do they dream, she wonders, watching the terrified, trembling animals. Do these cats somehow dream of fishbowls and easy-prey goldfish? Do they have the imagination to take themselves away from the horror of their predicament?
She waits a couple of minutes longer, then, sure that the man has left, she levers the window up, and climbs through. The stench is awful, a mix of urine, faeces, and death, but Mandy doesn't care. She whispers reassurances to each dog and cat in turn as she unlocks as many cages as she can.
She grimaces as she pulls the giant wooden table closer to the window, the scrape of oak on slick, blood-stained tiles seems deafeningly loud when you're trying to be silent.
The animals seem to understand at least. Mandy holds the window open, and taps on the table. An undulating stream of canines and felines flee the room, a blurring river of fur that srambles for freedom with grateful eyes that are forever haunted by what they've seen.
A couple of dogs remain, and a cat too terrified to move. Mandy freezes herself when she hears the cough of the Chinese man as he approaches once more.
"Come on," she whispers, coaxing the dogs to the table. She helps them up, garnering grateful licks, then they're off through the window. Mandy picks the cat up, cradling it gently in her arms. It's a struggle, but she squeezes through the window herself, then sprints off down the alley, following the river of animals on their race to freedom.
Behind her in the alley, a new howl of disappointment shatters the silence, as the Chinese man discovers the jailbreak.
"It'll be on the news in the morning," says Mandy, "maybe then people will take notice."
She doesn't know if any of the animals will remain free for long, or what their fate will be. For now though, running through the damp twilight of a nameless Chinese town, there's hope to be found, hope that these animals live to dream.
© Craig Romans 2015.
It's been a harrowing experience reading about the real-life Chinese dog and cat meat markets, and that's what inspired this story. I hope things change, but I'm not sure they will.
Try the exercise for yourselves, 20 minutes, see what you come up with.