The internet is a strange kind of castle. It even has its dungeons. Or, so they say. Sometimes, you're lucky enough to stumble into a great banqueting hall and meet people worth sharing a flagon of wine with and, almost exactly three years ago, some of the members of a group I had enjoyed many a good vintage with formed a smaller, secret group together.
We established our own castle nook. We took possession of a little known turret, put up fancier curtains, with a sufficient amount of tassels, and settled down together.
When my father was ill, and then dying, it was that turret I would most often run to, hurrying up the spiral stone staircase to fling open the door and race into the arms of whichever of those marvellous humans happened to be there. Their love and camaraderie was healing. We had helped each other through so much, and I didn't mind them seeing my worry stones all laid out, haphazardly. I told them of fears and sadnesses I couldn't articulate to anyone else and often discovered those things were just smoke dragons that a little tenderness could blow away.
Some of us spoke voice to voice and others only with our fingertips, and it was one of my fingertip friends I decided to call one afternoon. I think it's fair to say that I adored him. He was patient and so often the voice of reason. He had integrity, and perhaps best of all, he was funny.
I didn't let him know I intended to call. I decided to prank him, instead. I rang his place of work to ask to buy magic beans. I told him I wanted to grow a giant beanstalk; one tall enough to climb up to the window of the flat above me so I could shimmy through it and steal some of the exceptional things my neighbours had brought back from their world travels, like a harp that played itself and a hen which laid golden eggs. He sounded amused, but he was used to strange customers so he wasn't surprised, and his kindness meant he was patient with an eccentric woman. No matter how surreal I seemed to get.
So patient was he, in fact, that I didn't know quite how to make it clear I was pranking him. I hadn't planned for him not catching me out almost at once, and I ended the call without so much as a bazinga. Instead, I thanked him by name, hung up and waited for the penny to drop which took about thirty seconds.
It is a matter of great excellence that only four months later, he did, in a way, send me a kind of magic bean. It was my birthday and, after many years of not getting out much, I was in desperate need of life experience. It is a good friend who knows how to supply such a thing, especially if you don't actually need to leave the comfort of your chair to enjoy it. If only all wanderings were as cosy.
As an intended consequence of his gift, I got high.
I listened to good music and drank good tea and floated around on a little silver cloud of gladness. I had been in excruciating pain for years. The kind that rests heavy on you and digs it's claws into you, always, but for that evening of my life, it all hurt less.
Not only that, but my imagination woke from its slumber and suddenly I was full of stories, like a fairytale omnibus. I lay in bed and dipped into them, and let these sudden ideas flit about all around me, like lovely butterflies. I recognised them, too. Long ago before pain decided I was its comrade, I had always had such delights at hand.
My favourite involved my friend Rosa and I. We had put on our winter coats and gone out into this world. The sky was as dark as black ink and the street lamps were replicas of the one on the way to narnia.
There had been a library fire, earlier and close by, but it was not an ordinary library. All of the books that had burned were magical ones, so of course the consequences were rather different; The magic had escaped. Enchanted creatures had leapt off the pages and disappeared into the city. All manner of imps and elves and highwaymen were out there, causing mischief while everyone else slept, unknowing.
She and I had special nets, and efficient storyproof weapons, and we were out to return every imagining to the page, where it belonged. We had one book left that we had salvaged, and they would have to all fit into it, like fantastical sardines.
We were women on a mission.
As well as a Peter Pan type casually leaning up against a lamp post smoking a singing cigar, and a unicorn doing dressage near the post office, and the various species we had so often read about but had never met before, we would occasionally encounter a whole story on the loose. A bewitched silver mirror, scurrying by on sprightly legs might be a romance, and a seemingly ordinary puddle that shimmered suspiciously when you saw it out of the corner of your eye might be a mystery novel.
There were unexplained kisses, too, hidden in the trees.
It was the most adventurous of things to try to catch them, and if ever I am very sad, I remember how she single handedly dealt with the centaurs or how I managed to talk the fairies into sharing a page with the gnomes, admittedly at pistol point, even though they have such a complicated history with one another.
Of course, we are not barbarians and as soon as it is possible all of those characters and tales must have their own space again. Instead of having to cram in. For that to happen though, they must be written.
I guess this is the start.
As to the castle, our turret remains, and though it is true that there are times I do not climb the stairs to it as often as I used to, the people in it remain among the finest I will ever meet.
If ever I were given a quest, it is still them I would call upon for aid, and each of us would bring many more people (like you) to stand beside us, to face the wraiths and dangers.