1. The Jibba-Jabba
It was a dark and gloomy night in Arcane Town. Werewolves howled at the moonlight, vampires snarled at the werewolves and the zombies moaned at everyone. Only the insane walked the streets after sunset and only the sane locked their doors and hoped the sunrise would come again.
Janey Thomas gazed at the words in her journal and chewed the end of her pencil. She didn’t like that last part. She was perfectly sane yet she wasn’t locked inside her house like a frightened rabbit. Janey planned to be a professional journalist when she left school. She was going to travel the world and investigate everything so she could tell everyone the truth. The truth was important to Janey, but not the sort of truth people saw on TV, but the real truth, the truth behind the jibba-jabba.
Everyone accepted the jibba-jabba just because a man in a cheesy suit and matching smile spoke words into a camera. That wasn’t the truth. That was a human sheep reading from a teleprompter. Janey could spot a liar in the dark and she hated jibba-jabba as much as she hated broccoli.
Janey didn’t want to be famous or rich, not like her friends who aspired to nothing more than spending their lives skiing and lounging around on giant yachts. She wanted to be honest and true. The local newspaper, The Arcane Crier, had published two of her reports but that wasn’t enough for Janey. She felt she had already outgrown the local rag and wanted to push her “no bullshit, no lies, all truth” writing style until it reached the international arena.
That was why at a quarter to midnight Janey was sat on a swing in the town central park. Everyone knew Arcane Town went ape-shit crazy when the sun set, but Janey wasn’t having any of it. She didn’t believe in conspiracy theories and didn’t believe in the supernatural either, and to Janey’s way of thinking if she lifted the lid of the jibba-jabba box she would let the truth out. Her English teacher once tried to explain there were different ways to tell the truth, from twisting the truth to fit a theory or holding back bits of truth to avoid upsetting or confusing people. Janey said that was just a fancy way of saying people were liars.
Liars were low-life gutter trash who had sold their morals for a slice of money pie. Besides the truth was way more exciting than making stuff up. Anyone could make up a story about aliens or mermaids but no one dared to go seek the truth and show the world how things really were.
Take Arcane Town for instance, with its monsters and creepy crawlies skulking around in the dark. A quick search on the internet for “scariest towns in the world” will bring up Arcane Town and an endless succession of blurred photos, amateurish video and stories Janey had read a hundred times before. There was no truth to be seen but there soon would be. Janey was sure of that.
The Thomas family lived in the penthouse apartment of The Choundas Building, a tall gothic monstrosity that overlooked Main Street and the central park. Janey had never felt comfortable there, she didn’t like the architecture, it was too…Turkish for her tastes and it didn’t blend with the rest of the town. Or was it the town that didn’t gel with the building? Thinking about it she didn’t really like the town much either, it was too dark and brooding even on the brightest day. Everyone knew it but no one said it.
Her parents made their money during the Dot.com boom of the nineties and loved nothing more than boasting about how they owned half the internet. Janey had no interest in money. She always walked to school, wore the same old clothes until they fell apart or she outgrew them and made her own lunches.
Her rich friends thought she was mad, but they loved her anyway, they had to, when rich families socialized everyone got along, wore false smiles and complimented one another on the size of their wallets. Janey preferred her regular friends who accepted her as a normal teenage girl, not some rich snob.
Janey’s Dad wanted her to go to law school, her Mum wanted her to become chief editor of some high brow magazine and live in a world of diamonds, a wardrobe of nothing but real fur and 24 hour on demand massage service. That was part of the reason for Janey’s clandestine midnight strolls, so she could escape the claustrophobic enclave of plush furnishings, gold-plated bathroom fittings and rat sized fluffy dogs called Bobelle and Klaus.
Each night at eleven the housekeeper would make sure Janey was in her bedroom, in bed with the lights off. And each night Janey would wait until everyone was asleep or entertaining strange guests in the Alexander suite, then climb out of the window and down to the floor below. She used a lock breaker on the window of the apartment and slipped inside. The owners didn’t live there, they wasted their lives in Switzerland or the Caribbean.
Janey had a ridiculously large allowance and she used most of it to pay Mr Harris, the security guy, to look the other way as she rode the service elevator to the laundry room. From there she would scurry away into the night to seek the truth. Her secret sorties had worked perfectly for months. No one suspected a thing and Mr Harris guarded her secret well.
She took with her a digital camera, notepad, pencil and two $5 bills. A few blocks form Choundas she would buy two hamburgers, fries and sodas from Jim’s Junk, the only all night diner in Arcane Town. At central park she would eat one of the hamburgers and savour the hot salty fries. She saved the rest for Mojo.
As Janey sat on the swing contemplating her journal entry, she realised Mojo was late for the first time since they had met. But that was the least of Janey’s problems. The truth was about to crawl out of the jibba-jabba box and turn her life upside down.
Janey was not the jumpy sort. Last week Ben Kowalski had dropped a toad down her top in the chem lab to a roar of laughter from his moronic jock pals. Janey had rolled her eyes and removed the toad without so much as a wince or shudder. Tonight she was feeling apprehensive, the sound of twigs snapping in the undergrowth made her peer into the dark shadows, where the orange street lamps couldn’t reach.
She had an imagination but kept it for the book under her pillow. This didn’t stop her wondering if the stories about night-time creatures in Arcane Town were actually true. Could she really hear heavy breathing or was it her mind playing tricks? The bushes over by the slide rustled now and then but there was a bit of a breeze in the air. She paid no attention and concentrated on her journal. She liked to make notes so she could expand on them later when writing up her blog. Janey’s blog was entitled Lies Are For Wimps. She used an alias and posted only the truth. In just one year she had gained a dedicated readership with over four hundred subscribers. People wanted the truth, plain and simple.
Without Mojo to fill her in on the latest gossip there wouldn’t be much to blog about. Mojo was a street urchin, a dirty faced lad no older than fourteen. He lived rough and went places Janey never thought possible. Often she pleaded with him to take her so she could investigate but Mojo refused, it was too dangerous. Day people didn’t mix well with the night dwellers. When she asked if he had seen the vampires, zombies and werewolves, Mojo had burst out laughing.
He insisted there were no such things in Arcane Town, that the day people were just paranoid. This puzzled Janey because why would the entire town also be paranoid to the point where everyone locked their doors and stayed inside at night? Mojo wouldn’t say. Janey thought he was hiding the truth.
When the bell on the town hall’s clock struck midnight, Janey glanced down at the brown bag from Jim’s Junk and wondered why Mojo still hadn’t shown up. Maybe he was sick. The night before he’d had a terrible cough but refused money to buy cough mixture. Some people had too much pride, thought Janey. Well, if Mojo wasn’t coming she may as well eat his burger.
No. That would be like stealing. She had bought the food for Mojo. Maybe just a few of his fries would be okay? She peered into the bag then glanced around to make sure no one was watching. She plucked a single fry and popped it in her mouth then quickly closed the bag. No harm done. Mojo would never know. He wasn’t going to miss one fry anyway.
Where was he? She checked her watch. It was five past midnight. If he didn’t show up soon she might be tempted to go snooping around without him. He’d warned her against it, even begged her not to be out at all. The streets were dangerous at night. She could get hurt or worse.
What could be worse than getting hurt?
Sometimes Mojo didn’t make any sense. Like when he told her never to watch the sun rise. Night time was bad but sun rise was the worst time to go gazing down at the streets. She had to be safely tucked up in bed before sun rise, no ifs, no buts, asleep and nothing less. Come to think of it, Mojo often talked in riddles, but then that was why she liked him. Riddles were all about wrapping the truth in a puzzle.
Janey wondered what she would blog about if Mojo never showed up. She would have to tell the truth but without a riddle unravelled it would be dull truth for her readers instead of a mystery uncovered. At ten past midnight she decided to leave the park and head home, maybe take a slight detour along the train tracks. Some of her blogger friends had hinted the train tracks were bad news for day people out in the dead of night.
That didn’t scare her. Dark mysterious places needed to be investigated.
She placed her notepad and pencil in a small canvas shoulder bag along with Mojo’s midnight snack and marched away from the swing toward the path. At the centre of the park Janey stopped in front of an ice cream kiosk and looked at the window. A street lamp bathed the kiosk in an orange glow. There was a poster behind the glass of a girl about Janey’s age, with short messy blonde hair, light green knitted sweater and deep blue jeans that slouched over her boots. The girl on the poster was holding a bag like hers too. Janey always felt comforted by the poster, it was like looking at a twin sister. Janey was an only child and had longed for a brother of sister like so many of her friends had.
A sign post next to the kiosk gave three directions, Town Centre, Playground, Train Station. Janey considered her options. Town Centre meant giving up and going home without having investigated anything and with nothing to report. The Playground was a dead-end without Mojo, which left the Train Station.
Janey gripped the worn strap on her bag and turned toward the Train Station. When she reached the edge of the park she stopped and listened. There were footsteps scratching in the breeze nearby. It was hard to tell which direction they were headed. Leaves rustled over the grass as if to mask the footsteps. Janey wasn’t afraid but curious. Who else would be out after dark? Another day person snooping around for the truth? Maybe it was a creature of the night.
Ahead the iron gate creaked in the wind. Without fail they were all locked up by the park manager before sunset. Janey climbed over them every night so she knew they were secured with big shiny padlocks. That meant only the park manager could open them. Why would he be roaming through the dark deserted park at night? Shouldn’t he be at home, safe behind locked doors? Shouldn’t she be doing the same thing? It stood to reason that if she ignored the warnings never to venture out at night then someone else might be doing the very same thing.
At the gate she looked all around for the park manager. There was no sign of him. The open padlock hung from a thick chain by the gate. It was a mystery and that meant a story. Janey smiled and started walking.
A hand grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back toward the gate.
She opened her mouth to scream but a second-hand clamped over her mouth. She suddenly realised she should have followed the sign to the Town Centre. Now she was in big trouble. She struggled against her captor until they were back inside the park where she was set free.
Janey span around to face her attacker.
Mojo was hunched over, wheezing and coughing.
“Train Station, train tracks, good for me, bad for you,” said Mojo. He looked worse than last night. His face was pale and his eyes wild and frantic. “Warnings have reasons to back them up. Danger awaits day people when they ignore honest advice. Why do you not heed a friend with a warning, little Janey?”
Janey stared at her friend. “You were late,” she said. She held out the bag from Jim’s Junk. “I bought your midnight snack,” she said by way of an apology.
Mojo laughed and coughed. “I am hungry, famished and half-starved,” he said. “But burgers and tasty fries are not what I crave this night.”
“Oh. What do you crave?”
Mojo shuddered and fell to his knees.
“Mojo!” cried Janey. She helped him up and together they hobbled to a nearby bench. “What’s wrong? You’re sick. We should get you to a doctor.”
“No! I have yet to meet a doctor who would not seek to visit harm upon those such as me.”
“Then what can I do to help you?”
Mojo was hunched over his legs, wheezing and coughing. “To help me is to achieve the impossible. I am here to help you see. I must show you the why, the how, when, where and what. The meaning behind the warning behind the veil of lies that binds the darkness so tightly around Arcane Town. You seek a truth, a reason why, an answer to your question. You crave it, need it, desire it.”
“You’re not making any sense, Mojo.”
“I will and soon,” said Mojo. “Soon the truth will be yours to consume and share. Come. I will show you what lies behind the jibba-jabba.”
To be continued…
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 4 photos as a prompt.
I reached 2,500 words and had to stop because I was tired. I’ve been writing all afternoon and took a break from my novel to free up some mind space, but I got hooked on this instead, and for that I am very happy!
I stared at the fourth picture for a long time until the name of Janey Thomas came into my mind. I started writing without an aim, without a plot or idea of where it was going. As each sentence fell out of my finger tips I started to enjoy Janey and her strange life so I ignored my desire to stop and think about world building, characters, plot, scenes and so on. I didn’t even write this in MS Word like I usually do, but straight into WordPress.
I’m not sure where the next part will lead or what will happen. This is an experiment to see how well I can push a story without thinking about the plot, without thinking beyond the next sentence, just to see how my imagination can drive a character through a story in real-time – coming immediately from my brain to the screen without passing GO, without thinking at all.
We shall see how it turns it in a few days time when I come back to it.