Saturday, 22 August 2015

Jay, a short story

This is a short story I wrote during my week at the Guardian Summer School Masterclass for Creative Writing.

The wind clattered against the windows as the thunder roared across the sky. The girl left them open as the red curtains flew back forming giant wings cocooning her body as she allowed the large drops of rain onto her skin, pouring down her face like glittering tears. She didn’t fear the echoes of thunder, or the flashes of lightning it followed. This was wild and was everything she thought freedom would feel like and she wanted more. It was then that she decided to leave.

Jaya had considered leaving before, but never as seriously as this moment. If she never saw her family or her house again it would be too soon.

Her room, though, was something she would miss. Jaya never permitted anyone into her room. Her parents never bothered pressing the matter too much. She was young after all. But it couldn’t be denied that their daughter’s defensive nature was different to that of her siblings.

The room was like all the other bedrooms in the house in that it was large. The baseboards were painted gold, and the tops of the walls were detailed with fine floral illustrations: dark green stems topped with ocean blue petals and a centre of honey yellow. The artist whom had been hired to decorate their house included a different floral pattern for each room unique to the person who resided there. Her parents had marigolds, her brother had snowdrops and her sister had roses. From just one look the old man was able to decipher each of their favourite flowers.

Normally the ruby curtains would attempt to keep out the sunlight, which would set a bronze glow upon the soft cream carpet, but tonight the room was set in shades of blue and grey, the lightning highlighting the dark shapes in silver. Jaya always insisted that she would make her own bed rather than allow the maids to do so, and she always kept to that promise. Her oak wooden table was always clear and for a rich girl, she kept very little. Her room was impeccably tidy. She would have nothing to hide if it weren’t for what was growing there.

One night several months before, she sat crying in the corner of her room as she had done on many nights. Anxiety and insomnia did not mix well, so she left the windows open in hopes that the cool air would calm her down. Outside, everything was still. The giant tree situated outside her window looked at her almost pityingly, as it had done most nights. Yet this night, the tree did the impossible. It moved.

There was something unnatural about the way the tree moved. It was not the wind that moved it, for the air was still. It was jagged and conscious, almost human like, as though the motion was its own and not something that had been inflicted upon it. Jaya peered out of her window to look at the ground beneath her, and then up at the branches. She found nothing there. It couldn’t have been a human who caused the movement.

As she leaned back, the tree leaned with her. Standing motionless, she attempted to convince herself it was in her imagination. Cautiously, she stepped back. In the silence, the tree creaked. She took another step and then another as the branches clung around the frame of her window, grabbing onto the glass panes and pulling themselves forward.

Terrified, Jaya raced to the other side of the room, the branches moving with her – growing towards her. They climbed into the room like thieves in the night, crawling down and across the carpet as well as outwards, wrapping the walls in an embrace. The other window burst open and in came more branches, twisting and distorting themselves.

A single branch came directly towards her face as she raised her hands quickly in defence. The branches shifted upwards and Jaya let out a faint cry as the sharp twigs scratched her face. Their advance stopped.
She waited for several seconds until she realised that the branches were still. As she slowly lowered her arms, the arms of the trees sunk with them.

Months had passed and Jaya learnt that the trees did as she wished. Leafy branches stretched to form a hammock where she now rested, with the trees protectively watching over her.

She began to practice once she realised that all plants followed her command, but never in public for fear of being seen. Every day she smuggled a handful of soil into her bedroom. The tree branches shaped themselves into flower baskets and at the flick of her wrists, small, brightly coloured flowers would grow from them.

The room had become a forest of natural beauty. She no longer felt the need to sneak outside after her curfew to play at the side of the forest. The trees would let her climb the branches, catching her if she fell.
Outside, the leaves of the beech grew thicker, blocking the windows so that nobody would suspect there to be a garden growing inside the young girl’s room. Her parents would have the whole house destroyed if they found any trace of magic within her room – they couldn’t have themselves associated with that. Magic had disappeared years before she was born, and as her family favoured the King they were highly against it. But Jaya knew that unless she left her family that it would follow them wherever they went. Because it wasn’t the house that was haunted by magic, but the girl.


Before her abilities began and her rebellious streak was beginning to kick in, Jaya had convinced her twin sister to discover their date of their birth. Physical age was an outdated concept, and the kingdom was generally organised by mental ability. Yet Jaya was curious, and her parents wouldn’t tell them so she managed to convince Savannah to join her in her troublesome quest. They had sneaked into their father’s study and scoured through his files until they found three birth certificates for three children.

Now, the anniversary of the births of Jayamala and Savannah Sarin were upon them. They would both be sixteen years of age, and Jaya knew that this would be the day that she would reveal the truth to her sister.
At midnight, Jaya knocked on her sister’s door three times and retrieved her from her room.

“Jaya, what is it?” Savannah asked tiredly. She was the only one who did not call her by her full name.
“A birthday surprise,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt.

She covered her sister’s eyes and led her to her room, hoping that her palms weren’t sweating. She prayed that Savannah would not be too frightened at first, but was certain that once she explained she would understand. Finally she would stop having to hide this from her.

As they entered Jaya’s room, her heartbeat increased. “I know what you’re about to see is unusual, so please don’t panic. I can explain everything,” she told her sister as she uncovered her eyes.

Savannah blinked, her eyes adjusting to the light. She took a small gasp, but in the darkness Jaya could not see her reaction as she took in her surroundings. For what felt like minutes, there was no sound.


Savannah turned around. The look of amazement that Jaya had expected was not there, but one of horror. “Why haven’t you told mother or father?”

“I – I d-didn’t think they would understand like you would,” Jaya stuttered. She felt sick. This was wrong. This wasn’t what was meant to happen.

Outside, thunder grumbled. Savannah’s brows furrowed. “Did you make this? Are you one of them?” She spat the word ‘them’, making Jaya jump back. “You ought to have said sooner. They could find someone to fix you.”

Jaya felt like she’d been punched in the gut. “Fix me? There’s nothing to fix – this isn’t a bad thing like they say it is. I can do good things with this, unlike the King...”

“What does the King have to do with this? He’s the one warning us about the monsters.”

There was a pause as the sisters stared at one another. “Monsters? Like me?” Jaya’s eyes were wide and her hands were shaking as she stared at the face of someone she thought she knew. Exhaling deeply and steadying her voice, she said “Get out.”

That was the night the storm hit. The wings formed by the curtains inspired her. She would no longer be a Sarin; she would no longer go by Jayamala or Jaya. She would be free, like a bird.

Jay stole away into the night.

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