Here is my entry. It is an extract from a futurefic that I may (or may not) write some time in the, er, future, but I think it works on its own.
This story makes use of characters and events created by Lemony Snicket, to who all rights in them belong. It also alludes to characters and events created by Dino Buzzatti.
Quite Some Time.
Sunny Baudelaire and Francesca Ambrose stood in the centre of a large, bare, whitewashed room and looked around them.
‘It’s amazing how far we’ve come,’ said Francesca. ‘Four years ago, when we met, you were a junior chef at the Hotel Epilogue, and I was just a receptionist. And now we’ve got all this!’
‘All this’ did not look very impressive at the moment, but it was the shell of the restaurant which Francesca and her girlfriend were planning to open.
‘I’m having difficulty imagining just how it would look,’ said Sunny.
‘Tables down that side and in the window,’ Francesca replied. ‘A bar in that corner.’
Sunny looked around and nodded.
‘So,’ Francesca went on ‘the next thing is to decide what to call it.’
‘Something Italian,’ said Sunny decisively.
‘Er – why?’
‘Because you’re Italian.’
‘Well, yes, I’m Italian, but the customers won’t be interested in that. They’re coming here for your cooking, not my management skills. You’re famous. You appeared on the radio to discuss your recipes when you were about six. We should call it something Jewish. Or French. Or Finnish. Or whatever else your ancestors were.’
‘A bit of English, a bit of Illyrian – but that’s the point. The customers will already know about me. I want them to know about you as well. You’re just as important a part of this place as I am.’
‘That’s very sweet,’ said Francesca, taken aback. ‘It’s a really lovely thought. But surely if we call it something Italian, they’ll expect Italian food.’
‘Well, I can cook pasta puttanesca. And we’ll have prosciutto. If we call it something Jewish, they’ll be puzzled by the prosciutto. Go on – think of an Italian name.’
Francesca shrugged, closed her eyes, and stood in thought for a few moments. Then a flash of inspiration came to her. ‘L’Orso Famoso,’ she said triumphantly.
Sunny was puzzled. ‘The famous bear?’ she asked hesitantly.
‘But what does it mean? We aren’t planning to serve bear.’
‘It’s a reference to the bears’ famous invasion of Sicily.’
‘The bears’ famous invasion of Sicily. Haven’t you heard of it? About a hundred years ago a group of bears came down from the mountains of Sicily and took control of the government. They ruled for a few years, and then decided to give it up and return to life in the wild.’
‘But bears can’t –‘
‘My great-grandfather was involved in it. He was court wizard at the time. He was sacked for predicting the downfall of the government, and he fell in with the bears and was forced to help them in their rebellion.’
‘But Francesca, this doesn’t make sense!’ Sunny was clearly rather exasperated. ‘Bears aren’t intelligent enough to take control of the government. And there aren’t any wizards – not real ones, with genuine magical powers.’
‘Are you sure? You met some fairly odd animals when you were little. Carrier crows. Lions working as detectives. Eagles trained to spot smoke. That snake that saved your life. And you’ve done some pretty amazing things, too. Climbing up an elevator shaft with just your teeth. Learning to cook when you were just one. The way you used to talk to your siblings in a strange code, and they would always understand you. I think you’re quite magical yourself.’
‘It’s not the same,’ said Sunny obstinately.
‘I don’t see the difference,’ said Francesca, equally obstinately.
It was Sunny’s turn to shrug. ‘All right then, L’Orso Famoso. But I still think you’re weird.’
‘So are you.’
‘That must be why we like each other so much.’
‘I guess it is.’
They kissed. Some time passed.
‘Francesca,’ said Sunny, a little later.
‘How would you feel about getting married?’
‘What?’ Francesca jumped.
‘Sorry – is it that shocking?’
‘No, not at all – it’s just a surprise. When I was young –‘
‘Yes, that’s right. Now I’m an old woman of twenty-three, but when I was young, girls weren’t allowed to get married. To one another, I mean. So I’ve never really thought about it.’
‘But is there any reason why we shouldn’t? We’re both weird, we love each other, we’ve been together four years, now we’re in business together. It seems like a perfect moment to get married.’
‘I suppose it is.’ Francesca stood in thought for a moment. ‘ Yes, you’re right. I’d be delighted to marry you, Sunny.’
They kissed again. More time passed.
‘OK,’ said Sunny, ‘is there anything else we have to do here right now?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Then let’s go home and celebrate.’
Later that evening, Sunny and Francesca relaxed in their flat after a celebratory dinner including pasta puttanesca and prosciutto, with several glasses of wine.
‘It’s odd, you know,’ said Sunny.
‘A long time ago, Mr Snicket said to my mother –‘
‘Who’s Mr Snicket?’
‘If he’s Beatrice’s uncle he must be your uncle as well. She’s your sister.’
‘Beatrice’s biological uncle. She’s adopted, remember? Anyway, I’ve told you about him before. He’s a writer – he wrote that book about a despondent bird.’
‘Oh yes. Wait a moment – Beatrice’s uncle knew your mum?’
‘Yes, very well – they were engaged for a while. ’
‘Your family is weird,’ said Francesca decisively.
‘Your great-grandfather was a wizard who helped the bears take over Sicily.’
‘OK, I see your point. So, what did Mr Snicket say to your mum?’
‘He said he was afraid it would be quite some time before two women would be allowed to marry. I bet neither of them thought her daughter would marry a woman.’
‘But would she have been happy about it?
‘Yes, I think she would. She would have liked you, you know. It’s sad you never met her.’
‘Yes, I wish I could have. But you’re right; it is odd how things have changed since we were young.’
‘Pietrisycamollaviadelrechiotemexity,’ said Sunny. Somehow, Francesca understood her.
Some people say that when people like me have been diagnosed with a learning disability or difficulty, we carry the burden of having a curse. But what those surprisingly ignorant people don't realise is that it is God's greatest gift. Without dyspraxia, I wouldn't have a vast intelligence of snakes and other reptiles and I wouldn't be the herpetologist I am today – even if it means being anti-social and having unintelligible handwriting. The true curse we are forced to endure is the curse of bullies. As I sit here in the reptile room, where the cacophony of hisses, croaks, squawks and other animal noises blend together like a musical orchestra, I remember one particular incident that happened to a very shy young man I used to know many years ago.
It was a cold, miserable Monday atop the Mortmain Mountains and Kevin was relieved to see the first half of the school day finished. The army of students were let loose from their classroom and they marched down the narrow corridor to the cafeteria in order to receive their lunch, making horrendous noises as they went, sounding a lot like the herd of elephants I saw on one of my expeditions. Kevin felt nervous and intimidated – crowds and noise gave him sensory overload – and all he wanted was to sit someplace quiet, where he could enjoy his meal in peace. But luckily, the teacher had shown him a shortcut – for this was a gigantic building with countless long and winding corridors – so he was in the queue in no time at all. He got himself a tray and asked the friendly dinner lady for the roast beef option and a can of fizzy pop. Feeling somewhat happier, he plodded over to the other end of the hall, the tray feeling heavy in his hands as he struggled to hold it correctly.
On his own, he could watch the other students. He never really understood why he took so much pleasure out of seeing how people acted when they were with their friends. He felt calm when he saw a group of girls he vaguely knew giggling over a picture in a magazine and he felt included when he heard glimpses of three different conversations at the same time. So, like everyday, he began to tuck in, despite suffering from severe food issues. Carefully cutting the beef with his cutlery into edible sizes, he did this very slowly because he was not especially skilled at doing such a task, and he placed a small chunk of meat in his mouth. As chewed the horribly chewy food hard and vigorously, an uneasy feeling crept up on him, the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Slowly and dramatically, he turned around in his seat to see Olaf from his class and his gang of sniggering cronies.
" Olaf!" he gasped. " Leave me alone," he muttered and turned back around.
" I just wanted to sit with my bestest buddy in the whole, entire world!" he sneered, his alice blue eyes shining brightly.
" Leave me alone!" Kevin insisted.
" Ooh, what do you have there?" the bully continued, ignoring the poor boy's cries. " Roast beef, huh?"
" Mind if I have a bit?" asked Tony, the one in the dress, and before Kevin could give his permission, the gender confused boy picked up a piece with his filthy hand, contaminating the food with his germs. Kevin gulped nervously, now feeling terribly frightened.
" Go and enjoy your beef now," Olaf went on.
There was something going on and Kevin knew that. Olaf wasn't being nice for the sake of being nice; he was planning to do something cruel to him. Hesitantly, he sunk his fork into the beef and brought it to his mouth. He began to chew, his jaw bouncing up and down as it worked hard to break down the meat into smaller pieces. Olaf and his five friends let out howls of laughter, knocking their heads back as they banged their fists on the table. Holding back tears, Kevin mentally told himself that it wasn't his fault he was such a messy eater. He moved away from the gang of bullies, hoping they would leave.
" Go away!" he muttered.
" Hey, Kevin!" Maurice hooted, the light reflected in his naked head. " Eat with your mouth closed, OK?"
" Yeah, it's disgusting," cried Rae.
" No one wants to see your food churning around," her sister, Sue, added.
" You're such a freak. Baby need a bib?" their eldest sister, Peggy, mocked, sucking her thumb like the baby she'd accused Kevin of being.
" Go away!" he repeated.
" No," Tony answered, grinning smugly.
Kevin had had enough. He grabbed his tray and swiftly headed towards the toilets, the bullies closely following. Kevin hid in a cubicle, his heart racing, and he continued to nibble his lunch. But it wasn't long until Olaf, Maurice and Tony started banging on the door and throwing shredded paper over the top. Kevin heaved a miserable sigh and ignored them, still blatantly hoping they would eventually get bored and leave him alone. But that was the thing about Olaf. He never gave up.
" Leave me alone!"
" I think he's throwing up," he heard Tony whisper.
" Really? What makes you say that?" Maurice whispered back.
" Well, he's locked himself in the toilet with his lunch. You know how weird he is with food."
" Go away!" Kevin said, the tears welling up in his green eyes. He wanted to say something witty and clever to them but he never found the courage to do so, until years later when he'd already graduated.
A loud sudden boom made him leap out of his skin as Olaf started to kick down the door. Trapped inside like a fly in a Venus Flytrap, Kevin had no idea what to do. He thought of home and the comforting arms of his mother. He resented her choice to send him to this dreadful school. With every forceful kick, the lock began to lose resistance, making Kevin more and more upset and he sobbed. After a few more kicks, the door swung open and the three horrifically nasty boys screamed with laughter to find Kevin a blubbering mess on the urine-stained floor. As the boys advanced on him, he gave them (and himself) a surprise by picking himself up and dashing outside to get away. He didn't know where he was going; he didn't care. He needed to be somewhere he was safe from the wrath of the bullies.
Humming a merry tune, I plodded down the corridor in the Herpetology Department with a pile of paperwork in my hands. As a herpetologist who'd previously gone to this school, I felt it my duty to lend a hand in taking care of the animals that the students used in their lessons, so that was what I was doing at that precise moment. I didn't see Kevin until he crashed into me, sending the papers fluttering about all around us like A4-sized snowflakes.
" Watch where you're going!" I snapped in an annoyed tone.
The boy stood up and I noticed that he was crying. His eyes were bloodshot!
" Are you OK?" I asked, my voice dropping to a softer tone.
Kevin wiped his eyes on his sleeve, nodding as he nervously looked over his shoulder.
" You don't look OK," I continued. " What's your name, laddie?"
" Evan," he mumbled.
I'd heard that name mentioned before. He was notorious amongst the teachers – even the ones who didn't teach him – for having so much trouble with getting support for his severe dyspraxia. Being dyspraxic myself, I felt somewhat empathetic, despite not knowing him in person. A grin spread across my face. " I'm Monty," I told him kindly. " I hear you have a certain little friend called dyspraxia. Is that right?"
Kevin gave me a bewildered expression. " Uh, y-" he began, but stopped. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, annoyance hitting him hard as he tried to overcome his stammer. He nodded in the end.
" Guess what? I have it, too. Do you want to tell me what happened?"
At last, the young boy of sixteen smiled, sniffing bitterly, and opened his heart to anyone for the first time.
After hearing the despicable story of the incident, I escorted him to his teacher and told her about it. Olaf and his friends were severely punished and were each given an official warning. Seeing as he seemed to trust me – and Kevin rarely trusted people – the headmaster had me be his main caretaker when he was not in the classroom. That meant I took care of him while he ate his meals in the cafeteria and spent lonely weekends with him in his bedroom. I became his only friend, even though I was a member of staff rather than a student. Eventually, Kevin transferred to the Arts & Crafts Department and never had to deal with Olaf or the others again.
I feel proud to know that I was the cause of his newfound confidence, but I've not seen him in a long while. Who knows where he is now?