Storm Laney and the Map of Mischief

D of E wasn’t meant to end up like this, going at each other’s throats, lost in a thunder storm. It just sort of happened. The longer we walked, the worse the weather, and the more submerged we became in the unplottable Scottish countryside, the more submerged we became in the arguments that threatened to draw right over our heads. (Words: 2004)

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1. Chapter 1

 

“I think we’re lost,” says Ashley, quite clearly stating the obvious.

“No shit, Sherlock,” I respond, and all three pairs of eyes turn on me.

“Don’t take it out on Ash, you’re the navigator,” Katy jabs a finger in my chest.

“Last time I checked, I’m navigator because no one else could read a map.” I struggle to keep it steady in my hands, blown about by the sudden gusts of wind. And rain. There must be a storm coming. Typical Scottish weather.

“Yeah, well it turns out neither can you.” Katy snatches the map from me and studies it for a few seconds with squinting eyes, before handing it back.

“It’s not my fault,” I say as I battle with the damp paper in front of me. “We seem to be in a place that just doesn’t exist.” They all inch closer, hovering over me as I explain. “See this path here? That’s the path we followed when we got off the bus.” They nod in understanding, their eyes following my finger as it traces the lines of the surrounding mountains. “But see this?” I point to the expanse of water around us, and then back to the map. “It’s not on here.”

“So, what now?”

“We should pitch camp,” Marianna says, looking up at the murderous grey clouds above, “It’s getting dark.”

“I second that,” says Katy, followed by Ashley who seeks out a good spot between some trees.

“You coming?” Marianna asks, as she trudges through the muddy path to join them, her backpack heaved on her shoulders.

“I don’t know…” I shrug. At that moment, the heavens open and rain falls from the pitchy sky, accompanied by the rattle of thunder and lightning. The others shriek and take shelter, huddled together beneath the trees and their raincoats. I join them eventually, the map now hopelessly sodden as it dangles from my left hand.

The roar of thunder shakes the sky, and I am glad for once that we are lost; four screaming girls, taking shelter from rain beneath a tree but still soaking through, stranded in apparent nonexistence. But I’m not screaming because I’m afraid. I’m screaming because I’m angry and frustrated and everything that comes in between.

When the first bolt of lightning strikes, it makes me feel excited and alive. Maybe it is an obligatory characteristic for someone whose parents were foolish enough to name their daughter Storm. I feel charged, rebellious, powerful. I wish I could say the same about my teammates.

The worst of the storm dies down and we continue setting up our tents. Or rather, they set up our tents, and I stand around watching.

“Can you please make yourself useful, for once?” Katy barks.

 “I still don’t think this is a good idea,” I say.

“Yeah, no one asked for your opinion,” she snaps back.

“Stop being a bitch!”

“I’m not being a bitch,” she says, “Do you think I want to be out here camping with whoknowswhat? If it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have gotten lost, and we’d have made it back by now!"

“And who’s idea was it to come on this stupid D of E thing?” I say, “Yours.”

“This isn’t my fucking fault!” She’s yelling at me now.

“It’s not mine either!” I yell back, louder, right in her face.

“Guys, stop!” Ashley cries, dashing between us before we can kill each other.

For a while we just stare at one another. Then Katy spits at me, “I’m not sharing a tent with her.” She walks off and finishes assembling the second tent.

“This is supposed to be a group task,” Marianna sighs.

I can’t help myself, “Well, someone doesn’t know the rules of teamwork.”

“Fuck you, Storm,” Katy’s voice trails from the tent.

“She’s right you know,” Ashley says.

“What?”

“If you didn’t get us lost, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

“Are you serious!?” I say, tears welling up in my eyes. I’m still holding onto the map which makes me even angrier, and I let the tears fall. “You know what? Screw you all, and screw this fucking map.” I tear it to soggy pieces and let the wind carry it away before I turn my back on them. To where? I don’t know. I just need to get away from these ‘friends’ of mine.

“I guess you could say she Stormed off,” Marianna says, when I’m out of sight but still within hearing distance.

No one laughs.

 

The rain throws me daggers as I barge through the darkness, past caring about navigating my footsteps.

“Storm!”

God, it’s like they want to re-enact some cheesy movie where we fight, split, and then bandage ourselves back together. I’m still fuming so I keep walking, head down against the hailstones. Maybe if I let enough hit me they’ll cool my broiling thoughts.

It’s weird how you can still trace footsteps in thunderstorms. I hear them following me the way that panic dogs the dying and then the beam of their flashlight joins my own.

“Storm!” Marianna’s voice.

“Please come back!” Ashley’s voice joins Marianna’s, I’m bizarrely satisfied that Katy hasn’t come with them. Their fear irritates me because it infects me and, of all the things I hate myself for, fear is the least forgivable.

Looking behind to see how far they are, I stumble over something and drop my torch. I swear noiselessly at the apathetic darkness before stooping to retrieve the flashlight. Instead of the obstructive rock I was expecting, I find a sheet of rusted metal that reads ‘CONSTRUCTION SITE. DANGER OF DEATH.’

It is then that I notice that the path has petered out beneath my feet. My way is laced with black netting, violent yellow signs, and a web of red and white striped tape. Apparently I have emerged from non-existence into some sort of civilisation. It looks dead, but maybe the night-time turns everything to gravestones.

I don’t know why I do it, since signs and tape aren’t installed to welcome people in. Danger, they try to ward me off. But danger is behind us, danger is around us, danger is inside us. There is nothing in front of me that can be more dangerous than the ruptured group behind.

I force the bands of tape upwards and crawl beneath into the unknown. It is like sinking through hot air. Thick air. Like the pockets of humidity that get caught between double doors.

 

“Are you OK? Where did you come from?”

I look up, startled, at the sound of a new voice. A figure melts out of the haze, about 20 yards away. I pull myself to my feet and find, disconcertingly, that all the barricades seem to have disappeared. My eyes drift back to the approaching figure.

A builder? He looks reasonably young, perhaps seventeen, and, as he turns to me, his scarred face wrinkles into a frown which prematurely ages him. There’s more lightening behind him in the distance; green lightening, and a shoot of red which illuminates the gashes on his face.

Isn’t there any health and safety on this building site? It looks like someone has sharpened a knife on him.

“Who are you? What side are you on? Where did you come from?” He fires the questions with one arm outstretched and a stick pointed at my face.

“Storm Laney,” I say in confusion. “I’m Storm Laney and I’m not going to do anything to you. I need you to help… I – Um – I’m not sure where-” I try to push the stick aside; it is smooth under my fingers as though it’s been polished. “What the-?” I breathe and then, “Who are you?”

“Neville Longbottom,” he answers quickly, “But serious-”

“Seriously?!” I ask, an incredulous smile emerging on my face. Smiling surprises me a little, I’d forgotten how easy it was to smile. “That’s crazy, that’s – that’s awesome,” I say in disbelief. I let myself forget, just for a second, why I am talking to him and how desperately I need him to point me towards the nearest hotel.

“What?”

“Well, it must be cool to have a book with your name in it.”

“I do?”

“You mean you haven’t read Harry Potter?” His forehead creases alarmingly at this but I plough on. “You know, Harry Potter and the Philosopher ’s stone – it came out recently, it’s really popular.”

“Well I know Harry Potter, I mean, the Harry Potter; who doesn’t know Harry Potter? Wait you… you said something about the philological stone that-”

“Next you’re going to tell me you go to Hogwarts,” I joke, a little put off by his obvious confusion and incessant frowning – perhaps he, like the fictional character, is a little slow.

“Well yes,” he says unexpectedly. “Of course I do, I mean, that’s where we are – who – who are you?”

“It’s a joke, right?”

“Who are you?”

“I said, Storm Lane-”

“No, what are you? Where are you from?”

“Well last time I checked I was a 16-year-old human being,” I say coldly; no one has ever asked me what I am before. Then I force myself to remember that it doesn’t matter what he calls me or who he is – in fact, this whole conversation is kind of irrelevant. I start to blurt out my story pleading for his aid: “I was with my friends on D of E and we – we, well, we got lost and we split up – well, I split from them… and then I saw danger signs – you know, like, for a building site – and then – well, I’m here…”

“What?” He asks, concern bleeding into the cracks in his face. “So how did you get here?”

“I don’t know – I mean, I went under the tape…” I trail off. “It’s a joke right?” I repeat. “I mean, you – you’re eleven…”

“I am Neville Longbottom, age seventeen, I am a friend of Harry Potter who, when he was 11, stopped You-Know-Who from getting the philological – whatever – stone. Now Harry’s come back and we’re fighting and we…” He runs his hand through his hair, perplexed. “How did you say? – a book? Does this mean the fighting has damaged the protective enchantments or something – you’re a muggle – how did you get in?”

 “I don’t know how, I just went under the tape,” I say impatiently. I want a proper explanation myself – I have no idea what happened or how. “AND I NEED YOU TO TELL ME HOW I CAN GET OUT OF THIS PLACE.” I shout the words at him in the hope that they’ll shake him the way I long to.

“This isn’t really the most convenient time for giving directions. This is a war.”

“Where’s the army then?” An uncomfortable silence falls. “So this is a wand?” I ask eventually, gesturing at the polished stick in his outstretched arm.

“Well yes,” he says as though it is obvious. “Last one Olivander sold,” he adds and I detect a glimmer of pride in the gloom.

“Olivander’s dead?” I ask recalling the wand maker who unsettled Harry a little. I can’t bring myself to be upset; he’s still just a construction of ink as far as I’m concerned, despite the evidence before me.

“No. Maybe. Well, You-Know-Who took him. Luna reckons he’s still alive but you can never really know with Luna…” He goes back to staring at me, perplexed, I wish he wouldn’t. I wish he would do something productive.

“I suppose it would be best to take you to the castle,” he says slowly. “But no, because that’s where it’s all based,” he shakes his head as though deeply troubled.

“Where what’s all based?” I ask tentatively

“The fighting; the Death Eaters-”

 “The whats?”

 “You-Know-Who’s supporters, they’re killing ‘til they get Harry.”

 “What?” It’s horrifying; it’s repulsive yet fascinating at the same time. A story I thought I knew has reared out of its pages – only I am six years behind and have apparently missed six years of intense and exciting plot line.

 

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