This was an experiment I conducted. I started the thread of a story and asked people to take it forward. The experiment led to some very satisfactory conclusions. One, it revealed that anyone can write and two, experimentaion can lead you to some unexpected and interesting places.
The beginning thread I gave was as follows:
The scruffy man seemed to be following her! Anna was suddenly afraid. She quickened her step but so did the man! He was definitely following her. Anna was passing through a crowded marketplace, so, for the time being she was safe. However, soon she would enter a secluded lane just before her house. What then?
She arrived at the beginning of the deserted lane and looked over her shoulder apprehensively. The man was still there, fifty paces behind her! She looked around desperately for help but there was no one around. Too scared to look behind her, Anna broke into a run. To her horror, she heard running footfalls behind her. The man was giving chase!
Her heart pounding, Anna ran harder hoping to clear the lane before the ragamuffin caught up with her. There were another fifty metres to go and already her lungs were bursting. Would she make it before he overtook her? Desperately she looked over her shoulder.
As he approached, Anna burst out with laughter. This man was her neighbour when she was young. He was about 5 years older than her, and always seem to prefer the quiet of his room. All the children would be playing outside, yet that boy would sit in his room, staring at them from outside the window.
Still, why would he pursue her now? They were nice to each other at a young age, but no real conversation ever ensued. They were never friends. So why did he hunt her down, dressed up all conspicuously, after her best friend Clarissa’s wedding? Who, by the way, also lived on their street; whom the scruffy man had hated so much as a child. Something wasn’t right. She had only laughed because of the sense of familiarity she felt, and the ridiculousness of being scared. Now, a new feeling came over her. A feeling of…
Rachel: …a feeling of concern…
The scruffy man opened his mouth but it was not understandable. Anna could make out two words: Terrible, happened. She clutched her heart, staring wildly at the man.
He sighed sadly. Seeing the look on his face, the nausea took over her. Anna collapsed.
“I don’t know… about a half an hour ago, I think. But why are you asking me this? It’s like you didn’t know…
Anna sat up, her headache forgotten for the moment. Shock and fear replaced the pain. “Clarissa, you’re seriously freaking me out here. What’s going on? Is there something wrong with me?”
Clarissa sat down on the bed. Clarissa gently stroked her best friend’s hair. The smile she gave Anna was pained, the look of someone trying desperately to convince a dying patient that everything would be fine. When it wouldn’t. It never would.
“You’re not sick. Not exactly. But you’ve been having… episodes. That’s why you’ve been staying here with me and Ben.”
“Episodes? What kind of episodes?”
“You’ve been…shifting back and forth in time. Literally. One minute you’re here, the next minute you’re somewhere…sometime…different.”
Anna shook her hair free of Clarissa’s hands. Her cheeks bloomed red, her hands tightened into fists.
“You’re shitting me, right? You actually expect me to believe that I—”
“—time travel. It’s true what Clarissa’s telling you. Every word.” Ben entered the room. He looked straight into his sister’s face, held her fearful gaze. “Where did you go…just now? Can you remember?”
Stu R: The voices faded, and Anna found herself walking a wooded trail amidst a steady drizzle of rain. She was carrying a good-sized bucket in her left hand—a bucket half-filled with moist grass and leaves, twigs of various sizes, and a good quantity of moss. Appearing and disappearing amidst this loosely contained foliage were salamanders of various sizes. They always came out in the rain and Anna was looking to add to her collection that she kept in a 50-gallon tank in her bedroom. Everything seemed right with the world, but at the same time, everything seemed curiously wrong.
The woods were eerily quiet. This by itself wasn’t strange since the woods were supposed to be quiet. But that day there was a disturbing quality to the quiet. Anna tried to figure out what it was. And then she knew. It was as though the hum of the world had stopped!
Gripped by an unknown fear, Anna rushed forward blindly, stumbling over vines hugging the ground. At last she came into a small clearing and looked around wildly. For something. Anything.
And there, sitting on a rock, with his back to her was a man. Anna laughed weakly. For a moment back there she had thought that the world had come to an end. She now berated herself for being fanciful.
Shaking her head, she approached the man. “Hey there!” she called out in greeting.
The man turned around and, to her intense shock Anna realised he was the same scruffy man who had chased her down the alley. Her neighbour.
And as Anna gaped he proclaimed grimly, “Something terrible has happened. You are too late.”
Stu R : She was seemingly drifting in and out a trance. Someone was shaking her and in the far-off distance Anna heard a voice. “…something terrible has happened. Anna! Wake up. Snap out of it! Something terrible has happened.”
Her mind-fog was clearing and she realized that it was Ben who was shaking her and talking to her. Anna sat erect as Ben held her shoulders for support. She was unsteady, almost feverish with dizziness. “Ben, tell me what’s going on; I’m scared. What do you mean something terrible has happened? What are you talking about?”
Ben spoke in the low and restrained tones of disbelief and dread. “It’s Clarissa. She’s gone! Just like that. One minute she was here, the next minute she was gone! I think it has something to do with whatever it is you’re going through. She’s gone Anna. I can’t believe it. She’s gone.”
A vague memory flashed in Anna’s consciousness. It was the scruffy man in the woods and he was saying, “Something terrible has happened. You are too late.”
“Ben,” she gasped. “What if she could travel through time as well?”
He scrutinized her carefully. “I’m not sure. I wish I could answer your questions, but I am just as clueless as you.”
They sat in silence for a time that felt like hours. Anna felt the absence of living things. There were no birds singing the melody of nature, no crickets chirping the rhythm. Everything felt so wrong, so blank here in the woods. And the stillness lagged on.
It was Ben who broke the silence. “Do you think you can control where and when you can travel to?”
Anna froze. Clarissa! Her mind blurred and she was falling. Only this time, Ben was next to her, holding her hand, falling with her into a different time and place…
Rachel: They tumbled and fell through a fog of haziness. Anna’s mind tried to comprehend the feeling but nothing registered.
Finally, after a few seconds that felt like forever, they landed, not roughly like Anna had expected, but lightly on the leaf-strewn floor.
“What happened?” Ben asked as he looked around the lightly wooded autumn forest.
“I think we travelled in time again,” Anna said not really thinking about what she was saying. She was still trying to register what had happened.
“Why am I with you?” Ben asked looking hard at Anna. She didn’t respond right away, just looked at her left hand.
“You were holding my hand.” She replied finally.
“I’m not sure, but sitting here might not be the best choice.” Anna replied shifting positions from her butt to her knees, preparing to get up.
“You’re probably right.” Ben agreed quickly scrambling to his feet. “Which way should we go?” Ben asked turning around to look at the forest in all directions.
“North?” Anna asked.
“Sounds good to me.” Ben examined the closest tree and determined that North was to the right.
The seconds turned to minutes as they walked along trying not to make a sound. Anna looked to right as she heard the sound of footsteps, but there was nothing to see except for autumn trees and fallen leaves. She walked a little closer to Ben.
Anna looked to the right, but she saw nothing. She dismissed it as her nervous mind playing tricks on her and walked next to Ben in silence. Suddenly the footsteps were heard again, and Ben and Anna both turned to look to the right.
To their horror a huge brown grizzly bear with flashing white teeth and paws and claws the size of a dinner plate stood there looking at them hungrily. Anna’s jaw dropped as she backed into Ben, but he wasn’t stationary either. He too was slowly backing away. A bear can outrun a horse at full speed, and running would only guarantee the fact that he would chase them. So running wasn’t an option.
“What do we do?” Anna whispered.
“I don’t know!” Ben whispered back nervously.
None of the trees had low branches so they couldn’t climb a tree. Suddenly Ben’s back banged into a tree, they could back up no further without going around the huge red-brown tree.
“Why are you so scared? He’s just my pet, Rodonei.”
A young boy that couldn’t be any older than ten walked up from to the right, slightly behind the grizzly bear. When he was close enough the boy kindly stroked the bear’s flanks. He wasn’t wearing much, just enough to cover himself.
The young boy smiled and looked back at Ben and Anna, whose jaws had fallen open even wider. “Why are you dressed so strangely?” The young boy asked.
DragonRider: “Well, um…,” said Ben, who was just as shocked at the sight of a boy in a loin cloth as the boy obviously was to see such strangely clothed figures in his forest.
Anna cut him off. “We’re not from around here. We are sort of lost. Could you tell us where we are?”
The young boy laughed and sat down. The bear sat beside him and started nuzzling his back like a giant cat. “You are in the lands of the tribe of Kanoke.”
“Right,’ mumbled Ben “and unicorns still go around rescuing maidens.”
The boy apparently had good hearing, because he said, “You should not insult the winged ones so. The live up in the mountains and have better things to do than chase maidens. That is a fathers’ job. You must be VERY lost. Maybe the unicorns will know where you belong. Come. I will show you the way in the morning, but it is getting late. First, we will eat and rest. Then, I will take you to the mountains of the unicorns.”
Ben and Anna followed the boy. They didn’t seem to have any choice. Anna began to wonder if this really was another time, whether the boy was a nutcase, or whether SHE was the nutcase. Unicorns couldn’t really exist, right? But just as she thought that, the scene began to fade. She tried to grab for Ben, but it was too late…
MildlyEntertaining: Ben stared blankly at the spot where Anna had just been. Then he realized that the boy was still moving without him, so ran to catch up. It seemed as if the boy was his only hope now.
After a few minutes they reached an opening in the woods. There a village fit snugly into a valley.
“Welcome to the Kanoke village,” the boy said, laughing at the look of wonder on Ben’s face. There were small huts all around, and children dressed like Ben ran all around.
“Who are you?” the man asked. Ben wondered whether he should tell the man his true identity.
“Ah, Ben. I have heard of someone named that,” the man stared suspiciously. “Now can you answer me one question? The Ben that I have heard of, he could do special things. So…have you ever somehow gone from one place to another?”
The man’s voice was soft and mesmerizing, making Ben nod and believe that maybe the mysterious leader can help. “My friend actually, she can take me sometimes.”
The man’s face turned from the curious look to the coldest, whitest look Ben has ever seen. He nodded and clapped his hands sharply two times. Two burly looking men stepped from thin air and grabbed Ben by both elbows.
“What?” He yelled. “No!”
The men lead him to a large bonfire, passing by countless villagers. They stared and whispered. The boy with the bear gaped in horror. But Ben did not see any of that. He could only stare at his feet, leaving prints on the muddy ground.
When Ben looked up, the leader was suddenly there. His eyes seemed even darker with the sun directly behind him.
“We must destroy those who come in our way,” he said coldly. “And you say there is another one? A female time traveller?”
Ben swallowed and shook his head. No, he would not answer. It was bad enough he would die, but Anna?
“Clearly you will not answer,” the man continued, his voice like darts flying out at the cool air. “But I already know.”
He clapped his hands and the men holding him pushed in forward. The man vanished and a great blazing fire danced mesmerizingly at him.
Then someone pulled him through the ground. Ben could hear the leader of Kanoke screaming in anguish.
The scene changed. He was in a blazing hot desert but it didn’t matter. Anna was there…
“Well, I was about to follow the boy and his bear when everything faded, I tried to grab you but…I didn’t have enough time.” Anna said sheepishly.
“Where did you go?” Ben asked kneeling down to touch the scorching hot desert sand.
“I saw Clarissa, she’s in the mountains of Renido, according to the chipmunk.” Anna said, realizing how odd that sounded. Ben stopped looking at the sand and stared hard at Anna.
“Well I was about to run down to go and do, I don’t know, something, anything to try and rescue her when Rike stopped me. He told me all about the Odino who are holding Clarissa captive. Rike said I would need a planned attack in order to get passed all the guards and rescue Clarissa without getting killed.” Anna said gloomily.
“Great, so what do the Odino want with her?” Ben asked, wondering if he wanted to know the answer.
“How beautiful.” Ben stated, looking around the desert. “Anna I don’t usually tell people what to do but you need to learn how to control your time travelling so we can save Clarissa before they sacrifice her.” Ben stated.
Anna didn’t admit it, but Ben was right. She knew Ben was right.
“Ok, but I think before we do anything we need to figure out a place to get food and water.” Anna said, taking charge.
“Ben I can’t go on anymore!” Anna cried after hours of walking.
“Just a little further, we’ll find water soon.” Ben called back from a few feet ahead of her.
They continued until Anna collapsed with fatigue. Ben stood there for a few seconds, since he was ahead of her, thinking about the job that lay ahead of him. He trudged back to Anna and picked her up, she was a small person, but with Ben a tired as he was, carrying her was like carrying an elephant.
Ben carried Anna for about an hour, he was about to give up when he saw a palm tree.
“Water,” Ben muttered excitedly, suddenly his strength returned as he walked faster to get to the tree.
Every step was murder, but the thought of water was better than he could imagine. He climbed to the top of a sand dune and there below him was a lagoon of water and a few plants. Just in the middle of nowhere, sand and yellow dunes all around and suddenly there were palm trees and water.
“At least an hour,” Ben stated rubbing his sore arms.
“Thank you Ben,” she said with a smile.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, “Now what do we do?”
“We practice after we eat the fallen coconuts.” Ben corrected.
They had worked for an hour finding and building the fort, and they had just finished eating their coconuts.
“Well…” Ben stated leaning back in the cool sand, the sun was starting to set. Anna nodded as she focused on the salamander woods again. Ben reached for her hand as Anna continued to focus. The air seemed to feel different, she opened her eyes and they were sitting in the salamander forest. She smiled and looked to Ben, he was looking at her with a sly smile.
“Good, try going back to the desert.” Ben said.
Anna had been thinking the same thing. She closed her eyes and focused on the desert, at the feeling of sand on her hand she opened her eyes. They were sitting just outside the fort. Anna pursed her lips in thought, why were they outside the fort when she had wanted to be in the fort? Ben didn’t say anything, just let her think it out. She focused on being in the fort, she opened her eyes at the sound of a light breeze rustling the palm leaves. They were back in the fort.
“Well, I guess I can control it. To an extent,” Anna said.
“No, they aren’t going to sacrifice her for three days, and we need our rest.”
“And you know this because of the chipmunk.”
“Ben?” She croaked.
“Yeah?” Ben rolled over.
“I have some questions. I hope you can answer them.”
“Okay.” He smiled tiredly.
“So, where is Rick?” She asked, her eyebrows narrowing. Rick was Clarissa’s husband.
Ben froze. He hasn’t thought of the tall blond man since the wedding. Thoughts of their current, dangerous state clouded his mind. And something else…Anna…he couldn’t stop thinking of her lovely face.
He shook his head to show that he did not know and to get rid of the thoughts. “I don’t think he is involved in this time travelling…thing. But I would hope that he is looking for her.”
Ben managed a chuckled, but it was more like a sigh of despair.
It seemed like Anna could sense his frustration. She smiled sadly and changed the subject.
“Let’s get practicing,” she said. “So where do you want to go? I’ll try to get there.”
“Okay,” he forced a smile back. And he began to think.
Smita: “Ben!” Anna interrupted, as a thought struck her, “what if we’re too late?”
Ben stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Late for what?”
“What if that scruffy man….”
“Can we stop calling him ‘that scruffy man’? He has a name you know.”
“Fine. What if Steve,” Anna emphasised his name for good effect, “was talking about Clarissa? What if we are too late to save her?”
Ben laughed. “And how would he know?”
“Maybe he…” Anna stopped.
“Let me guess. Maybe he time travelled ahead of us and already saw the outcome right?”
“Well,” Anna began, feeling foolish.
But Ben wasn’t done. “Guess what, everyone in our neighbourhood can time travel!”
“It can happen!” Anna snapped heatedly.
“I don’t know. Maybe the energies in the place are different. Maybe our neighbourhood…”
“… is a portal,” Ben finished, now completely sober.
They both lapsed into despondent silence. What if Steve was right and they were too late? The thought didn’t bear thinking about.
“Ben?” Anna said after a while.
“What should we do?”
Ben sighed. “I don’t know. But I do know what we shouldn’t do. And that is waste precious time.”
“But what can we do?” Anna cried helplessly.
“For starters, we can find Steve and ask him what he meant.”
“Don’t bother,” A third voice said.
Ben and Anna turned to look. Rick!
“Steve’s dead!” Rick said grimly, stepping forward.
Rachel: “What do you mean he’s dead?!” Anna demanded.
“That would work if Clarissa wasn’t already dead.” Rick relied looking to the ground again.
“What about saving her?” Anna asked, like she almost knew Rick was hiding something.
Rick took a deep breath and looked regretfully at Anna and took a glance at Ben who didn’t look up.
“Rick, she’s your wife, my best friend and Ben’s sister, we can save her, if you know how.” Anna said as Rick stood up ready to walk away.
“I know Anna, it’s just…” Rick started emotion in his voice. Anna and Ben waited patiently, knowing he would say on his own terms what he meant. “Anna if you go…you’ll die.” Rick replied finally.
“I can’t what? Make my own decisions in life?” Anna replied slyly.
Rick let her go. Ben had been sitting on the floor trying to process all the information.
“What’s the worst that could happen? Things turn out the way they are and Clarissa dies, or I change history and I die and she lives? What if I totally change history and we all live?” Anna said calmly looking into Rick’s vivid blue eyes. Rick looked away, still holding Anna’s shoulders as he blocked the entrance. “Let me try Rick.” Anna said softly after a few minutes.
“He was dying when he tried to time travel. He was probably trying to get back to earth, but by not having full concentration he died in Salmontra.” Anna nodded, although Rick couldn’t see her, it was so dark that nothing but the stars above could be seen. “You need your rest Anna, if you’re tired you won’t be able to time travel perfectly, and that could mean the difference between life and death.” Rick said.