Pipe Dreams

Xinhua China

Photo © 艾斌  via Google Photosphere

I skirt the village, my excuse readied. Nobody cares. Just weird Boala doing weird things.

Alone, I play my made-up songs, where nobody can say they’re nontraditional and wrong.

Finally reaching Jantara House, I sneak in, wary of witnesses. Jantara is forbidden. Haunted, they say. Evil magic.

But it grants your dreams, others say.

Jantara is rickety outside, dusty inside. I beg for success. Beautiful Harona. If she loved me, everyone else would. Blacksmithing skills, enough to please my father.

Kaleidoscopic images shimmer like warped reflections, disappear. A tiny person hangs midair, like a cocoon. “What do you really want, Boala?”

I flounder. If not acceptance, what?

“Ah, adventure.”

Wild visions churn, throbbing in my ears and chest.


Outside, I’m dazed, struggling to recall specifics. Nothing. Wasted time.

Walking home, my heart shifts: this whole village wastes my time. I’ll leave. Tomorrow.

Somewhere out there, others will appreciate my tune.

Word count: 150. Written for this week’s What Pegman Saw prompt. Thanks as always to Josh and Karen for hosting this fun flash fiction challenge! This week, Pegman takes us to Xinhua China, which has many more Google images than I might have expected; it was fun to explore. Click on the link above to see what images the other participants found, and read the stories those images inspired. And as always, feel free to join in — everyone’s welcome!

The title made slightly more sense in an earlier version, where it was hinted that Boala had created his own clay mouth-pipe that made slightly different sounds than the traditional ones of his isolated subculture. I also had many more ideas about the kaleidoscopic experiences he had inside the house than I had word count to explore them in. I trust my readers can fill in the gaps with their own fertile imaginations.


18 thoughts on “Pipe Dreams

  1. Interesting set up. Boala wants their tune appreciated which drives the desire for acceptance. But then in being pressed, they ask for adventure! Oh ho! I think leaving the village is going to take this character on a journey that could be more than they expect.

    Maybe the experiences will be the seeds from which deeper tunes bloom? Will Boala then learn at the end that the music is appreciated not because the artist is accepted, but rather they have something substantial to say driven by experience? (I take it that Boala has never gotten out of their little town? He/she needs real life to happen to them yet?)

    I love how at the end, after Boala’s wish, he/she is still confused. To me that shows their inexperience in the world. Not a fault, but rather the journey we all follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment — I can always count on you, Louis! So of course, in reply to your long comment, a long response… First off: I only now realize that I didn’t specify what gender I was thinking of Boala as, so of course they could be either. But I was thinking male, so I’m going to use “he” pronouns. I’m also fascinated by the direction you went with the story, especially the ways it’s not quite what I was thinking. Maybe if I’d had more words to work with, I could have been more clear about certain things, or maybe I would have just added more things that were confusing!

      One thing to note is that it’s the magic creature inside the house who says, “Ah, adventure” — not Boala. I was hoping the alternation of lines would help there. So the idea is that Boala is desperately wishing for those things that will make him fit in here, in his little village: something to please his father and make him proud, the affections of the beautiful and popular girl, whose loyalty would bring around all those other villagers who just think he’s weird. I was imagining a number of ways he didn’t fit in, with the fact that he writes his own unusual music — rather than play and sing only the traditional, acceptable songs — only one of his oddball traits. But the magic creature inside the house realizes that what he really needs is not to change himself so he’ll be accepted in this “small pond”, but to go see the wider world, where he’s more likely to find people who appreciate him for who he really is.

      When he leaves the house, he can’t remember what happened inside it (an earlier version of the story hinted that nobody could tell a clear story of their experiences inside). But he has this new idea springing up inside him: that’s it, forget these people, I’m getting out of here! Which is exactly how the magic helped him attain the dream that he didn’t even know he had, for adventure (and eventually, for acceptance among people more like himself). Anyway, that’s how I was thinking of it, but it could go so many other ways too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joy, thank you for providing the detail and correcting my misconceptions. I love your stories but yes, staying within a defined word count always introduces the chance of elements being missed.
        I definitely misunderstood who introduced the idea of adventure. So the magical creatures…. Okay, that twists the story a bit, but I like it. The creature then prods him in the right direction…
        I love how you explained that his desire for acceptance of his music is due to his small town being so insular. They follow what has gone before… That makes sense. Getting out into the greater world doesn’t just introduce new experiences to Boala, but places him with folks that have seen more themselves, they would be more open to a new voice. Reminds me of stories of real life where I read of artists heading to Paris to explore the limits to their art. Hanging out with others also trying to push the boundaries.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I was definitely aiming for a different twist, although I feel readers should be able to interpret however they like, too. I was drawing on my own less extreme experience of growing up in a small town, which by their nature tend to be conservative: a small group of people doing things the same way for generations. So if you’re a kid like Boala who hears the beat of a different drum, the very community that feels supportive to everyone else is instead judgemental and dismissive. And everyone wants to be accepted and loved for who they are! So it’s natural for Boala to wish for what he thinks will ingratiate him to his fellow villagers. But as you say, like the artists who headed to Paris to find their kindred spirits, I think Boala will be happier if he ventures outside these cozy bounds and finds others who will embrace his eccentricities. Thanks as always for taking the time to think about and discuss these issues, Louis!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a splendidly imaginative story! I love the way Boala thinks he knows what he wants, but has his real dream made clear to him by the ‘magic’. And then he’s away, taking he initiative to find an audience. Your story expresses some human truths is a very encouraging way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, exactly Penny! Now he has a new dream, a new idea of what to pursue. It’s hard to get really deep with theme or symbolism in these tiny stories, but it’s basically a “marching to the beat of his own drum” idea.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the way Boala’s dreams are answered, not really by an encounter from outside himself, but by a change of heart within. Feels like a real way to solve a problem, the cunning way that fairy tales often deal with issues – unexpectedly. Lovely language used here too, Joy.

    Liked by 2 people

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