The Blueprint is The Oxford Blue’s arts publication. It showcases creative work in a range of artistic media, providing a space to share thoughts, stories and personal experiences.

Issue No. 10 – Fantasy

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory.

J.R.R. Tolkien

As 2021 ends and 2022 begins, we wanted to think about different ideas of fantasy. From elves and fairies and magical quests, to dreams of a new version of yourself, humans spend a lot of time daydreaming. This issue focuses on different kinds of fantasies, and how they touch every aspect of our lives, from the fairy-tales we hear as children to the stories we tell ourselves when we’re all grown up.

Emily Broughton

The Woods are Lovely – Julia-Hetta Johnson

There are some things best left undisturbed in these dark woods, they warn their children. Do not stray far from the path where the woods grow tangled, boughs entwining with themselves, where light struggles to cast its illuminating glow and where darkness gathers thick and viscous all around. The woods are lovely, they warn, but they are fickle; they can be kind, they can be cruel. 

Still, they come. Their footfalls light with apprehension on the thicket floor, twigs groaning and breaking beneath their boots. They pick their way through shrub and branch alike and the forest breathes in, letting them pass, breathes out and twists, turning to watch as they go, anticipation bloating the air. Breaths shallow, eyes wide, pungent with fear. In their paranoia, they hardly notice how the woods cling to them as they go, scratching at clothes and skin, hungry. In the dark, a million eyes are watching them, burning into their backs; they don’t feel the glare of the one that counts the most. They venture deeper— blind, naïve—hopeful that I may grant their wishes, wary that I may not. 

There is a woman in the woods, they whisper by candlelight when shadows warp and play tricks, although so long she has dwelled there, some say she is barely a woman at all. Her fingers are knotty branches, her shoes a bed of moss; mushrooms flower from her shoulders, and her breath smells of forest rot. Her hair is one with the leaves, her dress a blossoming of crumbling flowers, and her eyes glow in the darkness, they say she radiates a particular power. 

She is the one to search for when the woods swallow you whole. She is the one to make your offerings to when life grows harder than you can bear and misfortune weighs on you, a beast upon your back. 

Life, you should know, is as fickle as the forest and far crueller. And so they come and continue to come, generation after generation, young and old, heedless to the fates of their forefathers. Some never find me, the forest things find them first and so they stay forever, feeding the earth, food for flowers. Some see sense and turn back, seeking light and air. And those that find me make their offerings; berries and bones and beautiful, broken things. Sometimes they plead, sometimes they wait and wait and wait. 

And, sometimes, I answer.

Because, for all of their hopes of higher powers and cosmic wishes, it is me with the power to grant or refuse, to give or take, me alone. The people come and go, but the taste of desperation is just the same, just as sweet and, really, how different are they from the one before them? 

Only I remain, biding my time, collecting their wishes and dreams, cloaked in these dark and lovely woods. 

Emily Broughton

Before Waking I Dream – Emily Broughton

Not sleeping or waking
But in a dream between
Phasing in and out
	Solid and liquid
No laws apply here 

The body sinking
Entombed deep in slumber
The mind soaring 
Through worlds, kingdoms, planets

Atoms drift at night, parting
The corporeal lighter
	  Fit for flying
As celestial stars solidify
Freezing in place

                                                    (But there must be a landing)

Once the dead had coverings
Bands of cotton
         Wrapped tight
         Limbs bound
And now I burrow my way out

Peeling swathes 
                       like skin
                                    From closed eyes
Emily Broughton

Collection – Lauren Aitken

My Papa smiled the day I caught my first fairy, and pinned it on the wall in between the red admiral and holly blue. Its bony legs had bent slightly where they had broken in my net. It wore a scrap of a dress. We ate steak pie at dinner.

Later came winter, when the garden-dwelling folk hunker down. They eat small worms and the flowers they collected (and dried, and pressed) in summer, and barely rise except to retreat further into shedding bushes. In this season, their green and brown eyes take on a dullish tone, lit only by a fatiguing sun. Long hours are spent brushing each other’s hair. They stare at the fire within my house, and at the butterfly wall.

Emily and Michael at school wouldn’t think I know this. They call me killer; they think this makes me ignorant. Yet Emily wears plaits and is always looking up – at the sun, trees, whatever. Like water in a brook, she is always jumping over some stone or another. She cannot have watched fairies the way I have: tummy in dirt, hands unmoving, eyes locked. 

It is how I catch all the butterflies, and the fairy too. They see in me a friend, first.

When Papa fell over, his body was too heavy for me to move, so I had to let him lie there. His legs and arms and cheeks shriveled, his eyes became too big for his face. He says he didn’t die when he fell, but I stare at his edges anyway to see if they dissolve into air, as ghosts are said to do. For me, his last moments were when he was choking for air in the kitchen, all those months ago, when I watched as he crumpled and began to decompose.

Spring comes, and the world becomes wetter. The mud is warm as I nuzzle my cheek into it. This is when the folk have their young, when they whelp tiny sprawling things that yawn out for breasts. I find a perfect cabbage white and watching it sink in the killing jar makes me think of Papa, still sagging.

When Papa dies I am not sad because I cried for him when he died the first time.

But one child cannot live alone in a house and suddenly I am struck blind with the fear that I will be taken away and that the butterfly wall will be taken away too like how they took Papa away and burnt him in a big chimney. At school I shout and swear at things and people and I hit Michael but I am too short to reach his nose.

In the dead of night I sneak to the butterfly wall. Feverish, I take down the fairy, her beautiful wings. I bury her near her friends, in a primrose bush. 

I wish that I could be a fairy, that someone would give me wings to fly and bury me in the dirt when I die.

Emily Broughton

I Wish We Never Met – Lily Down

I dreamed of waking up each morning, without your presence in the flat. You weren’t cooking in the kitchen, sitting at the table watching clips of some American late night show on YouTube, taking notes in your mind on current affairs to show off later at some party about how cultured and intelligent you were.

You weren’t in the hall, putting on one of the dozens of blazers you thought made you seem interesting, on the way to some dinner or internship or meeting that I never knew about until you told me days later, pleased with yourself for how well you could hold yourself apart from me. You practised everything because you couldn’t stand being anything less than perfect, and that applied to distance too. There’s no point in doing anything if you don’t give it one hundred per cent. 

You weren’t in my room, talking about life and death. You weren’t telling me your secrets. You weren’t making me care about you, telling me truths and lies at the same time. You talked about your mum twice, but the stories didn’t match up. You told me about your sadness, and the stories didn’t sound like the past. 

You weren’t putting on your trainers, telling me about how I should start running. You go running all the time, and you say it’s amazing. It’s energising, it’s so good for you to burn all those calories. I don’t think you want me to start running, I think you just want me to feel bad that I don’t. 

I loved you, but it’s tiring having to be around someone so desperate to be better than everyone else.

You like when I listen because it makes you feel interesting. Beneath the workaholic’s mask, beneath the sadness and the desperation to make someone hurt with you, I’m starting to realise that you’re boring. 

You’re telling me about a new girlfriend on the bus back from some new vegan place in Shoreditch where you talked just loud enough that I could tell you were trying to make the tables around us think you were cool. I looked at their faces. They all thought you were a twat. 

The picture you show me of your new girlfriend looks a little like me. Not enough that anyone could comment on it, but we have the same eyes, the same nose. She looks nice. You keep insisting that you’re better now. It’s because of her. It’s because you run so much. It’s because you think you can run from everything. 

Last night I dreamed you were dead. Tonight, I’m thinking about it, on purpose.

Art by Niamh McBratney