Oraku, The Demon Hunter and his Magical Time Travelling Toilet
by M.J. Hearle
I don’t remember any single defining moment on my path to becoming an author. Instead there are many little moments that stand out like stars glimpsed through a thick, grey fog, some brighter than others. Try as I might I can’t recall the first story I ever wrote but I do remember the first time somebody asked me to read one aloud. Her name was Sister Anne Terese and she was my third grade school teacher.
Sister Anne was a stern woman, with greying brown hair and yellowish teeth that suggested that despite being married to God, the good Sister was having a serious affair with the Malboro Man. I wasn’t sure then, (and I’m not sure now), if it was a sin for a nun to smoke (it seems like it should be for some reason, being a vice and all), but I’d wager that Sister Anne was pack a day kind of gal. You don’t get teeth like that without having an impressive habit (see what I did there? Habit? Nun? I’ll be here all week, folks. Try the shrimp. )
Despite her gruesome mouth, I wasn’t afraid of Sister Anne. She might have been a little humourless but for a nun, a nun/teacher at that, she was pretty cool. Nuns generally get a bad wrap in literature and film. There have been plenty of biographies about writer’s who spent their formative years being brutalised by sisters of the cloth, or ‘penguins’ as they are often uncharitably referred to, but I can honestly say that, apart from her teeth, Sister Anne wasn’t the least bit monstrous. She never once wrapped me on the knuckles with a ruler and if she ever yelled at me, I probably deserved it.
Occasionally, Sister Anne would set us a creative writing assignment and randomly pick people to read their stories aloud. Some kids would get a kick out of this, others shied away – not necessarily because they weren’t proud of their work, but because trumpeting their own horn didn’t come naturally. I never had this problem. I liked reading my stuff aloud, because – surprise, surprise – I thought it was pretty good. Yes, even as an eight year old I had a healthy ego. Unfortunately, it’s not like writing stories is going to win you a popularity contest in primary school. If you weren’t good at sports or had an impressive collection of Transformers (Machine Men, incidentally, were frowned upon) you generally existed on the periphery of the cool cliques. That all changed the day Sister Anne asked me to read aloud a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style story I’d crafted called The Magic Kangaroo. Suddenly, I was a big deal.
I’m not sure if these books still exist but when I was growing up the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series was enormously popular. It was the Harry Potter of its day and, just as I later did with the Potter books, I devoured as many as I could. At that age I was used to parents and teachers making most of my choices for me, so being able to read a book where I was the one making the decisions was deliriously intoxicating.
Most writers start out emulating work they admire and it was probably for this reason I decided to to write my own version of a CYOA about an eight year old boy who climbs into the pouch of the titular magic kangaroo. The multi-pathed story followed this boy’s adventures, also named Michael oddly enough, as he goes hopping through different time periods with the magical kangaroo, causing trouble, getting into adventures with aliens and dinosaurs, generally having fun. My ambition largely outstripped my skill as I realised quickly that I’d set myself about five times the amount of work – instead of one story I basically had to write ten different stories to allow for the whole flexible narrative structure. This was a daunting task for a kid who’d never written more than a couple of paragraphs. My hard work paid off though for when it came time to finally to read it aloud as my classmates were very vocal in their appreciation.
I suspect this had more to do with the interactive aspect of the story rather than the story itself. In any case, they liked The Magic Kangaroo so much, they actually petitioned the good Sister to have me read another story the following day.
This was my big break. My first opportunity to prove my worth as a storyteller, so what did I decide to write about? The struggles of an eight year old aesthete? Perhaps some witty family drama featuring my parents and siblings? The Magic Kangaroo II? No, these subjects were far too prosaic for my writing. I needed flash, I needed pizazz, I needed something that would grab my audience by the throat and throttle them until they acknowledged my literary brilliance. I needed…ninjas and toilets.
Wanting to stick to the CYOA format and keep the time-travelling aspect of The Magic Kangaroo, which had first won me acclaim, I followed the same basic structure. Have my protagonist, this time a ninja named Oraku rather than a M.J. proxy, get into a variety of adventures in different historical periods through the use of a magical device. Having worn out the narrative use of a magic kangaroo’s pouch I settled on the next best thing – a magical toilet. Oraku would sit on the toilet and flush whenever he wanted to ride the slipstreams of time.
When the occasion arrived for me to read the story, entitled obtusely ‘Oraku, The Demon Hunter and his Magical Time Travelling Toilet’, in front of my classmates, I was a little nervous. Could I repeat the magic? Was it foolish to even try? I had nothing to worry about. At the very mention of the title, specifically the word ‘toilet’, the class erupted into cheers. Luckily, I’d been canny enough to realise the potential power of this word, so included it as frequently as possible. Unaware, I’d intuited one of the first rules of entertainment, which, for our purposes, can also be applied to writing – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. It turned out I knew my audience well, Oraku was a success and the talk of the playground during recess that day.
However, in catering to my classmates I’d alienated the one person who I needed to impress if I wanted to continue my role as the class storyteller. To say that Sister Anne was less than pleased with my talk of ninjas, toilets and demons was an understatement. I remember the look of disappointment on her face when she took me aside afterwards and asked why did I have to write about such ‘base things’. I didn’t have an answer for her, but if I had access to a magic kangaroo or enchanted toilet I might travel back in time and tell her to go easy on me. I was an eight-year old boy – if I wasn’t fascinated with ninjas and toilets something might have been wrong with me.
Though I was never again asked by Sister Ann to read in front of class I nonetheless had enjoyed my first taste of a captive audience and wanted more. In many ways it’s the reason why I do what I do.