Existential Crises, Games Wizards Play, and When You Await Yourself Inside a Book

5 Feb

games wizards play

Books do not face many temporal restrictions. The words within them may change with spelling conventions, or the print might shift across font type fads, and the phrasing may even slouch around or slick up a bit with the passing decades, but what the books really say, what their stories are, what worlds they contain within those pages and convey across years and years of minds – those are things that time doesn’t really touch. They’re always hanging around, somewhere. Tucked between a dust jacket. Hidden under the covers of someone’s slumbering subconscious. Murmured in the soft sktch of your footfalls. The stories never really go away. They’re there, behind a wardrobe door, or a carefully tapped pattern on a pub’s back brick wall, or an amulet whispering around the neck. All those worlds, in all those books – they wait.

Games Wizards Play, the tenth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series, released a few days ago. It’s been waiting a long time.

Six years. Six long years. A Wizard of Mars, the predecessor to Games Wizards Play, came out in 2010. Wizards at War, the book before that, came out in 2005, which is nearly equally long in time lapsed, but who I was in 2005 and who I was in 2010 were highly congruent. 2005-me and 2010-me almost form the lower and upper bounds of a set of my existence, since they were both broken in remarkably similar ways, and believed pretty much the same things – about themselves, about life, about love and religion and the universe at large.

But 2010-me was not so static a figure as 2005-me. 2010-me read A Wizard of Mars sitting on the couch of her first apartment, shared with four other classmates the summer after freshman year. I moved into the apartment later than those other four, having spent a little over a third of the summer in treatment for anorexia. It was my first stint in that long progression of treatments that eventually carved out my recovery, and I’d been left red and raw and ready for the changing, though I didn’t know that yet. Change would be a long time coming.

But I remember sitting on that couch, holding the book in my hands, fresh out of treatment, wondering who I was going to be now, thrilling at all the possibilities but thinking (erringly) that I knew pretty well which one I was going to wind up with. I opened up to the first page of A Wizard of Mars, looking for (and finding) reaffirmation in that world that had built me as a middle and high schooler, that I trusted to carry me forward through the rest of college, unaware of just how much of a mental precipice I was really standing on.

2016-me is no longer standing on that mental precipice. She’s standing on a different one. On what I’m pretty sure is also an entirely different planet. The shape of the world around me and the horizon before me, it’s all so different from what 2010-me thought she was looking at. And the way my shadow stretches away, telling of my form in the light – it, too, has changed. Which is a good thing, mostly. But which is also terrifying.

I am better – but I am less good. I know more, but I believe less. My understanding has grown, but my hope has so diminished.

Within me is so much of the same fire that kept the midnight oil of 2005 and 2010 aflame, but while it still burns, I can sometimes see it flicker.

Like 2010-me, 2016-me has some decisions to make about who she wants to be. 2010-me decided that she wanted to be a wildlife vet, and 2016-me has finally gotten into vet school. In the US, and the UK. Whether I choose to stay or choose to go, there are pro’s and con’s. Risks and benefits. Uncertain futures rolling out before me like the fever dream of a hallucinating D20.

And I have to pick a starting point for it all.

Life, like YW-style wizardry, is all about choices. And I am terrified I am going to pick wrong.

So. My life has become a choose-your-own-adventure story, except I can’t flip through all the pathways to find out how they all turn out. I just get one. One character archetype. One plot arc. One final destination, out there in the future.

All of it starting with a choice made because of who I think I am, right now.

…And reading Games Wizards Play will directly confront that.

2016-me has a pretty different world view from 2010-me, and I am afraid of what that will mean for how the YW world will be able to fill that space within me where it used to resonate so well. So unquestioningly. I am afraid that because of whom I have become, where once there were echoes and vibrations will instead be dead, mute space. I am so scared that because of how I have changed as a person, I might not relate as well to what I’m going to find once I go back into the YW world in Games Wizards Play, that I have been afraid to so much as open the front cover.

Or I might just relate to it differently, but that kind of scares me, too. To be clear, I trust the books. I trust Diane Duane and her writing, the Young Wizards universe with its depth and complexity, the characters of Nita and Kit and Tom and Carl with their ability to face ethical conundrum and moral grey area. The more I’ve sat down and really thought about those nine preceding books, thought about what the adults in the books said and did as well as the kids, the more I’ve realized that the world of YW is much bigger than I’d realized at fourteen, or nineteen. I trust that the story can hold up against my doubts and uncertainties and questions. I trust that the story can handle who I am, now.

I am less sure that I can.

I have grown up. Not entirely, but more than I ever wished to. And that is a good thing, but it also a very painful thing.

And so, as I said, I have found myself shaking, whenever I try to open that front cover and turn to page one.

Because once I do, my past self and my future forms and the existence I am, truly, right now, will be left to stare at each other from within the lines on a page, and I don’t know what’s going to happen once one of them blinks.

Guess there’s only one way to find out, though.

I was warned, I suppose. All those years, all those pages ago, Nita Callahan did say that life, at least, would never be boring

A 6-Year-Old Don Juan Is A Problem

18 Jan

Today, on my way back from the grocery store, I got hit on by a six-year-old.  I assume he was a six-year-old, because he was most certainly prepubescent and no bigger than a slightly overgrown wombat.

He pulled up to the corner of the sidewalk on his tiny child skateboard as I walked by. “Excuse me, miss!”

I stopped and removed my headphones, entirely expecting him to tell me he was lost or ask me where some tiny child theme park was located or if I liked the color green or some shit like that.

“I’m doing this thing for my skate park,” said the tiny male human as he smiled up at me with wide puppy eyes, “where I have to land a trick in order to get a hug.”

Uh.

Uuuuuuh.

Well that’s a weird promotion. Why would they have a kid do that? What kind of training approach are they OH MY GOD THIS INFANT IS HITTING ON ME.

“I… think you should ask your parents for that hug,” I said, once my brain stopped reeling from the shock of being flirted with by someone who probably doesn’t even know if he can grow a mustache yet.

“I did that already!”

“Yeah, well, practice makes perfect.”

At this point, I started to walk away, and this tiny manchild actually began yelling after me, shouting “Aw, come on! Come on!”

I, being an adult and not the size of a wombat, was able to outpace the indignant little human fairly easily and made it home without a small yapping thing at my heels.

Now, let’s talk about this.

The story is amusing. You have a child acting like an adult, and that is often funny, in the same way that pugs wearing sweaters and boots are funny. It’s one thing pretending to be something it’s not. It’s a behavior farce. Lol. Ha ha. Whatever.

But this story is also absolutely fucking horrifying. It’s only funny because I was dealing with a small child incapable of overpowering me or presenting any real threat. But fast-forward ten years. That wombat-sized kid is now a sixteen year old boy who’s probably at least as tall as I am. Move ahead another ten years, and now a fully grown man is the one getting angry that I turned him down and is shouting “aw, come on!” at me while I’m just trying to carry my bags home from the grocery store. Now it’s an adult who’s throwing a tantrum because his line didn’t work and he didn’t get what he wanted. Now it’s someone who’s much more of a match for me physically coming at me with a lifetime of assumption that if he asks for it, I, a complete stranger, should give it to him.

That right there is rape culture. Inside of a six-year-old.

Not so funny now.

Comedy becomes tragedy all too easily. For that story ten and twenty years from now to be different, its revision needs to start now.

Storytime

1 Jan

leap year page 1

Here in Los Angeles, California, it’s just shy of three hours to the close of January 1st, 2016. Today’s not been much different than any other day, closer to weekend-style even though it’s Friday, but not quite the same because one of my roommates is out of town, and the other is recovering from a long stretch of mandated human interaction, and I myself just returned from The Hellhole That Is Currently Underwater.*

But still, all in all, pretty much the same as any other day. January 1st has no particular magic to create a grand shift in my life. It is just an arbitrary designation of the passage of time.

Except… we don’t want it to be, do we? We want there to be some power in the rustle of a new calendar being hung on the wall. We want there to be some force that we can harness through the symbolic gesture of wiping the slate clean. Whatever the year, we want 01/01 to be not just one more day full of nothing more than more of the same, but rather to be one glistening 24-hour chance to grasp hold of a future we haven’t yet tainted. A notebook that’s got no smudges or eraser marks. A slab of clay, wet and waiting, for us to pick up and do something with.

We want it to be the start of a new story, ripe for the telling.

2016 is a particularly good year for that, it seems. We’ve got a leap year ahead. One whole extra day for awesome.

And I, who makes much of her living out of words, sits here at the close of page 1 of 366 wonder – what makes a good story? What do I want?

What do you want?

What makes a story worth it, after it all, when you’re running out space for lines on the page and midnight is tolling and another book, another voice, another year is chasing at your heels? What is it in a story that will leave you satisfied at “the end” – or even better, hungry for more?

If you’ve got some thoughts to tell, I’d like to listen.

——-

* Missouri. Not necessarily an intrinsically bad place, but a historically terrible destination for me in particular. Also, it’s rained so much there in the past few days that a house literally floated away. It was on the news, guys.

It can be okay in the summer, though.

Just… mind the tornadoes.

Mrs. Claus

25 Dec

A horror story for the holidays.

She pulled off the fancy bow, throwing the ribbon tidily onto the ground next to her. Opened the lid, slowly. As was proper. Breathed in a little as the top jiggled loose with a quiet puff of old dust. Looked inside.

A moment of silence.

“This is… not what I was expecting.”

The man in the red suit with the slicked-back hair and black goatee, all glint and glimmer and promising shine, smiled his lopsided smile. Deceptive as ever.

“What do you mean?” he asked, sickly sweet as an overly gummed candy cane. He slid closer, gliding like a hellcat in the shadows. “What were you expecting?”

She looked up, her eyes an angry flash at his bloody veneer. Her lips curled up into a snarl. “Immortality.”

The man in the crisp red suit threw his head back and laughed, all mirth and mockery. A tear dripped from one eye and he brushed it away with a black-gloved hand. “Oh, my dear,” he hissed, “That would have been an awfully big present. Too big for one as little as yourself. There’s not enough soul in you, to pay for that.”

Her slight frame shook. She pulled the bauble from its box. A glass knife. No – it was already dripping – an ice knife. Sharp. Pretty. Ephemeral.

She had asked for control over life and death. He had given her a toy.

Sly cat. No matter. She had some claws of her own.

“I will take what is my due,” she whispered, her voice thin as a blade and three times as sharp.

The man in the red suit lounged back on her sofa. “Oh really?” he purred, one eyebrow arching up. “And how is that, pet?”

She smiled. Carefully. Slinked towards him in her dress, red like blood and seduction. A sin for a sin. Of course he’d said they’d need to match.

She climbed onto his lap and put her hands over his chest.

“You’re magic,” she murmured under her breath. The man in the red suit leaned into her words. “Ageless.” She let a little reluctant wonder creep into her voice while one finger crept up the red suit and came to rest just over the heart that beat beneath the red suit. Her nails were long and pointed, sharp like daggers. Red from cuticle to tip.

Red. His color.

And now hers.

She dug her claws into the suit, into the flesh, into the man and his magic and his terrible gift-giving and she stole it. Pulled it up, out of him, away from his years and years of cheated death and trickery treasure and into her own body. She felt herself grow large, taking it all in. Bigger. Powerful.

Beneath her claws, the man in the red suit withered. His skin wrinkled and aged. His goatee frayed and greyed and whitened. Flab arose and clung to his middle like denture paste to an old jawline. His eyes sunk and his nose reddened.

And he began to scream.

She pulled her claws out then, cackling.

The old man in the red suit wailed at the sharp blades of her fingers cutting their way back out of him. There was pain. Oh yes, there was pain.

But there was no death.

He healed. Instantly. There was still enough magic left in him for the job.

She had made sure of that.

His chest rose and fell, clunkily. Ragged.  “Ho. ho. ho.” The old man’s wheezing was short and clipped.

The woman smiled. “Ho ho ho,” she laughed.

The man looked up at her, fearful. “Who are you?” he whispered, eyes growing wide with fear.

Ah yes, a name. The woman looked down at her fingers, covered in red like cherry slowly drying to crimson around the cuticles. Her eyes narrowed.

Yes, that would do.

“Claws,” she said, voice firm as desire. “Mrs. Claws.”

She pulled the man up from the couch, thrusting him back towards her fireplace. “Now, if you don’t mind, dear, I believe you have my bidding to do.”

The old man in the ancient red suit was silent. But he nodded, then disappeared back through the flames.

Mrs. Claws’s eyes glinted in the firelight. She looked around the room, wondering where to start.

A now-empty box caught her eye. Mrs. Claws smiled. Cracked her knuckles. Stepped into the fireplace to follow the old man back to his workshop. Yes, that would be her first order. That is how he ended. That is how she would begin.

Toys,” Mrs. Claws hissed. “Toys for everyone.”

On Those Stupid Red Cups

12 Nov

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when Starbucks, like so many other corporate entities, deck their halls with all things red and white and green and glistening. That time of year when I write about aesthetic and memory.

When I write about Krystina.

I’m not going to write about Christianity or outrage or anger (though I have many thoughts on the first, Katherine writes a pretty goddamn good post on the second, and last year’s post on this topic certainly had a decent dose of the third).

But I am going to write, very briefly, about those red cups.

I hear some people are unhappy with their plainness this year. Maybe it was nearly every corner of the internet posting about it that prepared me, this year, for Starbucks’ holiday makeover. I knew it was coming, this time. I knew Starbucks was going to look like the inside of a candy cane’s daydream. I knew there were going to be the snowflakes, the garlands, the puffy snowmen statues hiding between muffins in the pastry display.

I knew Starbucks was going to look like it did the last time I saw Krystina alive.

She was a creature of past and possibility. Of hurt and healing peeled back and replaced too many times. Of anger and outrage. Of all things red and glistening.

I think she would have appreciated the plainness of Starbucks’ holiday cups this year. Definitely would’ve laughed at the “controversy” they caused. She likely would’ve doodled on the cups. Or maybe just etched the word “fuck” all over them with the blunt end of a dying pen. Equally probable.

appreciate the blankness, this year. Not because of some grand ideological viewpoint, but because I just do. For me, the unadorned red cups feel like a blank slate. Like catching my breath. Like possibility.

I’ve spent the past year shedding the skins of old lives and donning the trappings of new ones. (Blue hair may be up next, folks. I may also be moving to Scotland. Fair warning.) I’ve spent months running from ghosts and exorcising demons. Washing memories off the walls of my existence. Moving on.

I sat in Starbucks today, clutching my blessedly blank red cup and staring at the decorations and listening to the hum in the air of the other lives moving around me.

It didn’t hurt, this time around.

Desperate: A Free Short Horror Story for Halloween

31 Oct

Happy All Hallow’s Eve, spooksters.

I’ve finished up “Desperate,” a short horror story, and am releasing it on Gumroad for Halloween! You can read the start of it here and, if you like it, hop on over to my Gumroad store to download the full thing for free/pay-what-you’d-like.

It’s got monsters, and fire, and edge. It’s got gore. It’s a little bit haunted. And that makes its characters a little bit desperate.

Actually, that’s the title.

fire banner

Desperate

They’d been a desperate threesome. Nikki had made it out first, kissing the world goodbye for the military (an escape to violence that would at least get her pride along with the bruises). Calvin had settled where he was, dropping into the familiar Midwestern monotony of a comfortable desk job with spreadsheets and quarterly reports and a girlfriend who’d fuck him enough that he could forget for thirty sweet minutes about the slipping mind of his ailing mother.

Em had been the first to leave but the last to make it out. If she were really honest with herself, she was still running.

She wondered if the other two were just lying to themselves too. She wondered if they’d really escaped the nights of writhing, trying desperately to claw their way out of their own body while dragging along a splitting mind behind them. Sweating into pillows, tears staining the sheets, howling to the dark from behind a dead smile. Always prepared to jump back into place. Waiting.

She hated spending nights alone. Screaming.

She wondered if they’d really managed to exorcise their demons or if they, like she, had merely managed to become better friends with the devil.

They’d all learned how to hide their scars, eventually. She’d just never learned how to stop making them.

She could imagine what Nikki looked like, underneath. Calvin she wasn’t so sure about. Numbness made it hard to get the truth. She was supposed it was better than his old pain, though. Cold and sharp. Howling.

Some days, she ached for his warmth.

It was very hard not to tell him that.

There was mold growing on the counter. Em frowned and tried to ignore it as she splashed the gasoline over her arm, careful to hold it steady above the sink. Old bloodstains soured their stench up at her. She sighed at the taste.

Em sat down on the leaves, moist and decaying on the kitchen floor. The house was old when she’d gotten there, and the cobwebs in the corner had only begged her all the more to stay. She loved it. Nikki would have, even more so. Calvin would probably hate it.

Em picked a match out of its box and struck it to life. She held it to her skin, setting her left arm aflame. Her dark eyes glittered in the light.

The heat roiled over her curling skin, seductive and swaying. The warmth slowly tingled up to her shoulder, then down to her bones. Em breathed out slowly. Shut her eyes. Whispered his name.

Waited.

Her arm crackled softly in the silent night. Em hoped he wouldn’t be slow about showing up tonight. Gasoline only burned for so long, and she wasn’t going to set her arm on fire twice in one week for the fucker.

The leaves around her crunched lightly, then harder as a body shuffled its way closer. The visitor sat down, and there was silence again.

Save for one deep, tired sigh.

“Em, that’s gross. Cut it out.”

She grinned at the exasperation in it. Em opened her eyes, both of them turned to wells of pupiless black. She looked fondly at her burning arm, pink and blistering now. “It’s beautiful,” Em breathed.

Calvin made a face. “It’s gross.”

“It’s effective. You’re here, aren’t you?” Calvin was silent. Em shrugged. “But fine, have it your way.” There was a snuffing noise, and the flames disappeared, plunging them both into darkness. Em brushed a small clump of ash off her arm, now back to its normal flawless white.

Calvin ran one hand down its alabaster smoothness. Em shivered under the rough touch of his callouses.

“You okay?” Calvin murmured, his voice low.

Em only glared.

Calvin leaned back and sighed again. “Fine. Well, I’m here. What did you want?”

Em swallowed down the pain surging up her throat. She ran her fingers through the gossamer strands of her hair, absent-mindedly twisting and untwisting her curls.

“I… just… wanted to see you.”

Why?”

Em tugged too hard at her hair and pulled a strand loose. “Ow.”

She held the strand up in front of her eyes and stared at it.

“Em?”

She tossed the strand. Looked up. Glanced at Calvin, now standing and ready to leave.

Just like she didn’t want him to.

“She’s getting restless.”

Calvin’s brow furrowed. “Who? Nikki?”

“No.”

“…Oh.”

Calvin crouched down beside Em and pulled her into his arms. “What do you need?” he murmured, pressing his face into her hair.

Em hugged him closer. “You.”

Calvin let out a breath, long and slow. “You know I can’t do that. Shelley…”

Em growled.

“Fine, I won’t say her name. But you know the rules.”

Em dug the nails of her right hand into her left arm. Calvin flickered a little. Em snarled. “Since when do you care about rules?”

Calvin gently pulled her fingers off her arm. Solid again, he kissed her on the forehead and backed away. “You know when,” he whispered.

But Em could hear the sting still in his voice. She knew he was lying.

Even when he was gone, and not even his shadow was left to show he had been there, Em knew he didn’t really care.

Not enough. Not yet.

She could hear it in the dark spaces of his voice. The poison that still pooled in the corners.

Em dug her nails back into her arm and breathed in the smell of his memory.

He couldn’t lie to her.

Not when he was still hungry.

Not yet.

She needed Nikki. Badly.

Finding her was not going to be easy. Nikki had always been the hunter out of the three of them. Lithe and dangerous and predatory. Stealthy and graceful and very, very good at covering her tracks.

But when it came to Em, she’d always been a little bit obvious, too.

The moon was high that night, spilling milky sheen onto the wet floors of the old house through the holes in its roof.

Somewhere, a drip of black water fell from a windowsill. The clink of gravity rippled through Em’s ear, expanding into her consciousness. She shivered as the waves hit her.

Full moons had always made the night an ocean. At least this time she was choosing the drowning.

Nikki,” Em thought, her voice small and helpless and floating. “Nikki, where are you?”

The world was silent as deep water. But one part of it was more silent than the others. Em smiled.

“Nikki!” she shrieked gleefully, stepping through the black space and into reality. A tall girl with short hair glared at her from beside a campfire.

“What are you doing here?” Nikki spat. She glanced around. “And what the fuck did you do with my platoon?”

Read the full text of “Desperate” on Gumroad for free/pay-what-you-want.

The Dust of When You Are Collapsing

24 Oct

Depression is a game that you can’t win because the rules aren’t ones that you get to make. Depression is a game full of false starts and trap doors and smoke screens you thought maybe, for once, were windows. Depression is a game that’s for lasting, not for winning.

Depression is good at gaining allies. Time, and wounds that refuse to scab over. Disappointments and anxiety and the eyes of strangers that glance at you the wrong way. Subverted friendships and cancelled plans and one too many sore mornings this week. People who make you want to crawl into a room with no doors. Places that make you wish for the smoke screens.

Depression fights with stabs and bruises and you are allowed your words for weapons. Thought, if you can tame it, and if not that then the ability to blink through one more round of twenty-four hours. Depression will allow you your dull knives and pointless arrows. These tools you once thought you had to fight with, rendered inefficacious because depression takes the shine off of everything. There’s no more sun. You’re just left sweating.

Sometimes there are people who make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes there are those intangible things called dreams that whisper through the fog and make you reach a little bit for a sky that’s got stars in it again. Sometimes there is art, and a swell somewhere deep within you that for once has nothing to do with hurricanes. Sometimes there are stories, and you can hear yourself whispering again. Sometimes there is silence and no crushing dark of the deep asphyxiating ocean on your chest along with it. Sometimes you can breathe enough to remember what movement felt like.

Cling to it all.

There is no secret passageway out of this collapsing building. There is only the possibility that maybe, in the rubble, there’s a hole.

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