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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.”

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.

A Car And A Cute Old Man

9 Dec

Today, I met a cute old man. He was not by default cute because he was old. I have met a lot of old men, and many, many of them are not cute. A lot of them are crotchety fuckers.

But this old man, he was cute. He barely had any hair left, just a brush of white and wiry remnants as his eyebrows, and a U around his head. His skin has the yellow tinge of an elderly Philippino. He could have been stern, if his mouth puckered more. But it didn’t. He was not stern. He was not intimidating. He was like a really old uncle, maybe a grandfather. Something non-threatening. The sort of old relative that would call you dear and not mean it demeaningly.

Oh, I met him because he was my Lyft driver.

So I got into the car, and we made chit chat as is opening procedure for taking a Lyft. I asked how long he’d been driving, he told me he’d been up since 6 am. I commented on how early that was, and he mentions, nonchalant, that he’s hoping to make enough fare to head home early and take his wife out to a nice dinner.

Okay, this dude is like seventy. That’s already frickin’ adorable.

So I try not to making squeeing noises out loud and merely respond how that’s sweet. I ask how long he’s been married. He answers – 44 years.

Holy. fuck.

I ask how they met. He tells me that they both worked in the same government agency, back in the Philippines. “We met in the office and… that’s how it all got started.” His voice winked, even if he did not.

He launches into his whole story. He tells me how he and his wife, they worked at this agency for 25 years, but before they retired, his wife wanted to pursue her real profession for a while. They moved to Chicago and “were trapped there in the snow” for twenty years, so she could be a chemist.

Finally retiring, they moved to Florida. He tells me how, having saved up a fair amount, they gave their remaining assets in the Philippines to their daughter, which he pronounces further endearingly as duo-ter. But… he stumbles over himself, for a few seconds. He’d started to explain how he has a daughter, but… the stumbling and backpedalling came to a stop, and he tells me, “I had a son, but I lost him when he was nineteen.”

I don’t want to ask what lost means.

My driver, he pushes on and tells me about his duo-ter, now 44 (my innuendo-center starts cheering internally and wink-wink-nudge-nudging the man), lives in Okinawa with her eight-year-old son. She’s serving as a pediatrician in the air force – they paid for her school, she works for them the same amount of years. She’s got two left.

My mind immediately starts praying that Okinawa stays quiet for the next two years.

The old man’s talk meanders back to him and his wife. He tells me how they tired of Florida’s weather, so they moved to Los Vegas instead. It was cheaper there, anyway. They rented a three-bedroom house for just $700 a month. My roommates and I are renting a three-bedroom apartment for more than that.

But… the old man, his voice becomes closed and quiet, “Los Vegas was my downfall. I had never gambled before in my life. But I got myself stuck at the slot machines. I lost all our savings. I… I squandered everything.”

I can hear the shame in his voice. I would not have been surprised if he’d started to cry.

“But I told my wife,” he goes on, “I told my wife, it’s not too late, I can earn it back. Well, not all of it, but some, enough…” He spends several more minutes reciting a litany of “I did a bad thing” and “I needed to make it better” and “I was contrite, so I could do it.”

They moved out to Santa Clarita. He started driving for Lyft. That is why he is a driver, to try one car ride at a time to rebuild the life he intended for his wife – and himself – to have. To make good on his statement that he is contrite. He tells me how sorry he is for what he did, how grateful he is that his wife is with them. “I think she still loves me,” he said in a small voice. “I love her very much.”

We reach my street, and as we pull up to my curb, he turns to me and with a somehow beaming face tells me enthusiastically, “I hope all your ventures are successful!”

I tell him that I hope he has a nice dinner with his wife.

I need to write a story.

7 Jul

I need to write a story. I need to write a story where the characters don’t die, or wind up ground on the pavement in a bloody mass – literally or figuratively. I need to write a story where everything works out.

But I need to write a story that’s real.

I don’t know how to fit those last two sentences together.

My story has already seen its characters die, so many now that I’ve stopped ticking off the number of funerals I’ve attended and let the number stretch vaguely into oblivion. My story has characters ground up meatily on the pavement – though mostly figuratively, on that point.

I think I’m one of those characters.

Life is confusing to me. It’s perhaps why I’ve been having such a hard time writing stories, lately. Everything’s on hard mode, and I don’t understand why. I have tried. I have stayed. I have fought. I have pushed. I have kept going.

Why hasn’t it gotten any easier yet?

I see people – former classmates, neighbors, random interviewees on the news – who seem to have gotten the soft route. Yeah, everybody’s got shit to deal with. But these people, they seem to have gotten the milder, nicer-smelling brand of shit. They prance around in their pastel-colored world with high-end fabrics and bleached hair and sunglasses the size of mating saucers on their face, and… it’s not that I want their lives. I don’t. At all. But… they seem happy.

They have their success, their fame, their goddamn fucking fortune – and they are satisfied.

I want to be satisfied.

I have all this hard work, all this trying, all this hoping and hurting and hacking away at all the obstacles life’s chucked at my nose, and for it all, I have only…

loss.

The little bits of satisfaction I find slip away, taint with time or fade so that the blaring wrongness of this story is what comes out stronger than the former salve of the moment’s calm.

I don’t like this story anymore.

I’ve been trying to write a different one for such a long time.

I worry there isn’t any different story to write anymore.

Three Types of Hell

7 May

Three Types of Hell

– A Short Story –

My life is a confusing brand of hell.  They’re not all so hard, you know. Some people at least get to know why they’re doomed to an eternity of being burnt about the toes. You’ve got the straight-forward malice types, the murderers, the robbers (sans raisons), the loose liars and the psychopaths. You know, the people who didn’t give a damn about others and so heaped up a whole lot of damnation for themselves. Their souls started burning even before their dead eyes shut.

Then you’ve got the regretters. Or at least, that’s how they think of themselves. They’ve got no grand feat to speak of, just lots of small grievances piled up without remorse. An annoyance here, a slight there. Never any thought as to how treating their fellow humans like a convenience mart might go in the long run, for those fellows or themselves. No, the regretters, it’s almost ironic, their chosen name in their little red-taped clique of the hot place. They spent their lives making being alive just a little bit harder for others. Now they’re spending forever making it harder for themselves. Each and every one of them tucked into the regretter section, a club of mopers and moaners whose only task all the live long day is to trip up the no-longer-a-body next to them. They keep doing what they were doing. It’s just limited to their own kind, now. And these people – bureaucrats, most of ’em – they just sit about regretting. If only they’d known. If only they could’ve done differently. But no, it’s as they told every customer, every broken-down landlady or tired old veteran – they had no choice, the stamp was there, the law in place. Regrettably, they could do nothing.

And so now they do nothing but regret their regretting.

But then… then there’s me. And a few others, here and there. We don’t see each other very often. We’re not the skulking type and we’re too faded to scuttle, but occasionally one of us will scuff along the floor loudly enough for another of us to hear if we’re nearby. We are… we don’t have a name, actually. Because that’s the point of this kind of hell, isn’t it? There is no point. There is no name. There is no reason. We’re all just here. We don’t know what we did. We carry some amorphous, pervasive sense of guilt, but it’ll never coalesce together enough to show us its true shape. We question. And we wonder. Why are we here? What did we do? Was it some wrong choice? We cannot remember taking any wrong path… Did we do another wrong? Look long as we might, our memories show nothing but love.

Or so we think.

So we think we think.

And onward, downward, inward.

There is no escape.

Not that we know where the entrance was, anyway.

It’s a confusing brand of hell, this life of ours. We’re all still trying to do right, even down here. But eventually, our numbers thin, until the next crop comes along. I’m about three generations of influx along. About my time to be passing away, actually. I don’t know which direction I’ll take. The ones who say fuck it all and throw themselves to where the flames burn blue, or the ones who shrug and accept that perhaps their damnation was in fact a small pile of nothing, nothing so significant as to have warranted all that… Malice or minutiae, we all go one way or the other.

It’s hard, scuffling along, your toes slowly turning crisp about the edges. Eventually, you need a reason for why your toes are turning black.

Fish and Lavender

19 Apr

The apartment smelled of fish and lavender. It was an odd combination, but then again that’s what the apartment was too, an odd throw-together of temporary and permanent lodgers, the floors and shelves strewn with things of people who did and didn’t yet live there. A large enough place to have in so short a time become both a prison and a refuge. A three-bedroom townhouse full of free lodgers who could not escape themselves.

Fish and lavender, depending which breath you took.

The oldest girl – though she felt the youngest, might as well have been for all the stability in life she’d managed up to that point (How had she managed to become the mature one? The most mature and the most fool. Ever such disparate titles to hold, reconcilable only by as much a bleeding heart as hers.) – shoved her book away, tossed the blanket off her lap and scrambled across the room for her laptop.

The younger girl – not so young as to deserve being called it, an older soul than she often let on unless you cried in front of her enough – looked up from her own tomb.

“Restless?”

The older girl slapped her laptop open. She waited for the wi-fi to connect, agitating. “I’ve got wanderlust, still.”

The younger girl only stared blankly, her eyes saying obvious.

The other shook her head. “No, not your kind of reckless abandon. I don’t want to go just anywhere, I want to go somewhere. I want to travel, to adventure. To have some place to go and some place to be and something to do.” The girl shut her mouth. And some one to love.

Her friend rolled her eyes. “So go somewhere.”

The girl shook her head. “It’s not that easy.”

Love and distance, uncertainty and security, loss and comfort. These things did not often mix well together.

Fish and lavender. You never knew which breath.

The Night The Moon Was Eaten

15 Apr

Yesterday, April 14th, was my 23rd birthday. It was actually one of the loveliest times I’ve had on my birthday in a while. I woke up to a super sweet email from my boyfriend, got to spend the day with old and new mates, and then climbed to the roof of my apartment with a couple of my oldest friends to watch the lunar eclipse. A blood moon on my birthday? Why thank you, galaxy. That was an awesome gift.

And that time on the roof, wrapped in a blanket talking about everything and nothing in particular as the moon waned and waxed and became saturated with its bloody hue before us, as the moon took on an oddly placed shadow as the earth passed by the sun in front of it, causing the moon to look almost as if something were eating it – well that, of course, inspired a story.

So thank you, to everyone who made my birthday wonderful with your well-wishes and hugs yesterday. One day after my birthday, this, a story, is my gift to you.

 

Thank you to Casey Handmer, friend and photographer of this fantastic timelapse photo. Permission to use this photo must be obtained directly from him.

Thank you to Casey Handmer, friend and photographer of this fantastic timelapse photo. Permission to use this photo must be obtained directly from him.

The Night The Moon Was Eaten

Something was eating the moon.

Killey leaned back against the thatched roof and stared up at the sky above her. Bale, her little brother, a mere seven years in this village of ancients, had been the first to see it. He’d run screaming through the town, child that he was, screeching in his sweet little voice the same way he would have if a cow had gotten loose from the fields or a stranger had come visiting or a particularly choice piece of candy had just been given him by one of the elder ladies. Bale had not quite learned the art of tone differentiation yet.

And so he had gone streaking through the streets with his shouts naked of discernible emotion beyond urgency and surprise (what kind of urgency? surprise at what?) repeating those two unassuming words over and over again.

“The moon! The moon!” A chubby little hand with its chubby little fingers stretched up toward the sky, waving in no particular direction round the galaxy. “The moon!”

Eyes had turned skyward. Eyes had widened. Eyes had shut.

Smiles turned to swallowed groans.

The moon – that was no typical waxing. That was no mere shadow. It was in entirely the wrong place for this night of the lunar cycle. No, that darkness – it was no usual momentary lapse of our beloved lunar orb. And – eyes opened only to grow wider once again – it was getting bigger. Right before our eyes, the moon was being swallowed up.

Something was eating the moon.

Within moments, ladders were raised and roofs were climbed. Families sat atop their homes, feeling safer in the height and the open than trapped between a lid and the ground. Whatever it was, if the moon was not enough for it and it came to swallow the earth next… Well, the ground did not seem like a particularly safe place to be.

And so we sat on our roofs and watched as the darkness chewed away at the lunar orb.

Something was eating the moon.

“Papa,” I whispered early in the night, “why aren’t we doing anything? Why are we just sitting here, watching?”

Papa had sighed and pulled me closer at that. “Killey, dear, what can we do? The moon in her fortress is far, and there is no certain way to reach her. The veil between us is vast. We can do nothing.”

Except sit. And wait. And hope that the darkness swallowing the moon would deign to return her to us once again.

There was so little left of her. Just a mere scrap now. Soon, there would be nothing but a hole of where she used to be.

The night blew on. The moon continued to fade as we watched.

And then, suddenly, there was nothing.

For what felt like hours we sat on our roofs with bated breath, hoping to see some sign of return of our moon.

But for so long, nothing.

“Papa!” The entire village turned their heads toward our hut as Bale’s voice pierced the air once again. Around me, I could see the faces of our neighbors blanch. No tone was needed to see what had sparked Bale’s outburst this time. The terror on his face was so thick it dripped into the night and leaked in puddles on the roof around him.

“Papa,” Bale’s voice no more than a whisper this time. “The moon is bleeding.”

Papa’s gaze jerked to the sky. All eyes returned to the moon. Yes, Bale was right. There, up where the moon kept her court, was the tiniest sliver of a moon returning to us. Except she was not waltzing back to us, finally free of whatever monster had tried to imprison her in its jowls.

No, she was being regurgitated.

Up in the sky, the monster hacked up the moon queen, bit by bit,coughing up a pile of ragged flesh. The moon we were seeing returned was no longer the cool, pale glow of the star courtiers that danced around her. No. Now, the moon, she had turned sickly, undeniable blood red. And as we all sat and stared, her white gown was only drenched all the more in that frightening color of dying.

“Papa?”

But my father said nothing. I saw his lips move and the knob in this throat slide as he gulped down hard.

I did not like it when Papa was afraid.

The moon was so saturated with blood now that even the glow she cast on our fields reflected the laceration of her veins. A wind rustled through the corn and the cows moaned at the sight of the grass turned the color of rust before them. Around us, the world creaked and cracked and wailed.

Disturbed.

I sat down on the thatched roof, bracing my feet against the straw. Boring old blessedly normal straw. My knees were shaking. I pulled them toward me and held my arms around them tight, trying to make the shaking stop. Bale stumbled over the slippery thatching and plopped next to me. He buried his face in my arm.

“Killey, I’m afraid,” he mumbled as best he could with his nose and mouth smushed into my skin.

I swept a hand lightly through his hair, fixing a few of the tousles. “Me too, Bale.” Against my arm, Bale started to sniffle. “Shhh, Bale. Come here.” I pulled him into my arms and rocked back and forth, humming softly. His little sobs quieted. I continue to croon over his tiny form, a lilting strain from nowhere in particular.

Papa came and sat beside me, listening. He’s always told me he likes it when I hum. He says it reminds him of Mama. She used to sing all the time, he says. I just like to hum, but I like it too, that maybe I could be like Mama was.

Papa leaned in so he could catch my notes better. After a while, he nodded and started humming too. It wasn’t quite the notes I was doing, but he played around them, so it sounded nice. His humming was more repetitive than mine was.

The family on the roof next to ours started humming too, something close to what Papa was doing. Soon, the humming had spread through the whole village, and all the thatched roofs were vibrating with the low chant of families sitting on top.

I wanted to laugh in delight but just put the happiness into what I was humming instead. Bale lifted his head, eyes still droopy with sleep, and smiled up at me. He sat up in my lap and craned his head, looking around at all the other families.

Suddenly, Bale’s body went rigid in my arms. His breathing stopped for just a moment. Relief flooded my melody when his body went loose again and he turned to me, his eyes wide again.

“Killey,” he said breathily. “Look.”

My eyes immediately snapped to the sky. The moon! The moon…

The night had long since carried away the torn and bloodied strips the monster had vomited in the moon’s palace. We had watched as the red mess was replaced again by emptiness.

But now, the emptiness was not complete.

Now, there was something else in the emptiness.

I tiny little sliver, a small glow.

The moon. She was coming back.

And she wasn’t bloody anymore.

“Killey! The moon is coming back!” Bale turned his young eyes, nearly as wide as the moon themselves now, towards me. “You’re healing her.”

I glanced at Papa. He shrugged, his face surprised and uncertain. I don’t know, his eyes told me. But his mouth kept humming.

I kept humming too. Just a little louder.

I met eyes with the woman on the roof next to us. I nodded up at the sky, trying to show her. She looked up, saw. Her eyes got wide too. Came back to rest on me. Nodded.

She looked across the way at the roof next to her, to tell her other neighbors too.

Soon, the village moan had turned to a murmur, a resonant melody punctuated by gasps and caught breath as the rest of the families on the roof looked skyward and saw the moon returning to us, growing whole once more. Coming back from the dead.

All around, our humming filled with wondering. Was it because of us? Had our song saved her? Or had it just been the moon herself, always cheating darkness out of death, just like she did every month?

We didn’t know. So we kept singing anyway.

And the moon kept coming back, brighter. Just barely on the edge of waking, Bale giggled from where he was curled in my arms. His eyes fluttered close, some dream finally claiming his tired mind. Around us, the village song slowed and softened to a close. The moon was back. She was safe. The monster in the darkness had not claimed her yet. Our guardian in the sky was still safe at her post. She had not been eaten down to nothing.

Which meant that for now, we would not be eaten down to nothing either.

Gently, I shifted Bale so he was draped across my shoulder and started down the ladder so I could put my little brother properly to bed. Papa smiled at me and nodded, but stayed where he was, stretched out on the roof, looking upward at the sky. At the moon.

Bale only stirred a little as I jostled him on my way down the ladder. “Shh, Bale,” I whispered, willing him to stay safe in dreamland. “It’s alright now.”

Still more asleep than awake, Bale nestled closer to my neck, his head held right in the crook at its nape. His small arms tightened their grasp around me. His eyes fluttered open, searching the sky for a moment before the lids dropped close again. I carried him inside and laid him gently on his bed. His eyes fluttered open one more time, looking up at me. Drowsily, Bale smiled. “Killey,” Bale murmured in his sleep. “Killey, the moon – Mama came back.”

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

Water Bottles

16 Mar

– A Miriam Black fanfiction

Vamp-red hair and black leather, a mousy brown-blond braid plus jeans, and sharp bob on top of a suit. This was going to be an odd conference.

All three were women. All three had something to do with a story. All three looked anything but placid. The similarities ended there.

The suit sat down. She extended a hand towards the noncommittal middle space between her two guests. “Hello. Thank you both for coming. I’m -”

“Cynthia, but you go by Cindy,” braid-jeans cut in. “You think it makes you seem more accessible, less exotic. You always resented having such a French mother, growing up in America. Made assimilation so much harder.”

Cynthia – er, Cindy – colored. She retracted her hand. “Uh, yes, that’s… that’s, uh, accurate.”

Vamp snorted. “Nice,” she muttered, throwing a look of appreciation across the table at her fellow guest.

“Sorry!” braid-jeans back-pedalled hastily. “It’s just… well, it’s true!”

Cindy brushed off her clothes, as if straightening them could somehow restore her lost composure. “Yes!” Her voice was too loud. “You must be, uh…” she checked her notepad. “Margaret, is it?”

Braid-jeans nodded. “Yup. Such a sweet-sounding name, isn’t it? Everyone’s always so surprised when they learn it means “bitterness.” Fitting, really.”

Vamp raised an eyebrow and stuck out her hand. The red nail polish on her fingers was chipping visibly. “Miriam,” she said after a second. She released Margaret’s hand quickly. Margaret nodded. “Your nail polish is more chipped than you like it to be. You’ve been busy.”

Miriam cocked her head sideways. “Can you ever not do that?”

“Tell the truth?” the edges of Margaret’s face pulled away in wry wrinkles. “No.”

“That’s so interesting. I would hate it.”

“And that,” Cindy cut in hastily, leaning forward across the table in an attempt to regain authority (they were her guests, after all), “is why we’re here! As I was saying, thank you both for coming. The Daily Dish thanks you for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with me about this piece.”

Miriam and Margaret looked at each other. “Busy?” Margaret scoffed. Miriam raised an eyebrow again. “Schedule?”

Cindy bit her lip. “Uh…”

“Ah yes, I’ve been so busy,” Margaret muttered bitterly. “What with trying to avoid people and all…” Across the table, Miriam nodded. Margaret gestured towards her fellow guest. “You get it.”

“Oh honey,” Miriam said, “I get it hard.”

“Whydon’tyoutellmemoreaboutthat,” Cindy spurted out, desperate to regain her ground. She flipped open her notebook again, uncapped a pen. “Margaret, how about you first? Why do you want to avoid people so much?”

Miriam choked on her own laughter.

Margaret merely rolled her eyes. “Only being able to tell the truth, always, forever, compulsively… do you really need any more explanation?”

Cindy leaned forward. Blinked. “Yes.”

Margaret sighed. “Knowing people’s truth… My grandfather told me it was a gift. My mother told me it was a curse. I’m more inclined to believe my mother, now, as an adult.”

Cindy was still staring. Her pen was suspended, floating right above the page. “And?”

Margaret looked at Cindy. Harder, this time. Dead in the eye. “Think about it. Ever told a white lie? Just a little one? To make your life just a little bit more convenient? Smooth something over? Tell someone what they wanted to hear?”

Cindy nodded slowly.

“Now imagine not being able to do that.”

For a moment, Cindy didn’t move. Then, slowly, her eyes got wider.

Miriam kicked her feet up on the table. Leaned back in her chair so it was tilted on two legs. She whistled. “Christ,” she looked at Margaret. “I mean, shit man.”

Margaret nodded. “Little white lies are the trivial fluff that keeps our delusioned society functional. Truth, on the other hand, is an ugly black boulder that people don’t seem to particularly care having lobbed in their face.”

Cindy was silent in her chair. Her face had started to blanch toward sheet-colored.

Miriam leaned forward in her chair. “You can’t even be manipulative with it, can you? Well, maybe you can, but fuck that would take some skill.”

Margaret nodded. “I don’t do it too often. Not saying things can be as much of a lie as telling deliberate falsehoods. Pauses, meaningful silences – they’re hard to do, when your tongue is chomping at the bit to flood someone with the full truth of it. Misconceptions – they’re hard to work into a routine intentionally.”

“So,” she looked back at Cindy. “Most of the time, I try to just avoid people. If I don’t see anyone, then I don’t have to tell them not-nice things. And when I do have to see people, I try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. You know, generic. Braid my hair like every other something-year-old. Jeans and a t-shirt, bland as can be. Kept my childhood name of Margaret. Simple name.” She eyed Miriam. “Though maybe I should just go for eccentric. Get it legally changed to Magnolia or something. Give people a reason to write me off.”

Miriam laughed, a rough, guttural sound. “Making yourself something most people don’t want to see certainly helps turn you invisible.”

Margaret smiled. Frowned. Turned to Cindy. The woman’s hand had gone limp and her pen lay on the floor. She was the color of a pale albino in winter.

“Uh,” Margaret took the woman’s hand and rubbed it between hers. “You okay there?”

Miriam reached out a hand, grasped the woman’s elbow. Margaret saw her eyes unfocus for a second.

Then Miriam blinked. Sat back in her chair. “Don’t worry,” she said, looking at Cindy, “you don’t die of shock. Not even a little.” She looked down into her coffee cup, still mostly-full of the unpalatable sludge they’d left out in the guest lobby. She pushed it toward Cindy. “Here. Taste of your own medicine. It’ll do you good.”

The woman grasped the cup, took a sip. Spluttered.

“Eh, there you go!” Miriam clapped her on the back. “There’s some color in your cheeks!”

Margaret reached into her purse and pulled out a water bottle. “Here,” she set the water bottle in front of the slightly-less-dazed reporter. “Helps the truth go down.”

Margaret and Miriam stood up, both watching Cindy work ineffectually at twisting the cap off. Miriam looked over at Margaret. “The truth, takes some getting used to, hunh?”

Margaret gave an upward flick of her eyebrows in agreement. She looked at Cindy. Made a face. “Just keep working at that. You’ll get it.”

Miriam took Margaret by the hand, pulled her towards the door of the conference room. “So, Magnolia, how about you and I go get gloriously drunk together?”

Margaret hesitated. “I don’t know… people tend to, uh, not like me very much when I’m drunk. You know, inhibitions and all that. Tend to say some pretty nasty things.”

“Lovely!” Miriam chirped. “So do I! We’ll get along splendidly.”

The sound of laughter followed the two women’s silhouettes out of the conference room and into the elevator.

Inside the conference room, there was silence.

Then, the sound of twisting. Something coming loose.

And a snap.

The Man in the Moon: Steampunk Style

10 Mar

“The Man in the Moon: Steampunk Style,” a short story inspired by the artwork of Eric Fan, “Moon Travel.”

There is a man in the moon.

There is the man in the moon, actually. He’s been there, always. Or for as long as matters for “always.” He’s been sitting up there, watching. Keeping an eye on things. Making sure the cogs of the moon keep turning, keep it rolling around the earth like we’ve always said it does. It’s his lookout. He needs that circling, around and around and around. Day after day, month after month. It’s how he watches everything.

I don’t know, but some say there are switches and levers and buttons up there in the moon, too. Switches and levers and buttons for us. For the earth. The man in the moon, he’ll watch and make sure the roiling and the broiling down here is going on how it’s supposed to – there is some roiling and broiling that’s supposed to happen, you know, that’s how creation has to happen, with some struggle and some clash and then something that’s been clanged and chipped and cracked, it comes out looking beautiful. Well, the man in the moon, whenever the roiling and the broiling gets too frenetic, he’ll pull a lever, change the course of a current. Flick a switch, stop a missile. Press a button, change the direction of a conquest. Maybe even stop it all together. Sometimes you’ve got to get your hands off a creation, after all. Sometimes it’s time to let it go, to leave well enough alone.

I suppose he might also pull a lever or flick a switch or press a button if things get too stagnant down here. You know, push a mountain up through the continental crust. Stir up some bad blood between kings. Cause a tsunami. Keep the human race moving.

Because what with that golden orb up there, all metallic gears and brass whistles and silver pipes, he’s got to keep it moving, too. If we stop, I bet that it, the moon, stops too. So the man in the moon, he’s got to keep the human race moving. Maybe not quite like cogs in a machine, maybe something more like a robot with an imagination. It’s got to find out what it’s capable of to keep growing. Otherwise, that shiny sphere of possibility it keeps looking up to, keeps watching wane and wax over the course of its breaths and years and life, well that shiny sphere will just come crashing down, if it’s not forever moving round and round in an eternal chase. Just barely catching – but no, somewhere a machine jolted and the contact wasn’t quite made.

I wonder if it’s a game to him, the man in the moon. I wish I could sit up there with him, in his chair nooked in the curve of the crescent moon.

I think it would be fun to play.