Tag Archives: story

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.

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.

My Mom Is Not My Best Friend

10 May

My mother is not my best friend. And that’s okay. The concept of who my mother is has changed in my life over time, as I think it should have.  As a kid, my mom was that great mass of maternalness that gets epitomized in Baby Muppet’s mother-human-thing-character, a body wearing a dress tall with a nice voice who’s tall enough that her head is somewhere off the top of the screen and all you can really see are her legs and the tray of cookies she’s bringing into the room. My mom was my mommy – dinner-making, school uniform-buying, rule-creating, playdate-arranging woman who took me out to Gloria Jeans Coffee for hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top on my days off school. She was the Adult And Thus Essentially God who brought me to the pediatrician the zillion times I had strep throat, forced me to wear sunscreen when I was too young to understand the words “Irish complexion,” and for god knows what reason took on what must have been the hell of running my elementary school Brownie troupe. As it goes with most kids, for me in my childhood, my mom was a set of actions and routines and a few shades of mannerisms. I loved her, I needed her, but I had close to zero understanding of her as a person.

Puberty hit, and I’m pretty sure neither of us understood the other as a person for a solid five years or so. With my flush of preteen hormones came the genetic ticking time bomb of mental health predisposition, with anorexia and OCD taking the lead. It was me and my brain against the world. (Well, it was really my brain against me and the world, but I wouldn’t know that until something like a decade later when I was three years into therapy.)

As I fell into a world of misconceived misperceptions and my mother tried to fix it all with tough love and no science or psychology, our relationship devolved into secrecy and butting wills. With my mom not really having a background in psychology or science, I don’t know all of what went through my mother’s head during those years, but I imagine it was something like “WHY IS MY CHILD BREAKING WHY WON’T SHE JUST DO WHAT I SAY WHY CAN’T I FIX IT FUCK FUCK FUCK.” My brain, in the meantime, was going “SEE HOW SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND SHE’S TELLING YOU TO DO WRONG THINGS SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING WILL BREAK IF YOU DON’T DO THIS WHY WON’T SHE JUST TRUST YOU SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT SHE’S TALKING ABOUT.”

Lovely, lovely communication there.

My early teen years were not pleasant. Combined with friendlessness at school and expectations all around of high-achievement, my developing mistrust of my well-meaning mother and growing resentment toward other family members led to a lot of walls and broken battleground. Things were wrong. My brain scrambled desperately to fix them in maladaptive ways. My mother tried in her own misinformed way to fix it as well. Everything was terrible. My mother was not my best friend. From within my eventually clinically depressed brain, she was barely even someone I liked.

It’s entirely justified if that sentiment were mutual.

Adulthood, or the mini-adulthood that is college, at least, offered some respite. I got both better and worse, but there was greater communication that happened. I mean, there kind of has to be when your daughter winds up in a treatment facility. You kinda have to talk about what’s happening for real, at least a little bit more, then.

I got to understanding my brain more, and it got harder for it to pull one over on me. I don’t know what changed for my mom, but she started backing off of mama bear mode and started interacting with me on a more peer level. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, we started understanding each other as adults.

And honestly, I don’t even think I mean in some gushy, and-all-was-well way. I’d go home for a visit over the summer, and find out that my mom’s favorite band is PINK FUCKING FLOYD. And then she’d just suddenly rattle off the lyrics to some rap song. And then she’d tell me about how she put herself through a few years of college while working full time because she wanted the education for herself even though her mother didn’t. And I’d tell her about how I’d gone on birth control (at that point in order to regulate my unruly menstrual un-cycle, but my mother’s immediate response was “OH GOOD YOU CAN HAVE SEX NOW!”) and about how sucky vet school applications are and about how I adopted a snake (she was less okay with that than the birth control). With my mother’s mama bear a little bit more tamed, I can now ask her for advice on things like renting a car and how to do taxes, and, I mostly trust that she’s not going to jump into let-me-do-everything-for-you-oh-child-of-mine mode where I feel like respect for my own competence goes flying out the window. No, I feel like now, in her eyes, I am an adult. I can see her, the adult, more now too. I like her. I hope she likes me. I think we’re something like friends.

But not best friends. Which is good, because that’s not what I need her to be.

I need her to tell me to put on sunscreen when I delude myself I won’t burn. I need her to sit down and have hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top. I need her to somehow sometimes know more about old school rock than I do.

I just need her to be my mom.

Resurrection

6 Apr

Yesterday was Easter. As someone who know longer identifies strictly as either Catholic or nondenominationally Christian, the day does not hit my life as hard as it used to, back when Easter meant something like bunnies and chocolate and uncomfortable pretty dresses, weeks of waiting and a vague feeling of having made it somewhere when the trumpets played during the very last song, adolescence and jeans and strangled, crying prayers and final, desperate relief at sunrise. There was victory to it, back then.

There is some misgiving around it for me, now. I can look on it as a part of my family history and my life narrative, but not longer a part of my personal legacy. There would be less truth about me, if I went and sat in an Easter pew, now.

I am glad for those who can celebrate Easter with no taint of regret or guilt or hate or distrust lurking in the low notes of those Sunday hymns, whether the tinges be from wider eyes and disillusionment or vision shut down from hatred of the part of the world that isn’t you.

I belong to the former category. It’s a long story, but mostly boils down to my refusal to accept that what a group of arbitrary essentially-white men decided together in a randomly located room before the microscope was anywhere near invented is absolute truth about the universe at every single moment in time.

Call it doubt. Call it skepticism. Call it science. I don’t really care. It is where I am at, and I do not feel the need to try to force anyone else to try to be there. I claim no label because I do not presume that I know enough about the universe to say that yes, I am capable of finding absolutely the right one and yes, you should absolutely use it too.

I am not a god. I am not even a physics nobel laureate.

So instead, I have settled loosely upon allowing Shakespeare to describe my doctrine, with that Hamlet line, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Science revisits and retests and grows and revises itself. Discards and discovers. Describes everything with an ever-expanding vocabulary. And as someone who grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, who grew up writing sci-fi and fantasy, I am willing to clinging to a last little bit of hope that there’s some kind of magic out there, in this very wide place of existence.

Maybe it’s a network of universal consciousness. Maybe it’s a god. Maybe it’s the ridiculous self-trick that is the human mind, the reason that while I claim no religion I will still pray to the God that I muttered tearful little prayers to as a child because sometimes it’s nice to pretend that someone like that is maybe still listening.

Or maybe it’s just gonna be more science being really damn cool.

Whatever the case, yesterday was a day about celebrating resurrection. And even as the lovely little heathen I have become, I too could appreciate that feeling of a breath of fresh* air as a tomb opens and something you thought was dead walked out.

In my case, a character I spent five years writing and whose dead horse I thought I’d thoroughly bludgeoned beyond any future salvageability just up and showed up in the back of my mind and started talking and generating plot and apparently having a story again. And she’s not a character I’d heard from in a loooong time, outside of edits for that infernal manuscript of hers I swear I will finish cleaning up this year and finally send off into the vastly frightening, teeth-gnashing world of oh god please traditional publishing agents take on my book.

This character – Mariasa – she’s the closest analog of me I have in a character. Sort of. I’ve written short stories where the MC’s were also me, in some way, but I tended to be more self-aware about that. I wrote the short story because I needed to fling my emotions or my imagination into some other scenario so they could sort themselves out there. Or I was just playing pretend in words. That’s what we writers do, you know.

But Mariasa – I started writing her story when I was 14. I wasn’t super conscious of what I was doing, within my writing. I was just doing it. So I went along for about five years, pouring dreams and hopes and personality and adventure I couldn’t extract from my own life into this character. She was my soul, out having another life somewhere. And I didn’t realize this until about three years after I’d finished that first draft of her story. There is a line, in my development as a writer. “Before the time I realized that I’d used parts of real humans to shape many of my characters” and “After the time I realized that many of my female MC’s were basically alternate versions of me and that oh god so many of the male protagonists are based off of a certain guy friend and I should probably go smush my face into his and see how that goes.”

Ah, college.

Anyhoo. Mariasa. She lived in my head for so long. I would sit at my windowsill with my notebook in my lap and my dog at my feet and I’d loop the same 40-minute CD for hours and stare out my window at the world beyond it and it was really only a matter of how fast I could move the pencil to keep up with how fast Mariasa was traveling across her own world having adventures. She was the story I could just sit down and write. No writer’s block. No uncertainty. I’d sit down to pick up where I’d left off and suddenly have a backlog of five more scenes in my head that I needed to move Mariasa to. She was my great story.

And then I finished it. And I was 18, and my world and mental health simultaneously started to crack. Probably causative, that. But this meant that for five more years, Mariasa’s story stayed ended. I got stuck in this endless loop of editing. Because of course it was never good enough. Fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Grow into a different person with altered values and more knowledge and greater exposure and fix it again.

Over. And over. And over again.

Locked into a life structure of my own where I come up against the same brick wall again and again and locked into an editing loop where I’ve continually tried to smooth over the same set of passages while repeatedly stalling and not getting any further, I’ve been frustrated with the staleness of the same words and the same sort of life I’m writing them in, and I’ve been at the stage of “I just want to finish the damn thing” for a while now.

And then I went to Europe.

There was a lot of fresh air in Europe.

Mariasa’s story is one of adventures. I went out and had some adventures. Parts of me long quiet woke up again, and the other chatter that’s routinely bounced around in my mind and made it impossible to be properly productive, properly imaginative went silent. There was room for the quiet little voices in my mind that murmur about adventure to wake up again. I guess it makes sense that Mariasa would wake up, too.

And it’s a desperate relief, this resurrection. Because it means a part of me that I thought might be dead forever is coming back to life. Or at least did long enough for Mariasa to come out of whatever tomb in my mind she’d been hiding in.

She’s older now. Which is good, because it means that she’s grown. She’s got the light I build her character from but there’s spark to her now, too. Less worried about “good,” more able to make hard decisions. But still, as always, caring really damn hard.

She’s slipped on her sweater and the first pair of shoes in reach. She’s ready to go into the world again.

I’ve started her story – not sure if it’ll be a short of a full-blown novel as well, but I’m letting her decide that. This isn’t a story with an agenda. This is just a story.

Mariasa woke up. Apparently we’re going somewhere.

———–

*Okay, I know any air coming from a newly unsealed tomb around the time of Jesus would have been anything but fresh. Whatever. Pretend it’s the shiny Hollywood version. We’re talking metaphors here. Deal with it.

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.

Loneliness Hits

30 Sep

Loneliness is a rough sort of rolled-up burning-down summary of life to take a hit of. It’s the kind of hit that leaves you not just coughing so badly you wind up in tears, but somehow proves a bruise-leaver too, on more than just your throat. Loneliness hits that way.

Loneliness is the worst of drags that I cannot seem to ever figure out how to choke down and tolerate. I guess my ears get a little weird, when I’ve sucked down loneliness. I go deaf for a bit, so I can’t even hear the noises of the ones around me. All I can hear is the inside of my brain, and that’s only filled with the noises of people who aren’t any longer here.

It’s a bad trip, loneliness.

The psychiatrists and psychologists, they say it will pass. That we’ll find me an antidote, and I will stop choking on the very air around me as this unending ember of a stick of loneliness dangles from my fingers, unable to be removed. This next set of pills, they say. This next glass of water. This next deep breath.

I’ve taken many a deep breath in my life; loneliness is an insidious pollution, and the smog count grows ever higher. That’s the rub – you breathe in to breathe out what you breathed in, but if there’s no change in air quality, your red blood cells only learn all the more to consent to carry what your heady environment has stuck upon life’s circulation.

Even tears can’t flush it out.

Maybe one day a little white circle will clear all this away.

Maybe one day a fire will burn hot enough to immolate this slow-killing haze.

Maybe one day I will have exchanged all my oxygen for this grey composition, and then I will no longer notice any discrepancy in hue, and I will not remember what it was like before, and I will no longer fight to hold off this desperate coloration, because at least now, in this grey prison, I have something with which to be one.

Or maybe these are all just ramblings, too long a drag off the loneliness stick. I’m starting not to remember much. Oh look, bruises…

Totally Not The Season (i.e. “Christmas Monster”)

21 Sep

Today has been a day of adventure and art and literature and yearning ’round all three for me. I was in Santa Barabara, California as part of a spontaneous road trip with two of my best friends. It was incredibly sunny up in SB – so much so I was worried for a bit that I sunburned during our stop at a gloriously human-vacant beach – so it really didn’t even feel like fall, let alone fast-encroaching winter. But then my internet wanderings meandered me over to an illustration by the fantastic Eric Orchard that he called “Christmas Monster” (not currently featured here because of lack of explicit permission to do so). And the artwork – the storybook quality of the illustration, the whimsical subject matter, and the flat-out wintery snow – well, I ogled it all, and out popped a poem.

So, here you are. The totally unseasonal narrative, “The Christmas Monster.”

(Inspired by this illustration by Eric Orchard)

The Christmas Monster

There is a Christmas Monster in the sky
who once a year comes down the hill
and makes the fluffy white snow fly
and frost above the sill.

The Christmas Monster in the sky
bites his lip and sets to work
knowing soon the time is nigh
for the elven cirque.

The Christmas Monster ‘bove the hill,
if you ask a jolly ride
then in his sleigh he’ll with a thrill
tuck you by his side.

Then off the Christmas Monster flies,
sending all ‘round the snow
and a tinge of red on nose
and that glimmer, in the eyes.