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Fiction Friday: Skinwalkers Pt. 1

Dream catcher on a sunsetFat droplets of rain collided with the packed earth beneath me. My body rocked back and forth, shivering in the cold. I was aware of a chant being sent up to the full moon hiding away behind a blanket of ominous clouds that carried the first storm of the summer. It took several moments before I realized the chanting erupted from my own chest.

All around me was the magic of the Earth made tangible. Every rock and tree lit up in my vision as tiny pinpoints of light with the first crash of lightning that struck the ground. I saw the power and spirit within each living thing, saw the Gateways and Paths to the Otherworld. I smiled, ready to take my first step along that Path but as I did, the scenery shifted.
Instead of bright pinpoints of light, my surroundings shriveled and diminished. Fractals of blue turned blood red. The thunder I heard turned to terrible growls that ripped through me, lancing me with agony. I know I screamed like the Devil had taken me. I screamed every time it happened.

Something in Heavenswood was wrong; a looming threat that would drown our tiny little town. Trouble was, no one believed me.

There was a point in time when the people of Heavenswood would actively seek out my mother, ask her to read the patterns on the wind or step into the Otherworld for guidance. When she died, folks stopped coming, stopped talking to us all together, stopped believing.

Eventually, my screams diminished to pathetic gurgles and my chanting to whimpers in the rain. The rain beat against my brow and bare chest. It flooded my nose and ears and surrounded me in mud that I felt myself sinking into until I was one with the Earth.

“…jah! Elijah!!”

Light flooded my unfocused eyes. It was painful. I cringed and spluttered, rolling like a beached turtle in a pool of thick mud and castor oil. Every part of me was sore, made worse when my brother shoved me in the chest.

“Jesus Christ you asshole!” he spat. “What the hell is wrong with you?! You wanna die too?? What’d you take this time?!”

The list was too long to give a proper answer so I opted for silence. I still felt as if I were part of the Earth, my body absorbed into the cold suction of freshly made wallows. An answer wouldn’t ease Noah’s anger anyway. He didn’t believe anymore. I did; I had to. It felt wrong not to believe.

“Answer me, damnit!” Noah demanded again. He liked shoving my chest which only seemed to shove me further into the earth. I felt mud ooze into my ears and cradle my neck. I wasn’t coherent enough to speak without slurring it all up into a single syllable; I wasn’t strong enough to pull free of the earth either. Truth be told, I didn’t want to.

“God you are such a waste,” Noah cursed. I knew he didn’t mean it, but in that moment, it certainly felt like he did. Maybe I was a waste, but I was a waste that was trying to save what he loved so much – the people of Heavenswood. No one believed the town idiot though, no matter how much he might beg or plead to be heard. Rather than argue, I simply lay there in the mud.

I listened to my brother leave. His heavy, squelching footfalls traveled through the earth to the tiny drums inside my ears filling with mud. When I could no longer detect his presence within the earth – or any other capacity – I choked through a coughing fit of foul tasting vomit and dirt. Still, as I lay there in the mud, I felt the land around me trying to send out a warning, to tell me what so desperately needed to be known.  

Eventually, I crawled out of the mud, naked to the world and trudged my way up to the flat above my father’s old garage. It was archaic and rickety. The stairs made noise as I climbed them. The walls were ‘painted’ with soot that never washed away after the fire. There was a smell to it, too, that I could never place but felt bereft when it was not around.

I washed the memory of my vision away in the shower that only had one pressure setting. I stood there for long minutes, letting the scalding water burn it all away until I was able to stand without support. I could hear my mother’s sweet voice telling me to hold on to my faith, to listen to the winds for they would guide me when I needed it the most. I wanted to believe her. Belief was hard when I stood alone, however.

I can’t do this without him. He needs to believe, I thought, hoping my brother might ‘hear’.

Our home among the foothills of Heavenswood was small, divided into two different ‘parts’. Noah lived in the main house with a large garage a few yards away from it. He was a hard worker, provided for anyone that came across his path and, usually, loved without condition – unless that person was me.

I lived above the old garage in the burnt out shell of what our lives had been when we were children. The twisted shell of our father’s car still sat in the garage, weeds and flowers taking over the soot and gravel thirteen years after the accident. I tried keeping a job and, technically, had one at the local bar in town but I wasn’t always sober enough to stand up let alone serve drinks. Herbs and visions aside, I knew my shortcomings. No one really ‘saw’ the Otherworld high on heroine but I did that as much as I did peyote herbs.

I knew that’s why people refused to believe. I’d done it to myself. I wasn’t the only one though. So many of the Seneca drown in liquor or gave in to the drugs that Mother Earth provided – especially the ones still on the reservation. We were just off the reservation – far enough away to prosper, but close enough to still get caught up in their crap.

 

My steps echoed into the new garage as I shuffled in. I wore sunglasses and flip flops beneath ragged jeans and no shirt. I wove my way around the towers of rubber tires that stood as sentinels in the dusty lawn outside.They guarded against the armies of rusted, busted cars that filled five acres worth of crab-grass. The junk yard was one of the few eyesores in the small mountain town, but it was tolerated for the talent that was held within.

Noah hung halfway down into the engine of an old ‘67 Chevy C10. It was a restoration job for a member of the local sheriff’s office. The price tag on the restoration would easily pay the bills and upkeep on the yard for the next three months and then some.

“Lookin’ good, No.”

He shoved himself out of the Chevy with a heavy sigh. Sweat poured down his temples the bandana that held back his blue-black hair collected what pooled at his ears. Muscular arms twisted his hands into a dirty red rag that I knew he wished could be my neck sometimes. Sometimes I wondered if his life really would be easier without me like he always claimed when he was mad. I answered the question as soon as it hit me but I wondered all the same.

“It’s noon, Eli. Noon. I asked you to come help almost four hours ago when I slapped you out of your drug-induced stupor. You weren’t breathing this time, by the way – aiming for a new low?”

I shrugged, lighting up a cigarette. Noah only rolled his eyes at me.

“Why do-”

“I’m doing it again tonight,” I cut in. “They’re coming. We need to be ready.”

“No one is coming, damnit. No one,” he barked. He didn’t believe it though, I could see it on his face. He remembered what happened thirteen years ago. We both still had the scars to prove it – his across his face and mine across my stomach.

“You need a smaller ratchet,” I rasped. Noah had turned away from me, trying to ignore the truth in my words by immersing himself in work. He growled and threw the ratchet down into the dirt. I glanced at it through a swirl of nicotine that I blew out through my nose then back at my angry twin.

Stop fighting, moron. Seriously, when did you stop believing? When mom died, or when I did?

Noah looked at me sharply then turned to the tool chest that had belonged to our father. Neither one of us liked to talk about what happened thirteen years prior when they had come the first time. No, that was not entirely true either – they came every thirteen years but, usually, no one noticed. The last time anyone had really noticed was in the fifties when almost the entire town was wiped out in a single night. The media had called it one of the most gruesome serial killings ever recorded and took black and white pictures of mutilated corpses or blood-soaked trees. Thirteen years ago there were only four people in those pictures and two boys lying bandaged in a hospital all shoved in a dusty box as an unsolved crime and easily forgotten.

I wanted to say more, but my attention was diverted by the crunch of gravel rolling up to the garage. Noah looked at me as soon as he saw the sheriff’s car but all I could do was shrug. There was nothing illegal about ashes in a conch shell and I was currently devoid of anything more potent than cigarettes and a case of cheap beer.

“Afternoon, gentlemen.”

I arched a brow as a woman climbed out of the driver’s seat and Steve Lowry climbed out of the passenger’s seat. The woman was nearly a match in height to my brother and I which meant she reached Lowry’s shoulders quite easily. She had her hair in a braid that was tucked up into her wide-brimmed hat. It was like she stepped out of a TV show with the get-up she wore but what got me more was the aura around her. She looked…fuzzy.

“Boys,” Lowry said. “This is our new Sheriff, Ever Jackson. Y’all got a minute?”

“Wasn’t me,” I said as I tossed the cigarette to the ground and shuffled back to the house to brew some coffee. Noah only sighed and followed.

 

“Are you serious?” Noah asked after the new Sheriff and Lowry finished their explanation for their visit. The Baxters were having some sort of issue, but the old woman would not talk to anyone except me, of all people. The Sheriff made an apologetic face and opened her mouth to speak but I cut her off.

“You’re driving and I’m not putting a shirt on.”

There was no further discussion, I simply shuffled my way out to the squad car and lit up another cigarette on the way. The ride into town only took fifteen minutes. I rode with the window down letting the wind hit me in the face and blow through my long hair. When we got to the Baxter home, I tied my long locks back into a messy man-bun and pulled a multi-colored scarf from my back pocket, tying it around my head.  I’d worn it the night before and every time I wanted to touch the Otherworld. My mom had worn it too, when she had done what I do now.

“Mrs. Baxter?” the Sheriff said. Her aura wavered, shifting with a crack in her voice to something more solid. She was hiding something that made me grin a little; a secret she kept just to herself. “Mrs. Baxter it’s Sheriff Jackson – I brought Mr. Curtis with me. Can we please talk now?”

A few minutes passed but, eventually, the door opened. I’d known Mrs. Baxter my whole life. She taught first grade way back when and now enjoyed a retired life with her husband. They sat in their rockers sipping steaming mugs of coffee watching the comings and goings of a small town every morning. Now she looked at me with the desperation of a woman at her wit’s end.

“Come in,” she said.

The house smelled of mothballs. She was seventy, maybe; a little older. There were pictures and afghans and little handmade doilies all over the place but there was no warmth in the home at all. I rolled my neck uneasily, shivering.

“Alright, Mrs. Baxter now, can you tell Mr. Curtis what you won’t tell us? We can’t help you find your husband until you do.”

“You won’t find him,” I said. Or, rather, heard myself say. It was like a part of me detached and flew away to the pre-dawn hours at the dock just behind the Baxter’s home. “You won’t… tell her I love her; tell her I love her and to run; tell her… they’re coming; they’re all coming.”

I watched Mr. Baxter from a distant, hazy vantage point walk onto his dock with a fishing pole and tackle box. It was a morning ritual. Mrs. Baxter wanted trout for dinner and, by golly, he was going to snag her some trout to fry up. She had her reasons and would do some weird voodoo with its guts but that was her ways and he was alright with that. I watched him settle in to his chair and then felt his pain. I couldn’t see anything because, in that moment, I was Mr. Baxter. He didn’t know how or why, just that he hurt and they were doing it to him and then – nothing. There was no light, no dark, just an incredible amount of pressure that suddenly burst like a bubble when I shot up off Mrs. Baxter’s floor like a weed.

“Ok, relax, breathe slowly – you had some sort of seizure or something,” the Sheriff was saying but I knew better. So did Mrs. Baxter. I looked at her and she knew. The tears welled in her eyes. I watched her walk back into her bedroom and come back out a few minutes later with something in her wrinkled hands. She draped a set of beads around my neck, nodded, and walked out her back door.

“Mrs. Baxter!” I called, trying to get up but I was dizzy and tripped. Her house kissed the woods, touched the lake and sky – basically lived on the edge of reality and the Otherworld. “Wait!”

“Mr. Curtis sit down!” the Sheriff called, chasing me as I chased Mrs. Baxter. I made it ten steps out onto her back porch when I caught scent of them. The hairs on my neck and arms stood on end and the large tattoo on my back suddenly burned with ferocity. Mrs. Baxter had already gone, willing and ready to join her husband without fear. This was normal for her, this is how it always happened and she was ready. She’d met her husband that fateful summer when everyone else had been killed, out of town at the university. She knew. Everyone in town knew even if they’d forgotten. Maybe that’s why they were so angry and wanted so much. Everyone had forgotten.

“Mr. Curtis, please, I’d like for you to go see a doctor,” the Sheriff said. “Lowry, go find Mrs. Baxter.”

“No!” I barked. “Stay out of the woods.”

Lowry looked at me then at the Sheriff, clearly torn. He was starting to remember but he had a duty to obey his superior officer.

“Oh for the love of Christ, someone needs to go find that woman! Stop being such an infant!”

“Lowry, I don’t like you,” I said with pure honesty in my voice as I stared at the woods. “You were the biggest asshole in high school and still rank high on my list of douche bags. I’m begging you – stay out of the woods.”

There was uncomfortable silence from the elder man and then a rough cough as he cleared his throat. “How many?”

“All of them,” I said. “We’ve forgotten.”

“Eli, I have little girls, man, they’re only two.”

“I know.”

“Would either of you like to explain to me why you’re both staring at a bunch of trees like you’ve just seen the Devil walk through them.”

I snorted, “Trust me, Ever – may I call you that? – not even the Devil would go in there right now.”

I turned around and walked back through the house to the squad car. Lowry and the Sheriff followed, arguing with each other the entire time. “I need to go see Blind Jack.”

I lit another cigarette as I spoke. I was feeling a little twitchy from all the visions and lack of heroin in my system. It’d been two days since my list hit of that particular poison. I climbed into the back of the squad car and waited.

“This isn’t your own personal taxi service,” Ever said. “I brought you down here to help me question a witness about a missing person. Now I’ve got two missing people! And now you’re telling me you want to go talk to someone else – stop smoking in my squad car!”

She snatchd the cigarette from my lips. I caught a momentary glimpse of a little boy in a dress with a black eye and bloodied nose, sobbing, not because of the pain, but because the dress was now stained.

So that’s your secret…

I looked at her, very calmly got out of the squad car, lit another cigarette and started walking up the road back into town. Blind Jack lived along the woods too, like the Baxters just north of my own home. He didn’t talk to anyone. He got all that he needed from weekly deliveries that his niece left on his front porch. He was like me, like my mother had been, but grouchy and nasty. The Otherworld had touched him in a horrible way, had taken the light from his soul and turned it dark and ugly.

“Hey!” she shouted. I ignored her. I smoked and walked and glanced at the cats that had run out of Mrs. Baxter’s house. They all followed me, all three of them. I smiled at that, wondering what the Sheriff might make of that, wondering if ‘she’ knew what she’d stepped into. I felt bad for her, after a fashion. This was the thirteenth year and it was going to be an awful one. For her sake, I hope she took the hint and got out of dodge before things got rough – she seemed like a nice guy.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket as I walked and dialed my brother. It was three miles back to town and then five to Blind Jack’s.

“Curtis Auto,” Noah said. I shook my head. Always working, always serious.

“Reina back yet?” I said.

“Been arrested yet?” he threw back.

“I’m serious, Noah – she back yet?”

“Why do you care? You’re not exactly her number one fan.”

“Just tell her to pack Cessa’s stuff and her stuff – they need to leave. I’m going up to see Blind Jack.”

“What, why? Elijah, what’s going on? Eli-”

I hung up as the squad car rolled up beside me. I had faster ways of getting to Blind Jack’s and I was tempted to show the Sheriff just what that was but my head was still spinning from all that had already happened. I would need to save my strength and focus for bigger things.

“Mr. Curtis-” Ever started.

“Eli,” I corrected.

“Eli,” she adjusted. “Mrs. Baxter went to great lengths to make sure you were there. You very obviously had a close connection to her and, presumably Mr. Baxter as well. I want to bring them both back safely but I feel like I can’t-”

“No, you can’t. They’re already gone, Ever. The best you can hope for is saving everyone else. You look like a smart woman – I assume you read the town’s histories and old case files – we don’t have many. Do me a favor and count back…five sets of thirteen years.”

“You’re talking about the Massacre of ‘51 – ok, what does that have to do with a crazy couple that just walked off into the woods?”

“They weren’t crazy and it’s about to happen again.”

“What’s about to happen again?” she asked. She stopped the car and got out; I kept walking. The cats followed, their tails up in the air as if on alert. They knew. “Eli! Don’t think I won’t arrest you for – – for – -”

“What’s your actual name? Did you get Ever from something longer? Everett maybe?”

She stopped walking and stared at my naked back for several minutes before realizing that I’d moved on. She ran to catch me then grabbed my arm to turn me to face her. Again, I caught a glimpse of her past, of a boy sitting on a sofa while an elder man hollered that no son of his would love another man. I looked at her when the glimpse went away, looked at her eyes and saw the weight she carried in her heart clearly displayed in pools of hazel blue.

“I like Everett too,” I said and kept walking. “I think I like Ever better – has a… I dunno… ring to it that Everett doesn’t. Everett sounds too boring. Go read those files again, Ever.”

“Oh hell no you are not doing this,” she said, running to catch me again. Again, she grabbed my arm and turned me around. This time I saw a man staring at his reflection in the mirror, makeup perfectly done and short hair growing out to tight ringlets that would have to be tamed soon. “Explain yourself.”

I blinked and refocused on the Sheriff. “Telling you that you’re out of your league seems a little cliche, but it is the honest truth. This isn’t just a normal small town. There’s history here and expectations. People don’t like to be reminded of that though. If they’re smart, they leave. If not… well, I shouldn’t talk. I’m still here, right?”

“You aren’t making a single bit of sense and – – are you seriously going to walk to wherever you’re going?”

“Yeah, it’s only eight miles or so back the way we came. I’ve walked further,” I said. I had. “If we survive, wanna have a drink with me?”

“What??”

“I’ll take that as a maybe,” I said, winking at the new Sheriff. She made to follow me but this time Lowry stopped her. I heard him tell her it wasn’t worth it, I was a different brand of weird even for this town. Ass.

Posted in Stories

Fiction Friday: Damaged Goods

Black and white image of shattered glass.

Every morning, the mirror showed me the same damaged loser as it did the day before. Nothing ever changed for me even if the surroundings changed constantly.

“William! Hurry up, baby, or you’ll miss the bus!”

 

I sat in the front, head down, buds in ears pretending like everyone else that I did not exist. Most of the kids on the bus had known each other since preschool. The ones that didn’t sat like I did – silently praying to go one more day unnoticed.

“Watch it, jerk!”

I felt my shoulder twist in its socket as it collided with another mostly-solid mass. It was the same every day in every school I set foot in. School was just something I did to pass the time and make my mom  happy. My demons were my own, but she worried all the same. It’s what moms do, after all, mine more than most.

 

I rubbed my thumb along the rough fabric of my shirt while waiting for English to finish. I could feel the long, puckered line on my forearm even through the thinning thermal. It had a twin on the other arm. I still remembered the sharp pain, I remembered the numbness more.

Mom said I’d gone into a rage before locking myself in my dad’s old Chevy with a butcher knife and his stashed bottle of Jim Beam Whiskey. I don’t remember anything but the heat of the knife sliding across my arm.

We moved off base after that. Then we moved again, and again, and now one more time with Peter until the day he decides my sister and I were too much to handle like everyone else did; ‘til he decided I was too much to handle.

“William Burke.”

I looked up at the teacher standing at the front of the room. She held a paper in her hand.

“Doctor Mendi wants you upstairs.”

There was a ripple of whispers and snickers that followed me out of the classroom. It was seventh period; I wanted to leave, not go upstairs. For half a second I even considered it but then obediently shuffled on up the stairs anyway.

The paper in my hand had a giant ‘304’ scrawled on it. The door with the matching number had several construction paper butterflies and pipe-cleaner flowers pasted to it. Somewhere, some kindergarten class was grossly envious of this door. Inside wasn’t much better. Just the little peek I got from cracking the door raped my eyes with rainbows and tissue paper wreaths.

“We only bite if you ask.”

Three faces stared back at me from an eclectic array of sofas and padded chairs. Two girls, one guy.

“Doc’s not in yet,” the guy continued. “Whatcha in for?”

I stared at him, deciding if I wanted to answer or not. He had dark hair tied back in a messy tail and an old Black Sabbath shirt on. The girl beside him looked like a moth got hold of her laundry and the other just huddled on the only single-seat chair like a scared kitten waiting to get beat. I opted to maintain my silence.

“Strong silent type,” Black Sabbath shrugged. “I can respect that. I have an obsessive compulsion to spin yarns so…”

I tuned him out. If he noticed, it did not deter him. Moth Girl stared at me and Mute Girl just tried to make herself invisible. I couldn’t blame her – we were two kids short of a dysfunctional Breakfast Club.

Somewhere, at some point in our lives, an adult of questionable education decided that we were all damaged goods. As such, we were forced to sit together in the Rainbow Room of Zen and pretend like we gave two shits about the labels placed upon us.

We didn’t.

“Hadrian, please stop trying to run people off with your endless diatribes,” a woman in a tight business suit said. “We’re here to help each other, not bore each other.”

She sat at in the empty spot beside me, fluffed her bright red hair and settled in with an iPad at the ready. I’d have shot myself on the spot if she was older than thirty.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Meetings. So, how was everyone’s weekend? Katie?”

The mute girl in the corner shrank into a tighter ball. Apparently, her name was Katie.

“I only had two hits of coke this weekend,” Hadrian blurted. Whether he was serious or not, he spoke to pull attention away from Katie.

“That… is an improvement,” the suit said. I assumed she had to be Doctor Mendi. She screamed ‘psychiatrist’ down to her fake Gucci flats. “Amber?”

“Same as last weekend, Doc,” Moth Girl drawled. “Ain’t nothin’ ever changes.”

Dr. Mendi sighed and set her tablet down. It was immediately obvious that she fought an uphill battle with these ‘damaged goods’ she’d been given. She looked at me with a mix of hope and resignation on her face.

“William, you’re new to us – care to tell us where you’re from?”

I stared at her until I saw defeat start to wash over her then said, “Spokane.”

“Washington! Must be a big change for you, coming here to Jersey.”

I shrugged and rubbed my arm again.

“Is there really a place called Forks in Washington?” Black Sabbath asked. I grinned – Katie looked up from her knees.

“Yeah,” I said simply.

“Are there vampires there?” he smirked.

“Uh, no, but the wendigos moved in shortly after sasquatch relocated to Canada,” I threw back.

“Oh you’ll fit in just fine here, Spokane,” Hadrian said while the doc rubbed her temples.

 

Six weeks passed in that fashion. Hadrian and I made it a game of sorts to banter until Katie smiled and the doc gave up on ‘group therapy’. By Valentine’s Day we had exasperation down to a five minute battle of witty words. Much to her great dismay, none of us were as damaged as she thought we were.

Hadrian was a drug addict and compulsive liar. He also lived with his sister and helped raise his niece. Katie refused to speak. No one knew why but she liked to draw and eat celery sticks with Nutella. Amber was a diagnosed nymphomaniac that got herself off twice in front of everyone despite the doc begging her to show some self control. Neither of us hung out outside the Rainbow Room of Zen but we had a good time of it while we were there.

Then, Amber stopped coming.

The problem with being damaged was that very few people actually noticed when something went wrong. The only kids to show up at her funeral was us.

“She had two weeks left,” Hadrian said. He cried for her, for the girl everyone took advantage of but no one remembered.

“Two weeks ‘til what?” I asked.

“She turned eighteen. That was her out. She was gonna leave; go to Paris or something, be a model or a porn star, I guess. Just two weeks…”

Amber’s dad was arrested two weeks later for child molestation and murder.

 

“Anger management,” I said one day in group after Amber’s death. No one else was talking, not even Hadrian.

“I’m sorry?” Doc said.

“Hadrian asked what I was here for my first day,” I explained. “Anger management.”

“Seriously?” Hadrian snorted; he didn’t believe me. I nodded and looked right at him.

“My dad used to beat us up – me and my mom, my sister, even the dog. Snapped the little thing’s neck cuz it kept barking. He was beatin’ on me one day, mom tried to stop him…”

I paused, feeling an uncomfortably familiar tingle rise up my spine.

“I heard her scream,” I said. “I don’t… I don’t remember anything after that. All the doctors that saw me said it’s like amnesia or something. I killed him. Grabbed a butcher knife and put it through his chest. Mom says it was like someone else took over. I just lose it anytime I get mad – can’t remember nothing after. Beat up a little kid was picking on my sister. Put him in the hospital. Every time we move its cuz I’ve done something to someone else. I tried stopping it…”

I rolled back my sleeves for the others to see. Thick white and pink scars ran up the length of my arms from wrist to bicep.

“You want us to talk, to open up and help us solve our problems – do you even know what our problems are, Doc? Did you know about Amber’s dad, what he was doing to her? Or did you just think she was ‘sick’ –  a broken doll you have to play with.”

“William…”

“She’s useless, dude,” Hadrian said with a hand over my white-knuckled fist. “They all are.”

I looked at his hand on mine and felt a rush of adrenaline ooze out of me. I stood up, stood ready to fight. I wanted to fight. To speak out for those that wouldn’t, to tear down the bullshit everyone waded through. I was not OK – we were not OK – and sitting in an overly colored room wasn’t ever going to accomplish anything.

I don’t remember walking away. I don’t remember climbing onto the small bridge near my school or decking Hadrian for trying to get me down. I don’t remember Katie hollering my name. I only remember being angry, filling with rage, and then smelling antiseptic plastic in my nose. There was a bandage around my arm and another just above my left brow. I heard the blip of a heart monitor and felt the icy cold rush of fluids being pumped through my veins.

“Your mom left just a minute ago.”

I let my eyes roll towards Hadrian’s voice. It was distinctive, almost nasally. He sat in a dark corner with a little girl at his feet brushing out the tangled mess of hair on a naked Barbie doll.

“She said she’d be back in the morning,” Hadrian continued. “I told her we’d stick around til you woke up. Say hi, Lexi.”

“Hi.”

The girl had a short-cropped pixie cut and pink cat-eye glasses.

“Niece,” Hadrian explained. “Aubrey works here; she’s a nurse. She’s off work in like an hour so we’re just hanging here with the beeps.”

The spot just beneath Hadrian’s eye was black and blue that spread across his nose and up into the corner of his other eye leaving it all bloodshot.

“All the crazy leak out of you yet?” His insatiable need to hear his own voice was both endearing and maddening all at once. “You do that often? The freakout HULK thing?”

I didn’t actually answer. I turned my head back towards the ceiling and sighed. Every time I moved it was because I ‘freaked out’, because I hurt someone before hurting myself. Seven times in five years.

“How many times?” Hadrian asked.

“Seven,” I croaked.

To his credit, Hadrian only nodded. Sort of. “Never remember anything?”

I shook my head. Nothing ever surfaced when I had an ‘episode’ except the damage left behind.

We didn’t talk about it much after that. I home-schooled for a month then went back for two days a week with the behavioral kids. Everything happened in an old church rectory that the school bought with the same four teachers and the Doc taking turns babysitting us. Katie sat beside me on the days I was there. She still never said much and never when anyone else was around. Hadrian would meet us after class everyday until we became the only ‘normal’ we knew.

Then, of course, it happened again.

“No fags on the porch.”

“John,” Kayleigh said. We walked Katie home every day and, every day, her sister Kayleigh sat on the front porch waiting for her. That day, her jackass of a boyfriend sat with her. A jock that flunked out on a knee injury but still thought he could act like an athletic god. His voice was the first tick on my annoyance scale.

“Find a different place to be, fag,” John continued.

“No worries,” Hadrian chimed in with a too-casual shrug. “We’re just depositing our newest convert to the world of heterophobic overlords. We won’t be here long.”

Katie smirked. So did Kayleigh.

John moved before we blinked and landed Hadrian on his back with a welt forming on his cheek, blood oozing out of his eye like unholy tears.

That time, I remembered the rage welling and the twitch in my muscles. I remembered the smell of blood, the taste of vomit, and the sound of sirens screaming all around me. Then, I remembered the all-too familiar smell of the oxygen tube in my nose. My head hurt. No, not hurt. It felt like it’d been simultaneously crushed and burned and stabbed with ice picks all at once.

“Hi baby.”

Mom. She sniffled, wiped her eyes and squeezed my hand. The first thing I tried to say ended in a choked off croak.

“It’s OK,” she said. “Everything’s gonna be OK.”

“Who’d I kill this time?” I said finally. It felt like swallowing sandpaper. My mom blubbered, sniffed again then:

“I can’t, I can’t…”

She let my hand go and all but ran from the room. I lifted my head, watching her crash into my step-dad’s chest and fall apart. Who had I killed?

“You’ve got no tact, Spokane,” Hadrian said from a corner I hadn’t even noticed. I saw the welt on his face and flinched.

“Did I-”

“No,” he said, moving to my bed. “John did. I think he got the worse end of the stick though.”

“Is he-”

“In ICU. Sadly, he will survive.”

I shook my head, thoroughly confused. “What the hell, man – why’d my mom flip out like that if John’s ok?”

“Survive,” Hadrian corrected. His arms were folded across his chest. “OK is still up for debate.”

“Then–”

“It’s you, William. You. You’re not OK.”

He’d never actually used my full name to my recollection. Will; Billy the Kid; Spokane; Hot Pants – never William. I didn’t have to ask for clarification. All I did was look at him, see the pain in his face and knew.

“I’m dying, aren’t I?” I asked. Hadrian nodded. He told me what my mom could not. I had a tumor the size of Baby Jesus in my head. It affected my memory, my inhibition, my aggression. It was the reason I flew off the handle when I got agitated and why I could never remember any of it. It was too big to remove. None of the doctors understood why I was still among the land of the living. They also couldn’t tell how much longer I had left.

“So… are you and Katie, like, a thing or what?”

I frowned. “You just told me my brain is being eaten and the first thing you wanna know is if I’m dating Katie?”

“Yeah.”

I snorted and shook my head, chuckling at my absurd friend. “No, we’re not dating.”

“Pity, you’d make a cute couple.”

I smiled and let my head rest against the hard pillow behind me. An hour later, I sat in the back of Hadrian’s sister’s tiny ass car with Katie hanging out the side window as we raced down the Jersey turnpike.

I only left a note tucked up under my untouched pudding. I refused to remain trapped in the suck of my life. I would not sit through anymore useless lessons. I would not listen to anymore shitty therapy advice that had no bearing on my actual problems. I existed on borrowed time and I was gonna make the most of it.

So, I dated Katie. We had sex in the back of that car at least once a day while Hadrian drove. We went to Graceland and Atlantic City and drank until we puked and then screwed each other in the giant soaking tub the next morning. We ate three-pound steaks, watched crappy movies, toured museums, and read every volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

We learned more in six months by living than we ever could in school. We sent postcards to our parents and posted stupid selfies taken with wax figures to Facebook and Instagram all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Katie still never said a word but she always smiled. Hadrian said too much, recounting our adventures with personal embellishments. I listened to every syllable with my toes in the sand.

“There’s a whale watching thing tomorrow – wanna go?” Hadrian asked.

“Sure,” I said. I was tired. Not just sleepy either. It was honest and true exhaustion. Katie ran her fingers through my hair and kissed my forehead. She knew what I did.

“I love you,” she said quietly while Hadrian prattled on about humpback whales. It was soft, meant for my ears only.

“I love you too,” I whispered back, nuzzling the tiny swell taking over her lap. She sat with me all night, holding me in her arms until I drifted away to eternal sleep.

I was seventeen years old when I died. My son was born six and a half months later in a hotel bathroom in Laguna. Hadrian stayed with them and gave my son a half-brother two years later. They never settled down, never stopped moving and learning. They did what Amber and I and any of the other damaged goods of the world couldn’t do.

They lived.

Posted in Chelle

The Month of Insanity!

Official NaNoWriMo 2018 poster. NaNoWriMo is... Everything.Let the insanity begin!! The flurry of action that occurs every year in November has returned. We collect our candies, our snacks, drinks, comfy sitting spots, and tools of creation. We mentally prepare for the onslaught of words, words, words!

I am, of course, talking about NaNoWriMo. It’s here. In but mere hours we, the insane participants of this glorious month, will put fingers to keys or pens to paper in a desperate race to the proverbial finish line. Words will fly from our minds to the keys (we hope). Family members will be ignored, productivity in all other aspects of our lives will fall by the wayside. But, why?

BECAUSE!!

Because without this month of complete and total neurotic insanity we might never get those words on the page. Our ideas remain bound within the curves and bends of our pink wrinkles, waiting for the clock to strike 12 on November 1.

NaNoDeclarationI declared my intent to write last week. As I did so, I realized that I actually have a lot to write. Not only do I have this year’s NaNo project to work on, but I also have another project to finish up, plus edits to Ashes and a final revisit to Zombie Babies. This is in addition to my new albeit incredibly (blessedly) part time job, the work I do as marketing director for both my own business and someone else’s, publishing duties, events, holiday markets, and #momlife.

I know you all know how nuts I am. You know that I tend to do All of the Things despite not actually having any time for it. Example: I have a poor doll still in pieces because he was due for a good soak and a new round of tattoos. He’s still in pieces. He’s very angry with me. But such is my life. I live in cHaOs, I wallow in the insanity that it brings, and I pray to come out mostly intact at the end of the month.

Plus, I can’t let my NaNo streak come to an end. Thirteen years, I’ve been doing this. Should mean I have thirteen books to show for it, but I don’t cuz my brain hates me and the revisions that come after have been atrocious. But, it’s a step in the right direction.

Who else is doing NaNoWriMo this year? Who else walks this path of mind-numbing creativity?

Let the words fly! Bring it on, November.

Posted in Chelle, General Updates/News

An Explosion of Chaos (aka Moving)

moving1

No, I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. I have, in fact, fallen into a vortex of chaos unlike anyone has ever seen. The struggle is real, folks. The battle rages on and on – a battle, I fear, that I am losing.

For those not in the immediate circle of ‘All Things Schad’, we have moved to a new house. This, of course, caused an excessively long hiatus on All Things Wordy & Nerdy owing to the fact that I had to pack said house, cram my entire existence and that of five other humans into small boxes, bags, and containers. Then I had to unpack said existence and rearange it into its new living arrangements. That is the battle that continues, the endless war of cardboard and packing paper; of purging the things that no longer fit nicely in our new abode; the endless sea of laundry that mystically accumulated in the few weeks while we stuffed everything else into and out of boxes (how does that even happen, btw?). Even now, as I write this, I delegate to the youngest of my spawn the ritualistic movements of unpacking a box (though how he managed to unpack it in my loft and not in his bedroom, I have no idea…).

Logistically, a great chunk of the unpacking has been completed. Rooms are put together, we have a functional kitchen and dining spot, and I have found a place in which to work on All Things Wordy & Nerdy while I hunt down all the pieces to my desktop (which is still not set up due to the lack of said missing pieces).

Inside my often-times idiotic brain, however, there is a screeching, panicking creature that demands that all of the things be completed right now. I have to bitch slap her from time to time so I don’t push myself too hard. It’s a constant struggle.

I try to view the unopened boxes or tottering piles not as ‘mess’ but as ‘transition’. It isn’t working.

So, instead of looking at them at all, I have now forced myself to take breaks into the realm of All Things Wordy & Nerdy, focusing specifically on the multitude of projects piling up inside of that world with little to no progress since all of this ‘moving’ nonsense started.

Zombie Babies (working title) for Corrugated Sky’s anthology continues to plague me (no pun intended). It shambles along at sub-sloth speeds but at least it’s shambling. Small favors. Especially since that’s due sooner rather than later.

Hellfire 2 is actually coming along a lot better than it was earlier in the summer when I tried to put sequel thoughts to paper/screen. I’m hoping to have draft 1 done by October. We have to be realistic here, people, I’m working on a lot right now.

Edits to Ashes have taken a nose-dive into stagnation because the diva that is my bard has been put in a box and he is angry about it (no, really, the doll based on his character was boxed for the move and it enraged the mental muse in my mind. Yes, I’m weird, but y’all wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t). Freak. Way to throw a tantrum, Reven.

Clockwork Gods has also taken a long hiatus because, reasons. I don’t have any good reasons, other than the fact that not a single one of those little bastards cares to play nice with me right now. I, seriously, have the most melodramatic muses in all of written existence.

On the publication side, there are two projects underway that take up all of my Adobe skills for formatting and cover art. Both will be done by the end of September (which means I really need to find all of my desktop pieces!! Formatting on a laptop kinda sucks). For now, I must maintain a modicum of secrecy on both projects but, rest assured, they will be mentioned later on down the line when things are progressing a little better than ‘where the hell are all my computer wires’, which is their current status. *sigh*

And, while my mind continues to sprint along at three-bajillion miles per minute with an equal amount of tabs open and a dancing fucking cat cuz, why not, the rest of me is like ‘WOMAN SIT THE FUCK DOWN!!’. Yes, body, I hear you. We are sitting, see?

It is unhappy with me. Moving is incredibly physically intensive even if I have been making a concerted effort to not lift too many boxes. Things still need to be stored, and shuffled, sorted, washed, put away, hung, cleaned (omg, don’t get me started on the incredible lack of cleanliness from my boys; not even a week… UGH!!), etc., etc. I am definitely putting my new meds to the test. While I have not completely shut down, I’ve come fairly close and I am gimping along at, roughly, beached whale speeds – which is to say I sort of waddle back and forth a little and hope for some forward momentum in those weak movements. It’s kinda funny (sad and pathetic, but funny). And I have a cough that won’t quit, cuz I needed that one little extra thing to make life that much more difficult.

Where is my mimosa and spa day? Let’s get that scheduled soon, life; k, thx. I hear my washer and dryer singing me the songs of its people now; assholes. For real, they sing. It’s creepy. Laundry should not be that happy about itself. Just sayin’.

Posted in Stories

WP: Out of Retirement

Little-Man-Ice-Cream-350x524The light of the television screen painted the tan carpet in a washed out blue strobe. There was no sound, closed captioning trying desperately to keep up with what was being spoken on the screen. Fire engines and police vehicles created a spectacle of lights in front of the giant vintage milk container that made up Little Man Ice Cream. Standing on top of the unique building, was a person crackling with electricity from head to toe.

“Daddy, that man sparkles.”

Joe Gatton glanced over at his daughter from the tiny kitchen where he prepared her favorite meal: Spaghetti O’s with mustard and pickles. Her mother ate that very same concoction while pregnant, smiling at Joe as she ate bowl after bowl of it right across from him at their tiny table. Now the only time Joe saw his wife was in pictures.

“Is he an angel, daddy?” Embry continued. Joe looked at the television, feeling his chest tighten.

What he saw was not the same thing his daughter saw. She did not see the danger standing atop Little Man Ice Cream. He knew what that thing was and it was no angel.

Denver was supposed to be a haven, a safe place away from people like the man on the television screen. The laws were still different state by state, city by city. Denver did not allow people like that inside their borders. Technically, they didn’t allow people like Joe.

“Come eat your dinner, Em,” Joe said, drawing his daughter’s attention away from the breaking news on screen. She happily complied. He kissed her cheek, setting the bowl of food down in front of her before changing the channel to cartoons. She watched while she ate, letting him slip back into his bedroom unnoticed.

He dug around his drawers and under-bed boxes until finding a small hand-held device oval in shape and bright white in color despite being in a dusty old corner for over five years. Joe shut his eyes, took in a deep breath, and pressed his thumb to the center of the oval.

“Recognized: Greenlight. Connecting you to PeaceKeeper Headquarters…”

The voice held a childish tone, accented in a British lilt, but also robotic. It was not a voice Joe ever thought he would hear again; a voice he didn’t want to hear again.

“WiFire; state your emergency, Greenlight,” said a woman with a heavy Russian accent. Her face popped up as a hologram from the oval device in his hand, her hair a bright electric blue.

“My emergency is that there’s an electric shit head standing on top of my favorite ice cream shop in Denver, WiFire. What gives? I had assurances that this place was safe.”

“There’s been complications,” she said by way of explanation. “Do you not watch television?”

“If NickToons counts as television, then yes, I watch that all the dammed time. My daughter is here, WiFire. Do you understand that? My daughter. There is a Stronghold not sixty miles north of here, dammit. Are they all on vacation??”

“Sixty-five miles,” WiFire corrected. “And there is no Stronghold in Fort-”

“Spare me! I know there is a Stronghold in Fort Collins!”

“No, there is not,” WiFire corrected again with a firmer tone in her voice and set jaw on her face. “The Strongholds were compromised. Many have been shut down or moved. The Secretary of Defense felt that it was not in the best interests of anyone to maintain a compromised posting within a military base. The Stronghold beneath Fort Collins has been destroyed.”

Joe was speechless. He felt his jaw drop open and knew that she could see his shock. Five years; he’d stepped away five years ago and never looked back, never once thought of his previous life until tonight.

“I am monitoring the activity in Denver now. There has been no damage. Without a name, I cannot track this particular Evolved, especially since your state has no database of Evolved.”

“Because they’re not allowed,” Joe nearly growled.

“I am aware,” WiFire replied calmly. “I am transmitting the situation to-”

“Let me talk to Karma,” Joe interrupted again with a heavy sigh.

“I am afraid that is not possible,” WiFire answered making Joe frown and glare at the blue-haired woman in the hologram call. “Karma is no longer in PeaceKeeper Headquarters. He is in Spain.”

“Spain,” Joe repeated with heavy annoyance on his voice.

“Daddy!”

He looked up, tucking the device behind his back. He kicked the under-bed box back into its spot with his foot and stood quickly. Embry bounded into his room with her empty bowl, red sauce and mustard all over her face.

“All done! Can I have a cookie?”

“Yeah, baby, uhm, just give daddy a second and I’ll get you a cookie. Put your bowl in the sink.”

“K!” Embry said, spinning around with her pigtails flying through the air as she ran back out to the kitchen. Joe watched her, feeling his chest tighten again and his stomach twist itself up in knots. No one was coming to help them, it didn’t matter what WiFire did or didn’t do, who she transmitted the situation to or not. He knew what the PeaceKeeper’s capabilities were.

“Where is the nearest Stronghold?” he asked, partially dreading the answer.

“Los Angeles,” WiFire answered. The PeaceKeepers were good, they were fast, but they weren’t that fast.

“Reinstate me, WiFire,” he said almost sadly. “Formal request, Gatton, Joseph Andrew aka Greenlight with additional request for full protective custody of Embry Elizabeth Gatton, effective immediately.”

“Do you want to list a next of kin or specific guardian for Embry?” WiFire asked, her eyes looking down to the keys upon which she typed the request. He could hear the keys clacking together, felt a lump form in his throat, but suppressed it long enough to speak.

“There is no next of kin. She’s it. Requested guardian – Kristian Lyle aka Seraph.”

“Reinstatement completed, Greenlight. I am sorry,” WiFire said. “You will report to Auspex. They have been made aware of the situation. ETA – five hours.”

“Five hours?” Joe echoed.

“There is a situation in San Francisco that they are currently involved in. Again, I am sorry, Greenlight. Things have changed. Good luck.”

The call ended, WiFire’s image vanishing in a blink. Silence filled the room again.

“Daddy!” Embry called from the kitchen.

Joe blinked and glanced over to the side table where his wedding picture stood in a silver frame. His wife smiled at the camera while he kissed her cheek. Beside the frame, was a small urn with her ashes.

“Coming, Em,” he said though not loud enough for her to hear him. He put the oval communication device in his back pocket as he walked out to the kitchen where his daughter waited.

 

* For more super hero fun, check out Hellfire, available in print and eBook on Amazon.

 

Posted in Chelle, General Updates/News

Sin City, Baby!!

Welcome_to_Las_Vegas-H

This is where I am, where I have been since Saturday, and it is FABULOUS! Yes, even broke-ass writers need a vacation. The brain needs a dumping ground from time to time or fresh inspiration. What better place to get it than Las Vegas??

If you’re bored, go pick up a copy of one of my published works. They’re all listed here with fun links to Amazon where they can be purchased. Please and thanks – don’t forget to leave those reviews. Stars are your friend.

I’ll be back next week to annoy you with more of the cHaOs that is my life. Toodles, poodles.

Posted in Chelle, General Updates/News, Steampunk

Puffs of Smoke

Cloud

Every writer has ideas that look like this. Incorporeal blobs of steam that sorta just ooze out our ears from time to time and drift towards the keys in a sad attempt to become something more coherent.

No? Just me? Yeah, probably just me.

Last week, I spoke of the inspiration behind my story for Corrugated Sky’s Tales of the Black DogThis week will be similar but with a (sadly for you, I’m sure) much longer explanation for my inspiration with a focus on my absolute fav subject: STEAMPUNK. No, really, I dig it. If I could afford to live and breathe Steampunk, my whole wardrobe, house, and tech, would all be done up in the steam fashion. In fact, I have plans to turn my wheelchair (yes, I have one) and cane (yep, got that too) into a steamy version of awesomeness before all my faculties leave me. Baby steps, y’all.

Anyway, I digress. So, the inspiration for Heart of the Matter has a rather long and involved history that began with the living campaign hosted by Wizards of the Coast, Living Greyhawk. For the non-geeks out there, think of it like a total global D&D game. It was amazeballs, truly. My bestie and I came up with an idea for a set of characters based on these guys:

Sam_and_dean

But, with a little more:

giphy

You can imagine how that went. Instead of the brothers being 5 years apart like Sam and Dean, we made them twins (cuz that’s my number one obsession after Eeyore) and threw them in the world of Greyhawk. They were spectacular and awesome and polar opposites and then the game ended and we all had the sad. *tear*

Then, my ridiculously endless imagination thought ‘what would our boys look like if we threw them into the 20th century?’. With my ample amount of time to dedicate to such random musings, I proceeded to write up a scenario in which this was their reality. What I came up with was that Geiger (my bestie’s boy) was a mechanic and Tristan (my boy) was an out of work musician cuz that’s the kind of loser he is. I changed their last name to Fallon (from ap’Fallon and we’re not even going to try to explain that one here) and decided they’d be Boston-Irish as a result. Cool, right?

Then that thing that I don’t actually have a lot of crept up on me and the story fell by the wayside. The twins then got a third revival in a piece that I’m still toying with about psychically linked twins – one of which is a murderer and the other sees it. Weird, huh? But I did not finish that particular round of CampNaNoWriMo and, thus, their story remained unfinished yet again (though there is now potential for a revival on that with some obvious need for changes now).

Fast forward to last year when the call for submissions went out for a steampunk anthology. My brain instantly went ‘WE CAN DO THAT!!’. It’s a story, how long can that possibly take? Longer than you might think is the correct answer. I struggled and poked and tried to make another prefabricated steampunk character cooperate with a shorter piece and he was not having it. Like, not. at. all. (Thanks a lot, Oliver :P). Enter my bestie who always has my back and massages my brain wrinkles from afar with the suggestion that I use our boys in something quick, steamy, magicy, and totally awesome.

DONE! Thus, these guys happened:

Fallon Twins

Geiger and Tristan Fallon, both members of the Union Militia. One tinkers with automatons (G) and one fights with alchemical magic (T) during World War III. Yes, III. This one went further into the future, threw in the steam, added a shake of magic cuz that works better than actual physics in my brain and POOF! Heart of the Matter was born.

You can read it in Smoke and Steamleave a totally awesome review, and be blessed by the glory that is the Fallon twins. You’re welcome.

😉

 

Posted in Chelle, General Updates/News

Done! Sort of…

Finally! Part one of this monstrous beast I’ve been working on for literally TWENTY YEARS is finished! FINISHED!!! Sort of…

Draft One is finished, thanks greatly to the push from this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Hooray; bells are ringing; bust out the bubbly. No, don’t do that cuz you know what’s coming. Is it really done? No, of course not. I said Draft One. That means there will be a Draft Two, and probably even a Draft Three somewhere in there before it is ready to go to publication.

Alright, no big, so BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) right? Well…

Yes, and at the same time a very resounding ‘NO’. While the butt is in the chair, the focus is not entirely on Ashes (the recently completed Beast of a Book). There are, so far, two planned sequels to Hellfire (available here) that are also in their fledgling drafts. There are works to edit for this year’s upcoming Zombie Anthology through Corrugated Sky. There are other works to format, cover art commissions to do, book signings to plan, conventions and fairs to attend (cuz that is how we, the self and indie published sell books, ladies and gentleman), and then a giant f*ing carrot that a friend of mine dangled in front of my nose in the way of TOR’s open call for novella submissions. WHAT?!

Cuz I need another project to add to my plate. But… but… it’s TOR! Just the thought of submiting to a publishing house that famous and that large makes me a little giddy on the inside (which, of course, means I will be writing the novella). It’s just a novella, right? I can do that in my … oh… oh yeah, I don’t get much sleep. Hrm…

No, perhaps this was not as well thought-out as I originally believed. Yes, I still have an insane amount of adulting that I need to do outside of this relatively new writing career that is, surprisingly, off to a much better start than I expected (which reminds me – GO REVIEW, PEOPLE WHO HAVE BOUGHT MY BOOK!). No, I still can’t pay any of my – – wait, that’s a lie, I can pay one bill with the current revenue I’ve racked up. WOO!!! Success!!!

Now, I need to keep that going and still make sure my house isn’t a total disaster and feed these little mini-me’s that insist on eating me out of house and home; it’s, like, their thing.

I’m sure, by now, I sound like a broken record. ‘All your posts are about the same thing, Chelle, get some new material!’. I’m a mom, people. I am a mother of four who is trying to keep it together long enough to make something out of this writing career or die trying. This is my life. This is my total chaotic existence. Words, kids, house; repeat.

Which reminds me – 20 year High School reunion eVites have gone out. Twenty. Years. If someone had said to me that this is where I’d be in twenty years, I probably would have slapped them for being insulting. Kids? Me??? Full time writer!? Ha! They don’t make any money! I was going places. I don’t know what those places were anymore, but I was certain that I was going places. Now look. I’m going to the laundry room, that’s where I’m going! Be jelly.

Posted in Chelle

Inspirations: Black Dog Asylum

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Truly terrifying, isn’t he?

Fierce.

Fluffy. Wait, fluffy?

Not, really what one thinks of when trying to find inspiration for a story relating to a deadly black dog, but this is what I got. This mop-top, tiny old man of dog that likes to stare at me, just like this, while I work.

In truth, it was a combination of two images that brought on the inspiration for my submission to the anthology Tales of the Black Dog.

The image of the left of this beautiful cane corso just struck my heart. The dog is stunning, regal, and, I’d imagine when provoked, incredibly terrifying to look at. The other image just seemed a little eerie to me and then the thought struck: what if the black dogs in my legend were set to guard the unwanted souls locked away in an asylum?

That was all it took. The idea spawned a first draft that was less than thrilling, comments from beta readers that helped me find better focus for a second draft that worked beautifully with both the legend and the message I was trying to convey. Black Dog Asylum is now one of four short stories featured in Corrugated Sky’s anthology Tales of the Black Dog and my second published work of fiction (the first was a short piece in the October 2009 edition of Bards and Sages Quarterly).

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? This is my ‘somewhere’ – a tale of terror sure to make your hackles rise.

Posted in Chelle

The Muted Voices of Tabletop RPGs

Role Playing Game K20 DiceRavenCon 2018 has come and gone. It is a convention I quite enjoy for a miriad of reasons, not the least of which is getting to see friends that I rarely see anymore. The con offers the opportunity to mingle with like-minded people (GEEKS FO’ LIFE!!) and expand my suddenly growing professional network of fellow artists and authors. As I sat with my crew of geeks and artists, gamers, writers, and fellow cosplayers, we began to reminisce about how things all began. See, there’s been a shift; a change on the winds of convention camaraderie that was hard to pinpoint at first. But then, it struck, the answer to the ‘why’ we’d all been asking for so long.

Why aren’t the conventions we attend the same anymore? Why do they not have the same feeling of epic awesomeness as before.

Don’t get me wrong, RavenCon was a blast! It is one of my favorite conventions in the VA-DC-MD area, but it is different from what it was when it first started.

The answer: the death of organized gaming.  I know, I can hear you asking “Gaming? Why would that matter? It’s a game!”, and you’d be right, it is a game, but the organized RPGs that were so popular 5-10 years ago now no longer exist. Sure there are things like Pathfinder Society and the new Living Arcanis but the two are mere shadows of the grandeur that once was.

So many of the people I know, the people that I reach out to for ideas and inspirations, all sat around a table with character sheets and dice poised and ready to defend against a larger, fictional threat. And if the threat wasn’t being handled at a face-to-face table, then it was being discussed, in character, on forums that encompassed entire regions. Full novels could, and have, been written about the misadventures of these varied games. The largest of them was Living Greyhawk but it was by no means the only one. Instead of sitting behind a screen, people had a vested interest in the comings and goings of the alter egos and commiserated about their real lives right along side their fictional ones. Families and relationships were built with the people at these tables, in game and out. My own children grew up knowing all of these people and their stories. Those I still see now marvel at how much they’ve all grown because they were part of a community, part of the family.

Ok, so what? Things ended. It’s still a game, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. It is unyielding inspiration. It is years of story told by many voices, voices that are, sadly, greatly diminished.

I think that is why I keep my fingers glued to the keys and my eyes to the screen. Or rather, one of the reasons. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil but much of my current work has been inspired by adventures I actually took . I was the bard or the superhero (still am when I can find a table to sit at). I’ve been a spy and a hacker, a vampire, a thief, even a villain. I have walked in the shoes of all the characters I write about outside of my own mind. They’ve interacted with other characters, characters that were the creations of others. It offers a different perspective to writing when you can be the people you write about.

More and more I find myself aching for that kind of camaraderie again, especially when my brain takes a hateful halt to all things creative and I am forced to stare at my boring walls instead of continuing the planned slew of fiction to be published. I need the out, to speak to others in a voice that is not my own and have them respond without them wanting to lock me away in a padded room.

Gaming in a large community like that is as much a part of me as writing. I miss it. And, I am not alone.