If you follow my blogs or my FaceBook, you have a general idea of who I am. I'm just a mom fighting with chronic illness, and an artist striving to grow her ideas and skill. Neither of those things is conducive to financial stability. Chronic illness means when life hits us in the gut financially, we're in trouble and have no room for recovery. Now is one of those times, so I'm calling on my network to help me find freelance work with indie authors. What is to follow is shameless self promotion.
I have a great love of the indie world. Some of the most amazing ideas get turned down by big six publishers because they're not main stream enough. That is a travesty. That being said, however, many indie writers have a distinct lack of quality checks in their books. Many, not all, need quality editing, formatting and cover art, but those services are not easy to come by.
Guess what? I'm a walking, talking indie author one stop shop. I do it all. Editing, Formatting, Cover Art, I'll even talk you through the upload and publishing process. My rates are competitively low for the quality I offer. If I find myself overworked, I have a whole team of folks, trained by me, to work with you as well.
I started in the industry as just a writer also going to college for graphic design. Then one day my publisher, new at the time, asked me to edit for them. What followed was a three year whirlwind that taught me the ins and outs of the industry, every step involved in publishing, and brand creation. By the end I was the COO of JEA. I stepped down not too long ago for health and the chance to do something new, but I still love all the folks at JEA and am proud of all my projects and the things I learned with them.
How could it be better? Publisher trained, industry tested, award wining, and ready to work for you!
Contact me to make your indie work shine!
They say pain is weakness leaving the body. For many years my body has suffered from chronic pain. Fibromylgia and I adjusted to it after years. I become a Fibro Warrior. not a survivor. In 2001 my world changed. I injured my back. Therapy and medicine and chiropractors didn't work. Something in me changed. And I become racked with pain.
It took many years to find a doctor who seemed to understand what had happened. I was put on many many drugs. New ones. trails. It wrecked my body in different ways. I lost most of my teeth due to medicine and drinking soda. The death of relationships. The death of my self esteem and self worth. I survived it. I became stronger and almost robotic. It has taken me many years to find myself. The Light inside. But here it is.
2016. And last year my life changed again. Jan 28th of 2015 I woke up with what could only be described as a very bad flu. I went to the doctor who said it would pass. And it didn't. Now its over a year and a few months passed that point. And I am on my 4th doctor and a surgeon and a new GI doctor. I had surgery to remove my gall bladder. every test known to man. And I am still sick. At what point does strength no longer count? At what point does your self worth matter?
When I say I am sick. Let me describe this to you. I eat I am sick. I feel like throwing up every day all day even despite taking anti nausea medication. I have diarhea every day up to 10 or more times a day. It has never stopped in over a year. My body is tired. And I don't mean the normal hey I'm tired. or exhaustion. When I do sleep I sleep so deep I can't be woken. Thats if I sleep. New sleep medication and anti depressants combined with diarhea and nasea daily leaves me tired. A trip to the store leaves me even more tired. I put on the strong face. I put on the smiling everything is fine smile. But its not. And you might never truly understand a chronic condition and i hope you never really do. But at the same time I wish you could live a "good day" in my life. So you could understand.
These are just a few thoughts. More in the coming weeks as I battle this. Trying to keep what little sanity I do have left.
I’m sad. Not depressed in a clinical sense. I’ve been there before. I know what that feels like. This isn’t it. I’m just...unhappy. I have things to be happy about. I am in no way destitute, but I am still unhappy with life in general. I haven’t reached the pinnacle, though in many ways I’m much closer than most realize.
As I look around at the landscape I realize this wasn’t the mountain I wanted to climb. It was so hard to tell down there at the bottom which one I had started on, and the crossroads were all blind instinct. Now, after all that work, I’m not where I wanted go or even on that path. There is nothing wrong with where I ended up. In fact some seem to be impressed by it. How do I explain that yes, there is some notoriety here, but I wanted the notoriety over there instead. It’s like shooting the hat off a person when you were aiming for the apple. Yeah it was a cool shot, but not what you wanted.
Some people find themselves in this situation, and happily surprised, just keep going. There are those that the question of which mountain they are on never mattered as long as they had something to reach for. There are those that any success acted as personal empowerment and they gladly set on that mountain path headless of the rocks. In fact those persons seem to be able to leap over chasms and move boulders. We look at them as shining examples. I am not in competition with anyone so I am happy for their success.
I was not meant for mountain climbing
I’m not made for that kind of life. Success to me is far less tangible. All those plateaus and peaks and crags and valleys are fun and interesting, but not meant for me. I’ve always rejected the rat race. I reject the idea that I have to reach for anything at all. I challenge the need to have a traditional job, or parent like our society says, or live my life by any standard. I fully resent money. I resent the need to earn by someone else’s standard in order just to live. Why can’t I barter for food? Why can’t I make my own shelter? Why must I live life in this way? I can fool myself, by finding something semi interesting to do for a time, into thinking that I can live by these means. I excel most of them time when I set my mind to it. I’ve even made a name for myself in certain circles, for what it’s worth. In the end, though, I always end up feeling dissatisfied.
I have a deep need to live life unfettered. I hate being tied down by anything. Some ties I choose, like my children and lovers, but my lovers know never to hold me back, and my children will one day fly on their own. While I love animals of all kinds I don’t own many pets, other than cats, because I can’t just up and go when I want to. Cats can handle a night or two without you as long as there’s ample food and water. My dream is to live out of a mobile home so I can pick up and go whenever. Once we almost did just that with plans on homeschooling the kids, but we didn’t get the financing in the end.
I’m tired of trying. I concede the need for gainful employment and income so we don’t starve, but I’m going to do it my way. The truth is while my body *does* make working from home a need, I’d choose it anyway. I’m going to learn what I want to learn. I’m going to write what I want to write. I’m going to do my weird crafts. I’m going to do the things that nourish my soul even if that means I’m a large woman belly dancing in the living room. If it doesn’t nourish me, it’s gone. There will be some changes. Some will not agree with my choices and some may even be hurt by them. I’m done trying to make my soul fit in a box. I’m done making the mountain top my only goal. I don’t feel good labelling myself or closing myself into a space. Some really need that to feel safe and to grow. There’s nothing wrong with it. Just not for me. I am expansive. I am limitless. I am more than the surface you see.
I am adrift in the All That Is, and I go where I am willed.
"My disease is progressing. It's getting hard to cope."
"Oh my. What do you have?"
"Oh. Well. That's just silly, you just need to get moving again, you'll feel better!"
Now I feel silly for having even spoken.
Fibromyalgia is not just pain. I've struggled with this post. Rightly or wrongly I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for 11 years. I never wanted to be the fibro poster child. I never hid it and once in a while I'm moved to post about it, but preferred to let it sit in the background. I've tried a few ways to explain what this monster is, to varying degrees of success. Most commonly I am ignored. That is for a few reasons I'm sure. Answers that run from not wanting to hear the bad stuff to just being tired of hearing about it. People who live with chronic illness are known in the media as being huge complainers. If you have a sexy diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus, diagnoses that are well accepted by the community, or if you have something new that no one's heard of that you can teach others about, then you are heard.
Sometimes I believe there must be something wrong with how I present myself. So many people discount this huge thing going on in my body. Twice I've been in a position where my diagnosis was largely ignored as me being whiny until someone else in my circle of people was diagnosed similarly. It's as if my experience is somehow invalid. I've learned to expect that from the medical community, especially emergency services (don't get me started on the time EMS told me I was lying or the multiple times I've been told I'm a drug addict). That's frustrating enough, but it's worse when it's those you allow close to you.
People with chronic illnesses speak loudly and often. No one can see the battle we fight every day just to breathe. Medical professionals often don't have a reason why your body has decided to break down. We have to almost scream to get noticed, and then that very screaming is considered evidence that we're unbalanced, it's all in our heads. That reaction leaves me feeling guilty every day. Why can't I get out of bed at a "decent hour"? Why can't I just walk there, it's only a few blocks? Am I a good mom? What are my kids seeing and learning when mom is always sick?
Like most people, I've learned ways to make the world work around all my stuff. We all do it. Healthy and ill alike. We create patterns and habits around preference, finances, fears, and dreams. My world looks different because of my illness. If I were healthy I'd be labeled eccentric or lazy. Because I'm ill others feel they can judge me and my choices. It feels like they are looking for a way to tell me it's my fault. When someone is sick we look for reasons and therapy. Cold and flu are viruses, bronchitis is irritation or bacteria. But this has no reason, nothing to blame it on. It is easier to blame the person for bad things happening than to accept sometimes life happens.
Fibromyalgia hits each person differently and to differing severities. I've often said there is no one big answer and cure. There are hundreds as varied as the people who have it. For me, the pain, while no easy thing is the least of it. Fibro pain centers around 11 groups of tender points generally near joints in the soft tissues. It aches like arthritis and flares upon over use the same way, but is actually more painful. It's not painful enough that you can't learn to cope, but enough to make you exhausted with the coping. The pain moves around. Most people with fibro have one or more places that are always a problem but then the pain in the rest of the body comes and goes almost at a whim. On a normal day my pain is about a 5. That is half way between no pain and pain so bad you break your teeth clenching. When I take the right amount of the right medication I can get it down to about 3.
Think about that for a second. The average run of the mill non migraine headache is about a 4. A stubbed toe is like 7 and then aches at a 2 for a few days. So your stubbed toe is a person with fibro's best day. Imagine walking around all day every day with 20 stubbed toes and nothing you can do will fix it.
The pain is also different. Normal touches that shouldn't hurt do. A tap feels like a slap. Sometimes rough clothing hurts your skin. Sound which shouldn't "hurt" can cause physical pain. For me it's sound behind and to the side, even low level sound. The timbre of my husband's voice often makes me cringe. I back myself into a corner so all sound is in front of me and constantly tell people to turn it down. Bright light hurts more than just my eyes. You'll see me with sunglasses even on cloudy days sometimes.
This unremitting pain and exaggeration of stimuli is caused by my brain misreading the signals. I cannot force my brain to read them correctly. There is no behavior modification, or neurological therapy that will change how my pain centers experience pain.
Like I said, this is the least of it for me. I have learned to cope with the pain. I actually have a higher tolerance than most because my body has been trained that extreme pain won't kill it. I don’t like pain and will cry out like anyone else but my body has ceased catastrophic systems failure that high levels of pain cause. That said, it's still not fun and I'd give much to not be walking around like an open sore all the time.
Next, like most neurological issues, is brain fog. It's hard to describe. We all feel funky at times, lack of sleep or need that first cup of coffee, but this is different. I can only tell you what I experience from the inside. I will sit on my bed because I need to get dressed. I know this has to happen. I can see my clothes. I can't tell you if they're clean or not. I might not remember the name of the color. I will hold my jeans in my hands thinking, "How do I put these on? I need to put these on…" Every task during this time takes a lot longer and leaves you feeling exhausted and frustrated. When I say I'm in a fog, I mean it. I won't be any good to anyone. It really is like standing in a grey mist, sounds muted, vision blank, even the air feels heavy. Once in a while if you wait you'll catch a glimpse of reality. A bright spot where you know the brain works but can't quite get there. There is no medication or regimen for this.
The thing I hate the most is costochondritis. It is chest pain near the heart. It's actually an inflammation of the muscles around the ribs where they connect to the sternum. It feels like a lead pipe going the center of my chest to my back. Movement hurts, especially changing position, anything that ups the breathing rate makes it worse. Breathing, talking, even eating are especially hard. My pain hits 9 easily during these episodes. For years I had no idea what it was. No doctor could tell me. I'd call in about this horrible chest pain. They send me to ER, ER rules out heart, accuses me of just wanting drugs, occasionally gives some to me for comfort, and sends me home.
Restless legs is my enemy. I can't stop moving. It's more like restless body syndrome. I’m always bouncing, moving, twitching. To stop actually hurts even as the exhaustion of the constant movement sets in. If I spend time to think about it, I can make it stop, but as soon as I am concentrating elsewhere it starts again. This makes bedtime dreadful. Worry over shaking the bed and waking my husband, taking hours to not get comfortable and waking up frequently only to have to go through the same process of flopping like a dead fish to get to sleep again. Thank gods there is a medication for that…when it works.
Sleep. Sleep is my frienemy. I love sleep. I need it so badly. I am constantly tired. On average I need about 10 hours of sleep to be functional. But then I oversleep and miss things that I felt were important for the day. It takes an hour at least to even try to get up. It takes 2 to fall asleep. Sleep aids do and don't help. The pain medication wears off before the sleep medication, which means I wake up basically paralyzed in pain. Not fun. Sleep is where people get the idea I'm lazy. I keep crazy hours because I work nights, then I can't sleep until the kids are off to school then I can't get up until it's almost time for them to be home, then I didn't get enough sleep so I'm not at my best, it’s a vicious cycle and leaves me basically a vampire. I've heard many "jokes" over the years saying "If Susan can get up…" or "Let me guess, she's still asleep." If I could just be allowed to sleep the way I need to sleep without having to hear those things I would be a much happier person. It's exhausting to know what your body needs and then to deny it in order to fit what others are imposing upon me. I know that what others think of me is none of my business, but you can't always shut it out.
Raynauds is not strictly a fibro thing but it is common. Magic color change toes! Raynauds can affect toes, fingers, nose, and ears. What happens is stress or even a cool breeze or air conditioner triggers a hypothermic response causing the body to remove blood from the appendage. Your toes or fingers turn white or blue in response. There's nothing that can be done. It just happens. It does not cause permanent damage. It's more annoying than anything else. I’m cold all the time. It will be near 80 degrees in the house during those stubborn late spring days when you're avoiding turning on the air, and I will be using a heating pad on my feet. I live in shawls. Even working the mouse on my computer can set it off. Winter in Wisconsin may have been a mistake.
Migraines. If you’ve ever had one, no explanation is needed. If you haven't, no explanation will suffice.
Irritable bowel syndrome. Certain foods will make me very sick for no good reason. Extreme stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea taking turns. This is largely controlled by diet, but can cause some serious issues if not kept in check. If an attack goes on too long it can cause sores in the bowel which can bleed. Bowels can also become impacted. So I'll stop there before it gets too gross. You get the point.
My fibro symptoms are resistant to medication. Some people get relief from various medications, diets, or natural medicine. I get so tired of being told, my best friend did this, or I tried that and it was great! Each person is going to react differently. You don't know that I have or haven't tried this or that or that it will work for me. I have been on many medications from weed, nerve mediations. Only one has had any effect. However, that one medication only helps with a small portion of all I experience. I watch what I eat to a point (I still like food). I'm into yoga and tai chi and belly dancing. But the symptoms are pervasive and all encompassing. And it's getting worse. I don't know yet if this is a random cluster flare up that happens or if my disease is truly progressing. It's taken from me energy, thought, ability to do basic things like grocery shop, it's even taken the sun. What else can it take from me?
I still feel silly. Like it's all in my head. Everyone seems to think it is, right? But that's the reality. My disease is progressing and there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. I will have more pain. I will have more fog. I will have constochondritis more often. I will need even more sleep.
But all I need to do is get out there and move some more, right?
:Jump up and down, do a little dance, sing a happy song, one of the rare glimpses into the world of my writing I offer up a free story just for you my wonderful fans.
DISCLAIMERS: 1. This story is for a HORROR anthology. It is goryier than my usual work and has some difficult themes (well admittedly all my work deals with difficult themes I just treat it differently in romance/fantasy vs horror). This is a graphic look at homicidal insanity from the inside.
2. This story has not seen the love of an editor yet. THERE WILL BE MISTAKES AND TYPOS. This is normal. ALL work needs an editor, even when written by an editor...or rather especially then. I am a special snowflake, but only to my family and friends who love me. To the rest of literary world I need editing just as badly as anyone else.
3. This story will be published in the upcoming JEA anthology Fata Arcana. Each of the stories is based around a single Major Arcana Tarot Card. I got THE MOON: The Moon indicates that things may seem somewhat confusing to you now. You may find it hard to understand where you are coming from, much less what others are thinking and feeling! You need to try to sit with the uncertainty, don't try to force things or people to do things before they are ready. This card is the "Pisces" of the tarot deck.
Without further Ado, I give you:
Cyndee in Lunacy
Grey, grey and more grey. A hundred shades burned everywhere she looked. Never quiet white and never quite black. Color ran and hid in the corners until it was just a mirage; a memory of a better time. Cyndee frowned in front of her antique, full length, mirror adjusting the long platinum strands of hair wishing she could color her hair or find something other than grey to wear, but pigment ran dry in this world, faded as everything else. Besides, it was better to blend in.
Blend in with the crazies.
She wasn’t quite sure when it happened. She knew the world was different long ago. There was color, there was laughter. Voices and screams in the night didn’t keep her up long dark grey hours until the pale grey of daylight filtered through the dusty blinds in her room. It was as if the apocalypse happened, the world turned upside down, and she was the only one to see it.
The truth was revealed to her slowly. Flashes here and there until she was convinced for a short time she was looney as a toon. Slowly the world as it is filtered in until all she saw was reality. Death and decay hiding beneath a veneer of grey paint. Color leached from the world as if it never existed. Frightening monsters lurked in shadows looking for anything…anyone different. Strange animals stalked the streets preying on the unsuspecting, the old and the weak. People wandered to and from meaningless jobs like zombies and everyone she talked to expected her to pretend it was all okay. Even Television shows insisted on the old reality, trying their best with script and myriads of grey to convince everyone nothing had changed.
“…joining us now in Olde Towne East, correspondent Matthias Dulaney. Matthias, what can you tell us right now?”
She turned to watch the screen, as colorless as everything else in the world, while the news casters chattered on. Old Towne East wasn’t far from her. Maybe a block or two. It was a hodge podge of dilapidated old buildings owned by either low income housing or yuppies actively fixing them up. The man on the screen was pointing at the carcass of a homeless man…or woman. It was hard to tell. The body had been flayed and field dressed, meat and limbs hacked off like a butcher would do. It wasn’t a bad job. If she didn’t know better she’d say the ropes and knots could have been her work. Still…gross. She shook her head and watched.
Towards the end, while he was questioning police, one of the baahcula’s ran past. She made up the name herself to describe the blood thirsty giant rams that infected the city. Big as men, shaggy and dirty, with bloody teeth always dripping some nasty mix of drool and whatever they ate last. Their crazed eyes and mewling sounds disturbed her to the core. Didn’t anyone see that? The newscasters, police, even the bystanders noticed nothing and looked right past the monster with a glazed look.
“Sheeple,” she muttered before turning it off.
She opened her fridge, the light flickering from some short she hadn’t been able to find yet. There wasn’t much. She would have to hunt again today. Food at grocery stores was like something out of a movie. All optical illusions, facing, and plastic. Sure, some of it was edible, but it was as leached of life as color. She learned long ago that hunting and foraging was the way to go. Not only did it taste better, but she wasn’t sick like everyone else. Sometimes she theorized they drugged all the food and that made everyone complacent and lost in the past.
“Don’t go too far down the rabbit hole,” she admonished herself with a smile, walking to the back room to gather supplies.
She threw the duct tape rope over her shoulder crosswise across her body. The rope was hand braided by her on long nights trying to keep from screaming back at the endless moans. She checked the edge on her machete looking for nicks and making sure it was sharp enough to cut through bone. She prided herself on a clean kill. A tranq gun would have been great, but she had trouble convincing the deluded store owners it was necessary for survival.
Once she tried. Once she spent hours talking to a gun store owner trying to convince him of the truth. Nothing she did convinced him. In the end she left in tears wondering how long this good man was going to live. She truly cared about him and his miserable life, but he called the people. The ones, that for whatever reason, wanted everyone to see the lies. She spent the rest of the day running from men with smiling masks made of skin and preternaturally clean, light colored, jackets. Ironically that was the scariest thing about them. What exactly did one have to do to stay that clean in a world of dirt, gore, and decay? She shivered just thinking about it.
She donned her Alice in Wonderland baby doll dress with the puffed shoulders and the micro skirt that flared almost a foot out with the help of a petty coat, her knee high zippered boots, and thigh high stockings. It seemed ridiculous, but the dress was made out of some stain resistant material. Water and blood beaded right off, and with such a short skirt it was only prudent to make sure her legs were fully covered. The outfit had the added benefit of being easy to run in, and full mobility of all her limbs.
It was time to go. Get this unenviable task done and she could enjoy the rest of her day. Well enjoy it as much as one could enjoy anything in a grey world.
Five flights down. She looked down the kaleidoscope center of the winding antique stair case. Once it would have been beautiful. The sun shining on polished wood banisters, pristine paint a stark relief. Now it was dirty, creaky stairs worn and bowed in the center. Rat holes and spiders the only decoration. She made her way down wishing she could have seen the building in the nebulous before time.
Outside the main doors, barely on their hinges, she staggered and fell back against the brick. Dizziness overcame her and she was rewarded with a rare flash of insanity. For a moment; just a moment, the street was filled with people. They were all dressed in the lively colors that make up a city on a busy day. Smiles, laughter, music, talking, new cars and old cars side by side on a busy street intent on their destinations. Children playing hopscotch while grandma's and elderly aunts looked on from porches. She could even smell the long dead peach roses next door suddenly back to life.
It threw her off balance, and for that moment she wasn't quite sure which world was real. The people started to gather around her in a loose cluster, all of them had horrified looks on their faces, one young man had his brow scrunched up in worry an arm reached out to her. There were gasps and murmurs about gore on her dress…
And then it was gone.
Reality came crashing in, and she found herself surrounded by tired looking pale zombies who didn't quite look at her. They listed as one to the left. Taking a breath she stomped hard and growled at them. They scattered, grey tattered clothing trailing behind them.
"What the hell was that?" she muttered and stole away to the alley. Beasts didn’t like crowds. They cowered in the shadows and attacked you from behind. It was the best hunting ground. In the dark alleys you didn't hear the screams as Baaculas attacked innocent people. You didn't have to see the rare face of a smiling child taken by the dark. Even sheep knew enough not to wander here.
Rusted metal industrial trash cans resting idly by condemned doors made shadows and hiding places. The stench of rot permeated the air. Behind her someone screamed. She spun in time to see a Baacula taking down an old man. It looked up at her, blood oozing down its fur like rivulets caught in time. She decided now was not the time to intervene. She backed up a few steps before turning and running, zig zagging through forgotten yards and the between spaces always left forgotten away from prying eyes. If it followed, it should not have been able to track her. She could hear the frustrated howl in the distance and knew she was safe…for now.
On with the ghastly business of self preservation.
She found herself a nice little hidey hole between two back door stoops. Across from her was another. If anyone came out that particular door, they'd see her, but she was hidden from everyone else. She smiled reading what she could of the rusted out sign on that door. Police. What a joke. No one would be coming out of that door any time soon. Baaculas had long since taken over any enforcement or protection strong hold. Maybe Baaculas were how the people kept order. Scare everyone into submission.
It wasn't too long before one the grotesque cows came galumphing down the cracked pavement eyes red and steam coming from a well chewed nose. It was big. One of the bigger beasts she'd seen. Normally she wouldn't have tried, but she kept thinking, this one would feed for her a good month or more. She wouldn't have to do this again for a long time if she managed. She didn't even think about how she would get it home and store the meat, intent only on the kill. All other problems could wait.
She watched it. Studied how it moved. Gauged speed and size. Judged distance. Watched the long folds of leathery skin hanging off like ill fitting clothing. If she could grab one of those, she could, if she timed it just right, propel herself up onto its back. From there she could make a clean kill by slitting the throat. She gathered herself up on her haunches ready to leap and waited for the last possible moment. It was almost past her.
Her honed reflexes did their job. Without even much thought, she leaped, catching more air than should have been possible, gripping her hands in its skin. Her feet barely touched ground before lifting off again, pulling and lifting herself up its back. Her feet found purchase in another fold of skin and she pushed off scrambling up high enough to grab a tuft of fur at the top of its head. The beast bellowed something fierce and tried to dislodge her. She nicked its neck in her first swipe. She had to get the jugular before it had a chance to fight too hard.
The beast slammed its back, and her with it, against the wall, making as much noise as possible. Poor, sad, beast. It had no concept that no one would come to help. The second slam made her head bang against the brick making the world swim for a moment. It was long enough for it to reach behind and drag her around, leg first. She was dangling there by one leg when she heard the warbling bleats of the Baaculas. The beast dropped her and backed up a few steps. There was a pack of them, staring at her, drool making their chins moist.
Good luck for the beast. It might live another day. She, on the other hand, had to get out of there fast. She got to her feet slowly, waiting for them to descend on her, but all they did was watch, and bleat…and drool. Adrenalin was her friend. She managed to feint left and then make to the top of the stoop on the right. She bounded over to the trash can, it's rubber lid closed on one half, and from there to the ground right behind them. She ran, the maze of between spaces coming to life in her head as she raced. They gave chase for a short while, but she kept going until the only sound was her labored breathing and blood rushing in her ears.
So much for a month's worth of meat. It would be a long time before a score like that came along again. Giving herself a moment to calm down she rested against one of the dirty walls. It was…moist. If her side didn’t hurt so much she would have retched. As it was she choked back bile. Who knew what manner of liquid was decorating the walls.
It was only a minute later, maybe not even a minute, but she heard movement to her left. Checking the grip on her blade and stretching her limbs to make sure they were ready she slowly eased out into the ally. She had to find food fast or she'd starve tonight and who knew when the weather would be right to try again.
A little one, the size of an actual sheep lumbered about in the shadows. Wooly white fleece and little black feet and hands stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of dirt the city called alleyways. It was almost cute…until it turned around. Cyndee almost let it go until she saw the face. Fangs and bloody drool slid down its face reminding her what it would turn into…what it had already become. Something in her snapped. Normally she didn’t bother with the little ones unable to tell them apart from children, but this one already likely covered in its first kill broke some small part of her.
"Small," she said to the wind. "But at least I'll eat. And at least it won't kill again."
It started to back away, but she lunged, her reflexes faster than this small beast. It only took a moment. Much faster than it should have been, but she wrapped her arms around it and slid her knife along the throat. Warm, fragrant blood, black as oil, smelling of filth poured down her arms as the first few drops of rain started to fall. All the better. The stench would be washed away. The beast didn't scream, didn't utter a sound. It only stared, wide eyed while it struggled for breath. A single shudder was all the fight it had before the head went slack and the eye no longer saw. The rain picked up and she shoved the whole body in her bag figuring it was small enough to butcher at home.
She moved through the streets like a ghoul herself, back and head weighed down by the rain and her inky bloody bag. She wasn't as far from home as she thought, and found herself back at the old staircase in less than a mile. Even so she was drenched like a drowned rat, and felt not much better.
Alone in her apartment, closed off from the world in her bathroom, she emptied the bag into the tub and began the grisly task of breaking down the beast for meat. "At least it's tender, even if it doesn't last long," she sighed cutting through the velveteen meat. It didn’t' take long before it was cut, packaged and stored. She saved a hunk of ham to boil into soup for dinner and threw the head in with the kitchen trash. She showered in part to clean herself and in part to make sure all the black blood went down the drain. She normally didn't do this at home. Too messy.
Showered and changed, the apartment fragrant with herbs and meat she finally relaxed and turned on the TV.
Matthias Dulaney, investigative reporter extraordinaire was on the screen again with his arm around a crying woman. She wore and OTENA t-shirt, either proudly a part of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association, or not caring what thrift store shirt she had on. The nearby police station was behind her. She held up a picture of a beautiful boy with bright shining eyes.
"…Please if you know anything call the number," she pleaded. "Brandon is only seven years old and diabetic. He needs his medicine!"
"For those just tuning in, this is Matthias Dulaney live, once again, in Olde Towne East. Seven year old Brandon White is missing. He was thought to have been taken when he wandered into an ally near his home. Please call 1-800-The-Missing if you have any information…"
"Some people," she muttered stirring her soup. In this world you should never let your children out alone. Hell you should never have children in the first place these days.
There was a quick knock at the door making her jump before it opened and Nick walked in. "It's just Me," he announced.
"You scared me!" she laughed at him and brought her attention back to the stove. Nick was one of the few people she could stand to be around. He was a little nuts like everyone else. He sure didn't see reality, but he saw more truth than most and didn't insist she'd lost her mind. He probably thought she had, but he never put in her face. Besides, it was nice to have company on the long nights. With him she could pretend she didn't hear the screams in the darkness. He also sometimes brought her fresh fruit and vegetables. How he acquired them she didn't ask afraid of the answer.
"Did you hear about that kid?" he asked glancing at the TV while the famous Mr. Dulaney rattled off what the child was wearing that day and again how to contact the police.
"Yeah," she sighed. "It's too bad. He was very young."
"So you think he's dead?"
"In this world?" she looked at him mildly.
"Point taken," he remarked walking over and grabbing a spoon out of a drawer. "Whatchya got cookin'…good lookin'." He flashed her a boyish grin and she laughed.
"Soup," she answered while he helped himself to a taste.
"Mmmm, that's good. How do you do that?"
"It's all in the meat," she laughed. "They may be ugly as sin but they sure taste good."
"Moooooooo!" he cackled struck by how silly her comment was.
"Well go look if you don't believe me. Its head is in the trash." She pulled out a good chopping knife and cut up some wild tomatoes she'd found a few days before.
"You have its head?" he crinkled his nose. "Here?"
"I don't normally bring them home, but it started raining," she shrugged.
"In here?" he pointed at the trash with a mischievous smile.
He pulled back the lid and stared for a few minutes completely silent. Hadn't he ever seen one of the beasts before? It was possible she supposed. Most didn't. He put the lid back on slowly and turned to stare at her and then the pot. He started to shake and all the blood drained out of his face.
"Nick? Are you all right?" she asked. He shook his head violently and started retching. "Oh my god, Nick, what's wrong?" She moved towards him with the knife still in hand. He backed away so fast he stumbled over the furniture. "Are you sick?"
"Yes," he managed.
"Why don't you sit down?"
"N-no, I think I need to go home now," he started for the door.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," he said running for the door and slamming it open. "Home!"
"I'll save you some soup!" she called after him thinking some broth would be just what he needed. She could hear his retches echoing down the hallway. Poor guy.
She settled in to an old movie and a bowl of her hard won soup.
It was maybe an half an hour later when someone knocked on her door. Who in the hell? "Nick? Is that you?" she called before getting up. If she didn't know them they weren't getting in.
She heard a cough and then, "Yes!"
"Oh good," she got up and ladled a cup of just broth. "I have that broth for you—"
She opened the door and startled so bad she tossed the cup behind her in a panic to back up. Nick was there, surrounded by baahculas and People in white coats.
"Cyndee? Ma'am?" one shouted at her as Nick was thrust to the side behind one of the slavering beasts.
"No!" she screamed as hands reached for her. There were too many of them. She wasn't prepared or armed. "Let me go!" she pleaded as she was tackled to the ground. Knees pressed the side of her head and her shoulder to the floor with bruising pressure. Noise was everywhere as hooves and booted feet charged into the room. Shouts and growls surrounded her in a swirl until she was unsure if the beasts spoke and the white jackets growled or vice versa.
One of the beasts opened her trash can and screamed. Words seemed to form from the fanged mouth as spittle sprayed over all that were near. None of them noticed or flinched. There was a pregnant pause followed by her being unceremoniously lifted. Beasts held her arms while the people wrapped her up in bindings like a reverse coat.
Cyndee screamed over and over begging for help. "Nick! Help me!" He had to be there somewhere. If there were two of them she might have a chance. "Nick!"
His hands came into view and he took her face in both of them gently, shocking her while her arms were pulled uselessly against her and her feet bound. "I am," he said softly with real tears in his eyes. She kicked and screamed and struggled as they carried her away, not caring if it was useless. If she was going down, she was going down fighting. They half hurled her onto an ambulance gurney and strapped her down until she couldn't move. A pin prick on the side of her neck made her flinch against her bindings.
The world slowly went dark and the last thing she saw was the head of Columbus's own Matthais Dulaney of Channel Six getting out of his van across the street and the zombies of the city crowding around. For a spit second before all went dark they looked like real people and the world was alive with color.
A man in a suit with a long trench coat and a badge hooked to his belt held a hand over his mouth while he looked in the trash can. The apartment was sparklingly clean if old and ill maintenanced, but that was normal in this part of town.
"We're going to have to show the mother," his partner said quietly next to him.
"At the morgue. She doesn't need to know this is all we have."
"I don't envy you," said a uniformed officer shaking his head, holding his mouth in a grimace to keep from getting sick. "I don't know how you do it."
"Do what?" the first detective asked.
"Look at this stuff every day."
"This isn't every day."
A grim faced woman in jumpsuit with the words Medical Examiner and CPD emblazoned on it reached in with gloved hands and carefully packaged the head of a little boy known as Brandon, a red stained white coat, and black gloves and shoes.
This year as I took my children and husband on the daunting drive across the Midwest, over grand rivers and endless plains, in rain and sun, and countless bathroom breaks with required forays for truck stop random goodies, I found myself singing this tune anticipating the lovely little woman who looks and acts half her age in a delightful way. Hearing her soft southern accent and smelling her perfume that I've never forgotten no matter how long I spend away.
It seemed to take forever and yet only an instant as I pointed out landmarks I remembered and argued with my husband about accuracy of the GPS now that there was construction blocking an important turn off. A few random work calls because upper management never truly get a day off of anything, my children best behaved they have ever been on a long car ride, and by the time we hit city limits it didn't seem to take quite that long.
Of course a stop along the way to see my brother helped too. Packed with cheese for both our loved ones, I couldn't wait to get to either place. My brother had the good sense to live directly on route between our home and my aunt's. I didn't stay long, but to hug him with my own two arms was a great gift. I don't have words for what that meant to me. I left him with cheese curds done up only the way a Wisconsin factory can make them fresh, and threats of coming to visit me or else! *Hint hint* Next time. Next time there'll be time enough to say all the things and laugh at all the jokes.
Hundreds of miles between there and here, the home of BBQ and Jazz beckoning me like a dream of all the best childhood memories. There I found her there waiting for us, arms open. Her home looked like it always had, maybe a new counter top and stove, maybe a new couch or a new color on the walls, but still, most emphatically Carolyn. A map of her heart, and a reflection of a life well lived. Her walls and surfaces were covered in the most amazing collection of family heirlooms and bits from her world travels. I was hard pressed to find very many countries that weren't represented. Treasures new and old from a crafty niece found their way into the mix. Recent paintings I had made gifts of and an old hand sewn and beaded leather pouch from my first decade of life hidden in among family pictures.
There are always new things at my aunt's, the ebb and flow of life changing like the ocean reef she loves so much, but always the much loved art and things my sisters and I always remember. The mantle clock that plays Westminster chimes owned first by our great grandparents a much loved shadow of its former self. No matter how old, or how time has aged it, or even state of disrepair, there will be a war over that clock on a date I pray will be distant yet. I would sleep in the middle room, sometimes alone, sometimes sharing with a sister, the clock right outside the door and listen to sound of time passing through the night. Bum Bum Bum Bum every fifteen minutes.
I have a deep love of Kansas City. I've lived in other big cities. I know what they hold. I would probably lose my mind in the maze of buildings and the pace of a thousand things to do should I live there, but I always feel drawn back to this place. Drawn to the love of my aunt, drawn to the childhood memories of playing in her yard, picking her tomatoes, and a hundred adventures with a woman who always seemed to have a friend everywhere she went. But I'm also drawn to the feel of midtown and Westport. You can see the lights of the Historic Plaza from her home, the feeling of jazz all around. That smokey bit of good BBQ, like a sax singing you to sleep. The tinkling of laughter through open windows as the sun set, a good melody on the piano. The pulse of life a sedate beat wafting through the air. The spray of a hundred fountains, water blue for their favorite sons, the KC Royals (World Series Winners!), like a soprano softly finishing the chorus. There are lights like any large settlement of humanity, but something about the warm air and the early sunset mute them until you feel part of the air, seamless and calm.
As always BBQ is involved in our trip. Either one meal or a large tray that feeds us for weeks, but one way or another, when we see Aunt Carolyn, BBQ will happen. There's a whole culture to KC BBQ. An odd mix of greasy spoon, cafeteria, and sit down. Some are upscale and some are nothing more than holes in the wall with one or two tables. The best BBQ is always in the older neighborhoods, plain chairs and tables found in mom and pop diners from the 50's, and never fancy. Just your average inner city corner grill that serves fish and wings or philly cheese steak or any number of regional foods. In KC you go to these little, old, less maintained places and find the food of your dreams. Sauce sweet and smokey, or spicy and tangy, or my favorite, both at once. Smoked meats piled high, the smell greeting you down the block of stacked brick buildings and absent grass. You walk down a cafeteria like counter yelling out your order to the cooks, cutting meat right in front of you, get your beer or soda and find a table where someone nice with a dulcet KC accent makes sure you have enough sauce and drink.
My children are mixed. The recent less than absent race relations in the US always has me edgy. I worry how my children will be greeted. I worry how I will be greeted. I worry how we'll be greeted when seen together because their glowing dark skin is so obviously different from my sack of flour and freckled complexion. I was amazed that no one paid us any mind. In Ohio we were stared at often. In KC all the neighborhoods seemed mixed and no one cared, we were just people. You respect them, they respect you. I don't know enough about the issues in KC government or society to tell you if this is what everyone experiences, but I was comfortable and greeted well by all manner of people.
This trip was a little ambitious for me, with my health being what it isn't, but still, wonderful things happened. Sea Life Aquarium was beautiful. The staff friendly and informative and always seemed to have time to stop whatever they were doing to tell you with such excitement all about the exhibits. A collection of rare animals, rescued and rehabbed animals, and animals from their world known breeding programs greeted us, seemingly just as curious about us we are of them. An octopus sucked against a window half hiding an eye and blinking closed every time she was caught watching. The missing link between sharks and rays strutting her stuff for all to see while she waited to grow up enough for a mate. One had already been chosen for her. A turtle patrolling and watching all that came by. A sea anemone that would hug you if you poked it between the spines while horseshoe crabs nestled in close. Sea horses bright and dark, large and small, happily going on with the business of increasing their numbers.
Another staff member herded the worshipers of all that goes bump in the night down a pitch black turn then whisked my daughter and I out. He showed her the back staging and the sets still under construction or repair and talked calmly the whole time. Embarrassment quickly faded as he declared we were the third ones that night, and they had only been open an hour. Kindness on a night of fright. Well trained, compassionate staff. That's what took a famous haunted house and made it truly world class.
We watched the opening pitches of the final game in the World Series while sitting at an old wooden bar table that wobbled, with sticky floors and chairs a decade or two past their prime, inside a true flea market, not a tourist attraction, to eat world class burgers. Food Network had featured the place, and no one cared, or maybe they even enjoyed, the dilapidated décor. Packed wall to wall, standing room only, clusters of beer glasses in hands around TV's to listen to the National Athem and some singing along. The noise was epic, but unified in a way only sports fans all rooting for one team can give you. Everyone from doctors and nurses, to cooks and wait staff, to business men and women, to children and elderly all wearing Royal blue. A sea of a city united, even non-sports fans, celebrating as one. Fireworks and honking horns filled the night. Even a few unexpected late hours in the ER for something easily fixable did not dampen the feel in the air as KC won her title.
Of all these amazing things luring me in like strains of jazz and BBQ smoke wrapping me in a hug, my favorite moment was sitting in front of a Samhain fire, sticks of incense in hand talking my aunt through a basic ritual in remembrance of loved ones lost. Explaining to her what that night was all about, and feeling the intimacy of a thousand emotions as she remembered those that have journeyed on. KC has a million things to do, all of them interesting, most of them culturally enriching, most of them fun, but it is her I seek. It is to be in her presence and talk. About life, love, fond memories, struggles, her adored shi-tzu begging to be pet and Westminster chimes flowing through our consciousness like smoke until we didn't even notice how many times the chimes sang at the top of the hour. It is making her my famous butternut soup and watching her enjoy it. It is holding on to her arm in a haunted house and listening to the history of all the places she took us. Fond memories of family friends she brought into our lives and her adventures with Uncle Dr. Jim in those very places we walked.
Not everything planned happened. In a way I'm ecstatic about that. It means more thinly disguised excuses to be in her presence, to share her life for a few more days. It means we can all pretend I have more reasons to go back again and again, when I only needed that one. Her.
Aunt Carolyn you are adored. I will always come back. KC is as much my home as Point because you are there. Thank You for another trip of memories and laughter and love.
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City her I come. You got some pretty little women there, and you are the most adored one!
In the history of the world very few mother daughter relationships go without incident. It seems as daughters we’re trapped between desperately wanting this woman’s approval of us, and needing to be our own people. Breaking away invariably leaves both parties scarred, and it is those scars that shape the relationship just as much as c-section scars, stretch marks, post baby feeding breasts, the extra weight in hips and thighs, and your very own belly button are a reflection of all it took to bring you into the world.
I find myself wondering why society puts such pressure on women to become mothers. It was very clear early on that my own mother had merely succumbed to this pressure and didn’t really want to be a mother. Or perhaps she liked idea of motherhood and being one of the two youngest in her family never got to see the reality. Well reality hit hard. It often does. I don’t think anyone is truly ready for their first child. It just happens no matter how much you plan and read and think you know. Suddenly you’re a parent and forced to figure it out as you go.
My mother’s dragons were insidious and slow. I don’t think anyone dreamed in the beginning what it was going to be like. To this day some of her very dearest friends remain ignorant of a large portion of what went on. As an adult I find myself referencing some of things my sisters and I deal with for our mother and they had no idea. Outside looking in I suppose. I always believed they knew everything. As much as I love these women I’ve known all my life it is discordant to speak with them now about Mom.
This woman, who I remember making bratzli’s with (a special swiss cookie), and reading Caldecott and Newberry award winning books with, a woman who knitted the most beautiful designs while I sat at her feet and learned about color and pattern, was very ill. Slowly, creeping up like a thief in the night, bits of her sanity were eaten away, pulled into a hungry void of mental illness. We didn’t understand how we could love her so much while she abandoned us so completely by never leaving her chair.
I am the youngest of three. My oldest sister was enough older that she took over as mom. She took care of Mom’s needs, Mom’s errands. She made sure I didn’t touch a hot stove. She was the one yelling out my three names and sending me to my room. I thought this was normal. I was an adult before I realized how very much she did…how very much Mom held her responsible for. That’s crushing for a 7yr old girl. My first word was her name, which were not sounds easy for a baby to make. Mama or dada typically are because they are the first sounds their little mouths figure out how to say. Mine was my sister’s name. A Juh sound.
Our entire lives was built around Mom’s naps, or telling my father when I stayed home sick from school I would hear her get up more than once during a nap to take pain pills, or going to the grocery store to build up her stash of candy that molded her into one of the super-heavy people you hear about on TV. My mother wasn’t like everyone else’s. She was big and soft, easy to hug, and sad all the time.
I’m not just talking depression, though that would have been life changing enough. In my early teens, not very long after my parents were divorced and both my sisters grown and out of the house, Mom starting hearing voices and having delusions. We were lucky. She could have become violent. It was still scary enough. It got to the point where I was afraid to talk to her. She lived a few hours away at this time, intent on going back to school. I didn’t like to visit her. It would be hours in her apartment in a large city I didn’t know while she napped, sleeping nearly 20hrs a day. My mom was gone.
Gone were the beautiful designs woven by lightning quick fingers. Gone were the hours of discussion about book plots and cover designs (any wonder I became a publisher, artist, and writer?). Gone was her beautiful voice teaching me old songs. Gone was the intelligent light in her eyes that was there no matter how sad she became. Late onset non-differentiated schizophrenia stole what little was left behind by the depression. I was in the process of becoming an adult and wanting her near so badly she actually moved back to our tiny town, but scared of dealing with all that a relationship with her would entail.
I ran. She was not the only reason I ran. There were a great many difficult life changing things happening then. Most my parents never knew anything about. Outside the family. At home. At work. Mom. Things were a mess and she got relegated to the long list of why I would never come back to Wisconsin ever again. I had $300 to my name and a friend a distant 12hr drive away who was willing to put me up until I could land on my feet. I actually ended up, struggling, crumbling, covered in road rash, wrenching my body up the cliff with bloody fingers and toes. I’m still not sure I’m completely on my feet. Are any of us ever?
My oldest sister left the country. That left my second sister to do the dirty work. I have never completely gotten over my guilt at that. I didn’t call Mom. I didn’t write. I had virtually no contact with anyone on purpose. I would hear about most hospital stays, but I was not engaged. I didn’t want to be. My second sister spent her adulthood being caretaker for this woman who looked like our mother but wasn’t. There was a lot of anger dealing with the depression, but even then there were sparks of who she could have been. By this time, even those were gone as knitting was left piled in the closet, tangled and undone.
For decades, life went on. This was the new normal. I don’t know quite when things changed. A good visit or two from my father and step-mother. Maybe it was the trip home for Dad’s birthday when all of us were there, and we three made our first attempt at a united front for Mom. But things did change.
My second sister, who had devoted so much time to the bodysnatcher in Mom got an opportunity to spread her wings. We told her to go with no guilt. It was time she got to do this. It also became clear Mom needed one of us. I stepped up to the plate. My sisters had both done their time. It was time I was the sister and daughter I should have been and take over. So I did.
Now I watch her dragons from afar, hiding behind walls of medication and doctor visits. Death kept at bay by a surgically smaller stomach that caused more problems than it fixed taking this once large woman to a frail grandmother twenty years older than her birth certificate. I was strong. Not taking her crap, not letting her manipulate me. I was hard, drawing lines no one could jump over. I didn’t want to love this woman in front of me. I wanted to do my duty so others could live and so that I would know I was there when needed.
Then it happened.
A tiny insignificant cell decided it wanted to live forever.
Tumors. The true immortal vampires of lore. All cells have an automatic shut off sequence. They die on time so other cells can be born. Cancer is when one cell decides to live forever and just breed, more and more of them sucking the life right out of you.
Mom found the lump in her breast, a part of her body that was a true mother, having fed and nourished all three of us. My walls and lines were all useless. I wouldn’t say the chip on my shoulder is healing, but it’s been worn smooth by this fight. My sisters do what they can from where they are in the world. I am not alone in this fight with her, but there are days…
I watch her shake with fear, her resting tremor getting worse as we walk through the doors to the cancer center. I hold her tiny bony hand that looks nothing like my mother’s while we learn all about HER2+, and metastasizing. I kissed her head as they wheeled her away to take her breast. My vocabulary grows to include the lexicon of chemo nurses while they bustle about in the ‘infusion’ room. I sit in hard plastic chairs with my own knitting trying to take her mind off all the tubes and the poison dripping into her body. I talk to the staff where she lives about side effects and just how poisonous her bodily fluids are now we have set out to destroy some mutinous cells.
Now I must face the possibility that her dragons are only lying in wait for the cancer and treatments to do their job, tenderizing her emaciated frame, before they devour her whole. Sometimes I wonder, is the spark truly gone or am I just blind to it, my own issues robbing me of clear sight?
Each new diagnosis, each new test, each new treatment I worry if this is going to be the one that finally breaks her. I wonder daily if that’s a bad thing. Cancer treatment is torture. I’m not saying don’t treat it, but if someone opts out, I don’t blame them one bit. As her daughter, each new bump or lump I find on my own body becomes a three doctor circus to rule out the possibility of my own renegade cells. Through it all she has been lucid and on the ball in a way I haven’t seen since I was a child. It’s cruel to get a spark of her back just when she enters into the most grueling leg of her journey.
I want to know, how much longer until the sun sets? I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I’m terrified of every second.
You don’t know me, but I know you. See your shining face with hope already jaded in your eyes. I know of your struggles and your dreams. You are a fighter, dear child. A rainbow warrior ready to fight to be who you were always created to be. Ready to change the world so that others can find the same pride in themselves that shines out in you like a star. Sometimes it’s hard. This world is not always ready for a trailblazer such as you. I hear the words others would say to you, to your parents, to your sibling. I see the questions brewing in those who do not want to understand. Know this, they are afraid to understand because that means they might be wrong, and if they’re wrong about this they might be wrong about other bigger things. Human grownups are strange that way. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to learn. I see you, dear child, for all that you are. We need you so desperately in this world. Know this, when the road is hard, and people do or say hurtful things they are merely afraid and your fierce love will help them in this new world. Be who you are. Set the world free.
Dear young person,
I only know you a little, but already I love you for this shining handsome, lovely person you are in the process of becoming. You’re on the cusp of adulthood. There and not there at the same time. Learning you are free, but still held back. No person goes through this time unscathed. I’m here to tell you to have courage. You have the power to shape your future. There will be hard times, there will be people who don’t understand, but the same is true for everyone. Be who you were always meant to be. You can do it. Even as just one person, I stand behind you. Call your name out to the universe and let it be heard. You are more powerful than you know, and they fear the day you discover it.
Such love echoes though your soul. You would walk through the fire to give your children a fair and just world. You will not see the ripples you cause by walking this road with your child, letting them lead you on this quest. You cannot know how much it will impact the world when your rainbow warrior stands tall and leads us to our salvation. As a parent I know the fears. Both my children have chosen hard roads and walk them unafraid while I cower in the background swallowing my fear. I see the traps, I see the thorns, the snares. I see the places where the road ends and a leap of faith must be taken. No one can know, save those that love a child unconditionally, what it is like to have to watch them while they grow. Your courage is no small thing and it is not smaller than that of your rainbow warrior. It is your courage and faith and love that feeds them. Your joy in their being is what creates the fierce love they fight for their world with. Have faith. We all watch them galloping down the path on a steed of self actualization. I give you my love and faith. For you are a rainbow warrior too.
You are glorious in battle. Did you know that? Did you know how you shine when speaking out for others? I know you fight to fix this world because you’re fighting for your own right to exist. Don’t let those that fear you take away your joy. I know you’ve seen it all. The unspeakable atrocities our parents hide us from when we are young. The pain of seeing beautiful souls unloved for the petty excuse of changing their shell. Those things are real and speak to a society in distress. Fight. Break the dome of our existence in two. Show others a light they can’t even conceive of. You were gifted by knowing who you were from an early age. You are battle tested making yourself into that person. Now blaze through in justice and love, and carry us in your wake. You may not always see the ripples and tides you cause, but they will come back and lift you higher. Fear not loneliness or hate, for you are surrounded by love.
With gratefulness that you are all in my life, thank you.
Horror has been, almost since its inception as a genre, a boy’s club. While organizations like the Horror Writer’s Association seek out to engender equality by offering memberships based on merit, the fact remains that women horror writers are often relegated to the kid’s table, while occasionally lesser writers that happen to have a man’s name carry the forefront.
This is a societal problem, and a reflection of the lack of gender equality. Other genres are hit hard as well. Science Fiction is notorious for gender inequality. And very few men romance writers are taken seriously and often have to work harder for the same audience. There is an erroneous idea that a person’s gender identity is encapsulated by a name or that that dictates their ability to write different genres.
The NY times recently reported, Women who use a genderless pen name like P.D. James, or J.D. Robb (who happens to be Nora Roberts) have higher sales. Part of the problem is exposure. Reviewers, which can be the life blood of sales often feed into the gender gap.
According to The Guardian, in 2010, 74% of reviews by the London Review of Books were of books by male authors, 65% male dominated reviews by Granta Magazine, and 83% male dominated reviews by the New York Review of Books. Or look at this study by Edward Champion on the gender bias of individual reviewers for the New York Times. Each reviewer has their own graph of how many male vs. female authors they reviewed in 2013.
Here is a simplified one page version.
Here is another graph from Australia.
Gina Denny has another article with tons of graphs to show the discrepancy.
Okay, I’m going to stop filling you up with percents and numbers here and get to the point. Recently J. Ellington Ashton Press did something to quiet all arguments on the ability of different genders in horror. It took the current climate and put it on its ear. We hosted our own Male vs. Female horror short story contest, the results of which will find their way into two amazing anthologies.
We picked two teams. 13 men, and 13 women. Not all the participants were necessarily horror writers. A few on both teams find their voices in other genres from romance to science fiction. Amid the friendly trash talk the writers were paired up into round competitors. Each round had one writer from each team and were given a place, a weapon, and a big bad (thing that caused the trouble). Then they were set free for 30 days to write a 5 to 7k word story.
The judges were kept secret, and the authors kept secret from the judges. They were handed stories with only titles and which round they belonged to. No other information. Everything was based entirely on merit.
The results? Almost entirely equal. The women took it by one story. The honorable mentions were split equally between genders. The overall winners were split equally between genders. When gender was taken out of the equation, authors that would have otherwise been ignored stepped into the light. Primary genre had little to do with it as well. Some of the winners are not horror writers. At least one of the honorable mentions is a fantasy writer. That squashes the argument that women prefer to write certain genres and are therefore not adept at horror. Really this contest proved all previous arguments are unfounded.
But don’t take my word for it. Keep an eye out for the upcoming MvF anthologies and judge the work for yourself.
Update 2/29/16: Both books now live on Amazon!
Click the images below to buy your copy today!
Cover Art by Michael Fisher
From the twisted imaginings of:
Essel Pratt and Dona Fox
Ts. Woolard and Alice J. Black
Michael Noe and Dani Brown
Jim Goforth and Christina Engela
*Andrew Freudenburg and Brenda Evans
**Stuart Keane and Amanda M. Lyons
Brian Barr and Wendy Potocki
Kent Hill and Lisa Dabrowski
Michael Fisher and Sharon Higa*
Roger Cowin and Susan Simone
Mark Woods and Tabitha Baumander
Justin Hunter and Michelle Garza
John Ledger and Catt Dahman**
Bold indicates round winner. * Indicates honorable mention. ** Indicates overall winner.
I think the power of thought and intention is taken for granted. We have so much power to affect our lives but it is largely ignored. Someone I respect has legitimate problems with organized faith in general. She makes good points, but she hit on one that bothered me. Making fun of people asking for prayers for a loved one or a hard time. I looked at that and thought how can she be spiritual (which she is greatly) and not see the power of intention?
The universe is a vast animal that, by all accounts, will provide. You can call it science and say it’s the electrical impulses of our thoughts, something that has been proven, reflecting back to us. You can say it’s the power of the elements around us that answer our needs. You can say it’s God or a Creator answering your prayers. It all amounts to the same thing, but in our human need to understand it we all have different ways of defining it, different ways of understanding the rules. Person of faith to person of same faith, even, will have a different belief in how it works. That is the human condition. Some mysteries will never be fully answered.
However, I can tell you with great certainty from my own life, the universe will reflect whatever you put out. It’s this cosmic caretaker that wants nothing more than to provide what we want, but it doesn’t understand our basic human flaw. This little glitch we were all created with. Fear and worry and a need to obsess over it. See the Universe, however you define it, pays attention to what we think and feel. Its job is not to judge those thoughts, but reflect them. It doesn’t understand that you really don’t want to lose your job it sees only that you are spending a lot of energy thinking about that. So it gives it to you. Likewise for the good things. Ever notice how negative people keep getting negative things happening? Like the klutz that proclaims they’re klutz right before tripping on air. Or the person convinced they are hexed having all things they’re scared of happen. They focus on these thoughts being truth and the Universe reflects.
My point is this: We know the Universe will give us what we focus on. Spells, prayers, good energy, are all attempts and keeping the negative out our minds focusing on what we want to have happen. Simple belief can change worlds. It doesn’t even matter what you believe in. Those calls for prayers, or a focus on happy, healthy, whole, may not cure cancer. They can’t unlight the fire that burned down someone’s home. But they can and will reflect the good intention put out. Never discount, even if it’s not your faith, the power of someone’s call to prayer. Don’t feel you have to answer them in the way they say either, but with your own good intention however you see that happening.
Never discount that they are praying because they care. I’ve been through many hard times, and when things are at their worst, knowing someone cares, even if they can’t do a thing, makes me stronger. Heartfelt caring has more effect on me than actually fixing the problem. To know I’m not alone and this person actively has my back. People call to prayer because they feel helpless and go to what they believe in their hearts to be something bigger and stronger and humble themselves, something that is very hard for any human by our very natures, before it and ask. That is no small amount of caring.
Now this isn’t say that prayer should replace all help. Sometimes people say it and not mean it. Sometimes they feel it will wipe away their moral obligation by saying trite words and moving on. Making 100K a year, and prayer for a cure to cancer rather than donating to research or supportive organizations (Not Susan G Kolmen fund, don’t give them a cent, but that’s another rant. Research and you’ll see what I mean). Or showing yourself topless because you want to save the tatas but don’t encourage others to put in time or money to actual help. Raising awareness is another form of intent, or prayer that’s more pragmatic, but same thought. Get the Universe to reflect your needs.
But prayer, good energy, a spell, a call to awareness, given from pure good intention. That is gold. That is more meaningful than anything else we can do as a global society when action just isn’t feasible or possible. Even if I’m dying, and no doctor, or transplant will save me, to know I am loved, to feel the energy of people around me as I go is a gift you can’t put a price tag on.
Focus on the good. Focus on the outcome. Do what you can. And when you can’t do? Write a spell, announce your intention to the Universe. Pray.
In the end, love really will change the world.
X-Posted to Shadowed Paths
Susan is a writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends. She lives in a place where new hybrid cars, beat up farm trucks, and Amish horse and buggies meet in fast food parking lots for coffee.