Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Just Another Day

Tomorrow is the 23rd Anniversary of my dad's death.

Some of these have passed me by without a thought.  Last year it really bugged me.  This year, it's more like a simple connection.  Oh, it's that day again.  Okay.

It was a suicide.  Dad was on a downward spiral for a long time.  He was an alcoholic and had brain damage from it, as well as a destroyed body.

The funeral was ugly and I'm still angry about the fallout from it.  That's what I remember more than his death.  I remember how my grandmother would corner my sister or myself and tell us how if we had loved him more he wouldn't have done it.  I remember how his sister acted like she had no idea there were problems.  The years of alcoholism weren't a clue.  Him suddenly showing up at my grandmother's doorstep unannounced to live with her wasn't a clue.  His deteriorated mental state wasn't a clue.  His ruined health wasn't a clue.  She acted like this was a huge shock and it was our fault for keeping it from her--lying to her about how great things were.  Actually, she said we lied to her, when we told her at the funeral that things were bad and we let it be known.  She claimed we never did any such thing.

So no, I don't think about how I lost somebody.  I think about how I watched my family unravel, crash, and catch fire.  I think about how his childhood friends came to his funeral and not a single one of them were shocked.

Suicides destroy families.  I've seen it before and I've lived it.  I haven't spoken to my dad's side of the family in years.  I had to divorce myself from them because they were so nasty towards my sister and I.  Every letter was full of venom.

I'll admit--I was a jerk.  I just stopped talking to them.  They sent me checks and I ignored them.  They sent me birthday cards and I ignored them.  I took the money, of course, but I said nothing.  Not a word.

My grandmother sent me a Christmas card telling me about how upset she was and how she just wanted to hear from me and I ignored her.  I was in my own private hell and just couldn't bring myself to contact her.  I was waging my own battles inside my head.

I feel terrible about how it all unraveled and came about.  When my grandmother died, I didn't go to the funeral.  She eventually died from alzheimer's and dementia.  I said nothing to my aunt.  Not even a condolence card.  Even when she sent me a check for my portion of the inheritance, I said nothing. Not a word.

I was angry, I'll admit, but there was something else.  I got tired of being the crazy one in the family. I got tired of being treated like The Joker.  I know I'm different.  I know there's some things not right with me.  But being treated like a violent mental patient all the time gets old.

It's not just my dad's side of the family who treats me like that.  Parts of my mom's side treat me like that, too.  I have two cousins I knew as babies.  I mean, I held them, fed them, and even changed one of their diapers.  Then, I didn't see them for 17 years.

Seventeen years later, they were at a family reunion.   There were other reunions between that time but I never went.  Most of those reunions I was never invited to or even told about.  I'd like to say it was because the family knew I was too broke to travel anywhere but that's not the whole reason.  As you can imagine, I'm a bit of a black sheep, and as I've said before, treated like a mentally deranged nutcase.

So, these two cousins were there.  I introduced myself to them and they both froze.  They froze and a look of terror spread across their faces.  They knew me.  They knew about me and I had a reputation. It was like they found themselves standing face-to-face with a serial killer or an alien in a public place.  They had to play it cool despite wanting to run away screaming.

Despite the bullshit I write on this blog, I've never killed anybody in my life.  Never.  I'm actually a very nice man who makes ice cream for his friends.  I like dogs and babies love me.  To be treated like a physical manifestation of all the horrific characters out of Hollywood really pissed me off. Worse, I knew where they got that fear--other family members.  Somebody told them a series of things about me and they believed them.

It was insulting.

But no, my ties to family are uneasy most of the time.  I'm often not told about weddings and various family events.  If I send them an e-mail, it usually gets ignored.  There are a couple of family members who still talk to me and for that I'm grateful.

But family is complicated and winters/early springs are very hard for me.

It's no secret I struggle with depression.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder--SAD.  Every winter I crash into a black hole.  It's a tail-spin I cannot pull out of until the seasons shift and I can get more sunlight.

I thought I had a good game plan to handle it this winter.  I damn near didn't make it out of the last one.  But, things didn't go according to plan and I took some structural damage I wasn't expecting.  It happens.

I don't believe in coincidence.  These things happened for a reason.  And now that I'm finding myself at this mile marker, I can honestly say I feel better despite all of the things going on right now.  I'm no longer angry at my dad for what he did.  I'm no longer angry at his sister and mother for blaming me for what he did.  It sucks that elements of my family treat me like a monster but that's just how it goes.

My mom always said living well is the best revenge.  If I keep doing what I'm doing, there will come a day when they will want to admit they're related to me.  Stranger things have happened.  And when that day comes, I will simply smile and let it go.  I'm fighting to keep certain patterns from repeating. I'm not my dad.  I'm trying so hard to avoid his pitfalls and to not do what he did.

The first thing--don't give up.  The rest will sort itself out as the days play out.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Happy Memory Factory and Fantasy Fuel

I remember when I went into my first comic book shop.

I was in the sixth grade and it was in downtown Sterling, right next to Emil's Toy Store.  Emil's was also a magazine shop, and they carried hundreds of magazines, and it was like a library.  I would go there and look at model railroad magazines, then the remote control magazines, and of course, the gun magazines.

It was where I bought my copies of Soldier of Fortune and I can promise you I was the youngest person out there interested in first-hand accounts of the battles in Rhodesia.  The political stories and reporting were top-notch and to a young kid just learning about the world it was like getting information most adults never had.

But the comic book shop was something special.  Knight's Hobby.  It was owned by a guy named Jim Hey, who was a friend of the toy shop owner's son.

Plus, Jim looked exactly like the comic book guy in The Simpsons.  Seriously.  Jim was balding, though, but that was Jim.  Totally.

Knight's Hobby was where I got my first introduction to comic book titles like Daredevil, Sgt. Rock, and Judge Dredd.  I was a huge fan of those, and Marvel's Secret Wars had just started up.  I had the Marvel Universe Encyclopedia issues and a few other odds and ends.  Rom, the space knight.  A couple of Avengers titles here and there, along with a few Iron Man books that went into grim detail about Tony Stark's alcoholism.

The people who watch only the Iron Man movies don't know this, but Tony Stark was a raging alcoholic who destroyed his body with booze.  After a while, his body began to shut down, and only the suit was keeping him alive.  The last issues I saw, if I recall correctly, he wasn't able to get out of the suit anymore.  His liver and kidneys no longer functioned.

Grim stuff.  Damned grim.  And I think I still have that issue shown above.  Maybe.

But that was comics back then.  They were just starting to become moody and brooding.  We were still years away from Spawn and GenX.  Pitt and a few others.

When I was in the sixth grade, my best friend, Pat Pember, had his own titles he was interested in.  Pat was a huge fan of Moon Knight.

How did I afford these comic books and how was I able to afford to see movies every weekend?

As I've posted before, I had a paper route.  The money I made was enough for a few titles and a movie.  That paper route allowed me the opportunity to feed my imagination and played a huge role in my development.

There are a few memories I hold on to and cherish because they, more than most other memories, remind me that escapes do exist and usually, they are because a writer like myself sat down and put them on paper.

For some reason, a number of these memories are of rainy Sundays in the late winter/early spring.  The rain would be cold and nasty.  Back then, my feet were always wet.  Always.  In fact, I developed a skin problem on my feet because they were always wet.  My boots were worn out and my family didn't have the money to buy a new pair.  I knew enough not to ask, too.  I didn't tell my Mom, and certainly not my Dad, that my feet were always wrecked.

But on Sundays, I didn't have to go outside.  I could leave my boots to dry and hide upstairs in my cold bedroom.   Our house was a drafty old thing and I loved it back then.

I could hide upstairs in my bedroom with my stack of comic books and whatever novel I was reading at the time.  There was no football on television, just basketball, and I never was much of a fan of that sport.  Best of all, I would be left alone, because that was the single best thing for me back then--alone.

I've talked about my dad plenty but the short version was this--not being noticed was best.  And I was a ghost.

Those stacks of comics were so important to me because I could read them and fantasize about the person I wanted to be and the places I wanted to go.  They were fuel.

Back then, we had three channels, and Sunday Nights meant a good movie was usually on after 7pm.  If we were lucky, it was a new movie none of us had seen before, and if we were really lucky it was the latest James Bond film.  Another great character, another high-octane fantasy fuel.

Those creators, the writers who developed those stories, did wonders for me as a child.  They gave my brain something to dive into as it retreated from a harsh and ugly reality.  Mondays were made for daydreaming and I would go to Mrs. Broderick's class primed with a fresh tank of day dream material.   She was a stern, arrogant women from an age when education made you superior to those around you and who you married gave you status.  Her husband was a school Principal and eventually Superintendent.  She lacked a sense of humor and enjoyed dishing out penalties.

But I had day dreams to save me.  Day dreams of comic book worlds and heroes.  Villains who made perfect sense and a world that was worth saving.  It is a sad statement about our society that the older I get, the more I cheer for the "bad guy" because usually he or she has a damned good reason to be pissed off.

Sixth grade was hell for me.  There were so many issues going on and so many terrible things in my life--things so bad I can't talk about them here.  But I had comic books.  I had books and novels.  I had things I could dive into and not have to come up for air for hours.  That was when I discovered the books Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard and It by Stephen King.  Big, thick books that would suck me in and hold me there for days.  It was when I learned I could escape the world around me.

Last week, somebody on Twitter posted that meme at the top of this post.  It made me realize why I wanted to write in the first place.  It wasn't about being cute or seeing my name in print.  I wanted to write because it was another form of day dreaming for me.  It was my way of escaping reality.  And if I could give that gift to another person on a rainy Sunday afternoon, then that was even better.

It was something I needed to see and remember.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Documenting the Descent

Our Hero is asleep right now.  He's sleeping for most of the day after being up all night.  Sleep only comes when the sun rises.

The medical term is Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder.  But this isn't medical or psychological.

This isn't natural.

Dark magic did this.  The necromancers of thought have been hard at work attacking Our Hero with spellcraft driven by hateful intent.  They need to weaken him, to further isolate him, to hurt him.  The full frontal assault never worked so now they're trying something different.

Attack him while he dreams in the dreamworld.  Unravel his mind and remove his will to carry on until he can no longer continue his quest and he abandons it on the side of the road.

The ruthless assault on his mind and soul has begun to take a heavy toll on Our Hero.  The very structures of reality are beginning to show cracks.  These evil men, necromancers of thought, have found a way to blast his mind with horrific images and painful memories, while giving him messages of just how pointless all resistance is against them.

"Slip away," they tell him through images.  "Wade into the stream and let the warm, healing waters carry you away to peace."

Sometimes they sing to him and he wakes up humming their tune without even realizing where he learned it.

The other night, he dreamed of a cat attacking him.  He was going to the front door to get a pizza being delivered and the cat jumped up from the floor, latching itself to his right hand, claws digging in so deep he could feel the blood run down his arm.  The cat was furious with him and yelled a harsh indictment but it was all spoken in a screeching cat's voice so he couldn't understand a single word of it.  All he knew was this cat hated him with a passion and the pain in his hand would never go away.

The pain was so strong and vivid he woke up.  Our Hero turned on the light to examine his wounds only to find them not there and the pain fading quickly to nothing.  There was no blood despite him being sure there would be copious amounts everywhere.

A few minutes later, he drifted back to sleep where a another dream awaited him, this time of a woman he was desparate to forget.  Once again, she was an obstacle, almost a monument, and she wasn't going anywhere.  She accused him of cruelty and sobbed uncontrollably as she recounted her pain.

This dream woke him up, too.  It always does at least once a night.  Again and again, he dreams of her, and this distorted version of events.  And so he has to remind himself that no, this is not how it happened, and he does not deserve this.

Last week, they sent him a dream that involved a large hand grasping him tightly around his torso, while another forced open his mouth, and the soul of his friend he was keeping safe within him was stolen, along with a piece of Our Hero's soul.  The grip was so tight it hurt his ribs.  It felt as if they were going to break.  He woke up gasping for air, wincing at the pain in his ribs, as that pain slowly faded as well.

A few weeks ago, they sent him a dream about a doorway suddenly appearing.  Our Hero woke up, stood up from his bed, and looked at the doorway on his wall.  It slowly disappeared right before his eyes, along with the lights illuminating it, until once again all he saw was his wall.

The dreams are breaking into his reality.  The dark magic cast upon him is working.  His mind is fracturing and unraveling.  The altered sleep times have further isolated him from any support he might have had previously.  They are wearing him down bit by bit, nightmare by nightmare, and he is becoming afraid to sleep at night because he know what awaits him once he closes his eyes.

Who needs to hide in shadows when you have the entire map of Dreamland as your battlefield?

These are dark times for Our Hero.  He is under attack by a foe he cannot see or defend against.  And in those dark hours, those witching hours, when he is at the crescendo of his nightly war, he is also furthest removed from assistance and aid.

If you believe in Happily Ever Afters, then there's a chance.  Not much of one, but slim enough it can be mentioned.  A chance.  Maybe, just maybe, Our Hero can find his way out of this darkness.  Maybe it's not over just yet.  Maybe somehow Our Hero can figure out a way to pull out of this tailspin before the dirt overdose at the end.

Some people believe in Happily Ever After.  The question is--do you? 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Women in Horror Month Epilogue

Yesterday was International Women's Day.

February was Women in Horror Month.

And what did we learn?

Sadly, we learned there are too many cowardly idiots in this world and they are an embarrassment to the rest of us on this planet.

We learned that there are people who claim to be smart who just don't get it.

I would love to write that we don't really need a Women in Horror Month (WiHM) just so we can have a great opportunity to celebrate the incredible talent contributing to our beloved genre.  But that's just not true, is it?

No, we need to have WiHM for a whole list of reasons, the primary being that some motherfuckers just don't get it.

We need a WiHM because some people have narrow tastes and will never branch out to read anything other than some testosterone-dripping display of pseudo-masculine, cliche-driven schlock-o-rama that is the fictional equivalent of Hungarian Goulash.  And usually, there's a pen name plastered on the cover that borders on the edge of being more apt for porn than fiction.

No, we need a WiHM so we can tell these guys, "Look,'re missing the good stuff."

I've been reading more and more horror written by women.  This isn't because I drank some kool-aid and suddenly realized for the first time in my life that women are an important demographic in horror literature and I just have to parrot this on my blog.  I don't drink Kool-aid, I've been a fan of many of these writers for a while, and I mean really--who blogs anymore?

When I was a kid, I figured there were good female horror writers out there--I just didn't know of any.  Now, I do.  See how that works?

But it's more than that.  I really fucking hate having anything to do with WiHM other than being a fan because it feels too much like some patronizing, slobbering, redneck back-slapping a lady and telling her, "there, there--you'll get your time in the spotlight and who knows?  Maybe you'll even sell a couple of copies.  Wouldn't that be nice?"

Hell, that's never happened to me and I'm pissed off just reading that.  I won't get into how I know I'd make a shitty woman.

I rely on WiHM because it helps sort out the good stuff for those of us who are too broke to spend a lot of money on new releases.  Anybody who has read this blog will tell you I'm always flat-broke and living hand-to-mouth.  There's no way in hell I can afford to buy stuff I haven't read reviews about and there's no way I'm going to take a risk speculating on some unknown.

Having said all of that, what WiHM does for somebody like me is give me options that work.  I need those.

Do we need WiHM for the gender inequality in fiction?  Yes.  Of course we do.

Honestly, this whole debate, in my mind, is like to grade-school kids having one of those debates in science class where they both explain why oxygen is so important.

"Well, I like oxygen because I need to breathe."

"Yeah, but I need oxygen because my cells do something sciency with all of those special molecules I made out of construction paper and pipe cleaners."

"Oh yeah?  Well I need oxygen to speak sexy sweet nothings in your mom's ear when she's over at my house after you've gone to bed."

And then the teacher gets involved, both kids end up in detention after class, and they still get a B+ because at least they pronounced the name of the element correctly.

But that's not the problem.  The problem seems to be the increasing numbers of men who bitch and complain about WiHM.  How can anybody possibly bitch and complain about a month when the good stuff is highlighted?

Granted, most of these "men" are trolls hiding behind fake internet names so they can say incredibly stupid shit and laugh about it later on.  Sadly, all too often the Golden Rule of the Web is ignored.

Don't feed the troll.  By reposting the ignorant shit posted under a nickname the bastards seem more plentiful.

I know, blame the trolled for the trolling.

The problem isn't the trolls, it's the cowardice rampant amongst men.  It's always a coward who posts ignorant shit online to women.  And then it gets re-tweeted or reposted on Facebook and all anybody remembers is another "man" said some nasty shit to a woman.

We need International Women's Day even worse than WiHM.  But we also need a day of atonement for shitheads out there who can't put their own names to their posts to anybody vulnerable.

Perhaps that's just another plot bunny for one of the many talented horror writers out there who just happen to be female.  "The Troll Afraid of Women."

It would make a great story, I think.  Men, afraid of their own shadows, look online one day in early February and to their horror, they find women being treated not just equally, but according to their talents, skills, dedication, and hard work.  The troll thinks about this and after wiping away the drool, realizes there are women out there who might actually get paid and given attention commensurate with their value.

But then again, based on what I saw in recent days, there have been plenty of men shitting their pants and such a fictional story would just cause unneeded panic that would lead to thousands of men coming down with a case of the vapors and hysteria.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Nekkid Time!

Just so you know, as I write this, I'm butt-naked.  I'm not wearing a stitch of clothing.

Think about that for a minute.  You and I are connecting on a deep, soulful level, and I'm totally naked as we do it.  Right now, you are connecting with a fat, naked man.

How does it feel?  I took a shower this week, too.

Anyways, while I'm sitting here, I'd like to direct your attention to the top of this blog post where you will find a button that says Buy Me a Coffee.

If you click on that, you'll get taken to a website that allows you to buy me a cup of coffee.  Or a beer.
I'd like to find an icon the says "Buy Me a Beer" but I can't, which means I'll have to make one myself.  That's not a problem, either.  I'm not bad with GIMP and Open Office Draw.

See?  That doesn't look too shitty, does it?  I mean, it's green, because we always associate the Irish for being a bunch of drunks, which pisses the Irish off and they gripe about it bitterly in the pub after a few pints of Guinness.  

Right now, I'm trying to figure some shit out.  As many of you know, I just made a series of changes in my life, some I'm happy to have done and a few I wish I'd never made but had no other options.  It sucks.  It really sucks.  

But that's life.  We make changes and hope they are healthy ones that lead us to better times.  

Or, if you're me, you do things you know will get you into trouble and break your heart.  Ten years ago, there was a woman in my life named Ruby who made it a habit of tearing my heart out of my chest and feasting upon the bloody organ.  

Ruby would come on like a hurricane, and I would launch myself at her like a cruise missile.  Then, she would suddenly disappear without a word for a week or so, pop back up, and tell me she left me for some dude she met.  A few months to a year later, she would come back into my life with all kinds of scars and horror stories about abuse.  She would get treated like a dog by these men.  She and I would start back up again, and she would disappear suddenly all over again.  

All the while, in my mind, I'm asking myself:  "Why am I so bad?  Why would a woman prefer to be treated like an animal, and to be abused, beaten, cheated on, infected, and humiliated instead of being with me?  Was I really that bad?  I must be because she preferred them over me."

And that was my thought process.  But I still took her back each time, thinking she was the best I could do, and I somehow deserved to be treated like that by women.  

The fourth time around, I knew I had to cut her loose, but I didn't have the balls.  So, I wrote down what I need to tell her, drank a bottle of honey whiskey, and once I was good and drunk I said them to her.  Mercifully, the anguish she put me through was evident, and she left me alone for good.  I never spoke to her again.  

Last week, I didn't need to get drunk or stoned, and I'm gonna call that growth. 

Last night, I finished a short story that was an allegory for what it was like to lose my family.  It was based on the last phone conversation I had with my wife.  This story was the most painful piece of fiction I've ever written and I would say the most honest.  It was also the darkest story I've ever put down on paper.  

I thought it would somehow help but it didn't.  Instead, it dredged up a lot of horrible feelings and I revisited some of the most painful memories of my past.  It didn't help.  

Another lesson learned.  

Also, right now I'm at a crossroads with my job.  My new job, which I happen to like, cut our hours down to a bit more than half.  Plus, because the call volume was so light, they were sending us home early on top of that.  Last week's paycheck was for 14.45 hours.  This week's paycheck will be for 18.21 hours.  There is no way I can live on that.  

So, that gives me a few options.  

1.  Wait for things to pick up at the current job, scrape my pennies together, and hope I can cover rent by the 1st of the month.  This has good and bad aspects to it and while I have no proof it will happen, history says this job will pick up soon and they'll once again have me working full-time.  

2.  Jump ship and get a new job with a new company.  That's a scary thought because you never know what you'll run into.  We all know the proverbs.  Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  Don't pick your toe jam in the movie theater.  

3.  Cut everything and move to a city where the jobs are better, there's a large artist community, more variety in everything, and more opportunities.  I'm thinking about moving to Las Vegas.  That's a huge jump and there's no way I could pull it off right now.  None.  

My thoughts on the subject are this:  I have four paychecks until rent is due.  I'm confident I can save up enough to cover that, but the rest is up in the air.  Power, water, internet.  I'll cover power in this next paycheck for a month, but the rest of the bills aren't going to pay themselves and will have to wait.  I would be gambling that hours would pick up in the next few weeks and I would be back to working full-time.  No proof this will happen, just historical patterns, and assurances from supervisors.  

I'm lucky these have been work-from-home jobs because the motor in my car has a rod that is knocking and I don't think I have many miles left in it.  As it stands, I'm pretty sure the motor will blow before the summer months are finished.  When that happens, I'd better damn well be working full-time hours in at least one job, if not a second.  

The ice cream videos are going well, though, and I think I've got enough money until payday to buy some supplies--enough to make another three or four videos.  I hope, anyways.  I really enjoy those videos.  I was able to submit my entry into the PBS Create contest and while the video has issues, I think it shows enough to be good.  I'm confident.  

And that's really it, isn't it?  I'm confident.  I'm confident that tomorrow will be better than today.  In fact, I'm so confident, I'm not wearing a single stitch of clothing.  I'm ready to face these challenges butt-assed naked.  

But wow, it's really cold out.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Visit With The Seer

Our Hero sat in the cabin, sipping the rich bone broth served to him by the Seer, who prodded the fire in the hearth with an iron rod.  Outside, the cold, bitter wind peppered the home with snow and ice.  

"You have come a long way," said the crone.  "Many didn't think you would make it this far."  

"I didn't, either."  The hot broth rejuvenated him.  The hike through the winter storm had left him cold bone-deep.  

"I knew you would," she said flatly.  

"You're a seer," he said.  "Of course you knew."  

"No," she said as pointed a finger at him.  "You're stronger than you think.  You're better than you think.  And you have far more to offer than you realize."  

"Then why am I alone?"  

"Why wouldn't you be?  That's the real question.  Why wouldn't you be alone?  You've done everything possible to be by yourself."  

"It's a habit I'm having a hard time breaking."  

"I know.  But not everybody out there is going to hurt you."  

"Just the ones I seem to find."

"How's the broth?"  

"It's amazing.  Rich and full of all kinds of notes."  

The old woman smiled and refilled Our Hero's mug.  

"Nobody seems to realize how important it is to nourish our bodies.  You've treated your body like an encumbrance.  You've medicated and bloated it.  You've got it addicted to all kinds of substances."  

"Yeah," said Our Hero.  "I'm working on that.  I've made strides and I'm close to being clean."  

"What's with the cookie butter?"  

"What do you mean?"  

"You eat way too much of it."  

"Have you ever tried it?"  

"It can't be that good."  

"Try it and tell me it's not.  I dare you."  

"Well," said the Seer.  "Seeing what it's done to you, I'm not sure it's a good idea."  

"Nothing I do is a good idea anymore."  Our Hero took a big sip of his broth and tried to hold back tears.  He cursed himself for his weakness.  

And his stupidity.  

"You can't change people," said the wise old crone.  "She wasn't going to love you again.  Or even whatever it was she gave you."  

"Why did I do that?"  His own actions sometimes baffled him.  

"You were lonely and she provided you with emotional support.  She made you realize you weren't nearly as awful as you thought.  And she accepted you, for a short period of time."  

"Until she saw how broken I really am."  

"No!"  The Seer banged on the old wooden table with her fist.  "No!  You decided to let her in, and to share very personal things, thinking she would reciprocate.  You were trying to get to a place that would never exist with her. There was a canyon between you two and she was never going to cross it.  She put that canyon there for a reason.  You tried to jump it."  

"Did I self-destruct?"  Our Hero looked down at his broth.  "Again?"  

"No," she said softly.  "You just made poor choices because you knew she was pulling away from you and the further away she got, the harder you worked to get closer."  

"It was doomed," he said.  "And there was nothing I could do."  

"I doubt it.  I highly doubt it."  

"For the past two months, it felt like I had cupped my two hands together and filled them with water. That water leaked out slowly and the more it did, the harder I squeezed. And the harder I squeezed, the more I tried, the more it leaked. I don't mind insanity. It's a price I'm willing to pay for certain things. And people. And up until recently, had you asked me if She was worth it, I would have said yes."  

"You had it bad. Now you need to heal."

Our Hero looked up at the wise, old Seer. She had advised countless in her years and he wondered just how many were at crossroads like himself.

"I've been having powerful nightmares and dreams again. Last night's dream was so strong, I woke up feeling physical pain."

"This isn't the first time you've had things from your dreams follow you into the waking consciousness, is it?"

"No," said Our Hero. "I've seen things in my dreams, woken up, and saw those same things but only for a few moments before they fade away. But this...last night, it really hurt."

"Tell me about it," she said.

"I dreamed I was in my bedroom with a person. A friend. But it wasn't really my bedroom. It was the house I always see in my dreams but have never seen in my reality. My bedroom was dark and I had a study lamp, one of those with the arms you move around, and there was a clamp on the end for attaching to your desk or table. Only I was trying to attach it to the seam of the ceiling tiles and it wasn't going so well. It was dark.

And then a man came in. He was a bad guy. And my friend's soul was inside of me. The bad guy wanted it because he said it would be safer. We knew that was bullshit. He tried to take it, we fought him, and kept it safe. And then, he grabbed me. He wrapped one of his massive hands around my torso and squeeze, with the other hand he forced open my mouth, and pulled out my friend's soul and a bit of mine.

I woke up because my ribs hurt so badly from him squeezing me."

The old crone closed her eyes and rocked back and forth in her chair.

"That's some dream," she said after a moment. "Some dream, indeed.  You walk in the shadows with an eye to the other plane.  Too often, really.  It's unhealthy.  You court the spirits and the entities.  You're not a seer and you're not a necromancer.  This is unhealthy to do so often."

"My subconsciousness has been screaming at me for the past few months. It's been bad."

"You've been in turmoil emotionally. Up and down. She played you. You were like a puppet and she could get you to do anything she wanted."

"I know. And I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker."

"That dream is about that. You're not admitting things to yourself. You're still blaming yourself and you're not accepting just how horrible of a person she was to you. What she did was unforgivable."

"Now wait a minute, she--"

"--she selectively ignored you. A month ago she said you two were bridging that canyon between you two. Two weeks ago, she said she was jealous of another woman telling you things on Facebook. And the silence steadily grew. The ignoring you steadily became a habit. And she stopped sharing things with you altogether. You were nobody to her. Why can't you admit this?"

"I was throwing myself at her shamelessly. She didn't have many options."

"She couldn't tell you to knock it off? She couldn't tell you to stop? She didn't have the common courtesy to tell you anything."

"She didn't want to hurt me," said Our Hero.

"So she hurt you worse by letting you make a fool of yourself? Why can't you admit you feel humiliated and embarrassed?"

"It's complicated."

"No," laughed the Seer. "It's not. You're defending her because you don't feel you're worthy of anything better. You think you're a piece of shit and the horrible things she did to you was the best you could expect from a woman."

"Is this the best I can expect?" Our Hero looked up at the wise old Seer. The crone who had walked in the shadows and spoke with the dead.

"Right now?" She looked at Our Hero with an appraising glare. How much truth could he handle? "Right now, you're lucky anybody talks to you. You've lost your mind. You treat reality with scorn and contempt. And you're so terrified of real women I can't imagine you ever actually going further than basic online chats."

"I'm going to die alone," he said flatly. "In the last 17 years, I have changed, and those changes are destroying me. I used to be a walking boss. I used to be awesome. I used to be so much more than this. What happened to me?"

"You lost. You lost and you lost over and over again. So you gave up."

"Can I change this?"

"No. I'm sorry, hon. But no. You can't go back and fix things and there's no such thing as time travel. What you've done to your body is pretty close to permanent. If you lost weight, you'd look like a shar-pei puppy. And you've probably got more plaque in your arteries than any doctor would dare touch. As it stands, you'll be lucky to live another five years. If you go nuts, work out like a madman, drop a ton of weight, and all of that stuff, you might get another 10 years. Maybe."

"Do I want another 10 years?"

"Depends. Are you going to heal and recover? Are you going to get your groove back? Do you even want to?"

"I'm not sure. It's such a long road. And there's no guarantee it will be worth it. Plus, by the time I get there, a lot of time will have passed." Our Hero looked down at his cup of broth.

The old crone pulled out her cane with remarkable force cracked him across the face.

"Ouch! What the hell?"

"You're dying and you don't care?"

"Not really."

She cracked him again.

"How do you feel right now?"

"Depressed. Upset. Embarrassed. Humiliated. Worthless."

"Is that how you want this story to end? Because this journey you're on cannot end in a lonely death. It cannot!"

"Why not?"

"Because you're the goddamned Hero! You're supposed to rise up and fight! You're supposed to get up off the canvas and get your groove back! You're supposed to earn your happiness!"

"Earn my happiness?"

"Yes! Happiness isn't handed out to everybody. Happiness is a goal. Happiness is a destination. Happiness is a place on a map and the last page of an instruction manual. Happiness is the cake on the cover of a cookbook. Follow the recipe! Put one foot in front of the other and do something!"

The old crone swung the cane again and smashed it against his shoulder.

"Ouch! Stop hitting me!"

"No! Not until you get it through your thick skull that this shit from the past few months is what happens when you sit in your apartment and never leave. It's what happens when you don't talk to real people. It's what happens when you accept all the horrible shit echoing inside your head. It's what happens when you think the insane events of your past are how this story ends. It doesn't end like that and it can't end like that. It can't!"

"How is this supposed to end? Because thus far, this story has sucked balls."

"This story has two endings. I've seen both. One ends with you sleeping behind the wheel of your car in your garage.  There is a hose leading up to the window and your cheeks are rosey red, your eyes are closed, and you are slipping away, slipping away, and gone. The other ends with you happy. Happy and with all kinds of goals achieved."

"Interesting," he said.

The old woman hit him again.

"Fight! Get up and fight! You have to change things. You have to get up and fight! Now is the time! Not tomorrow, now! Now! Get up and fight! You say you want things in this life but you don't do nearly enough to earn them. They won't be handed to you."

"I've tried that before."
"Yes, you did. And you got fucked by a lot of people and Fate. But you don't know what will happen tomorrow. Fate might very well be done with you. You don't know this. You don't know what will happen. All you know is up until now, you've taken more than your share of beatings. That doesn't mean it will keep happening."

Our Hero took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. Outside, it was still storming and the wind screamed.

"You know those voices that echo in your head? The ones that tell you how horrible you are?"

"Yeah, I know those voices well."

"When was the last time somebody actually said that to you? When was the last time somebody told you how horrible of a person you were?"

"I can't remember."

"You can't remember but they echo anyways? Why believe them, then? Why listen to them? Everybody you know has told you that you're a great guy. You're honest, sincere, kind, caring, empathic, loving, and tender. You get told that all the time and yet you ignore them and believe bullshit echoing in your head?"

"I don't know. I really don't."

"You have to get up and fight. You have to. You will never be complete until you fight. You will never save what's left of your life without fighting for it. These challenges you've had molded you into something grotesque in your mind. You see yourself with the eyes of an abuser. But everybody else sees you as the man who would be king if he'd just get up and take the crown for himself. You have to take it!"


"No!" She hit him again. He was surprised that he wasn't bleeding with all of the shots he'd taken. "No, you will not begin to speak negatively about yourself. Not again!"

"I have no idea how to even start."

"You start with one step. Just one. And there's something else you need to know."


"Something I saw in a vision. Or rather, someone. It was in the other future, the one where you get up and fight. I saw you with someone. I saw the connection between you two. It was radiant. Almost too bright for me to look at directly. The two of you were bonded so tightly it was if you were one."

"What else did you see?"

"I saw happiness. True happiness with a contentment that was complete and total."


"After you get up. After you fight. After you work for it. I saw you with my own eyes and you were happy. You were complete. You were in a distant land, surrounded by blue water, and it was all something you achieved. You earned it. And it was your's. Nobody could take it from you. It's possible. It's all possible because I've seen it. But you have to take it."

"Are you just saying this to tell me what I want to hear?"

She hit him again. This time, the cane struck his eyebrow, and blood began to trickle down his face.

"I never lie! I never tell somebody what they want to hear. And let's be honest with ourselves--what you want to hear is that you'll die tomorrow. Right?"

"Sorry. It's just that reality is a bit fragmented for me.  I'm having a hard time sorting things out."

"It's the shadows.  You have walked in the shadows and courted the spirits for far too long.  You've spent enough time with the dead.  And that's part of the reason you don't care about this life.  You're not suicidal, you just feel like the grass is greener over there and you don't care enough about this life.  I wish they'd never told you so much."

"They sang to me and I wanted to know why."  

"You are giving them too much attention.  If what they said was really that important, I'd know it.  They would have told me, so I could tell you, but they have not."

"I tried to summon them.  They ignored me, too.  Everybody I care about has been ignoring me, lately."
"You will see a sign. After putting in the work, on the first day you feel the rewards of that work, you will see a sign that you are doing what is right. That sign will tell you all you need to know."

The old crone sat down again, exhausted. She wiped tears from her eyes.

"Why are you crying?"

"You have so much light inside of you and you're letting it die in the darkness. You are far more special than you realize. So many will benefit from your future but I can't impress upon you how important it is you have a job to do. You are more of a hero than you'll ever realize. And if you did, you wouldn't even be here, because you would be out doing something positive instead of lamenting the past."


"Enough! No more questions. I've given you all the answers you will get tonight. It's time for you to leave and make your choice."

"Can I at least ask you one more question?" 

She sighed and rolled her eyes. "What?"

"Can I get the recipe for your bone broth?"

The old crone smiled.

"Come to me after you see the sign I told you of and I will give you that recipe and a few others."

Our Hero bundled up and went back outside. The sharp wind blasted ice crystals against him as he trudged back to his village. His mind was swimming with thoughts and what the Seer had said. So many things were happening at once and he had a quest to undertake.

His mind buzzed. The future, the past, the present. It was all a tornado screaming at him in mystical gibberish. He was confused. But the pain on his cheek was real.

Choices. He had more choices open to him than he realized. And he had no clue which ones he would make but for the first time in a long time, he no longer felt trapped on rails going to one destination whether he liked it or not. For the first time in a very long time, he felt hope.