black water

When her feet stop at the edge of the bridge, Mara realizes she’s having the dream again.

This is an old dream, one that comes year after year. Always in October, almost always the same cold night. And because she knows the dream, she remembers what happens next.

She watches the road beyond the bridge. Its lone streetlight flickers, as it always does, right before the shadows start dripping down the asphalt.

It’s always the road first. She sees watch them coming for her, the wrongness of those shadows crowding in the light. And then…

A tinkle of glass as the light bursts, leaving her with only the moon. Soft blue light, hazy and surreal, smudging the mist roiling from the river below into smoke. She can’t see where the shadows are coursing, but she knows they’re spilling down the road toward her like a flood.

A cloud passes over the moon, obscuring the light.

She clenches her fists in the dark. They can’t cross the bridge—can’t cross water. Even in dreams, she’s protected this bridge, as well as the space behind her.

A susurrous rises, scrawling the air. “Mara,” they whisper, their voices snapping branches, broken glass. “Bad dream, bad dream, bad dream. Mara.”

She steps back three paces, far enough to keep out of their reach. Oily darkness mixes with the hazy mist from the creek, struggling. They undulate and shudder, black against black, slippery and viscous. The outlines of their bodies are not entirely human, and that reminds her to step back another three paces. Back to the circle within the square, careful not to break the line of salt.

“Mara. Mara. Mara.” The shadows claw and fight, struggling to cross the center of the bridge. Water runs below them, but…

One breaks free.

One screams, discordant, furious as it bleeds and tears. It doesn’t stop. The figure bursts across, slamming against the first line of salt like a wave.

Now she remembers the line isn’t enough. The ward crumples in her hand.

“Bad dream!” the shadows on the bridge screech. “Bad dream! Bad dream! Bad dream! Bad dream!”

The shadow shreds itself on the first line of salt. It strips the oily black from its skin, revealing its true face.

She hates this.

She remembers this.

She always flinches.

“Mara.”

It’s a voice that shouldn’t exist.

“Mara.”

It’s a voice that was drowned in the waking world twenty years ago.

Scoured by the salt, it has eyes now. Those deep brown irises are the same. The smile is the same. But its skin is wrong, its body hideous, and the way, the way it moves shouldn’t be possible.

“Bad dream.”

One swollen foot destroys the salt line. The shadows howl, their fury reignited. They are a dam bursting, spilling, coming to crawl over the thing staring at her. They fall on it like a cloak of insects. Shuddering and climbing and rustling over its skin as it walks to the second line of her circle.

They can’t cross this one. It’s a fevered thought. They crossed the bridge. They broke the rules. But here, she is safe. She is safe. This is just a—

Bad dream. Bad dream.”

They can’t—

The thing shoots forward, its mouth a snarling rictus, claws splayed wide as it reaches for her face.

The charm drops from her hand.

The circle breaks.

It doesn’t stop, it’s relentless, it doesn’t care, it will never stop, it—

She opens her eyes. Someone is frantically shaking her shoulder.

She can’t see.

The words burst out of her in a shout. “Light! Turn on the light!”

The switch clicks. Pale yellow light fills the room, buttery and reassuring, but this is the part where she wishes for darkness.

The light reveals its true face. The irises are the same. The smile is the same. And the hands reaching for her are as she remembers.

“It’s okay.”

His hand is warm. He smooths her hair away from her face, wild grey waves she did not have when he was alive. He straightens the collar of her nightgown with the other hand, dimples creasing the right corner of his mouth.

“It was just a bad dream.”

“No.” Her voice shakes. “You aren’t here. You’re gone.”

“It was just a bad dream.”

She closes her eyes, swallows. Remembers. Remembers the phone call. The night she lost him unfurls in memory, ugly and awful—

The car, speeding past the streetlight.

The car, fishtailing before the bridge. Swerving left, breaking through the barrier, hanging in the air—

Plunging down into black water.

“It’s okay, Mama.”

The way black water dripped off his body as they pulled him out.

Those swollen hands and feet, distended, the awful color…

His hand is cold now, but still, still it wipes the tears rolling down her cheek.

“It was just a bad dream.”

She looks at her son one last time, and he smiles.

 

When she wakes up, she no longer cares about the light.

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the rundown

Ah. I forgot about having one of these things for Pitchwars. I should have some kind of cheat sheet on myself for anyone interested in taking me on, yeah?

Here’s the pertinent stuff:

  • I work as a freelance editor. The only way I got here was by learning to be merciless with myself and listening to the wisdom of critique partners. Flexibility is necessary, and I know it. Sometimes you have to slash a draft and rewrite it from a different POV. Sometimes all 80,000 words are in the wrong tense, the wrong time, the wrong everything. Throw it at me. I’m only as good as the work I put in, and I want to make sure my book is the best possible version of itself. 
  • I’m cool with going out on a stylistic limb. I love playing around with weird structure, shifting POV, and twisty plots. A lot.
plotty raccoon
A lot. That raccoon has my plotting face down pat. Let us plot together, friends.
  • Characterization is one of my biggest priorities in writing. Plot is great. Plot is wonderful. But if the characters fail to grab me, there’s no connection.
  • Mental illness is a consistent theme in my writing. Trauma is #ownvoices territory for me. At fifteen, I needed protagonists who didn’t die or go mad. I needed a scrap of hope I’d make it out back then, so I write the stories I wish I could have given to myself. This is the same reason I have a Bachelors of Science in psychology and worked in mental health with traumatized vets and teens. It’s not just close to my heart; it’s a huge part of me.
  • Other stuff: I’m a huge nerd for stories set around or on Halloween. I love horror. I have too many writing playlists. I adore sad books. I have a wild sense of humor. I used to explore abandoned buildings. I might seem a bit rough around the edges, but I snort when I laugh. I love animals. I doodle sometimes. I daydream a lot.
Um. Is all of that pertinent? I don’t know, but I hope it helps. If you’ve read this far, you’re awesome. Best of luck to all of us hopefuls, and many thanks to all the mentors devoting time to this. ❤

Stars

On the 18th, ten years and one day since Papa died, Gramma followed. 

I loved them both very, very much. 

…There isn’t a way to express how much. 

I got to have more time with my grandmother. Anyone who loses someone who formed and shaped their life with love knows there is no such thing as “enough”–the time you had is all you have. The memories are what endure. Memories are how we live on. 

I couldn’t go to the funeral. All I had were my words. 

At request of my family, I will share them with you. 

Ten years ago, we all came together to say goodbye to Papa.

Now, we say goodbye to Gramma.

But it’s different this time.

Ten years ago, my only comfort against impending loss was driving. The night I had my last conversation with Papa, I knew. I threw my stuff in the car and drove east until there was no road left, just a cold beach at four AM, and, oddly, one stranger. This person I’d never met in my life walked over while I stood at the edge of the water crying. He asked if I was okay and offered me a blanket, because it was so cold. That simple kindness was too much and all I could say was “My Papa is dying.” 

This complete stranger put the blanket around me and asked for me to come sit down and talk.

For hours we talked about loss. He told me about how, when his grandmother died, he went off into the desert in Utah and lived as a vagrant. Still did. Lived out of his car, because that was how he remembered what was really important in life. We talked until morning came, and when the sun crested over the watery horizon, this stranger stood with me, gave me a hug, and offered to let me sleep in his car. I told him I’d be all right, that it was only four hours back home, and that I’d be careful.

“When you get lost, go to the ocean,” he told me. “The waves will help you remember.”

If I was there, that is what I would do. I’d go to the ocean, and I’d look at the waves, and I’d think of things that go on forever. Past forever. Things that are eternal, distant and unknowable as the stars in the sky.
That’s where Gramma has gone. It’s where Papa went. Where we will all go. As the living, we get stuck trying to put things back together. That’s what grief is–trying to find the pieces, the broken, serrated edges of those mental tectonic plates. But with Gramma, the grief is different. 

Gramma’s life was a circle completed, a loop stitched back in, a puzzle piece fitting into place, because she has gone home.

And the place she’s gone–that place where things have no beginning, no end–it’s a place we get a glimpse of when we see waves that go on forever, stars charting the course of our small place in the universe. In that place at the edge of eternity, Papa was waiting for her. She isn’t alone. She has gone on to illuminate the dark, one more star watching over us at night.

When you forget–
When you get lost–
Look to the waves.

Everything you’ve ever lost is eventually found again.

victory versus failure

I need to compose a monthly Thing for the official blog, but in all honesty, I’m stumped. So here I go.

On February 23, I set out for a life on the road. A seriously, seriously hard life I definitely wasn’t prepared for, but I wanted it all the same. I wanted to know if I could survive far from home, in unfamiliar places, sometimes getting by only by sheer grit.

And I did. I drove all over the place. Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan. Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky. Illinois and Indiana.

On March 17, we were less than two hours from our destination when we hit a deer. We weren’t too worried at first–neither Jess or I were hurt. But then we realized the radiator was leaking, meaning we couldn’t limp on even if we wanted to. And so we came to be stranded in Kansas.

The bad:

Being stranded came directly out of our own pockets. Short and succint summary: the guy we were working for dumped us. Kaput. All the money we’d saved had to keep us afloat till we got home. There were no rental cars available until the following Tuesday–and the only one-way car was a blistering $750. (Ouch.) So we came home, and the search has begun for another job as the costs of meds ($280) and the cost of insurance ($308) are bleeding me dry. And…I still have to settle the costs for the divorce, so getting by on sheer grit isn’t stopping any time soon.

The good:

I can clobber my fear.

Despite a giant cluster of fear around agoraphobia, I drove all over the freaking country at all hours of the day and night. Usually, Jess slept while I drove, so it was just me navigating through places I’d never seen before. Quiet drives through a snowy dawn, balmy nights driving up the Gulf Coast. There was beauty to be seen everywhere, even in the giant interchanges of Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

 

Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma rendered me speechless. And every time we drove back into Appalachia and crossed from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge in North Carolina, it tugged at my heart. Somewhere in the Pisgah region, there is a place that is definitely home, and it’s just a matter of getting there.

Working up enough funds, getting through the divorce, surviving, surviving…There was so much ahead of me when I walked away last September. I wasn’t prepared at all for what was ahead. But I had a rough idea of what I had to do, and I’m doing it.

I stand up for myself now.

I know I’m capable now.

I know I can survive couch surfing and the heater going out in the van when it’s 14 F and tornadoes in the middle of the night. I can stay sane, level-headed enough to get out of a terrible situation and drive back home.

I can find the value in my adventure out into the world and call it a victory even if others declare it a failure.

I can survive.

I could get back up and choose the path where I had no husband, no home, no security. Just a broken marriage and all the pain that came with it.

But…I could, at the same time, deal with the pain that comes with losing your entire support network. I still scrabbled forward. I know I can live on next to nothing and not go into meltdown, because there are other ways.

There are so many ways to survive.

I was lucky to have Jess at my side–rough-and-tumble Jess who knew how to be homeless, how to weather the worst, how to keep thinking even when the screws are tightening and it very much looked like there were no ways out. Every time I thought I couldn’t, he would nudge me with the reminder that yes, I could. I chose to stay alive, and staying alive would always be hard for people like us, but that was the thing:

Staying alive is one of the hardest choices you can make, especially when all you want is an end to pain.

He knew that as intimately as I did–he knew exactly how hard it would be to keep walking forward into more hard choices. More pain. More failures. More rejection. And absolutely no guarantees that it would ever turn out all right.

But neither of us would find that out if we didn’t keep going.

It’s a funny thing. Grabbing someone’s hand and deciding to battle illness together, neither the stronger half. What matters is the understanding, despite differences, that it is terribly, terribly hard, but at least one person knows exactly how hard you’re fighting. It shouldn’t work, because it makes things even harder, but that understanding–that makes all the difference.

So what now? There’s a bevy of temp jobs, continued work as both editor and assistant on a publishing team, a possible job at a tea shop. Good–and necessary, given the staggering bill for the Pristiq ($228/month), the health insurance ($308), divorce costs ($2000), a hospital bill ($800), along with everything that comes with paying the costs of staying alive.

There are still six months to get through, to save up money to find a way to Asheville, and then…

Then the process of starting over begins all over again.

To all that, I say:

“Yes.”

Marching on

Happy March. From what I can tell driving around the countryside, it seems spring is on the way.

Updates have been a bit slow as I am now part of a delivery team driving freight all over the continental US. I edit, I drive, and I try to stay on top of the rest of my life from a van. Jess, my partner, has already bungie’d a desk to one side, and we’re planning to add a white board so I can write while we’re on the road. (Next to the freight if there’s room, of course.)

Living on the road is strange–but good:

It’s been eleven days since I set out on the road. 4805 miles. We drive as a team and deliver from Laredo to Detroit to Kansas City to…wherever. Whenever. I drove through all of Arkansas the other night, and a good bit of Texas the other night, and last night I slept between 3000 lbs of freight and the driver’s seat.

I’ve learned to live without constant conveniences. It’s a good trade. Kills the OCD tendencies. Every day on the road, I’m taking a hammer to every fear and anxiety I’ve ever had.

I used to have to take heavy duty tranquilizers to travel. I had to take back roads to drive around town.

Now, it’s like all of that is nothing. I’m realizing it was nothing. My priorities are more basic now: safe place to sleep, food, hygiene. Along the way I take pictures. We listen to Duncan Trussell together and I listen to ancient playlists while Jess sleeps.

Sometimes there are tornadoes. Sometimes there is snow. Sometimes the heater goes out in Indiana and it’s cold and we hide under the blankets and screech “it’s freezing! Screw this!”

and other times we doze with the windows open and the curtain fluttering over our toes, and it’s perfect.

Perfect.

When I was thirteen I imagined I’d live out of my car because my agoraphobia was so bad. I thought I’d be homeless and no one would know me and it would be terrible.

But it isn’t.

There are miles of stars in the desert at night. Fields of turbines in the Midwest. Sparkling cities. Tiny pit stops. And some intensely weird heckin’ stuff pretty much everywhere we go.

I don’t know where we’ll head next, but I think I’m getting the swing of this.

 

There’s quite a bit more in my travel diary, but that’s enough for now. Time for me to crash out while I still can.

Take care of yourselves out there, and maybe I’ll see you along the way.

❤ Anne

crossroads

As he passed the sign declaring HELL IS REAL, tumblr_mq6gg0hmnj1sq35zxo1_500-1Tyler laughed.

“Ain’t nobody who lives like us doesn’t know that,” he said, glancing at his silent companion. “And sure as shit, you and I know it’s true.”

The thing in the passenger seat slid its one gleaming eye toward him, a slight dip of its head acknowledging that yes, of course they both knew that.

Tyler had met his demon years before, standing in his path at an old familiar crossroads. And since that night, it had stayed beside him, because kin always knows kin.

Kin always stays with kin, especially in a family like theirs.

There had been no deal between them. No binding oaths. Just recognition of the truth, and a promise to never, ever look away.

Hell was real. Threaded through the corn fields, collected in sleepy diners, all the tired kinfolk spoke the truth with their very existence. Those bits of black matter, connecting everything, seeing everything, never looking away.

There was no way they could.

Hell was on the TV. Hell was on the radio. In every petty war and grim announcement on the eleven o’clock news, you could see it. You could know it. And Tyler kept driving, because it helped him feel like there was an escape somewhere. Some place he’d finally know rest. Where his demon would meld into him and finally take him away from this place.

Because hell wasn’t under the ground. It wasn’t a place separate from reality. Hell was the world he continued to trudge through, no matter what.

HELL IS REAL.

“Sure is,” he muttered under his breath. “It sure is.”

Another hundred miles to go.

He knew he’d wonder longer than that whether one of his hopeless kin put up that sign.

woodland creatures

The hall of antlers was a place Henry only saw in his dreams.

The Hall of Antlers

 

It was staggering to think of how many bodies it had taken to fill that expanse. How much blood, how many lives. In the dream, the question was soft, merely wonder, because awe was the only way to traverse such a place.

And in the dream, the antlers screamed as they broke. No avoiding them–it was impossible to take a step in any other direction. The only way through the dream was forward, but in those splintering howls and shrieks, all Henry could hear were warnings.

Halt
Stop
Go back

But there was no other way.

When he reached the end, the same figure always peeled itself out of the dark. A great horned god, Herne or Woden, so massive in stature that it could only be the night itself.

KNOW ME, it always said. REMEMBER I WILL COME FOR YOU.

The dream always ended with those words. But being a person of solid skepticism, he never put any stock into dreams. He went about his life and his business unharmed by any antlered god, unscathed by even the darkest night.

It was daylight when it finally came to claim him.

He should have known before the deer on the path opened its mouth and screamed.

Nicolas Le Boulanger, "Un Dernier Regard"