“We probably shouldn’t mention we went to a lower level.” Artie Chen ticks the extensive list of things not to mention to his parents on his fingers as he and Jay Dee ride the lift up to the higher levels of the OTC. “Or that we’ve been investigating things. Or that we know anyone involved with anything illegal – or even exciting. And you shouldn’t mention I rode a motorcycle.”
Two weeks after seeing Infinity War and I’m still not over it.
Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it; there won’t be any spoilers in this post. In fact the only reason I really bring it up is because my campaign D&D character for the past ten months has been Gameia, a tiefling assassin and the most dangerous woman in the realm, inspired by Gamora. And my best friend, Sam, has played her drow monk sister, Nova, our in-game equivalent of Nebula. In fact, our whole campaign was loosely influenced and inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy. It started as a joke, but quickly started to mean a lot to us. And you need to know all of that for the actual-play short-fiction piece that follows.
We happened upon these characters a bit by accident, which is a story I can share at a later point, but over time we’ve deeply connected with them. They’ve come to be an important part of our lives. Now Gameia prepares to fight her demonic father, Faranos, just like Gamora prepares to face Thanos in the film. But this scene was from far earlier in the campaign, detailing her first reunion with their father… Now just seemed an appropriate time to share it.
TL;DR: If you’ve seen Avengers, I’m sure you’ll get me.
Art of Gameia and Nova in one the rare happier moments of their lives by Rain.
TW: post-trauma and abuse
When the goblin’s blade first sunk into her shoulder, Gameia’s vision blurred, and she imagined lights dancing into the cavern.
Then the blade withdrew, and the sting brought a sudden clarity.
The lights were real. Dancing lights. Her sister’s. Nova.
I’ve been sitting in the same corner of the same coffee shop staring at the same page for hours now. I’ve reached the dregs of my coffee (and swallowed them too for good measure). I’ve started to massage my neck, praying my back won’t kill me later (though I know it will). The page is still blank.
It takes me a minute to notice he’s standing there. He’s striking, but he has a goofy grin – and he’s awkwardly staring at me. I look around, but no one else seems to notice he’s there.
“Can I help you?”
“Just stopped by to talk with you.” He sits down across from me.
I raise my eyebrows and point to my nose.
He nods, and lifts my coffee cup. “You had to drink it all,” he says on a heavy sigh. Then he extends his hand to me.
Reluctantly, I take it and shake. Then he starts to talk. And he talks.
He tells me where he was born, how many siblings he has, how he grew up, why he enlisted, his deepest fears, his first love, his longest love, his path of self-discovery, and his newest love. Then, after a deep breath, what he will be, where he will be, who he will be with, and why.
I nod, my eyebrows creased, still reeling from the fact that this radiant, golden stranger is talking to me at all.
But someone clears their throat next to me, and I don’t have time to process before I am thrown into confusion again. She smiles brightly, runs a hand through a messy mane of hair, pushes into the booth beside me, and speaks as if we’re old friends.
She keeps asking me about moments as if I remember them… As if I was there with her. And oddly enough, I find I do remember them. And vividly. All of her moments: the joyous, the fun, the hilarious, the heart-breaking, and the tragic. Right up until her death.
“It was fairly gory,” she says matter-of-factly. And I blink, startled, because at first I think she can’t be serious. But then I remember it. Vividly. And I’m glad I’d already finished my coffee, because my stomach is so knotted at the thought that I think I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore.
But I don’t even have time to dwell on it before two more people show up. A boy and a girl. He is a simmering fire, and she is as relaxed as the breeze. Still, his arm is slung protectively around her. She’s confident, but I can tell in an instant that she is genuine and kind. She is someone I would aspire to be.
They’ve been through more than I ever have. Their stories soar and then plummet through successes and then new trials. And they all treat me like I’m worth something more than a blank page. And the constant confusion I’ve had since the golden man first approached me starts to clear enough for me to find my words.
At the next pause in their steady recollections, I break in, “And what did you say your names were?”
The first stranger nods at my computer, drawing my eyes back down to the forgotten screen. There are words on the page. Their names, their histories, their loves, their deaths – their stories. My story.
A few weeks ago, someone posted in our writers group on Facebook asking about how characters work, everyone’s process for creating them. Or meeting them, as it were. I tried to write it out in a paragraph, I really did. But this happened instead.
And I should also probably say it wasn’t always like this. I used to do 50 page long character sheets, asking questions – trying to figure out how they fit into the world, into the story. I wanted them to be different and unique, and creating them didn’t come naturally. And in all honesty, I have no clue why it changed.
But one day, I woke up from a dream, and my head was a lot more crowded. They’ve been the most talkative cast of characters I’ve ever met. And they just keep coming. (I just met a whole other group of people in this universe, and they’re being just as nosy and invasive as everyone else in this world.) But everyone’s process is different, and frankly the assertiveness of these characters still confuses me, because I don’t quite get how it works.
But I’m grateful for them, however confusing their creation and existence might be. Hopefully I can pay them back by making sure their story is told.
Though I probably didn’t need to get distracted by a writing prompt this weekend, sometimes inspiration can’t be discouraged. I opted to go ahead and write a short piece for my friend Ray’s picture prompt (found here: First ever Ray-Sponsored Writing Picture Prompt!). Even though it’s a couple weeks late. And even though I may not have needed a short piece to distract from my larger projects. I just couldn’t help but enjoy writing it all the same. I hope you enjoy.
He affixed more than just a handful of flowers to the wall. He collected all the pain and grief in his mind and appended every petal to a memory. After all, the memories were the greatest burden to carry, and a painful burden. He was a coward; instead of holding her forever in his thoughts, he would rather forget her. He would rather leave her there with the flowers on the ledge where he had last seen her.
Hesitantly, his fingers brushed the stems one last time, lingering on the leaves that were soon sure to die. Which was fine, really. Maybe when the last of the colorful plants finally died, the memories would die with them. He would be free from the burden of her. With a wistful smile, he turned and fled the room.
Every step of the stairs took him further from her. Pounding footsteps echoed around the stone walls. So that he might not hear her voice crying out after him, he focused on the sound of his feet. The confining stairwell expanded suddenly into the glorious, candlelit sanctuary. Even just standing in the room purged his wrongs from him, cleansed him of her. To be sure, he moved to the water basin standing sentry at the towering doors of the cathedral.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” he mumbled, dipping his fingers in the water and raising them into a cross. As his hand crossed back to his heart, peace settled in his veins. The holy water absolved him of her. Without her, he could finally become all he was meant to be. Without her, he could be happy.
Leaving her with the flowers above, he strolled out of the church. He was free. For his own satisfaction, he even forced his path over the pavement where she’d fallen. He’d forgiven himself for his betrayal. Perhaps she would forgive him too.
Above, unseen, she watched him go – a ghostly figure observing from the window where he’d pushed her.
A/N: To be honest, this piece was written entirely as a joke. In fact, I had a hard time taking myself seriously with every word I put on the page. My good friend told me a “creepy” story the other night, which instantly provided inspiration for the title. From there, well, the rest is history. This piece is inspired by and dedicated to my old and dear friend,
Tennessee Nathan Amerman. Dragon Roost Road is a fictional place, and somewhat an inside joke, but was the perfect setting for a ghostly misadventure.
“Tennessee Nathan” turned out to be quite the farce. I just needed an exercise of my own to do between editing jobs that didn’t involve getting too immersed in one of my major projects. It was silly and absurd, but I had fun. So why not share it? And who knows? Maybe the character, along with his trusty whip and hat, will make another goofy appearance somewhere down the line.
Tennessee Nathan was not afraid of things that go bump in the night. In fact, when he first heard the sound from the woods, he was immediately on the alert for adventure. He only paused before investigating to retrieve his trusty hat – given to him by an old friend – and his trusty whip – that had itself become an old friend.
The woods along Dragon Roost Road clustered together like a gossiping clique. They whispered otherworldly words amongst themselves and harbored shadowy secrets. Trying to peer through the shadows only made evident more shadows. Even straining his eyes, Tennessee Nathan could see no source for the strange sound.
A twig snapped loudly underfoot, and he winced at the betrayal of his position. The rustling grew louder, more agitated. Cautiously, his grip tightened on the coiled whip at his side and he stepped further into the trees. The rustling sounded uncomfortably like the shuffling of feet. Of course, there was always the chance that this could just be an average animal: rabbit, raccoon, fox. The daredevil in Tennessee Nathan hoped it would be more.
Suddenly, the shuffling stopped. Tennessee Nathan stopped with it. When there was no sound for the next few moments, he inched forward again. The animal loomed up out of the darkened brush before him. This was no ordinary woodland animal; this was a beast.
The hulking beast let out a spine-shaking roar and glared down at where Tennessee Nathan stood. It’s eyes burned the red of dying coals. It’s humped back was lined with jagged spines. It was a monster straight from the most horrid of nightmares.
Without further hesitation, the beast swung a wicked clawed hand toward Tennessee Nathan. He threw his whole body into a dodge, rolling away through the detritus. As he sprung to his feet, he reached for his whip, only to find that it was gone. Panicked, he looked around. There it lay in the rotting leaves where he had stood moments before. And there beside his trusty whip was his trusty hat.
“Confound it,” Tennessee Nathan muttered.
The beast’s growl rumbled in it’s caged chest, furious that Tennessee Nathan had avoiding it’s attack. Tennessee Nathan was no stranger to tense situations. Using his honed adventuring mind, he fumbled to find something in the woods around him to use as a weapon. He wandering hands clasped on a think branch and, with a handsome feat of strength, he ripped the branch free.
With a grunt, he hurled the branch at the beast. The wood passed right through the monster’s head, just between the eyes. Of course, it was a ghost beast. What else was to be expected in the woods this late at night?
Thankfully, his whip was also endowed with ancient magic. If only he could reach it.
The beast swung another large fist at Tennessee Nathan. If the adventurer had any window of opportunity, it was now. He spun from the massive hand, then launched himself above the beast’s arm. Tennessee Nathan recovered in a roll mere feet from the twisted claws.
Before the monster could move – it’s reflexes were absurdly slow –Tennessee Nathan yanked the whip from where it lay on the ground, cracking it once to show he meant business. Then, casually, he stooped to pick up the hat, placing it fluidly on his head. Now he was ready.
With the trained, elegant grace of an expert whip-wielder, he cracked the weapon around his head, sending sounds like gunshots echoing through the trees. The trees ceased their whispering. Even the shadows turned to watch the events unfold.
With a mighty snap of his wrist, he sent the whip flying forward. It curled around the creatures arm and pulled tight. As Tennessee Nathan pulled, the whip began to glow. As the whip began to glow, it also began to sever the beasts ghostly flesh. The arm tore off and vanished into a cloud of ethereal smoke.
The beast bent to Tennessee Nathan’s height and roared, pained and agitated. He looked like he meant to charge Tennessee Nathan in a final show of strength. The gust of air from the roar alone almost knocked Tennessee Nathan off his feet. It certainly knocked the hat off his head. With a cluck of his tongue, Tennessee Nathan commanded the whip to return to him, only to send it flying back towards the monsters neck. It only wrapped once, but once was enough.
As Nathan yanked back on the whip, the ghostly beast exploded into purple smoke that dissipated into the shadows. A gasp echoed from the trees. Tennessee Nathan bent down to pick up his hat. Patiently, he dusted off the dead leaves from the brim. Then he rolled he hat back where it belonged and walked casually back to the house, undeterred by any other malicious creatures of the night.
No, Tennessee Nathan did not fear things that go bump in the night. Things that go bump in the night fear him.
Again, I find myself pulling from my past files for a post. As I move into the new apartment and adjust to the new job, I have struggled to find time to craft a new blog post. So, in the meanwhile, I wanted to post something. As always, I fall back on short stories.
And, as it always seems, this is far more tragic than I’d intended. The stories I post seem to be entirely depressing. Though that truly isn’t all I write. In high school theatre, I played a character who suffered through five stillbirths, and as a sixteen year-old, I had no reference for such devastating emotions. A friend of mine allowed me to interview her about her own struggles with stillbirths and miscarriages. It was a difficult hour. We both cried, and I took pages of notes. Though I didn’t write the story until years later, our conversation (and the role I’d portrayed on stage) weighed heavily on my heart. So I tried to put something together, in words, in memory of the mothers who have suffered in similar circumstances. It’s hard, but I think it’s important.
With all the love in the world, I hope this piece impacts you.
Trigger warning for stillbirth.
In honor of Rebecca and Jessie.
And women who suffer from the tragic loss of a child.
It’s a blessing and a curse, a mother’s link to her child. Because of that connection, I knew the exact moment that it happened.
The movie had just reached its climax, and Ryan was riveted. He held my hand tightly, oblivious entirely to anything but the screen. For me, on the other hand, the world stopped when her heart stopped. Everything in me had lost focus on the film and turned inward.
I placed a hand gently on my stomach. For a moment, I sat completely still, hoping I’d imagined the sinking feeling. There was no movement, no heartbeat, no sign of life. She was still connected to me, but she was gone.
My breath quickened. My lungs wouldn’t fill enough for me to be satisfied. The tears welled as every possible scenario shot through my head. A foolish hope remained that the moment was temporary, that she’d come back to me. Despite my blind denial, I felt the certainty of her loss weighing on me.
The first tears spilled silently. My desperate gasps for air accompanied the others that joined them soon after. I looked around, worried suddenly that I was making a scene. I was needlessly worried; the movie was too engaging. No one took notice of the frantic pregnant woman in aisle three.
Ryan had turned from the movie to me and placed his other hand on top of my knee. “Are you alright, Jess? Jess?” Instead of responding, I gripped his hand so tightly, my fingernails sunk into his skin.
Our gazes locked. Mine felt hollow. His looked radiant.
“Is she coming?” he asked excitedly.
My voice caught. I could get as few words out as I could breaths in. “No,” I moaned. “She’s gone.”
I clicked on the light. It chased away the shadows, but it couldn’t chase away the ghosts. This room was supposed to hold life, not reminders of death.
Ryan and I had chosen a faded yellow for the walls. The white cradle had stuffed animals hanging over the side to watch over the baby that would never sleep there. Stacks of diapers stayed hidden in the drawers of the white dresser along with the clothes and a plethora of other gifts from the baby shower. Everything in this room whispered the expectation of her arrival.
I’d embroidered a blanket with her name: Anna Bette. It lay draped across the pale blue recliner in the adjacent corner to the cradle. I lifted the cloth and held it to my face and kept it there. It smelled fresh and new and was so soft against my skin. The tears began fight their way out again, against my will.
I sank tiredly into the recliner and just let them pour over. My hand rested naturally on my swollen belly as it had for the past nine months. I moved it away immediately to the arm of the chair. It just felt wrong to rest it on Anna’s lifeless body. I didn’t want the reminder. For just a moment, I wanted to bask in what-might-have-been.
It let my head loll back and I imagined the room as if she had been born like she was supposed to be. As if she had been born alive. As if I wouldn’t give birth to a corpse any day.
I released my emotions and contorted my face, furiously holding onto the illusions of my mind: the feel of her kicking in the womb, then the cries of a newborn girl, holding my baby and rocking her in this chair. I could feel the mascara-mixed tears drying in spider’s legs across my cheeks. Some ran into my hair and dyed temporary streaks of black. My delusional vision couldn’t last against the reality of her death.
He lingered a while in the doorway and, though I could feel him watching, I did not move. His grief equaled mine, but I knew he struggled to understand how torturous it was to lose the person who is physically part of you. After a while, I opened my eyes. The lashes, soaked with mascara, clung to each other and the last of my imaginings that were slipping away.
“I should have washed my face,” I said, sheepishly. I gave him an unconvincing grin. My bottom lip was quivering too much for it to come across real. “Mascara does funky things when it gets wet.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t the first thing on your mind.”
I frowned. I’d expected him to take my uneasy joke as a hint: ignore the pain. “Yeah, I was pretty bummed about missing the end of the movie.”
Ryan moved to stand next to the recliner. I stubbornly averted my gaze.
“Jessica, we have to talk about this.”
“What’s there to talk about?” I pursed my lips tightly. “She’s dead. Seems pretty final to me.”
He took my hand. He smelled faintly of cigarette smoke. That was his one vice when he felt he couldn’t handle something. The last time I’d smelled it on him was when I miscarried two years ago. “We have a lot of decisions to make.”
“Do we have to make them right now?”
I allowed myself to look up at him. “I don’t want to. I want to sit. And not move. Maybe never again. I can’t keep putting myself through this. I was such a fool to hope, Ryan. I don’t know why we even tried.”
“Because she would have been worth it.” He traced my fingernails lightly with his own fingers. “We had to hope for Anna’s sake.”
“What does it matter now? She won’t ever know.”
“I wish I had an answer, Jess. I just can’t wish away the hope I had. For a couple months, it was the most precious thing.” His mouth was tight. His eyes looked five years older. I reminded myself to watch my mood. He was hurting too.
“Do you really wish you hadn’t hoped?” Ryan whispered.
I considered for a minute. “I wish she were breathing.”
“I wish that too.”
Silence spread maliciously between us and we fell into it, separated entirely by the sadness, connected still by our fingertips. So many emotions warred within me, tormenting my thoughts, hardening my heart, and suffocating my soul.
“I ordered pizza,” Ryan murmured.
“I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not either.”
“We need to eat.” It was simple fact. I wasn’t sure what good it did to state it. I just did.
He sighed. “We need to eat, we need sleep, we need to move. Jess, we need to keep living.”
“If she can’t, why should I?”
“Because I need you to. I can’t live if you don’t live, so, Jess, I need you to live.” He was pleading with me. His voice had gotten higher pitched. His fingers trembled where they still rested against mine. There was desperation in him – desperation and pain. But, selfishly, I didn’t want to do what he asked of me. Not even for him. I wanted to waste away in this chair where there was still a hallucination of her presence.
“I don’t want to, Ryan,” I protested.
“I don’t either,” he said simply. His honesty raised my eyes.
He couldn’t live without me. He didn’t want to live anymore, just as I didn’t, but if I didn’t stand up and continue on, he would waste away with me. I couldn’t have that responsibility on my hands. And I realized I couldn’t live without him.
I needed him to go on too. Neither of us would get through this alone. The silence would damn us to the depths, leaving us wasting in the desperate company of death. I didn’t want any more death. Not mine and certainly not Ryan’s. I couldn’t be at fault for that.
If neither of us wanted to live, at least we could struggle through the days together.
“Pizza sounds nice,” I acknowledged. I only shot him a sideways glance; I couldn’t bear to add his sadness to mine yet.
He helped me up. His arm circled me, and I appreciated the closer connection. If I was going to rely on him, fingertips were not nearly enough of him to cling to. The doorbell rang. We’d been sitting in the nursery longer than I’d realized. We’d wasted more time than I’d realized. I needed to step away, shut the door, wake up from my daze, and force myself to function. For myself. For Ryan. For our friends and family. For our future.
I clicked off the light upon my exit, daring myself to keep looking forward and not back at Anna’s empty cradle in an empty nursery. In fact, it wasn’t even Anna’s cradle.
No, Anna’s only cradle would be her grave.
This one, I feel like I genuinely wrote forever ago. I mean, this was from the time before I called myself a writer, so you know it’s old. Really, it’s not great. It was sometime midway through high school, so forever ago, pulled from my files and cleaned up a bit, but it’s essentially the same as I wrote it then. As I feel is necessary with all works of fiction, take from this what you will. If art can’t be open to interpretation, what is? I included a trigger warning, but I expect many people will read it with a different perspective. I also apologize for the slightly morbid feel of the story. I’d say high school was a dark and scary place, but really I just think I’m such a sucker for symbolism that I got inspired by the smallest thing and rolled with it.
Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have another DC related post up. I’ve been trying, but with the amount of work expected of us, it’s hard to maintain a weekly blog. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this short.
Trigger Warning for Suicide, kind of sort of in a way. But I’d rather be safe than sorry, right?
He had kept everything. At the time, there had been no reason in being rid of it. Now he’d found his reason: if he didn’t get rid of it, he would never be able to escape the ties. In order to have anything new, anything different, he had to destroy the old. Things had changed now.
With his spare hand, he twisted the knob, and the door of the shed opened with a creak. The hinges were rusted, a sign of the time they had endured. Everything was here. Not a single item was out of place. The light cast from outside caused shadows to spring in horror from their hiding places; their stretching forms made everything seem larger than life. Hesitantly, he stepped into the room. Shelves lined the walls, a cabinet stood in the corner, and the there was not an inch of empty space between them. In the center of the room, was a small, simple table that stood as high as his waist. On it sat a bronzed key, weathered by time, just as the hinges had been.
First, he lay the flower down next to the key. It was small and white and tied with several ribbons. He set it down gently, as if the soft petals could shatter like glass or a broken heart. Next, he placed the candle upright on the table and used the third item, a box of matches, to light it. As the tiny flame danced, the shadows joined in the jubilation, dancing to celebrate the symbolism of his actions.
For the memory of it, he took a short stroll around the room. There were items everywhere: small books full of words, little trinkets that represented something or another. They were moments. Each and every one of them stood for a precious moment. The cabinet was nearly overflowing with papers, each one documented and categorized conversations on a cornucopia of topics. Behind every item, barely visible on the wall, were scribbled thoughts and quotes in no logical order. The black ink had faded since they had been written, but he scanned them still:
“It can’t be easy.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“I know and it makes all the difference.”
“No matter what happens.”
Everything in this room was a part of him. Memories and moments that spanned the time he’d lost so that now the mere sight of them was only painful. It would be tragic to see them go, but he knew they had to. This room was full of the past. And the past ought to stay in the past. There were new things to discover now: new people, new places, new things. New moments and memories.
He turned his back to the piles of papers, the seemingly random objects that had run out of relevance, and the writing on the wall. Then he lifted the flower again, trying to ignore the key at the edge of his vision. He would miss that key – seeing it, being part of it. Begrudgingly, he tore his eyes away, knowing this had to be quick and clean, like a band-aid over an old wound. If not now, it would be never. With one final glance around the little shed, he tipped the candle over.
Once outside, he knelt down with his back to the shed. With his bare hands, he scraped the dirt up in front of him. Handfuls of the soil cleared away to make a small hole. He ceremoniously placed the little white flower inside and pushed the dirt back around it. Heat began to warm his back as he stared at its fragile petals. The flower had no roots, and so no hope of growing, yet he placed it there anyway. What life it had left would ebb away into the soil in a few days, but by then he wouldn’t be around to see it.
When he was satisfied with his work, he pushed himself to his feet and wiped his soiled hands on his faded jeans. A crackling nose had started behind him and he could feel the warmth. He was tempted to look over his shoulder, to watch his old things going up in smoke. He knew he shouldn’t, but he did. And he was doomed by that glance.
Flames devoured the wooden walls with a ravenous red hunger. They licked up the sides with destruction and rage, swallowing the shed whole. Fire was killing his past – killing it. His mind went straight to the key. What would he do without that little key? Nevermind that. How would he remember the quotes, the stories, or all the precious moments without the objects in that room?
He looked down at the flower, then back up to see his treasures burning. This was his fault. He had started the destruction of his own most prized possessions. Again he looked down and it clicked. Something snapped into place in his mind. Why was he willing to let everything burn for the sake of something that wouldn’t live to see tomorrow? Where were his priorities? What was more important?
It was impulse, really, that caused him to act. It was impulse, but a moment of truth nonetheless. Perhaps he would have regretted it, or acted differently if given a second chance. As it was, he couldn’t take it back.
He jumped into the flames to join his past.
And he burned.
THE REAL (but slightly more morbid) END