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Tuesday Musings – Anxiety in Men and Women and How they Differ

stress

 

Before we begin, let’s just all take a breath. A deep one.

Ok, we ready?

Anxiety sucks. For anyone that has ever experienced it knows─ it is the worst.

From panic attacks to full-blown panic disorders many people in the U.S. (and in the West in general) suffer from this. It affects their daily life, and their long-term life.

It’s so prevalent in our society that many people affected by it are shown to take more time off of work, are far less social, and are less likely to finish school. Think about how that impacts their quality of life. 

Could you imagine waking up, your heart pounding for no reason as you lay in bed? Everything feels off. I mean, really off. Like at any moment, the world would explode around you and you just want to run away. But, you can’t. You are stuck in your own skin, feeling this miserably-awful gut-wrenching fear and that you are not ok.

Your skin is clammy, your fingertips like ice.

Your chest is tight and your heart just won’t stop beating like you’ve run a marathon, both ways, uphill in the snow.

It gets better. Many people that have crippling anxiety also win the genetic lottery with depression. Oh yeah, this girl right here knows.

Party at Grey’s place, wut wut

While mine stems from my childhood and early adulthood trauma (yay PTSD) many more are affected by this in some form or fashion. Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than men. Why is this, I’ve wondered?

Well, there is some debate to this but many people believe it is due to girls and women experiencing trauma earlier in life. That, or if it is possible that it is inherently increased in women.

Oh great, thanks ancestors.

Another fun thing our brain tends to do is process serotonin release slower than our male counterparts. 

While we all laugh it up and drown our sorrows in wine and other recreational drugs

Molly-Percocet

Let’s be real.

Women tend to ruminate and medicate to cope while dudes get physical. Curiously enough, men also have the positive side of their brain light up when they are under pressure. Damn, I wish my brain got overloaded with serotonin and cortisol.

Ladies, we can learn from this. One of the biggest challenges I faced when going through treatment was to shut that shit down. My brain tends to do this thing where it loops all the bad things on repeat.

Oh, you don’t like that? It used to taunt.

Let’s turn this shit up to you crying in the shower for thirty minutes to end your day.

Yeah. My life was hell for the better part of fifteen years emotionally. I still get bouts of it, but I’ve learned a super secret technique I’m going to share with you:

It’s called keeping yourself busy, mentally and physically.

Get real physical guuurl. Because thinking is the devil.

No, not in an unhealthy way. Clearly if you have issues that you need to go talk to a professional about do that along with this. However, several studies have shown that as Westerners, we have way too much idle time and we also suffer from more anxiety and depression than those in other countries. I think if I had to work my fingers to the bone every day, I’d probably collapse in bed in a heap of exhaustion and not have time to focus on all my mental hang-ups.

Except─ hold on, I have.

This year, I quit my full-time job to help run a company. On top of all that, I write and stream. I started noticing something I never had happen before. My anxiety was easing because I felt like I had purpose─ which gave me drive. Something I haven’t experienced in a long time. My depression and anxiety have always centered around feeling worthless and that I didn’t feel accomplished at the end of the day.

It was something I always lacked because I had the same facts drilled in my head every day of my childhood:

you aren’t good enough, you never will be, you’re useless, you’re pathetic. 

It all goes on.

So, while our hormones react differently (and different centers of our brain light up during stress and anxiety) there are a few similarities between men and women with anxiety.

The major one that a lot of people report is the feeling of impending doom (yay flight center of the brain!) shortness of breath, tight chest, and the feeling of discomfort in their own skin.

Unfortunately, having estrogen and progesterone kind of plays havoc on our brain-place. Ugh, as if women needed more added stress to their lives.

Don’t fear, ladies─ there is hope! With a healthy dose of physical activity, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and daily mindfulness and rest, you can combat the daily demons.

Numerous studies have shown that taking as little as two minutes up to twice a day of breathing exercises and mindfulness of stressors/triggers(TRIGGERED) you can lower your stress (and blood pressure) to a healthy level.

I use the breathing app in fitbit. Some people love Calm

There are many others, but I’ve heard good things about these. I know they help keep me stay on track, just like having a regular daily routine and lots of sleep. (but damn, sleep is important.)

I think we can all take a little time to appreciate the importance of ourselves, and others and value what we have to offer each other. I tip my hat to the guys on this one, so far it’s worked for me and maybe it can work for you too.

But hey, just my thoughts on a Tuesday.

Take care everyone and feel free to discuss below. I’m more than happy to share my own battles and victories with anxiety and depression.

Love yourselves,

❤ Grey

 

 

 

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We Are The Last – Chapter III

Chapter I

Chapter II

My heart races as I watch the words slowly dissipate and then the screen disappears. I’m not sure what I’m feeling, but I know this was incredibly stupid of me. What if this isn’t what I was sent back to do? I pull up statistics for the degree plan that I’m currently in and start to waver. In six weeks, I could have my degree and start the slow climb politically. Yes, there was a huge chance that I couldn’t figure out what was the cause of the bombings, but it was safer. Then I look up viewership rates and cross reference them with how often their faces are seen to how politically revered they were, no matter their past. Money, power, success, and most importantly being able to talk with the people that know something about immortality. It isn’t about how much you know, it’s about how much the population likes you. Being likable is the key factor to becoming the small percentage of people that owned everything. I needed to be able to rub elbows with these people, I need to be seen as one of them. It has been this way since the turn of the new century. Lunar Lander was just one of the companies that was part of several other companies that were effectively owned by the same company. I have a sinking feeling that no one is actually aware of what the company does and with a team of lawyers behind them, they would be virtually unstoppable to do as they wished. What were they planning to get out of us in the competition? As much as I hate to admit it to even myself, this was the only way I was going to be able to get to where I needed to fast enough. 

I close out the tabs, and then open the game back up. The official meetup was in a week, which means that the contest isn’t going to official start until after the interview. It makes me wonder, if our current scores will actually be used, or if it is going to reset us to zero. I’m hoping that it will be based off of our current scores and that they will start officially grading us based off of the rules. I frown thinking about that. If that’s the case, I definitely have some catching up to do. I look at the time and gasp. I have wasted two hours dicking around with the contest entry. It is past three in the morning and I haven’t even started on the game. In a blind panic, I open up the scoreboard and sigh in relief. Eric’s score hasn’t changed, he must have decided that it was a large enough gap and that he could relax tonight. He’s probably snoring his head off about now. I eat the last portion of the candy bar slowly and then finish off the coke. That was probably the last time I was going to be able and enjoy something that tasty in quite some time. I know my nervous bladder was going to be a huge issue, so I make sure to take care of business before hopping back on. I push the table back into its place against the wall and then slide the headset over me. I decide to remain in a relaxed seated position, knowing that this will keep me comfortable for at least eight hours. I’ll refrain from drinking any water unless I absolutely need it and I have the pitcher next to me with a two glasses in case I do. On a more gross level, I have a second glass here if I find the need to relieve myself again. Having a nervous bladder is the worst. I generally have to use the restroom several times before doing anything that I know will be time intensive. I know it’s all mental, but it hasn’t stopped, so I assume it’s pretty safe to say that it’s not going anywhere. 

I’m back to the title screen again, but this time I’m looking it over. The colorful pixel images greet me and I’m looking them over with renewed interest. Why is this so different from the main game? And in our time, the fact that the graphics are outdated is the understatement of the year. Especially considering that you can’t distinguish reality from fantasy if it wasn’t for the fact that you were wearing the gear. If I had really splurged, I would have turned this entire space into a fully immersive world complete with wind effects, smells, you name it. It might be my youth kicking in, or stupidity, but I’m really debating on doing that with some of the funds I pull out next month. 

I’m really not sure how kids could take these games seriously back then. The bright, flashing colors hurt my head. I don’t want to stare at this longer than I have to, but I know I should be more careful and pay attention. Eric didn’t just get that score off of beating the Night Queen alone. That was an impossibly large score for the first boss battle. I relent, looking at the score. Was there any game I could actually think of that kept a scoring system at all like this? Especially, a first person shooter? Hell, even a puzzle based RPG, or role playing game, like Dragons of Evermore that released last year. It was considered one of the toughest games to complete and was notorious for taking so long to complete raids or dungeon crawls that a few people had been reported dead while playing it. I was with a small amount of people that believe this was a publicity stunt set up by the game company Fantasy, Lunar Lander’s biggest competition. A raid is basically a large team of people online that ban together to defeat a particularly hard boss. Dungeon crawlers are viewed as incredibly redundant to some people, but I love them. And with the luck of the draw on loot mixed with randomized terrain, or dungeons that included crypts, mountains, underground, abandoned buildings, or even other planets─ the possibilities are endless. You have to bust your ass to gear up and somehow defeat something that has several times your hit points, or health, and find a way to outwit them. I am excellent at figuring out patterns, which is why I love this type of adventuring. As much as I love loot, I love the storylines even more. They are often tales of tragedy, or a people wronged. Basically, it follows some nobody from a random village who is destined to save the world. It’s one of the oldest tropes known to the western world but I can’t get enough of that shit. Ironic, considering the position I’m in if I can’t locate my own crew.

I’m wasting too much valuable time thinking about this, so my attention goes immediately back to the flashing images on the screen. Phantom scrolls from the top of the screen to the middle and blinks a few times before fading. On the bottom right a guy walks across the screen and pauses in the middle. His hair is brown, and he is wearing a pair of blue pants, and what looks like a white sweater. His hands go up and a bunch of pixelated mean-looking cops enter from the left, their guns drawn. One of the officer’s fire and the man holding up his arms falls to the ground. Red pixels fill the bottom of the screen and then the entire screen turns red. Then, it twinkles and turns into the night’s sky. This is all that happens, before the scene replays. I watch it for a fourth time, trying to see if there is some clue based off of what they are all wearing, but nothing is jumping out at me. Then I notice it. The background is a pixelated version of the constellations, all slowly twinkling. The only reason that I realize this is because the pattern of the twinkling. Sudden, the shape of Ursa Major, or the big dipper. Pops out at me. Next, I spot Hydra and then Virgo, which is incredibly hard to spot until I watched it for a third time and realize that the star Spica, which represents the ear on a grain of wheat from her hand is there. Then one last one appears and I stare for a moment at it. The pattern looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t exactly remember which one it is. 

My mother, bless her, she loved looking at the stars and she taught me everything there was to know and what time of year you could see them from the Northern Hemisphere in the US. My grin goes ear to ear at this revelation. Ok, so I know that if both Virgo and Ursa Major are visible, this means that the constellations are exactly where they would be in the night sky right at this moment. I’m not sure how this is going to help me, but I have to try. I pull up a map of the night’s sky this time of year and prompt the program to name each constellation. It confirms and starts the long process of mapping the night’s sky visible to me. I keep the start screen playing, as I wait for the software to finish, when I hear the pleasant series of jingles I know that it’s finished. I open it up and I’m immediately overwhelmed by the amount of names listed. This won’t do at all. I need just the name of one particular constellation, not this mess. Then it dawns on me, “Alexa, take a screenshot when I tell you.” “Of course,” she responds. I flip open the screen and wait patiently at the final rotation. When it comes back around, I’m practically on the edge of my seat with anticipation. The final pattern twinkles and I yell, “Now.” There’s a pause as the program takes a photo. “Photo is prohibited and is against the developer’s privacy policy. See the gamer’s manual on page─” “That’s enough, Alexa, thank you. Please open a free drawing program.” A drawing program opens and I hastily sketch the shape onto it and then save it on my cloud drive. “Alexa, compare the sketch I made to any known constellations recorded.” “Sure, no problem.” She says cheerily. Barely a few seconds pass before she is back. “This drawing best matches with a known constellation called Cassiopeia.” My brows go up at the mention of the constellation, I’ve never heard of this before. “Alexa, what is the mythology behind Cassiopeia?” A pause. “Cassiopeia was known as the wife of the king Cepheus, which is represented by the constellation Cepheus next to Cassiopeia. In mythology, she boasted that her beauty far surpassed that of the Nereids or the sea nymphs that were fathered by the Titan Nereus. Angered by her bold statements, the nymphs appealed to Poseidon, the god of the sea to punish Cassiopeia for her words. Poseidon was married to one of the nymphs, Amphitrite, and so he obliged and sent out Cetus, also known as the whale, to decimate Cepheus’s kingdom. Cepheus turned to an oracle for help, and the oracle revealed that in order to please the angered god, they must sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda to the sea monster. Andromeda was saved at the last moment by Perseus, a Greek hero that happened to be traveling that way. After saving her life, the two became engaged. At their wedding, one of Andromeda’s suitors named Phineus appeared and claimed that he was the only one who had the right to marry her. There was a great battle, in which Perseus was gravely outnumbered. In desperation, he used the head of Medusa, a monster that he had recently slain to defeat his enemies. For you see, one look at the beast’s head turned the viewer into stone. Unfortunately, in the chaos the king and queen both died gazing upon the head. Poseidon then placed both the queen and the king in the night’s sky. Cassiopeia was condemned to circle the celestial pole and spend half of the year upside down as punishment for her vanity. She is usually shown as sitting on her throne, combing her hair.” 

Upside down, I muse. That’s what is throwing me off. There was something else bugging me about this, but I can’t figure out what. What did an ancient fairy tale have to do with the game? I don’t even bother glancing at the time, I knew it had to have been close to five in the morning. It wouldn’t be long before I would lose every advantage I have with Eric choosing to sleep tonight. Maybe I should just play the game instead of messing with a stupid title screen. Maybe it was just some artistic flair the developers decided to add to do something different. That was a more popularized trend these days, finding a way to really stand out from the others. Games were often portrayed as fully immersive and real life. Especially first person shooters. They were beloved by people because it was something that they could use to get away from real life. It was a way to finally become that action hero that saves the world and is adored. It wasn’t just that way with first person shooters. Many people could live out dating sims, survival horror, pop idols─ you name it, it could be simulated in a way that was exactly like real life. Somewhere along the line, people traded their own dull lives for living in an online adventure. Who honestly wouldn’t? Compared to what was actually available in the real world, why would you even second guess? It isn’t entirely present now, but it’s getting there. Soon, any and all social events will be converted to online and no one will have a need to come face to face with each other. At least, for the next year. 

What was interesting about what Lunar Lander was doing, was that no one had used the pixelated graphics like this except for nearly fifty years ago when there was a revival of the old pixelated games. This is the reason why it was so different, and why I was so hung up on an opening screen. With it being a huge point of debate on all of the online forums only strengthens what I originally thought. I pull up the Phantom forums, including the sites that are most known for helping others. We’re talking the sites that you have to click on several different links and read through thousands of comments to find. Usually only the most popular votes appeared at the top, but you have to do some digging if you are going to find what you need to. Almost all of the sites I pull up are huge disappointments. Since the competition was announced people have either removed their comments, or moderators have in the spirit of the game. This meant that not only did Eric probably know more than me, he also had gotten to see all of the clues on the message boards. Not only him, but potentially thousands of others that had read the comments before me. My heart sinks as I think about not only the people that saw them, but the moderators. How much do they know? The trail was going to be completely cold on all of the major sites that much I know. I need more time to think. It’s like the world has pulled the rug out from beneath me and I know I’m about to fall, but I’m protecting myself along the way to prevent too much damage. 

It’s seven a.m. when I spot it. I’m literally at the end of my rope, and nearly about to give up when I find my first real clue in one of the most unlikely places. It’s a single comment in a child’s game forum. The game is called Mini-Game Haven and it’s a collection of all the puzzle games ever created within every game ever made in recorded history. Its sole purpose was to let kids play just the mini-games if they didn’t want to play the actual games themselves. Everyone else is discussing how to defeat Medusa in the third mini-game of Pantheon. Pantheon is a game in which you played out all of the Greek or Roman gods’ stories and how I actually remembered learning ancient history in one of my specialty courses. All of them were comments geared toward how to defeat her, except for the one comment about two-thirds of the way down the main page. I’m laughing at myself for actually believing this person, especially since the user’s name is uncle strawberry. I stare at the sentence, trying to scrutinize if it is legit or not. No one in the forum has caught on to what they are saying because it actually has nothing to do with the mini-game. It even has several down votes and people calling him an idiot. The comment reads, “For you see, one look at the beast’s head turned the viewer into stone.” There is a line break and then it is an asci picture of the upside down constellation of the woman. She looks the same except for one difference, there are a series of points on the top of her head. I take a screenshot and then pull up the story. The others on the forum might not be aware of what this is, or how much this is actually worth, but I am. This has got to be a clue, or one of the most well-placed troll comments I’ve ever seen. I scan the few lines of text and then compare it to the information that Alexa has gotten for me. I scan through the fairy tale and then pause halfway through. Cassiopeia was defeated by Medusa’s head which is what caused her to ultimately die and be placed in the night’s sky as punishment. I lean back and look at the art again, then back to the information. What was it I was missing? What in the blue hell did this have to do with the game? I thought on what I actually had revealed with the game. 

Lunar Lander had not only done something different with the main access page and credits, they also had done something that was unprecedented. They had done something that would have caused most major gaming companies to lose all of the money they actually put into their game and tank horribly. No one actually knew what the game was about. The trailers, were simply of the developers and the designers talking about how it was going to be something that changed the way the world played games. That’s why so many people found it intriguing. How could you expect to actually gain a following if people didn’t know what it was about? Yet somehow, it had the complete opposite effect. The game had an unholy amount of people that downloaded it, and the game forums had blown up talking about what they knew. Until yesterday when everything was removed. Here’s what I do know from what I’ve played: The main character, Victor Credence wakes up in a single cell room with no lights, no running water, and what appears to be a completely sealed room. He remembers his name, but little else. Sure, it sounds like every dumb action or mystery trope everywhere but this one feels different. Not only are you able to be fully immersed in the world, you could actually feel yourself crawling through spaces, smell the stale air, and hear the rats scuffling through the spaces and the soft murmur of the men. You have no other information than that, just a name. I have no idea how it manages to make me actually smell what the main character does, because my headset isn’t even capable of doing that. Part of me thinks that it must be lighting up the sections of my brain that causes smelling and that it is just creating the illusion that I am there when the character remarks about the smells. 

There is a co-op version, but you have to play through the beginning solo and then you are able to meet up with the other players. But that was only in the player versus player arenas. The main story mode had to be played single player. The first part of the game didn’t leave you with much. All you literally had to figure out how to exit the room was the clothes on your back. I could hear muffled talking on the other side of the walls, so I had known that there was a way out. Banging on the walls only resulted in a slat opening and a single dart shooting through. This was a completely frustrating in-game time out. I had been locked out for twenty minutes until my character ‘woke up’ and I could try again. After figuring out that drawing attention to myself was not the way to go, I started really looking at the space that I was in. The entire room appeared to be made from an extremely durable plastic that was bonded with some sort of thick resin. When I knocked on the hard surface, the sound came out muffled. After nearly an hour of being stumped and several minutes of me cussing out the walls, a thought occurred to my dumbass. In hindsight, I gave myself tons of shit for not thinking of it beforehand and losing my cool like an idiot. The room would need a ventilation system. I wouldn’t need to leave this room for anything other than the restroom, but this was a game and bodily functions were never taken into account in the digital world. Since it was a game that meant it was probably going to be something outlandish. Instead of pace the room like I was doing, I decided to sit on the floor and close my eyes. At first, I was just a jackass sitting in the middle of the floor in a game. After several seconds though, there was a distinct sound to my left and just behind me where a window might be in an actual jail cell. As soon as I stood, it went away. When I walked over to where I had heard the noise, nothing happened. Frustrated, I sat down and closed my eyes again. There it was. It was now coming from my right since I had switched myself around the face the area I had first heard it. When I stood again and it ceased, I knew that it must be something I would have to view from the ground, or that I was activating it by placing pressure on the floor. I literally scooted my ass along the floor toward the sound and then broke into a smile. It had gotten louder and now I could feel it brushing against my skin. 

Point is, after several more wasted minutes I figured out that the breeze was coming from a weak area in the back of the cell near the floor. When I’d finally managed to remove a hunk large enough to dig at the rest of the wall and pull myself free─ I was met with a new problem. The cell was part of many other cells that were suspended over a drop. A very large drop. The kind that you knew if you fell, there wasn’t going to be much of you left. My hands had instantly got sweaty looking down at it and I had to tuck my head back in to relax and take a deep breath. So the traditional ‘dropping down some ventilation shaft trope’ was a no-go. It took many more hours, but I had finally found out that my character had something called a stamina meter which appeared any time I had to climb, or exert myself. Given that there wasn’t much in my cell implied that my character was probably weak from sitting and doing nothing, or just doing push-ups and sit-ups. That meant that I had little means to train myself for lifting my actual body weight. There were no bars, which meant if I had managed to work out I couldn’t strengthen my hands or fingers to grip. They really had taken everything into account with this game, the sheer amount of detail was insane. I had no way of knowing who was keeping me here, or how long I had until they came back, but the music was becoming increasingly foreboding which meant I probably had little time before they discovered what I had done. Whoever ‘they’ were. Shit, for all I knew I was a damn criminal trying to escape. Maybe I was the bad guy. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to get the hell out of there. After several failed attempts and having to go back to my cage, I finally found a small indention that was marked every two feet. The notches weren’t much, but it was enough for my fingers and toes to grasp onto. I was nearing the top when my cell started to move. There was a tremendous rush of air behind me and I snapped my neck around to see what was going on. Loud buzzers went off as a roar filled the enclosed space. I actually had to turn the volume down on my headset it was so loud. At first, it reminded me of a rushing train or the tornado simulations I’d heard but then I realized with growing dread what it actually was. Water, lots of it.

There was a groan, and then suddenly I was weightless. Terrified, I climbed the rest of the way to the top of the giant cube. The only thing I can think that kept me on top was the sheer terror of my grasping onto my hand controls as I gripped the cable at the top. Well, that and dumb luck. I smacked my head and jaw as the structure made contact with the water. The entire thing twisted and spun as the other cubes landed around it. Then, we were on the move yet again. Even though I was spinning violently, I somehow managed to hang on. I felt like I was one of those men riding a bull, one-handed and blindfolded. There was so much water splashing around me that I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. After several seconds of struggled to orient myself, I realized where I was heading. It was the only place that made sense since it was where the air had been rushing from. The dark room had quickly faded behind me as the blinding light charged in at an alarming rate. The cubes around me were funneled behind my own and it took a moment to realize that there were bumpers on either side of the room. I bent my head around at the open space and gasped. There was an entire city out there, one that I had never seen before. The lines of the buildings were so smooth, it was almost unrecognizable as a city at first but then I noticed the gleam from the light and realized it was a reflection. Only one thing in nature actually did that, and it was water. Those shapes were too geometric to occur in nature, which meant that it was definitely man-made. I managed to twist myself around while holding on to the cable as the bobbing subsided and the ride was starting to even out. Everything slowed as we neared the edge of the giant open doors. This was probably the next area we were supposed to travel toward, but I knew it was probably going to take quite some time to get to. Judging by how long it had taken me to get to this point, I knew that traveling to a city that appeared to be several miles out, wouldn’t be easy. We had slowed nearly to a crawl and I was just starting to relax─ but then, I looked down. The only thing I knew to say was a word that was repeated over and over again, the whole way down the waterfall. That word, was shit.     

That fall was so intense, I had nearly thrown up. Roller Coaster simulators had nothing on that drop. I’m not sure how the hell I managed it, but somehow my ass snapped into self-preservation mode and I had leapt over the side with the cable. I tumbled into bottom of the cube feet first and rolled to the opposite wall. The next thing I know, there is a huge crash as my cube hits the water. Now I know why the walls are so thick. Even though they are padded, every part of my body is singing in pain from crash. The cube topples a few times before it rights itself. Then it dawned on me, there must have been some sort of weight in the bottom of the cube to make it tip back. I was screaming like an idiot, whooping and laughing my head off when the next problem happened. In all my excitement to actually be alive, I’d forgotten two things: 

 

one, I was inside the cube that now had a hole in it and two, we were in water

 

As fast as the water rushed in, the color left from my face. Then I remembered the cable. The room was too small to gain enough leverage to get my way out, and the water was rushing in which meant I wouldn’t be able to have the strength to pull myself out. The current was my advantage here with the cable, it wouldn’t pull it from my hands. I needed to wait until it was mostly submerged and then pull my way through the space. The water had been icy cold that much I remember, and once it reached over my head, I had barely been able to feel my fingers. But I did it. I drug myself through the two and a half foot space. When I surfaced, epic music greeted me on the other side as I drug myself toward the tree-lined shore.

 

 Enter me, currently.

 

 This was where I had left off the first time that I had run through. I had been lying when I told him that I’d made it to the queen in the first part. The truth was, I had barely figured out how to get to the damn shore. I was only aware of the Night Queen because of all the forums online talking about the first big boss. The only reason I was second on the score charts, was because I hadn’t died yet. Apparently, each time you died it meant you had to work twice as hard to score higher points. Many of us had suspected that it was a way to also let the moderators grade us on our use of creativity. I’m not sure what I had done differently than the rest of them, but they must have liked something that I did.  

 

And here we are, back to me staring at these lines of text and an archaic way of drawing art on a computer. Ok, so a goddess placed in the night sky upside down and defeated by Medusa. Then a particular part of the text sticks out to me. Not a goddess, a queen. A queen placed in the night’s sky. “Alexa, give me all the names that Cassiopeia is known as.” “No problem,” she says, then, “Cassiopeia is also known as Queen of the Night’s Sky,” I ground my jaw in annoyance. Duh, I think sarcastically. “She is also known as Queen of the Night, and Night Queen.” My eyes grow wide as I make the connection. This was it, this was why it was placed on a random game forum. This beautiful person was giving us a clue on how to help with the Night Queen. The Night Queen was none other than Queen Cassiopeia and I had a huge clue on how to defeat her. I’m bouncing in my seat and clapping for joy when suddenly my alarm goes off. “Attention, tenant 10127, you have been online for eight hours. This is your daily reminder that you need to eat, use the restroom, and drink at least eight ounces of liquid. You also have not gotten in your four R.E.M. cycles, which is required to repair your body─” “Yes Alexa,” I interrupt. “I’m aware. Thank you for the warning, I will be fine for one day.” “Understood, however, your system is locked until you first complete these necessary tasks to ensure your survival.” I frown at the computer, “All of them? I can simply take a nap, right?” There is a slight pause. “You may take no less than a ninety minute nap to sustain normal bodily functions for the day.” I nod my head, “Yes ma’am, you’re the boss. I’m going to get up and stretch and do the other stuff.” “Understood, 10127.” Despite my grouchy-ness, I manage a smile as I stand, remove the headgear, and stretch. She was probably right. I get a whiff of my underarms and grimace. Yep, definitely needed a shower. My stomach growled loudly as I padded toward the kitchen. “Alright, alright, I get it,” I say patting my waist. I leaned down and pulled the door open, then remove a nutrition bar from the fridge. I quickly down it and a glass of water impatiently. The faster I got in a few hours of sleep, the faster I could get caught up to mister two million points.

 

I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the small shower, letting its heat massage my aching shoulders and neck. I really needed to invest in one of those fully immersive models, that way I didn’t have to sit uncomfortably for several hours. Which meant I could spend way longer than eight to twelve hours at the headset. The real problem was my damn body having actual needs. I didn’t even know Alexa monitored my sleep patterns, but it made sense. If bots were programmed to assist us that meant that they are going to remind us when our needs haven’t been met. My mind whirls with the possibilities from my earlier discovery. I might have figured out a clue on how to kill the night queen, but why was the comment there of all places? It could just be something as simple as someone didn’t want their comment deleted, so they placed it in a spot that no one would think to look. But that only raised more questions. If that is true, why would someone actually try to help other competitors if they are a competitor themselves? At this point, the entire US probably knew about the contest and with everything being pulled from online, even if someone wanted to help others they couldn’t. So why had this comment been spared? With all the search engines and bots that could have easily found it and deleted it, it was still there. Unless. Was it possible that this had been a clue planted by the Phantom creators themselves? Had Lunar Lander actually hidden this for someone to find? Then I think about how much trouble I had to go through to even enter the contest. This is absolutely something that they would do. I can’t believe it. I have found an official clue on how to beat the first boss. If that’s true, it is almost as if they wanted all of us to get to a certain point before the contest begins. The official orientation, much like the forms we are supposed to fill out, isn’t our interview. This was. 

 

“Alexa, wake me in exactly 90 minutes or when I have completed exactly one R.E.M. cycle.” “Affirmative,” she responds, “your alarm is set and I will be monitoring your sleep patterns.” “Thank you,” I say following it up with a big yawn. I’m more tired than I realize, but the motivation to find more in-game is strong. I crawl into bed and slip beneath the covers. Thank god it’s Saturday and I don’t have to worry about class until Monday morning. “You’re welcome, tenant 10127.” My mind wanders as I feel my mind slipping away. Despite my obvious need for rest, I can’t sleep until I ask it out loud. “Alexa?” “What can I do for you?” her soft reply comes. “Can you call me something different?” There is a brief pause as she pulls up a personalization bar on the wall. “Sure. What would you like me to refer to you as?” “Please, call me Hull.” I whisper. The letters appear on the wall, “Is this correct?” I look over at them, “Yes.”  “Confirmed. I will change this in all of your preferences and personalize your online experience.” “Thank you, that’s all.” I say. “Ok. Get some rest, Hull.” I only manage a nod before my eyes close and the world fades away. 

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Holiday’s Confuse Me

Ever since I was a little girl, I could remember being wildly conflicted. I liked being near people, but interacting with them was exhausting.

The strange thing is, I can talk about anything and usually get along with others easily.

But to do it all the time? Brings a great weariness to my bones.

I used to stream 6 days a week. o.o Can you imagine? I think it’s for some people, but definitely not for me. I prefer the ‘record a show and post it afterward’ format. Engaging with people just wore. me. out.

Mostly, it’s the toll it takes on your soul and then somehow being ‘ready’ to be with your loved ones afterward. They got a half version of me. And gurrrrl─ the crankiness is real.

The holidays are a special sort of pressure for someone that is used to being alone for 8-10 months out of the year. My family has never really understood that and I get razzed over it constantly.

I’m mostly just a hermit, but I do occasionally like the company of others.

Sometimes. Maybe.

Ok, let’s be real─ I would probably build an empire of bots, order everything off of amazon, and cook for myself. (I just need those damn bots to be made for companionship, I’ve got everything else covered.)

I have this odd problem of understanding people’s life issues that sometimes make me seem─ cold or distant. When someone tells me an issue, I tend to offer them a solution. I hear that is a no-no, and have learned since then to pause before answering and ask if they would prefer comfort or to just listen vs. telling them what I think is the ‘correct solution.’

That isn’t to say that I don’t understand emotions, or that I lack those sorts of feelings─ I just can’t understand why people tend to stay in situations that make them unhappy.

I didn’t understand what they all got upset over when they got dumped. I guess I’m someone that has always found a brighter side to everything. Like, “oh well, at least I get more time to myself now─ win!” I offered this explanation once and was promptly told that normal people don’t work this way. I still to this day don’t understand why it’s upsetting to not be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me─ but, I can at least offer comfort to those that it does upset.

High school was fun, y’all.

My entire life has been this viewpoint:

  1. Presented with problem─ research problem, find solution. Excellent.
  2. Presented with emotional problem─ research problem, find several solutions, offer said solutions─ receive angry person?
  3. ???
  4. shitshitshit 
  5. panic and run away
  6. lock self away for several months until everyone has forgotten about it
  7. resume normal friendship
  8. excellent.

I had the same problem understanding girls in my life. I would hear them complain about certain shoes, or hairstyles, or clothes and I would say, “just…don’t wear them?”

Holidays to me are a giant weird blob of nope. 

I have to drive hours through an area I’m not familiar with to sit and listen to a side of the family that makes me want to tear my ears out. (I go because my dad would get sad if I didn’t) I stopped participating the the gift exchange years ago because the gifts for women always included some sort of horrendous body spray/lotion set, skin paint, or smelly wax. And not the good, clean scented smelly wax that you burn after you poop─ but an odd, mysterious musky scent that all older ladies seem to slather on everything they own.

Then, there’s the endless amount of questions which inevitably lead to the fact that I had a horrible, awful childhood with nothing remotely entertaining to talk about. (unless you count my interaction with other human beings.)

I still cannot understand why handing someone a gift card or money is viewed negatively. Alternatively, I do make things for people─ but there is that still-small voice that says, ‘you know, they could just buy what they want instead of you spending time and effort making something that collects dust.’

Yet every year I’m made to be part of this horrible ritual.

Until, recently.

The last few years my family grew further and further apart. I started realizing it just last year when the tiny little social creature that lives in a locked box of my subconscious peeked out and said, “it’s time.”

Which brings me to the next part of my level of fucked-up. Now that no one wanted to meet up, it made me recognize how much I miss being a part of─ well, anyone’s life.

My brain: “I like people, they real nice”

Also my brain: “I hope half the entire planet dies in a pile of shit and fire.”

I know, right?

So, I’m always stuck between absolutely feeling lonely and 100% do not want human contact like, 80% of the time.

I guess the weird and messed up point I’m trying to amble my way over to is this:

Don’t screw up relationships with people that tend to show they care for you. Also, no matter how crazy your family makes you, they still love you and choose to be a part of your life.

And for the love of all that is good, please stop texting that ex (or anyone) you never got over. If they aren’t in your life─ they don’t care. And neither should you.

Take it from someone that focused on all the wrong people for a majority of her life.

Love yourselves.

-Grey ❤

 

 

 

 

 

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The Watchmen Part IV – I’ve Decided – A Horror Novella

I stood outside for a moment as I watched the cars slowly pass. Everything moved so much slower here than it did in Dallas. No one seemed to be in a rush, or cutting each other off. It really was beautiful and even from here I could make out the mountains in the distance. I would be going back home tomorrow. Not back up to mom and dad but to my place in Dallas. I still had to figure out what I was going to say to both my parents─what I could say to anyone. Devon’s smile flashed in my head. I found myself wondering if he would smile at me like that again before we all faced the end. I think given time, I would have liked to get to know him better. I’m not sure in what way, but I know that I enjoyed his company. I certainly didn’t want him to die in the way that I have been. No one deserved that. 

 

I trudged into my room, setting my key-card on the nightstand and my bag on the floor. Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to that funeral tomorrow. Not just to show my support to the company, but to talk with a close friend of his. Maybe he spoke to someone before he passed away or he had confided in someone from our department. I’m not sure of the dynamic between him and his team, but I knew that him and Devon worked together a lot and seemed comfortable talking to one another. I would worry about that tomorrow. 

 

I picked up my phone and checked my messages. Mom had sent me a link to a pie recipe she found and asked if I would like her to make that this year. Leave it to mom to ask something like that a solid three weeks before Thanksgiving. She was forever worried about including everyone. Last year she had managed to cook a full traditional thanksgiving and a full vegan one for her sister. Aunt Marie was always obsessed over something─ her fine wrinkles, the little bit of weight around her tummy, the horrible meat industry and how they all lobbied together to get the public to buy into meat and animal products. I would get a link to a documentary at least a few times a year. Everyone had an agenda. Though, admittedly she probably wasn’t wrong about the lobbying. I’m sure it happened in just about every industry. 

 

I admired her for it none-the-less, I certainly couldn’t do it. I tried being a vegetarian for a while and promptly lost my shit. Even my mom had broken her no cursing rule and told me to stop being such a bitch. I still laughed at that from time to time. My mom, miss prim and proper cursing me out and shoving bacon in my face. I guess we all had our limits and I apparently was a real asshole when I didn’t eat meat. 

 

I opened up my work email and glanced through. There was a few messages from corporate about Zedd and a personal email from Devon. It was titled ‘I’m sorry for all of this.’ I immediately opened it. 

Hey Kate,

 

I just wanted to say again that I am so sorry your first week happened this way. Zedd was a good friend of mine and to say that I am in total shock is a bit of an understatement. I hope that this hasn’t changed your mind about working for us in any way. I hope to have you on our team for quite some time. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow, we’re all going to work half a day and then attend the service. You are more than welcome to join us or head home. You won’t be judged either way. 

 

Take care, 

Devon  

 

I reread it and then hit reply. 

 

Devon,

 

I want you to know that I plan on staying with the company for a long time. In no way is this anyone’s fault and I would never hold you or the company accountable for someone else’s actions. I’m sure that Zedd had a reason for all of this even if we couldn’t understand them. I lost a good friend of mine this way before high school, so I do have a bit of an idea as to what you must be going through. Just focus on the good times and the time you shared together. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office. 

 

Yours,

Kate

 

I was surprised to find a bit of wetness had gathered in my eyes. It had happened nearly ten years ago but I remember James. In some ways, he had reminded me of Zedd─ quick witted, shy, but very vocal when he was passionate about something. Why did it seem like the best people in the world took their own life? This thought depressed me more and more over the years. I remembered taking several psychology courses talking about how some of the most brilliant minds struggled with daily depression. I could believe it. Seeing the world as it really was had to have its downfalls. 

 

I sighed heavily on the bed and then pushed one foot over the other as I shoved my shoes to the floor. I just wanted to be done with all of this─ done with knowing about it and most importantly, done with feeling it. I had a few hours before I would have to leave for Dallas since it was a ten hour trip. We were expected to be in tomorrow morning, so I would have to go back to my place in time to shower and dress. I wasn’t honestly sure if I had something appropriate to wear to a funeral. Most of my clothes were very casual and the few dresses I owned were sun dresses. I couldn’t exactly show up in a flowery sundress for the death of a coworker, and jeans just seemed wrong somehow. 

 

After a little bit of searching, I found an online delivery service that would pick up something for a nearby store and deliver it tonight. I quickly browsed through some dresses and pantsuits before deciding on some slacks and a blouse. I at least had some black flats at home just for this sort of occasion. My parents had always told me to have a pair of black dress shoes in case of a wedding, or funeral. 

 

I sigh, browsing through the t.v. It had been a long time since I’d been to a funeral. The last one had been my Nana Genny’s. It had been a very cold day, the sort that made you shiver no matter how many layers of clothing you put on. I was still in my teens, old enough to understand death, but still immature as to what it actually meant. It didn’t really hit until grandpa Jay had started dating again. When he remarried, mom had stopped talking with him. I’m not sure why she did, after all he was only human. He’d been with nana for over forty years. It must have been hard to have been used to being with someone for so long and then they were gone. I don’t think I would want to be alone either. I still called him from time to time to check in and see how he was doing. Grandpa Jay had hoped someday mom would come around. I did too.

 

A chill ran along my arms and up through my head. I wondered if maybe I was getting sick from all the stress. I wasn’t one to get sick often, but when I did it normally took me out for a few days. I had the flu once as a child and I’ll never forget it. It was probably why I got my shot every year and washed my hands like it were some sort of religion. The kids always poked fun of me for it, but guess who never got sick? Let them laugh, cleanliness always wins and I was the proof. 

 

After wasting some time browsing my phone and trying again for the hundredth time to find these mysterious Watchmen, I decided that a trip to the sauna sounded better. I was worried that since it was still somewhat early in the day it may be crowded, however when I arrived there was only a family in the pool and an older man in the hottub. The sauna was people-free. I slipped my shoes off and walked into the heated bliss. I sighed, stretching out on the bench and wiggled my toes. It felt good─ really good. The heat stung a little to breathe but I didn’t mind that. I just wanted this chill to ease away. I couldn’t tell if it was all in my head or if I was actually getting sick. 

 

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, only focusing on my breath drawing in and out. I imagined that I was floating in my own ship in the middle of space, staring at the small particles floating by. The sun heated my back as I faced out toward the galaxy. Jupiter loomed nearby, huge and deadly─ but beautiful. I stared mesmerized by the swirling multicolored gas as I bathed in the glow of the sun. I am completely alone. This has been my form of meditation for years. Somehow, the thought of being completely isolated and floating through space comforted me. I think it would probably have the opposite effect on most people. For me, it was a haven.

 

I find myself often wishing that I could be alone. Totally alone with nothing more than me, my computer, and art. Art has been a way of life for me for as long as I could remember. I would love to sit outside and draw everything I saw, especially people. I’d brought my sketchbook along on the trip and thought that it was probably time to do something calming before the funeral. Plus, I would need to present something at work tomorrow. We had the weekend off, but I always grew anxious not having anything to do. 

 

I took several long, slow breaths. Don’t think about that now, I say to myself, think about the warmth. I focus on the heat and my breath. Suddenly, my mind wandered to the first night I experienced all of this─ the first night I experienced them. Despite the terrifying sensation of another being thriving off of my pain, I was curious about what they were. Their black hoods flashed in my mind, nothing but blackness behind them. Their long, thin bodies would disappear into a sort of translucent grey haze. They would never move, but stand perfectly still and stare.

 

They never said anything. They didn’t need to. You could just sense them. Sort of like when you were a child and tried to sneak up on your parents. No matter how quiet you thought you were being, they would turn around and shout, ‘boo!’ scaring you instead. Only, these things were more like a heavy and dense presence, pressing in upon you until you could barely breathe. Your breathing becomes shallow, your chest heavy. Your heart feels as though it will tear its way from your chest. Then comes the cloying, damp air as they invade our plane of existence.

 

They stand there, merely existing where they should not. Yet, all of that I could get used to if it were something as simple as discomfort. Nothing compared to the sensation of dying again and again, painfully with no sign of reprieve. If it was as bad as my dreams, if that’s even what I could call them, I would lie there suffering until they released me. Death didn’t scare me, living did. I could handle knowing that the blast would take me out in one shot and I’m gone. 

 

There was a thought that had started sprouting with each passing day. Little by little, I watered it and you could see the bud forming just above the soil. It’s perfect little leaves wrapping protectively over it. Zedd was right to do what he did, and I was going to follow suit. Whatever these creatures were, they weren’t going to stop. I was going to die slowly, and horribly. I could try getting out of the city, stock up, and move out to the middle of nowhere, but it wouldn’t save me from the fallout. Unless I could find someone with an underground bunker, that’s willing to share. There had to be a few of them out there, right? 

 

That would save me, but what about the nearly eight billion people out there? In seconds, entire cities would be wiped out, followed by radiation poisoning and then black rain. The bombs would take people out directly in the city immediately, but the ones just outside of it would suffer slowly, painfully, and then finally die after days of agonizing pain. People like my parents. Families. 

 

Even if a decent sized population had managed to somehow make it, the hospitals wouldn’t be able to keep up with that sort of catastrophic event. It would take decades to recover from it. 

 

I sigh, my eyes opening as I stared up at the wooden ceiling. I wanted to be hopeful. I wanted to be one of those people that have decided that no matter what, humanity could prevail and I could save them. The truth was, no matter how hard I tried or what I said, I had zero proof. 

 

And proof was all that would matter. If I was me, listening to someone tell me that the world would end, I would laugh, maybe roll my eyes and move on. 

 

No matter. I would do my best to warn them all and leave with a clean conscience. 

 

I had made up my mind, as soon as I got back, I would make it my mission for the next five days to do what I could. I didn’t want to live in this world, or the way it would be, but I could help everyone else that would be stuck here. 

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The Watchmen – Part III – I’ve Tried to Warn People – A Thriller Novella

Part I

Part II

 

Seven days.

 

Somehow, I had made it through the night. My head felt as if it were disembodied. I had the beginning of what felt like a horrible migraine. I downed a glass of water and took a couple of painkillers. Shuffling into the bathroom, I got a good look at myself. My cheek bones looked sharper than usual and my eyes looked watery. There were two dark circles under my eyes. I pawed through my hair and gave up. Maybe a shower would tame my unruly mane.

 

After a long, hot shower I felt energized. I still felt floaty, but that was to be expected given my lack of sleep. I made an attempt to comb through my curls, dabbed on some concealer, and chapstick. I wasn’t a huge fan of makeup, but I still liked to look presentable from time to time. Normally my hair is thick and wavy. It could never make up its mind on color, it was red or brown. I remember someone once told me that it was auburn, but I think it really depends on the time of year. Summer it was like a fiery copper, and winter a dull red, like a fox’s coat.

 

It could get bushy just like their tail floof. It was something I always hated about it, but, I had good hair days too. I’m not a tall girl, but I’m not short either. I’m stuck between what guys considered cute and not cute.The girls that got the most attention in high school were small and petite. I’ve always been awkward, and quiet. Dating didn’t make much sense to me. I usually got through it by reading, playing games at home, and drawing. No one really talked to me because of my quiet nature and I sort of liked it that way. It was easy to keep track of a few friends from time to time.

 

I’m not sure why I was reflecting on this now. It had been five years since I had been there. Once I had gone to college, I had replaced my old friends with new ones. But even they had started moving on with their own lives. But when I thought about it, I was never one to fight very hard to be in anyone’s life. I guess I have enjoyed my own company just fine.

 

I can’t believe the one person that could count on believing me was gone. I had so many things that I wanted to share with him, ask him. Granted, we only had a week left. If this all was in fact the end of the world. I can’t say that I blame him, these visions are awful. They are so vivid that you can’t stand being in that moment, let alone know that you will have to face that pain at the end. I shiver thinking about how much suffering we will have to go through and the pure joy the creature’s will take devouring us all.

 

Will it really be so horrible? Or will I fold over and die immediately after the first blast. Even if the bombs only hit every major city, the fallout would be devastating. I couldn’t save everyone, but I could try to spread the word to several people I knew. Thinking about it depressed me, because who would really take me seriously?

 

They wouldn’t. I sag into the bed and tuck my legs under me. The only way they would understand is if they had seen what I have seen. That got me curious. If Zedd had seen them, there had to be others right? I can go online, seek others through communities and maybe discuss it with them. I have seven days, maybe we could all meet up and change other people’s minds.

 

Yeah, like a doomsday cult? Ugh. No, we’re fucked. No one would buy it and honestly, maybe it was just a freak coincidence. Some odd occurence that two people shared. I knew, in the deepest parts of my heart that was wrong, but I wanted to believe that somehow none of it were true.

 

I had been putting it off long enough. I stood, walked over to the piece of paper and opened it. I scanned, frowned and then looked at it again. It had not changed since yesterday. It changed every day, why had it not changed this time? What had I done differently?

 

Shit, I cursed silently, it’s because I haven’t slept. It had even changed the number of days, but the picture was the same. I only got to see it if I lived that pain and I would have to live that pain for another six days, almost seven. At least, it’s what I hypothesized. I had fallen asleep on the bus and the picture didn’t change, but I’m pretty sure that had to do with the fact that it was the same day. There was only one way to test it and I really didn’t want to.

 

I alerted the front desk that I would be staying another day and they said that it would be fine. It was the slow season, so no one had reserved the room. I told them there was no need for fresh sheets, asked for a few more towels and then got off the phone. I suddenly felt exhausted, there was no way I was going to stay awake, even if I wanted to. I wrote a note on the door to leave the towels inside even if I was asleep inside and then collapsed under the blankets.

 

#

 

When I woke, the sun had nearly set. It was low in the sky and the room had become very cold. I sat up and stretched, glancing at my phone. It was nearly six o’clock. I yawned and threw the blankets off of me, feeling good and refreshed. I relieved myself in the bathroom, washed my hands, and applied a bit more chapstick and base.

 

Ready to get out of the room for a while, I grabbed my phone, laptop, the paper, and changed into a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt. I took one last look at myself, grabbed my wallet and was out the door. Thankfully, the town had a little strip and there were several restaurants and coffee shops to choose from. I settled on a diner that had wi-fi and claimed to have the best breakfast in town. My stomach grumbled, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours as I slid into the booth.

 

The place was warm in colors and modernized enough that it didn’t feel like a diner. There was no tacky art, or cheap looking benches, and the colors were tasteful and calm. I immediately felt comfortable here, it was an environment that invited you to stay with soothing music and friendly staff. I couldn’t remember the last time I had ever felt like a place wanted you there for a while.

 

“Hey there,” the lady smiled as she walked up to me, “what can I start you off with?” I could tell she was older, but still extremely pretty. She had a kind face with warm brown eyes and silky dark brown hair. I hated to admit it, but I was pretty jealous of that hair. I’ve always wished that I could have those edgy, straight haircuts instead of my mange of fluff.

 

“Hey,” I smiled back, “is it OK if I stay here for a bit after I eat?” The woman grinned from ear to ear as if I were the most precious thing in the world. “Of course you can, sweetheart. Stay as long as you like. What can I get for you?” I glanced over the menu, quickly realizing there were way more options than I anticipated. “Uh,” I stuttered, “how about pancakes and sausage with some coffee?” Her eyes crinkled as she jotted down my order, “you want one or two pancakes?” “Three,” I say quickly. Her eyes widen, but she nods. “You take cream and sugar?” “Just cream,” I say. She nods again and then walks away calling over her shoulder that she’ll be right back.

 

I’m not sure why I keep putting off looking at the paper. I’m still in shock over the fact that I slept so peacefully. I honestly can’t even remember dreaming. Thank goodness for small miracles. I stared across at the little sliver of paper as if at any moment, it would catch fire in my bag. I wanted more than anything for the same city with the same hooded figures to be present. Maybe it was just affecting the new city I moved to. Either way, I wasn’t prepared at that moment to find out. I had the weekend to depress myself further. And then what? I wondered. Warn everyone in those two cities to evacuate? Yeah, that would go over well.

 

About the only thing I could do to make anyone take me seriously is phone in a bomb threat. I’m not familiar with protocol on this, but I’m quite sure they would dismiss it as a practical joke in less than a day. It may save several people’s lives though, so it was looking like my best option.

If they would even issue a city-wide evacuation. I grew more apprehensive by the second. There is no way the city would take a woman’s threat seriously. Even if it were a bomb threat. They probably received those at least once every few months. Shit, with all the crazy people out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were once a week.

 

I make a mental list of what I would need to do in order for anyone to take me seriously:

 

  1. Voice changer
  2. Google number
  3. Suspicious activity that could point to potentially being a bomb placed there?

 

Ugh. Shit.

 

This wasn’t going to work, why would I even think it would? I suddenly feel sick to my stomach. How in the actual hell do I make other people think I’m not insane? The one person that would have helped me is dead. At least he won’t have to suffer through all of this. I’m slightly jealous of that fact right now. I want to be gone, boom, light’s out. No pain, no skin peeling back or shards raking through the meaty pulp of my exposed flesh. No creaking bones, or dangling eyes.

 

I swallow, grasping at my neck. Suddenly, I felt extremely parched. My hands shook as I guzzled down the water the waitress had brought me earlier. If there were any hint of me finding some solace, it was gone. I felt heavy in my skin. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to. The weight of everything was seeping in.

 

How could so much have changed in a matter of a week? It went from the best moment of my entire life, to the single-worst experience I’ve known in my twenty-three years─ Never knowing when I was going to experience that nightmare again and again. A bullet to the head wasn’t sounding too bad right now. I remember taking a neuroscience class and the professor telling us that there were no pain receptors in the brain. Once the bullet got past the nerves on the flap of skin that covered my skull, I would feel nothing. I never thought about that before today. It’s developing into a sort of fantasy now. One in which I could squeeze the trigger and─

 

“Here you go, sweetie.” I jerked slightly at her soft voice, but managed a smile. “Thank you very much,” I quickly replied.

 

She paused and then takes on that sort of tone you only ever hear your mother make, “You OK hun? You’re looking a bit pale.” I take a moment looking into her soft, amber eyes and then shake my head at her, “oh, I’m fine. Just a little tired is all.” She purses her lips and raises a finely manicured eyebrow at me, “alright, I get it. I was a young girl once. Your food will be right out. You just holler at me if you need anything else.” She places a hand on my shoulder and pats it softly.

 

Normally physical touch would be something that bothered me. I would shy away or tilt my body in a way that would keep them from reaching me. Sort of an unspoken message about boundaries. I’d done it all my life. Strange how lately I’ve welcomed other’s touch, like an attention starved child. Both this waitress and Devon had managed to do it in less than a handful of days.

 

#

 

I sigh, content with a full belly. I’ve put the note off long enough, but I still go ahead and check my phone messages and emails first. Zedd’s funeral was going to be held on Monday and everyone from work was invited to come and pay their respects. Poor Devon, I wanted more than anything to make it better for him. It must have been hard losing someone that he was obviously close with and have a new employee that same week. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through right now. I tried thinking of things that I could send in a text message, maybe some comforting words, but my brain just drew a blank.

 

What did you say to someone that you barely knew about someone else you barely knew dying? I decided I would wait and do it later, I felt too scattered right now. I was on my third refill of coffee when I finally decided that I was ready. No matter what it showed me, I still had some time to think on what it was I could do.

 

With shaky hands I reached into my bag and removed the folded paper. I slowly pried open one side, and inhaled deeply─ steadying my heart. It was now, or never. I am about to find out if this is going to happen all over or just in my home town and back in Dallas. I knew it was hoping for too much, to think it all just coincidental, but who knew? Maybe it was all just a horrific coincidence.

 

The city of Santa Fe burned in front of me as I unfolded the last piece of paper. Crestfallen, I searched the page. The hooded figures were hard to see, but they were there in the mountains. The beautiful, charming city was a pile of rubble. The mushroom cloud loomed over it high in the mountain air. A single tear dropped down and landed at the bottom of the page. I swiped at my face, embarrassed to be crying in a public place.

 

Before I folded it up, I scanned back up to where the poem ended:

 

This night, hallowed night, They gifted the world to silence.

 

6

 

I had less than a week. I mused on the last line, really at the poem in its entirety. It sounded as if people were these little, lost creatures that death would guide home. Except this is nothing like I expected it to be, these horrible, awful beasts that enjoyed my suffering. From everything I’d ever been taught as a child the death bringers were supposed to be kind, compassionate beings that transitioned us to the other side. Granted, the four horsemen were another story in the book of revelations.

 

But, it isn’t like I would even be educated on any of that even if I did think that what was going on was biblical. I haven’t touched any religious book in my life and from what I did know I was a child at the time. I do remember one of the horsemen was someone that was said to bring war. Surely, these harbingers of death weren’t with a divine being that created us. Why would they even be created if they enjoyed so much─ suffering?

 

This was pointless thinking, where would it really get me? Even if I knew exactly what they were, I would be powerless to stop it. And six days isn’t exactly enough time to research anything properly. I slunk into the chair. Every waking moment was merely a countdown to the inevitable end.

 

Everything I was doing up until now was.

 

I stare outside into the beautiful, quaint town and then over at the kind waitress. I would certainly do my best to at least protect her. Maybe anyone that would listen. It may have been a fruitless endeavor, but at least I could die knowing I tried. I guess I’m just that brand of idiot.

 

I sigh and pull out my laptop. Maybe I could find something online that would help. Maybe others that are like me.

 

#

After more than an hour of searching, I’ve about given up. There are, as it seems, a lot of people that believe that the end of the world has been coming for a while now. There’s cultists, evangelists, standard forums with conspiracy theory nutjobs, and just about anyone in between but none of them have described what both me and Zedd had described.

 

I pulled the note out again and looked it over. What was I missing? Surely we weren’t the only ones. I even googled notes about end days, and bombs, and near death experiences with bombs. All of which had some─ interesting results, but not the ones that I want.

 

“Hun, I just wanted to let you know that you’re fine to stay as long as you’d like but would you mind scooching over to the smaller table there, in the back?” She motioned over to where the tables were back toward the kitchen. Her face looked genuinely contrite as if she’d disturbed me during an important bit of work. My face must have had the serious look my mom would always point out when I’d become lost in my art. “It’s just, I’ve got a family that needs seating and that table’s a might small for them.” I nodded my head and quickly shot up. “Of course” I stutter, “not a problem at all.” It takes a minute to realize how busy the place has gotten since I’d come in. I make my way over to the back to the smallest table I can find and set myself up again. The soft voices have risen to a dull roar as the restaurant fills with noisy guests. I know I could probably just go back to the hotel, but I prefer the company of the waitress and the people. It makes me feel less alone.

 

I again unfold the paper, hoping that I’d catch something else before I call it a night. I’d googled everything, except─ I’m noticing the name a few times throughout the body of the script: watchmen. I feel my excitement rising, maybe there was something to that. I try my luck at searching watchmen. I frown at all the cartoon images and shortly find out that there is a comic by the same name and a t.v. show. Damn. I try again, this time adding the term apocalypse with it─ and then, end times. All that manages to bring up are nut jobs claiming it’s the end times.

 

Nothing, or no one is mentioning them specifically.

 

Hooded figures brought up the usual comic-like illustrations of death, but nothing like the hyper-realistic drawings that lined my page. Nothing that could instill the sort of dread I had in the pit of my chest as I stared at their dark, hungry faces. I shivered, running my hands up and down my arms. I knew I had been at the diner for a while, but I didn’t realize how long until the smell of food made my stomach rumble.

 

I smile over at my coffee mug. The waitress had been amazing and kept it full for me. I waved across at her and she quickly shuffled over. “What can I do for you? You about ready for that check?” I smiled sheepishly at her, “Actually, I’m starving and ready for round two. What’s really good here?” Her smile widened and she glanced over at the kitchen, then leaned in, “you won’t believe it, but we have the best enchiladas on this side of town. Even better than Enchilada’s up the street. The owner’s son makes his mama’s recipe and I swear to you, that boy puts love into every layer.” I grinned back at her, “Alright, um─ I pause looking at her nametag but frown when I don’t find one. “Laura,” she says softly. “Laura,” I repeat. We smile, “I’ll take the enchiladas with red sauce.” She makes an ‘ooo’ shape with her mouth nodding her head, “good choice um─” she looks down at me, her lips pursed comically as she waits on me, her pen posed in the air. “Kate,” I say giggling at the silliness. Man, I needed this in my life right now. “Alright Miss Kate, I will have those mouth-watering enchiladas out to you asap.” She swishes away and I’m practically glowing from the experience.

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve managed to really speak to someone else in this manner. I missed it. It reminded me of my college days with some of my closest professors and friends. The sun looks like it’s about to come up and I find myself wondering what time it actually was. I glance at my phone, and then look again─ it was 5:45─ in the morning. I can’t believe I had managed to be here for nearly ten hours. Enchilada’s must have been an anytime meal here but they sounded like a pretty damn good breakfast for me. I watch as Laura bustles about wiping off the tables and grabbing the checks. It was probably reaching the end of her shift.

 

I wanted to tell her, but not sure how to say it without her becoming alarmed, or thinking I’m some sort of nutjob/terrorist. I don’t look like a terrorist, it’s kind of hard to when you’re still mistaken for a teenager at twenty-three. But, she wouldn’t take it seriously unless I worded it carefully. At least I would have time to think over another hot meal.

 

In less than ten minutes, it’s in front of me and my mouth waters. It’s unlike any enchiladas I’ve ever had. They’re stacked like pancakes with layers of tortilla, egg, and cheese drizzled with the red sauce. It’s so pretty I almost don’t want to dig in with a fork. My stomach has other ideas, however, and I find myself practically wolfing it down. About halfway through, I slow down and really taste all of the flavors. There’s little crispy bits of fresh onion and I sigh in content. Normally, I’m not a fan of raw onion but somehow it just works with all the heavy cheese and red sauce. I need to get this recipe, this was definitely last meal worthy. Laura hadn’t been kidding when she said it was made with love.

 

I panicked when I didn’t see Laura for a few minutes, nervous that I had missed my chance to save her. My eyes teared up when she rounded the corner with a fresh mug of steaming coffee. “Hey sweetheart, I’m about to end my shift but I thought I’d bring─” she pauses, getting a look at my face. “I know it isn’t my place, but, you sure you OK? I got a few minutes before I need to head home and feed the pups.” I smile through blinding tears and through I’m trying to be brave, they manage to slip down my cheeks.

 

I pat at the chair across from me. She doesn’t even hesitate and slides into it. “What’s going on? Boy trouble?” She smiles with a faraway look in her eye as she stares out into the street. She turns back to me, her warm eyes widening. She places a hand over mine and pats it gently. “This seems much worse than just a man. You’re not in trouble are you?” She hesitates and glances around before leaning in and whispers, “my brother is a cop, he wouldn’t be awake right now but I could see if there is something that could be done for you.” She crosses her legs and leans back, her cool hand not leaving mine. “Some cities have piss-poor excuses for cops, you know the usual amount of corruption and politics. I’m not saying we don’t have any of that, we’ve got our share too, but the cops around here take care of us and I guarantee Rob would listen.”

 

I’m floored by this woman’s kindness. Back at home waitresses wouldn’t have hardly looked at you, let alone offer help to a stranger. Everyone was sort of buttoned up in Pennsylvania. You just didn’t talk about your problems, especially at home. Talking to a stranger? That would be unheard of. Mom and dad were good people, but not warm people. We’d always been quiet about most things. If I came home with a bad grade, I would get a head shake from dad and my mom would softly say, “Kate, you can do better.” It was that quiet that always pushed me to get some sort of reaction or acknowledgement of my achievements. The best I got was a satisfied grunt from dad and a smile and pat from mom. Maybe she would even rub up and down my arms affectionately. I lived for those sort of reactions, it made me warm and feel all glowy─ like I could accomplish anything.

 

It wasn’t as if they didn’t show affection or show that they were worried, it was just a different sort of love. This was open and raw. I really couldn’t wrap my mind around it, but I appreciated it just the same.

 

Finally, I manage to find my voice, “I need you to listen to me and not judge. Just, keep an open mind─ OK?” My voice comes out far shakier than I wanted it to. I never sound strong. I always sound like a scared little girl. I hate how soft my voice is. She raises her eyebrows and nods slowly, “alright, I can do that. Don’t you worry about how you sound.” Her voice is encouraging because she thinks she’s rescuing me from something. She thinks maybe I’m running away from an abusive relationship, or bad parents. If only it were something so simple.

 

I inhale deeply, steadying myself to try and sound like a rational human being. How could I word it to where she would listen? I decide on telling her the truth, but add a believable lie. I feel somewhat guilty about it, but it was the only way she was going to buy what I’m selling. I clear my throat, “my family works in the government,” I start. She frowns and then nods at me. I can tell she is realizing that this isn’t going to be a normal problem. I wasn’t entirely lying about that, my dad, now retired, had worked in the post office for over thirty years and my mother was a public school teacher. “I came out here because I wanted to see for myself if things were happening like back at home.” My voice sounded a little more confident this time and I feel my shoulders relax. I can do this, I tell myself, maybe I can save some people.

 

Laura has let go of my hand now and she’s hugging herself. “OK, go on,” she whispers. I look back at the restaurant and then lean in toward her, “You and your brother should get as far away as you can from any major city. I’m talking miles away, go to the desert or Colorado woods, or Arizona, or hell even Texas. Just─ get away from Santa Fe.” Her eyes grow hard and she purses her lips. She crosses her arms over her breasts and looks me up and down. Laura looks like a real mom now, assessing whether she’s being pranked or having something pulled over on her. The tears are really starting to come and I grabbed a napkin and swipe at my face and nose.

I can tell she isn’t convinced. “I─” my words falter a bit as I hiccup. I wipe again at my face and try again, “I just wanted to, you know, tell someone. I don’t expect you to believe me, but Laura,” I look deeply into her eyes, my brows creasing, “Something very bad is going to happen here and I need you to believe me. I’m not crazy, or some sort of conspiracy nut, I just wanted to help you because you’ve been very kind to me.”

 

She nodded, biting down on her lip. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” she paused, “but this is my home. I don’t know where I would go, and I mean, I just met you. You could be pranking me for all I know.” I sniffle. “I don’t think you are though,” she adds quickly. She looks off to the side, her voice taking on more of a resigned quality, “Listen, I miss a day of work and it’s a big deal.” She shook her head at me, “I’m comfortable, but it’s because I keep my longer hours and I have my regular customers.” She sighs, “even if it were something bad, Antonio could lock up the place and we could just hide in the back or stay put.” She’s dismissing it in her mind and thinks I’m some sort of spooked child.

 

“You can’t hide from this,” I say firmly, “no one can. It’ll take out half the planet, Laura, at least.” She stares into my eyes, “you actually believe this, don’t you?” I nod. “I don’t just believe it, I’ve seen it.” She fidgets with her hands, “like a bomb going off? They would have had that on the news, hun.” I’ve lost her, I can feel it. No matter what I say, she’s going to think I’m just some misinformed girl who’s father had scared her. She probably thinks he’s some government conspiracy nut too. There were a lot of them in government offices. How could I make her understand?

 

The answer was, I couldn’t. I could try my best at the end of the day, but it would boil down to what she would accept in her own mind. I feel sick to my stomach, but I realize this is all I can do.

 

“It won’t be in the news. It will just hit. And I know how all of it sounds, but I just wanted to help. There’s nothing that I can say to convince you, I just wanted you to know.” The tears keep coming and I dab at them gingerly.

 

“Well, I appreciate it sweetheart, but I think someone is just messing with you. If it were something this big, I think half of the world would have known about it by now. Especially with all these damn satellites, and movement detection, and thermo-whatevers─ these men have got their war devices on lock down. I don’t think anyone really wants to use them, you know? Doesn’t bode well for the planet’s health and just about everyone would die.” I nod, lost to my own thoughts. I knew this would be the way it would go, and that’s how it would be with anyone.

 

Even if someone told me the same way that I’m telling her. It was pointless.

 

I stood up, extending my hand, “Thank you, Laura. I really appreciate everything you did for me today. You take care of yourself.” I heard her mutter something but I’d already walked several feet away and didn’t catch it. It didn’t matter, and I couldn’t care about her anymore. She would be lost like the rest of them.

 

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You can find all of my work on Royal Road now

If you’ve wondered what I’m about, I’m not just a blogger─ I write novels, novellas, and short stories. (when we aren’t adventuring with our stories on Twitter.)When I have time, I record podcasts and audiobooks for all of you as well. Occasionally, I will post my work on here for you to read but I thought it a good idea to post where you can find all of my work!

I’m aiming to become published, (so that I can write and do podcasting for a living) but until I become one of the lucky few to do that, I like to share it with others. It gives me real joy and excitement to create these worlds for all of you.

If you would like to see what I’m about, you can find all of my written work here. 

I don’t have all of my work up, but I am working toward getting it ALL slowly uploaded (I have to sort through tons of stuff) but I should have it all up in the next month.

If you’re familiar with my work and you’d love to support it, this is a great site to do it through, or through my Patreon page.

For anyone and everyone that takes time out of their day to read my stories and check out my work, thank you.

Have a wonderful Tuesday

❤ Grey

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Hell’s Gate Awakening – A Fantasy Novel

If you would like to read this in it’s entirety, you can find it here. 

 

“My Goddess The Moon Can be as Bright as The Sun,

But She is Only a Reflection.” 

Her eyes flew open, the magnitude of the dream still lingering in her vision. The swirls of darkness lulled above her bed, the last of it lazily rising from her still form. Celeste pressed her eyes closed, willing it away. Please just leave, she pleaded silently, you aren’t real─ you can’t be real. She opened her eyes and focused her vision. The last of the fluid seeped into the ceiling, leaving behind a discolored smudge on the surface. A rustling sounded and she turned her gaze to John. His hair stood out in stark contrast against the sheet─ a sea of black that kissed the golden beach. She frowned, her eyes shifting to the ceiling. Celeste had longed to feel a connection with others, especially with John. But now, she wasn’t so sure. The thought genuinely terrified her.

John sighed softly, and then turned on his side. Her eyes returned to him and then moved down to the chiseled lines along his back. Her eyes lingered on the pale flesh, frowning at the twin scars behind his shoulder blades. Once back when they were first dating, she had mistakenly reached out and touched the marred flesh. He had jerked away and then moved to cover himself. Since then, she mostly kept her curiosity to herself─ but now as he rested, they were open and bare. Celeste couldn’t help but stare.

 Her vision blurred for a moment and she closed her eyes drawing a deep breath. She remembered it like it was yesterday, the first time his lips had graced hers. It had been an exceptionally cold winter last December. They had spent the weekend in her Father’s cabin along the slopes in Aspen. It was John’s first time to travel anywhere. She remembered his infectious grin as he stared up to the sky, marveling at the large flakes as they swirled to the ground. 

 Celeste would never forget how John’s face glowed as they sat by the fire. He was reading his favorite bits of poetry as she lay in his lap. This had been where he found much of his inspiration for his work─ poets that wrote anonymously. He had a real fascination with people not claiming their own work, or working in secret. Celeste never knew where he found them, but they were full of insight, and sorrow─ many speaking of an alternate universe or hidden worlds.

That weekend trip was the first moment she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. She had always felt something that drew her to him, some force of nature. But as she laid there, watching his face light up as he talked about the meaning behind his latest poetry obsession and tying it to the possibility of a multiverse, she knew he was the one.  

John’s sculptures were profoundly beautiful. Among his regular clients, he was considered a modern Bernini. Known for his exquisite attention to detail, most of his works were portraits of mythological creatures and people. John’s ability to capture other’s lives brought many to tears, including herself. It looked as though the stone could simply stand and walk away. Every detail was hand-molded, even down to the flaws. His stone fabric flowed as if it was a real garment.

His sculptures were something to behold, but John’s paintings were even more so. The colors blended in a way that you would swear it was a window into another world. A secret one, far better than our own. It was otherworldly─ just like him.

Celeste’s attention returned to the present as her gaze fell to the addition on her left hand. Surrounding her finger was a silver band with a princess-cut solitaire. A blood red stone sprouted from the center. It was made from garnet, her birthstone. She had never found diamonds appealing, the lack of color reminded her of death. Her eyes shifted to the Baroque paintings and décor in the room. Father spoiled her too much. He knew it was her favorite period in art and made it a point to collect things for her over the years. Each piece of furniture that surrounded her was dainty and hand-carved from dark mahogany wood.  She adored the crushed red velvet that lined the chaise that was next to the fire. It was her absolute favorite. Every night she would curl up with her blanket and book in hand. Celeste knew it was old-fashioned. Most of her friends had some type of reader or listened to Audiobooks. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something magical about holding a book next to the fire. It brought back memories from her childhood. Mama had read to her every night. She would download the app eventually, but for now she was content with paperbacks.

 Celeste looked over and smiled at the crimson drapes along the windows. It was her first real purchase, one of the few things she could be proud of. She had to defend them constantly against her friends. They said it made the room look like something out of a Dracula novel. She stuck her tongue out at them mentally. Let them think what they wanted─ she preferred it this way. 

Shadows drifted along her marble sculptures, Celeste’s eyes stopped on the one close to her dresser. Deep shadows encased the young mother and child holding hands. It was as if it welcomed them into the shadow realm. She relaxed, thinking that maybe this time the dream left her with nothing to fear. The dreams were coming more frequently now, each more menacing than the last. Her head tipped up to the ceiling again and she stared uneasily at the smear and frowned. It was still there. Were they just dreams? Maybe there were warnings of things to come. 

She jumped at the loud tapping sound on the side of her window. She tensed, straining her ears to see if she could hear anything else. When the sound happened again, she released the breath she had been holding in.  It was the Japanese maple her father had planted some years ago. She closed her eyes, listening as it brushed lazily across the house─slow and rhythmic. Celeste had always been fond of them, so for her twentieth birthday, her father had surprised her with one for her housewarming party. Shaking her head, she grinned at the stubbornness of the old man. No matter how many times she refused his gifts, it only strengthened his resolve to do more.

A crackling came from the foot of the bed and she jerked toward the sound. Celeste half chuckled, half sighed in frustration, feeling foolish. It’s just the fire place, Jesus get a grip, she scolded herself. It was one of the major selling points for Celeste. Even though she lived in Texas, and winter lasted all of two or three months, she used it every year. The fire place acted as a sort of divider, separating the small library from the bedroom. It was designed to provide a reading nook on one side, but kept the space open enough that she could see outside through the bay window. 

Unable to sleep, Celeste stretched and pushed back the covers. With cat-like grace she slunk from the bed, careful to not wake John. Grabbing her robe from the chaise she quickly glanced back at John before slipping from the room. Out cold, she mused. 

Celeste emerged from the long hall, her attention shifting to the left. The robe unclasped as she came to a halt, revealing a petite frame beneath the billowing gown. Just to the left of the French doors sat her mother’s piano─ an oasis of red against the desert-colored walls. The keys were worn, but she could never replace it. Celeste knew it was silly, but somehow the thought of restoring it would feel as if the last of her mother would disappear. Her hand trailed the length of the case, and then slowly pulled it back─ revealing the ivory keys. She sat and placed her slender fingers on the cool surface. A millisecond passed, and she began. The chords started shaky and uneven as her mind struggled to remember the notes. Finally, it smoothed itself out and she eased herself into the composition. Celeste swayed back and forth lost in the melody. There was something familiar about it. She couldn’t remember when, or how she had learned to play it─ and yet, the song now flowed easily from her fingertips. She strummed the last chord, blinking back the wetness that had gathered at the corners of her eyes. The air was heavy with silence. It left her longing for the past. Why did you have to die? Celeste wondered. Her mother’s smile flashed through her mind. You were always so warm, she thought.

Celeste rose from the bench and glided from the piano to the patio doors. The Moon’s light drew her in and she pressed herself into the glass, longing to feel the night on her skin. She clutched at the doors and thrust them open. The Moon sensed her, emitting a soft hum as it pulsed─ her own life force felt as if it was joining with it. She stared openly, captivated by its beauty. She didn’t want to, but finally tore her eyes from the glowing goddess. She crossed the threshold into the cool night air. The wood felt soft and warm beneath her feet, it was similar to the feeling of packed dirt. She walked five feet to her favorite spot on the patio and eased herself down.

Celeste stretched out her arms and leaned back on the wooden swing, her legs dangling. Her skin shone like porcelain in the moonlight, further emphasizing her doll-like figure. She stared down from the patio ledge─ the wind gently combing through her long, obsidian hair. She swept a strand from her eyes, troubled by the thoughts that traveled through her mind. She looked down to the untouched gardens─ at the plant life swaying to the Earth’s sigh. It had been years since Celeste felt so normal─ so nice. John was the best thing that had happened to her this past year.

Then what was this feeling slowly curling in the pit of her belly? It was naïve to think that somehow the curse had vanished and that maybe, John had something to do with it. She cringed as thoughts began snaking through her mind. They undulated and curled, twisting around her head. She gasped, as it bit down, pumping the venomous thoughts throughout her brain. No more, she silently begged. Please. She moaned, clutching her head. John, please, no. The thought echoed through her mind over and over until it lost its meaning. She hugged her knees to her chest as the tears flowed. Images of people lost to her flashed within seconds of one another, their faces full of contempt. You did this to us, they seemed to say. Smiles leered from the dark cracks and crevices. They were calling to her, a mix of jeers, and begging. She couldn’t make out a single thing that was being said, it was all a jumbled mess. 

Then suddenly there loomed a sea of faceless demons behind them. The silence was heavy in the air as they drifted closer. There was a low, menacing hum, amplifying with each of their steps. They lashed out─ their grip ice cold against her flesh. She panicked as they drew their frigid limbs across her frame. Her mind screamed in agony as each entity burned through, trying to be heard. It was so cold that it burned. She prayed that it would stop, raising her hands up to her ears and squeezing them tight. All sound ceased, and in a flash─ they were gone. Celeste sighed, her hands falling to the sides. The earth trembled, then turned on it’s side. She screamed, her hands shooting out and gripping the swing as the violence continued. In seconds, something flashed before her, something far worse than before pushing it’s way through. Celeste stared at the face of pure evil─ at death. She was face to face with what the others must have seen seconds before it had claimed her friends and family’s lives. Celeste was looking into the eyes of Hell. It was soulless─ a deep, black pit. The tunnel stretched, and stretched into nothingness. She wasn’t sure how it was possible, but it was there inches from her face. The black death. It was that same smudge, that tar that had oozed from her ceiling. The darkness released her finally as the remaining images roared across her mind like sirens to the damned. Unable to stand it, her eyes shot up to the pure, heavenly body as she pleaded to the sky.

Kami-Sama, please.” Celeste drew herself up on the railing and looked down. She spoke again, this time with feeling “Please, let this end.” She clasped her hands together, her eyes glued to the massive glowing orb. The goddess flickered, and then grew brighter. It had acknowledged her plea, she felt it. She pressed her eyes together and filled her lungs with the wintry air. It was crisp, and clear. All at once, the idea came to her and she knew what had to be done. A breath, then a blink, and she threw herself from the edge. Like an angel her white gown flowed behind her, the illusion of wings on her dark form. For a few precious seconds, she felt the cleansing glow from the Moon’s light. How she longed to be bathed in Its purity. It wrapped her in Its loving embrace, cradling her delicate figure. Child, my child, It seemed to whisper. The sounds of the passing cars filtered through, their drivers’ unaware of the fast descending girl meeting her end. She felt the wind, and peered out at the sprinkle of lights. Each twinkling, pale yellow glow held families. Families that lay dreaming, and warm in their beds. Celeste smiled. It was the right thing to do. The last of her thoughts were swept into the wind as the deafening blow reverberated down the street.

 

*              *                *

The loud thud woke Celeste from her dream. She bolted upright, pulling the sheets from her chest. Her hands ran along the length of her frame as she made sure she was still in one piece. Her hands moved around her throat and she swallowed thickly. It felt extremely dry, she must have been screaming. She glanced around, confused for a few seconds before realizing that she had fallen out of bed. A dream, she thought bringing her hand to her face. She got up and sighed, apologizing to John about the scream. She paused and frowned at the empty space on the bed. He hadn’t come over tonight. Then Celeste remembered John had mentioned a meeting early in the morning with a client. He had probably stayed at his place Downtown. She picked up her phone to check, and then placed it back on the stand? Of course not, she thought. It had been a week since she last heard from him. She was beginning to wonder if they were still dating. Her mind switched to the dream. What did it mean? She wondered.

Celeste glanced down at her barren hand. Why had she dreamed that John had given her a ring? He had asked questions about how she felt about marriage, sure, but he had not asked yet. Maybe one day, she thought wistfully. Or you’re just fooling yourself, she added. John had been spending long hours away from her lately. It wasn’t as if marriage defined her, or she would simply fall over and die from not being married. She just─ wanted to. It was beyond the whole tax thing, or paperwork. It was something she had dreamed about since she was a girl. It was a dumb, old-fashioned sentiment but it was hers. Things had just felt right with John. Or her ovaries were wreaking havoc on her decision making. Stupid hormones. She had the University to keep her busy, and her piano students, but it wasn’t enough to fill the emptiness she had been feeling. John was still warm and loving with the time they had spent together, he just wasn’t always there mentally. She was being silly. They were, after all, both happy. Wasn’t that all that mattered? Maybe she was being too quick to judge. John had been working hard lately and daddy hadn’t been much help, telling John to ‘get a life and a real job.’ Sometimes her father could be a huge traditionalist and it bugged the crap out of her.

Celeste crossed the room and walked out to the kitchen. Her throat felt like needles had been jammed into it. Her hands shook as she grabbed for the edge of the counter. I’ve never had a dream like that before, she thought. Celeste snatched orange juice from the refrigerator, gulping it down. She was wiping her mouth when a series of booms erupted at the front door. She relaxed, realizing that it was knocking. Then she scrunched her face in confusion, looking at the time. Who could be here at this hour? She wondered. It was four a.m. 

She left the kitchen and slowly walked down the stairs to the front entrance. Standing on her tiptoes Celeste peeked through the peep hole. It took her a minute to focus as she flipped the outside light on. Sighing, she unlocked the door. It was her neighbor Sally. Probably heard me screaming my lungs out, she guessed as she pulled it open. Standing before Celeste was a very unhappy Sally─ arms crossed, and a scowl in place.

“Celeste, what on God’s-green-earth is going on over here? It’s four o’clock in the morning and I have to take the boys to school in a couple of hours.” Celeste opened her mouth to respond but did not get a word out before Sally talked over her, “Not to mention, oh, I don’t know? you scared the bejesus outta all of us.” It took all of Celeste’s strength not to giggle at her neighbor. She pronounced ‘bejesus’ with a southern drawl. She started, realizing that it wasn’t just Sally standing outside. 

Celeste leaned out and glanced at several of the neighbor’s worried faces. She waved nervously and apologized. “Sorry, everyone, I had a horrific dream.” They didn’t budge. One of her neighbors stepped forward and spoke. He had an air of confidence in his speech, someone that took to authority well, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to get in your business, but─” he shifted from his left leg to his right, glancing up the stairs. “That was some yell. It woke up half the neighborhood.” His eyes rested on hers and he softened his tone, “Only reason I didn’t call it in is because I wanted to make sure before I went bothering anyone at the station.” That’s right, now she remembered─ her neighbor was a police officer. She frowned, trying to remember his name. Was it Geoffrey? No that didn’t seem right, George maybe? They all stared at her quietly and she realized they might be taking it for something else. She quickly shook her head, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten any of you. It was honestly just a bad dream.” The man nodded, appearing relieved and walked over to his wife. She waved again, her face feeling like the surface of the sun.

She winced, as Sally hadn’t moved from the doorway. Jesus, did the lady have an ounce of tact? Glaring down at her, Sally opened her mouth to speak, but Celeste quickly interrupted, “I’m sorry I woke you and your family, Mrs. Henderson, I’ll try to keep it down.” Nodding, she looked up at Sally, giving her best ‘I’m sorry’ look and pulled the door toward her. Sally, like Celeste knew she would, put her foot in the way. She always had to get that last word in. Celeste yearned for the polite neighbors in Japan. No one would have dreamed of behaving this way, let alone keep doing it.

“Well, alright,” she boomed, “Can’t be too careful these days, what with all the murders going on.” Sally ran fingers through her frizzy hair, her eyes darting outside, then back to Celeste conspiratorially. The curls took on a life of their own as the copper strands bounced around Sally’s face. She had that kind of hair you wanted to reach out and touch. Her light mood darkened as Celeste thought about the locals. Now it made sense, the neighbors weren’t just concerned about a scream. They thought─ oh god. Now she really felt awful. She made a mental note to write an apology to everyone, maybe send them something. 

The deaths were a great shock to the local community. It was all her students talked about on campus anymore. Every time she turned on the news it seemed like there was another murder. So far they had uncovered seven bodies. Were they ever going to catch this guy? All the victims shared the same appearance─ dark hair, younger, and petite. The main connection was how they were murdered. Each was found in some type of water and drained of blood. It sounded like some sort of lame vampire flick.

When Celeste didn’t respond Sally cleared her throat and added, “I just wanted to make sure, you know?” She paused and peered over Celeste’s shoulder, looking inside. Sally had one of those large frames. She was solidly built, but lumpy, like a sack of potatoes. Her eyes, though a vivid blue, were much too small and set close together. She appeared to be in her late forties, possibly early fifties, but wore clothes that no self-respecting sixty-year-old would touch. She looked like something straight out of a bad 70’s film. Sally was a bear of a woman, but honestly, it didn’t take much. Celeste had the stereotypical Japanese build. But that’s where it ended. Her features were a blended with large, expressive brown eyes. She had a more round nose, yet a petite jaw line. Her hair was a soft black, almost brown, and her skin a peachy-white. She was tormented maliciously in Japan, they called her half-breed. It was something Celeste was very self-conscious about. At least here in the States with her adoptive parents, kids had been slightly more forgiving. 

Her adoptive mother, Kotone, had shared a little about her past. Celeste had always assumed that an American soldier had fathered her, or a European man. She long came to the conclusion that she probably brought shame to her real mother─ so her biological mother had given her up for adoption. All she could do was guess, she had never known the truth. Celeste had the kind of frame that people found adorable. If only they knew how annoying it was to have to use a step ladder every time she needed something. Forget trying to see anything at a concert. 

She stared at Sally, sizing her up. The old minx would have put Nancy Drew to shame. She may have looked frumpy, but that’s where it ended. Sally had that keen sensibility about her, the kind that missed nothing. Celeste noticed that the old woman had checked both her shoe rack, and the coat hanger at the front door. And while, she definitely appreciated it this time, she didn’t normally. For as long as she could remember, Sally was at her front door snooping around and asking questions about her life. Especially about John. He had a tough exterior, but was gentle as a kitten. It was a shame that people had the habit of only seeing with their eyes. She forced a grin, and bowed, “Thank you again for your concern, Mrs. Henderson. I am fine.” Saying good night and apologizing, she firmly closed the door.

 

I will be posting this on royalroad.com