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The Day Alice Arrived – A Fantasy Short Story

The rain pounds, like thousands of toy soldiers beating on their drums. The wind moans off-key between the screen and my window. The swoosh of the oak tree beating against the house drones on above. It is the second night of the relentless March drench. I hate this time of year. I am unable to pry my eyes away from the evil face that lives in the ceiling as I lay in bed. Its mouth stays in a permanent howl of agony, and its eyes are small and beady. Sometimes I swear it moves to different parts of the ceiling. It is probably waiting for the perfect time to snatch and gobble me up. That would teach them. Why grandpa won’t just hurry and scrape the popcorn off of my ceiling, like he did for everyone else in this stinking house, I’ll never know. Mama teases that it’s because I don’t listen.

Good children are supposed to be in bed after nine, Mama says. Good children, like Mary, mind their mamas. And good children most certainly do not go adventuring in their best clothes and blame it on following faeries, gnomes, and other such nonsense into the woods. I get so mad when she says this I could split a coconut in two with my mind. Just because her old eyes can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. How would mama know anyway? She’s never gone farther than twenty steps from Sir Brisbane’s dog house. Mama keeps calling him puddles. I worry for her. Sir Brisbane does not take kindly to such insults and has been known to take a bite out of calves. Particularly plump ones like mama has. He is, after all, part of the high court of Chauncey and a knight to boot. He’s been keeping the dark faeries from creating mischief in the human world for thirty plus years now, and he believes my mother should be more respectful to him, thank you very much.

I’ve long since known that animals can speak. You just have to have good listening skills. Their voices are on a different frequency than humans and much more soft, too soft for adults to hear. Once, I had a most delightful conversation with a sewer rat about the art of balancing on pipes. The trick to keeping yourself up is to swish your tail quickly from left to right. I try telling mama about this, but she just spanks me, yelling, ‘stuff and nonsense’ then sends me to bed hungry.

My eldest sister, Mary, is a yellow-bellied chicken. She’s seen things, just as I have, but keeps it quiet. And she never stands up for me around mama. Mary’s a bit of a pushover but we get along okay. Alice, the youngest of us, just ignores everyone and plays in the attic with her dolls. A real creeper, that one, I once found a whole trunk of headless dolls. Mama’s seen it too, but I think she’s too afraid to ask. As a matter of fact, we never talk about her. I’ve tried a few times, but Mama just changes the subject and Grandpa tells me to go to my room. Cowards, all of them.

During last year’s drench, after the third night, I heard strange thumping sounds outside of my door. I was too scared to open it, so I crawled on my belly and peered beneath the crack. I remember it like it was yesterday. Two glass eyes and stringy blonde hair stared back at me. It was one of Alice’s doll heads. I’ve never sprinted for my bed and leaped beneath the covers so fast in my life. I recited the Lord’s Prayer until dawn. That did not work. The next night I heard more thumping, followed by swift pacing on the other side. I was glad that whatever it was couldn’t come inside.

From the third night, until the very last day of the drench, the thing kept up the pacing and thumping last year. Then, as soon as it came, it went away. All that remains of its existence today is a faint groove in the wood. I, of course, got blamed for it and received two nights without supper, a firm talking to, and a whooping. I suspect now that it might be Alice− or something wearing Alice’s skin. I haven’t ruled out the theory of a body snatcher yet. Sir Brisbane tells me they’re as real as Mama’s mustache. I hope that it at least keeps the trend of not coming back until the third night. And I keep wishing this, as I stare up at smiley-mcbeady-eyed-creepy-pants, and hear the thumping outside of my door return. I may just wipe that stupid face off of the ceiling myself since no one else will. Bang, thump, scrape. I let out a yelp and pull the covers over my head. Alice is starting early this year. After several moments, I sneak a peek out of the blankets. The sound is finally gone.

Peeling back my blankets, I tip-toe over to the window, and pull back the curtains. Sir Brisbane Pettingsworth is huddled to the back of his house and panting as if he’s run several laps. When he notices me, he smiles, then bows. I roll my eyes at him. Really, being cordial at a time like this, how silly. I motion that I’m coming out and lean down to open the window. Forget staying in this house, I’ll just keep him company until dawn. Let Alice bang, thump, and scrape her little heart out. My hand touches the latch and I nearly jump out of my skin when the high pitched voice squeaks above me.

“Would hurry if I were you dear.” I gape at the ceiling, unsure of what to do.

“Who said that? Alice?” Bang, bang, thump, scrape is my only answer. Something scratches at the metal part just below the doorknob, and it sounds impatient. Tiny, perfectly pointed nails waiting to−I try not to think about it as a lump forms in my throat. Where is mama anyway, can’t she hear any of this from down the hall? I know she keeps her door open at night. They’re a bunch of sissies, all of them. Then I remember we are still in the middle of the storm, the oak tree is probably drowning out the noise. I decide to heed the voice’s warning and I undo the latch and pull on the window. It doesn’t budge.

“Nailed shut I’m afraid.” The voice chirps.

Annoyed I look up, “well then, how on earth am I supposed to hurry?” It’s a peculiar feeling, talking to the ceiling in the middle of the night. Mama must never know. I already see some quack twice a week for the faerie and gnome remarks.

“Break it of course.” It says.

Naturally, let me just pick up my vanity chair, and we’ll make a game of it, I think. Mama would just love me to pieces then. Bang, bang, bang. Alice is getting more creative, the banging almost taking on a beat to a song. I cross my arms and tap my foot. This is ridiculous, why am I hiding from my little sister? What’s the worst she can do bite and scratch me? I need to stop being a ninny and open the door. I march three paces and then halt. The beating has ceased, replaced by complete silence. Even the rain has softened. I know why I can’t open the door. Alice is anything but a normal little girl. I can’t explain it, call it intuition, or whatever, I just knew.

“Better hurry.” It taunts. I want to slap that voice from the ceiling, but I know it is right. I dash for the chair and smash it against the window. The glass showers the floor in tiny, clear crystals. I tense at the horrible screeching outside my bedroom door. She knows I’m trying to escape. I hear her footsteps descend down to the living room. What was Alice doing?

“Now you’ve done it.” The voice sounds like it’s enjoying this a little too much.

“What have I done?” I ask.

“I didn’t say break it loudly.”

I want to strangle the ceiling, and then I realize how mad that sounds. Oh well, I’ve gotten this far. “What do you mean break it quietly? There’s no such thing.” I say. The front door creaks open. Each pop and groan feels like a nail pounding shut the lid on my coffin.

“Oh, there’s always a way.” It quips. “Like a well-placed glass cutter, had you have had the sense to look around.” Ignoring the insult, I glance around the room and see a silver glint in the moonlight. There it is, on my vanity. I can just scream. The screech bellows from the right of my window. Then Alice begins to climb up the drainage pipe.

I don’t have time to think. I wedge the chair in the window and pull the curtains shut. I charge toward my bedroom door and twist the doorknob when I stop. Something isn’t right. I plunge to the floor and peek out. I freeze.

The cold, dead stare of Alice’s eyes look back at me. Her grin twists upward in a sea of black─ no teeth, no tongue. Just dark and nothingness. My eyes linger on the swirling soot that inhabits her insides. It is busy, flitting uniformly about as if a swarm of insects would. I jump up from the floor and slowly back away from the door. How could she possibly be two places at once? The chair wiggles behind me as the scrapping continues under the door. I pray that I am able to make it until morning. The doctor will be there.

I don’t know why, but Alice always disappears after the doctor gives me the burning medicine. Alice has not moved from the floor.  There must be something keeping her back. I pray to whatever would listen and squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them, Alice’s shadow has moved away from the door. I no longer hear her scraping, or footsteps but the rattling at the window has gotten louder. I take a chance and look beneath the door. Alice is gone, now is my chance to run to Mama’s room. My hand grips the knob.

“Not very bright are we child,” the voice states. Now it’s just being rude.

“And just what do you mean by that? I’ll have you know that I am top of my class at Bishop’s Middle─”

“School,” it interrupts, “has nothing to do with your predicament.” It yawns loudly. “You need to get outside to your friend. I thought we had discussed that already.” We most certainly had not, but I let this one slide. “Yes,” I say playing along, “but how would one do such a thing? You have clearly made it known that I cannot go out the door, though goodness knows why not.” His next sentence flies out, “goodness knows why─” he pauses and takes a breath, “listen here, you insolent child, I’m trying to save your life when all you’ve tried to do is have me removed from the ceiling.” He sputters something unintelligible and then shouts, “I’ve half a mind to up and leave you to your own demise.”  I stand by the door with my mouth gaping so wide I could catch a school of fish. This guy is a total loon. How am I supposed to know what to do? It occurs to me then that the chair has stopped jiggling in the window.

“Where did she─”

“Go?” The voice interjects, “she’s right where she’s always been. By your bedroom door.”

I’m tired of him cutting me off. Maybe I will have grandpa remove him in the morning.

“Well excuse me for not knowing that,” I replied gruffly, crossing my arms.  Then it clicks, the chair has stopped rattling. Why didn’t Alice burst through the window when she had the chance? I turn my gaze to the ceiling at Mr. Beady Eyes, hope starts to well up. I hope that it is not misplaced.

“Alice didn’t break into my room. Why is that?” I ask. For the first time I take a look at his face, I see his prickly mouth curl into a smile. “Why my dear, surely you have figured out some things along the way.”  His eyes shift over to the chair lodged in the window. Quiet as a church mouse I creep over to the window and peer outside.

There he is, not ten feet from the house─ my golden friend. There is no sign of Alice. I look down at the chair, it has fused perfectly with the glass. I feel like my friend has done this. I smile and look up. He is gone. A slow scrape sounds outside of the bedroom door. I wonder why she hasn’t come in yet. This thought troubles me so much that I have to know.

“Sir,” I hesitate, “why hasn’t Alice come in yet?” His response sounds dangerously close to an answer. “If you’d cared to glance at the knob you would know.” “The knob?” I ask. The ceiling lets out a long sigh, “must I tell you everything?” he drawls. I nod my head, inches from the door. I try a different approach. “Please. I’m running out of time. How do I get out of here?”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you there. I’m neutral.” he says softly.

“I─beg your pardon?” I stutter.

“I’m neutral dear. Which means I cannot meddle in your affairs.”

“But, you just─”

“I most certainly have not. I’ve only given you clues. Now, if you’ll excuse me. This has gotten rather dull.” I hear a crackling as the popcorn draws back into its original shape on the ceiling.

“Wait!” I yell. He shifts back into a face. “Well?” he asks impatiently.

“I need─” I trail off, looking at the floor. I don’t want to say it, but I know it’s my only hope. “I need a clue,” I mumble. It will stay like this forever until Alice finds a way break through. If things have escalated this far in just a year’s time, there’s no telling what she will do. I can’t stay locked up in my room forever. What I can’t figure out is why she wants to get to me so badly.

“Ah, a clue indeed,” he says smacking his lips together. Beady eyes sounds like he’s savoring a bit of candy. “If I were you,” he whispers, “I would try looking at a dead end.” Bang, thump. Alice is back to her pacing.

“What does that even mean?” I ask impatiently. I know what is coming next.

“Neutral,” we both say at the same time. “Figures,” I grumble.

I jumped as something large crashes into the door. Alice is becoming bolder by the second. I cannot wait any longer. The next blow would shatter the door. Mama, where are you? I wonder. I run to the only place I can think of as the next crash splinters the door. Huddled inside I pull shut the closet door, and back against the wall. A series of metal clicks sound behind me. My eyes widen as the wall gave way and I fell into a vast pit of darkness. The only sound I hear is the loud screech of Alice having lost her prey.  Her disembodied head hovers above me, then slowly disappears in the distance. The ceiling’s voice sounds around me, sounding rather proud, “there now, I knew you would understand.”

I tug at my nightgown, placing it between my knees. I begin to think this fall will never end and then─ it happens. I plunge into the frigid water, the force hitting me like a ton of bricks. I tumble head over heels in the frozen depths. When I finally stopped spinning, I look around and panic for several heartbeats. I’m unable to orient myself to where the surface lies. I had not taken a deep enough breath and my lungs already feel as if they are about to burst. A twinkle catches my eye and I flip my body around. I claw toward the light with all my might. How far had I fallen in? More than anything I wanted to hear Mama’s stern voice. I wanted to hear her calling my stories nonsense as she pressed the cool cloth against my forehead. I sputter and choke, releasing the last of the air from my lungs. Where is my furry friend now? I want desperately to feel him by my side. These last few moments I think of his warm eyes and wagging tail.

The twinkle from above seems  as far away as it was before. I make a last ditch effort to reach the top. Nothing happens. There is only the icy liquid between my fingers. I fall down further into the cold. I do not want to think it, but it creeps into my mind as the water seeps into my lungs─

I will die alone.

#

I wake to rocky pebbles pressed against my face and water lapping at my legs. I try to stand but only managed to get onto all fours. Water retches from out of my lungs and then I collapse on the shore, too tired to move. Finally I am able to sit up. I rub my eyes, blinking a few times. The cavernous room is vast. There are openings and tunnels that snake in and out of the walls. It is cold and damp. I rock back and forth, crying into my knees. How will I ever get home and if I do, will Alice be there? If only I could have made it to Mama’s room. If only the doctor had came on his usual day instead of coming tomorrow. His medicine would have made Alice go away for a while. I want to see my friend and run my hands through his feathery-soft fur while we gaze at the stars above.

There is no grass in this room─ only dirt. I lay on my side and curl my legs to my stomach. I had always been told if I got lost to stay where I was but who would ever think of looking for me here? I close my eyes. Maybe I should just sleep until someone gets here. As soon as I think this, I’m surrounded by warmth. He says nothing, but I feel him there. My friend has come for me. I open my eyes and stand. My lungs for the first time in years feel whole again. His fur is more golden than usual and he stands upright like a human. His armor, which he has never worn before, shines bright. I can’t help but reach out and brush my hand against the glittering surface. A gentle breeze carrying the scent of our garden rustles my hair. He smiles down at me and for the first time, I notice the vibrant flecks of color in his eyes. His muzzle has been replaced with a golden, crinkly smile. His paws have grown smooth and fleshy. I blink, realizing they are not paws at all but large, strong hands. The room brightens like the surface of the sun and I shield my eyes from its brilliance.

Reaching out, he gently grasps my hand and we walk down the stark, white corridor. I look down, marveling at the golden silk sash that crosses just above my belly. I wonder when my nightgown has become such a splendid garment, but I quickly forget about it. That all seems so trivial now. I try to turn my head to look back at where I had fallen in the water but my friend gently wraps his fingers below my chin and turns me the other way.

“Best not to look back child,” he says. I smile nod, walking hand-in-hand with my best friend.

 

 

 

 

I will be posting this on my Royal Road as well.

xoxo Grey

 

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Handmade Mini-Book Giveaway

Hi guys! My birthday is next Thursday and to celebrate I wanted to give away a hand drawn, hand written fantasy mini book. If you would like to enter, you can enter here. 

I’ll announce the winner on my Birthday!

The story will be all fantasy and done in mixed media. I will hand bind it, draw it, paint it, and write it. I’ve always been a lover of making things and especially for other people. If you know someone that also may love this, send them over to Twitter~

Have a wonderful, glorious Friday dears. ❤

Grey

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How To Beat Going Back To Work Anxiety

Ugh.

You’ve had basically two weeks of a whole lot of nothing and suddenly, boom, responsibility hits and you’re stuck with two more days of hell before the weekend. What do you do? How do you cope? Does anyone at the office follow your Instagram because not even you can remember what you posted the night before last and it sat on there a whole day before you deleted it.

Your emails have piled up, you’re dead tired, and why the hell is Carroll breathing so loud today? And for the love of everything why are we the assholes stuck working this week when half the building isn’t here?

Well at the very least let’s try not to worry about all that and focus on the positive, right?

Please stop cussing at me mentally, I’m here to help.

I get anxiety (like, every few minutes a day and it gets 10000XFUCKINGHELLMF#%! worse during certain times along with my awesome IUD creating more)  so I totally get the backlash from you right now. But let mama bear share what really helps. ❤

No. Thinking positive does not always fix the problem. Over an extended amount of time, and if you make it part of your daily routine, yes it will slowly start improving your mental state. But it doesn’t help the physiological problems that come with it.

Tightening of the chest, shallow breath, increased heart rate, and the feeling that makes you want to tear off your meat suit and fling yourself from the highest building, unfortunately, is still present.

And while hating on the staff and holing yourself off from the world may keep you safe for a moment or two, you’re going to have to face reality at some point.

Especially after every boss in existence is on dat New Year’s high where they drag all of you down with them with these big plans of really shaking up the department.

So, how do you do it? How do you face the mornings after your big break?

You aren’t going to like me with this next sentence. If you stressed the night before or the next couple of nights before and didn’t get a lot of sleep─ avoiding too much caffeine may be a good way to go. Multiple studies have shown that consuming past a couple cups of coffee can increase anxiety. While one or two may be beneficial (dare I say healthy) more can cause heart palpitations, fidgeting, uneasiness, and dehydration. Which causes headaches, ironic since a little caffeine can be used to treat migraines.

Get sleep.

Go to bed early if you know your anxiety is getting the better of you. Try giving yourself an additional thirty minutes up to an hour to sit comfortably in bed. Watch a show, play on your phone a bit, or read a book. I know every story out there tells you not to do anything in your bed but sleep, but that has NEVER worked for me.

My anxiety goes through the roof if I have nothing but me and my brain alone.

That’s not to say that you just distract yourself enough until you’re tired, you still need to face what’s causing your anxiety, but now you have more time to ease into the bedtime.

Which brings me to schedule, schedule, schedule.

Girrrl, I know you can’t be caged and you a wild animal and all─ but if you wanna get paid and not have a mental breakdown, get your sleep schedule on track.

Ready to put on your big girl pants?

Breathe. Just focus on drawing breath in and drawing breath out. Feel the air moving in and out of your nose. Breathe deep and long with a rush of aaaahhhhh when you breathe out. If you’re familiar with yoga, they call this ‘lion’s breath.’

A key element for beating anxiety for me is focusing on this and nothing else. Take a minute (or two), go to the restroom or shut the door to your office.

I have an app on my watch that I use once a day working on my breathing for two minutes. It’s glorious.

When I say this, it doesn’t work for everyone but can for you─ try and clear your mind of your daily routine or what you have going on that’s stressing you. Focus, instead, on things that bring you peace. Whatever that may be and breathing.

 

Next, give yourself a little pep talk.

“I know you feel shitty, but you handled that email like a boss.”

“Damn girl, your booty don’t quit.” Alternatively: “Damn man, your booty don’t quit.”

It’s the current year─ men can be booty positive too.

Make it a habit to give yourself a pep talk every day. It really does make a difference.

Drink loads of water (like, way more than you think you should) because that will keep your energy up instead of tons of carbs. And, often times you’re not hungry just thirst confused for hunger.

I learned that ages ago when I was (omg) 100 lbs heavier. Not joking. Don’t eat when you’re bored/depressed, you make horrible decisions.

Most importantly, when you walk out that door at 5:05 p.m. work stays behind those doors. Never mix life with work, they need to be kept separate. Another hard lesson Grey had to learn the hard way.

Love yourselves ❤

Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fat Man – A Christmas Poem (funny)

So for those of you that follow my Twitter, you saw my Christmas tradition of ‘Battle with the Fatman’ I do every year. The tradition continues with this year’s shenanigans. For those of you that missed it, here it is:

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,

I was waiting alone for him to come out.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

I’d lined them with noise makers to know when he’s there.

The family was nestled all snug in their beds,

Unaware of the battle that was ahead.

 

 

My dog Ketti laid in my lap, And had just settled in for an evening nap.

When out on the lawn there rose such a sound she leaped from my lap and barked very loud.

Away to the window I rushed to see,

If the fat man had finally gotten to me.

The moon shone brightly on the new fallen snow,

As I waited impatiently for him below.

 

When what to my eager eyes did appear,

but the fat man himself and nine tiny reindeer.

Faster than a bullets through the sky they flew,

And he yelled and snarled his commands to his crew.

On,dasher! On, dancer! On, prancer! and Vixen.

On, comet! On, cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!

Rudolph guide us to that home, travel fast,

For this night we’re going to kick major ass.

So up on the house top the reindeer did fly,

& I reached under the couch & gripped my .45.

 

To my utmost dread I heard on the roof,

the scraping & pawing of each little hoof.

As I tucked in my elbows & was turning around,

Down the chimney ‘Saint’ Nicholas came with a bound.

 

He was dressed in armor from his head to his foot,

and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of guns he had flung on his back,

and he looked like Clint Eastwood but…really fat.

His eyes how they squinted,

His voice, how it scratched!

And he sized me up as he struck a match.

He lit the cigar that hung from his grin,

And he gave a hearty laugh whispering, “what trouble you’re in. ”

 

He reached behind him & drew weapons with a jerk,

And said not a word as he got straight to work.

The first shot fired mere inches from my head,

And I rolled to the ground thankful to not be dead.

I took a second to gather my wits,

When the couch in front of me was blasted to bits.

 

Quicker than lightening I aimed for his face,

but the asshole had teleported to another place.

Ketti stayed hidden as the battle waged on,

the coward, no doubt, was probably long gone.

My family was clueless, or they’re fraidy cats too,

but I won’t let that stop me from killing his crew.

If I can’t take him out with any of my moves,

then I’ll aim my next shot up toward…The roof.

 

With a massive grin as the fat man gained ground,

I squeezed the trigger and he froze at the sound.

His head shot up and his body went slack,

then I lowered my weapon, aiming at his back.

This was my chance, I must make it work,

it was time that he learned to stop being a jerk.

He’d terrorized this town for the last damn time,

and my finger found the trigger as the clock began to chime.

 

The blast was deafening, but my grin stayed fixed,

I’d finally got him that jolly little bitch.

But as the smoke cleared, my grin faded away,

the bastard had managed an impossible escape.

I roared at the magical lights that filled the room,

And swear to the nine hells that I’ll get him, soon.

This year managed to be a bust,

but next year, yes, next time he will be crushed.

 

You can follow my mini-campaigns weekly on Twitter as well for more awesome adventures. ❤ Greysanta

 

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Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays!

It’s that time of year, the one that makes you reflect over the past eleven months and wonder: How did I gain another ten pounds after eating so poorly for the past two months? smh, we’ll never know.

But what I do know is that it’s a mixed bag time of year for me. One that I usually find myself contemplating over the good and the bad. I feel somewhat accomplished in my writing endeavors, having completed a few short stories and almost finished with my next novel. If you’d like to check out my work, you can read it here. 

I’ll be slowly updating them on here too with links to the other parts. If you really are enjoying my work and would like to support me, you can here. I post my work free because I’ve always been torn over charging others over it since it really is a joy of mine.

One thing I am ripped up about is I didn’t get to send my work off to a publisher this year like I’d hoped, but my goal is to do that this coming year. There’s always this still-small voice in the back of my mind that says, “you’ll never be good enough.” She won this year, unfortunately. The depression was real this year you guys.

Not because of the fact that I don’t love every moment of my life and cherish those in it, but because I shut down. To add to that, I work something like 70 hours a week and creativity can be stretched thin when you get home at 6:30 and have to go to bed at 8 to wake up at 4. I got down because I need to do this in order to survive, but my heart has always been with writing and creating. I love sitting in front of a blank canvas, or a blank google doc and just─ going to town.

I know every artist/writer out there wants to do this, but I think it really is the most important thing to us. We thrive off of expressing that creative energy, it moves us. My guilt, and downfall, has always been being timid about asking people for things. Namely, money. And I wonder if every artist struggles with this very thing.

I think: “Ok, you are going to start promoting your work and stop offering it for free.”

Then, the evil half that takes up like 80% of my brain goes, “bitch, look at these other writers and artist out there, you ain’t shit.”

Then, it happens.

I agree with her and just keep throwing it up for free. I need to get to a place emotionally where I can view my work as worthy. And see, this is where I struggle.

Those of you that read my blogs know that I come from a past that is not exactly Disney movie friendly. I find myself pushing everyone away, yet feel sad that there is no one in my life. Depression does this to you. It makes you think, “I don’t need anyone in my life, and I don’t want to be in theirs” and then later you think, “I’m so alone and need someone, why doesn’t anyone care?”

Idk, maybe because you sit on your ass eating cheetos and ignore the 9,856,420 text messages at people’s attempt to get you to hang out with them? Then eventually they stop caring because it seems like you don’t.

It’s an odd mixture of being eternally hopeful, and completely hopeless. 

It’s exhausting and annoying, even to you.

So for all my fellow sufferers out there, I just want to say that you are not alone. My Christmas will be quaint and quiet, but I’m going to force myself to have a good one this year and focus on the positives. Hopefully you will too.

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and love yourselves. ❤

Grey

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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

 

 

 

Gallery

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.