The Nightmare Time

Guest Post by: Lucille Moncrief

Inspired by Lovecraft’s Dagon and Fuseli’s The Nightmare

 

I am writing this under the sickly orange sky—the daylight fast fading, and my will along with it. My supply of The Dragon is exhausted, and I promised at its end I would drive this car into the nearest tree or telephone pole, abutment of a bridge, or even down a ravine—anything to end my life and the nightmare I’ve lived for months.

 

His name is Morpheus. He rides into my room on an anemic, ebony mare, her skin stretched over sharp ribs, maggots crawling in a stringy mane, eyes aglow with sinister intent. They smell like the dust of bones, the rot of corpses, the fear that swirls everlasting in Hell.

 

The first visit came with the last fall of the autumn leaves. I’d gone into my room in the garret that overlooked the cobblestone courtyard. I stretched out on the futon, the last smile of content against my lips, and began to drift into blessed sleep. I felt an immense weight on my chest at the base of my ribs and my heart exploded, my eyes flew open and were transfixed to the ceiling. I could not blink, I could not breathe, I could not clutch at my neck with futile panic—paralyzed, I heard the braying of death’s horse and the clomp of her determined hooves through the miasmal ether beyond the wall of unconsciousness.

 

My stomach flipped beneath hammering heart. I felt the demon straddle my frozen legs and he crawled up my prostrate form to the sit on my chest. He looked down into my terrorized face with eyes red as lava, skin the color of burlap. He inched, ever closer, until his visage eclipsed my limited sight of the room.

 

“Yes,” he said softly, like a hissing snake. His breath was a putrid sulfur that poured into my flaring nostrils. I heard the stomp of hooves on the floor as he withdrew his face, and caught the glimpse of the horse’s head in the corner of my frantic eye.

 

The pressure released with the braying of the mare and I dared not move. I began to cry softly. I didn’t sleep that afternoon or night, but after nearly two days without sleep, I gave in, and nodded off at my desk in that same garret room.

 

I don’t know how long I was out—three seconds, three hours or three days, but at last I heard the beat of hooves echoing and his putrid breath grazed the back of my neck. He hissed an eager “Yes,” and I sat upright and looked about me in the darkness. Nothing was there but my fear and confusion. I went to the futon and curled into the fetal position with my face to the wall and there I remained until the morning light awoke me.

 

Three days had passed since the demons’ last visit, and a vague sense of unease seemed to stalk me. I would put off sleeping until far too late into the night for it to be of any use. I began to take on that look of ribaldry and carousal. Little did anyone know at that time of my ordeal, I was too nervous to leave my house, instead opting for pot after pot of coffee in the tranquility of the garret room until my stomach turned to a roaring fire.

 

I can remember the still hours of the night when my desperation turned to a substance I’d been warned to abhor from my youth—the demon dragon, the red, the green and the black and furious dragon, forever chased by the gaunt-faced zombies of earthly ennui.

 

A month had passed into the week of Thanksgiving. I’d run out of coffee. The streets were noisy and crowded with the holiday revelry, and the swarm of it from my narrow window increased my anxiety. I’d waited an hour or two before venturing out. I pulled up a chair beneath the ledge and watched the crowd, eager for it to disperse. It did not. Time ticked on as my head swiveled, like I was drifting on a bobbing ocean wave. The spray of it kissed my face, clear as morning dew, and the salt of it seasoned the breath in my lungs as the gulls cried overhead. I stretched in the worn wooden skiff, sun warming my bare legs.

 

I closed my eyes and tilted my head back like the sunflower who worships Apollo. The waves of the sea gently knocked against the sides of the boat with no discernible rhythm, or…the knocking became louder, more percussive—more percussive like the clomp of hooves, and Apollo raced his chariot across the sky that soon blackened from his absence.

 

I opened my eyes and tried to stand, but the creature, hard and cold as steel, had me straddled at the knees. His face held no expression, but he jumped with webbed wings to sit on my stomach and the breath left my lungs while all about me the cimmerian ocean filled with pairs of glowing eyes. The demon pinned my hands to the side of the boat and bit at my quivering breast. A scream stuck in my throat as the boat capsized into icy depths and I awoke with the sound of the chair clattering to the floor as I gasped for breath. I lay prone, wracked with sobs—a pathetic creature. I only wished for air, precious air and sleep!

 

The thought of anymore coffee repulsed me and sent my stomach into protesting flips. I must calm my nerves and my overactive brain filled with enmity for the body that housed it. I put on my coat and my scarf—how I wished for it to be a noose, and plodded down the stairs to the back alley in bleary-eyed fury. There was a woman, an old hag, really, who stood at the corner from the setting sun to the wee hours of morning. She had a rambling shack near the waterfront that the dogs would visit for scraps she’d throw in the gutter. I hastened my steps to the edge of the dim alley and, sure enough, she was there, a new gap in her smile this time.

 

“The Dragon?” I was breathless and my muscles screamed for rest. Every move felt like rubbing salt into the wound of my shattered existence. She smiled, took my hand, and led me to the water’s edge and into the smoky and dark interior of the shack. I sat on a tattered loveseat as she handed me the hose of a hookah and I inhaled. The cushions felt like cotton and a candied haze filled my mind as I sunk into the seat. Sweet sleep and blessed, euphoric warmth!

I awoke hours later to a gnarled hand on my shoulder, stringy, dank hair brushed my cheek. I was thirsty, so very thirsty, but well rested. I handed her the money from my pocket and went back to the garret.

 

This method by which I have staved off the demon has lasted through the hard winter. But, in my infirmity I have been unable to work, and so with the freshly melted snow of spring have lost any hope of gainful employment.

 

Now redundant, I cannot pay the old woman, and yesterday and all night I was reduced to drinking pots of coffee until my insides could not take it anymore. I sat in that same chair when I drifted off again to that black ocean filled with glowing eyes that reflected the stars above, chest crushed by the demon and his putrid mare. This time, he placed his hands on either side of my frozen face and bit my lip, every beat of my heart drowned in his squalid kiss. By some unknown mercy, he released me and I clattered to the floor.

 

Is this all there is? I do not wish to find out, and have chosen instead to end my life. I write to you now in the setting sun, in the reclined seat of my sedan. I swear I put the keys in my pocket before I left my room . . . oh god, the window! Those eyes!

 

 

Yes, you were right, I am crazy.

I was going to film a video for YouTube today, talking about the things I’m going to end up typing here, but it’s 10:04 and I’m in a bathrobe. So, here we are. Me writing, you reading. Life as it should be.

My performance at the whole blog thing seems to have sucked for about two weeks now. I’ve missed a few deadlines. I’m not apologizing. Statement of fact is statement of fact. I’ve missed a couple of my self-imposed deadlines (I know how disappointed you’ve been). But I did think it high time we had an honest sit down and discuss things, very one-sidedly.

December 23, 2016, I found myself in the Urgent Care Clinic twice, once midmorning, once in the very late evening. After a traumatic year of miscarriages, death, family illness and injury; a mental illness that I had been battling mostly on my own for over a decade came to a head. I broke. I broke hard.

The nervous breakdown built up over the course of a week. Depression and anxiety set in. And it was at this point that I really started to want to die; even to feel like I deserved to die. I begged my husband to take me to UC. He asked me what they could do. I answered that they could commit me. But in my head, I was telling myself that they should kill me. I didn’t deserve to live. I thought that many times through the night. I felt dangerous, crazy, evil, and was clearly unstable.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Just not in the way that Hollywood portrays it. I do not wash my hands compulsively, my house is a disaster most days, I do not have a visible compulsion that you would readily recognize and say, “That chick has OCD.” I battle my demons in my mind. The form of OCD I suffer from is called Pure O. Cracked.com actually has a really good article about it that I recommend. Mostly because the details are still very painful and anxiety inducing to share, and I don’t want to.

Memorial Day weekend I went on a trip with my family. I forgot to pack my medication, and as a result, did not take it for three days. I was fortunate enough that this did not make me unstable, but I did spike in my, up till then, very well managed by medication and therapy, OCD anxiety symptoms. I also started a new job this week, so there’s a big change in my life. I’m still not feeling 100% (Like, 99%) myself yet (To people that take medication for mental illness, I do not recommend forgetting to take it for any length of time).

That’s where we are. That’s why I’m not sorry I’ve missed deadlines. There are nights when I have to make the choice to go to sleep and recover, or the next day gets out of hand. And I gotta tell you, spiraling is the worst hell that I can imagine. It’s the thing I am most afraid of writing about and describing in an honest way.

I love writing. I love blogging. But if there’s a night where I can’t transfer the thoughts in my journal onto the internet, it’s just not happening.

That being said, I have written about half a dozen poems in the last few days, expanded on The Convention, and wrote a dirty little song that I won’t be posting up here. So, I haven’t stopped writing. And next week will be better, and so will the next week after that. I hope you’ll keep taking this journey with me. I’ve loved seeing the outpouring of support, I cannot adequately express my gratitude that you all take the time out of your day to read my words and interact with me. It is the sweet balm to my heart that I live for.

I love you all,

Amanda Heiser

 

Illuminating Love

You are the harsh light of the sun

broken by prisms,

cascading into a thousand fractured rainbows

across my soul.

You illuminate all that I am

in the soft glow of translucent color.

Could I stand to search the deepest

shadows of my heart without that loving glow?

No!

And so,

Alight on me with you dream like love.

Show me all that I am, in your eyes.

And, perhaps, I will see myself as you do,

and be happy.

Earth As It Is: An Excerpt

The following is a two chapter excerpt from Earth As It Is, a novel by Jan Maher, posted with the permission of the author. Ordering information is included at the end.

CHAPTER 1

HEAVEN, INDIANA, 1964

Helen Breck knew something was wrong. Just knew it. Charlene Bader never missed an appointment with a customer. Not in the nearly nineteen years her shop had been open. The women of Heaven counted on Charlene’s Beauty Shop like they counted on social hour at church. She was more dependable than their dependable husbands, more faithful than the US mail. But then, even the US mail had been delayed since Saturday by the awful wave of snow and ice storms that had hit. For six nights and five days Heaven had frozen over. It was beautiful in its way, like a crystal palace in a fairy tale, but treacherous.

Of course, Charlene would have canceled any appointments she had at the beginning of the week when no one could walk or drive safely. The ice and bitter cold made for a deadly combination that anyone with sense would surely know better than to challenge. But now the temperature was climbing, snow was melting, streets and sidewalks were passable, and phones were mostly back in service. No, something was definitely wrong.

Helen knocked once on the beauty shop door, twice, waited a minute, then a third time before picking her way back through the sidewalk ice patches to her car. She sat for a moment trying to take deep breaths, tapping her gloved fingers on the steering wheel. She had come to rely on her monthly visit to Charlene as the one time she could speak her mind more or less freely without fear of hearing her words boomerang back on her through the gossip mill. Today, she’d hoped to discuss a new investment opportunity with the hairdresser. No one else in Heaven, including Helen’s husband Lester, even knew she had investments. The strangeness of Charlene’s shop being locked up tight made her chest tighten. Settle down, she told herself. Maybe … but try as she might, she could not for the life of her think of a way to end that sentence positively. She put the car in gear and drove the two blocks to Clara’s Kitchen where she borrowed the phone. It was an effort to dial with numb shaky hands, but she managed. There was no answer either at Charlene’s home or at her shop. Helen’s next call was to Harry Hess down at the police station.

Harry tried at first to calm her fears with reason, then thought better of it. Helen was, as everyone knew, a little around the bend. Had been ever since the death of her daughter Melinda a decade earlier. No, it wouldn’t do to perturb Helen Breck. Harry swung by Clara’s Kitchen in his patrol car and, together, he and Helen drove back up the street to Charlene’s Beauty Shop. It remained closed. They drove on to Charlene’s house.

Harry noted that the short walkway from the street to the porch was still quite icy, though there was crusty snow piled on both sides, a sure sign that Charlene had at least tried to keep up with the weather that had dumped white stuff on the town and surrounding area for almost a week.

They made their way carefully. He held Helen’s elbow and could feel her nervous tension right through the sleeve of the heavy wool coat she wore. It made him nervous, too.

Having safely gained the porch, Harry rang the doorbell, then knocked. After waiting a respectable time for a response and hearing none, he tested the door. It opened easily, but this in itself was not a concern. No one in Heaven locked doors.

Seeing an empty living room and kitchen, he headed down the short hallway to check the bedroom.

Helen’s scream brought him back. Rushing to the sound, he found her pale, shaking, standing in the bathroom over the crumpled form of Charlene Bader, who lay face down on the floor by a full tub of water, clad in a baby-blue terrycloth bathrobe.

Harry dropped to his knees and rolled her over. He held a hand to her mouth and another to her neck, feeling for signs of life. Charlene’s skin was rough and cold. He felt no breath, no pulse.

Helen shrieked again, and her scream could have been his own. Charlene’s bathrobe had fallen open. Charlene was undeniably dead. And Charlene Bader was undeniably a man.

CHAPTER 2

DALLAS, TEXAS, 1933

Charlie Bader was alone in his house for the first time since his wedding night. He’d taken such great care these past five months to avoid just this circumstance, but now here he was.

At his office, surrounded by metal drills and enameled pans, sterile hard surfaces and sharp-tipped picks, he could suppress his urges; there was nothing to feed them. Today, though, his last patient had canceled so Charlie was free to lock up and leave early. He might have walked over to Sorgerstrom’s to accompany his wife Anne home when she was finished working for the day, but it was too early for that. He had a full hour and a half with nothing to do. So now he was alone, standing in their bedroom.

His mind went in two directions at once. Anne, beautiful Anne, the love of his life. After all these months, Charlie still couldn’t believe his luck: that she’d allowed him to court her, to propose, to marry her, to share her bed.

The halo of honey-blonde hair that framed her face was what he’d first noticed, that day a year ago when he’d accepted his landlady Mrs. Hesher’s invitation to attend Sunday services at Christ of Calvary Church. Next, it was her golden voice. Her sweet soprano lifting above the others to sing of laying one’s burdens at the feet of the Lord gladdened his heart. And when she’d made it a point to smile at his invalid sister Hannah, sat down to chat with the girl in the wheelchair, asked her questions and listened patiently as she struggled to push through her Parkinson’s to answer them, Charlie was entirely smitten. Anne was a righteous Christian, warm, caring, and beautiful. Quite simply, he adored her.

At this moment, however, as he stood in the bedroom of their small house, it was Anne’s nightgown that won the battle in his mind. This was the burden Charlie Bader was unable to lay down: his need for softness.

He’d discovered that, too, in church, as a child sandwiched in the pew between his father’s scratchy wool suit and his mother’s Sunday best. At five, he’d begun hiding in the closet where her dress and the faux fox fur she wore in cooler months spent the workweek. There, he could sit on the old steamer trunk, wrap the fox collar around his neck, rest against the cool fabric of the dress, and try to decide which he loved to feel the most. Was it the luxurious strip of fur, or the silkiness of the skirt? Or perhaps the satin lining on the belly of the fox collar?

He’d struggled with this desperately secret and damnable habit all through his childhood, through his move from Kirbyville to Dallas to attend dental school, right up to his honeymoon; but he’d sworn to stop it once he was married, and for five months, he’d succeeded. The scarves he’d bought for Hannah but borrowed while she slept stayed put in her dresser drawer unless she requested one. The cashmere sweater he’d gifted her with lay untouched unless she decided to wear it.

Anne, unwittingly, had made matters more difficult for Charlie by taking over care of Hannah’s hair. Before the marriage, it was Charlie who combed it, worked the tangles out, braided and twisted it into the latest styles for his sister to admire in the mirror. After the wedding, Charlie’s only opportunity to run his fingers through Hannah’s thick tresses was the one evening a week Anne attended the missionary study group at church and Charlie was the one who brushed the braids out and helped her into bed.

Then Hannah’s disease worsened, and they’d had to put her in a nursing home. Now, the only softness he had access to was Anne’s nightgown and matching robe. When he embraced her, he embraced her robe as well. When they were intimate with one another, he was glad her sense of propriety prompted her to keep the nightgown on. He made love to them both: Anne and her gown.

Every day except Sunday, his angel wife worked for Mr. Sorgerstrom at the five and dime. And every day she worked, she got off when the store closed at six o’clock, then walked twenty minutes to get home. Charlie checked the clock. He had just over an hour. He opened the closet door and reached in to run his fingers along the cool, satiny folds of his wife’s robe.

How could he have known that this afternoon, as he stood caressing the sateen, Mr. Sorgerstrom had told Anne to go early? That she’d done a bit of shopping, and would soon be home? She’d have been there already except that, on an impulse, she’d stopped on the way to say hello to her husband’s old landlady, Mrs. Hesher.

Mrs. Hesher, the weathered widow who had first introduced them in church, had taken a special interest in them as two orphans of the great influenza epidemic, and considered herself personally responsible for their happiness. While Charlie was stripping off his shirt and pants, Mrs. Hesher was plying Anne with tea and cookies. While Charlie was slipping into the silky gown, Anne was updating Mrs. Hesher on Hannah’s move to the nursing home (the doctors say most folks who get the Parkinson’s after having sleepy sickness are a lot older; it’s so sad, but she needs a level of care we just can’t provide any longer) and Charlie’s dental practice (doing better than most, thanks to a patient with simply dreadful teeth but excellent luck who struck oil on his land). While Charlie was regarding himself in the mirror, pushing his pectorals into small breast shapes, his wife was inquiring about Mrs. Hesher’s son, who, shell-shocked and fragile, had finally come out of two decades of hiding in his room and gotten on with the WPA to help a muralist. While Anne was asking Mrs. Hesher the secret to making a hearty, lump-free sauce so she could surprise Charlie with biscuits and gravy for supper that night, Charlie was sitting at Anne’s dressing table, reminiscing about his mother’s dress and fox fur. He couldn’t know that Mrs. Hesher was dabbing a bit of cologne behind Anne’s ears, counseling her with a wink and a twinkle in her eye to woo her husband with the scent. He couldn’t know she was sending Anne on her way home at that very moment.

Because it was still well before six o’clock, he allowed himself to tend to his nails. It was one thing he’d found he could do that no one seemed to notice.

* * *

“What …” Anne stood in the bedroom doorway, unable to comprehend the scene she’d stumbled onto. All the happy thoughts of how to delight her husband with sweet smells and favorite dishes vanished in the split second it took her to register what she saw there. Her Charlie Bader, the handsome, up-and-coming dentist, her husband wearing the peach-colored sateen dressing gown that had been the centerpiece of her bridal trousseau.

Charlie jumped up, frantic, from the dressing table, whirled away from her, stripped the robe off, yanked his pants on, and only then dared turn to face her.

“I’m sorry … I …”

Anne stared, stammering. Her Charlie? “What are you … why … what does … how could …?”

“I’m sorry.” Charlie’s hands fluttered, trying to give him something to hide behind. “I wanted to tell you. I was afraid you’d … you wouldn’t understand.”

Anne found her voice. It erupted, burned her throat, poured out of her. “Wouldn’t understand what? You in my … Charlie, how could you? How could you court me and marry me and … and … and touch me when all along you knew you were …”

“But I’m not …”

“I am not blind, Charlie Bader! I just saw you. I saw you …” She couldn’t bear to give name to the spectacle. Her gown. Him wearing her gown. “You have lied to me. You have lied your way into my life, into my heart, into my bed. I was pure for you, but you have touched my body with your perverted hands and … and …” She flew into frenetic action, grabbing her clothes, her suitcase from the back of the closet, wrenching open the drawers of her bureau and feeding the clothes into the open maw of the luggage.

“Please, Anne, please don’t. What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“That is not one bit of your business!” She yanked her blouses and skirts off the closet rod and folded them, yes folded them. She would have order. She would make something fit. She would make. Things. Fit.

“Please don’t leave.” He choked on the words. “I can’t live without you. Anne, I’ll move out till you’ll have me back. I’ll sleep at the office. Just stay, please stay.” Even as he offered this desperate bargain, he felt a pit-of-stomach despair knowing it was hopeless.

She slammed the case shut. “I’ll need a day to arrange travel. I will not stay under the same roof with you. I’m going into the kitchen till you leave. Let me know when you’re on the way out,” she hissed at him, then burst into sobs and ran from the room.

Charlie found her there, hands on the edge of the stove, holding herself up. “I’m going now,” he spoke to the back of her head. “I know I have no right to ask you anything, but please, don’t tell anyone. It will ruin me.”

She refused to turn, to look at him. “Don’t worry,” she said bitterly. “What do you think people would say about me if they knew I didn’t have the sense to recognize a pansy boy? I don’t need anyone feeling sorry for me.”

“It’s not what you think. It really isn’t. I’m not one of those … I don’t … It’s you I love.”

“Just go.”

“Will you let me explain?”

“Go.”

“I do love you. With all my heart. It’s not what you think. It’s …”

“Get out, please. Now.” Though he could not see her face he knew her chin jutted out and he knew from her voice she was crying through her harsh words. That was the last he saw of her. The points of her shoulder blades, the stiffness of her neck, the rigid way she held her arms against the stovetop edge.

Charlie hoped against hope that she’d reconsider. His heart leapt, when he awakened the next morning in his dental chair, at the sight of a note slid under his office door. He rushed to read it, but it only said that he could come back to the house now because she was gone, and not to come after her. She was headed to New Boston, where there was a missionary group that trained people for service in French West Africa. If her husband’s soul was irretrievably lost, at least maybe she could save a few savages. He stood for a few moments holding the note, staring at it. Yes, his soul was lost. Gone forever with his beautiful bride. In its place, a hollowing and hopeless thing growing. He tore the note into tiny pieces, took them home to the backyard, and buried them.

* * *

Hannah spoke so softly it was difficult to hear what she asked. Charlie knelt by his sister’s wheelchair and cupped his hand to his ear.

“What did you say?”

“Where is Anne?”

“She’s gone away for a while.”

Hannah’s eyes looked like they wanted to say something, but her mouth refused to push any more sound out.

“She asked me to tell you hello for her.”

Charlie could feel Hannah staring at him, even as he looked away, avoiding direct eye contact. Oh, he hated this dissembling. He’d never lied to his sister before. She was so fond of Anne, what could he tell her? That he was sorry, but she’d found him wearing her lingerie and left him? That now that she’d found out about this unnatural thing he felt compelled to do, they’d never, neither one of them, see her again?

Maybe someday he could figure out a way to explain. Tell Hannah how it had always been this way, even before she was born. That he’d just get urges and have to do something about it. Maybe she could understand. It was never something he intended to do, not really. More like an itch that would start as a tickle and grow until — every now and then — it just had to be scratched.

Maybe someday Hannah would forgive him for causing the only person in her life she loved besides him to vanish from her pitifully limited world. She asked for so little. As her disease closed in on her, she bore it with stubborn grace. But everyone could tell she was delighted beyond measure when Anne and Charlie visited her. And though Charlie was the one she performed somersaults for when she was three and splashed in the creek with when she was seven, the one who nursed her through her long illnesses and indulged her insistence that he move them to Dallas to become one of Texas’s first certified dentists, Anne was the person who brought the world of womanhood to her. The one who made her feel fashionable. The one who shared sisterly secrets with her. The one who could make her feel almost normal. It was Anne who could bring a smile to her face that cut through the disease-imposed mask.

Hannah was trying to talk again. Again, Charlie cupped his hand to his ear and leaned in to hear. “Charlie.”

“Yes, Hannah?”

“Will she come to see me next week?”

“I don’t know, Hannah. I don’t think so. But it’s not your fault. It’s my fault.”

“What did you do?”

“I disappointed her.”

“How?”

“I’ll tell you someday. I promise. Don’t blame Anne.”

“Charlie?”

“Yes?”

“You didn’t … break your vows?”

“No, Hannah. I love Anne too much. I kept the commandents.” He attempted a grin, hoping this deliberate use of her childhood mispronunciation would amuse and distract her, but instead he had to swallow hard to stifle grief.

“Charlie?”

“Yes?”

He waited a long time, but Hannah’s energy for speaking was gone. She lapsed into silence. Only her hands moved, rhythmically rolling against her thighs. Her face was impassive, save a tear that trickled down her left cheek. Finally, Charlie spoke again.

“Hannah, there’s something else I need to tell you. I’m going to move on up to Chicago. Dallas would be too far away for me to visit you more than a couple of times a year, so I’ve found a place for you to stay in Indianapolis. They have other folks there like you, with the Parkinson’s, so they’ll know how to care for you better. I’ll take you up next week, and I’ll come to see you just as often as I can. I’ll come every weekend if I can.” He paused again, wrestling emotion to maintain his composure.

Hannah stared at the wall.

“I need a fresh start. I need to start over again. I need to go where no one knows me. No one.”

“Charlie…”

“What?”

“Do braids for me. The kind you used to do right after Mama died.”

“Of course.” Charlie moved behind her chair and pulled his fingers through her thick blonde hair. He could feel his sister relax as he worked the tangles out, and fashioned two French braids. It comforted him, too.

They sat for another twenty minutes or so, Charlie watching Hannah, Hannah watching the wall. Then the nurse came to get her ready for an afternoon nap.

From Earth As It Is, by Jan Maher, published by Break Away Books

Ordering information on author’s website, janmaher.com It’s also available on through Amazon.com on Kindle and in print.

 

Someone Dies at the End

It was the Ultimate Box: 152 crayons in a dazzling array of every color you could imagine; even the glittery and metallic ones. Stacy was thrilled, it was just what she had asked for. When she opened the mega coloring book wrapped beside it, her birthday was complete. Coloring was Stacy’s favorite.

She even ate a piece of the gluten free, dye free, birthday cake her mother had made with all the quickness and smiles her five-year-old self could manage. Saying thank you, she grabbed her presents and ran to her room. She leapt onto her unmade bed, cuddled into the rufflely purple covers, and opened her box of new, shiny crayons.

Picking a picture in the middle of her new coloring book, Stacy grabbed the metallic green from her box and furiously colored in a kitten. She followed it with red, for the kitten’s eyes; the kitten sat on a blue chair, in a pink room, with yellow carpets. There was also a fireplace in the room, and Stacy colored that with purple, with an orange fire. When she was done, Stacy colored five more pictures in the same fashion, and then it was time for bed.

That night, the Neutral colors started to get, only a little, upset at not being used much. Stacy mostly liked the Vibrants. As the week progressed, and Stacy colored more and more pictures in her imaginative way, the Neutrals became more noticeably upset during the night, they found their lack of use disturbing, they feared getting thrown out.

The Vibrants couldn’t understand what the others went on about; they felt so over used, with their papers peeled back while they were worn away to nubs. Some colors had even been used all the way up. Instead of trying to understand the Neutrals, the Vibrants were mad at being so put upon.

Neither side could understand the other. Each was angry. Stacy just kept coloring.

One day, Mauve, not being quite purple enough for Stacy’s taste, and having never been used, had enough of the bickering. Neutrals may not be used much, but they did still get used, when Stacy was more realistic. But Not Mauve. And Vibrants should feel so lucky to be colored with, they were crayons, that was their purpose!

In the night, Mauve, knowing she wouldn’t be listened to, jumped from the box and landed on the wood floor of Stacy’s room right as Mom checked on the girl. Mauve was stepped on, and all the colors were shocked to see the color broken into pieces. Mom looked down, noticed the broken crayon and threw Mauve into Stacy’s waste basket.

And so, united by horror and sadness, the Crayon box mourned their lost friend and felt the hole where Mauve was missing. The crayons around the hole couldn’t stand like before, and missed Mauve even more.

Until Saturday morning, when Stacy woke up to color a giant poster, all-day-long. And again, the box was divided.

A Blue Happily Ever After

Once upon a time, there was a world in which everyone was very, very sad. All the people in this world were terribly unhappy, and it seemed like there was nothing much of anything to be done for it. A general sense of moroseness pervaded all society.

It was a blue world. Everything everyone saw was blue. The houses were blue, the windows of the houses were blue. The trees, and the leaves on the trees were also blue. Songs were written to commiserate the blueness of this world. It was a very sad, very blue world.

And then, one day, an astronaut journeyed away from his miserable, blue planet, with his blue love interest, and their Blue Tick Coonhound (that ironically was an odd shade of gray with dark colored ears and spots—but it matched the blue world and everyone was too depressed to mention it).

The astronaut finally landed on a new world—it was, predictably, not blue; not that the dog knew any different. Also, as predictable as it was to find a world that wasn’t blue (it was the astronaut’s mission to find such a place) the astronaut was still mostly shocked. His love interest was not shocked; they were mildly awed by the colors, but not shocked.

Yellow sun filled the air, and a light breeze blew the scent of wild flowers through their blue hair. Suddenly, the astronaut and his love interest, even the dog, felt less—blue. Not so very sad. Maybe even a little happy.

The love interest laughed.

The astronaut laughed in response to the love interest’s laughter.

The dog couldn’t laugh, but his tail wagged, and that was cute.

So, knowing this world was happier, the astronaut and his love interest, and their gray dog, returned to the depressing, morose, far too blue world. They talked to Blue World NASA (which was properly funded at the time) and a transplant mission was born.

The blue world wasn’t a very big world, or a very populous world, so it only took about ten moderately sized space craft to move everyone to the new, happier, sun shiny, Not Blue World.

The astronaut, his love interest, their (not blue) dog, and the rest of the blue civilization made it to the Not Blue World, and everyone was happy. The dog was mostly confused, but happy nonetheless.

The End.

This story first appeared in response to a writing prompt on reddit.com and can be found at the following link: 

https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/64vj44/wp_tired_of_all_gloom_and_doom_in_this_world_tell/dg5hnn5/

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Dead Rising

Zane watched as the woman bathed in the frigid river beneath him. The tree he perched in giving him a full visual of her as she splashed the icy liquid against her skin, while the night breeze enveloped her. For a moment, he was thankful that the utilities of the neighboring town had been cut off when healthy humans sought permanent shelter from the diseased, rather than working to keep such civilized accoutrements going.

Her skin seemed to glow in the moonlight. Zane was particularly mesmerized by the water drops that clung to her body as the rest ran in rivulets down her curving hips, and could easily read the tension that racked her by how tight she held her shoulders. She never relaxed, even under his coven’s protection. None of them did, really. He couldn’t blame them, not as he swallowed against the burning in his throat. Scant months ago, he’d be stalking her for a one-time meal, enjoying the sensuality of her bathing in the night, only for a moment, before he made his deadly attack.

A twig broke in the surrounding forest. In unison, they snapped their necks toward the sound, only Zane could hear the soft shuffling of the leaves that followed.

“Damn!” The sanctuary of the river, and his quiet revelry, were abandoned as he leapt from the tree and swooped up his charge. “Thank God you weigh so little, Maria.” He sprinted her back to the safety of the community high school, only yards from the river. He carried her, farther still, into the building’s basement for a fresh supply of clothes from the storage locker.

Maria shook from the cold and fear, and had trouble with the buttons on a yellow blouse he’d grabbed for her. He reached out to assist. She didn’t push his hands away, instead she let her arms fall to her sides in defeat as tears of stress pooled in her eyes.

“Thank you for saving me, Zane.”

“It’s not a favor, Maria.” He reminded her, as he folded down the shirt’s collar, pausing to caress her neck and feel her still racing pulse beneath, lightly gripping her throat, his dark eyes baring down into hers as they widened again in terror.

Her shaking abruptly stopped and she froze in place, her tears drying instantly as the fresh fear gripped her body. He could feel all her primitive impulses rushing to keep her safe. He reveled in it, and couldn’t contain a whisper of a smile as he felt her pulse race faster still. In the school, she faced a danger of a different kind than what she found down at the river, as did all her companions resting fitfully above them behind locked doors and barricaded windows.

The waves of fear that emanated from her served as reminders, to them both, that the alliance between humans and vampires was fragile and born only of necessity. Humans needed protection from a disease born of their precious science and thirst for war, while vampires needed to protect their food source.

“There’s a strict no biting rule in the compound,” she choked out. Her voice trembled in time with the beat of her heart. The whisper of a smile that danced across his lips before grew to a menacing, fang filled, barking laugh.

“The rules exist for our sake, Human Girl, not for yours.” He dropped his hand from her neck and left her standing there wide eyed and alone. He knew she was safe, even in a den of his own kind. Eventually she’d run back to the relative peace of her family’s room and lock the door; a joke in itself, any vampire could break through such meager defenses.

He stalked down a dark corridor, annoyance cloying at him, as he made his way to the pantry refers. The survival of humans ensured the survival of vampires, and as such the coven couldn’t risk succumbing to their own blood lust by drinking from the warm and supple source of their food. Reaching his destination, he walked into the bitter cold of the deep stand up refrigerator and reached for a bag of blood lovingly donated by one of the humans in the herd sleeping above his head.

Zane grimaced against the first sip of the liquid, it tasted vile, cold and stored so far away from its host. But it tasted better than inevitable starvation if the zombies outside infected every human. There were already precious few healthy humans left in this dystopian world.

So, the herd of humans, locked behind the barricaded doors of the high school, were safe; at least from the vampires that needed them alive.

Above is the beginning of a project I’ll  be continuing in the future and you should see more during the coming months. To those of you who’ve encouraged me to continue, you’ve gotten your wish, but the rest isn’t ready yet ;). Like my last piece, it began as a humble answer to a writing prompt on reddit. It’s grown past that for me. 

Remember to like and share. Leave a comment if you have any feedback! I love hearing from you. 

Review of Brad Carl’s Debut Novel: Grey Areas

I first had the pleasure of talking with Brad Carl on twitter, when I was just getting my account started and finding my first followers. Through this entire ‘me trying to review his book’ process he has been the most supportive, understanding guy to talk with. I was supposed to have this review up weeks ago, and then last Friday, and then yesterday… we all see how that has worked out for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, he did offer this book to me for free. HOWEVER, he offers everyone the first book in his Grey Areas Saga for free. And you just can’t beat free. It’s the lowest you can go.

So, I undertook reading it.  And I knew right away that I wanted it to be the first book I reviewed on Amanda Heiser Writes.

The novel opens with Henry Fields moving to the very small town of Gable, Iowa. Please envision corn field after glorious green cornfield. He quickly gets hired at the local gas station and asks to be paid in cash. Across the way is a diner where he meets Claire Mathison, and though Henry is mysterious and certainly shies away from personal details, Claire is very much attracted to him.

The story moves slowly at the beginning. And the action-filled payoff happens quickly. But Brad does well with the characterization of Henry and Claire in the meantime, I’m very excited to read their adventures in the future books (especially seeing as how the first ends in a cliffhanger).

Henry is very clearly running from his past, but the subtle build up and the suspense of waiting to find out what he’s running from was written well. You could also tell that Henry was very practiced at noticing details and categorizing people in the way that each character he meets is described. I’d normally fault an author for showing, not telling, but I really think that it works well in how Henry is developed. It also leads me to question just how long he’s been running, and what kind of background he has. That kind of attention to detail doesn’t come out of nowhere, and I wonder if he’s been trained. I hope to see this explained further as I keep reading this saga.

Claire is straightforward and strong willed. At least in the beginning. Some of her first conversations with Henry really had me rooting for the small-town girl. I was a little disappointed with how she approaches Henry when she’s ready to move the relationship forward. It was a stereotypical weak girl moment, and after being painted in such a strong light, it was a jarring and seemed out of character. I’m hoping to see her strength played to in the next three books. It’s rare to read about strong secondary women, and I don’t want to see her be the classic damsel in distress.

I believe that the next books are set up well. Most of the background information seems to be out front now. This was also Brad Carl’s debut novel; I would expect the pacing to be a bit faster through the rest of the saga as well. I’ll let you know as I read them.

Now, I’m not one for blowing smoke up anyone’s bum; I liked this book. I have every intention of paying for and reading the next three books in the saga. And when there’s a wealth of free reading material on the internet (shameless plug of self-promotion), wanting to pay money for a book by a relatively unknown author matters. You may not walk away thinking you’ve read (INSERT CLASSIC MYSTERY BY WELL KNOWN, FAVORED AUTHOR OF YOUR CHOICE HERE); but I really think, if you give Grey Areas a chance, you’re going to want to read the next three books too.

 

The Way It Feels: Part 1

it’s like sweat dripping

no

pouring

drowning you

like ocean waves

in the very hottest moments of summer

you.

feel.

every.

second.

like clocks ticking

every clock ticking

amilliontickingclocks.

amilliontickingclockssurroundingyouspinningallaroundyou

ticktickticking

your face feels hot-

from the sweating?

NO

that can’t be right

you’re shaking

you’re freezing cold

why are you so cold?

it’s so hot

 you’re sweating

no

you must be cold

you’re shaking

you must be cold

 

your heart is choking the breath from your throat

it beats off time from the ticking clocks

somehow

that’s worse

your mind doesn’t know what to listen too

but

someone punched you in the stomach

you’re heaving

but the vomit

can’t.

make it.

past.

your heart.

so you lay on the floor

your burning face against the cool flat surface

the world tilting

while you shake from cold

your heart beating so fast

and so hard

you feel like you’re dying

you must be dying

your stomach heaves against your protesting body

this is what dying feels like

you must be dying

you can’t breathe your gasping against your hulking misplaced heart while the darkness closes in starting from your peripherals and fading to the center

you gasp

and heave

and clutch your sides

on the cool floor

your face hot

sweating

your body shaking cold

 

 

 

The Convention

Chloe Michaels had spent nearly two hours getting ready for what she’d thought was a local Comic Con. Her friends had bought her the ultimate Harley Quinn costume, it was the perfect blend of comic styles and it fit her exactly how she’d dreamt of looking since she’d learned of the convention. As perfect as her costume was, the day started to shift almost upon leaving her house. In the parking lot of her apartment complex she had found Trent Howard, an odd college classmate, dressed as the Joker, with flowers and a smile that almost surely meant he thought they were going on a date. Her friends had set her up. She sighed to herself. Awkward as spending the day with Trent would be, she didn’t have the heart to hurt his feelings.

She could tell he was as shocked as she when they arrived, not at a Comic Con, but what could only be the largest Clown Convention a small midwestern town had ever seen.

“This could still be fun…” Trent offered, trailing off.  He’d been sweet the whole drive to the convention center, sweeter than she was used to, by a wide margin. He’d let her pick the music, even when he grimaced at her Top Hits selection. He’d turned off the air conditioner when she’d gotten cold, even though he wore a purple suit, in June.  He’d tried his damnedest to make conversation, even though it was painfully stilted when it became clear he’d never actually read a comic before; he’d just really wanted a chance to get to know her. So, she pulled her black lipstick coated mouth into a genuine smile and said,

“Sure! Let’s give it a try.” Taking in the candy-striped fabric wrapped around the front pillars of the convention center, she added, “It looks like a carnival, maybe they have funnel cake.”

After some time walking through throngs of joking clowns, finding a hundred things to laugh about with Trent, Chloe realized just how much fun she was having. But no enjoyment could delay the inevitable for long. Excusing herself, disappointed to be gone for even a moment, she went to find a bathroom. Dazed by her attraction to a man she’d tried to gently avoid for months, she wandered through the convention center, following the signs the best her distracted mind could, and nearly entered the wrong toilet. Pushing a strand of black hair from her made up face, she giggled nervously at an imposing male clown as he scowled down at her from the door frame of the men’s room. Quickly, she turned to the correct door and yanked it open. Her embarrassment lasted only seconds as it was blasted away at the force of the gruesome scene before her.

Frozen with terror, she could only stare at the sight of fresh blood spreading across the tiled floor. The sprawling body of a female clown lay at the center with brightly painted open eyes locked onto the door Chloe stood in, staring passed everything and nothing in view; her long, curly, teal wig soaking up the blood, creating a ghastly ombre.

“Chloe?” She heard Trent call from farther down the corridor. Had she been gone for so long? She couldn’t make herself reply, still spellbound by the mangled body so casually left in the women’s restroom.

“Chlo—“ Trent came up beside her, but stopped short as carnage came into view, she could feel the horror emanate from him and compound her own. As the two stood processing the violence, the body jerked. Chloe leapt to the woman’s side on instinct, realizing the woman must be alive somehow. She looked back to see Trent reaching for her. Had he called her name again? She looked back down at the woman. Had she imagined the dead stare from before? The bloodied clown’s eyes had closed.

Chloe heard a garbled scream and turned in time to see Trent slump away from a clown dressed in a garish red pin stripped suit, its face painted with theater masks on either cheek. A crimson silk cloak dragged behind him, giving him the imposing figure of a villain from her comic books. He wielded a knife forged from her every nightmare, dripping in the blood of her almost lover.

The shocked terror that kept her frozen before turned to a mobilizing panic that had her scrambling backwards, slipping in the blood of the monster’s first victim. Screams roiled in her chest, clawing their way as far up her throat as they could.

She swung her arm at the nearest toilet stall, praying for a way out of her trap, but finding, instead, another mutilated clown corpse hanging from the industrial piping in the ceiling. Now screams did come.

The red clown seemed to float slowly across the floor, stalking her, taking one step for every six thrumming beats of her racing heart. Still she screamed. As the clown neared, with his laughing, crying mouth, twisted by gray paint and prosthetic makeup, he raised his bloodied weapon, ready to strike.

Still, she screamed.

She felt her back push against the cold tiled wall at the edge of her prison. The clown’s knife poised high above her, ready to fall and quell her scream, when the loud bang of a gun fired out, filling the space and drowning out Chloe’s screaming voice.

The clown, face unreadable behind his illusionary grimace, fell onto her, his knife scrapping at the tile next her ear.

Voices and chaos filled the small bathroom as the convention center’s security personnel moved in to take stock of the violence. Voices asked her questions. The clown was lifted off her. She was carried out of the room.

Still she screamed.

This story idea was submitted by R.J. Castiglione, a fellow writer. Check out his author website at https://rjcastiglione.com/ ! 

Sorry the post made it up just a –tiny– bit late tonight. However, I maintain that I did get it up before the final midnight of April 26, 2017. Hawaii is three hours behind Seattle. 

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