october

He was a skeleton. All that had been soft and round was now sharp bone, withered muscle and loose skin. His brown eyes sat in gaunt hollows of dark flesh, his cheekbones sculpted and lean. “Do I look bad?” he’d say, desperate for me to admit the inevitable. “No.” I’d smile. He’d look away, disappointed with my kind dishonesty.

Only weeks ago, when he was not yet cadaverous, when he could still walk and smile and laugh, we’d driven to Malibu and walked on the sand. And then on up to Zuma to climb his favorite bluff. Up one side, across the top and then down the other, there was a steep trail — hill on one side, a drop to the ocean on the other — that led to a ledge he loved. A small patch of earth clinging to the cliff with a jaw-dropping view of the water below.

He jumped the small crevasse, landing on the patch. His hand to me, I followed, never liking this bit but wanting to please him. And we sat, his arm around my shoulder, ocean below, the sun on the horizon, the sea breeze buffeting us. At one point I heard him sigh. I glanced up. There was a tear in his eye and a tremble in his lip. I told myself it was because of the sun.

Weeks later, in October, the skeleton could no longer move, smile, laugh. He was now in bed, three pillows under his head, two under his back. The lesions feasting on his intestines making it impossible for him to lie flat. His hands swollen and red, no longer able to grip or grasp. His feet swollen and purple, red, black. “My slippers,” he’d say between gasps and moans and sobs. “I’m cold.” And then he’d scream when I tried to put them on, his feet way too big and wounded. So when he whispered again “My slippers,” I lied, assuring him they were already on. “Thank you,” he whispered before falling asleep.

It’d been three days since I’d eaten, the fridge and cupboards bare. Sleep had come in the form of brief cat naps, seated at the foot of the bed, listening for any movement. He’d come back from the hospital only days ago with a shunt in his head and IV tubes in his chest and his arm. A health care worker had come by, once, to show me how to inject the medicine into his head, his chest and his arm. The head was once every two weeks, the chest and arm three times a day. “How old are you?” she’d said, perhaps worried that someone so young had been given such a great task. I’d told her. “And you understand the situation?” I’d nodded, shrugged. Still believed it was a phase and all would be well. She’d sighed and left.

In his less lucid moments, he’d try to bang his head against the wall, pull the tube out of his chest or scratch the tube out of his arm. It was important he do none of these so my days and nights were spent watching him. I could not leave to get food. I could not leave to get a breath of fresh air. To leave was to risk him injuring himself. I used the restroom with the door open, my eyes not leaving him. I still believed this was temporary and he’d be well.

“He’s dying,” the EMT said. It was after midnight. I’d called 911 to have them move him from the bed to the couch. It was easier for me to help him that way. And with the lesions destroying him from the inside out and his feet swollen and weeping, he couldn’t walk or crawl and I alone, exhausted, hungry, weak, didn’t have the strength to move him.

“He’s dying,” the man said again, only softer. As if realizing this was news to me. That I had yet to accept the inescapable. I heard myself speaking. A distant voice sounding hollow, disconnected, somehow cheery, thanking him for his time and apologizing for bothering them. I remember him leaving. The door closing behind him. I remember looking at the familiar skeleton now on the couch and hearing “He’s dying.” And, closing my eyes, refusing to believe it.

I had fifteen minutes. One of his friends had come by to watch him while I ran to the pharmacy to get morphine and then to Subway to get a footlong. And so, weak and dizzy, I had shoved my sneakers on and rushed down the hill to Santa Monica Blvd, filled the prescription and, armed with less cash than I anticipated – the morphine costing more than I expected – barely had enough for a six inch sandwich. If I cut the halves in half and then in quarters, I reasoned, it’d last me a few days. And he’d be better by then, right? At least I was going to eat.

The friend was gone when I got back and Couch Guy was fiddling with the tube in his chest. “Stop!” I said. His hand paused in midair and then rested by his side. Ignoring the dosage, I gave him his first spoonful of morphine and sat on the floor, the sandwich waiting, unwrapped, in front of me. I sighed, too tired and scared to take a bite.

“Jump!” he said, his voice barely a whisper. From somewhere in his morphine haze, he stood on a cliff. “Jump!” he said again. I smoothed his eyebrow with my thumb, willing him calm. He sighed and drifted back to sleep.

Witching Hour. All’s quiet. He sleeps, calm, drugged, peaceful. I watch him. Lean close. Say his name and then “I love you.” I move closer. Press my nose to his, my thumb once again gliding over his eyebrow. “I love you,” I say louder, desperate for him to hear me. He stirs. The eyes open and then close. “I love you, too,” he says and then he sleeps.

The doctor stared at me. He was speaking. We were in the hospital. The emergency room. An hour after that last “I love you, too” he’d gone into cardiac arrest on the couch. 911 was called. The same EMTs from before had arrived, trundled him into the ambulance and rushed him to Cedars. I followed soon thereafter. Chose to feed the cats, Boo and Tuxedo, and then walk down La Cienega in the predawn quiet. Knew he would not die without me.

I had power of attorney over health decisions, or something, the doctor was saying. There was silver in his hair though he looked to be in his forties. A very tan, smooth forties. I said nothing. He was explaining how they could do brain surgery but in his condition he might not survive the surgery and he might not survive recovery and it would be very difficult on his body…I interrupted. Told him “No, no surgery.” He nodded. Paused. The nurses, the other doctor, they all paused.

There was a need to comfort, I suspected. These doctors and nurses, they’d seen this marathon before. Knew I was in the final sprint. Knew my soul was torn and my spirit battered. Knew I was running on fumes and that any touch, any smile, any small act of kindness might break me. So they said nothing, allowing me this final shred of strength.

Friends showed. Family arrived. Wanted me to disappear. To leave. I ignored them, sitting close, claiming my spot and holding his hand. Believed he could feel my thumb smoothing his eyebrow. Trusted it was a comfort though he slept forever lost in a maze of tubes and machines and rhythmic beeps.

He died at 8:24 in the morning.

They wouldn’t let me watch the removal of his body. His family left without a word, acting as if I didn’t exist. His friends had gone before that. I walked down the hall and took the elevator alone. A nurse, one from before, was there when the doors opened. She reached out and touched my shoulder. I bit my lip and walked away. Quickly.

The morning sky was the bluest I’d ever seen. The world around me sharp and bright. Even the concrete at my feet as I marched up Robertson seemed somehow new and different. Everything was odd, but in a brilliant way. I felt hollow and free, the terror of what had just happened not yet elbowing past my hunger and exhaustion and delusion and grief.

I went to Ralph’s. Eyed the microwave dinners but got eight cans of cat food instead and then, realizing I now had a funeral to plan and having no idea how much coffins cost, put two cans back.

And then I walked home. Weeping.

 

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But do you mean it?

This past year I had the great honor of joining the HWA (Horror Writer’s Association). For a writer at my level, becoming part of an organization like this seemed like a great idea. I’d heard many things, many of them not very good, about the group, but had been assured that with the new leadership in place, things were changing and better days were ahead.

And then the white supremacist, fascist-thing happened.

Which brings me to what’s bugging the hell out of me:

Is this who the HWA wants to be? And, more importantly, if that’s the case, is this the kind of group I want to actively support or be a part of?

The first question I can’t answer. I’m not in the heads of Those Who Decide, so who knows what the heck they’re thinking. Their earlier statement was not what I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it felt like a dodge. The second question? Yeah, I can answer that.

And it’s no. I would not actively support that kind of group or be a part of it.

And it breaks my heart.

Listen, the life of a writer isn’t all wild parties and hookers and crowds of adoring groupies cheering every comma and applauding every editing of an adverb. Believe it or not, it’s kinda lonely. (cue tiny violin) Your head — or at least my head — is buried in a computer watching black pixels clutter an electronic page from sun up to sundown. And to be a part of a group of OTHER writers, well, heck, that sounds cool, right?

On the surface, the HWA felt like a perfect fit.

But what they believe and what they tacitly endorse through inaction when Real Life upends their rhetorical apple cart is more important than being part of a group. If they allow a white supremacist and fascist to sit on a Jury — a position we’re led to believe is a great honor — what does that say about them?

Saying you don’t discriminate is one thing. Words are easy. You can say anything and, until you’re tested, people will believe you. But allowing a person with an avowed, unapologetic hatred of anyone who is, in his eyes, an “other” to sit on a jury in my opinion goes against that. Are we to believe his skewed world view won’t influence his decision? Or that his knee-jerk animosity for Person X or Author Y won’t cause him to vote against a work worthy of recognition? Recognition that could make a career?

For an organization already struggling with a perception problem regarding the Stoker Awards (see, cronyism, vote trading, favoritism for past Stoker winners and/or Officers, a byzantine, confusing balloting system), the decision to keep this member on the jury seems a bit tone deaf.

It also makes me doubt whether or not the HWA, in the end, will, in fact, be a fit for me.

As I understand it, no one is calling for the member in question to be banished into the Dark Forest of No Return. Different beliefs — even ones most find onerous or deplorable — are fine (not good, mind you, but “fine”) if you’re a member. Heck, I support the HWA endeavoring to be as widely diverse as the horror genre itself.

But to be faced with a Juror — not just a member, but a Juror — with beliefs that are counter to what you say you, as an organization, believe and then choose to do nothing, that speaks volumes.

Personally speaking, this has been a big splash of very cold water on my excitement at being an HWA member. In fact, I feel a bit embarrassed to now have it mentioned in my bio.

I can’t imagine that’s how the HWA wants their new members to feel.

 

predator and prey and Click

Click. The third apartment and third story in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast. To be honest, I’ve dragged my feet getting around to talking about the process of writing this story. I’ve hemmed and I’ve hawed and, heck, I’m still doing that now! Filling up the page with words, words, words and shifting them into sentences, all so I can put off, again, talking about this story. Fact is, out of all the tales that comprise Eidolon, this was the one I found the most difficult to write. Not the writing of it, I mean. But the psychological tunnel I needed to crawl through to bring it to life. That was the nightmare. That was what literally kept me awake at night. That’s what would – more than once, more than twice – force me from my chair and out the door to get some fresh air while the story waited, mid-sentence, for my return. Because I simply could not handle what the main character was doing. I couldn’t handle the thinking behind it, I couldn’t handle the cruelty behind it, and I couldn’t, for one second more, be the conduit for this monster to continue telling his story.

Colton Carryage. That’s the monster. Tits. Freckles. Teeth. Unnecessary. Those are his victims. These are names, predator and prey, that will stay with me for awhile. That stay with me still. And I didn’t set out to write the story I eventually wrote when I sat down. It took a sharp right into shadow and, despite my trying to turn the wheel back into the light, it insisted on going even deeper. And I certainly didn’t intend for it to be the first book my publisher needed to put a Warning Label on. But Colton’s madness, his cruelty, his insatiable need and dark desires demanded it. Not everyone’s heart or head can handle the horrible secrets that wait in Apartment 1C. Hell, I wrote the damn thing and I’m still recuperating. And that’s all I think I’m going to say about Click.
Eidolon-Click-crop

a necessary death

I’m in the dark.

I’m not apologizing for it. And I’m not asking for help. I’m simply stating where I am. And where that is is in the dark.

A dark so pervasive, so insistent, so oppressive and inescapable, that there is no light. Those small things that would usually pierce the darkness – the smiles of neighbors and passersby, the kind words from those very few, true real life friends I have – just don’t right now. They get lost somewhere around the edges. Familiar echoes in the distance I kinda sorta hear, but don’t. Not really. Appreciated, yes, but quickly lost. That’s how dark it is.

But I still move through life. I’m pleasant, I can laugh, I can smile, I can brighten your day and mean every word of it. And I do. But it’s not resonating for me. It’s just too dark.

But why? Why am I here? What’s the reason? Because there’s always a reason.

It’s the eerie calm before the great storm. That massive, mysterious, life-changing tsunami I see rolling in from the horizon. It’s exhaustion. And taking stock of years languishing on everyone’s TBR pile, always “next” and always passed over. It’s knowing no matter how carefully I construct a sentence or coax out a rhythm on the page, or how delicately I balance the inherent song in someone’s dialogue and meticulously build those narrative beats page by page, it’s all for naught. I’m writing for an audience of one. It’s reaching far and wide to be better and stronger, to make progress, to achieve, somehow, and coming back empty handed. It’s admitting that no matter how good I am, it’s not enough. And it’ll never be enough. It’s the necessary realization that sometimes people are not who I hoped they’d be. Not who I so needed them to be. That I saw what I wanted to see and heard what I wanted to hear. Again. It’s the admission that, despite whatever gifts I have, I am expendable and easily forgotten.

None of this is bad.

This dark is a much needed hollowing out of all that no longer fits. It’s the Universe forcing me to relinquish that which is inauthentic and illusory — people, situations, dreams, goals, loves — mourn those deaths, and then, when I can see again, fill the empty space with something better. Or nothing at all. I don’t know. The Me I am right now, right here, is being systematically shredded into oblivion so that at the end, when the light returns, I have to rediscover the Me I really am. Or at least the Me I could be. And that person might be radically different than who I think I am now.

I’m not sure. It’s too dark to see.

And so I’m writing this. Instead of doing something to give vent to my frustration, something sudden and irrevocable to bring escape or peace, I’m calmly, rationally facing the monster and calling it what it is. Hopefully lessening its hold by looking it in the eye. Because writing this little note is all I can do right now. If I take a step to try and leave this shadow, the shadow expands five steps. If I take a second step, it grows ten more. If I do any of the active, take-charge things I usually do to shrug away the dark, the dark grows stronger. So all I can do is stand still and let the light find me. Just stand quiet, take responsibility for my mistakes, own up to my self-delusions, follow the threads back to where I blinded myself with good intentions and hope, cut those cords, release those goals, people, dreams, loves, and then wait until the black loses its hold, turns grey and the shadows begin to lift.

Then, and only then, can I step forward into a world I may not recognize, but which I will make mine. Somehow.

Until then, I’m in the dark.

the frozen flesh

A month later the frozen flesh had started to tighten, the nails were coming loose, the eyes had shriveled and sunk, and the barest hint of marbling appeared from her armpits and around her neck. His plaything had become unpleasant.

– Colton Carryage, Eidolon Avenue, Apt. 1C

Eidolon-Click-crop

Jan 2016 from Crystal Lake Publishing

A sip of Anniversary

Another little teeny tiny peek at Eidolon Avenue, my new book due out in 2016 from Crystal Lake Publishing, one of the top publishers of dark fiction and horror.

Why not? Besides, you’ve already had a glimpse of China followed by a taste of Bullet and then a little Click. Makes sense to take a sip of Anniversary, right?

Right.

“I suppose.” Gripping the table’s edge, she hoisted herself back and plopped down into her chair with a deep sigh. “That makes more sense.” The thought rolled through her mind as she reached for her champagne. “Oh, that’s right. I remember. He took a bump to the head, quite a big one, now that I think about it, and knocked himself cold as a cucumber for, oh, how long was it …” A glance down at Benji. “Something like two or three weeks, wasn’t it, dear?”

He ignored her, his eyes on the ceiling above her.

She looked back at Peabody. “Trust me, it was two or three weeks. Just laid there in the hospital bed, dead to the world and snoring like a lumberjack. Took his darn sweet time waking up, too, I gotta say. Found myself envying him toward the end. And then he woke up and …” She shrugged. “Life went back to being life and we went back to messing it all up, time and time again.” She paused. “Though he did seem … I don’t know. Off, I guess. Or somehow different in some way after then. Just not the same.” A small grin for Peabody as she sipped her champagne. “I guess that’s what falling off a cliff will do to you.”

“But that wasn’t the first time,” Peabody said as he placed the champagne back on the table and pulled his salad bowl near.

“Oh no, no. Not at all.” Fork in hand, she tucked into her bowl of watercress. “Now, remember, that was the ten year anniversary. We’d had, oh, I don’t know, maybe …” She stabbed a piece of lettuce as she thought. “I’m not sure, but definitely a few, if not several, tries before then.” She shoved the lettuce in her mouth.

“Really. Several?” Peabody swallowed a bite of salad and then sipped his champagne.

She nodded. “Absolutely. You see, I met my beloved Benji one month – and I was twenty-eight by then, so in the world’s eyes, and that of my family, I was darn near a spinster and utterly without hope – and I married him the next month, and then we spent the next fifty years happily trying to kill each other. By choice.”

“By choice.”

“Of course.” She returned the champagne flute to its place near the untouched glass of chardonnay. “Murder/suicide pacts. One after the other. All of them sincere. All of them determined and, one would hope, well thought out. And all of them ending either dismally or disastrously, take your pick.” She dabbed the napkin to her lips. “Never could get it right.” Napkin in hand, she put her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “And when we got it wrong, boy howdy did we get it wrong.”

“So now it’s Mr. Peabody to the rescue?” The affable stranger, the napkin covering his lap, speared another piece of lettuce.

Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!!!!  🙂