Well, that was... a week. Between the weather-change pain, being sick, my youngest being sick, the brain fog that comes with the weather-change pain, and almost three days of some fun vertigo (sarcasm! Three days of vertigo isn't fun at all), Friday is happening way before I'm ready for it. That said, I'm also totally ready for a weekend, so maybe Friday is happening right when I need it. :)
My oldest is back to school on this coming Tuesday, with my youngest starting school the week after, and I really don't know what I'm going to do with a few hours honestly alone every week. Probably write more and start getting some of those near-to-complete projects finished. Maybe drink coffee from a mug and not exclusively from a travel mug. Fairly certain there will be some knitting, and possibly some sewing. Maybe... time for seeing friends?
LOL pphhfftt! "Time for seeing friends"... I crack me up. :D
For everyone having it, hope this September Long Weekend is just what you're needing too!
2. In the Bright
The instinctive voice tried to panic, but Liam was having fun teasing himself by taking his hand in and out of his pocket and playing with the ground that wasn’t actually there. He seemed to still have everything he’d been wearing before McTrucky de Grill had sped through a red light and reduced his torso to a sack of mulch, so Liam counted himself lucky in this current situation that he hadn’t died naked and decided to start walking. That decision ended after less than a minute when the smooth whatever-it-was he was in curved up to a slope that overcame the friction of his shoes and he slid back down. He turned around and went the other way. In double the first amount of time the same thing happened. He tried a bit of a smartass gamble and stayed up right at the cusp of where he was sliding and walked along it, but that didn’t seem to have an end so he made the assumption he was going around in circles like a goldfish.
He did a couple running jumps, but everything felt off balance and weird because he had to keep his elbow over his eyes to stop the bright from piercing through to the back of his skull. Maybe he was being judged? Some religions had a thing after you died that you got judged. (Maybe it was most religions? Liam hadn’t really paid attention.) If so, the trial was taking a while longer than he would’ve expected. He was somewhat miraculous in that he wasn’t a by-product of his terrible childhood, but his personality hadn’t lent itself to making a lot of near and dear friends so maybe he was a by-product in all the diagnosis terminology that usually got thrown at him whenever he’d been put in counseling, so maybe there was something there that needed a while to judge. Mostly he kept to himself, understood that being educated was his only way out of his crappy childhood, and didn’t really care too much about a lot. Or anything, if he was honest. There really shouldn’t be that much to judge.
Nish had said he was a cold fish, but that was a confusing description because she’d always crawled into bed with him when she wanted to warm up. He didn’t recall anything that he’d done which was immoral or illegal so far as society went – being a kid had let him know what that crap led to – and he’d never followed a religion. He’d helped out a couple people when he could, handing off a spare coat to that homeless guy and beating up some dick who tried to rape that drunk girl at a party the one time. The guy he gave a coat to had sincerely thanked him. The dick had pressed assault charges. Liam had been sentenced to a fine and some community service, but the girl had given him a hug and some cupcakes because she’d been recording herself on her phone when she’d passed out and gotten a video of the whole thing. The judge had figured it was excessive for Liam to have put the guy in the hospital, but the cops in the courtroom that day had mostly laughed when Liam replied he preferred putting the dick in the hospital than know that’s where the drunk girl had ended up.
And if this was some kind of judgement thing, wouldn’t there have been some kind of representation or booming voice full of wisdom? Even idiots got assigned a court lawyer that was obliged to meet with them once or twice. Unless the real god or gods didn’t buy into the modern notions of religions and all that theology was – as he’d mostly found he believed anyway – completely bunk. Wouldn’t that be the absolute cosmic joke on the human race? Ha-ha and hee-hee on everyone who keeps killing themselves and neighbors over their interpretation of spiritual supremacy: the higher powers all believe in something else and people are bumbling along on paths they made up on their own.
There was another loud shunk sound and Liam slowly pried his elbow away from his eyes. No searing brightness stabbed through his eyelids, but the total blackness hadn’t returned. He carefully opened one eye and was confronted with an endless, perfect, grey. He blinked both eyes open and looked around. There was nothing. Well, not quite because there was him standing there in the same clothes he’d dressed in this morning, but otherwise there wasn’t anything around him. He didn’t even have a shadow, a theory that he tested by jumping a couple of times and lifting his knees high enough to see under his feet.
He smiled at being able to do that, jump high and look around. He’d started as a kid doing what he’d learned years later was called ‘parkour’, only he’d been doing it whenever he wasn’t in foster care to get away from whatever asshole his mom was having sex with for whatever food, clothes, lodging, alcohol or drugs she was trading for at the time. Once he found out what parkour was, and that it was a sport he was legitimately good at it, he’d gotten further into the sport and further away from his upbringing until he was six foster homes separated from his mom and old enough to rent his own place. The two cops who’d gotten him into the last foster house and been references for him on his first apartment even came out to his tournaments and cheered for him as if he had parents. That was pretty nice. They were probably going to be upset that he was paste beside the sidewalk. That sucked.
Now that he really thought about it, being dead wasn’t so great. Just grey and boring. Unless he could figure out some way of making it not boring…? After all, he didn’t have to keep his eyes covered anymore.
He found a curve and did some running jumps with his sleeves held tight over his fists to see if he could find a top to whatever he was at the bottom of. No luck on a top, but he did find a ledge. It was a high ledge, but if he could get his hands to it than it was only a matter of physics to get the rest of him up there. Figuring out the correct jump to consistently reach the ledge was easy, figuring out the twist and pull to get on it was harder due to not being able to use his fingers; the ledge was made of the same smooth can’t-touch-this as the rest of the bowl.
Once on it, Liam found it was more of a catwalk than an actual ledge. If he lay flat on his stomach and reached as far as his jacket sleeves allowed, then he could hook his fingers around each side of it. He made the instinct part of his mind freak out a bit when he smirked and dropped his head forward, his shirt collar pushing on his throat, then figured he should attempt to see where this weird catwalk went and stood up. He was about to take the first step when he realized that would be a really dumb idea. He crouched down to the most uncomfortable position for walking imaginable so that his left hand ran along the edge and his right hand pressed against the grey nothing in front of him.
Apologies for the 24 hour delay, and welcome back! So... that was a bit of a whirlwind. It's nearly 10:00am and my youngest is still asleep in spite of only being up a half hour past her usual bedtime, and her usual bedtime has her awake around 8:30am on a normal day. My oldest has now been awake long enough that I fear for the edibles in the kitchen and wonder if there will be anything left when the youngest does wake up... LOL!
Moral of the story: my legs hurt because I am old and out of shape lol. :D We had a blast and it was totally worth the massive amounts of ignoring I'm going to have to do regarding the pained screams of my credit line and financial sighs of both me and my hubby. I'm going back into recovery mode, now that the blog is done (my legs do hurt because I really feel every inch of old and out of shape).
The promised new short story starts below. Hope you're having a good weekend!
1. After Life
Liam laid at the edge of the curb and – of course – noted the irony.
Today had been beautiful weather and walking to the fair had seemed like a perfectly good reason to not bother with classes. The world wouldn’t end if he skipped one Wednesday on account of ice cream and a walk across the park and maybe splurge and pay for tickets to go on a couple of the carnival rides. Apparently the universe had a sense of humor, because it was not the world that was ending. Liam’s part in the world, however, most definitely was. That he wasn’t going to finish tonight, and hand it in a couple days early tomorrow, that essay which he’d actually enjoyed researching and writing over the past three weeks was a bit of a piss-off. As for his classes, the logic behind skipping them today was that he was already passing, so why pretend he was keen on winning awards? He had been in the running for a few of the fancier honors that came with fat cheques before the nice weather had signaled that summer had arrived… that had also been before Nish had decided to walk out on the apartment they’d been splitting rent on and proved she’d been honest when stating she’d assumed he only viewed their arrangement as just friends with benefits.
Everyone said that your life flashes before your eyes when you died. The high and low points and a bunch of stuff you never really noticed or thought about, and then some other fancy bru-ha-ha about lifting out of your body and looking around that eventually culminated in a white light and whatever came after.
For him, it was more pain than he ever thought possible culminating in a scream that he noted had a terrible effect on the onlookers because they’d all gone worse shades of ill than they were wearing already. Then he’d choked on some part of his insides that had been squishy before meeting the jacked-up pickup truck but were now liquefied after being introduced, burbled what should’ve been another scream, and just woken up here in the dark.
At least the pain had stopped.
Liam sat up and clutched at his chest for a moment and, although it wasn’t rising and falling, it wasn’t collapsed anymore. He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, but wiggling his fingers with it held up close assured him his eyes were open. And that he could still feel pain. He scrubbed a fist into the eye he’d stabbed with a fingertip and felt around where he was sitting. His butt and legs told him he was resting on something as solid and cool as smooth concrete, but his hand found zero resistance around and under him. He was sitting on something hard, but could grab his own ass; that was new.
There was a loud shunk sound of warehouse lights being turned on and then searing white replaced the perfect black. Even covering both his eyes with his hands barely made a dint in the brightness burning the back of his skull like a police flashlight penetrating a hangover. He briefly considered all the common theories about near-death experiences and discounted each one just as fast as he thought of them. Whatever this was, it apparently wasn’t common enough for near-death survivors to have talked about. Or this was an experience that people didn’t come back from to provide a description.
He opened his mouth to yell for the lights to be turned back off because not seeing from too much dark was better than not seeing from too much light and nothing came out. He thought for a second, remembered he wasn’t breathing so had no exhalation to vibrate his larynx, then inhaled and tried again.
“That’s a bit bright!” he yelled, with the expectation that something would happen. It was beyond a let-down when nothing occurred. Some instinctive part of his mind – likely the same part that had released the primal scream when he’d been dying – whispered that he was dead and alone.
He used the last of his inhalation to scoff. Everyone died alone. There had been a shunk sound, though, before the bright (it wasn’t like he could call this wattage simply ‘light’) had turned on. He could feel his clothes so he wasn’t naked, and in spite of not finding anything with his hand, the nothing under his butt and legs was firm. He shifted around and hid his eyes in the crook of his elbow, which actually did block some of the bright, and stomped his feet a couple times. The soles of his shoes thumped dully and jarred at an elevation equal to what he was sitting on. He could reach under both feet to grab the bottoms of each shoe, but when he stood up he was standing on something solid.
That little voice of instinct attempted to cut into his thoughts with a question about just how far down things went below the nothing that he was standing on, so he slapped the pocket he kept some change in for the coffee machine and heard the usual jingle of a few coins. He took one out and dropped it. In the right amount of time for him to be standing on a floor, there was the sound of the coin hitting, bouncing, and rolling a bit before it bumped into the side of his foot and he heard it fall over and rattle as it came to a stop. He could pick it up as if it was sitting on the surface of water. That was pretty cool. He dropped it from just a few inches so he didn’t have to feel around for it and then scooped it up from underneath.
He dropped the coin back in his pocket and decided to test another theory that popped into his head. Everything was still a glare of bright when he dropped the arm covering his eyes, but only for the few seconds he needed to get the zipper on his jacket open. He snugged his elbow back up to protect his vision and stuffed the other hand into his jacket pocket. The ground was exactly where he expected it to be when he knelt down, and his fist thumped against the same flat solidness as his knee was resting on. He took his hand out of his pocket and could grab the underside of the knee he was kneeling on. The sleeve of his jacket shoved up his arm as if he was in the loo and about to wash his hands. He put his free hand back in his pocket and the solid ground was right there for him to find.
Mid-week post! No notifications for this one, but please note that my week is busy and my regular Friday update will be happening on this Saturday (August 25).
Before jumping into the below slew of messy messiness spewed from my thought-maker (ie: brain), a brief intro to tell you the following post is just what the title says: Me, Myself and My Anxiety. The twist is that I had a bit of a breakthrough today and I'm happy about things so I'm sharing. If you're not interested, I'll see you on Saturday! If you are, thanks for reading! Hope the rest of your week goes well :)
Me, Myself, and My Anxiety
Anxiety ate my whole yesterday. Just ate it. I lost a whole day. Probably the day before that, too, but through the fog it’s hard to say for sure. I can certainly say that it was my whole day yesterday, though.
I’m what I’ve coined to be a Spiralling Anxious. I know lots of people who spiral out like I do, so it’s a generic term that fits really well for us. The spiral is the overthinking for how I go from being fine to being deeply depressed and angling into self-harm. For some of my friends, it’s a steep twisty-slide – like those metal tubes from old-timey playgrounds where you accelerate on the way down and there’s always a loose rivet that cuts your arm or leg on the way by. For me, it’s like a staircase and each new thought that feeds into the spiral is another step down and you don’t notice how far you’ve gone until you look back and see all those steps.
That’s the worst part: all those tidy steps of Why I Suck.
I mean, sure, a well-adjusted person can just shake their head and climb back up and the labels on each step can be discounted as momentary self-doubt and realistically untrue. But I’m not that well-adjusted. I can fake it, don’t get me wrong, I can be really high functioning when I need to be, but faking it sure ain’t the same as actually shaking it off.
If you don’t have anxiety, then I guess the steps can be likened to sadness, or even falling in love. Each small thing that accumulates until – in sadness – you cry because your heart broke a little and it’s just filling your mind with the aching of it, or – in love – you have an accumulation of small things that got you to this place where a pet, person, or thing is just that perfect thing for you and fills your whole heart. Anxiety spirals are like that. They consume whole parts of you one piece at a time: mind, heart… sometimes it even feels like your soul is devoured by the fear.
And that’s what it is: Fear. Plain, old, and simple fear. That same fear that is completely, socially acceptable when there’s a phobia tag on it, but is somehow perverted to a brain delinquency when called anxiety. It’s the same fear as that of heights, spiders, and speaking in public. A panic attack is identical to that person on the Eiffel Tower who’s gripping the hand railing and sweating, their skin drained of healthy tones as they gasp for breath and their friends and family pull them back from the terrifying edge. The difference is that people outside my head can’t see what it is that’s terrifying for me.
A large majority of people in the world hate speaking in public, so I’ll use that as an example. Being up on stage and staring out at rows and rows of attentive – if slightly bored – listeners, or maybe even standing up to speak at a work meeting when surrounded by peers and colleagues that you respect but feel you need to disagree with. Public speaking is, for most people, hand-sweatingly terrifying. Social anxiety for me is feeling that looked-at pressure whenever I answer a phone or have to speak to a teller at a store. I’ve spoken in front of crowds of over one hundred people during work conferences, played concerts in high school band for crowds close to one thousand people, and the fear for me in front of those crowds is identical in strength to speaking with a store worker when I need to ask for the location of an item I need to buy. Because of this, I basically assume I don’t have a fear of speaking in public because it’s the same as talking to any stranger, and that’s a fear I can usually get over.
The rest of my anxiety is – of course – not so cut and dry simple. There are the panic attacks that struck in the middle of Costco or a Mall and my husband holding my hand to lead me out with my eyes closed (sensory over-stimulation during times of high stress). There are the imaginary predictions of how a conversation will go badly and make me look stupid to someone I respect and that feeling stops me from making work related phone calls until such a call becomes an necessary priority (of the uncountable times this has happened, I can count the number of times I actually looked stupid on one hand). And then there’s the ongoing, internal dialogue provided by a childhood and adult life surrounded by key people to my development and well-being who themselves had narcissistic personalities and adored my easy-to-manipulate codependency (all of the negative people have now been replaced by a circle of honestly good and well-intentioned people in the past few years).
Basically, I’m a loosely woven basket that was told to carry water and believed when too many people I cared about told me that it was my fault that the water drained out. It turns out that I’m actually a strainer. The qualities that I was ridiculed for are large parts of what make me, well, me. Knowing that doesn’t mean I don’t easily fall into berating myself for not being a better basket because all the other baskets around me could hold more water than I could…
Notice how I said “other” baskets and “more” water? Everyone around me, at any time in my life, still leaked water because we were all baskets. Sure there are pails out there and man are they awesome to strainers-forced-to-be-baskets like me, but their water only spills when it overflows or they get knocked over. Strainers like me can’t be water-carrying baskets and we can’t be pails. I still get a knot in my stomach from that drilled-in speech of “you can be whatever you want if you believe in yourself” crap from elementary school. Do you know what people without any legs at all can’t do? Walk. Do you know what people with no legs can do, and I have seen someone do? Balance on one hand on a rail of their weighted wheelchair to extend their reach up to a high shelf in a grocery store that I can’t reach, and pause to balance half way down to read the label. The “be whatever you believe you can be” says that, with hard work, I can balance and lift myself like that, too. Reality says I have chronic pain disorders in both arms and a degenerative spine and even attempting to train for being able to do a full set of twenty push ups will cause me permanent damage that will mean the rest of my life will be spent with someone else dressing and feeding me while my hands dangle uselessly at the ends of my arms.
In this scenario, my anxiety from the abusive internal dialogue says that my reality reasons are an excuse and I’m weak, pathetic, and a failure. Then my anxiety from imaginary predictions says that anyone I tell about being scared that I won’t ever be able to balance on one hand will reinforce that I’m weak, pathetic, and a failure, and they’ll remind me of that time – one of numerous times, they’ll chortle – that I failed because I’m a failure. And now, at this point where these thoughts of failing at balancing on one hand because I’ll never be good enough to balance on one hand are spiraling on top of needing to Be A Good Mom – No Not Like That, and Be A Good Worker – No Not Like That, and Work/Life Balance Means You Must Work More To Afford A Life, and The House Needs Cleaning, and, and, and… this is where large crowds and loud kids and overwhelming rows upon rows of endless shelving become a nightmare of hand-sweating panic. Only I’m not on the Eiffel Tower, clinging to a railing as I stare down from body-splattering heights, I’m at Costco getting groceries with my husband and kids. And people are staring because my oldest is asking me if I’m okay and holding my hand as I try not to cry because People Are Staring And That Means I Am Bad. Which is where the abusive internal dialogue loops back to start the next flight of stairs on the spiral down because I’m bad because I’m a weak and pathetic failure…
Anxiety is fear, wrapped up in and triggered by complex emotions and external stimulations to those emotions. I can’t pass it off as less than any other phobias that are out there. It’s not rational, it’s not “all in my head” because there are external forces acting that created and curated it, and it’s not something that can be controlled with the catch-all treatments for misunderstood brain workings of positive thinking and regular physical activity. I have fears of spiders and of climbing on free-standing ladders, but those get the label of a “phobia” and most strangers will gladly and openly discuss those fears with me. My fear / anxiety is labeled as a mental issue, or a disease. It’s not a disease for me. I’m simply scared.
Yesterday (and maybe the day before) got eaten by my fear / anxiety even though I was happy and things were going okay. I tripped on one thought and stumbled down the first few stairs and before I knew it I was looking up at all those steps labeled neatly with all the reasons for Why I Suck. I did all the things that I could to combat the labels and to start rubbing them off with my sleeve: I played with my kids and did some writing and editing. I was still scared after that, so I called a friend I trust and we chatted for a bit (her anxiety is eating her days, too, but she’s also got an inky sleeve to prove she’s fighting back as much as she can). I was still scared after that, but – as she usually can because she’s outside my spiral – my friend pointed at the thing that I’d initially tripped on. It’s something I trip on a lot and it’s hard for me to look at so I don’t talk about it much. I was still scared after that, so the kids and I did some cleaning and I did some cooking and I texted with my husband who’s out of town for work right now and then it was bed time. I was still scared, so I stayed up and did some knitting to try and calm myself, or at least exhaust myself.
I woke up before my alarms this morning and I was still scared, but at some point my youngest had climbed into bed with me and she was sleeping restlessly. She was having bad dreams and she was scared, too. So, I turned off my alarms and I stayed in bed with her in spite of having work to do because she needed me to be A Good Mom, and this morning that meant ensuring she was safe. I woke up a couple of hours later and cuddled with my youngest to calm down her bad dreams again, and then my oldest – who gets scared of dark rooms at night and was having an extra scared night last night so I made certain to give her extra reassurance before bed – came in and told me about her dream where we adopted a cat with the softest fur and who could talk like a person and she was still so in love with this kitty even after waking up and wasn’t that just the best dream ever? They weren’t scared anymore.
That thought that I trip on a lot, the one that makes me scared and is the first step in my spiral? It’s actually labeled I Suck. All the other steps down are supporting arguments to that top step. I trip on that top step a lot because it was lovingly carved out by selfish hands during my childhood to ensure I knew I was Not A Good Enough Basket, and then engraved as fact during my teen and adult years because being a strainer was the definition of Not A Good Enough Basket. I can’t use my sleeve to erase that label. My anxiety, my fear – my phobia – is that I’m only me, and that me sucks.
I cried this morning when I realized that this is my anxiety. That I suck. That I will fail at everything, and people I love will suffer because of me being so shitty. I’m too codependent to ever be worth anything by myself. Add a bunch of regular life stress and pressure on top of that and it’s no wonder that over my lifetime I’ve habitually fallen into self-harm habits and black spirals down into situational depressions lasting months (or that one time, years). And it explains why adding extraordinary situations onto regular stress and pressure – as in loved ones dying – compound into panic attacks and dread at small tasks; because face it, when I’m well aware of how much I suck the stops in productivity caused by gaping emotional wounds and the grieving cycle aren’t welcome additions.
This morning I did cry, but I didn’t cry because I suck. I cried because for the first time ever I have a vocabulary of why I’m scared. I have a spider to point at, or a height to stay back from, or a crowd to speak in front of. I am currently surrounded by a caring, loving, amazing group of people who have lists of Why I Don’t Suck and who will help me when I’m scared. Even the ones who don’t understand, who don’t have the fear / anxiety, they ask about what’s going on in my head out of curiosity and a desire to understand so they can help me when the fear / anxiety is too much to handle alone. Reaching out – for the first time – actually makes sense to me, and I get it – I really, actually get it – that people believe in me and, to them, I don’t suck. I’m a codependent, that’s just part of who I am and it’s not something I can change about my hard wiring, and knowing that there is a core group of people who know that I – me, myself, and my anxiety – don’t suck is a fucking huge breakthrough for me.
I cried this morning because my anxiety has a name, and because being codependent and having a core group of people who know I don’t suck means I can trust in them that I don’t suck. I will always be afraid that I suck, the same as I will always freak out because of a spider or get that shaky feeling in my stomach when I have to climb a step ladder, but being afraid that I suck doesn’t have to mean that I actually do suck. I can be over here, my good enough strainer self, and be happy for all the baskets out there doing their basket thing. I don’t have to believe I suck because I’m not a good basket, what I need to be doing is working on being a better strainer. That’s what I am, and I’m good at it. I can be scared and still get things done because I can be brave, too. For the days that get swallowed up by my anxiety, those are okay. The same as I tell my kids, it really is all right to be scared. Even brave heroes in story books have days where they just scrape through the daily grind of living, and those heroes usually have people who believe in them… just like I do. I don’t have to save the world, but I have a couple kids that need a mom, some books that need to be written, and a husband that loves me.
I can have anxiety and be scared of failing, just like I’m scared of other stuff. This fear can be just like I’m scared of other stuff. My fear of failing at being me can really be the same as my other fears, because I can give my phobia a name: isuckfaillia. I weeded my garden yesterday and had a spider crawling on my arm, and the day before I walked into a web with my face and bare arm because a spider had spun it across the door into our garage. I didn’t have a melt-down either time.
I’m still scared and I still have anxiety. I probably always will. Isuckfaillia is a bad phobia to have. But, if I can brush a spider off my arm without flailing and screaming like I did when I was younger, then I can get better at dealing with this fear too, especially now that it has a name. This will take years to get better at, and I’ll have to be brave more than I’m comfortable with right now, but discomfort is usually growth. Growth is needed if I’m going to brave past this newly-labeled but old fear. One thing I am good at is being brave. I have the ink-stains on my sleeves to prove it.
I have to start taking blog notes during the week. I've been having these great ideas for the personal blurb that pop into my head on Tuesday or Wednesday, are refined down to really good around Thursday morning, and then are completely gone by Friday when I have the time scheduled to sit and do the actual post. I always think that "this idea is so great there's no way I'll forget!" Yeah... crickets. Totally forgotten. I remember that it was a great idea, though! Lol :)
The forgotten blog post idea had something smart about being an author, something witty about being a mom, and something cool about my kids. The smart author part got eaten by book gremlins during a great writing session, the witty mom stuff got flattened by being a mom, and the something cool about my kids ended up being a really long list this week so I don't remember the one highlight. Good reasons to not remember a blog post idea, also good reasons to get a notebook lol.
Have a great weekend!
3. Another Year Older
He thought of maybe answering, but instead lay back down and went to sleep. The next time he woke up was a repeat on the food and book, but the time after he could read a few paragraphs before the words started swimming. He put the book down again.
“How long have we been here?” he asked.
“Chopper went down four days ago plus one,” she answered.
“So five days ago. And where are we?”
“Three miles from friendlies.”
He thought about it for a while. The terrain that close to the boarder was well covered, they hadn’t had problems that close for over a month.
“So, why are we still here?”
“I have a problem.”
He waited a few minutes for her to continue.
“Anything I can help with?” he eventually asked.
“Doubt it,” she answered, looking down after a moment and then over to him. “You are the problem,” she said, not unkindly.
That was a confusing response.
“Oh,” he said.
She turned completely away from the slit and settled facing him. For the first time he could see the rifle cradled in the crook of her arm. It was incredibly custom and had the extra parts that proved she’d been off-world, despite the fact that her uniform was standard Earth Unified Government. Then again, the EUG had labeled this war as a local skirmish and ignored it for months now, so even a standard EUG uniform wasn’t something that should be here on either side of the boarder.
“My extraction was supposed to be three days before you showed up,” she stated. “It was supposed to be a simple pick up. There were also certain conditions of that extraction, the foremost being that no one person be able to make me in a positive ID. Now my problem is that not only did you manage to extract me from a very bad place, you also got me far enough away that I could get here and have so far managed to live through all of it even after injuring yourself rather badly. Now you know not only what I look like but also what I sound like, giving you easy opportunity for positive ID at this location at this time. For me, that’s not a good thing. At this point, though, I would have been a lot worse than dead if not for you. Do you see the dilemma?”
He looked at his feet, unsure whether or not answering would help or hinder his precarious situation. The feeling of being a rabbit returned as he realized all of the weapons in the rat hole were on her.
“Personally, I’d rather not kill you,” she added, watching him expectantly.
“Considering my headache, I’d appreciate it if you did,” he said, trying for humor.
The corner of her mouth turned up in that small smile. She shifted and settled back to looking out the slit. He fell asleep sitting up.
She was gone when he woke up, as were the packs and rations. A single canteen of water sat where the bags had been, an off world unit crest stamped in the side confirming that the sniper and her rifle were not EUG standard issue grunts like he’d worked with before. There were two 10mm side arms, generic, loaded, and eight extra magazines, all full, in the middle of the floor beside what was left of his flight helmet; it had been split in half from the crash impact. The tags from the rest of his flight crew were sitting in one half of his helmet. He sat forward and realized that he felt… fine. The middle of his chest was tingly in a hand-print shape, but his head was good. There was a small, yellow envelope in the other half with ‘Flyboy’ written neatly across the front.
The card inside had a picture of a puppy in a birthday hat on the front. He opened it carefully. The card was printed with ‘Happy Birthday!’ and didn’t have anything inside. A note had been written on the back in the same tidy printing as on the envelope:
Your tags have your DOB.
Writing update: So. Many. Words. In my imagination, I used to believe in waiting for inspiration to hit like lightning and the words to rain down like a welcome deluge of logical sentences. However, this hail storm of scenes the past couple weeks that has left craters in my grey matter. I'm pretty sure an idea tornado swept through pretending it was just a smidge of info for the prequel but turned into the other half of the book. On most days, I can step back into reality and cram the fiction into its box so I can focus on things like driving and remembering to eat. On days like Tuesday and yesterday of this week, the fiction sneaks out of its box and characters trample all over those reality tasks like laundry and making dinner. The distractions make a mess of things. (It really is too hot lately for the oven to have stayed on for that long. I'm just saying... the chicken was out of the oven, it would have been nice to remember to turn off the empty heat maker inside when outside was over +35 C all day. Yeesh!)
My youngest has already chosen this poorly phone-pictured animatronic dinosaur as the one she's going to ride once she grows up and becomes a Real Princess. The T-Rex was a close second, but the Dakotaraptor won the top spot because she's prettier and still has great teeth for biting bad guys while they're out on quests and adventures. My oldest is planning to go with a Triceratops because they can stab enemies with their heads and then trample any survivors. These choices feel like parenting success. Enjoy your weekend!
2. Slow Recovery
He was hungry. He hated yogurt. He still squeezed all of it out of the tube and swallowed it. She chuckled again because of the face he made but didn’t offer him anything else but water.
“Sleep more. We’ll try chewing next time you wake up if the headache is better.”
He wondered where the yogurt had come from as he passed out.
This time it was completely dark. His head hurt more than before, but his thoughts didn’t feel swollen. Maybe that meant that his head hurt less. Nothing moved in the blackness. He could hear her breathing, slow even breaths. She was sleeping.
He felt a weight in each of his hands. Feeling with his fingers, there was a canteen in his right, and some kind of soft food in his left. He drank carefully and then bit a piece of the food. It was a Breakfast MRE – Meals Ready to Eat. Eggs. Chewing wasn’t as bad as he expected, but he was exhausted by the end of eating the whole omelet. He took another careful drink, knowing that coughing right now would probably make his head explode, then lay still in the blackness.
“You still alive, flyboy?” she murmured.
“Josh,” he answered, and his voice sounded far away. “I’m Josh.”
Then he fell back asleep.
She was watching the bright slit when he woke up. He felt hungry again, so he must’ve been out for a while. He attempted sitting up and made it, then slumped back to lean against the wall.
“Good morning, sunshine,” she said, not taking her eyes off the slit.
“Hi,” he croaked in response, hoping the world would stop rotating randomly in the next few minutes.
“There’s rations and water right there if you want.”
He looked down beside his left hand and found a pack within reach. He pulled out some food and water. His hands worked well enough to get the wrapping open without spilling, and he could eat without too much trouble. He watched her while he ate. She didn’t move.
“Where are we?” he asked when he finished eating.
“Home sweet home,” she replied.
He looked around. Sand walls, sand floor, wooden plank ceiling, tattered blankets, and enough ammo for maybe a day of fighting.
“You need a new decorator,” he said after taking another drink.
One side of her mouth curled up and he took it as a smile. She never turned away from the slit.
They sat in silence for a long time. He may have slept, maybe not. The only thing that changed was the angle of her shadow from the light through the slit.
“So, what are you thinking?” he asked, hoping to start some kind of conversation to break the stretched silence.
She didn’t respond. He picked a book out of the pack, he’d exposed it when he’d pulled out a ration, and tried to read. It made his head swim. He put it down and looked back at where she was sitting. She was watching him. He suddenly felt like a rabbit under the gaze of a wolf.
“You should get some more sleep,” she said quietly, then turned back to the slit.
Woo! Long weekend! Made even better because my sister is coming up for the weekend, there are new galleries at the Telus World of Science opening today that need to be checked out, and a crafty day with friends planned for Sunday (hopefully I'm going to learn how to knit caps, and my oldest is determined to teach a family friend how to knit). My hubby is back working again as well, so groceries and mortgage are under less threat of becoming a choice between the two.
Writing news: not much. I'm writing, subjecting my tolerant hubby to reading through my first draft of a newly completed novel so I have someone to talk to about it, and stopping by at local bookstores around Edmonton to see if anyone might be interested in carrying paper copies of my books. (High hopes and low expectations, but not asking gets a 100% fail rate for putting books on shelves. I think asking gets that down to 98% not likely... kidding! It's maybe a 50/50 by asking.)
Enjoy the long weekend!
1. An Unlikely Survivor
He waded through the mud in his consciousness. What had happened? He’d been flying... following the river... the Flight Commander had said turn back, too hot... the Ground Commander had said go in... passenger bird and right gunship had turned back but the smoke was popped and the extraction was a sitting duck... two – three? No, only two – people running... only one extra person on the bird... heavy fire... the bird started to fall...
“Just get me across the river!” she yelled.
“We’re going down too fast!” he answered between mayday calls.
“DO IT, FLYBOY!” she ordered.
He forced the bird to limp... the river came up too fast... the far bank didn’t get close enough... something hit him in the back – the front? – and then the controls became part of his helmet... there was water and smoke in the bird when the weight lifted off him... she looked surprised when he sat up...
“We gotta go. Right now,” she said.
“The crew –” he turned and saw them. What was left of them.
They grabbed the tags and ammo and any rations... his head hurt... where was his helmet? His face was bleeding...
“Go! Now!” She pushed him out of the bird and towards the bank.
He carried two packs... the water was cool... the sun was hot... the trees on the bank promised shade... he was knocked to the ground between the roots and something exploded behind him... she was pulling him along as they ran... his head hurt...
He opened his eyes and saw darkness. A shape settled beside him close enough that he could hear it breathing. It stopped moving as the breeze stilled. It looked at him and motioned for him to be silent. His head hurt. A bright light flashed in both his eyes and seared his retinas into the back of his skull.
“It’s a good thing you’re small, Flyboy,” she said.
A wind started up again and the shape lifted him onto its shoulders.
He opened his eyes and saw darkness. A shape was sitting, hunched by his feet, and peering through a slit out to something that looked too bright to exist. He moved carefully and the shape turned to look at him.
“You did good,” she said.
His thoughts felt swollen, the throbbing in his head worse each time he turned it to look around. She crawled up beside him – the ceiling was too close to stand – and pulled something out of the bag closest to him.
“This will probably be uncomfortable,” she said.
She held his head steady with one hand, holding his eyes open one at a time as she shone a miniature sun into his pupils to check his reaction times. It was more than uncomfortable.
“Better than eight hours ago,” she said, and then she smiled at him. “You may just live through this,” she said.
“Oh. Good,” he croaked.
She chuckled. He covered his eyes with his hand, trying not to put any pressure on his head as he did. He listened to her moving quietly as she stayed sitting beside him. She pressed a soft tube into the hand that wasn’t covering his eyes.
“Eat this,” she said.
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!