I've been sick for this entire week and it was not (and still isn't) fun. The bonus today is that my hubby has a couple days off this weekend and is around to help out and exhaust himself prior to having to go back on shift. I have high hopes and low expectations of being able to get done everything around the house that needs to get done, but with both of us here we'll at least make a dint in the Autumn chores that I'm waaaaay behind on.
I'm also waaaaay behind on my writing. Good thing I currently only answer to myself for deadlines or I'd never get the little sleep that I do... That said, is there really a writer who ever sleeps? I haven't met any that do on a regular basis as we're all usually cramming in the writing time around the rest of reality that supports our fiction addiction. I'm not complaining about the addiction to creating other worlds, just that reality seems to creep in and take the creative time away too quickly every day. I mean, how am I supposed to get my next book out in mid October as planned if I can't get time to work on it? So rude to just keep on leaving these little teasers... ;)
Hope you have a good weekend!
6. Moving Forward
“What’s wrong?” he asked. She just shook her head to the negative and backed up two steps. He opened his arms and leaned forward a bit in invitation. “How about like a monkey?” he asked, trying not to notice that whatever was following them was taking on a decidedly feline way of moving that made him feel like the proverbial mouse in a maze.
Kaylynd stared at him hard, and then whatever weight she was measuring him against dropped and she launched forward to slam into his waiting arms. This door was just at the beginning of a straight length of catwalk, so at least he knew there weren’t going to be any invisible corners to navigate like when going through the bathroom from his childhood. This was also a car door, and it creaked as he opened it.
“Hurry, baby! Get in, get in!”
The panic was impossible to ignore and Liam dove through into the back seat of some old beater on the side of a street that fronted a bunch of tightly packed row houses. A smaller version of Kaylynd struggled ahead of her mom to get into the front passenger seat, her mom pushing from behind while carrying some shopping bags. Something slammed into the car and then the door slammed and Kaylynd’s mom turned to fight whatever had caught up with them. The older version of Kaylynd was crying just as hard as the toddler as her mom ducked and weaved like a pro just outside the passenger window. The guy attacking them had some kind of pipe or cane and Kaylynd’s mom wrestled it away from him and smoked him upside the head with it hard enough to sprawl the guy out on the sidewalk. Her mom did this awesome seventies movie hood slide and dropped into the driver’s seat, leaving the bags of clothes and a few toys spilled out on the sidewalk.
“It’s okay now, baby,” she murmured as she slammed the driver’s door, although to Liam it sounded like she was saying it more to comfort herself than to comfort her daughter. The beater’s engine stammered to life as the guy outside sat up and little Kaylynd screamed, her small face pressed to the glass to keep a watch on their attacker. Her mom slammed the car into gear, revved the engine, and squealed the tires as the beater lurched away from the curb into a chorus of honking cars protesting the sudden merge.
The engine knocked to a stop two blocks away – the turns following the path of the catwalk – and Kaylynd’s mom snarled and slammed her hands into the steering wheel. Liam followed her, carrying her daughter the same way she was carrying the younger version, as she shoved out of the car and started running down the street. A car screeched to a halt as she ran into an intersection, the grill protector of the police cruiser less than an inch from her shins. Kaylynd’s mom stared in shock, unable to process the occurrence quickly and the cop driving already scoffing and getting ready to yell at her to move. Liam was on the passenger side, and the officer sitting there was looking down at something else inside the car, not seeing the woman yet. Liam reached through the open window and flicked the passenger cop in the side of the face.
“Help her!” he ordered. The officer looked up, startled, and saw what her partner had missed. She punched a button on the dash to turn on the flashing red and blue lights and un-clicked her seat belt in one smooth motion.
“Are you all right?” she asked, voice full of concerned authority, as she swung open the passenger door and stepped out. Kaylynd’s mom dissolved into tears.
“Help!” she whispered, hugging Kaylynd tightly, her voice choked off and nearly useless. Someone yelling profanity interrupted the next question from the cop and both officers looked over to see the guy who’d attacked Kaylynd’s mom coming up fast, blind in his rage except for the woman he was targeting. Kaylynd’s mom kissed her daughter, then ripped her away and threw her at the woman cop who was half a car length away, turning to confront the guy – Kaylynd’s dad – while Kaylynd was still mid-flight.
The cop who’d been driving had reflexes that cats would be proud of and was out of the cruiser as fast as the woman cop caught Kayland and dropped her in it. Kaylynd’s dad registered the new threat too late and was knocked on his ass and pinned there by the cop who’d been driving. Kaylynd’s mom staggered back onto the hood of the cruiser, holding onto the grill protector for balance, as she was saved by a chance encounter that just as easily could’ve killed her if the cop hadn’t braked in time.
Liam ducked into the back seat to sit beside little Kaylynd. The bigger Kaylynd in his arms reached over with one hand and brushed the hair off the forehead of her terrified younger self as the door slammed shut and the second cop raced to the front of the cruiser to back up her partner.
“We’re going to be okay,” Kayland assured her younger self. “That’s Officer Lisa who caught us, and her brother is our new daddy now, and he’s so much better. We even get a brother and a sister and you’re going to be so happy real soon I promise.”
The back seat of this car evaporated, taking little Kaylynd with it, but instead of going back to grey everything solidified into a different car. The door was hanging open out onto a sunny street. The park that Liam had been going to was just ahead, and a crowd was gathered around… him. The ambulance was here, and the attendants were working madly to find signs of life on the crumpled corpse in front of them.
Kaylynd’s hands tucked around his belt as he stepped out of the car and reached down, finding the edge of the catwalk in the middle of the solid street. The path forward was directly toward himself. The little voice of instinct that he often taunted knew that if he touched himself, that was it; he could go back. Back to the street, back to the pain, and then to the hospital and through rehab and then probably back to school. He could live again. Whatever time had passed here, in whatever this place was, had only been a couple of minutes in reality.
But if he left, Kayland would be here by herself. Just a kid, a good kid, being hunted by whatever was catching up to them.
He followed the edge of the catwalk, her fingers holding hard to his belt, every step a work of labor as he got closer to himself because each step increased the pull to the body he’d lived in for his whole life. He did want to go back, he really did. Being dead at twenty-four wasn’t what he wanted. But Kaylynd was only ten and a half and the grey was a scary place.
High points of the week:
a) I learned how to knit in a circle with those little needles and now I can make hats.
b) Both kids are still alive and (aside from the school-has-started-virus-scourge) healthy.
c) I finished the draft of When it's Not Right (yup, a follow-up to When it's Not Perfect!) and started editing.
As you can see, not a bad week. I'm blaming hormones for myself being whiny today. Am I still allowed to do that? I don't have menopause, and puberty was a looong time ago, but I can still use hormones as an excuse... yes? Please!? (Because being this whiny can't be attributed to the "life happens" moments lately, so must be something other than the cold weather, still-recovering-but-at-least-dry basement, cranky kids getting settled into the school routine, and my own flare of insomnia... can't be any of that. LOL!) Hope you have a good weekend :)
He put his hand on the doorknob and tried to fight off the memory. This was the door into the bathroom of his dad’s place. The knowledge burned into Liam’s skull was that the next turn of the catwalk followed the bathroom’s layout and he would be leading the way through where his dad had fallen in the tub and hit his head, around the corner into his parent’s bedroom where his mom was already high and having sex with her dealer because she couldn’t cope with having found the body so called for a hit before calling the cops. A neighbor had heard her initial screaming, though, and called the cops because of it. Liam had come home from school after his mom’s dealer showed up, and before the cops arrived, wondered about the weird voice in his parents’ bedroom, and escaped through the bathroom when the dealer tried to rape him too.
“Kaylynd, I need you to be really good for a minute, and it’s going to be really hard to do,” he warned her, his voice breaking. “Can you follow me with your eyes closed?”
“Not very well,” she admitted. Which was true, she’d tripped up on her own or his feet every time she tried. She must’ve been in a growth spurt. “I’m not very good at –”
Another roar, even closer, interrupted her and she pressed closer to Liam’s back. Just like parkour, Liam decided he was better off with choosing the path that he already knew over staying out here and waiting for whatever unknown path would be presented when whatever was roaring caught up.
“Okay. I need you to let go,” he heaved a sigh and tapped her wrists gently. She swallowed a whimper and was staring up at him with watery, green eyes when he straightened and turned around. She was a perfect snapshot of summer innocence. “You know how baby monkeys wrap their arms and legs around their mom and hold on so she can go flipping through the trees?” he asked. She nodded, pushing a brave look onto her face, and he leaned forward to hug her. She wrapped around his torso in a grip that would’ve made a momma monkey proud and he stood up easily. “Keep your eyes closed and your head down. Whatever you do, don’t look at anything on the other side of this door.”
She did as she was told, her arms and legs pulling tighter as he rested his hand on the door knob again.
“Are you scared?” her small whisper blew down his collar.
“More than I’ve ever been in my life,” he admitted. If his heart had still been beating, it would have been racing to the point of pain. He glanced back at another roar and saw a new spec behind them. It was hard to focus on because it was… moving. “Keep your eyes closed and your head down, Kaylynd.”
The bathroom was still small and – just like the image burned into his memory – only one of the two light bulbs was working. Although it looked smaller now that he was bigger, the smell was just what he remembered. Liam saw his six-year-old self, frozen in the moment of seeing his dad naked and dead with blood still oozing down the drain with the water. In that moment, his younger self had known beyond all and any doubts that he was absolutely and utterly alone. He was alone with the dealer who was about to gleefully laugh and throw his mom’s feeble attempt to be maternally defensive into a dresser, intent on coming after Liam, and yet somehow he’d known…
Time started as the laugh sounded from the bedroom, and the younger Liam looked up at… himself. Liam let go of Kaylynd with one hand and squeezed his own shoulder.
“Cops are on the porch. Run. Bounce off the walls so you don’t slow down and just run,” he told himself.
There was the crash from the bedroom and Liam watched his younger self rip open the door into the hallway and bolt out. He’d never told anyone about the feeling of a hand on his shoulder, or that he knew there were cops outside, but in that moment he’d gone from being alone to knowing somebody was looking out for him. 'That somebody' hadn’t come back despite running his heart right out of his chest keeping ahead of the creep who was only a step behind him the whole way through the house, and all the times after this moment a hand had never been on his shoulder again. At least now, on this side of the moment, he knew why.
Kaylynd moved in his arms and Liam pressed her head down into the corner of his neck and shoulder so that she couldn’t look around to see what was happening. This had been the start of what had messed him up for his whole life, and she didn’t need to go through it now. He followed the turning into the bedroom and the whole house evaporated into dust that faded into the same grey as before they’d gone in. He realized, once everything was gone, that that day had been the worst and most terrifying thing that had ever happened to him. He could now say honestly that that day was worse than dying in a gutter.
The roar was close enough to raise the hair on Liam’s neck and he spun in place to look back. The spec behind them was definitely moving, and it was definitely getting bigger.
“You did really good, Kaylynd,” he said, putting her down. “Let’s get moving a bit faster, yeah?”
She nodded hard and grabbed onto his belt after looking back at whatever was coming up behind them and paling at least two skin tones. They’d drifted more to the middle of the catwalk so it took a moment of searching to find the edge. Then they were off at something closer to a jog than the basic walking that they’d been doing so far.
The next door came up fast and Liam didn’t recognize it. Kaylynd’s fingers slipped out of his belt and the sound of her footfalls stopped. She wouldn’t come any closer to it than where she was frozen in place nearly ten feet away.
I cried... she cried... but we survived the very first day of play school for my youngest. She had more fun than I did and an hour later is still raving about the light-up bouncy balls in the gym, but I have no words for how amazing it is to have a shower without the low-level panic of what's going on when I can't hear what's going on. It's been seven years since I've showered without that panic, and it's a glorious experience. Not as cool as light-up bouncy balls, but still. *Hygiene* Lol
As for writing, this whole week has been recovering normal life from the hot water tank episode and I haven't been able to get to anything. Plus it snowed, which means my everything hurt from the weather changing to cold and that stole about 90% of my spoons for getting through each day. Add sick kids and... yeah. High hopes for next week now that the basement is dry and school routines are set up and ready to use. Besides, I have two new novels that are sitting in early editing that I need to get just a bit more progress on so that I can start advertising for them. You know, get out the teasers just like this previous sentence. :) Hope you have a good weekend!
4. Place, Time
He showed her how wide the catwalk was as he told her about his walk to get from where he’d woken up to where she was. Going over what he knew gave him enough time to figure out how to get her up there with him, which was just a matter of trusting his jacket to be sewn well enough to support her weight and getting his footing and balance right so that he didn’t have to use his hands for anything except pulling her up. The hug she grappled around his waist once they were on the same elevation was the most genuine affection he’d ever felt in a single gesture and, just like that, he hugged her back. He couldn’t remember ever in his life hugging someone and really meaning it in place of words. If he’d been breathing, the emotion would’ve sucked the air right out of him.
Suddenly falling into an unknown was terrifying because if he fell, this scared kid would be stuck up here on a catwalk that she couldn’t see. The way the two cops always came to his tournaments and cheered for him suddenly made sense, too. He’d thought they were being nice, or being paid, but they were being what he now needed to be: that adult who looks out for someone else’s kid.
Nish’s brain would’ve broke to know about this moment happening inside Liam’s head.
Liam gave Kaylynd the dos and don’ts of being up here, the safety briefing that every rookie got (or damn well should get, in Liam’s opinion) before running parkour on any course they weren’t familiar with. Her fingers locked around his belt at the back because he needed both hands to be able to follow the catwalk, and then they started slowly making their way in the direction of what he was considering forward.
Around the same amount of time passed between when he’d gotten out of his bowl and first seen Kaylynd when his brain started expecting to see another spec. The grey nothing continued indefinitely. They kept walking, stopping to stretch out sore muscles whenever they needed to, and still there was just the catwalk and more grey nothing. The not needing to breathe came with the added bonuses of not needing to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom, so they just kept going.
By the time he’d lost count of how many stops they’d made, he knew she was ten and a half, everything in her life that had occurred from birth to death (she’d drowned at a lake by her house when she was swimming with friends after school), and every moment of pre-teen drama that had happened during this school year for her. He was pretty sure she’d drowned because she was trying to talk to the fish about Macy, who she hated and was also who her teacher, Mr. Cameron, had made her sit beside in school because she and Macy had been friends last month except now they weren’t because they both liked Ricky and… Liam shook his head and felt a smile pull at the corner of his mouth. Kaylynd was a good kid, and he could tell she was going to be missed by a lot of people. Probably the cops who came to his tournaments would be the only ones who bothered to come to his funeral.
Kids like Kaylynd, though, they were a tragic loss. She had a kid brother and a baby sister that were good kids and whom she obviously adored (even though they were both so annoying), and parents who were good parents (even if her mom did still treat her like she was only nine instead of her actual, and much more mature, ten and a half). Kids like Kaylynd deserved a nice funeral and some kind of life after death that wasn’t being stuck in some monochrome eternity of nothing. She was supposed to have green fields and angels and pretty stuff like that.
The consistent babbling paused as he started getting ready to get moving again. When he glanced over his shoulder because she didn’t grab onto his belt by familiar habit like she had been doing, she was looking the other way and chewing on her fingernails. Instead of reaching for his belt, she reached out without looking and tucked her fingers into his hand.
“This is how much time passes before they turn off the grey,” she stated quietly around the fingernails she was chewing down to nubs, eyes wide and looking everywhere as she squeezed his hand tighter and shifted so she was tucked against his arm.
“How about we wait here until we know if it’s going to happen or not?” he asked. She shook her head, biting faster before noticing that the fingernail was down to bleeding and then cringing because her mom was going to be mad at her again for wrecking her hands.
“I heard growling the first time,” she whispered.
“Then we should get moving so we’re further away,” he said. She nodded, putting on a brave smile because she believed the confidence he was wearing, and when he turned back to grab onto the edge of the catwalk her fingers wrapped around his belt and held on tight. He’d been trying to not put a lot of thought into the other time she said the cycle had happened. He had enough monsters in his memories for his imagination to draw from, so learning that she’d heard growling worth being afraid of didn’t help with keeping the memories safely behind the bars of the coping strategies the counselors had given him.
The roar from a great distance away that ended their next break also didn’t help.
He started off faster this time. There was no way of knowing where they were going, but at least it was a direction away from whatever had growled when it got here and was now roaring. He felt his stomach drop when a new spec appeared in the distance, and then fear twisted his stomach into a cold knot that tightened right up into his throat as he realized what that spec in front of them was. Kaylynd’s grip cinching tighter on his belt at the next roar behind them – which wasn’t as distant as before – pushed him forward, shaking and sweating, toward the door that had started everything wrong with his childhood.
Well... this week went sideways rather quickly. School started for my oldest and my writing routine was getting back into a groove, and then around midnight on Wednesday my hot water tank gave up on functioning and poured out a tepid pool onto the basement floor. Two feet from the basement floor drain. The water, however, pooled under the tank and beside the furnace and then went under a wall and into my bedroom closet. Which is good because I found the flood right away using the trusted "why is my foot wet?" technique while changing for bed, but not good because it was after midnight on a school night and, really, who doesn't love sopping up water until 2:00 am and hollowing out a soggy closet... thank goodness we have the extended coverage that includes flood damage. The new hot water tank is waiting in the garage, and my in-laws are amazing for doing the running around so I didn't have to take two cranky kids on an after-dinner trip to a hardware store on Thursday after the restoration team left. This will not (and I say this so very thankfully) affect my 6-year-old's seventh birthday party. Which is tomorrow. In this house. Consolation: cupcakes to drown sorrows in!
The writing part was going good until Wednesday, though. And the water damage is way less than it could have been had I gone to bed at a reasonable time and not found the flood just after it started :) Hope you have a good weekend!
3. Don't Talk to Strangers
Careful to never step past where his right hand was dragging, he started on his awkward way. His brain told him he’d passed the edge of the bowl after enough time passed going in a straight line. The first corner was a pointy-edged thing that left him feeling glad he wasn’t a doofus who didn’t know to have a leading hand. The fifth corner was when his back started to ache from staying hunched over. The path was as absently random as ever, but it was continuous in a general direction away from where he’d started with the rights and lefts coming in pairs that made up a blocky sine wave pattern.
A spec against the grey appeared around the same time he’d decided to stop and take a stretching break. The spec wasn’t moving so it didn’t make much sense to try and hurry when his plodding efforts were taking him (eventually) toward it. Once he got moving again, the spec grew to become something made up of color that looked as out of place against the constant grey as Liam did… and it was person-shaped. As he didn’t know what, or if, anything was below him, he frustratingly kept to the same slow steps that had gotten him this far.
The person shape was a girl. He would’ve thought she was sleeping if her eyes had been closed. She was only wearing a tee-shirt, cut-off shorts, and tennis shoes. The elastic holding her pony tail seemed to be stopping her head from dropping down, but her hair hung below her like the loose end of a rope. He could see a few bruises on her biceps and around the tops of her feet, the fresh purple fighting to show through the dark tan. If she was even twelve yet, he’d have been surprised. She started crying the moment she saw him, her eyes begging for help and her mouth moving without any sound coming out. The catwalk ran right over top of where she was laying.
Liam inhaled so that he could talk. “You have to breathe in so that you have air to rattle your vocal cords,” he told her. Her eyes bugged out and she gasped in a breath.
“Am I dead?” she yelled, the sound surprising her enough that she jarred and lost the balance she’d been keeping on her hair elastic. Her head fell to the side and her bare arms flailed at nothing, her pony tail sliding looser until she froze and pulled herself back into balance. He was suddenly very glad to have made his usual choice of jacket, shirt and pants when he’d gotten up this morning.
“I know I’m dead, so it’s not looking good for you being as we’re here in the same place,” he answered. She cried harder for a moment.
“Is this Hell?” she whimpered.
“Beats me,” he shrugged. “You’ve been here a while, then?”
She only nodded slightly, not wanting to move very much in case she lost her balance again.
“Is it always grey?” he asked, looking around.
“No,” she crossed her arms over her chest and hugged tight. “It was black when I got here. Then it all got so bright I couldn’t see. Then it gets grey for a while before the black and bright repeat,” she replied in short sentences, inhaling breaths between each one.
“How many times has it repeated?”
“Twice,” she looked around, only her eyes moving. That meant there was at least one more person here, and Liam was the third that she knew of.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Kay–” she stopped herself and looked at him nervously. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she stated, suddenly worried.
“That’s only good advice if you know there are people you know around,” he told her, point blank. “My name’s Liam,” he added. “I died maybe a couple hours ago, but it’s hard to tell because nothing changes here.”
“I’m Kaylynd,” she blurted. “Please help me,” she pleaded, starting to cry again.
“You need to stand up,” he instructed. She shook her head within the confined range of motion of her ponytail.
“I can’t,” she reached out carefully and tried to brace with one hand like someone normally would to get off their back, but her arm just waved down until her shirt-sleeve stopped the motion.
“Can you do a sit-up?” he asked, and her only reply was more tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes. “Just plant your feet flat with your knees bent up so the bottoms of your shoes are solid,” he instructed. She did as told, her eyes going wide with surprise when it worked and she could thump her feet against the solid nothing. “That’s good, Kaylynd. Now you just have to curl up so that you’re sitting on your butt. You can hook your hands onto the back of your thighs if you need the help to pull yourself up.”
She struggled through the motion, but kicking her legs a bit got the momentum going and soon she was sitting up. She curled around her knees and just rested her neck and shoulders forward. The ache looked like it was gone as fast as it had disappeared for him when he’d stopped to stretch out from being crouched over. She looked up and smiled through another round of tears, her mouth moving and no sound coming out.
“You gotta breathe in first, remember?” he reminded her.
“I didn’t know I’d be able to sit,” she told him. “How do I stand up?” The question was eager and she was looking around at all the grey around her as if there was some kind of answer there to see.
“Set your feet a little wider than your hips and shift your weight onto them, and then just stand up,” he instructed, squatting and straightening to demonstrate. She tipped forward up onto her feet and – holding her arms out like she was about to do a tight-rope routine – slowly pushed up so that she was standing. She tested shifting her weight from one foot to the other, grinning up at Liam that both feet held her weight.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays 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!