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Glimpses of Freedom

Six months. For six months, Clare sat in the Council Tower penthouse, in a secret room with scant amenities, a prison cell with a four-poster canopy bed. Her only connection to the outside world was the pseudoglass window, which overlooked the city she had once called home.

The Tower was a thing of beauty when viewed from below. Sleek lines of TrueSteel and pseudoglass rose from the ground to disappear into the low-hanging smog that permeated the skies of the city. From above, on clear days, she could see out for miles.

Throngs of people crowded the streets below. People of every size, every shape, every color hustled by. Some stopped to take holophotos of the famed Tower, but she knew they’d never see her in those images. The window, like all in the Tower, was mirrored on the outside.

Her breath left steamy clouds on the pane as she leaned against her window. Sometimes she wrote the names of her lost lovers in the steam and watched as they disappeared from her life again. Breathe. Write. Watch. Cry.

Other times, she allowed herself the luxury of letting her imagination run wild, of picturing herself among the throngs, free from confinement and free to do as she pleased. She traversed the streets with strangers from all walks of life, mingled at parties in the building across the way, perused the shops on the far corner of the only intersection in her line of sight.

She’d never lived in this area of the city. Her upbringing had been humble, quiet, a life lived under the radar because of what she was. Even after the deaths of her mother and stepfather, she tried to adhere to her mother’s teachings, to keep a low profile. Her life was lived in small bars and block parties in the seedy part of town, in places where a single young woman would go unnoticed. She’d never been to the kind of lavish soiree she now watched from her window, but she could imagine.

In her mind, she glided through the crowd of upper-crust Somebodies with a glass of champagne in one hand and a small plate of hors d’oeuvres in the other. She mingled and laughed and conversed, and Eli and Harper were there as well, one on each side, a consort and a courtesan, the two who always ended the evening in her bed, whose warmth kept her safe.

She missed that warmth now. Though the temperature in her room was regulated with the best in thermostatic technology, without Harper and Eli it remained ever cold, always frigid. Goosebumps trailed up and down her arms in the chill.

With a hand on her rigid stomach, she sat in the lone chair and pressed her forehead against the pane. Now she was in the clothier on the corner; she tested the feel of the fabrics: the plush authentic cotton, the sleek NeoSkin, the softest of Truesilk. She tried on pants and corsets and gowns, and her lovers gushed over each outfit.

A glance downward brought her back to reality and reminded her that she wouldn’t fit into a corset again for a while. The baby inside slept while her mother lamented her imprisonment.

Six months without a communique. Six months without word, without knowing if she was remembered fondly or not at all.

In a few months, the baby would be born. Then her captor’s plan would be put into motion. Ezekiel would use her as a brood mare, an incubator, and egg donor for his future child–or children. His grand designs changed from day to day, dependent on how cooperative and compliant Clare behaved. Clare knew she had at least a year before Ezekiel disposed of her–long enough for his heir to be born. If she behaved, maybe a few more.

Until then, Clare had her glimpses of freedom, her gazes out into the city, her imaginary adventures with her lovers.

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Every cloud

This weekend has been nice. Low-key, home alone, and best of all: not sick as fuck.

I made myself retrospect a little too much, though. I was cruising Netflix, looking for something to watch, when I found a good movie. Silver Linings Playbook. Excellent flick, great acting….and maybe a little too real.

Being bipolar, I feel this movie on a visceral level. No, I’m not quite like Pat. Or Tiffany. Not really. I’ve never been hospitalized for my emotional state, never been that far off. But yeah, I’ve missed work over my mental state before. I’ve obsessed over failed relationships, I’ve written nutball letters/texts/emails to my exes, I’ve been the “backup.” I’ve slept around because my depression had me down, or because my mania had me horny. I’ve quit taking my meds more than once. So maybe I’m bits of Pat and Tiffany. I’m Piffany.

I’ve been doing okay for a while now. Well, mostly okay. I mean, I get depressed sometimes. I get manic. I’ve been on an embroidery kick this weekend, and I’m pretty sure it’s not completely deadline-induced. I’m probably manic. I mean, I’m tearing through these embroidery projects, stopping briefly to eat or go to the bathroom or take a catnap. But mainly I’ve been embroidering. To the point of dry skin and calluses on my fingertips.

The whole Pat thing happened to my brother a few years ago. Not the beating-a-man-almost-to-death thing, but the bad ending to a bad relationship that ultimately resulted in him being committed. I won’t go into it too much here, because it’s his story not mine, but it was scary to watch.

It was even scarier knowing that our great-grandfather died of psychosis. “Exhaustion in the progression of psychosis”–that was the CoD on his death certificate. He was so fucking crazy it killed him.

Since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before my brother was, I always assumed that was my eventual fate. Then my brother got diagnosed, and combined with his substance abuse issues he’s way worse off than me. He had his psychotic break in his mid-40s….the same age good ol’ Great-Granddad was when he died.

My brother didn’t die. We’ve got better meds now, better tech, better treatments. But guess what? This year I turn 40. Now, like I said, I’m not as bad off as my brother. So I’m not necessarily on a timeline here. The past doesn’t have to repeat itself. Maybe my brother’s incident was the repetition, and I’ll be passed over. Like the Christian thing. I dunno–I’m not the religious type. But maybe I don’t have to dread my mid-40s. Maybe I don’t have to go go go, to push myself so much, to worry about whether or not I’ll make it long enough to do the things I want to get done.

I want to finish my sci-fi series. I want to finish the collaboration I’m working on. I want to learn more about making garb and clothes and embroidery and get good enough at researching it all to become a Laurel. I want to learn more rapier techniques and practice enough to be good at them. And I want to lose this weight I’ve gained. I want so many things, and I think the back of my brain is telling me “You’ve got a few years left. Five, six max. You need to hurry up. You need to get your shit together while you have the mental capacity to do it.”

I gotta get that out of the back of my head. I gotta tell myself that there’s no deadline to insanity, that it’s not written. It’s not predestined. I don’t have to go crazy. I can stay sane, stay mostly stable, stay me.

I also have a secret weapon: my husband. Even if I do go crazy, I have him to keep me alive, to keep me from going so far down the hole that I can’t crawl back up.

That’s it. That’s my silver lining. That’s my ace in the hole.

Five or six years. I pass that, and I win. I beat history.

Knee-jerking and jerking around

I try to be reliable at work. I show up on time, I rarely call out–sometimes even coming in when I’m probably too sick to work–and if I have to request off for something, I try to make sure it’s not on a busy day or a surgery day. On the rare occasions when I can’t accommodate the latter, such as SCA events whose schedules are beyond my control, I make sure to give plenty of advance notice to my employer. One extremely rare exception was the week I took off for my birthday this year, and if I hadn’t taken that week off I would have eventually ended up with much more time off–possibly physician-mandated–for mental health reasons. My job is high-paced and stressful, even on the best of days, and I was nearing breakdown levels of stress in the past few months.

Enter a former coworker, R., who was the only other COA trained to work in the pre/post-op department as a tech. R. was a pretty good worker, reliable, and he was able to cover for me if I needed a surgery day off. Then, for reasons unknown to me (because my coworkers just don’t talk to me, really), R. up and moved to another town. No more extra body to help with pre/post-op coverage, and no one else trained or willing to train.

Suddenly, I find my time off for Great Western War in California/Caid at risk. No other tech trained for the position, so despite the recent addition of a nurse who is almost off training, I learned that our director of nursing was threatening to revoke my time off. GWW is paid for. Plans are made for the travel/camping/return trip. But because someone else left and no one else is trained, my vacation time was up in the air. That’s right, I did nothing wrong, yet I was about to be punished. Thankfully, one of the nurses pointed out that they had enough nurses to cover me being gone that one surgery day.

Since Estrella War is a longer time span–I’ll need two surgery days off–I made sure to request off now, a little over five months early, in order to give the DON plenty of time to prepare/plan for me being gone.

Yesterday, she told me that I might not get that time off, despite the rapid addition of an experienced tech to the staff. Her reasoning? This new tech might not have her certification reinstated (it had lapsed) by then. She might not be trained by then. Five months. The certification test is a few hours long. She knows the material. She’s smart and hard-working and picks up quickly. But no, she might not be trained and ready by freaking FEBRUARY. (Never mind that, once again, we have enough nurses/RNs to cover if need be.)

This knee-jerk reaction to R.’s sudden departure is extremely offensive to me. I feel like I’m being punished for being reliable. I show up for my shifts, so I can’t be allowed to take time off.

It’s shit like this that has me on high doses of mood stabilizers. It’s shit like this that had me ready to quit and risk losing the house and the car and everything just for some sanity. It’s shit like this that made a week-long hiatus not only desirable but necessary.

Should I stop trying so hard to be a good employee? Should I call out at the last minute or show up late? No, that wouldn’t be fair to my coworkers. I’m needed, yes, but also not so needed that they can’t survive a couple of surgery days without me.

I wish I understood marketing better when it comes to my books. I wish I had pushed harder for bookstores to carry Abnormal and have me for book signings. I wish sales would pick up, and the next book would be released, and I wasn’t stuck on Book 3. In this small town where I live, good jobs are scarce. If I leave the place I’m at now, I might not find anything for months and months.

At this rate, I fear for my ability to have time off for doctor’s appointments. I don’t generally schedule them on surgery days (and I can usually find at least a few hours in clinic where I can be spared), but now that I have to work both surgery days in a week I already have to shift something around. I have to adapt.

Too bad not everyone seems to be able to adapt.

Prose on pause

Sometimes creative choices are tough. You want to do your thing, but you’ve also committed yourself to do things for others. You have to weigh your priorities, evaluate deadlines, and basically triage projects to determine what comes first.

Since my “super secret embroidery project” is done (it was a scroll for an SCA award that my husband received), I now have:

  • A paid embroidery commission, due by the end of the month, in-progress
  • An embroidery project for me, due before the second week in October
  • Two SCA garb outfits, due before the second week in October
  • Another paid embroidery commission, due before December
  • Book 3’s first draft, due…well, I haven’t been given a deadline. I’d like to get it done ASAP, but, well, see above list

I really, really want to work on Book 3. I wanted to do the workshop with my publisher…but I just couldn’t manage it with the other things I have scheduled.

It doesn’t help that my creative mojo is sort of on the fritz when it comes to my writing. I am more than a little stuck after beginning the workshop and finding that I had to rewrite the beginning of the draft. My “hook” just wasn’t hooking. I’ve got a new opening that’s a better hook, but now I don’t know how to transition into what I’ve already had.

Bottom line, I need to step up the speed (while maintaining quality) on the SCA projects and get the ol’ noggin brainstorming on the draft. If I can just finish this September commission and get my October projects done, I think I’ll be able to breathe again for a bit.

Even my Laurel has started to caution me on the number of projects I’m taking on. That’s a sign that I am volunteering/agreeing to too much stuff, and I need to reign myself in before I take on more.

I’ll get Book 3’s draft done…eventually. Probably not by the end of this year at this rate, but I’ll get it done. I just need to buckle down, focus, and get the other things done so my plate is clean.

Made with love

I haven’t been able to post about it until now, but I was given the amazing opportunity to embroider a scroll for an award that my husband received yesterday from our King and Queen.

It was the first scroll I’d embroidered. It was a couple of firsts, actually: first lettering and first freehand shading (without a reference picture to go by). I have to say, the results are pretty stunning. Observe my process:

I started with a printout of the layout and wording of the scroll…

I traced everything in the above image–down to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s–onto some tear-away stabilizer.

I had a boo-boo in the beginning, though luckily I was only three letters in when I caught my error

I started out with the lettering. Never having done lettering before, I didn’t know the “best” way to do it, so teeny tiny satin stitches it was.

About 1/4 of the way through the lettering I got impatient and ripped off most of the stabilizer so I could see how it was turning out
Then I started on the brazier and the shading for the tower…
Always sign your scrolls! (I only stitched through the back layer of the linen so it wouldn’t show through the front)
More shading in progress…
Shading complete, now it just needs the King & Queen’s signatures and the edges trimmed and finished
Trim up the edges, a little blanket stitching to finish it, and voila! A completed scroll! 🙂

It was such an honor to be asked to make this when I hadn’t done anything like it before, and it was such a pleasure to make a scroll for my husband for an award that was so well-deserved. It was especially great to have this opportunity because he loves non-traditional scrolls. He loves to see scrolls that aren’t just paper and paint and ink. Not that he doesn’t appreciate traditional scrolls–he just is fascinated with the many varied ways a scroll can be presented.

Sierra. Tango. Foxtrot. Uniform.

Oops! I did it again–put my foot in my mouth when I was trying to participate, and I think I’ve pissed off one of my favorite people in the process.

Let me rewind a bit. It all started when I took on about three or four too many embroidery projects at once then thought it would be a bright idea to try to take part in an intensive writing workshop put on by my publisher.

The embroidery is somehow being managed, but the workshop–just five days in so far–has taken a massive hit from me…meaning I did one and a half day’s worth of assignments before the other stuff got to me. And, as always happens when I try something like this workshop (or like NaNoWriMo, or anything structured when it comes to writing), I have let myself fall so far behind that I feel I have no hope of catching up.

My Editor-in-Chief is being encouraging despite my laxity in following along with the process, but the Creative Development Editor–who is also a friend of mine from before I signed with the publisher–is getting…annoyed. Possibly pissed. Why do I think this? Well, she started a thread asking the group what was stalling us in our WIPs…and I mentioned the embroidery commitments. Big. Mistake. Her response was curt and kind of discouraging. Basically, she told me that the workshop is optional and that it’s my choice to participate or not. Short and to the point. Blunt. And it hit like a cannonball to the gut.

I wasn’t trying to bitch and moan. I wasn’t trying to get sympathy. All I was trying to do was participate in a thread that I thought I had the time to invest in at the moment. I guess my post came across wrong, though. Open mouth, insert foot.

Am I a little butthurt over it? Well, yeah. I mean, she basically told me to shut up, man up, or stop trying. Coming from a friend, that really hurt. This workshop was important to me. I didn’t intend for it to come across as bitching that I’m too busy for it, but, well, when you have a paid commission that tends to come first. Now I’m torn–do I buckle down and somehow figure out how to do both things concurrently, or do I give up on my dream of getting the manuscript for Book 3 ready for submission ASAP?

No solution seems to be presenting itself right at this moment. I will sleep on it, I guess, and see if my emotions have come down off the edge of that highrise roof they’re threatening to jump off of right now.

Most of all, I need to quit with the negative comments, no matter how lighthearted they’re intended. Clearly I’ve tossed enough straws on that particular camel’s back. Time to put my straws away. Calm my tits. Zip my lip.

Sierra. Tango. Foxtrot. Uniform.

Emotionally disturbed and socially inept

I don’t know why I’m like this. I don’t like being like this. But I am like this, so I have to deal.

Today, I am not dealing well.

The long car ride to Phoenix was fine. The yard sale was okay until strangers started showing up and the driveway got crowded. The next place we went had fewer people–at first. I was able to sew, and I was okay. I could focus on that and not on how many people were around me.

Then I finished the embroidery I was working on, and I had fewer distractions.

Then more people showed up.

And more people.

And dear Gods, MORE people.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But try telling my brain that.

Now we’re gone from that place and headed to another place… With more people.

Intellectually, I know it’s not going to kill me to socialize. So why does my flight-or-fight response kick into high gear?

My go-to is flight, hands down. Except I can’t flee from being social with friends every time. That’s how you end up with no friends.

I’ll calm down eventually. Right now I’m still on edge, and I may or may not be able to make it through the next social thing. But I’ll try, because it’s important to people who are important to me.

And maybe that’s what I have to do: remind myself that these people are important to me and suck it up as best as I can.

Keto craziness

Well, I did it. I started my keto diet today.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to the grocery store to pick up some foods that I can eat now. It was an–illuminating experience. Okay, frustrating is more the word for it. You see, I’d made a list of the basic foods that I’m allowed to eat now, and I was prepared to just get those basic foods. My husband, on the other hand, wanted to try to find keto versions of foods like tortillas and pastas and pasta sauces, and I hadn’t really looked into that. My bad, I know, but I was just planning on ripping off the band-aid and cutting out the carb-y stuff right off. I had my final week of carb-laden eating. I had my last hurrah, my time to think about what I have been eating and what I will be eating and how that affects my future. I just didn’t think about veggie pasta and whether or not it might be keto-friendly.

Today and tomorrow some cookbooks we ordered will arrive, and we’ll have actual recipes and stuff to work with. Right now? Yeah, I’m kind of winging it. I took a bunch of lists of keto-friendly foods and wrote down the ones I’d eat, then we bought some things off that list to get me through until Friday when we can do some serious grocery shopping with the recipes to go from.

It’s odd, but that last week of eating like I normally do (and logging everything I ate/drank) really gave me perspective. Those carb-laden foods I so loved are always high caloric and not as filling as one might think. I was still hungry, still unsatisfied even with no restrictions during that week. And seeing the quantities of food and calories I’d been consuming really made me feel bad. Like, I didn’t realize how bad I was eating until then. I knew I wasn’t eating the greatest of foods, but I didn’t comprehend how self-damaging my previous diet was.

I haven’t made my lunch yet, but I went ahead and logged it in the Carb Manager app that I downloaded at my keto coach’s advice. The app gives me 25g of net carbs per day to eat–after lunch, I’ll have 5g carbs left. (My coach said to cut down to 20g carbs, but I haven’t figured out all the settings on the app yet to change it.) But logging helps. I can see okay, one full bell pepper in my salad is too much, so I’ll have to cut half of one instead. Maybe a quarter pepper. I can put in X number of black olives before it starts adding to my carb count for the day, and the two cups of spinach it defaulted to should be enough to fill me up. A small amount of cheese for added fat and flavor and I’ll be okay.

I can do this. I can lose this weight. I can cut off Death at the pass and say no, not today, man. I’ve got things to do. I have two book series to write yet, and embroidery commissions, and a Laurelhood to strive for, and rapier practice to get back to (once I’m at a weight where I feel comfortable with it again). I’ve got things to do. I can’t let myself croak because I didn’t want to change.

Grocery shopping will still be frustrating for a while until we get a better gist of what-all we’re looking for. I’ll be hungry at times and not have anything other than a handful of nuts or a small piece of cheese or something to snack on. But I’ll be okay. I’ll get through it.

Countdown to keto

After much soul (& internet) searching, I finally decided what to do about my weight concerns. I’m going to be making a drastic but hopefully beneficial change that, frankly, is long overdue.

I’m going to be starting a keto diet next week. I’ve done a lot of pre-diet prep in the form of research, asking questions of my friends and family, and finding a “keto coach” to help me out with figuring out my new diet.

Why start next week? Well, I’m just following my coach’s orders. She said I get seven days to eat as much as I want of whatever I want… That’s right, a last hurrah, if you will, one final chance to eat as I used to before I make a major lifestyle change.

It’s going to be tough; I’m not going to lie. I have huge cravings for sugar, potatoes, breads…. but I can’t eat like that after Wednesday. I can’t allow myself to slip. I have to keep with it, now more than ever.

My weight scares me. It’s not a matter of how I look anymore–it’s a matter of health. A literal matter of life and death. I don’t want to die from some obesity-related comorbidity. I’m only just 40 years old. I want to keep kicking for a long, long time.

Blunt and to the Point

Okay. I get it. I haven’t been participating in the SCA rapier community lately. Like, for months. And I get that my rapier-centric friends miss seeing me on the field. I get that, I do, but I’m so tired of avoiding a long discussion on the why of it. So I guess I’ll have to get a little blunt.

I’m too heavy right now. I don’t feel like my body moves right when I’m trying to fight. The weight of the sword feels wrong, the gorget feels wrong, and I feel wrong. I’m bulky and awkward and not in any kind of shape for the amount of exercise that, say, a tournament or even a short practice entails. My chainmail shirt, which I got for my birthday a year ago, doesn’t fit. My hood doesn’t fit, and I don’t have the free time to make another one right now.

I know I’m disappointing my rapier teacher by distancing myself from the sport. I know my friends are disappointed that they don’t get to fight me or practice with me. I know all this, but right now, at my current weight and in my current state of mind, I just can’t.

Yes, it’s that shallow of a reason. I’m embarrassed to get out there and waddle around pretending I’m not 1000% uncomfortable with it.

So I stab things in different ways. I embroider. Art has become my focus, and it’s something that I can do no matter how big I am. I am actually getting pretty good at it. I found another niche, and it’s one that’s big enough for my tubby butt.

Yes, I know that the exercise from the rapier practice could be beneficial in maybe starting to lose weight (or at least stave off the gain), but it’s like no one understands how awful I feel about this. How humiliated I feel standing there with my sword, roughly one hundred pounds heavier than I was when I joined the SCA. A full adult heavier. Granted, it’s a small adult that I’ve gained, but a fully grown adult nonetheless.

I want to lose weight, I do, but it’s hard to change forty-year-old habits. For half my life I was skinny, and my stomach and brain haven’t come to terms with the fact that I can’t eat anything like I used to.

My primary care physician isn’t much help. He either blames it on my meds or says that I have to cut calories to under 1200 a day to even begin to lose weight. He offers no other solutions, no other advice, and when I try to cut back I’m met with a deep, painful hunger that feels like it will never end.

I don’t like missing out on rapier fun. I don’t like stuffing my face with whatever I can get my hands on. I don’t like having such a gnawing hunger that I start to cough from the acid churning in my empty stomach. I don’t like having to buy larger and larger clothes. I don’t like the way I feel in general.

But most importantly? I don’t like having to say this. I don’t like the pressure I am getting from well-meaning friends who just want to see me excited about fighting again.

So I’m saying it now: until and unless I lose at least eighty pounds and keep it off, I might not come back to rapier. Sorry. I just don’t have it in me, physically, emotionally, or mentally, to get back out there.

I might some day. Start over once the weight isn’t an issue.

But now? Now is no. Just accept me and my choice and maybe I’ll see some of you on the other side of a gastric bypass.

Diamonds in the Rust

It’s hotter than Satan’s balls out today. I’ve got my hair tied up off the back of my neck, but a few scraggly strands fell out and are plastered to my damp skin. They’re itchy, but not as annoying as the swarms of flies buzzing in my ears.

Why am I trudging through the thick, muggy air in this old junkyard, risking tetanus, injury, and heat stroke? Well, I found something the other day. Something strange that could change my life for the better–if I can just find what I’m looking for.

You see, I’m not the most well-off person. I don’t make a lot of money, but I’ve been smart enough to keep my credit score looking decent. Decent enough to get the deed to a run-down old farmhouse at the police auction last month.

It’s not the nicest place, but overall it’s cheaper than anything I could find for rent in town. I started cleaning it up about a week ago, and after umpteen heart attacks when I brushed an occupied spider web out of my hair, it’s finally starting to look livable. Livable by a human being, that is. The spiders are gone now. Mostly. I hope.

Anyway, the farmhouse had a wonky floorboard that was driving me bonkers every time I stepped on it. Since the house was an as-is package, I had to fix it myself. I’m not much of a handyman–er, handywoman, I guess–but I own a crowbar and a hammer, and I can find a slab of wood somewhere to fill in where the creaky board used to be.

No, I’m not in the junkyard to find a slab of wood. Let me finish.

Underneath that creaky board was a brittle, yellowed old envelope. The sticky stuff on the seal was all dissolved, so I didn’t technically open someone else’s stuff… the letter just kinda fell out. And came unfolded when it landed. And it’s not my fault it landed right side up. I couldn’t help but read it.

I didn’t know much about the history of the farmhouse until I did some research after reading that letter. Turns out it was owned by a pretty sketchy dude. I mean, assault-robbery-murder kind of sketchy. The robbery part is where the letter comes in.

The guy’s name was William “Switchblade Bill” Halder. Good ol’ Switchblade Bill knocked off a few jewelry stores a while back. He was caught and locked up, but he got shanked in a prison fight before the cops could find out what he did with the jewels. Not just any jewels: diamonds.

The cops must’ve been pretty dumb to auction off the house before checking any hiding spots, because the letter was from Switchblade Bill. I can’t read who it was addressed to–once the envelope came open, it pretty much disintegrated–but Bill went and wrote a letter to someone detailing what he did with the diamonds.

It’s been thirty years. The car was an old clunker even then, but no one has used this junkyard in over a decade. And I haven’t found any news reports about forty grand worth of diamonds being discovered there. So there’s a chance. A chance for things to go my way for once.

Just as I’m about to give up, when I’m on my last sip of the water I brought, I see it. A nineteen sixty-two Studebaker. It’s looking more shit-brown than the cherry-red it used to be, but I googled that car enough in the past week to recognize its corpse behind that old refrigerator.

I look down at the el cheapo lockpick set I ordered online. Just in case the glove box is locked. Not that I know how to pick a lock, but there’s enough of a cell signal out here that I’m sure I can find some kind of a tutorial online. It can’t be that hard, right? I mean, it always looks easy enough on TV.

My first real obstacle comes when I pull the handle and the door is jammed. It wiggles a bit, but it won’t come open. A nearby hunk of metal takes care of the dirty window, and I’m able to shimmy inside.

My clothes are drenched in sweat, and I’m not sure it’s entirely from the heat. This is it. This is where I get my life out of the fucking gutter. This is where I come out on top.

The lock turns out to be a bigger pain in the ass than I thought it would be. It’s beyond rusty, and the tumblers won’t budge. In the end, I have to climb out of the car window, find my hunk of metal, and climb back in.

It takes a few whacks to break the lock. My palm is sliced to shit from the rusty piece of metal. I’ll need to get a tetanus shot when I get back to town. Maybe a couple of stitches. It’ll be worth it, though.

I take a deep breath before I pull open the glove box. My heart is pounding, and I feel kind of faint. I reach out, and–

–and at first I think the sudden chest pain is from nerves. It takes me a second to look down at the growing red stain on my shirt.

That’s not supposed to be there. I know I’ve been crawling around a rust bucket for the last hour, but the stain shouldn’t be growing.

I hear laughing coming from outside the car, and now I’m really confused. I thought I was the only one here. Who’s laughing at my rust-stained shirt?

I turn my head and see a huge guy standing about twenty feet away. He’s smoking a cigar I think–there’s smoke of some kind coming from his hand, anyway.

I blink, and for some reason it’s a super slow blink. Slo-mo. Like someone is messing with the remote control for my life. The big guy isn’t affected, though, because in the span of that blink he’s right next to me.

It’s not a cigar he’s got in his hand. It’s a gun with a funny looking barrel, like the kind you see assassins using in movies. One of those things to make the gun quiet. What are those things called? I can’t think of the word…

“Thanks for finding my partner’s stash for me,” he says. “Saved me a buttload of trouble.”

Partner? I’m so confused.

I open my mouth to talk, but all that comes out is a wheeze.

The guy leans in the window and shoves me into the driver’s side seat. I flop over like a limp… something. Why can’t I think of words? And hell, why is everything still moving so slow?

I hear the clatter of something small and hard falling onto the floor beneath the glove box. I want to object to this guy’s thievery, but as my eyelids start to sag I smile a little at the irony. Here I was, shiny new lockpick set in hand, ready to rob a dead man, and now I’m getting robbed before I can do the robbing.

The car seat underneath me has a bright red stain too. Huh. Wonder where that came from.

Welcome to Hell

Hello, all! Today’s insomniac post will be a short/flash (don’t know what length yet as I am pantsing it) story based on a prompt I saw on Facebook. Enjoy 🙂

I blink and cough, my eyes and throat irritated from the smoke. A quick glance at my surroundings has me a little confused. Where am I? Where did these candles come from? And who–or what–is this scaly guy that’s standing here grinning from ear to ear…at least, I think those are ears.

“What the hell?” is about the most eloquent thing I can manage at the moment. The scaly guy chuckles and grins even wider. Are those multiple rows of razor-sharp teeth he’s sporting?

“Hell, indeed,” he says. “Tell me, Karen, now that I’ve summoned and bound you, are you prepared to do my bidding?”

“Summoned? Bound?” I look down but see no ropes or chains. When I try to step out of the circle, however, I find I’m unable to get past the boundary marked by the candles.

“Yes, Karen. Summoned from the depths of Hell, bound, and at my mercy.” A thick string of saliva runs down what passes for a chin on his face. “Again I ask, are you prepared to do my bidding?”

Bidding? What is he talking about? I swallow past a hard lump in my throat. “What is your ‘bidding,’ anyway?”

His mouth gapes open as he laughs. More drool oozes down, and I’m about to lose my half-caf nonfat mocha latte at the sight of him.

“My request is simple. I require a boon, a favor most vile.”

My inability to escape this circle, combined with the creepy vibes this scaly guy is putting out, are suffocating me. I’m trying to stay calm, but I’m way out of my comfort zone. I decide to work towards my strengths and reply with my go-to power play.

I cross my arms over my chest and tilt my chin up, hoping that I cut an imposing figure. I look the dude square in the eyes and say, “I want to speak with your manager.”

The guy’s shoulders release, and he sighs. “Yes, Karen. That is precisely what I need.”