Story in the Round – Part 4

The air whooshed from my lungs in a single heartbeat, and I remembered Danny’s warning once again.

Watch out for fairies and wraiths.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Danny pressed a finger to my lips. His eyes were wide, vacant; his mouth hung slack until his own lips parted in speech.  He turned to Aria and dropped to his knees. “We’re at your service,” he said, bowing his head.  “We must obey your king.”

I gasped. What is he doing?

Aria’s lips curled into a satisfied smile. Moments earlier I’d have called her beautiful. Now she was intimidating.  Frightening. She seemed to have grown taller, more solid. Her eyes burned into Danny’s, steady and unblinking.

“Danny,” I hissed, knowing the fairies could hear me, wishing they couldn’t. “Danny, what are you doing?”

He ignored me, and reached for Aria’s hand. She gave it willingly, and he pressed his lips to the fine, white flesh of her inner wrist, his eyes never leaving hers. The fairy’s skin pulsed with light from within, her tattoos dancing as though alive. Their steps matched almost exactly the steps Danny and I had danced moments before.

Alek stepped closer to me. He smelled of cinnamon and something else. It was a rotten, carrion scent, and I resisted the urge to cover my nose. His hand gripped my shoulder. “And you?” he hissed, his mouth suddenly too close to my ear. His breath was hot and wet.  “Are you at our service as well?”

Get away from him!

A voice – my mother’s voice, emerging  as though from a long-forgotten dream – pierced the chaotic hum of my sudden panic, commanding me to obey. I stepped back, out of the ring of smoke, away from the thump-thump-thump of the drums, away from the dancers, the fairies. Away from Danny.

Alek hissed.

The world trembled as I emerged from the smoke. It blurred. When it came back into focus, Danny and the fairies were gone.

“Danny,” I cried, peering into the smoke. My cry was swallowed whole by the drums, by the fire.

“Danny!”

The dancers continued dancing to the beat of the drums, and I was left alone in the darkness.

****

Our shoebox house sat at the foot of the hill atop which the bonfire burned. It was to there I ran, hoping to find Danny sitting on the front stoop, waiting for me, as if the whole night had been nothing but a terrible dream.

As I sped toward the glow of the single-bulb porch light, the fireflies around me ceased their nighttime frolic. The thrum of cicadas quieted and the rhythmic calls of bullfrogs silenced.The stars winked out one by one by one, and, finally, the porch went dark.

The warm, velvet air of the summer night turned cold.  My skin blistered with goose flesh and I shivered against the breeze. My house  – our house, mine and Danny’s – became shadow in the night, nothing more than a darker spot against the darkness.  I approached, and saw a flicker, a movement on the front stoop.

“Danny?” I called. My heart leaped. Maybe it was just a dream.

Then the flicker began to glow. It took form, shape, and my mouth dropped open.

“Mom?”

Story in the Round–Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of the Story in the Round! This is also the first official day of the Hot Paranormal Nights Blog Hop, so I hope you’ll hop around to the other blogs and see what everyone has going on. 🙂 Enjoy!

 

The people before me glowed. There was no other way to put it. The intricate patterns tattooed all over the exposed portions of their skin were lit up, as if from within.

The man was taller than average, his tan skin in stark contrast to the eerie white glow emanating from his tattoos. The woman was pale, almost ethereal in her beauty and the silken way she moved.

They walked toward Danny and me, the woman’s gauzy skirt swirling around her ankles. The man smiled, and although they looked so strange, so alien, I calmed almost immediately in response. Danny’s steel grip on my arm had relaxed as well, and I guessed the stranger’s smile had the same effect on him.

“Hello.” The woman spoke softly. Her voice tinkled, the way I imagined silver would if it were a sound. “I am so sorry we startled you.”

“That was certainly not our intention.” The man’s pale blue eyes held mine, and the deep, rich timber of his voice reverberated through me. “Please accept our sincere apologies.”

“Who…who are you?” The question blurted out of me; I hadn’t meant to be so blunt. If these two were fairies or wraiths—and their incandescent skin said they were definitely something other than human—I didn’t want to incur their supernatural wrath.

“I am Aria,” the woman said. “And this is Alek. We come from Neráida.”

Danny stepped forward, closer to the woman. I looked at him sharply, but his eyes were trained on her. He seemed to be in a trance, completely unaware of anything but the two strangers before us.

“Your…your skin.” Danny reached out a hand toward Aria. She didn’t move away or deter him in any way, but he seemed to lose his nerve at the last moment. Dropping his hand, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Where’s Neráida?” I looked from one hauntingly beautiful face to the other. “You’re not…you’re not from here, are you?” By “here” I meant the mortal realm. I hoped they understood; I couldn’t bring myself to actually say the words. This was all insane, and yet, it was happening right before my eyes.

Danny darted me an “of course they’re not” look and turned back to inspect their skin. How was it so easy for him to accept all of this?

Alek spoke. “No. We are Fae. The Solstice has allowed us to cross the veil between realms. We shall return to Neráida on the autumnal equinox when the veil reopens.”

Fae. As in, fairies. So Danny’s joke wasn’t really a joke at all. My stomach seemed to be filled with ice. I didn’t know whether to run away or ask the million questions that bounced around in my mind.

“Why are you here?” I finally managed to spit out.

Aria spoke, her voice soft, her green eyes dancing with fear. “Our king sent us. We have a task to complete by the autumnal equinox. And if we do not…”

Alek completed the thought for her, looking from me to Danny and back. His voice, I noticed, held just a hint of a tremble. “They will kill us. And you as well.”

 

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Blog Hop

 

Story in the Round – PART 2

I could feel the smoke warming my lungs and tickling my heart, seducing things from the depths of my soul that had not stirred in the last decade. Magic does that—it whispers promises of ease and power to us, makes us think we can be more than we are.

And on the Solstice, sometimes it speaks the truth. Things shift on a solstice, and it’s only natural that we follow the same pattern.

Even as I followed Danny reluctantly, I could feel the magic changing me. I could feel it lightening my steps, and I thought, against my will, of my mother floating over the earth, literally high on her power. The sticky heat on my skin turned cold, clammy, but the beat of the drums compelled me onward.

Outside the circle, I put my bag down on the grass beside Danny’s. He turned to me, his brown eyes glowing with the heat of the power now coursing through him, and offered me his hand. Behind him, the dancers swirled in a sun-pattern, opening a gateway for the power, even as the drumming grew ever louder. Velvet darkness crept across the sky, and when night fell, the magic would really take over.

Driven by the force of the dance, I put my hand in Danny’s. More heat caught fire, this time our own, and he pulled me into the circle of dancers. My body fell into a rhythm I knew in my bones as my heart started beating to the cadence of the drums. Danny knew the steps; the dance was something greater than us, as much a part of the summer night as the stars above and the fireflies skirting the woods. It made us a part of the night, too, our heat and sweat blending into the moisture of the night.

I noticed the stones only after we had done two circuits of the fire. Round and white, they would be nondescript if they were not so strangely placed, close to the fire as if they had been casually cast aside, but so close to the dancers that I had to wonder.

They said, after my mother died, that she had reached too deeply into the well of magical power that summer night so many years ago. But things reach out as much as we reach in, and small gateways as well as large open on solstice nights. I remembered what Danny said about fairies and wraiths, and I felt a spear of icy fear pierce the warm veil of the summer night.

We whirled past the stones, and I wondered if they had grown from the ground there, or if someone had placed them. They glowed amber in the firelight, pulsing in the flickering light as if they were alive. While the rest of us danced to the drums, the soul of these stones moved to another music, something none of the rest of us could hear.

When I saw a man and a woman step from the darkness between the stones, their eyes feral in the firelight, I stumbled.

Story in the Round – PART 1

Today we are beginning a new segments of posts, a very creative journey together, namely: A Story in the Round. Today I start the story, the first 500 words  of the introduction, and then leave off for the next Scribe to pick up. We’ll each add to the story until it comes to its natural conclusion. We’re not discussing where we each want to see where the story will go or what characters should arrive or do or whatever, it will be as much of a surprise to us as it will be to you, dear reader. So! Enjoy!

Southern summers were sticky, hot, and fierce. They held the kind of wet heat that you could never really prepare for. Short hair and short shorts didn’t do much to help, but I tried anyway. Now, walking through the field, the grass tickled my dewy skin, scratching and tickling all at once.

I hefted my backpack higher up on one shoulder, as I trudged up the hill, skirting around the fireflies that drifted just above the ground. The bonfire was tonight, and the drum circle. People would dance and sing and light the fire to breathe in the healing smoke. A new level of heat would be added to the night. The last time I’d danced around the bonfire my mother had been alive. The magic poured from her as she danced to the rhythm of the drums, her scarves swirling around her like a kaleidoscope come to life. Her bare feet skimmed the grass and for a moment, my ten-year-old self believed she was flying.

She died six months later – right before Winter Solstice. It was like some cruel cosmic joke.

I lost my magic with the death of my mother. How could magic be real if someone as beautiful and wonderful as my mother could die? Especially if I couldn’t bring her back, no matter how many spells I tried.

My father said she didn’t want to come back – that she would have found peace and moved on. And so should I. So, I walked away from magic, since it had obviously abandoned me.

Ten years later, I stood on top of that hill, and looked down at the celebration already started. The ground vibrated with the beat of the drums. The breeze carried voices back to me. The song was in a language I didn’t know, but was somehow familiar. There was power in those words and that power touched me, made my blood rush in my ears and pulled at my body to run to it.

“You ready for this?” Danny asked as he came up alongside me. I turned to look at him, pulling my eyes away from the celebration at the bottom of the valley. His brown eyes were alive with excitement. The power of the gathering was already filling him. It wasn’t filling me, not yet, but when I looked into his eyes, saw them alight with life and power, I knew I wanted to feel that too.

“I think so,” I finally answered with a strained smile.

“Then let’s go.” Danny nudged me with an elbow before starting down the slope leading to the bottom of the hill. “Oh,” he said over his shoulder, “remember to watch out for fairies and wraiths.” He grinned at the look on my face. I stumbled for a moment and had to swallow against the lump that had formed in my throat. Danny laughed and shook his head at me before turning away and hurrying down the hill. I had no idea if he was serious or not.

The Creative Mom: Not a Mythical Creature

oatmealcomic

This is quite possibly one of my most favorite comics by The Oatmeal. He’s hilarious and I love pretty much all his work, but that particular series is something to which I can completely relate (click the link and read the whole thing–so worth it!).

Recently, my little corner of the interwebz has been all a-twitter with writers talking about creativity and the challenges that come with it. For instance, Sue Kay Quinn did a blog series about the trials that come with a creative career and our very own Kristin McFarland recently posted about how it’s okay for writers to take a break.

I wanted to put in my $.02 about the whole thing—from the point-of-view of not just a writer, but also from that of a mom. Moms have some pretty big challenges, even in the twenty-first century, when they try to balance a career with the needs of their kids. A creative career is an especially challenging thing because there is no start or stop time. There is no definitive beginning and end. There’s no line in the sand. There is only an internal voice that speaks to you, and it’s entirely up to you whether that internal voice is a gentle soul or a beast with venom-dripping fangs.

For the longest time, I didn’t get this concept. I thought I had to race toward that distant horizon, the ultimate prize. The horizon changed all the time, of course. At first the horizon was just “published author.” Then it changed to “published novelist.” Then it changed again to “published novelist with more than one novel under her belt.” And so on and so forth. I kept racing, kept working harder and harder, until I realized that I wasn’t being productive at all. I still enjoyed writing but when I wasn’t writing—when I spent time with family or painting or decorating the house—I felt this immense sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough to further my career.

And I realized that was bullshit.

There’s no reason creative people—who frequently work for themselves—should ever feel guilty for taking the time to recharge their batteries. Speaking for myself, having a variety of life experiences to pull from only makes me a more productive, focused writer.

Taking a break is easier said than done, though, I know. I recently lost my babysitter. She used to come every weekday for three hours in the mid-morning, which is my prime writing time. I tried a variety of things to get that precious three hours a day in after she was gone: getting my kids to amuse themselves, writing with them around, writing in brief spurts while they played. What invariably happened was that I got interrupted. And when I get interrupted while I’m writing, I morph into a demon, the likes of which aren’t talked about in polite society.

So after a couple of weeks of this, I decided that, no matter what, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not working during the weekday. My new goal—a much more doable one, in my opinion—was to get ten thousand words written on the weekend when I was actively working on a novel. Anything else would be a bonus.

This new goal has helped me immensely.  I think mothers are a uniquely guilty creature anyway: we feel guilt when we don’t spend time with our kids (we’re awful moms; they’ll forget what we look like in the hour we took to chat online), and we feel guilt when we spend too much time with them (are we making them little narcissists? Oh no, we’re neglecting our careers!). I had to tell myself to stop it.

With my new, saner schedule, I take the weekdays to do all the things my kids and I love to do together—get a milkshake, run errands, go shopping—and the weekends to work. It’s a set schedule, and my husband, being the incredibly supportive guy he is, takes the kids to go do stuff with them when I’m working on Saturdays and Sundays.

I had to repress the guilt I felt about this because society says moms should be the primary caretakers, right? But I have a career, too. I’m a mom, but I’m not just a mom. And my husband’s a businessman, but he’s not just a businessman—he’s also a father, a role in which he takes great pride and joy. So, everyone was happy once I let it go. See?

If I’m making it sound easy, that’s not my intention at all. It is a hard choice, and one each and every person should make for themselves. Even having made this choice, I still feel guilt about my husband doing childcare on the weekends, about not seeing my kids that much on Saturdays and Sundays, and about closeting myself in the office to write. But then I tell that annoying, beastly internal voice to STFU and carry on. Because at the end of the day, how I feel about my creativity is my choice. And I choose to feel empowered.

What about you? Do you balance writing or another creative pursuit with family? How do you do it?

No True Geek: The Mythical Faken-Geek

Green Forest, Bogenfreund
Image by Bogenfreund, “Green Forest,” creative commons license.

“You can’t be a Trekkie if you’ve only watched TNG onward.”

“Oh, you like comics? Well, who was Superman’s nemesis in the third issue following Lex Luthor’s rise to prominence?”

“That’s not what Damon actually said in season four episode eight. Bejeebus, did you even watch the episode?”

Every so often in fandom, someone will card you.

Not your driver’s license — your Geek Cred Card. And if you get asked something or called out on not knowing a thing, sometimes it’ll leave you sweating bullets and questioning the state of your underoos.

And it rankles me.

Being a geek to me isn’t about what you love or how verbatim-y you can get when someone asks you to rattle something off. Being a geek is about loving a thing.

That’s it. I might take pride in being able to name just about any Buffy episode if you tell me a few snippets of the plot. It might thrill me to be able to tell you definitively that there are no demons in my apartment, car, or dog because I’ve memorized the long exorcism from season two of Supernatural. But I’m not going to ever tell you that you’re not as big a Buffy fan as I am or that you don’t love the Winchesters as much as I do if you can’t do those things.

Earlier this week, I read an article by a woman who was sharing her experience about cosplaying in a screen-accurate Star Trek uniform from The Original Series. Not only did she get concern-trolled like mad about the length of her skirt — to the point that she felt so uncomfortable by the large number of comments that she changed — but she’s had heaps of people come up and quiz her. Random trivia. Little snippets of fact from within the story of Star Trek and without.

I thought to myself, “Why does anyone think that’s necessary?”

In short, she’s been carded. And presented with the No True Geek logical fallacy. In case you’re unfamiliar, there’s a common logical fallacy known as the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. It’s saying, “Oh, no true Scotsman prefers vodka to scotch.” Or “No true Scotsman would agree with the conservative party in Westminster.” It’s a way to Other someone, to prove to oneself that they don’t belong in your club.

When it comes to geekdom, it happens a lot. When it’s friends bantering and discussing a mutual Loved Thing, that’s one thing. When it’s a stranger using tricksy, Gollum-worthy questions to embarrass and humiliate, that’s something else altogether.

It’s like saying the person who spends two hours a day playing Bejeweled Blitz and Simpsons Tapped out isn’t a real gamer because no true gamer would play those games. Ultimately, the No True Geek fallacy is harmful because it is a mindset that forces the masses of unique, snowflake-y humanoids inhabiting geekdom to constrain their loving of things to one limited ideal of what that ought to look like.

The same can go for fantasy or science fiction — recently female authors have been fighting the inane idea that true sci-fi would never have romance (inane because those making that argument clearly missed Han and Leia’s courtship along with Spock and Uhura and heaps of other stellar — get it?! Stellar? — romances written by males).

To Other someone: to boot them out of a club you feel you’ve staked your claim on with a crayon-scrawled sign.

Another example is that good-looking people can’t be geeks. The argument that no true geek is good-looking because good-looking people wouldn’t have experienced the ostracism and angst of adolescence getting bullied or picked on for their looks. I read that one in a couple different comments tonight.

I consider myself to be a good-looking person. No one’s run screaming from me in years. But just because I don’t make babies cry now doesn’t mean I didn’t spend my adolescence absolutely miserable. I had horrific cystic acne that started when I was eight. I had grossly misaligned teeth followed by three years of painful, shiny, obvious orthodontia. I blushed easily. I was ridiculed and made fun of constantly. I was not, by anyone’s standards, an attractive teen-thing.

Saying no true geek can be attractive is a logical fallacy. It’s another way of Othering someone.

And that’s not what geekery is about.

Geekery is about loving a thing. It’s about the gooey delightful feelings of effervescence when a show comes off hiatus. It’s making inappropriately high-pitched noises at the sight of someone’s Buffy lunchbox or silently giving someone a Live Long and Prosper when you see their Star Trek shirt. It’s discussing existential nihilism and misanthropy over Twitter. It’s the people who will sit in line overnight to get into Hall H at San Diego Comic Con this week. It’s the feel of that comic book in your hands or turning to the letters from fans at the back and feeling tears well up in your eyes at the number of people who are as thrilled to see an all-female X-Men cast as you are.

Geeks are the ones who should be opening our arms to let new people come love things with us. High-fiving random strangers for dressing their little girls in Green Lantern shirts — or grinning and leaving 2π in the tip line of a $20 check because you saw the server wearing a quadratic joke on a wristband.

If you’ve been the Other, you should know how it feels.

Instead making people prove their ways in, why not open the door for them?

Let’s love things together.

Zombies, zombies, everywhere…

…and not a bite to eat.

Right?

It really does feel like zombies are everywhere late. The Walking Dead, World War Z, Warm Bodies….the list goes on. I love it. I think it’s fun. So many people agree with me.

I write zombies, too…sometimes, anyway. My first book wound up being about zombies. It was almost an accidental thing. I got bored writing about a couple of teenagers making out, so I decided to spice things up with the undead. Turns out, I loved the tension the zombies created. I was able to put my characters into this constant life-or-death battle, and really see who they’d become.

I’ve since written the sequel, which comes out this fall, and was CONVINCED I’d put away my zombies for a while. At least until it came time to write the final book in the series. I needed a breather. I needed some other life-or-death battles for a while.

But as it turns out, I am Zombie Girl. Rawr. And I wanted to tell y’all about some other fun zombie things going on these days.

First is The Zombie Project (#TheZombieProject on Twitter), a fun little chain of stories running over at Chynna-Blue Ink, a lovely writerly place. Writers are sharing their zombie-tales on a weekly basis, with each story taking an element from its immediate predecessor, and somehow including that element in the next installment. I’m not contributing to the chain until October, but for now I look forward to each Sunday to see what my fellow writers have to say.

Until then, starting this week, I’ll be contributing some original short zombie fiction to the blog of a local zombie run, called rUNdead Charleston. The pieces will follow a couple of girls as they survive one zombie outbreak, only to (possibly) set off another, a year down the line. It should be fun to see the scrapes into which these two girls will fall, and how much I can mess with them in 1000-word installments.

Zombies are cool right now, let’s face it. They’re the current sexy-villain. They’ve replace vampires and werewolves, and no matter how many you kill, they just keep on coming. And since I enjoy writing in the genre, I guess I’ll be sticking with it just a while longer.

And while I do, I hope you do, too. We could all have fun together.