Monday, November 6, 2017

Sugar Skulls and Dead Ends

It's I guess somewhat known that being sick triggers tachycardia episodes. It wasn't a surprise when I was awoken at 4AM, barely lucid enough to grab my husband's hand for help, with my heart moving so fast I thought it would just explode. 

This is how it goes. 

I have days now where I forget what I'm dealing with. But the days where I'm sick feel like I can't handle anything.

I spent the night right after Halloween in sleep observation, and apparently for naught since no sleep apnea was detected again. Our festivities were a minimum of dressing up, watching seasonal movies, and trick-or-treating. Which felt simultaneously good and depressing. Overscheduling is never a good idea for young kids and those who care for them, but at the same time, this is our favorite holiday. 

I didn't get to do a lot of handmade stuff. I probably wouldn't have even had a functional bat costume for my toddler without my best friend rescuing some pieces for us. 

All I can think is next year will be better. 

But with this still going on, and what feels like only half-inch progress toward a real answer for what is going on with my health, I wonder if next year will be better.

On the other hand, I was once told there would not be "next year", so that's something. Hope counts for a lot. It even allows you at times to catch your breath.

I had a small episode before taking everyone to decorate sugar skulls, something we try to do each Day of the Dead holiday. I medicated myself, watched the timing on how long it took to come down from the high heart rate and transient blood pressure, and went right the hell out anyway. And we had a great time. I've talked before, pretty early on this blog, about stealing those happy moments when dealing with chronic illness.

It's what makes the bad days get-through-able. 

It's what gives you pieces of your life back once it gets shattered by this stuff, and believe me, it does. 

All that said, I'm hoping to recover from the respiratory virus quickly and enjoy another one of my favorite months-it's pow- wow time, it's bake-all-the-great-things time, it's leaf-collection time. And shopping for Christmas time. Those are all great things to look forward to.

And yeah, I'm attempting National Novel Writing Month. I do every year. I have no idea how it will go, but I won't stop trying. We may even be able to schedule a write-in locally this year...

Happy November. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The New Diagnosis, New Treatment Plan, New Life.

Going to a pulmonary hypertension center of excellence saved me from unnecessary surgery, and from a diagnosis that is incredibly serious. 

I can't say enough that if you are struggling with an illness that might be rare, or feel just like you aren't getting the care you need, your best bet is heading to a specialty center. 

After redoing my testing, the damage they were seeing in my lungs on my other scans appears to be minimal. More like what would be seen with obstructive sleep apnea. My first test for that was negative, but that will be redone as well. And a breathing machine at night may actually help with the episodes of SVT. (It also might not make a huge difference, but I'm hoping it will). 

If once again it's seen that I have no sleep apnea, the next thing to focus on would be pheochromocytomas, or "pheos". There was only one positive marker for that in the bloodwork and it's similar to what you'd see in patients with a sensitivity to that stuff anyway-so it's not a diagnosis, but just a direction to look toward if needed because the attacks are pretty similar in nature. 

Those are really rare, and surgery for that would be hard for me, so all money goes down on the restructuring of my heart and breathing issues being sleep apnea related for the time being. And I'm, for the first time in months and months, looking forward to GETTING. BETTER. It will take both the treatment and lifestyle changes, but it can get better. 

That was something I was told over and over again wasn't happening. I think I wore the terminal diagnosis sticker the best I could, but the best I could deal with it was probably not healthy. I swallowed a lot of the sadness. I feel like I tore certain pages out of the book of me. Changes were made during the facing of this ordeal to who I am. A lot of them are probably for the better. Some of them feel like scars. 

 I met a lot of wonderful people who are dealing with that specific illness, and their bravery is almost indescribable. 

With the right diagnostic tools and specialists, I found out I was lucky enough not to be that sick. And that's all it fucking is. Dumb luck. Emphasis on that first word. It could be any one of us. And we need to have more conversations about things like that; about the compassion needed, the research, the funding, the understanding surrounding these kinds of battles. 

That we live in a world where diseases like Pulmonary Atrial Hypertension still exist bothers me in so many ways. And I can't think of any damn thing to do now that I am clear of that diagnosis for the people still living with it except donating for funding research, and raising awareness of the condition and the need for fast and proper testing if you are suspected to have any kind of PH-related illness. 

A few months ago I was told I needed to get ready to be really sick, and then die. I was told there was no way I'd see my children grow into gangly teenagers and beautiful adults. I was told this was probably it. 

And it's not. 

And everything feels different. This is a different me. A different story. A different ending than I expected. 

Nothing is promised to any of us. 

But this is hope. 

Credit to the photographer for the background for the sketch:

                                                                                Joel Filipe

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How to Put Together An All Hallow's Read Treat Bag

Step 1. Place Halloween book in the bag. 

And done

Pat yourself on the back for celebrating literacy and a really fun holiday and sharing that with someone you love. 

Not kidding. It's that easy. 

Unless you're like me most years and are going the "put your candy in an old grocery bag because I forgot to buy you a trick-or-treating pail" route, you probably are going to be purchasing something cute to put Halloween candy in for your kids. 

Put a Fall or Halloween themed book in the cute bag before you hand it over. It doesn't have to be a scary book, but it can be if the person you are putting it together for loves that sort of thing. 

That's it. Literally, there is nothing else required to celebrate All Hallow's Read. 

I generally try to pack it with one piece of specialty candy (like bubble gum tape) and a cheap toy or word search game as an extra surprise, because who doesn't like those things? 

Remember that this doesn't have to be elaborate. Especially if you are on a budget. 

The most expensive item on the list is the book, and maybe you can't afford to buy a new one of those (kids books especially can run you twenty bucks plus pretty easily). Some Dollar stores carry books, and sometimes they gear those toward holidays like Halloween, so it's worth checking those out. Thrift stores often carry books, too, but I don't have a lot of luck finding relevant titles-though I'm sure if you had time to pick through a pretty large selection you could get something. 

Some years I just use library books. Which will cost you nothing. 

Having someone check out a book for you that they think you will love is still a wonderful surprise, I promise the kids won't care (we usually donate our new books once we read them anyway unless it's a reference title or something really loved- my kids don't reread books and I sure as hell don't, so sometimes loaned books make far more sense). 

For adults, you can do the same thing, or even purchase e-books (which are generally cheaper) for All Hallow's Read. 

All that matters is that you keep the person's taste in mind. Don't buy your best friend who is scared of the Walmart Halloween aisle a gory novel. That's being a jerk. 

You could go the seasonal route and look for something autumn-themed or maybe even ask if a cozy murder mystery would work. 

The important thing is to give books and stories you know the person would enjoy. Don't forget that writing a story for someone works, too. 

So, what's going into our All Hallow's Read bags this year?...

We picked the second book in the "Last Kids on Earth" series for my oldest.

This is great for higher level elementary kids and maybe even some middle-schoolers. I enjoy these books myself, actually. With not-too-scary situations that still require its main cast of kids to be brave and witty, this is one of my favorite series for this age group right now. 

For my middle child, who isn't a huge scary thing fan (except for Bendy and the Ink machine) we picked "Pumpkin Town". 

It's humorous, the illustrations are awesome, and it's not too short or too long-a common problem for picking books at his age. 

And, for our toddler, "I am Bat". It's modern, it has a message about sharing, and since she's going to be a bat this Halloween, it just works out. 

For all the kids to share and because it's a fun read aloud, we also have "Grimericks". It's not overly creepy, but it's still very much in the spirit of the season, with darkly magickal illustrations and limericks. 

Enjoy your Halloween with your favorite people, eat wonderful food, and share some great reads. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Downtime with Z Nation.

I'm working on two new covers. Two new covers and a re-edit and a new short story. I'm working on two new covers and a re-edit and a short story and trying to keep up with the life that happens with two middle-schoolers and a toddler and more medical appointments than I can even focus on at any given moment...and I did that thing where I run myself into the ground. 

When that happens I get some signals from my body that I'm in trouble. 

I was awakened by my heart running a marathon in the middle of the night, and while the episodes of tachycardia were short (probably thanks to my meds) they were also insistent. I spent the majority of the night fighting it and trying to keep track of the time so that, if one of them exceeded the 15-minute window, I could call for help. None of them did. 

I required a lot of help to get through the next day, and I'm still recovering today, too. The attacks used to be brief and over but now often drain my energy and body for longer periods of time. 

As much as I'd like to feel accomplished and have everything done, I have to realize it's not always possible and probably not a great idea. 

It's one of those things that REALLY sucks about indie publishing-you are responsible for everything. It's a great way to learn about the industry from the ground up, but there is a learning curve and it's a lot of juggling. 

And sometimes juggling is about knowing when you're going to drop fucking everything and stopping before that happens.

So today is a minimal responsibility day-there are always things to take care of, but my quiet time won't be filled with working today. 

It will be filled with popcorn and pizza rolls on the couch. And finishing my book. And watching "Z Nation" with my husband. 

We missed this show when it aired starting a few years back (yeah, I know. But we had a new baby, The Strain was on, life was busy) but now I'm sad we didn't tune in.

It's horror, it's definitely a zombie series, but it has a sense of humor while still maintaining some aspects of right-and-wrong that make horror compelling. 

If realism in zombie stories bothers you, skip it, because they crack open fresh walking dead heads with everything from egg beaters to golf clubs. 

But what they do have are memorable and likable, if goofy, characters and an interesting storyline. It's a great show to take a break with, especially in October. 

Also, "A Tribe Called Red" made some music for this show for an episode (I haven't gotten to those yet, but it looks and sounds great). I have to watch anything they had a hand in because they are amazing, and you can check out their stuff here . 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All Hallow's Read: "Oniate"



Tanner and Addison stood by the buffet, reaching down every few minutes to help clear away plates and food, but mostly they were just talking, talking with that half-smile on their faces that meant gossip. That wore that half-smile all the time. Tanner was somewhere near blonde, Addison had browner tones with blonde highlights and hair that changed lengths so often that it had to be clipped in somewhere, but both women had the same weirdly doe-like brown eyes. So alike were the color and shape that they could be related. Though, they weren’t.
            Hartly stood apart from them, putting rolls and lunch meat into a plastic-topped bin. They couldn’t convince anyone else to take leftovers from the buffet so this would go into the fridge in the back for the workers. Hartly’s phone buzzed, she checked it but knew who it was.
            A text message checking in on her. It was her friend, Virginia.
So, you are….?
            Surviving. Packing everything up and should be back home in an hour, Hartly texted.
            Survive faster. Virginia texted back.
            The funeral had been horrible, awkward and draining. A mass event for Shadelynn Max, the young woman from the office. She was two years younger than everyone else and cover-of-a-magazine beautiful. And smart. All of those things made her hated.
The entire thing just reminded Hartly that, when she died, only those closest would be allowed to remember her this way. The obscenity of those who didn’t care, or who hated Shadelynn, crawling all over the place was enough to make Hartly feel ill. Tanner and Addison, who really only seemed to like each other, still attended and even attempted to run every event dealing with personnel.
It was a strange phenomenon.
Hartly finished shoving the trays of food and one lopsided coconut cake into the fridge. She turned to find both of them waiting for her, blocking the tiny prep kitchen’s only entrance.
“Thanks so much for staying to help,” Tanner said. “You sure you don’t need to take any of the food home?”
“Yeah, I mean you don’t have to leave it if you can use it,” Addison said, “Not that you’d want to eat any of this stuff. Shame about the lousy catering, but if I were her husband, I wouldn’t have even spent the cash for soggy ass sandwiches from that dump.”
“Right,” Tanner said. “This whole thing, it’s just weird. Killed on the wrong side of town probably visiting her little side action boyfriend.”
“That’s how it goes, so sad,” Addison said. “Were you friends?” Addison flipped her hair over her shoulder, but one of the clip-on pieces stuck weirdly out to the side. Tanner eventually smoothed it back.
“Yeah,” Hartly said, “She was nice to everyone.”
“Aww, I bet this is hard,” Addison opened her arms for a hug.
“I’m sorry, I’d hug you, but I’m not feeling well. Probably coming down with something,” Hartly said. It was the truth. Her head was killing her, and her body was sore like it was awaiting a fever. She couldn’t wait to get home. To get distance from the oddly pastoral funeral home and everything in it.
“Oh, I imagine. Living downtown like that, in that cramped space with all that dust and dirt nearby. My allergies would murder me,” Tanner said.
            There was a loud sound, a kind of bashing noise that made all three of them jump.
            Then silence.
            Then another bash.
            “Where is it coming from? That’s creepy,” Tanner said. Looking around wildly with those eyes, she’d never looked more like a deer.
            “Someone fell, or something fell over I bet,” Hartly said.
            “Seriously? There’s nobody else here right now. What the hell could make that noise,” Addison’s voice changed to something darker and more dramatic.
            Another loud noise, a scraping sound.
            It was coming from the reception hall.
            Hartly moved to open the door. Addison pushed her back.
            “What are you doing? We don’t know what’s out there, let’s just go,” Addison said. She and Tanner were already moving toward the exit.
            Hartly hesitated. The noises were scary, but this was real life. Real life in a funeral home, maybe, but real life. Someone could be hurt and need help. She twisted open the door.
There was nothing behind it, an empty space of off-white and pastel pink wallpaper.
“Hello?” Hartly said, not really loud enough to be a yell. It was still too scary to yell.
She leaned out of the doorway, long black hair swishing forward ahead of her.
            There was a dark spot on the floor. No, not a dark spot. Something far more impossible.
An arm. Gray like old burnt charcoal, but definitely a human arm. It whipped around violently, bashing against the hallway wall.
Hartly ran, disoriented and dizzy, she ran out of the reception room and accidentally back into the chapel. There was nobody, nobody left to help, nobody to tell, not even a body for the arm to belong to.
The sound of what had to be the reception hall door. Could that thing open doors?
Hartly ran through the giant wooden entrance doors, doors she could remember going to an exit.
There were Tanner And Addison, just opening the double glass doors to get the hell out.
Hartly crashed into both of them but never lost her balance because she was larger and could not afford to. “Run! Just run!”
They argued with each other about how stupid either this was or that Hartly was, but thankfully understood they were in danger and ran.
“My car is right here,” Tanner said, and she swiftly unlocked her door with the remote on her keys, hopping in.
Hartly stood there for a second, she couldn’t decide whether a vehicle was better or running was safer, but Addison was already climbing into the car. “Get the fuck in here and tell me what’s going on,” She screamed. Hartly did, but as she pulled herself into the backseat of the Suburban, something crashed against her door, closing it for her, and nearly on her.
            Against the window’s tinted glass, the gray ashy palm pressed against it so fiercely that the grass began to crack. “Drive! Go,” Hartly screamed.
            “It’s just a hand, it’s a fucking hand,” Addison said. “What the fuck is this shit?”
Tanner was crying instead of screaming and drove the three of them over a curb, they bounced onto the dirt backroads of the funeral home and floored it. Hartly hoped the noise and the speed would get someone’s attention, anyone’s attention.
But this place was in the heart of the rural area.
And nobody seemed to be around. They passed a restaurant and gas station, but it looked closed, and they couldn’t risk stopping there, even though none of the women could see the severed arm anymore.
“What was that?” Tanner asked.
“It’s just…an arm, just a hand. It was moving, thrashing around in the hallway.” Hartly said. “It flew after me. I mean I think it flew, it had to. It could open the doors.”
“Flew after you? So it wants you? Why the fuck are you in the car with us?” Addison said.
“Stop it, it started when we were all there. Hartly was probably just the slowest.” Tanner said, wiping her eyes, and staring into the rearview mirror.
“It went after her door, too.” Addison reminded her. “Probably some bullshit magic curse, whatever the fuck she’s into. And now it’s following us because it’s following her.”
Hartly realized being in the car with these two might be just as dangerous as facing the hand.
“Look out!” Hartly shouted. Neither of the two seemed to see it or register if they did, but the thing was flying right toward the front windshield.
It crashed through, Hartly saw it press against Tanner. It went right through her. A gush of blood and the meatier pieces that make up a person flew everywhere, blocking out the afternoon sun that had been cascading from the windows. Addison, who’d been in the passenger seat, was trying to grab the wheel.
She must have succeeded because they were turning. Or spinning. And the Suburban flipped. Hartly’s head felt like it would burst and kill her as well. Her vision was leaving. Hanging upside down by the seatbelt, but with no strength to unbuckle it, she still fumbled for it. Blood was stinging her eyes, Tanner’s blood.
Was the thing still in the car? Addison was getting out, running. Finally, the seatbelt button clicked, Hartly hit the top of the vehicle, her head made it hard to even breathe, but nothing else mattered except for getting out of the damn car. She heard the sloshing of Tanner’s insides, and the long fingers of the gray hand appeared, grasping the side of the black leather car seat, almost delicately.
Hartly rolled out of her partially open door and ran, nearly throwing up from the pain.
Addison was just in front of her. “No, it’s still alive in the car, we can’t outrun it!” Hartly yelled, she turned and made a dash to the restaurant and gas station they’d just passed.
            It felt like it took too long to get to, she half expected the thing to be right behind her but it didn’t happen.
The store and diner were as closed as they looked when driving by. Hartly took off her shirt and wrapped it around her hand and arm to break the glass and unlock the front door. Addison surprised her, nearly making her heart stop, but together they pushed through the county store and ran to the bathrooms.
Closing the door behind them and sitting against it, they tried to silence their breathing. Hartly wondered if it could actually hear. It had to be tracking them somehow.
            “You know what? I’m sorry.” Addison whispered. Hartly just nodded. They were both covered in blood, but Addison looked cut and bleeding from her own body. Probably from the glass shattering in the front of the vehicle. Hartly realized she was just in her sports bra, a gothic affair that seemed grotesque under the circumstances-a cotton black bra that showed a painted on rib cage and a heart. Her shirt was still around her arm and she unwound it, shaking out the glass, and began to tear it into strips, holding the fabric to tear it as quietly as possible.
            Hartly pointed to the giant cut on Addison’s arm and wrapped it. She used on more on Addison’s right leg. She wondered what they must look like, Addison in her expensive floral dress and beat up, and herself in just a bra and skirt and blood. Both of them in dress shoes. Hartly wondered how she’d explain that a flying hand killed Tanner to the police. And then wondered if they would live to say anything to the police at all.
            Things like this probably happened all the time. And just the victims never lived through it to talk about it.
            The pain in her head gave Hartly no choice but to slump against the door. Thankfully it was dark, with a thin line of glass as a window that even a ghost hand probably couldn’t fit through.
And it was quiet. Finally quiet. Hartly’s breathing slowed. She closed her eyes.
            The pain was unbearable. Near her temples it felt like something was digging, cracking into her skull. She began to see things, flickers of light. And her last rational thought was that she must have a blood clot because speaking and moving were impossible now.
            There was an old man sitting by a small campfire, his glasses and bald head reflected the dancing light. He had dark skin and a soft smile, a smile like her own. It was her grandfather.
            Her long-dead grandfather.
            Hartly found herself sitting near the campfire, in a cheap lawn chair. A towel was around her. She’d been swimming in the lake. And this was the best part of her summers as a girl.
            She wanted to ask if she was dying, but her silence was unbreakable in the hallucination, too. Her grandfather smiled at her, that soft smile. “You know,” he said, “Unkind words do nothing for anyone. Someone has wronged you, been unkind, what can your words do? Nothing. The creator didn’t intend for us to use language as a careless weapon. And there are punishments for the people who use it that way. Make sure you stay on the other side of that.” He said.
            Hartly nodded, but it took everything out of her even for that little movement. And it rattled her already shaken brain, she put her hands on her temples. “Oniate,” her grandfather waved his hand in a ghostly motion, “Dry fingers. Look into the fire, watch the flames. I can only distract it for a short time. But, you must not run. The guilty run, so you must not. You must keep walking on the other side of it. Look into the fire, Hartly. Time to survive faster,” he said. Her grandfather reached beside him and took his trucker’s cap and placed it on her head. She couldn’t remember what golden logo had been embroidered his favorite hat. But her headache was gone.
            “Get up or I swear to God I’ll leave you here,” Addison said, shaking Hartley’s shoulders. The shaking hurt in the spots sore from the crash. But her head didn’t anymore. The sight of her grandfather and his fire were long gone, and it was just the quiet and darkly dingy rustic bathroom, and Addison, whose brown doe eyes were wide. “I’ve tried everything and everyone, I can’t get phone service. It doesn’t make any sense. The thing hit the goddamn window,” Addison said. “We probably need to go out the front before it decides to break in that way.”
            “Might already be too late,” Hartly whispered, but Addison was already peering out of the bathroom door, already starting to sneak into the country store aisle. “Listen, I had a vision-”
            “Your witchcraft shit probably brought this thing here. Not sure I give a fuck about your vision unless it told you how to kill a floating hand,” Addison said. They moved quietly to the front entrance. “We have to run when we open this, it’s nearby and this makes noise,” she whispered.
Hartly grabbed her shoulder. “No. I know what this is. It’s Dry Fingers. What they once called Oniate. It’s the vengeance for those wrongfully spoken against, especially the dead. It left us alone back there. Right after you apologized. Anything that can go through a car, through a person’s rib cage, is powerful, and it could have gotten us there. You’re only chance is to apologize.”
            “For fucking what? Are you insane? I’m not doing that. Because I didn’t do anything wrong. And if it’s me, why the hell is the thing chasing you, too?”
“I don’t know,” Hartly said, “I don’t know that. But why for once in your life don’t you try apologizing for hurting other people. This is a spirit of retribution. This is all it does. It might not work, but if it can…” Hartly let go of Addison. Either she’d listen or she wouldn’t. And there wasn’t anything else to do.
It was Hartly that pushed open the broken glass entrance door, and both women ran outside, kicking up dust. Hartly kicked off her shoes and Addison did the same. The sun was nearly setting now, just a sliver of pink gold in a cold twilight sky.
Hartly’s lungs hurt, she turned to see behind them. Dry Fingers was there, flying after them both. It was fast and it would catch and kill them. She tried to keep running into the evening sky, following the last light of a retiring sun. But Hartly was not a runner, not a good one. And she realized that this was pointless. The whole thing. If that creature wanted them dead, they would die. And better to die here and not risk anyone else. Better to be an obscure happening, a story not told anymore, than expose other people to a monster.
Suddenly Hartly just stopped. Didn’t fall, but stopped. “Addison,” she yelled. But Addison didn’t stop. Didn’t look back. And the arm pulled her highlighted hair, pulled her body backward onto the dirt road.
The gray, dead hand closed over Addison’s face, squeezing, Hartly head bones pop. And beside them was an unexplainable shadow cast by no light on the road. One Hartly knew well. It was her grandfather, talking to the thing, pleading with it. She knew those gestures the shadow was making. She stood for a minute, hoping his intercessions would save Addison, that the thing would let her go.
But blood was oozing out of her face. And she was making a wet noise as her breath came out, but there were no screams, and eventually, no noise.
Hartly turned and wiped the tears from her face and began walking down the road.
Every few seconds, Hartly turned around, expecting Dry Fingers to be at her back. But it was there still in the distance, tearing apart what had once been Addison. And eventually, that sight was gone. And even in the darkness, the hand never reached out for her.
When Hartly saw the lights, the headlights of cars on the highway, it was like walking into another dimension, like a bubble she’d been trapped in had suddenly burst. She was back. Back in reality. Her phone buzzed, then set off a noisy trance song, it was a call from her best friend. She answered and just began speaking before there were questions. She felt like she could barely find the energy to explain.
“Call the police for me,” Hartly said. “Tell them I’m just down the intersection of Tuckett, near the funeral home and two people have been murdered.”
“Hartly! Don’t hang up! Don’t! What happened?” Virginia’s voice sounded so sweet. She’d forgotten what it was like to hear that in someone’s voice, that caring. 

“I survived.” She said. 

       *** Check out the photographer for the background on Unsplash***

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Tag" A Flash Fiction Story.

October always means All Hallow's Read, so I try to put up stories for free as a way to celebrate (either written by me or people willing to contribute) and illustrate them. 

***"Tag" was inspired by Wendig's flash fiction challenge (he does those a lot on his blog, so if you need writing prompts, you should follow him. That and all the other good advice stuff about the writing and the things.***


Spray painting on the walls, even the unused ones, was illegal in the city. Painting on anything other than assigned surfaces was outlawed. Once outside the perimeter, the ground outside was okay. But sometimes it killed the grasses. Taj found that the trunks of trees, big trees, worked very well when rocks of decent size couldn’t be found.
            He pulled the cheap paper mask over his dirty blonde hair and fastened it to his young face. It wasn’t great, but he’d had to use rags before, or just pull his shirt over his mouth and nose.
            Time was up and any more minutes wasted looking for a better spot meant his picture wouldn’t happen, so Taj had picked the first fat-enough tree he’d come across. Another artist had been here before. There was a tag at the spot of the tree where the branches began to sprout off. It was just a name in bright yellow. “Dutch” was written in a beautiful yellow script. He didn’t like the idea of using someone else’s workspace, but he wasn’t going to let any time free of the city get wasted.
            He set his backpack on the ground and all the cans of colors rattled. The canvas could be changed to anything, but he knew what he wanted to do and had sketched it many times just before falling asleep each night. It was what he’d seen in his father’s telescope last winter-the giant planet. Mostly green and surrounded by bright blue moons that extended out almost like an arm, waving. Space backgrounds were easy to make beautiful with lots of soft strokes over black and spattering white paint with a dry brush for stars. Taj used a stencil for the planet and moons, though. It was too hard to get things perfectly round on tree trunks or rocks.
            The sun was close to setting and he forced himself to call it finished. Taj began to stack the cans back into his backpack. He didn’t have time to clear out the nozzles. He could do that back at home.
            “That’s a good job. That’s an excellent job,” Someone said, a deep male voice. But there was nobody there. Taj hadn’t seen, hadn’t heard, or even felt anyone approach. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard unidentified voices. He shook it off and began to walk away while pulling off his mask and trying to put it into his too-small pocket.
            “Goodbye, then. Will you come ‘round to paint any more pictures?”
            “No, I can’t use the same spots again, I waste time looking for things, things to paint on,” Taj said before he could stop himself. The voice sounded friendly, needy almost. It broke his heart not to answer it.
            “Oh, well. It was nice of you to do this one for me, anyway.”
            “You?” Taj looked around.
            “Yes, I know artists don’t do pictures just for trees. But it’s nice to have. We get to keep them for a long, long time, usually.”
            “Trees?” Taj doubled back and looked at his artwork and to make sure he’d heard right.
            “Here, if I won’t see you again,” the tree’s longest branch twisted around and dropped two things at Taj’s sneakered feet; a round and fat purple plum, and a tiny, hand-sized kite that looked like a spaceship. It had knots in the string. And twelve was almost too old to be flying kites, but Taj picked them both up anyway.
            “My name is Dutch.” The tree looked as if it bowed.
            “That’s your name written there, then? Who painted that?”
            “Another boy. Well, he isn’t a boy anymore. Hasn’t been for some time. But he traveled out here and wrote our names for us,” the tree said. It was shaking playfully back and forth. “The plum isn’t mine, I’m too large to be a plum-grower. But it was a gift from a friend. The kite I accidentally took from someone, but they never came back to get it. I think it’s better you have it.”
            “Yes, that’s fine then. Thank you.” Taj said.
            “You’re very nice.”
            “People say that a lot,” Taj said, “I have to go now, though. Nobody can come back into the city after dark. Kids aren’t supposed to be here at all, but sometimes they let us.”
            “I’ve been here for hundreds of years. Nothing at all has happened to me. Except for my lovely paintings,” The tree said.
            “Yes, but you’re not a boy.” Taj knew enough to walk away. The tree kept talking. Taj only waved to be polite and then ran back toward the tall white walls of home. When checking back into the city, he handed the toy and the fruit to the new officer with the long brown hair who was working the kiosk. Taj tried to avoid handing the same officers dangerous stuff too often. They would end up restricting his outside time for his own good.
            “The tree gave this to you?” the officer asked, “You didn’t take a bite of this or anything else, right?”
            “No ma’am,” Taj said.
            “I don’t know about the toy, it looks okay. But this is poison,” She held the round purple fruit up to Taj’s face for a moment before finding a clear bag to place it in. “It looks like you’ve found another aggressive area. Do you have a minute to fill out paperwork on where you were exactly before you head home? It’s important. Other kids could go out there and get hurt.” The officer was already standing up like she knew Taj wouldn’t refuse. “For the life of me, I don’t know why you kids don’t just use regular canvas and paper for your art. This gets more dangerous every year,” She said, putting her hand on his shoulder.
            “I know. But it’s not the same,” Taj said. He shifted his backpack and the spray cans rattled together like strange bells. 

Thanks to the photographers on Unsplash for the images used in the artwork- Brandon Green Aleksander Naug

Watch this if you have never heard of All Hallow's Read and think you might want to celebrate. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Review of The Strain's "Mister Quinlan-Vampire Hunter" Issues 1-5


How is it already October?

This feels like a heavy month already. 

We swallow tragedy with our morning coffees, both brand new and ongoing. And feel powerless in the face of it. 

And just before Halloween all of my retesting will net me a hopefully new diagnosis. I'll hear my own personal fate not long before my favorite holiday. 

The only thing I can think of to make things feel lighter is to celebrate the season, and that means celebrating the scary and the mystifying. 

This is and always will be my favorite time of year-when dark stories are growing out of the ground right alongside pumpkins. The imaginary horror acts like an inoculation against the actual frightening things. It's both a form of escape and one of purpose because most horror fiction reminds readers that bravery and heroism are important. 

I can't speak for everyone, I know dark fiction is an acquired taste, but if you could use a good story then I recommend Dark Horse's "Mister Quinlan: Vampire Hunter" series. It's a short read at only five installments and deals with the origin of one of my favorite vampire half-breeds. 

The Strain just recently finished airing the four seasons of its television series, and this is one of those rare times when I would highly recommend both the television series AND the books to any fan of horror. 

Obviously, the books pack a harder wallop. It's a tough story to tell, one of a violent species overthrowing humanity, and if at some point you don't find tears in your eyes, you might not have read it correctly. 

But the television series is by no means bad, it's just different. And the actors were amazing. So you could go with either or both. 

And the comics are gorgeous, too, if you aren't in the mood for a novel series. Once you've dabbled in that, you are going to have questions about some characters, and Quinlan will be at the top of your list. 


That's where this specific series set comes in. 

Mister Quinlan is a pivotal character, and he most certainly deserves this set of short comics devoted just to the circumstances of his rather tough life. 

The images are wonderful, but the narration is accurate enough that you'll be able to read it in his voice. That alone is worth the price of admission because this character is an immortal vampire fighting for the humans. 

This isn't the first time that story has been done (Blade and Vampire Hunter D are two of my other favorite heroes) but something about the characters born of dark circumstances and them turning that around is incredibly appealing. I think it's even more powerful as a narrative if you yourself have come from terrible circumstances. These characters are symbols, reminders that you can be related to monsters and not one of them. 

It's as poetic as it is fascinating, though it's definitely dipped in several layers of blood and gore-that's a hallmark of The Strain. There aren't any moments of looking away-not in the book, the television series, or the comics. 

So if you are a vampire fan or a fan of the series, go ahead and grab all five of these. I ordered mine digitally and it read well on my Kindle-the illustrations are vivid, so don't let worrying about that deter you. 

Vampire halflings make for some kick-ass horror fiction. 

Credit to the photographer for the background for the sketch
            Leonardo Yip