Thursday, December 29, 2016

Books to Help You Glow-in-the-Dark.

Not literally glow-in-the-dark...Although, that would be cool. If they have books that do that, send me links. I've wanted glowing blue eyes since reading Dune...


It's definitely "between" time right now. Between the bright light of Christmas and the hope of the New Year. It's a good time for rest, if you can, and reflection. 
I normally post book reviews on a different blog, but this was so personal that it needed to be here. It's also the last time I'll talk about it. As you heal from stopping the abuse, you desire less and less to open the wound you cleaned out. And, the more time you spend away from it, the more distant the memories of it become. I think that is where it belongs. You have to face what happened, but forcing yourself to relive it doesn't reveal anything new. 

For those who've had to be their own light in the shadows, who had to learn figuratively to Glow-in-the-Dark since their earliest years, Dr. Susan Forward (with Craig Buck for "Toxic Parents) has two excellent novels that read like survival guides for those of us born into toxic families. 

These are some of the best books on the subject I have come across. The offer examples from real cases (obviously names changed to protect everyone) and are filled with exercises you can complete to get a better picture of what is going on, and who you are in all of it, and what you want. 

Both come with a warning. It's one I hope you do not take lightly. 

You NEED a guide. No matter who you were in your disordered family, you will need a guide. Sections of both books are marked off with the advice that if it becomes too rough to read through-or you know that it will-you should speak with your therapist. 

A therapist won't do this work for you. They are just there to make you you don't get lost; to make sure you get out of the darkness you must willingly enter. Bilbo and Frodo needed Gandalf, you need your wizard therapist. It really is too bad that they don't just show up exactly when they are meant to the way wizards do, but you can find a good one. Ask about how they deal with the specific situation you are facing, hire only someone you are comfortable with and trust. If you can't find the time for in-office visits, there are many offering online sessions. If money is an issue or your insurance is lacking in mental health support, check your city's resources. Somebody should be able to point you to low or no-cost services. 


Without the help of a professional, you can easily find yourself right back in the hell of your childhood. You will find the voice of person who tortured you in these pages. I'm not sure anyone can or should face that without the support of loved ones and a guide. 

Nobody can decide for you what you want your life to look like, and these books leave it up to you to determine the appropriate level of contact. You are first drawn to recognize what is going on, and then the choices belong to you. There are some nice metaphorical exercises, such as writing down all the things your toxic parent bludgeoned you with, and then writing the truth out beside them. You'll burn their words (and take the ashes out of your home) and set your truth up with a helium balloon to the sky. You can probably do a more eco-friendly take on this exercise, but the idea stands. And it's important. 

I was a scapegoat. I'm convinced, though I don't have evidence, that we are assigned these roles in disordered families based on our strengths.

 I found myself atop the altar of the scapegoat-one a disordered family must erect and bleed you dry on to hide their problems, and avoid attacking each other. They never once looked back to see that their lamb to the slaughter was really a wolf.


Remember, these are just two books in a sea of hundreds dealing with this very topic. And, if you get the help of a therapist, they may have their own recommendations. 

Don't stop reading there, either. 

You feel down? Grab a comedic novel. You feel like you can't be strong anymore? Get a heroic yarn. A huge part of my healing process revolves around the written word. There is even evidence writing about what happened and re-framing it can help you overcome it. 

Whatever you choose (and it is a DEEPLY personal choice) I wish you the happiness you deserve. Build a strong support system of people who love you, and cherish them. 

May your New Year hold that and much more greatness in store for you. 


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter Things and Books as Survival Tools

It's sort of winter here in Texas, it's sort of not. One thing for sure, no snow. Which, I don't do well in cold, but when we do have to deal with it, you feel ripped off. If you are going to be freezing and miserable, you need to get snow to play in. Otherwise, it's just that first thing...



The toddler is really the only one who can quietly play in a sensory bin for a long time, but the older ones will join in if it proves too much fun. We made fake snow recently, and everyone loved it. Even my carpet, which is trying to hold onto small bits of the stuff despite my protesting. It does, however, clean up better than rice. Or kinetic sand. 


Try the baking soda recipe- 2 1/2 to 3 cups baking soda (we used 3, most recipes call for 2.5 cups)
and mix it with 1/2 cups of conditioner (white, or the snow won't be white. Use a mild one you like the smell of, it will permeate everything). It was fun, and you can find other wintery ideas if you feel the season swindled you out of snow here

We found ourselves back at the local bookstore, since now the toddler's naps interfere with getting outside in the few hours of daylight, and both older children asked for a book. Not a toy. A book. And they both wanted the same book. It was expensive, but I felt like I could not turn that down. Both of them are Gravity Falls fans, and it is a wonderful show with their favorite things-1. monsters and 2. hilarious jokes. It's rare to have them both that interested in something. 
It's as cute and funny as the show.
Upon checking out, the cashier told us about their book drive going on. We could buy one of the books they had set aside for kids that needed them (each local branch of Barnes & Noble will have a different charity) and they would donate it to them for us. I had just overspent on a book for my own two kids on a shoestring holiday budget, so I just sort of stood there, probably with a stupid look on my face, for a minute. People think books don't mater as much as everything else. I know they do. I know it. The cashier offered to help us chose one we could afford, and I'm glad she took the time to do it. 

In the worst times of my life, reading made all the difference. I'm still passionate about it to this day. They, along with the people who really showed me what love is, saved me. If you can spare even a small amount, you might go to your Barnes and Noble and see what charity they are donating to, and if you can afford to grab a book for someone who might need that lifeline. There are details online here .

How I survive the Wastelands. 


Maybe that's too much for your budget. I get that, too. Trust me. You might consider donating some of your used books then, to your library or a thrift store, or just to someone you know. Just, if you have found any solace, any comfort, any will you needed to live your life in the pages of a story, see if you can find a way to share that with someone else (whatever that way is). Happy Holidays. 


(If you ever can't find me here, try over at https://literarydust.wordpress.com/, where I guest post reviews. I will, however, try to post with more frequency as our busy season slows down into just a season). 






Sunday, December 11, 2016

All was Well.

Barnes & Noble held their Yule Ball party this weekend, and it, despite being crowded and small, was kind of magic. The high-school orchestra played under owl post envelopes on invisible strings, there were craft tables, a snitch hunt, and lots of people dressed up to go to frankly the most magical place we have in town (library aside) the local bookstore. We were able to join our friends, and meet new ones.



It's magic to get a bunch of fans together, drawn in by a singular set of books. My kids loved it. I hope you got to attend if they held one near you, and mark it in your calendar anytime a local venue offers a book-themed party. I have never once been disappointed in attending one.

I feel like lately I haven't had time to really work. Some of it is the season, some of it is my primary job to care for my family. It's never easy not to feel guilty about that. I even ran into one of my old animation class buddies-a long accomplished professional and one of my favorite joke-tellers in any university level course ever. And I felt guilty talking to her about how little I think I have accomplished. Having children herself, she reassured me it was hard. And to keep working.

That's good advice. But, I don't want to feel guilty for not killing myself just trying each day to do something other than take care of my family. That seems both senseless and degrading. A nice reminder most of what I do isn't valued at all.

And I think back to before my husband and I had children-before he was my husband actually. The last Harry Potter novel had a midnight release. And the first thing we heard on the drive to community college (and the fight for parking in the uncomfortably early hours) was the radio host of a beloved morning show bitching. Bitching because he said NOBODY wanted what was supposed to be one of the most talented wizards to end up as a house-husband.

That's misleading, Harry has an important job. What Rowling focused on was what mattered the very most to the character. To the story.

It was his family.

And I have to remember that I will, eventually and somewhat sadly, have time to myself. Right now, though I have to show my children how to chase their dreams by trying to chase my own, I have to forgive myself when I can't balance everything-when they must be placed on top.

Because that's the heart of my story.



Thursday, December 1, 2016

Aren't you Glad that's Ov-Aww, Crap! It's the Holidays.

While I'm not entering my typed pages (I hand wrote everything, I need to explore why that's easier for me but it REALLY is the first time around) NaNoWriMo is over. 

And November is over. This has been one of my worst Novembers in a long, long time. 


While I didn't find writing itself stressful, I had over a week where I could not put pen to paper. I call that survival mode-it's the rerouting of power to keep a machine from breaking down in the most literal sense. We encountered an emergency that left us scrambling and stressed, and anything that was not a requirement for daily life had to go away. I'm not sure how many other people react like that, but I'd sort of like to think it's a parenting thing. There is always extra things to be taken care of, and when something implodes/explodes, you survival mode until you don't have to anymore. 

I'll be honest, I got through only 50 pages of handwritten text, but I'm pretty okay with that, given the situation. And the cool thing was there were several people I know that DID hustle with everything they had and got to or nearly to 50k words. I'm in awe. Because these aren't people who get to come home to quiet houses and don't have a lot to do-they are busy hard-working folks and they did it. And all I can tell you is you should be excited for these blossoming books. They are really good. 

I'd like to get this draft finished in February, which is also about the time everything calms down for us. No more giant holidays or birthdays for a few months and the world just seems quieter in the winter-y sense, so I hope I can manage it.

I figured since I've been busy and silent for a few weeks, I'd share just a little bit of November's writing for Book II of The Children of Dire Wolf...


(...)
"But I need something from you," She took an object from her jacket pocket and dropped it lightly over my glass. The sound still stung my sensitive, uncovered ears. "Forgive the quality of the footage, it's from a soldier's cam," She said. 
      The slim black circle she'd dropped lit up suddenly, and I saw a film of an Afflicted-heavily rotten, slow, but very large. She was pulling apart what looked to be a human body, almost like a baby would take pieces out of a chunky puzzle. Instead of eating the flesh, the organs, she'd study it for a second and put the pieces down. When nothing but the torso remained, the Afflicted put both hands into the gore flowing out and wrote on the wall Go Away. The camera backed up, lit a larger area. And I saw it. RAIN RAIN GO AWAY COME AGAIN SOME OTHER DAY WE WANT TO GO OUT AND PLAY RAIN RAIN GO AWAY.
      Over and over again, Some pieces of it were just browning clots of blood and string, as if it had been written so many times that there were no clean spaces to form the words. 
      I shook my head. It was a damn nursery rhyme. Some Afflicted had consciousness. Maybe some could only remember a song. 
   "I know, but we've seen similar occurrences. Not always that legible, but always there posted near places where so many were lost that we had to evacuate. And those that survived the encounter usually didn't survive being exposed to the mycotic infection. I think this, considering your lineage, is a message you can help us decode." 
     The Afflicted stopped the weird ritual, and seemed to turn and take notice of being filmed. The footage blacked out. 


I'm not sure how great the story is right now, but it's a fun ride-hopefully the book will be finished soon and you can get the whole thing. 

I'm looking forward to the holidays, but not the stress of it really. The little things to mark the change of the season are beautiful, but the crowds, finance-juggling, and the breaking of routine can be really rough for me, so it really is best to focus on the simple stuff in my case. 

Like hand-painting pine cones with the kids. If you haven't done this, try it. Pine cones are generally free, and most of us have craft paint and glitter somewhere. It's relaxing, non-perfectionist decoration that you can even save for next year as a memory piece. 

Happy December! 




Friday, November 11, 2016

NaNovember Without Losing Your Mind.

Just crossed the threshold of Chapter 3. Still all hand-written (anyone else do better that way?). 


I still put a sticker on the calendar for each accomplished writing day.
Yes, they are Lisa Frank stickers. Also, don't put your write-on calendar on a

frequently used door. We've written on it when it swings open several times, and once even wrote on someone opening the door...hindsight 20/20. 
Still giving up sleep and down-time, still back on board the addictive coffee wagon (despite the sinus tacchy, but I'd found that drinking it early enough in the day doesn't affect me as much, and I can't go over one serving). And with all that, I'm moving so much slower than I thought I would.

But-

I'm working everyday. Every single day. And it's become a habit at this point, to curl up with my multi-colored pens and be allowed to create in the quiet hours of the dark. When you keep up the pace, I have noticed that coming back into the world to write more is far easier than picking it up even every other day. You don't have to think about what's happening, where you are right now in the plot-you know. An outline helps with that, but it's not the same as just knowing the moment you are in. So, it's slow. But, this has had such a positive impact on my work that I'm excited. 

And it is even more exciting that this year we have a group of writers working to finish their books, and I get to kind of lean on them for inspiration and watch how they are doing things (because, face it, like all artists, each writer is different). It also keeps you more accountable, so if you have a chance to go to a writing group either though NaNoWriMo or can assemble one from your circle of friends, don't pass that up. It's wonderful. 

November is a month of beauty, and finally not being so hot you have to pack like you're a desert-trekker, but it's a month of losing your damn mind, too. The holidays are hanging their heads and price tags around the corner. We don't even do a huge Thanksgiving event. We do Friendsgiving, and then some local events like pow-wows and harvest festivities. That's it. And I still find it stressful. 

Some of it is holiday guilt. I feel like, and have always felt like, we can't do enough for the kids. That's hard. Every year. So it's a big deal to search for just the RIGHT gift for each person we love and within our budget, and I often find myself chittering around holiday sales like Black Friday (which SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCKS) and Cyber Monday. And both older children have birthdays packed on either side of the holidays, so we can get triple the dose of "I wish we had more resources to do more for everyone". 

During all of this, self-care sort of goes to the corner with a coned hat to sit and think about the things it can't do. 

One thing I'm trying to keep up with while writing and November-ing is my hair. It's really thick, it's kind of long now, it's hard to deal with brushing your hair out for an hour everyday. I have a survival kit at this point-a specialty brush for my hair type, leave-in spray conditioner, and oil (sometimes coconut, sometimes argan). It still takes a damn hour. Or more, if I've ignored the hell out of it, which I often do. 

Exercise has taken even more of a back-burner position. The weather is finally okay, I'm finally on a working medication for my heart, and still I haven't made room in my head or life for it. Somehow, I need to figure out working, not ignoring myself, and taking care of everything/one. 

But I realize that if writing doesn't stay high on the list, I won't get finished. I won't. I've tried it and I know that I won't. And, if I'm going to continue on this road, that's unacceptable.


I hope to finish NaNo with a lot done, still. Chapter Three makes me feel like I can get where I need to be for that. Everyone participating: remember why you're doing this. Remember why each word you get down is a small victory, 
and most of all don't give up



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Into the Belly of the Wolf...

Day 1 has passed of National Novel Writing Month, how'd you do?

I ended the day with just over 1000 words. Which, I'll count as good. I'll count that as workable. 
More is better. But this is okay.

I wrote my first novel after bringing home my second newborn. A few times my husband was startled by the alarm on the keyboard at night because I'd fallen asleep with my face hitting the shift key. I once typed five pages of the letter "M" by doing the same thing. A friend suggested I work it into the story next time. "Something smelled great. MMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...It was the chicken." 

And, if that happens again, I'll consider adding it into the damn novel. 

Many swear by writing during the daytime. I can't do it. Or, I can rarely do it. 

My brain space is not open for business during peak hours. It's only as silence enters the house and bedtime finally arrives that I can dream, or write. I'm in the night-owl camp. Which means I usually need a freaking nap and a coffee after the nap. 


The juggling act of three children, with two in a fast-paced charter school, is a different animal than years ago when I had a toddler and a new baby. A stronger animal. And a needier, louder one. 

Uniforms have to be ready. Lunches packed. Shopping trips taken to make sure we can eat. I've given up on the house being company-ready, but it has to be clean enough for us to function. Bills have to be paid, and, not least of all, everyone needs quality time (usually outside). Especially the baby, whose brain development is still incredibly rapid. My husband helps out without missing a beat, which I feel guilty over. He has a demanding job. And this is supposed to be what I DO, right? 

This is what I do. Along with writing and illustrating. 

It's a balancing act.

Trying to finish 50k plus words while not being a shitty mom. 

And if 1,000 words is all I can get at the end of the day, snuggled in the calm of having taken care of everything, then it has be okay. And maybe some days will be easier than others. Or I keep telling myself that will happen. 
NaNoWriMo Day 1

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween in 2016

(Mostly friendly) Forest spirits. 
My Roman, my Spartan, my Unicorn.
 Halloween is a big family ordeal for us. It was even before we had a big family, actually. I'm so grateful everyone had a great time both at traditional trick-or-treating and at a party. It is so much fun helping the kids decide what to be, and creating characters for ourselves. It is too bad it falls on a Monday-it feels like it should be a weekend holiday every year, a stationary one like Thanksgiving. 

And just as quickly as blowing out a candle, October is dark and gone. 


And next month holds the pilgrimage to the novel, if things go right, a completed one. It's an uphill battle, on terrain you don't know, with bad weather and limited resources. It's normal to ask why the hell anyone would try to finish a book of 50k or more words in thirty days. Most will give you different answers for doing NaNoWriMo. 

Me? I need the deadline. NEED it. I work best within confines, and daily regular routine with three children does not allow everyday time set aside for creating. This is a marathon sprint. It isn't supposed to be comfortable, but you, however it plays out, will be stronger for the attempt.

I have each chapter outlined. The goal for me is to get at least half of a chapter per day, but if I can get an entire one, even better. I'm handwriting this, which isn't a popular choice, but it's a valid one if it helps you speed and availability-wise. I have different colored pens, with the intent to switch colors every two to three paragraphs. It was an old ADD trick to track when you might need a break, and to keep everything in manageable chunks. I also have a sticker to place on the calendar for every day I complete my goal (I get it, that sounds stupid, it helps to give a feeling of progression though). 

October is the heralding of Fall, and November is the triumphant stroll it takes. Everything burns red and beautiful, and it's my favorite month for making new things. 

Good luck to everyone embarking on the the journey to getting books finished next month! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

All Hallow's Read Part V: "What you Feed Yourself"

I want to take a second, this being our last story on the blog before Halloween, and thank all of the writers who found time to share their awesome work. They have been kind, patient, and selfless-as writers often are. I will keep all of my readers posted in whatever new works these guys publish, I promise to keep track of these rising stars. 

And that brings us to our closing story. 

I'd shared an early, mostly uncombed short version of this months ago, and I thought All Hallow's Read the perfect time to put the entire, cleaned-up thing here. The entire story, as dumb as it sounds, was a dream. I'm not normally that lucky as far as plots go. 

I'd been having trouble dealing with the fact I was, officially, changed. I had a new diagnosis, I had shifting goals and plans. I realized that I didn't have time to do all the things I'd wanted, things I'd dreamed of-things I assumed I would just pluck into reality. It pained me in a way I almost couldn't swallow. Then, this dream came. This story came to ask whether you will rail against a new truth, a new version of reality-or will you rise to meet what you now have? 
via GIPHY

It's a question we will all face. 



"What You Feed Yourself"

I remember waking up at home. On our soft violet couch. I knew I was dead. I knew that much, but it was as if I'd lost everything else. And sadness blossomed out of my body like a flower. 
I don't remember how it happened, and I refused to ask. 
And I felt so lucky. I woke up at home, with the people I love. My husband can see me, our children can see me. I can interact with them, with the world, with objects. I'm sure there are yet limitations I don't know about. Rules that could probably break this spell. Like knowing how I died. Maybe just that knowledge would suck me down into some other eternity. 
I don't actually care what, if anything is beyond this. I just want to stay here. With them.
I get to rock my baby to sleep, to inhale her breath that still smells like cookies even if she hasn't eaten any, because that's just how babies smell. I get to help the older children with homework, with late night philosphical talks, and be proud when I don't have to help them at all. I get to run a wide brush through their young hair every morning before school. I get to pick up toys. I get to lie beside my husband, touch his warm skin and listen to his stories. 
I am the luckiest person not alive. 
I died and nothing changed. But I died and I changed. 
That deep sadness I felt when I woke up never went away. It unfurled new and more decayed petals every chance it got. 
I stopped looking in mirrors. The nicest thing about being dead is that I don't change. I don't wear my long hair up, I don't have to because it is always in place.  
I spent the first week looking over my body intently, out of morbid passion. I went looking for a wound, a seam to be unwound, for my skin to start curling and peeling up. I waited for my blood to blacken, for my pigment to fade to ivory. I never saw anything. You don't change when you're dead. You're just dead. 
When you don't know the rules, it's frightening to go to new places. My family could see me, most people in everyday life seemed to be able to, but maybe I was imagining that. I did notice that the places I used to frequent in life were infinitely more crowded now. What the actual hell hundreds of ghosts were doing at the park and the library and the market was beyond me. But some were probably doing what I was doing-trying to help take care of their loved ones. I wasn't brave enough to talk to them. I didn't know the rules for that.
It takes me a bit to tell the living from the deceased. 
The gargantuan automatic glass doors of our grocer opened like a sideways mouth of a creature lying down. They inhaled the breeze from the Autumn day, and yet a woman with perfect, golden and straight hair was unmoved in any sense. Her baby's strawberry hair, too, sitting in a buckeled carrier on her back, remained motionless in the wind. Just a few feet from the doors, picking through oranges on a stand, it should have affected them. They were dead.
"That's not her baby, if that's what you're thinking," said a male voice, deep, and suddenly in my right ear. 
I jumped. "I'm sorry," I said. I'd been staring at them, and maybe it was someone he knew. His face was just as easy to lose myself in. I stared at the details-deep set dark eyes, paired off my the darkest lines of eyebrows and eyelashes I'd ever looked at; they looked like ink. His hair was long and slicked back, but was the same color. He was a vintage travel poster, and was wearing an ugly blue plaid scarf with a button-up shirt. No way this bastard wasn't long dead. 
"They get like that," he said, pointing to the golden woman. She was picking through every orange and then putting it back. "Over-focused and protective. She probably just got him today and doesn't know what to do with herself."
"The baby is a ghost?" I asked. I stared intently, wanting the child to move or show some sign of life, but it appeared to be sleeping.
"You think a living child would want anywhere near us? No, the living prefer the living. Hell, the dead want the living, too, but, you get the idea." He had a perfect snear.
"I have children-" I said.
"Oh. I thought you had maybe a juice box and cheese cracker fetish." He pointed to my reusable shopping bags. I laughed, but I kind of wanted not to.
"I didn't mean our children. Of course they want us around. I didn't mean it like that. The ghosts of young ones need caretakers, too. But the longer we've been like us, the more it takes adjustment. They'll be fine." he said.
"That's good. You seem to know what's going on." I said, "Can you help me?" I put my bags on the tiled floor and a clamshell of kiwis escaped. I set to collecting them. It was one of the only vitamin-rich things all four children would eat. 
"Well, you're dead." he said. 
"I know that. That is almost all I know. I wake up everyday afraid that I'm going to screw this up, break rules I don't know about for a game I didn't get to decide whether or not I really wanted to play." I said.
"You must have wanted to play. There are three kinds of deceased. The dead-dead. Like you. Driven to stay around for the people they love. The dead-and-gone have moved on with their after-life, unattached to this place. And the night-dead. You don't want to be one, you don't want to sit with them, if they ask you."
"How long have you been dead?" I asked.
"What the hell kind of question-You know what? Not even that long. It's the scarf right? Damn. You're the fourth dead woman to ask me that. Talk to me like I went shopping in a newsboy cap..." He picked up my bags, and I went to fetch the last stray fruit, its scraggling hairs damaged by the wild roll to the dairy case, and my reflection caught me by surprise. 
There was something dark. Something dark on my face. 
I moved closer to the shimmering sidelines of the freezers and saw the deep midnight black oozing out of my eye-like a tar bubble that had been pierced open. But in the darkness were tiny stars, small points of light and faint auroras. The longer I stared, the more it began to pour down my face. 
Someone wrapped something around my eyes, and tied it, binding and blinding me. There were many cold hands like my own, I heard someone else pay for my things and then I heard the whoosh of the automatic sideways mouth. I tugged my blinder off. Of course, it was his scarf. He came up beside me, and another ghost handed him my shopping bags. 
"I ruined this," I said, the quivering lines of cosmos from my eye began to congeal like ugly blood. 
"I'll steal another one from a really old dead guy or vintage shop. It's fine. I mean, I'm fine, but you are in real trouble."
I reached up and touched my eye, relieved to not feel any wetness, any difference, or any pain. "How long was I walking around like that?"
"Since I made the comment about the living not wanting us, actually, but I bet it's been going on longer than that on the inside. I would like to think I'm not personally responsible for turning a soul into one of the night-dead."
The stranger, now scarfless, walked me home. I didn't drive because I couldn't. He said he couldn't either, it was one of the rules, one of the worst ones according to him because he couldn't touch his beautiful car he'd worked so hard for. Ghosts were allowed public transportation, though. Because we clearly weren't suffering enough. 
I asked him about holy grounds, he said unless I decided to become some unspeakable kind of evil, any of them would be fine. It was even encouraged. There we could clear our heads, guide the living in thoughtful ways, make peace with ourselves. 
He said that most of the living can see us, many of them have no idea what we are. And it's better that way. 
"I realize, you have responsibilites. But, you need to make arrangments for tonight. I'll need you to meet me. No other living person can follow. A rundown on what's going on isn't going to cut it anymore. Being dead neccesititates a level of interaction beyond armchair philosophies. And what happened to you today won't stop unless you make some changes." he said, smoking an entirely earthy-white ciggarette. I watched to see if he could exhale the smoke cloud, or if this was some nervous habit from his former life, but he blew it out through his nose like a regular smoker. I didn't smell it, though. 
"I don't want to scare them, my family-"
"Don't tell them, then. And I won't come for you until everyone is asleep. I promise." he said. "Go ahead and cover your mirrors, don't stare into reflective surfaces. Feel free to wash my scarf, though." 
"It's not even a good color for you. Or anyone." Making jokes was like a joyless reflex, I got the feeling it was for him, too. 
"I'll be back later this evening," he said, touching my heavy front door, like his fingers could memorize it and teleport him later. "My name is Francisco."
I thought I should say my name, but I'd forgotten it. I went inside to put away the groceries, and called my husband home early from work. 
He covered the mirrors. He assured me that he didn't see any trace of the universe-leaking wound in my eye, or anywhere else. I asked him my name, and he tried to tell me, but no sound was audible when he spoke it. I told him maybe I wasn't supposed to know. 
I worried I'd bleed darkness and frighten the kids. I worried Francisco would arrive and frighten everyone. 
After dark, after dinner and ice cream and a movie, after bedtimes and after I'd let my husband fall asleep in my lap on the couch, I felt suddenly awake. 
I replaced my soft lap with a pillow. I packed backpacks and lunches for the next morning. In case I was not back. 
Like a magnet to metal, I went to our dark and modern bathroom, and pulled off my daughter's bamboo-fibered baby blanket  from our square mirror.  I didn't get a change to see if I was bleeding the dark stuff again. Francisco was suddenly beside me, and put his long fingers over my eyes. 
"I'm almost amazed at how little you listen." he said. "And, no, the dead don't have to knock." 
I faced him and pushed his hands from my head. Francisco turned silently and started walking, and I followed, but made sure I locked the front door. 
I checked it again. That heavy painted door was the only boundary between the dangers of my new world and the people I loved enough to remain in the light of the old one. 
"Do what you're told, and you can come back here. You can keep them safe. Just do what you're told." He was still walking away, and I kept following. "Tonight is not a refuge from tomorrow. It will come eventually." Francisco said, but his words were outward, into the night, more like he was quoting something than speaking to me. 
I ached for the wind I knew existed in the night to blow my dark hair around my face, and it never did. 
Fog came in, and I couldn't feel the heavy mist of it, but it came in so heavy it began to eat my neighborhood, hiding even the tall lamp posts. 
I couldn't tell where I was anymore. The lights, all but one in the distance, were gone. It was just wet street and one remaining light, which had an uncanny glow of lavender to it, and Francisco, who wasn't speaking. My bones started to hurt. 
The lavender light was less intimidating in person, just a hanging lamp burning that peculiar shade on a trendy bricked bar. It didn't have a name on the front, but the place smelled like a bar.
"You're not serious." I said. Franciso opened the door for me and gestured to the walnut counter. It was packed, there were no seats open. And there weren't lights. Just the dead, and their luminant bodies like glow worms packed in here. But I wasn't shining like that. But I noticed Francisco was. He pushed me forward until I hit the counter of the bar at my waist too hard, and I want to cry, not beacuse it hurt, but because I badly want to go home.
"So, you've found another one?" A beautiful older woman behind the bar put her hand on mine and it was so soft I thought I would die again. Or at least pass out. Her face was made of clouds and blue sky that looked painted on, but they were moving in real-time. Her eyes were deep dark black like Francisco's. Then she was a female monk. Round and smiling with her dark hair shaved down to nothing and smile lines etched into her face.
But then suddenly she was a dark-skinned Catholic priest with bright blue irises and a shining red  rosary. Then she was back to being the monk. 
"Yes, Father." Franciso said.
"You're in danger." She said. "I don't say that lightly. You're in real trouble."
"People like to keep telling me that." I said.
The monk, now priest again, took out a decorated clear glass bottle with a cork in it, and in the glass were bits of gray and manilla-just a small batch of uninteresting dust in the world's cutest little container. "It's about what you feed yourself. It's all about what you feed yourself." He said. And something in his voice made me take the bottle and thank him for it. 
A rumbling like thunder, but not thunder rang out. A rumbling that physically shook, but didn't disturb the bar of the dead. 
"Francisco..." She said, now the sky-woman again. Then she became a painted warrior who served another glowing dead soul a bottle of something uncanny. 
"Come on, we have to go," Francisco pulled me and broke into a run, so I did, too. 
I didn't know if I was crying or the darkness was pouring out of my eyes. 
I was so close to busting apart. The fear, the sadness, the lack of answers. I took my hand from Francisco and stopped. I leaned against a fat gray pillar of a shopping center because it was all I could see. 
At least the fog was lessening. The sky was flashing, appearing to be cracked open with light. I could tell where I was. I knew this place. I'd been here before. A sign flickered up, reading "City-Go Do-Nuts" in bright green. I could get home from here, without help. And it made me relax a little. Francisco came back, towering over me and pulling at his chin. 
"Is this it?" I asked. He threw up his hands in an overexaggarated shrug. "Do I just eat this bottled powder and get suddenly better?"
"You know what that is? Convenient she didn't tell you. It's bones. Crushed bones. Of beings holier than you are." 
"Why the hell would I need to feed myself that?" I asked, I wiped my eyes and was relieved to see tears and not tar black liquid. "And why was she changing? Does it happen every time she talks to someone?"
"It does if they need him...Her." He said.
"Why was she a priest for you?" I asked, swirling the bottle. before setting it on the ground to watch the bone dust settle in the bottle. 
"It's different for everybody. Everyone needs different medicine, and the dead are lucky enough to get different doctors, too."
"So why is my medicine this, exactly?"
"Once again, you don't seem to listen." He said. "And we don't have time."
  I just wanted to be back home. "You suddenly don't seem to really want to help. I don't know what kind of game this is for you. But it's my life. Or what's left of it. Just leave me alone." I said. 
He looked at me, his dark  eyes so wide that I was sorry I'd said that, and then the tinted glass window of the do-nut shop shattered.  
I kneeled on the ground as the other window beside it broke, too. I hadn't been afraid of getting hurt. But glass was sticking out of my shoulders and back, and the pain was very real.
Terrible screams came from inside, and two people jumped the broken windows and stormed the shop. Dressed in black, armed with guns. A third came toward me. Staring. A cloud of shadow with space dust for eyes, but it was a woman. A beautiful woman dragging the essence of what I just knew to be her night-dead with her, and it was everywhere. It stung my nose and throat. Like tiny insects, it didn't float, it attacked. Francisco moved in front of me and I was able to look away as the woman moved calmly over the broken window and into the store with the assailants. She was talking to them, whispering to them non-stop. I couldn't understand anything she said. It turned into a bleating, almost like an alarm clock. 
There were other people inside. I heard screaming. An older woman, I remembered her name. Mrs. Lin. A tall boy was there, too. One of her sons. It was a family business, I remembered coming in here, seeing them work together. Usually smiling, but always kind. They'd given each of my children small treats for their birthdays. Charged them nothing, and sometimes remembered the date and their names. 
Mrs. Lin began to hand everything over, bravely asking them to leave, asking them not to hurt anyone. And then she was shot.
I saw the fresh blood rolling across the white floor toward me. The dark red lines reaching out like fingers, like the hand of someone falling and desperate. The men with guns were barking orders at Mrs. Lin's son. The night-dead was still sounding her alarm. 
I quietly moved forward, trying to get to Mrs. Lin. Nobody seemed concerned about my presence, so I went faster. I was dead anyway, what were they going to do to me? 
She was convulsing lightly, I pulled an oven mitt from the pocket of her apron and put pressure on the bullet hole. 
A memory of taking care of people came back, but then was snuffed out. I hadn't been a nurse. It was something else, something fast, but it was gone now. I knew she wouldn't make it much longer without help. 
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, I expected Francisco and started to ask for help, but stopped and no more words came. 
That creature, trailing with her the red and black space dust that wrapped her body one second and went in flux the next. She stared at me with hollowed sockets like I was the reason she was there. 
The taste of metal flood my mouth, I thought I was choking on blood, but the night-dark was falling down on Mrs. Lin, and it was pouring from my lips and nose. Afraid of what it would do to her, I backed up, and the night-dead woman lunged and pinned me against a stand up cooler. 
I screamed for help, even as I was drowning. 
It hurt.
The pain was so great, I could think of nothing else but getting her off of me. Her touch driving out everything but agony, making the world go away and all that was left was pain.
"Get off of me! Get off of me!" I shouted as best I could. 
It hurt so much I wanted to die again, and be nothing.
There was another noise, loud like a gunshot, but heavier. 
The night-dead was ripped off of me, but she took the skin off of my shoulders and chest with her. 
I started to scream again, but now it was Francisco in front of me, and he was covering my mouth, muffling me, and looking over his shoulder.
Something large had landed just outside of the shop. Lumbering, a giant blue-skinned creature, beautiful and miserable to stare at with a jagged neck and teeth on the side of its face. It's golden eyes were lined with make-up like a movie-star.
It had wings. And a sword. 
An angel? Other dead souls were flocking to it, maybe called by its prescence or maybe just following it into battle.
"He's here for the other night-dead, but he'll destroy you on sight, " Francisco breathed hot into my ear. 
"Mrs. Lin-" I coughed. 
"You have to let go. You have to accept what happens. What happened to you. And you have to let go. Or this moment will be the end of everything you wanted." How can anyone accept this? How can anyone be expected to?
"The Dead don't get to lose themselves in sadness. It brings with it the night-dark-the rift in the goodness of the world. Please, just let it go."
I'd had a beautiful family. I'd never taken anything for granted. Not even my life. I didn't deserve to be dead. Neither did Mrs. Lin. 
"Let it go," he said.
Francisco pulled the glass bottle I'd been given from his shirt pocket. I didn't remember when he'd picked it up.  He smashed it against the cooler door open-handed. I could see the lumbering blue creature just behind him, close enough to smell his deep sweetness, like cooked sugar. 
"It's what you feed yourself." Francisco said, putting his hand to my mouth and I took it; his blood, the splinters of glass as it cut my lips and tongue, and the dry, dry bone dust. And swallowed.
The night-dark I'd been fighting filled my vision until I really could see the stars in the blackness. 
There was heat in raw skin of my shoulders and chest, and the scratching of a deep itch from those wounds as something clawed its way of out me. Wings, flat and pristine white-they were paper. Crinkled lightly when they moved, and painted at the edges with black ink. 
I had paper wings. 
Fragile, but the air I beat with them was strong. 
I was able to stand. Able to move. Able to charge the night-dead that nearly killed me and knock her out of the broken window she'd walked in from. I took her hands in mine, and stood on her body.
Using the upward motion of my wings, I tore off her arms. 
I kept my foot on her until she stopped thrashing, her red and black space dust, settling down to the grey concrete like ashes. Her mortal colors were pouring back into her as the dark liquid cosmos leaked out. Her brown curls and flawless milk complextion and pink stained mouth were sad to look upon now. Her old poison ran along the lines and cracks underfoot. 
"Paper Bird..." The angel growled, his voice horrible to my ears, but the way his mouth moved was intoxicating. "Was this your choice, or his?" He pointed to Francisco, who was covered in human blood and night-dark, but was using his own soft brown wings to cradle Mrs. Lin as her son held her hand.
"Mine." I said. 
The angel said nothing else, but collected the pieces of the poor soul I'd fought with. Glowing dead filtered into the shop, most of them putting their hands on Mrs. Lin's young son for support. Francisco was speaking, whispering things. He took out a blanket, a plain and soft brown blanket that I saw was made from his wings and wrapped Mrs. Lin's body in it like a child, and carried her.
"Wait," I said. "Is that it?"
"I carry her back home, and if she choses to stay, that is where she will wake up."
I understood now. That was why I'd felt that I knew him. And why I felt that he knew everything. Because he did.
"Do you need to walk with me?" he asked. I looked back at Mrs. Lin's boy. He was crying into the arms of an paramedic, who brushed his forehead the way his mother probably had. Officers had joined the scene, one of the gunmen was in a squad car, and still, around all of them, the luminescent souls were filtering in.
"Let's walk her home," I said. 
"The dead who can keep the pieces of their life and be happy get to do that. As long as they want to. The ones who can't, they end up as night-dead. Or they end up like us-working rats for the higher-ups. I didn't know what you were. But, you did."
"You said before you had a family. Where are they?"
"Long gone. They didn't feel pulled to stick around here, thankfully. They were able to move on." He said. 
"But, you-"
"No. Once you work for them, there is no moving on. There is nothing else. It's just this."
I tried to breathe through the heavy blow that idea hit me with, breathed through tears I made damn sure were just clear saline. Francisco's feathery brown wings were no longer visible, and I reached back to find mine were gone as well.
"You don't get your wings all the time. Paper Birds are warriors, though. Hopefully you won't need your wings that often. But. you miss them when you don't have them. " He said. "You miss a lot of things." 
Mrs. Lin stirred, winced. "Is she in pain." I asked.
"Were you?" Francisco asked. I told him I couldn't remember. He said nobody does. He carried Mrs. Lin to her apartment and laid her in a large leather rocker. Her husband, eyes sore and swollen from tears covered her in a quilt. Francisco and I hurried away,  he later told me that no other dead should be present for the awakening of a soul that had passed. It might weigh on their decision on what to do with the after-life. 
Between when I was called in to battle the night-dead, I spent every moment I could with my husband and our children.
One summer day, at a beach we'd rode the train to get to, he finally saw a living woman that made him smile. Kind-hearted and happy with a bouncy pony-tail and summer-kissed skin the way only the living can get. She was like him, more like him than I could ever become now. And I knew he needed that. The living need so much. 
I rode the evening train home with the kids, the youngest in my lap, all of them water-logged and smiling, so he could enjoy her. He'd earned that, and more. He hasn't married her yet, and insists that he won't. I blame myself for that, but also, selfishly, I am happy. When I hold him, I feel fire run through my veins. That love is the closest thing to being alive again. 
Francisco, who's name was never Francisco when he was alive, is still with me. He's a band-aid, a stitch across the gaping void being dead brings. We are two lost souls. 
I never returned his scarf. Even though I washed the night-dark from it years ago. 
We are handed things in our lifetimes and after that don't seem fair. Some more than others, but it happens to us all. It's all in how you rise to meet it, and what you do from there. It's who you decide to become in those dark places.
It's what you feed yourself. 




Happy Halloween!
"Batlabus".
It's what happens when your kids need a pumpkin for school the next day, and
all you've got is paint and a micro-pumpkin.



As a last All Hallow's Read present, you can get my first novel absolutely free here from October 27th to October 31st.