No longer having to wipe bums would free up a lot of time! Okay, a million books a year is totally unrealistic, but maybe two or three would be a possibility instead of my usual one book a year, which is my current status quo. I would be a blogging fool! Blog posts daily!
How dumb and foolish I was. So dumb.
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
It is impossible to please everyone. Absolutely impossible.
So why, as authors, do we keep insisting that we have to?
Of course we want our hard work to be loved and appreciated by everyone who chooses to read it. That's our goal. But as a goal, it's also a highly unlikely one to achieve.
What does it mean when your New Year's tradition goes wrong? (And a peek into my works in progress--just for you).
“What do you think?” Mom gestures in a Princess Kate kind of way, giving the impression she’s introducing the Buckingham Palace as our new place of residence.
It’s not even close, and honestly, doesn’t deserve the swooping gesture of grandness at all. What in the world was she thinking buying Norman Bates’ house?
She drops her arm to her side when I don’t say anything. “Okay, I know it needs a lot of work, but I want you to look past the cosmetics and see its potential. This house could be amazing.”
It could be, I give her that, but the kind of remodeling this house is going to need will require money, lots of it, and since having large amounts of money isn’t something we Walker’s have ever had, I’m certain we’ll be living in squalor for an indefinite amount of time.
She points to the overgrown flower beds. “A bit of elbow grease and a good pair of gardening gloves and we’ll have it spruced up before you know it. And look at that tree!” She motions to the giant tree with its drooping branches. “We can put in a tire swing. You’ve always wanted a tire swing!”
I cross my arms over my chest, doubtful. “First of all, what do you mean ‘we’ and second of all, I’m not six.” A tire swing does sound good, but I refuse to admit that.
Mom tilts her head to the side, and smiles at me in that way which usually gets me to cave, but not this time. “It’ll be fun,” she says. “We can bond over gardening, and just imagine how much closer we’ll be when we repaint the house together.”
“We’re painting the house? Us? You and me?”
“Sure, why not. We can totally do this.”
“Do you even know how to paint a house?” I’ve never seen my mother paint anything let alone a whole two story building, and even though she’s hoping her enthusiasm will infect me, it doesn’t. Someone should remain rational since she has apparently gone insane.
“No, but we’ll Google it and watch a few YouTube videos. How hard can it be?”
“Well, then this should be interesting for sure.” This adventure of hers is quickly spiraling in a direction I don’t want to go. Had I known that agreeing to pick up and move to a small town out in the middle of nowhere would lead to practically rebuilding a house, I would’ve put up a protest instead of not protesting at all. I doubt Mom’s ever owned a paint brush.
She puts her arm around my shoulder. “How about if I let you pick the color for the house, any color you want.”
“Awesome. Let’s paint it black.”
She gives me a quick squeeze and kisses the top of my head. “Alright, Miss Snarky, black it is.”
“You do realize this place looks haunted, right?” It does. It really does.
“How else do you think I got such a killer deal on it?” Her choice of words could use some work. She squeezes me again, and leans into me a little more. “I know this isn’t the ideal circumstance, and I know you don’t want to be here, but I really think that if we give it a try, we just might surprise ourselves. We might end up being happy, really happy.”
“I was happy.” That’s not necessarily true. Life in California had become less than stellar, but the longer I look at this house with its peeling paint and rotting porch stairs, I’m thinking we actually had it pretty good back in Los Angeles. The tiny apartment in the shady part of town isn’t looking half bad any more.
Mom sighs and keeps her eyes on the house. “But I wasn’t happy.” She glances at me and a sad smile curves the edge of her mouth. “I need this change, Remy. I think we both do.”
We both stare at the old house, quiet, lost in our own thoughts. Maybe living here won’t be so bad after all.
“Nobody died in there, right?” I ask.
Mom’s sad smile turns into a genuine smile, hopeful. “As far as I know.”
“You didn’t read the fine print, did you?”
Her grin grows wider. “Who reads the fine print anymore?”
“Someone could’ve died in there. A whole family could’ve been slaughtered and we wouldn’t know about it because you didn’t read the fine print.”
“Oh, how I love my dramatic girl!” She wraps both arms around me and hugs me tight, giving me a little shake to complete the process. “I feel really good about living here. The fresh air and small town living will be good for us.”
“So that’s what that smell is.” I could’ve sworn the smell came from the back end of a cow.
“Well, we better get ourselves situated. Tomorrow’s a big day for both of us. You’ve got school and I’ve got a book store and café to organize.” She squeals and does a strange little dance. “My own business! I own my own business!”
Sometimes I wonder who the child in this relationship is. “I can stop by after school and help if you want.”
“I do want. That would be great. The sooner we get it ready, the sooner I can open the store and start making money.” She squeezes me again. “Money makes the world go round you know.”
“I thought it was love that made the world go round.”
“Nah.” Her grin widens. “I’m pretty sure it’s money, but love is nice too.” She sighs. “I’m ready for this change, Remy. We have our own place now and by running my own business, there’s no more worrying about being laid off again. I’m the boss, and I’m pretty certain, well, eighty percent certain, that I won’t be firing myself anytime soon.”
Her enthusiasm and naivety is sweet. I didn’t want to crush her spirit by telling her what I learned about running small businesses in my economics class last semester—fifty percent of start-ups fail in their first year—so I keep my mouth shut.
“You’re the new neighbors, huh?”
Mom releases me and holds her hand out to the strange man approaching us.
He reminds me of a lumberjack, all dressed in flannel and his face scruffy from missing too many shaves, his hat on backwards. Only this isn’t Alaska, so his look isn’t quite right for Connecticut. But then again, maybe it is. I’ve only lived here less than a day. Maybe flannel is all the rage here, and I’m the one looking ridiculous and misplaced.
He doesn’t take her hand, but shoves his own in the front pockets of his jeans as he stares at our house.
It peeves me that he disregards my mom like that, but Mom doesn’t seem bothered by it at all. She goes on smiling and shoves her own hands in the front pockets of her jeans. “You must be Beau. You live on the other side of the pond, right? The house with the weeping willows?”
“Miss Jeanette told you about me.” It’s more a statement than a question. He’s still looking at our house, very antisocial like. He hasn’t even looked at me once.
“Who’s Miss Jeanette?” I glance between the two of them.
Mom waves me off. “She was being friendly, trying to make me feel comfortable about my decision to buy the place. Jeanette suggested I ask you about the roof, said you might be able to take a—”
“I don’t know anything about this roof.”
“Who’s Miss Jeanette?” I try again.
Mom removes her hands from her pockets and places them on her hips, ignoring me and giving her full attention to him. “You own a construction business, but you don’t know anything about roofs?
He releases his breath, still not looking at either of us. “I didn’t say that.”
Mom glances at me, frustrated. I shrug. This guy’s a weirdo, which is scary because he’s one of our closest neighbors. We only have two from what I can tell. I sure hope we never need to borrow eggs or anything, or if we do, that the other neighbor is a lot more accommodating than this guy.
“I know roofs.” He taps his chest. “Boy, do I know roofs, but that one…that one is over a hundred years old.”
“Jeez, a hundred years old?” I look to my mother. “Did you know you were buying an ancient house?” Old and possibly the site of a mass murder. I can’t wait to begin my new life here.
“What difference does that make? A roof is a roof is a roof.” Mom looks at me for confirmation, and I shrug again. Roofs aren’t my thing. She turns back to him. “If you can’t fix it, then maybe you can give me the name of someone who can.”
That’s when he finally looks at her with his forehead crinkled and his brows raised. “No, I’ll look at it. Anyone else may try to convince you to put a metal roof on this house, or something equally as stupid.”
“I don’t mind a metal roof.” Mom shrugs and smiles. “They come in fancy colors, right?
Maybe I can choose red or better yet, bright blue! That would liven things up around here.”
I can totally tell she’s kidding, but Beau’s face takes on a shade of red that’s a bit concerning.
“I said I’ll look at it and I will. This isn’t some California house you’ve got here. This”—he waves his arm at the house—“is a part of history and should be treated with respect. A metal roof would ruin the whole thing and diminish its value.”
The town’s folk must be talking about us for him to know we’ve moved from California. Interesting.
Mom tries to hide her smile, but doesn’t succeed all that well. “I’d never put a metal roof on this house. I was kidding with you.”
The color in Beau’s face lightens, but his eyes squint at the corners. I don’t think he likes us. Actually, I don’t think he liked us before he even came over to talk to us. But now, his dislike is actually based on something a bit more concrete.
“You’d want to try to keep as much of the character and integrity of the house as possible.” He walks around a little, taking in the full-scope of the house and its lack-luster roof. “I won’t know for sure what we’re dealing with until I pull a few shingles.”
Mom nods. “Of course.”
“What are your plans for the porch?”
Mom shakes her head and once again she looks at me. Why she keeps doing that, I have no idea. I know as equally as much about porches as I do roofs. Getting nowhere with me, she looks at Beau. “I don’t… I mean, is there something wrong with the porch?”
“You mean the sloping to the left didn’t tip you off that something’s wrong?” Beau points to the rickety structure. He’s right. I see it now. The porch does angle downward, and since he’s pointing it out, I can only assume it’s not meant to do that.
Mom’s face falls a little, and she’s blinking a lot more than normal. I’ve known this woman my whole life, since birth actually, and can read the signs pretty well. She’s panicking. It may not look like she is, since she’s standing there, unmoving with a semi-smile on her lips, trying to hold it together, but the rapid blinking gives it away.
“How hard would it be to fix the porch?” I ask.
Beau looks at me. He seems to take a moment to process my presence, as if I’d just appeared from nowhere instead of having been there the whole time. “Jack up that side of the porch, replace the footings and add more dirt. Shouldn’t be that hard.”
“Is that something you could do? After you look at our roof?”
Mom’s still in panic mode, so I sigh and take on the role of the adult and allow her time to process. “First, how much do you think all of this will cost and second, how long do you think it will take to complete?”
He stares at the house again and rubs his whiskery chin. “That’s hard to say.” He glances at me briefly. “On both accounts. I won’t know the answer to either of those questions until I take a closer look and see what I’m dealing with. But I’d estimate that you’re looking at two or three thousand dollars to get it where it needs to be and maybe three or four months to complete the whole thing.”
“Wow. Two or three thousand dollars, huh?” Mom adds the bobbing of her head to her insanely amount of blinking. “You don’t by chance like coffee and books, do you?”
Beau gives her an odd look. “Books not so much, but I don’t mind a cup of coffee now and then.”
“And I don’t suppose you’d be willing to look at my roof and porch in exchange for a lifetime supply of coffee, all you can drink?” Mom’s smiling, turning on the charm. To be fair, she is pretty charming, but I’m doubtful it’s going to work this time. “I make a wicked cup of Joe.”
“Are you being serious?” He glances from her to me. “Is she being serious?”
“Mom’s opening up a book store and café in town, and so financially things are tight right now. If you don’t take us up on the coffee offer, we may have to live with the rotting roof and sinking porch.” I do my best to look pathetic and more child-like than my actual sixteen-year-old self.
Between Mom’s charm and my pathetic puppy-dog eyes, we’ve managed to get ourselves out of some pretty sticky situations in the past. We use it where we can when we have no other choice. But Beau doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to fall for such shenanigans.
He releases his breath, stares at the two of us, and finally nods.
Holy crap, he’s caved!
“Okay,” he says. “I don’t think a lifetime supply of coffee will be even close to meeting all my costs, supplies and labor, but that roof and porch do need some looking at and the sooner the better.”
Both mom and I nod.
“I’d hate for that roof to fall in on both your heads.”
“I can front the costs, and you can make payments as you’re able. I’m not a bank.” He waves his finger at us. “I don’t want you thinking you can walk away and not pay me back, because coffee or not, I expect to be paid. Dollars, real dollars. Not coffee beans. Otherwise, I’ll come back here and remove the entire roof if I have to and leave you looking up at the stars.”
Mom throws her arms around him. “Thank you. Really, thank you.”
Beau stands there stiff and awkward, but after a few seconds he pats her back in a friendly way. “No problem.” Mom doesn’t let go and he gives her a second pat. “I’ll come back tomorrow, take a closer look at things, and give you a better idea of what we’re up against.”
Mom releases him, and I think he uses the separation to get as far away from us as possible. He waves us both off, as Mom steps toward him again, says he’ll be back, and starts for his place on the other side of the pond. “Tomorrow,” he calls.
Mom returns the wave and stands there for awhile, watching him go.
“You okay, Mom?” She’s awfully silent, and I’m unsure if I should be worried or not. I slip my hand into hers.
She turns to me, tears glistening in her eyes. “I really think I’m going to like it here.”
Somehow at one time or another, someone had decided that upgrading the inside of the one hundred year old house would be a good idea. Unfortunately, that same someone had upgraded it during the nineteen-fifties, and it hadn’t been touched since. It’s cute and somewhat nostalgic, but I can’t help but wonder how exactly our more modern day things would fit in such a place.
Mom seems to be wondering that too as she turns in circles, while holding her terra-cotta planter filled with home-grown alfalfa sprouts. “I don’t think this is going to match anything.”
“Honestly, I don’t think anything is going to match.”
“So, you’re saying any place is as good as any other?”
I shrug. “Pretty much.”
“Good.” She sets the pot in the middle of the bright yellow Formica kitchen table.
“Do you need any more help down here, or is it okay if I work on my room? I’d like to get a little more settled in before tomorrow, if that’s okay?”
She nods. “Sure, sure. I’ve got it handled down here now that I know it doesn’t really matter where I put our stuff. It’s all going to clash anyway.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Just as I’m about to leave and head upstairs, she pulls me into her arms and squeezes me to near suffocation. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”
“Every single day,” I choke out the words.
She releases her anaconda-like hold on me, but takes both my hands in hers. “You’re the best thing to ever happen to me. You know that, right?”
“That’s what you keep telling me.”
“And I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d go through it all over again and again, because you’ve turned out pretty good for having a teenage mom raise you.”
“Good to know.”
She smiles. “Now, it’s your turn to say something nice about me.”
“I like your hair. It’s all glossy.”
“That’s called not showering, but thank you.” She winks, releases my hands, and swipes my behind playfully. She’s always swiping my behind. Moms are weird like that. “Go on and take care of your room, Smarty Pants. I think I’ll tackle setting up the TV and VCR.”
Yes, she said VCR. Mom doesn’t believe in DVDs, says they lack something that video cassettes do not. She’s never said exactly what they lack, but apparently they are inferior in every way.
“Are you sure you can handle that yourself?” I ask. Maybe my room can wait.
“And are you saying I’m technology inept?”
“I think we both know where I stand on this issue without me having to put it into so many words.”
“Fine.” She motions for me to go. “But do you think you can hook it up after you take care of your room? I was thinking that watching old reruns of I Love Lucy might be a great way to break in the house. You and me, popcorn, M&M’s, the couch, the TV, what do you say?”
I glance at the microwave clock. “Don’t you think it’s getting kind of late for a movie? You’ve got the café and I’ve got school.”
“Eh, you can sleep during biology, and I’ll catch a cat nap in the supply room tomorrow.”
“What a great way to impress not only my new peers and schoolmates, but also my teachers as well.”
Her grin widens. “I take that as a yes then?”
“Fine,” I say. “Give me an hour.”
She nods. “An hour it is.”
The house might be creepy, old, and possibly the site of a mass murder, but my room is incredible! It’s larger than any room I’ve ever had before, and the angled ceilings make hanging my posters above my bed all that more wonderful—I can actually look up from my bed and see them.
I think our last apartment could’ve fit in my room alone.
The wood floors creak a little with each step, but I toss down several mismatched throw rugs and the noise seems to soften. I’ve arranged all of my book shelves, packing in as many books as space allows and arranging the spines alphabetically. Not by author, but by the color of the cover—I like the ombre effect. Even though there’s no more room for books in the three bookcases I brought with me, I unpack the remaining boxes and stack the books on the floor next to them. I make a mental note to search out a thrift shop and purchase another set of shelves while I’m in town. Heaven knows there’s plenty of enough space in my room for another one. Maybe even two.
I fluff up my bean bag in the corner, add a zebra striped pillow, and create the perfect reading nook. The floor lamp is the final touch for the space.
My desk is organized with my laptop, my manual pencil sharpener, my notebooks, and a picture of Albert Einstein. Crazy hair and all.
I would say the room is coming together and feeling a lot more like me with every unpacked box. Clothes are hung in the closet and my dresser drawers completely arranged the way I like it –t-shirts in the top drawer with underwear and socks in the bottom. My posters of Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Elizabeth Blackwell are hung by tacks on one sloping ceiling, and the periodic table, the world map, and a kitten clinging to branch that says, “Hang in there” on the other. The kitten poster is clearly outdated and I’ve become a little too old for such things, but Mom gave it to me when I was five when I was going through a hard time—the pressures of a first grade spelling bee—and I don’t have the heart to toss it out. I totally kicked butt at the spelling bee, and so the poster, according to Mom, has special magical powers. How in the world could I ever get rid of something with magical powers?
I place several small colorful pillows on the window bench as a final touch—another great reading space—and I feel nearly complete. The room has a musty smell, and I reach for the large windows to let a bit of evening air in to freshen the place up, but I stop and I stare. My hand still perched on the window latch.
We have two neighbors. Beau, who lives across the small pond, and the neighbors, who I’ve yet to meet, living in the house next door.
The light of the moon plays off the boy’s pale skin and features, creating a ghost-like appearance, which is more amazing and beautiful than frightening. It’s as if the moon light has searched him out, the way it falls perfectly through his window while totally avoiding mine.
He’s staring up at it, eyes closed, allowing the white light to bathe his face much the same way a person might let the warmth of the sun wash over them. There’s something serene and Zen-like about the way he sits perfectly still, enjoying something so many of us take for granted.
I shouldn’t be watching him, there are laws about that kind of thing, yet I can’t turn away. To be fair, he had to have been watching me through my drape-less windows—our house had been vacant for nearly a year and my window, with its bright lights spilling into the darkness, lines up almost perfectly with his. He had to have noticed me.
Maybe I should be a little concerned, now that I think about the possibility of him watching me without my knowledge, but I’m not. It’s not like I changed my clothes nor did anything else equally as embarrassing, though I did hang up a kitten picture.
His eyes open, but he doesn’t look at me.
I shift out of view, enough that I can continue to watch without him knowing it.
He pulls up the hood of his jacket, tucks it around his face, and then swings out of his open window and onto one of the thick branches of the tree that grows between our two houses. Like one of those guys who run and jump over walls and do flips off buildings, he manages to climb down the tree effortlessly and within a manner of seconds. Apparently, he’s done this before.
I adjust myself so I can get a better look at this mysterious agile boy, thinking I’m still out of view. But once he reaches the bottom with his feet firmly on the ground, he looks directly at me.
My heart seizes and my lungs freeze. Oh my gosh.
He stares at me for what feels like an infinite amount of time, and I’m unsure what to do. Not that I could do anything in my frozen state had I actually known what to do.
He lifts a hand and gives me a simple wave.
I wave back.
He then turns and sprints away into the night.
I spin around to find Mom standing in my doorframe. The smile on her face is clue enough that’s she’s seen at least my side of the exchange, but I still answer with, “Nothing.”
“You sure?” She tries again.
“Yeah, no. I mean, the neighbors.” I point at the house next door as I stumble over my words. “They… who?”
She smiles and takes a few steps in my room. “How is it that my bright, straight-A, honor roll girl can’t come up with the right words to say in this moment.” She holds up a hand as I’m about to try again. “Don’t tell me. It’s a boy, right?”
“No. I just.” There is no use in trying to hide the facts. I’m not a very good liar. I motion to the house next door and Mom comes to stand next to me. “A boy climbed out of that window over there and then climbed down the tree like an acrobat or something.”
“And you liked it?”
Mom’s smile has grown to full-on cheesy. “And you liked it?”
“I didn’t like it, and I didn’t not unlike it either. I wasn’t watching him because I wanted to. It was just kind of happened.”
Mom kneels on my window seat, unlatches the window, and swings it open. “This tree here, you say?”
“Hmmm… I’m thinking I may need to see if Beau can add branch removal to the list of things I am going to forever owe him for.”
“I’m not going to climb out any windows if that’s what you’re thinking.” We have a pretty open and trusting relationship that if I ever wanted to go somewhere in the middle of the night, I’d simply tell her and then walk out the front door. Of course, she’d probably want to tag along, but that’s beside the point. If I wanted to go somewhere, I totally could. I didn’t need a tree.
She wags her finger at me. “I’m not so much as worried about you shimming down a tree as much as who might try and shimmy up it.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Mom.” Seriously, I really don’t.
She shuts the window and locks it before sitting on the bench and looking at me. “That’s what my parents thought too, and look how that turned out.”
She’s referring to the fact that she got pregnant with me when she was fifteen. It doesn’t bother me that she says this. It is the facts after all, and I also know that even though my showing up in her life was ill-timed, she doesn’t regret a thing. She’s always telling me how I’m the best thing to happen to her.
“I promise I won’t let boys in my window,” I say.
“And”—she points over her shoulder to the tree—“a chainsaw to those branches will ensure that you will always keep that promise.”
Neither Dad nor Toby said a word. Not one word.
I hugged my knees to my chest. “You both think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
Toby cast a quick glance at Dad, but Dad didn’t acknowledge him.
“No, sweetheart.” Dad kept his eyes on me. “We don’t think that at all.”
“Speak for yourself,” Toby mumbled, but it was impossible for us not to hear him in our shared ten-by-ten foot underground living space.
Dad’s eyes locked on Toby, and he gave my older brother an almost--almost—unperceivable head shake.
Toby put his hands up. “Come on. You don’t buy what she’s saying, do you? It’s complete nonsense.”
I released my knees and scooted toward the edge of my cot. “Do you really think I managed to walk from our bunker to here, climbing a freakin’ mountain in the process all on my own? Not to mention that I was bleeding from most of my orifices and was pretty much delusional by the time I got here. What do you think sounds crazier?”
Toby shook his head. “You’re telling me that someone is out there right now? Someone who’d rather be on his own than be here where it’s safe, and he didn’t get sick the entire time you were with him? Just you? Just me? Everyone else to one extent or another, but not him?”
“Yes!” I tossed my hands up and slapped the thin mattress at my side. “That’s exactly what I’m saying!” I startled Callie, my sometimes sweet but often wicked kitten, when I hit the mattress, disturbing her nap. Only a moment later, she stretched her feet, turned in a circle, and fell asleep again. Oh, to be a cat.
Toby scrunched his shoulders and folded his arms across his chest. “Tess, that doesn’t even make sense.”
“Does anything nowadays make sense?” I swung my arm around, indicating our underground bunker and the fact that life as we know it no longer exists. “Cole finds this whole apocalyptic nightmare a blessing. I would really love to say I’m the badass you think I am, but I’m not. I wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for him.” There was no denying that. “You guys keep telling me that there’s no way anyone could have gotten inside and left without someone seeing him, but you don’t know him like I do.” I stopped talking, catching myself in my own tangle of words. Do I really know Cole? I had no idea, but there was no way I would bring up the possibility of him being an angel or alien. The more I thought about Cole, the more that seemed like a real possibility, but Dad and Toby already thought I was messed up in the head. I refused to provide them with more ammunition to prove their case.
Dad’s gaze fell to the floor, and his arms balanced on his knees. He sat that way for an uncomfortable amount of time, wringing his hands. Toby and I looked at one another, unsure what to do.
Finally, Dad looked up. Softness eased the wrinkles that lined his forehead but couldn’t hide the tiredness that ringed his eyes. “Can you tell me again, from the beginning, how you got here? I need to hear it one more time.”
“No.” I shook my head. “I’ve explained this a hundred times. Okay, maybe not a hundred, but what are you hoping for? That’ll I’ll say something different? That I made it all up?” Did I? I was sick. I nearly died. The toxic air messed with not only my lungs and circulatory system, but it could’ve very well screwed up my brain.
But to say Cole didn’t exist? I’d never do it.
I touched him. I kissed him. He annoyed the hell out of me. If I had to hallucinate another being, then why not Boris Kodjoe? Why hallucinate a grown man who acted like an immature child? How would that be helpful to me in an apocalyptic situation? Give me Norman Reedus, not a young Woody Harrelson.
No one could make up Cole. No one would want to.
Dad didn’t say anything. His face was drawn, contemplative.
Toby leaned against the metal frame of the bunk beds. “Yeah, you’re definitely not a badass, but I can’t believe someone would choose to stay out there if they knew there were other options.”
Toby would never understand, but I found myself explaining myself for the umpteenth time. “You don’t think he knows there are other options? He does. He doesn’t want any part of them.” I picked up my kitten, plopped her in my lap, and stroked her fur whether she wanted me to or not. “He finds the solitude of an apocalypse refreshing.”
“I wish you’d stop calling it that.” Dad’s shoulders slump forward, dispirited. “It’s a natural disaster, not an apocalypse.”
“There’s nothing natural about what’s happened!” How do they not understand this? “I don’t know what you both saw before you disappeared inside this mountain, but I was out there a long time and saw some crazy stuff that was anything but natural.” Bowling ball sized hail, tornados from hell, and sunrays that scorched my skin in a matter of seconds. Insane stuff. “This isn’t like Katrina or a California earthquake. This is way bigger than any of those things.”
“Even so, we’ll get through this.” Dad bobbed his head several times, almost as if trying to convince himself. “We will. That’s what people do. We survive, we adapt, and we persevere.”
“How?” Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I honestly wanted to know. How were we going to get through any of this? We didn’t have a home anymore. Heck, we hardly even had a state. Our city and all of the surrounding ones had pretty much fallen into a crater, and what was left had become nothing but a creepy, abandoned ghost town. Breathing the unfiltered air outside would kill us, or at least it had tried. We couldn’t drink the water—a whole lake encircled with mounds of dead animals proved that.
Start over? Where were we supposed to do that, and with who—the jerks who crop dusted tens of thousands of people, killing them instead of finding a way to save them? Yeah, let’s find our government peeps and align with them. No, thank you.
Living in a bunker in the side of a mountain for the rest of our lives, as tempting as that sounded, was a no-go, too. Supplies would run out. The overwhelming knowledge that we were pretty much screwed couldn’t be denied. We couldn’t live in here forever, but we couldn’t go outside, either.
“I don’t know.” Dad’s shoulders slumped further than I thought humanly possible. I should’ve confirmed his belief instead of challenging it, because looking at him did nothing to instill hope. Not. At. All. “As long as we’re together,” he said, “we’ll find a way.”
I said no more. It was probably the best place to leave our conversation because pushing would only burden him and leave us all with a never-ending supply of questions no one could possibly answer. Crap happened and no one—well, those of us still alive—knew why. We had guesses, but that was all.
A tap on the metal door turned our attentions from one another to Richard standing at the threshold of our room. “Jon,” he addressed Dad, totally ignoring Toby and me. “Do you have a minute to talk?”
Dad nodded and slowly stood. “Everything okay?”
Only then did Richard glance our way. It didn’t take a genius to realize something serious was going on. “That’s what I need to discuss with you.”
Dad patted my knee as he passed me. “I’ll be back. We’re not through here.”
Toby waited until both men had left before stepping closer to me. “That guy scares me a little.”
Toby and I hardly agreed on anything, never had, but Richard was something we both could agree on.
“At least he didn’t stab you in the chest.” I rubbed the healing incision mark and the bandage near my ribs from where Richard shoved a tube into me. “I thought Dad was insane to build a bunker in our backyard, but this guy has pushed the crazy button a few too many times.”
“Maybe.” Toby plopped down on the thin mattress next to me and petted Callie’s head. “But his craziness did save our lives.”
It still didn’t mean it wasn’t scary as all else. Who lived their life preparing wholeheartedly for the end of the world? I mean wholeheartedly. After having met Richard, his son, and a few of their eccentric friends, Dad’s doomsdayer preparation looked like amateur play. “I knew Richard wasn’t a doctor the minute I saw him, but to know his medical knowledge came from watching large amounts of YouTube videos and reruns of Grey’s Anatomy is a bit freaky, don’t you think?”
Toby glanced at the door, all serious. “Don’t let him hear you say that.”
I shrugged. “Why? It’s the truth. Even Marco said so.” Marco—Richard’s weird son who followed me around a little too much for my liking. He’d had his own ideas as to how his dad should spend his new found lottery winnings—like paying for Marco to go on a yearlong road trip and buying him a “sweet hummer” to do it in. Instead, he had to watch his dad spend millions of dollars on an old government hangar built in the side of a mountain. I felt for him a little—just a little—because it was hard not to say something when Dad spent most of Mom’s life insurance on our own underground bunker. The world had always been filled with crazy people and now, as we faced the biggest catastrophe ever, it would be those crazies who’d rule it. I didn’t know whether to be grateful or terrified.
“Truth or not, our lives are still in his hands.” Toby slumped back against the wall and rested his hands behind his head. “We’re guests here. Don’t forget it.”
Guests? I guess we were, but were people really guests when it came to an apocalypse? Weren’t we more like survivors hunkering down than anything else? Dad could call it a natural disaster all he wanted, but unlike most natural disasters, this couldn’t be fixed. This situation had the making of Mad Max written all over it.
Someone was bound to be eaten.
“Tess?” Marco’s bulbous body took up the entire doorframe. “I’ve got something to show you.”
Great. He was relentless, always trying to get my attention in one way or another. “What is it?” I had to at least acknowledge him or he’d never leave me alone.
He shook his head and a grin spread over his lips, intensifying his double chin. “You’ll have to come with me to find out.”
Toby sat up. “I’d like to see it. Whatever it is.”
Marco shook his head. “You wouldn’t like it.”
Toby stood and squared his shoulders. “How would you know?”
“Because it’s a girl thing, something girls would like, and unless you’ve changed since this morning, I don’t think you’d be interested.”
This could go on forever. I placed Callie on the bed and shook my head at Toby. “It’s okay. I’ll go check it out and tell you all about it when I get back. Watch my cat, okay?”
He leaned near me, his back to Marco, and whispered, “You sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. He’s annoying, but he’s harmless.” I stood, brushed off my pants and turned my attention to the big guy in the door. “Okay, I’m yours. Show me what’s got you all excited.”
He smiled so big I could see down his throat. He reached out to take my hand, but that was a line I refused to cross.
“I’m good.” I stepped next to him. “Show me the way.”
His face fell a little, dejected, but I refused to hold that sweaty hand of his. I might be the only female in the place, but that didn’t mean I needed coddling or that I was anyone’s plaything. Either respect me, or respect my boot connecting with your groin.
“I don’t know what it means, yet.” His steps echoed along the corridor as we walked. “But it has to mean something good.”
Hmmm… that piqued my interest. Something good for a change would be welcomed.
“I’m not supposed to show you this. Not yet anyway, because it’s too soon to know anything for sure, but when I saw it, I thought of you.”
He was always doing that—thinking of me. It was more annoying than anything. When he found an extra chocolate pudding MRE—meals ready to eat—he thought of me. He had an extra pocketknife and thought of me. Fresh socks—me.
It should be sweet, and maybe I was looking at it the wrong way, but the last thing I needed in an apocalypse was an unwanted admirer. Still, I tried to be kind to him which, when I thought about it, probably only encouraged him more. I couldn’t win.
He stopped in front of a closed door, but before he opened it, he placed his hand on my shoulder. “This is big, but I don’t want to get your hopes up too soon, okay?”
I shrugged. Unless he could show me a giant time machine that could go back and fix this mess, I doubted anything would get my hopes up.
He turned the knob and waited for me to go first.
Heck no. Richard had rules, and entering rooms without permission happened to be one of them. “What’s in there?”
“Just the surveillance room. We have to know what’s going on outside, right? We have to be prepared.”
I didn’t move. “You mean cameras?”
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Medical supplies, radio equipment, generators, food, water—Richard had thought of everything. Of course he’d be watching things from the safety of his hole in the ground.
“Should we be going in there?” I glanced around. If the lunatic had cameras looking outside, surely he had them pointed at us right now. His goons—I mean, friends—should be pouncing on us at any minute, stopping us.
“You’re with me. You’re fine. Besides, it isn’t like you weren’t going to see this anyway. I’m just showing it to you sooner. You’re the first.” He waved his arm to the side, giving me access to go inside once more.
There was no way we weren’t getting into trouble for this, but curiosity drew me into the room. Blame living underground with literally nothing to do for my disobedience. A person could only play cards with their brother so many times before they caused some sort of trouble just to break up the tedium.
Several black and white monitors bolted to the walls ran choppy video feed, showing the outside world from various directions. The monitors and computer equipment had to be from the nineties—I’d swear I’d seen them in a museum somewhere. Squiggle lines disrupted the picture, distorting it every few seconds, but for an underground setup, it worked quite well.
Trees swayed with the wind, but otherwise everything on the screens appeared dull and completely uninteresting. Very boring television for sure.
“Well, it’s good to know we still have trees.” Not that I was against trees or anything, but if I was going to disobey rules, I’d hoped it would’ve been for a much better reason. When Marco did things like his, it made me question his IQ. No one knew for certain if he was an idiot savant or just an idiot.
“No.” He waved me off, leaned over one of the large computers, and pressed a couple of keys on the keyboard.
“That’s the live feed. I want to show you what we recorded this morning.”
Once again, curiosity kept me from leaving.
The swaying trees disappeared from one of the screens, and while the others continued to record the outside world in real time, the third computer faded to black. It crackled a little, but after a few more button pushes, the screen filled with similar scene—like the one from a few minutes before. The only difference was the placement of the sun and the shadows it cast.
I looked at him, unsure of what I was supposed to be seeing. So far, it turned out to be nothing.
“Give it a second,” he said. “Patience, impatient one.”
Oh, if only he knew how patient I felt!
After several more minutes passed without anything happening, I shook my head and started to leave. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’ve had—“
“There!” He tapped the screen with his sausage link of a finger. “Right there!”
I stood frozen, my eyes glued on the screen. Trees swayed as they always had, but the movement on the lower left side of the screen held me fascinated.
At any other time, it wouldn’t have mattered as much as it did in that moment. Oh, we would’ve been captivated by the sereneness of it, of course, but it wouldn’t have been anything more than a chance encounter, something to be enjoyed but not necessarily unexpected.
But this… this was definitely unexpected.
There had been no singing birds, no crickets chirping, no dogs barking when I had stepped outside my dad’s bunker a few months before. The meteors had affected all of life, and in their wake had left nothing but a soul crushing silence.
“Is that…” I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The words wouldn’t come.
A doe grazed on the tall grass as if all was right in the world. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Marco nodded, and his smile couldn’t have grown any larger than it did in that moment. “Sure is. The first animal we’ve seen in months.”
I stepped closer to the monitor, and when the deer disappeared from view, I had him rewind it and show me again. “What do you think this means?”
He stepped near my side, his shoulder brushing up against mine. “I think it means we’re finally going outside.”
I chalked it up what was happening to me as writer's block, even though I knew that wasn't exactly the case. I had ideas. I had plenty of them. But the thought of actually sitting down at my desk, placing my fingers on the keyboard, and staring at a blank screen, caused my stomach to knot, my heart to race, and my eyes to fill with tears. I never cried, but oh how I wanted to.
This happened over and over, and soon it became easier to avoid writing all together, so I did. Nextflix was much kinder to me than my manuscript anyway.
It only happened when I went to write, so I knew it wasn't a case of depression, since I felt fine in all the other areas of my life. So if it wasn't depression or writer's block then what was it?
And why was it happening more often? I'm an experienced writer, dang it! I should be breezing through a manuscript not cowering from it.
Then it dawned on me, like a light bulb above my head, and I found myself typing the words "Writing and Anxiety" in my Google search.
And there it was. And it was a real thing. And I heard angels.
The first article I opened was from Writer Unboxed, and as I read the article the more I realized just how much I could relate. I wasn't suffering from writer's block or depression, but from a GIGANTIC case of anxiety.
It makes sense as to why, too!
I have numerous plates balancing in the air: my work in progress, marketing, blogging, events, publishing goals, website, social media, SEO, positive reviews, negative reviews, readers expectations, my expectations, staying ahead of the game, continued learning...
and then realizing that regardless of how many plates I keep spinning in the air, and how good I'm doing it (I'm doing okay), I have that nagging feeling in the back of my head telling me I should be doing better. Because there is ALWAYS better.
That's a lot of freakin' pressure!
And here I am, suffering from anxiety, but also feeling that if I say anything to anyone--especially those in the writing industry--I will be mocked or viewed as someone who just can't cut it in this business.
Keeping it bottled up, keeping it hidden, and not talking about it doesn't help anyone. Especially the person living it.
I know I'm not the only one, and so that it why I'm sharing this in hopes my research might help someone else. Or, if nothing else, to let them know they aren't alone.
Please read this article Let's Talk About Anxiety & The Creative Process and the comments as well. It is powerful. It is real.
Now, I'm on the search for finding ways to overcome my anxiety so that I can write the books trapped inside my head. I don't have the answers...yet. But I will figure it out and find a way to get past this.
Simply, because I refuse to allow my worries and fears keep me from doing the things I love.
And talking about it is step one.
More articles and advice:
10 ways to break up with writer's block or writer's anxiety
Overcoming writer's block and how to outsmart your inner critic
Crushing writer anxiety
Until just last week, I had never heard of Dermatographism or "skin writing" which is the layman term for it, but it is a real thing.
Believe me, I should know.
I've been living with it for TWELVE long years. Yes, twelve long years. I believe that my pregnancy with my daughter (twelve years ago) triggered it.
Only, I had no idea what it was called. For a long time I actually wondered if I was crazy, if it was all just in my head, because I'd seen several doctors over that space of time, with no luck and with no name for my condition. So, I gave up and figured I simply had to live with it. And that's what I do--live with it.
But this last month, the itching and hives seemed to get worse, isolating itself to my arms, fingers, and neck. It drove me batty and I carried Cortizone cream and Benadryl spray with me everywhere. Even to work. I took a Claritin every morning and a Benadryl every night to get some relief. It calmed down, but it didn't go away.
Finally, I broke down and decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist even though I'd been through this whole thing before and doubted anything would be different. Couldn't hurt, right?
Unfortunately, the day my appointment came, I didn't have much of an outbreak and figured the appointment would be a complete waste of time. I went anyway. Maybe she could give me some suggestions if nothing else. I couldn't possibly be any worse off.
We talked for a few minutes and then she turned my arm over and dragged her fingernail down the length of my arm. Then we went back to talking. Within a matter of 30 seconds or so, a dark red, raised line appeared on my arm and the hives came alive.
"You have Dermatographism," she said.
I stared at her. "There's actually a name for this?"
She nodded. I almost cried.
I had never heard of this term in the twelve years I'd been dealing with it. Am I cured? No. But she did give me some advice to help calm my symptoms--steroid cream for flair ups and I'm to take an Allegra in the morning and two Zyrtec in the evening (the Zyrtec kicks my butt, though).
I can see a bit of a difference, but the redness and hives are still there. They'll probably always be there, but at least I now know I'm not crazy.
Well... at least when it comes to this.
(Below are two pictures of my arms. This was taken within 30 seconds of scratching my arms with my nail. You can see the hives starting to pop up, but honestly, this isn't nearly as bad as the time the dermatologist scratched me. So, the antihistamines must be working).
When I mentioned this condition to my coworkers, and actually showed them a few pictures online, one coworker found it interesting that I'm a writer and that I have a skin writing disorder. Go figure.
Maybe instead of taking down plot notes in a notebook, I can just write on my arms or legs :)
Something HUGE hit me as I walked around, staring at these pieces of art. I think some would see them and think 1) What the heck is this? OR 2) I could throw a bunch of crap together and make the same thing.
That is NOT at all what I thought. Well, that's not necessarily true. Some I wondered what it was I was looking at, but not once did I look at a piece and think, "I can do that." In fact, these pieces, as abstract and different as they are, made me excited.
My first thought was, "DO THE ART!"
Let me expound: Do the art, whatever art it may be. Do it! THERE IS A PLACE FOR YOU. The world needs the art that only YOU can create. I don't care the medium--books, paintings, photography, dance, acting, music, etc....DO THE ART!
"Lick and Lather" by Janine Antoni> You may wonder why the title is what it is. Let me explain: The bust on the left is made entirely out of chocolate. While the the one on the right is made out of soap (hence the "Lather" part of the title. What about the "Lick?" Well, the lighter color on the chocolate bust is where the artist licked the sculpture. Interesting, huh?
The above piece was by far my FAVORITE! Seriously, there's legs, and beaded baskets from my childhood (I think my aunt had a ton of these), there's a BUNNY on the top and then to make this art piece truly fantastic IT'S IN THE SHAPE OF A CHRISTMAS TREE!
If I had thousands of dollars that I didn't need to use to simply live, I would buy this and put this in my living room. every holiday representing right there. Of course, that is not the intent of this art piece. Please, please, please, if you have a moment, go and check this incredible artist out HERE.
I want to share a snippet from his site with you: "He says of himself "I have found my middle and now am working toward what I am leaving behind." Cave is well known for his Soundsuits, sculptural forms based on the scale of his body. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment." Profound, right?
I am so glad I took the time to visit this particular museum. It filled me hope. It made me want to create. It helped me to realize that my art (novel writing) may not be completely understood by some, or liked and loved by others, but that's okay. Not everyone has to get me. Not everyone has to accept my story lines or my endings. That's okay.
And there is a place in this giant world for all of us. Yes, even you.
Go make your art.
And in case you think you can do this art or that your kid could make something like this, watch the video below and open your mind a little more.
BIG Book Release Party & Giveaway for ZIA, The Teenage Zombie & The Undead Diaries *PRIZES*PRIZES*PRIZES*
Now, I'm turning to you, author helping, super sweet book bloggers, authors, and readers to help me spread the word. And what better time of year to talk ZOMBIES and give away prizes than in the month of October? Okay, technically EVERY month is a good month, but October it is! (Think THE WALKING DEAD and the return of iZOMBIE)
Book Description (Young Adult/Teen/Zombies/Romance):
"Zia would give anything to be a typical teenager… again. Heck, she’d settle for being a vampire or smelly werewolf, but a member of the walking dead? The lowliest of all the monsters? No way! Nothing is worse than being a skin-sloughing, limb-losing, maggot-housing, brain-craving undead girl. Nothing.
It wouldn’t be so bad if humans didn’t insist on “Living Impaireds” wearing bands to keep their insatiable appetites in check.
And if LIs want to coexist with humans, then rules must be followed, no matter how ludicrous they might seem. Why do undead teenagers have to go to high school anyway?
Zia does her best to blend in and go unnoticed, but when a new group of LIs are bused in from another school and she finds herself part of a growing horde, all bets are off.
Besides, rules are meant to be broken—especially when an unbeating heart is pulled in two different directions."
So what do you have to do? THAT is entirely up to you.
Of course, I'm looking for reviews (oh, how I love reviews), but if your plate is full and you don't have the time to read, but you're willing to give me a little space on your blog to show off the cover, the blurb, buy links, and possibly an excerpt, that would be awesome. I'LL TAKE IT! For everyone who helps host me on their blogs or puts up a review, I'll put your name into a drawing for one of TWO $10 Amazon Gift Cards to be awarded at the end of October .
I'm also putting together a Rafflecopter giveaway with prizes like this for your blog followers (will be ready to go on October 1st and will run through the entire month of October. I will send you the widget code once it is ready):
So if you can help a gal out, please take a look at the sign-up widget thingy below and leave your information. Once I start receiving dates and blog information, I'll create a list here with links. If you sign up for an ARC for review, I will get that to you right away in your preferred format. You can also sign up for my THUNDERCLAP campaign HERE.
October 1st Teresa Whaley Blog Review and Promo
October 1st Alicia Caldwell Read and Review / Amazon & Goodreads
October 1st Girl Zombie Authors Read and Review / Amazon & Goodreads / Promo
October 1st Fallen Over Book Reviews Promo
October 1st Ashton Fox Read and Review / Amazon & Goodreads
October 5th Tracy Haidle Read and Review / Amazon & Goodreads
October ?? Twisted Book Junkie Read and Review / Amazon, Blog & Goodreads.
October ?? Raevyn Syn Read and Review / Amazon & Goodreads
October 15th CL Roberts Huth Read and Review on Blog / Amazon & Goodreads
October 19th The Book Tart Read and Review on Blog and Guest Blog
October 30th Paranormal Tendencies Read & Review on Blog