Monday, November 4, 2013

A few words about NaNo

I had thought about joining NaNoWriMo a few months back. I figured it would be a way to give myself a deadline and really dedicate time to at least one of those so many stories I intended to write. Fifty thousand words wouldn't be an entire story, but it would be nice to have such a huge dent in something for a change.

Then Denise called me out on Facebook about participating. It was a subtle shaming, but effective. She talks often about the universe speaking to her, and this felt like one of those moments. Enough talking about how I want to write and time to suck it up and get something done.

I had a brief experience years back with NaNo when I was super active on an online writing workshop. I was all stoked to give it a go and thought this would be THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER!

And then I got to 2500 words and froze. Completely. Froze. Solid.

It was not a high point in my literary journey.

Trying NaNo again was partially about overcoming that fear of failure. I won't get an entire book out of this, and it may not ever be suitable to be seen by anyone ever, but it's about setting a goal and meeting it and hopefully realizing that I can complete a larger body of work.

All that being said, something amazing has happened since I announced I was signing up for this strange, twisted word gauntlet.

Friends and family have been openly encouraging about this whole crazy scheme. I never thought a day would come where people talk to me about writing like it was a normal thing for me to do with my time. It's the most incredible feeling in the world to have support. Thank you doesn't even cover what I want to say to everyone that has said something to me about not only this project, but about pursuing writing in general.

One of the craziest things was that in the last four days, three different people have offered me book ideas. They all said something similar like "I thought of an idea of a book you could write..."


When did people start to think of me as a writer? It's weird. But amazingly wonderful like unicorns and Christmas lights kind of wonderful. (Sadly, none of said proposed ideas are within my normal scope of things. I'm not clever enough for crime/murder mysteries and you can't say fuck in children's books, so I will have to shelve these ideas for now.)

I never knew what it felt like to feel passionate about a path in life until I let myself decide this was what I wanted to do, not just as a hobby but as a career. One day (in the hopefully not to distant future) I want this to be how I support my family. I love telling stories, crafting characters and tearing them to shreds so I can put them back together as new and improved versions of their former selves. I honestly thought the rest of my life would be a 9 to 5 job for a paycheck with no real excitement for what I did for a living.

Of course I'm jumping ahead and I may never be able to live quite like that, but you guys have made this feel like something important and not just a silly passing phase.

November first was a big day for me. Yes, NaNo launched (and I killed my 2500 word fear), but it was also the day I set into motion a serious plan to make writing a career. Me, the girl who has a hard time choosing which socks to wear each day, has a major plan that extends for months out consisting of writing, editing, querying and all those other scary writer type things that involve focus, determination and a whole lot of luck.

It's the scariest feeling in the world to make this plan.

I was only able to do it because you guys are amazing.

Now I need to go work on that 50,000 word count beast.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What's Your Superpower?

"Dude, I don't think I would have agreed to come to this thing if I knew we were just going to stand in a bunch of lines all day."

"What are you talking about? We've met some amazing people."

"I thought we would get to meet Wolverine, not the guy that draws him."

"I think some of the Dr Who cast will be here."

"Dr Who? You don't even know his name?"

"That's the name of the show."

"What show?"

"You're hopeless."

"I'm not the one wearing tights, Peter Pan."

"Screw you. I'm Link. What the hell are you wearing?"

"A cape and a mask like everyone else. What's wrong with it?"

"Uh, no. That's a bed sheet and your mom's sleep mask with holes cut out of it. She is so gonna kick your ass for that."

"Whatever. I have a lightsaber, too."

"That doesn't make any sense!"

"Call me Captain Goodnight. Vooooosh. Vooooooosh."

"Stop that."


"Seriously, you are embarrassing me."

"Says the guy in tights. Going to ice dancing class after this?"

"Why did I invite you?"

"Because I was the only friend you have that was smart enough to come. I've seen pictures of the girls at these things. Hot nerd girls gone wild. Hey there pretty lady!"

"I didn't bring you to harass women."

"I was complimenting, not harassing."

"Oh my gosh! Link! Can I take a picture with you? We're a matching pair!"

"Uh, do you have any princess friends that want to jump into my arms and take a picture?"

"I don't think I know who you are supposed to be."

"Captain Goodnight, duh."

"Isn't that the name of a diaper brand?"


"Just shut up and take our picture. She doesn't care what you are wearing."

"Guy with a lightsaber and a guy with tights. If I was a betting man I would have lost money."

"Take the picture!"

"I am! There! Happy?"

"Thanks! Nice to meet you Captain Underpants."

"Goodnight! Captain Goodnight!"

"You're an idiot."

"And you're the worst wing man ever. She's giggling. Why do girls always giggle like that around me? Or maybe she is laughing at your tights."

"Enough about the damn tights!"

"Whatever. By the way, were you a really big fan of that churro you had earlier?"

"It was alright. Why?"

"Well you said we were in line to get an autograph."

"We are."

"Well then that guy selling popcorn is going to be really excited you want to meet him cuz that's the line we've been standing in."

"Dammit. Sometimes I really hate you."

More funny stuff here: Thank You for Holding

The opposite of funny here: Apologies

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Glass Zebras and Postcards

Sam and Carrie met on a plain Thursday afternoon. Carrie decided to enjoy the first warm afternoon of the year and eat her lunch outside. Sam took lunch outside everyday regardless of the weather.

"Life is too short to eat at a cubicle," Sam answered when asked about eating in the rain.

They had lunch together each day at the same table, shocked they had never met before even though they had worked in the same building for two years. Lunch dates turned into dinner dates and eventually stretched into weekends being spent together. It wasn't long until they decided it didn't make financial sense to rent two places when they only used one so they moved in together.

Carrie loved to cook and had perfected her grandmother's recipes. Sam was happy to wash the dishes with a belly full of comfort food. Sam teased Carrie about her collection of glass zebras that lived in every corner of the apartment while Carrie plotted to burn Sam's ratty college sweatshirt.

When Carrie's brother got married, they drank too much champagne and danced like fools the entire night. Carrie caught the bride's bouquet and waved it in Sam's face. They stumbled back to their hotel room above the reception hall with a final bottle of champagne swiped from behind the bar. Sam found a lottery ticket with a recent date left behind in the nightstand. They dreamed about seeing Venice, the Galapagos Islands and Beijing with their winnings. They wondered how hard it would be to travel with children and if they should try to see some of the world by themselves first. Carrie laughed until her sides ached the next morning when she realized Sam's lotto ticked was a valet ticket.

They had never been happier.

And then Sam got sick.

Cancer is an ugly word that comes with it's uglier friend called terminal. Time wasn't something they had worried about. They were young, whole lives left to live. Sam smiled and laughed it all off and planned a trip to Hawaii for the two of them.

"I just need a vacation."

Carrie begged Sam to try treatments before travelling, but lost the argument.

"Not much point to it, love."

They spent a week soaking in salty, warm air and listening to the waves crash on the sand. They kissed each kiss like it was their last and their first. Carrie committed each moment to a postcard memory and wished on the first star each night that she could live the same day over again tomorrow.

Sam held her hand and kissed her fingers when she cried on the plane ride home.

They were in the hospital before they expected, but anytime would have been too soon. Carrie decorated the beige walls with glossy travel magazine photos of white sand beaches, ancient Egyptian pyramids and St. Basils Cathedral in Moscow and even a few glass zebras. Colors of cultures from the world kept life and hope in the room. Sam promised to take her to every place including the ones she only saw in her dreams.

"I'm just going to get some coffee. I'll be right back."

When Carrie returned to Sam's floor, she was stopped by a nurse. She was refused admittance stating Sam's parents had arrived and requested only family be allowed in Sam's room. When she tried to explain they were practically married, but Sam had wanted to wait, the nurse could only apologize.

Sam died on a dark Wednesday.

Carrie received the news while she sat on a plum colored bench in the lobby. She learned that hearts don't break. They shatter like a glass figurine into millions of tiny shards that could never be put back together.

She never got to say goodbye.

Now imagine Sam was a man instead of her loving, nurturing other half that happened to be a woman.

I love stories about love: Indifference

And love lost: Solitary

Monday, March 25, 2013

You write a book...and you write a book...and you...

I'm nowhere close to being an expert on the whole indie market, self publishing industry. I read article after article and still feel clueless. I looked at the "how to publish your book" page on Amazon once. Just once. Pretty sure I broke out in hives. Cover art? Formatting to different platforms?

I need a drink just thinking about it.

All that makes writing a book seem easy.

I haven't completely lost hope just yet. 

There seems to be a sort of revolution happening when it comes to self published authors and the publishing world in general. This isn't exactly new. Ebooks have transformed the way readers access books. We've seen Borders close it's doors along with smaller retail chains. Barnes and Noble was smart enough to see where books were heading and came up with the Nook and could be why they have survived the culling.

Being a book junkie (and just a little weird to begin with) I mourned these losses. I used to spend hours in bookstores. My dad has always had a book in his hand and trips to Waldenbooks were as routine as going to the grocery store. Losing these places was like closing a door on pieces of my childhood. 

I even spurned the Kindle at first claiming it wouldn't smell like a book and holding a small tablet couldn't compare to 800 bound pages with beautiful cover art.

And then I got a Kindle as a gift and had the mother of all realizations: I now owned a bookstore that never closed.

Holy mother of God.

And that's how I met Colleen Hoover. Well, I didn't "meet" her, but I read her books Slammed and Point of Retreat . They didn't immediately rocket to the top of my list of all time favorites (sorry Colleen!), but I did enjoy them. Both were sweet and unique with great characters and even got a few tears out of me.

Then she published Hopeless .


I don't go around raving about too many books, but I actually messaged a friend at one in the morning because I had just finished reading it and couldn't wait until the morning to tell her she NEEDED to read this book.

It's rare to find a book that is witty enough to make you laugh out loud while you fall in love along with the main character and are left in a heaping sob of embarrassing mush after living their tragedies. This book runs the emotional gauntlet and leaves behind a bitter sweet taste and yet, is completely satisfying.

What I find to be most mind blowing about this whole thing (and the point of my ridiculous ramblings) is she is self published. Yup. All by her little self. Since becoming a bestselling author she has picked up a publishing deal, but she retained full rights to her e-book for Hopeless.

She's driving a huge parade float down publishing avenue clearing the way for self published authors. Publishing is evolving to be about the author and the reader instead of large houses telling us what we should be reading. The way books were meant to be produced.

Bloggers are becoming a huge part of this world as well through organizing unreal author signings like Bookbash in Orlando and The Boston Author Event that bring authors and fans together. Self published authors brought together by bloggers to meet fans that took a chance on a writer they might never had known if traditional publishing was the only path.

It's a community of glorious misfits and it is fascinating to see it evolving.

Now if someone could please tell me where the hell to look for cover art that won't cost me two weeks pay.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

After the Lights Go Out

Anna's stomach rolled as she sniffed the lingering scent of campfire smoke mingled with the odors of sweat and exhaust in the cab of the truck. Anxiety had already torn her gut to shreds and the invasion of smells was almost enough to retch up her meager breakfast of dried fruit and beef jerky.

She swallowed three times trying to focus on something other than her nausea. Her eyes drifted to the gas gauge hovering above a large, glowing "E".

Trees. Watching the trees might help.

She jumped as a strong hand squeezed her knee. "You okay?"

Anna answered with a weak nod and wondered if she had aged as much as Travis appeared to over the past week. "Stomach just feels a little rough."

"Maybe you could put the window down? Get some air?" The question wasn't directed at Anna, but to the rear view mirror. Grayson nodded his approval from the backseat so Travis pressed the controls on his left.

The blast of mountain air was warm with summer heat, but an improvement in the cramped space.

"Should be there soon," Travis muttered.

"Be where? We keep getting turned away!" panic was evident in her voice

"I know, but there has to be somewhere..."

"We won't even get wherever you think we are going before we run out of gas." Travis grabbed her chin and glanced away from the road to make sure Anna listened.

"We will make it. I promise." His conviction was soothing enough she chose to believe him for the moment.

A voice piped up from the backseat. "Take the next exit."

"What? Why?" Travis swiveled his head to scan all directions for an approaching car.

"Calm down there, tiger. No red alert. I saw a sign for a gas station back there."

"Gray, there's no way a gas station is out here. It would be closer to the city."

Grayson sighed at the resistance and threw his hands in the air. "Do we have a better option?"

Travis looked to Anna for guidance. Her heart sank when she read fear on his face. He had been so certain of their choices up until now.

She scanned the area hoping for sign. An unnatural shape protruded from the roadside weeds. A few moments later a second one appeared, the same rusted out color as the first. This one still retained a few spikes of beads to resemble feathers on the back of a metal peacock.

"He's right! Take the exit!" a foreign sense of hope trickled down her back.

The turn signal clicked to life to alert the rest of their caravan. He pulled off the highway onto a gravel road marked with matching signs for Dove's Gas standing sentry on either side.

A rusted remnant of a metal rooster followed soon after with a familiar sign reading "Fresh Pies". Anna's breath hitched at the sight and a vague childhood memory tapped at the back of her mind.

"Doesn't look like anyone is out here," Travis pointed out as overgrown trees and shrubs clawed at the sides of the truck.

Anna gnawed on a ragged cuticle and counted each sculpture as they passed.

The cab dipped into a pothole and roused Becca who had been peacefully unconscious in the back next to Grayson.  "Where are we now?"

"Hopefully somewhere with gas still in the pumps," Grayson answered as he wrapped an arm around her small shoulders.

"You guys found a station?" she asked, suddenly alert.

Anna peered around her seat and tried to force a smile, but ended up looking more like a deranged birthday clown. "Well, we found signs, and I remember stopping at this place once when my family used to camp out here. I had forgotten all about it, but I don't know any place else that sold sculptures of metal and glass birds and they are all along here."

"Oh! Like that?" She pointed to another fixture being swallowed by weeds.

Anna tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Becca had been virtually silent the last few days, and the spark in her eyes was most likely about to be crushed with disappointment.

Please let it still be here.

Travis followed the bend in the road to the left and a hushed sigh of relief whispered through the cab.

A small building clung to the earth with aged, timber supports. The paint was faded and peeling to match the once shiny red pair of gas pumps resting under a tin roofed covering.

Several car doors opening and closing were the only sound in the area. Anna felt her spirits sinking when she spotted an old sign by the door reading "Free slice of pie with fill up!" hanging askew from one last chain.

The gas pumps were secured with heavy chains and padlocked. Someone had gone to the effort to ensure free gas wasn't on the menu.

"Should we go knock or something?" Kyle asked as he approached their group hovered by the truck.

Travis shrugged and nodded, not willing to admit it was probably futile. He gestured to the two remaining male members of their group to join him with Kyle and Grayson. Anna tagged along hoping to recognize some sign of life.

As Travis started to object, door hinges screeched in protest, cutting his lecture short.

A straw of a man leaned against the door frame, taking them all in. He was sweaty and covered in grime that had covered him long before the world had started to end.

"Something you all want?" he asked without really caring what the answer was.

Travis pointed a thumb at the vehicles lined up behind them. "We could use some gas."

"Heh," was his only response before spitting a slimy wad on the ground at his feet. "So you want gas? Betcha do. Not many places left you can get it, I imagine." He tucked his greasy blonde hair behind his ears and looked up and down the line men in front of him. Even Grayson looked like he outweighed him, and he only had twenty pounds on Anna. He didn't seem the least bit intimidated. "How you plan on paying?"

Travis produced his wallet. "We've got enough money to cover..."

"Piss on that."

Tension straightened each of their spines. Anna glanced up at Travis and saw the side of his jaw tick with irritation. "Our money isn't good enough for you?"

"Nobody's money is," he laughed and spit again. "You kids think I'm stupid? I saw every city around here get blown off the face of the map just like you did. You must have all been out camping or you would be people BBQ, too. You should keep that paper in your wallet to wipe your ass with, because that's all it's good for now."

Kyle and Travis looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed. Grayson decided to ask what they didn't want to know. "What would you be willing to trade then?"

"So one of you has a brain, after all." He smiled through his chew revealing gaps and stumps where his teeth had rotted away. "How much water you got? And what kind of food?"

"No way, man," Kyle snapped. "We've got ten people to take care of. We've got nothing to spare."

Greasy man shrugged." Then I guess I can't spare any gas," he answered and turned to return inside.

Anna felt panicked as she glanced back at the chained pumps behind her. Her vision caught Becca watching the scene from the back of the truck. She didn't need to be told things weren't going well and her eyes were wide with fear.

Anna pushed her way passed Kyle and Travis. "Wait! There has to be something else. We have other supplies. Are you sure we can't make some kind of trade?"

He jerked back around at the sound of her voice and cocked his head with curiosity. A sneer drew up the side of his face as he looked Anna up and down. She shivered and felt naked under his stare. "I'm a reasonable guy. We might be able to work something out."

Travis possessively grabbed her by the waist and pushed her behind him. "Forget it."

"Don't think I was talking to you, boy. I was having a chat with lady."

"I said forget it," Travis threatened as he stepped forward.

"Oh for fuck's sake!" Sabrina shouted as she shoved her way past the line. "He's been pretty clear about things. Are we going to argue all day or get on with things?" Her over sized breasts threatened to bounce out of the tiny tank top she was wearing, much to the delight of greasy man. She glared at Anna and rolled her eyes. "Look, you won't get anywhere with ice princess. I'm not even sure she knows where things go which explains why big boy over here is wound so tight."

Anna lunged at Sabrina, but was easily restrained by Travis' strong arm and a stern look of warning.

"I'm down for your deal, if it means all three tanks and the reserve cans we have in the back of the truck." She hooked her thumbs through the belt loops on her cutoffs and stuck her chest out.

Kyle grabbed his girlfriend by the arm and hissed in her ear, "What the fuck do you think you are doing?"

"Getting our asses out of here," she snapped back and wrenched out of his grasp.

"Like hell you are!" He reached for her again, but Sabrina raised her hands to stop him. A moment of silence passed between them before she ran her hands up his chest and locked her hands behind his neck. She pulled him towards her and she spoke softly into his ear. When she released him, he sighed with resignation and stomped off to his Jeep.

"Now, where were we?" Sabrina began to saunter towards greasy man as the rest of the group looked on in horror.

"Sabrina! Stop!" Anna screamed. She could barely stand the slut on a good day, but she wouldn't stand by and watch this happen. "Travis, stop her!"

Travis looked back to Kyle who shook his head. "Let her go."

Appalled, Anna tried to run after Sabrina, but she only made it a few steps before her feet left the ground. Travis had a firm grip on her waist, but her kicking and squirming got her legs restrained by Grayson. Anna screamed in protest and tried to resist. She refused to accept what was happening and screamed again for Sabrina.

The fight left her body when she saw only a look of amusement on Sabrina's face.

Becca popped open the passenger door to let Travis deposit Anna inside. Sabrina had disappeared inside with the greasy man and a desperate sob escaped her throat.

Becca's small arms wrapped around Anna's shoulders and she tried to console her. "She will be fine."

"But they just let her go! Travis...Kyle...none of them stopped her. Why would they do that?" She watched Travis sink to the ground against a post. He buried his face in his hands and looked as lost as Anna felt.

She wondered why they had been so desperate to find fuel to begin with. They had been greeted at every major freeway by military personnel and forced to turn back. Sabrina was only buying them more time to drive in circles. It wasn't worth the cost.

"Do you think Andy and Lauren made it past the guards?" Becca asked quietly.

Anna was startled that her mind had been on a similar subject as her own. "I don't know, sweetie. Maybe?"

"And they wouldn't let them back out? That's why they didn't come back?" She was trying to find some reason for losing her sister. Anna couldn't meet her eyes, the haunting replicas of her best friend that was now lost to her.

"Tori shouldn't have let you come. I'm so sorry you are out here with us." Anna sniffled and tried to push away the image of Tori closing her eyes one last time.

Tori didn't admit she was out of insulin until she was too sick to move. Anna couldn't imagine the panic she must have felt watching the night sky light up with explosions in every direction; knowing that modern medicine had suddenly become a luxury, and her time was limited.

She had refused to let anyone try to get back into town on her behalf, and it was apparent she couldn't stand the eight hour car ride. Andy and Lauren left while everyone was asleep, determined to bring back insulin for Tori.

That was eight days ago.

Tori had only lasted four.

Becca shook her head and fought against tears. "You saved my life. If I wasn't here with you guys, then...," she trailed off, not needing to explain the alternative.

Anna hugged the little sister she had inherited. "I'll keep you safe. Whatever I have to do." She glanced at the nearby shack and silently prayed it wouldn't come to something she couldn't live with doing.

Minutes stretched on as they waited. No one in their group spoke or even moved, each feeling just as helpless as the next person.

Anna was about to ask if they find a way to check on Sabrina when the door to the shack squeaked open.

Sabina skipped out looking slightly unkempt, but alive. She tossed a ring of keys at Travis as he jumped to his feet. "There's cases of water and snacks left from when this place fully operated. Probably stale, but at least it's something." She grinned at a question from Travis that Anna couldn't hear. "Nah, he won't mind at all."

Anna opened the door to help collect supplies, but Travis pushed the door shut before she got out. "Stay," he commanded.  "Please? Just wait here."

Kyle embraced Sabrina and laughed at something she whispered to him. Anna felt her jaw fall shocked at the scene before them.

"Well at least she's alright," Becca mumbled as she scampered over the seats to the back of the cab.

Sabrina headed towards the truck, wiping her hands on a dirty rag. She stared Anna down with a smug grin as she approached her open window. "Here, princess. Got you a present." She tossed a screwdriver into Anna's lap. For a moment she wondered why it felt wet, then she saw the blood it left on her thigh. She looked back to Sabrina in horror. "Now you have something legitimate to judge me for, bitch."

She swiped the bloody screwdriver onto the floor and kicked it away, but she couldn't touch the smear across her leg.

Soon after, Travis led them back out onto the freeway. Anna tried to wrap her thoughts around things. Kyle knew what Sabrina had planned on doing. Did that make it better or worse? Would she have fought as hard to stop her if she knew what was really going on?

She tried to tell herself that it was done. There was no point in dwelling on what she couldn't change. Travis had kept her out of things as best as he could, though. "Did you know what she planned on doing?"

His tired eyes glanced in her direction before shaking his head. "I knew Kyle wouldn't have let her go without a good reason. I had to trust him." He reached for Anna's hand to steady his own and she realized he was struggling as much as she was. Physically he was more capable of having done something than Anna, so guilt was weighing on his soul, slumping his shoulders and pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Anna held his hand. It was the only support she could offer aside from refraining from any more questions.

Country highways did nothing to occupy the mind. Anna pictured Tori healthy then fading away before her. She saw Lauren sitting on Andy's lap, the pair laughing at a private joke. She missed her friends and pushed away their memories because they shouldn't occupy the same head space as a murdered stranger.

She began to consider the softest spots on a man to thrust a screwdriver: the throat, the kidneys, the gut. She wondered if it killed him instantly, or if he suffered. She realized he might have still been alive when they drove away.

The copper stench of blood, real or imagined, attacked her and rolled her stomach again.

"Please pull over," she hissed through clenched teeth.

The color must have drained from her face because Travis didn't hesitate.

Anna flung herself out the door before they completely stopped, and she stumbled to her knees on the side of the road retching up half digested beef jerky.

Her vomit was soon accompanied by sobs. She wished for all of it to be over; to wake up from the nightmare they were living.

Travis joined her and rubbed her back, murmuring soft words meant to calm. She was exhausted and her nerves were raw. She didn't want to be afraid anymore or not know where they would end up next.

A breeze blew across her face and brought the stench of rotting death to her nose. Travis froze as he recognized the scent, too.

If the grass had been a few inches higher she wouldn't have seen them.

The bottom of a pair of Vans with the name "Andy" spelled with a backwards N stared at them. Anna remembered giving Lauren so much grief as she had refreshed the faded sharpie on the bottom of her shoes. Lauren had just smiled and told her it made sense since she belonged to him.

A pair of hiking boots on a body lying face down were next to the familiar shoes. Their car was gone. Only two ruts in the gravel remained where the car had peeled out to leave the bodies decaying by the side of the road.

First fuel, now a car. What would they kill for or be killed for next?

Anna felt her throat and wondered how much a screwdriver would hurt.

If that wasn't dark enough for you: Tick Tock

Or if on the lighter side of things: Her Confidence is Tragic

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What Would Faust Do?

The press photos splayed across the table were familiar. Erica had seen them in magazines and on paparazzi sites all documenting the incredible rise of Hollywood's newest golden boy.

He's not bad looking, if you are into all American types. Which I'm not.

She slowly inhaled a focused breath, determined not to let her nerves betray her. She kept her hands locked together on her lap. Three sets of eyes watched her intently while playing the same nonchalant game, but they were desperate for her agreement.

"And how long are we talking about exactly?"

Mr. Pierce sighed. "Potentially? 'Til death do you part."

Laughter tickled the back of of Erica's throat. The last thirty minutes had been ludicrous. Her audition was a mere formality to precede a twisted offer. Three sirens sat across the lacquered table from her singing songs of fame and wealth; if she only agreed to one impossible favor.

"You understand how ridiculous you all sound, right? I mean, people don't just do things like this. You can't force someone to fall in love with another person." Her fingers gripped the edge of the table grasping for something solid within the strange circumstances.

"No one said anything about you falling in love," Mr. Pierce corrected.

Erica didn't like his critical tone. "I wasn't talking about me," she shot back. "I meant him. You can't just throw two people together like that and pull some strings and expect them to dance."

Mr. Pierce cleared his throat and nodded at the woman to his left. Her face was bright with the knowledge of conspiracies and dark secrets. "We have gone to careful lengths to make sure the woman we chose would be right. You happen to resemble the high school sweetheart he left behind when he left his small town to be an actor." She relaxed back into her chair looking smug.

"So I look like an old girlfriend. So what?"

"You will resonate with all those powerful memories of youth and innocence that we need him to find again before things get out of control." If Mr. Pierce found any romantic notion in the idea, he hid it exceptionally well.

"And then what? Some puppy love cures him of his current string of bad choices and I'm out on my ass? Why would anyone agree to that?" Erica's chair screeched on the stone floor as she rose to her feet. "I'm afraid you will have to find a more agreeable puppet."

"How are you enjoying your waitressing job, Miss Snow?"

Erica halted at the question, but Mr Pierce didn't bother to to look surprised. "It's fine." She picked up her purse to continue to the door.

"And are you enjoying that cramped studio apartment?"

"I think it's cozy."

"Fine and cozy? Is that how you imagined your life out here?"

She pictured the peeling paint on the walls of her apartment. Most of the appliances didn't meet city code, but her landlord couldn't be bothered and knew her only other option was the street. She spent shift after shift faking painful smiles at the insipid conversations of self inflated egos to scrape bigger tips.

They had certainly done their research. She was miserable, and they knew it.

"You're positive this will work?"

A suggestion of a smile appeared on Mr Pierce's face. "If you do as we say."

Erica smoothed out her skirt with damp palms and returned to her chair as the third member across the table slid a folder towards her. He had yet to speak a single word, but his silence was as intimidating as Mr. Pierce's no fluff attitude.

She poked through the pages with the tip of a pen, afraid to burn her fingers on the file. The contract wasn't a novel, but it was a substantial read. "This is a pretty heavy contract."

"It is for your protection as well as ours." The lawyer spoke with a pleasant, soft voice. It made him even more frightening to Erica.

"Protect me? From what?"

Mr. lawyer sighed and folded his hands on the table. "At the end of your contract, you will have the option to sign a continuance. If you opt out, you keep any assets acquired during the agreed time frame. That includes any salary from film offers and gifts you may receive from either your charge or resulting from your career."

"My charge?"

"He will be your responsibility while under contract," Mr. Pierce interrupted. "Your job is to point him in the directions we want him to go. It's that simple."

She knew it wasn't. "And if I can't? Or what if I refuse something?"

"You refuse, we terminate the contract. That includes any roles you might currently be involved in or currently under consideration." Mr. Pierce stared her down with a look she had seen on her father's face when she would try to defy him. "We have a very long reach and a lot of friends, Miss Snow. Don't think you can take your little acting job and run. You screw us over and you will find yourself blacklisted by every producer, director, casting agent and even make up artist involved with quality films. All you will have left is home camcorders making porn."

The concept of bowing to this trio's demands constricted her throat. She eyed the contract again, but knew it outlined her guaranteed casting in a major production, a monthly salary in addition to the film and a clause allowing her to leave without penalty should the relationship become threatening or abusive. She wasn't required to sleep with him, although it was highly recommended.

Her hand was sweaty and the pen slid through her fingers the first time she pressed the tip against the signature line. A nervous laugh and a dry hand later, she scratched her name across the paper.

Mr. lawyer snapped the file closed before she could change her mind. Once it was in his possession  the static in the air dissipated.

"Well, Miss Snow," Mr. Pierce stood and extended his hand. "I suggest you start practicing your acceptance speech for the academy."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Talking Headstones

"I'm pretty sure you are going to be alright. You're still kind of the new guy around here so people will still visit. I am a little worried about Mr and Mrs Hawkins. No kids, so I'm pretty sure no one even remembers they are here."

Chloe fumbled with the bundle of white roses in her hands. The shade of a large elm hanging over her chilled the grass under her bare feet as she edged closer to sit.

"I guess I just wanted to say thanks for listening." She laughed quietly to herself. "Like you really had a choice about it, right? I hope I didn't bore you too much. Sorry I'm not the most interesting person..."

She froze with the sudden awareness someone was walking up the path directly behind her.

The funny thing about cemeteries was how the living stood out. Footsteps that could creep silently elsewhere were announced far in advance on the brick paths that wound through the park.

She scrambled to collect her roses and shoes and attempted to scurry past the visitor.

"You don't have to leave. Take all the time you need. I can wait over there."

"No, it's fine. I was just leaving," she mumbled and knocked into the other person in her haste. Her shoes fell to the grass with a plop.

"Let me get those," he offered as Chloe stopped to grab them first. His hand brushed against hers and she made the mistake of glancing up to meet his eyes.

She recognized the wide eyes response of shock when he saw her eyes.

"Whoa," breathed out as a whisper, but audible enough to make her flinch. "That's amazing. I've never seen a person with a blue eye and a brown eye. I thought that only happened in..." He cut himself off, visibly embarrassed at the correlation he was about to make.

"Dogs, I know." Chloe shrugged. She debated breaking into a run to escape, but now that he had started a conversation it seemed like a rude way to leave. "Eyes like these will get you all sorts of fun nicknames."

"I'm sorry. I honestly didn't mean it that way." He attempted an apologetic smile and extended his hand. "I'm Kyle, by the way."


"So, you knew my brother?" he asked, gesturing at the grave behind them.

She gasped at the sudden recollection of Steven having a twin. "Um, sort of. I knew of him."

Kyle shifted his weight on his feet, unsure of a response. "But you come out and visit him?"

"I visit a lot of people out here." His uncomfortable posture triggered her defensive mode. "It's not like I'm bothering them. Obituaries aren't exactly classified information."

His eyes widened further and Chloe bit down on her tongue. Some things just sounded better before they made it out of one's mouth. "I'm just gonna go now."

She made it three full steps before he stopped her.

"Chloe, you don't have to leave. Please stay."

She hesitated on the walkway. She didn't normally converse with the living, at least not here. It was why she came to this place. No judgement. No awkward tension.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Look, no one is ever here when I come by, and to be honest, this place kinda freaks me out."

Chloe turned and tried to hide an amused grin. "You're scared of a graveyard? During the day?"

"Well, not scared." He rubbed the back of his neck and surveyed the area. "Just not exactly comfortable. It would be nice to have someone around that actually talks back to me."

" want me to hide behind that tree and pretend I'm your brother?"

Kyle's not amused face was all the answer Chloe needed. "I was just offering. Not sure why you would want to talk to me." She sought out refuge from the May heat under the nearby elm with Kyle close behind.

"Who wouldn't want to talk to a girl that hangs out in cemeteries?"

"I won't be doing any rituals if that's what you are thinking."

"Oh? Well that's a relief because I'm fresh out of goat blood."

Chloe narrowed her eyes and put up her shields. "Are you just going to mock me?"

"You opened the occult door. I just walked in." Kyle grinned and picked at a blade of grass by his foot. "I'm sorry. I have a bad habit of trying to be funny and just ending up mean."

Chloe relaxed and leaned against the trunk of the elm. "I guess we have that in common then. Mostly I get into trouble because I tell people the truth."

"You mean like when everyone else is telling some girl she has cute shoes you tell her they are ugly?"

She dangled a dollar store flip flop off the edge of her finger. "Do I look like the sort of girl that comments on footwear?"

"No," Kyle laughed. "No, you certainly don't."

They entered a quiet lull in conversation and Chloe rested her head against the tree trunk to enjoy the serenity. After her years of visiting, she knew that cemeteries weren't filled with the sorrow or fear as people associated with the headstones and grassy hills. There was peace and acceptance. It was possibly the only place to find such things in a pure state.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Chloe opened a lazy eye and shrugged. "Shoot."

"If you didn't actually know my brother, what were you doing out here?"

She sighed and tried to determine the best way to answer his question without sounding like a mental patient.
"I guess the term "knowing someone" changes in meaning once that person dies."

In his defense, Kyle tried to look like he understood. For a moment anyway. "I have no idea what that is supposed to mean."

"Wipe away all that bull shit we put so much emphasis on like social status or materialistic items. Once you die, how much of that matters? You just end up buried in the same cemetery as a washed up country singer from the sixties. You become a person, not a celebrity. People are more accessible once they die. Your brother doesn't care that I'm the girl with the freaky eye. I'm just someone that likes to remember him and stop by for a visit."

She watched Kyle process her speech. "People should be remembered no matter how big or small they were in life. They should know they mattered. I try to make sure that happens."

"So how often do you come by here?"

"Every Tuesday. The groundskeepers make their rounds Tuesday night collecting anything left on the sites. If I notice something that looks like it may be significant, I tuck it away and come back the next day to replace it."

"Why would you do that?"

"I got the idea from the country singer over there. When he died, his wife made it a point to come by as often as she could and collect things his fans left behind. I heard she has an entire room filled with items. When she died, her daughter took up the habit. The dead don't need those items, but they are important to the living so I try to get them to the people who would find them significant."

"And you do this every week?"

"For the last few years. Just sort of became a habit. Most people find their lives outside of these gates and try to forget about the people in here. I wasn't okay with that."

Kyle stared through her, hands folded in front of his mouth, elbows propped up on his knees. He considered her words for some time before asking, "You think we forgot about him?"

"Not at all," she answered. "I said they try to forget. I think people get busy with living. Some just can't handle the grief and have to close a permanent door. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to forget someone you lose."

"Especially when you see them each time you look in a mirror," he added.

"That must be hard."

"Being the constant reminder to your family of what they lost? You could say that." Chloe didn't miss the bitter edge to his voice. "Do you know how he died?"

"Car accident the night of graduation?"

"That's the sad story everyone paints, right?" He shook his head and let out a small laugh. "Couldn't tarnish his image after such a tragic death."

Chloe fiddled with the petal on one of her roses. The living were such strange creatures. "Does it matter so much how he died?"

"It did to our parents. Dad was an old friend of the sergeant that found Steve's car wrapped around a tree. He asked him to leave out of the report that he was most like drunk since the car was full of empty beer cans. I guess they figured no one else had been hurt so what did it matter if that little detail was left out."

The new perspective was interesting, but Chloe couldn't understand the significance of the circumstances. "He made a mistake. People do that. Some mistakes have higher consequences than others."

Kyle shook his head. "It wasn't the first time he drove drunk, just the first time he got caught. He even wrecked his car once before, and I covered for him."

"You? Why?"

"I must have been caught up in everyone else's belief that mister student body president had a great future ahead of him. I didn't want to see him screw everything up because he acted like an idiot now and again like the rest of us."

Chloe remembered the perfect image of an overachiever Steven had portrayed. Friendly with everyone, enrolled in honors classes and top of the high school food chain. She had only finished her freshman year when he died, but his ghost remained on campus. A sad memorial occupied a glass trophy case in the main hall, but Chloe often thought she was the only one who noticed it was there.

"So you took the blame for his mistakes and got labeled as the bad twin?"

"Something like that. I certainly didn't deserve all the credit they gave me for things." A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. "And do you know how that bastard repaid me?"

Chloe shook her head with a silent "no".

"Stole my girlfriend. Caught them that night. She was the one person in my world that didn't see me as a complete fuck up and never made me feel like I was second best to Steve. Then she chose him anyway."

Kyle's face still had the same scowl Chloe recalled from high school. It kept most people away, but she remembered a lovely brunette full of life that melted away Kyle's icy presence.

"I'm so sorry," were the only words Chloe could manage, but the sentiment was sincere.

"Don't apologize for something you didn't do." He glanced over his shoulder where his brother's body rested. "So now that you know about the man behind the mask, still plan on chatting it up with him every week?"

Chloe slid her shoes back onto her feet and gathered her pile of roses. "I would, except I won't be here. I came by today to tell them all good-bye."

"You're leaving?"

Chloe nodded as she fished around in her pocket with her free hand. "Scholarship out of state. I'm leaving to start summer session." Her finger tips found what they were looking for and she produced a gold locket on a chain from her pocket. "I was going to put this back today. It was on Steven's headstone." She handed over to Kyle, unsure if he would want to claim it.

His hands instinctively reached for the locket as it dangled in front of him. Chloe began to walk by as he fumbled with the tiny latch, but she hesitated and brushed his shoulder with her palm. "Sometimes people do the wrong thing for the right reasons."

She made her way onto the brick path not needing to see what was inside the locket. She had watched the day before as an attractive brunette had placed the locket on the headstone while wiping away silent tears.

"Hey, Chloe?" Kyle called out through a strangled throat.

She turned halfway and saw Kyle sitting in the same spot, shoulders slumped as he hugged his knees to his chest. "Yes?"

"You should try interacting more with the living. I think you are better at it than you realize."

"Only a weirdo who talks to girls in cemeteries would think that."

A small laugh trembled through his shoulders and Chloe continued onto her rounds. She stopped at each of her regular plots leaving a single white rose and thanking her friend for their patience and wisdom. When she reached the over sized memorials of Mr and Mrs Hawkins, Kyle rose from the ground and approached his brother's grave.

He gently placed the locket on the headstone and gave a nod of understanding. He visibly exhaled the weight residing in his chest before walking away.

Chloe smiled at his departure, confident he would be back next Tuesday.