On FINALLY finishing the short story.

Sorry for the radio silence. I should have known that with the July 4th holiday I’d miss my self-imposed deadline, especially when I was out of state. I was in Tennessee, visiting my brother. I had a wonderful time and I saw family I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, and even met some family for the very first time.

After being away from home for over a month, I’m finally back and ready to resume a routine and get my life into some semblance of order. With it being summer, this always proves difficult for me. I would much rather be lazy and do nothing, especially when it’s so hot and the slightest movement seems unnecessary. I’m teaching summer school this year – for the first time ever – and I’m hoping it will keep me honest and on a schedule.

So without further ado, I present the conclusion of my short story. I made some revisions to make the language clear and concise, which I think improved the fluidity of the narrative. That being said, I do think the ending is rushed because I just wanted to be done with it. I always feel incredibly guilty when I want to abandon a writing project, and I know that’s silly. Life is too short; I should follow what I’m passionate about and more often than not, that leads to a better story anway. I hope you enjoy it. And if you do read it all the way through, please let me know what you think in the comments. I want it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s only through constructive criticism (and continued practice!) that I can grow as a writer. So thank you in advance and again, I hope you enjoy the short story.

THE WORST BLIND DATE EVER

The TV was loud, loud enough that Madeleine felt sure it would only be a few more moments before the neighbor downstairs, the angry and entitled woman with the pixie cut gelled to perfection, would be banging on her ceiling, banging through to Madeleine’s floor. That night, Madeleine decided the bitch could bang all she wanted – the TV was going to stay loud because the Ghost Gurus were doing a live, nationally televised paranormal investigation of an abandoned lunatic asylum somewhere on the east coast and she wasn’t going to miss a single second of it. She’d been watching the Ghost Gurus for six years and more than just encourage her love of all things spooky and creepy and odd, it got her through the divorce, through the weight gain and loss, through the move into the shitty studio apartment she now called home; Ghost Gurus got her through the worst times in her life. And she was gonna make damn sure she was there for them on one of the biggest nights of their careers.

The can of light beer beside her reflected the soft blue light that emanated from her desktop. Madeleine chewed on the end of the ring on the inside of her bottom lip, an anxious habit. She was ready for the investigation to start, and she was also eagerly anticipating a response from Johnny99. On the official website for the Ghost Gurus, there was a live chat happening alongside the investigation and Madeleine, under the alias “Casperette44,” had logged on just to lurk. She’d never intended to send a message, but when someone wrote, “Any advice on the best digital recorder for EVP work,” she couldn’t help herself. She wrote a quick message back to recommend the Sony Digital Voice Recorder because it’s extremely easy to use and set up, and catches voices clearly. She advised against voice-activated recorders because the device could start in the middle of an occurrence, and as many EVPs are typically only a word or two, no one would want a device that could miss potential evidence. She went to light a cigarette and when she focused back on the screen, there was a private message waiting for her from Johnny99. He thanked her profusely for the suggestion and asked her if Zane, the lead investigator, could be any more melodramatic.

In her empty, lonely studio apartment, the message actually made her laugh out loud. She covered her mouth to muffle the noise, careful not to smear her heavily painted lips in dark crimson. She reread the message with a pleasant surprise of a smile. She agreed that yes, Zane was indeed over-the-top, but she loved him all the same and that his passion, along with fellow investigator Adam’s proclivity to stay in especially terrifying places all by himself, kept her coming back for more.

They talked until it was after three o’clock in the morning, after the investigation was over and she’d missed the whole thing, and after a lot of obvious flirting. They decided to meet the next weekend during a group investigation for beginners at the Reginald Davies Estate on the other side of town. It had been purchased by Dr. Reginald Davies in 1880 and became an instant curiosity. The estate was recognizable for its oversized features, gigantic upside-down corbelled chimneys, hooded “jerkin-head” dormers, and huge stick-like brackets on the porch. And the estate was apparently just as weird inside as it was on the outside. Dr. Davies was into the occult, and forced his wife and his spinster sister to partake in his macabre hobbies. There were many wild and horrifying claims about the estate, most of which were unsubstantiated but nevertheless grew into the stuff of urban legends. The most oversimplified explanation for the estate’s general ominous atmosphere is that Dr. Reginald Davies was trying to build a portal to Hell.

The town didn’t want to encourage the rumors, afraid the estate would attract satanists and witches and all different kinds of unsavory types. The town elders preferred the estate to be a well-known local family-friendly attraction steeped in culture and history that satisfied respectable, desirable tourists. Time changed as it always does, and unfortunately, that particular clientele did not visit the estate enough to pay the bills of maintaining the historic and unusual Victorian mansion, so the owners had to expand their horizons and eventually opened the estate to paranormal investigators. It ushered in a younger crowd and piqued the interest of locals who had been living near the place for years and years. Residents were buying tickets for tours to see if they could hear ghostly footsteps, disembodied voices, or even see the torso of a woman in Victorian garb rushing around the home. The profitable decision convinced the owners to open the doors to private groups of paranormal investigators, so long as waivers were signed and a sizable fee was paid.

Madeleine researched as much as she could so she could be authoritatively impressive in conversation with Johnny99, and the Wikipedia article detailing the history of the estate still glowed on her monitor at the end of the week while she stood before her full-length mirror, twisting this way and that to see her full reflection. Her hair was dyed black, courtesy of a box from a local drugstore, and her hair was straightened meticulously, to the point where the apartment was filled with the smell of slightly burning hair. Her dark eyes were outlined in even darker, thick liner. Her ripped jeans and faded band tee-shirt almost made her look ten years younger. She decided this was as good as it was going to get and sat to lace up her Doc Martens.

Nearly an hour later, her small blue Toyota Corolla rolled to a stop in a huge parking lot. The sound of crunching gravel announced her arrival, and Madeleine watched the already arrived group of paranormal investigators turn in unison to observe her. Wishing for a cigarette, she released shaky breaths as she climbed from the vehicle to stand in the brisk evening air. Johnny99, real name Bryan, said he’d be wearing a denim jacket with a smiley face pin. She scanned the crowd but couldn’t see anyone matching the description from the message. There was a tall, gaunt, pale fellow with lanky black hair; obviously, this wasn’t his first rodeo. There was a heavy-set couple with matching tee-shirts that must have been from somewhere in the midwest, judging by their misplaced enthusiasm and general cuteness. There was an older gentleman in a baseball cap and untucked flannel shirt with deep creases across his forehead. He didn’t smile or greet Melanie in any way once she made her way over, and she shivered.

“Well, hello!” boomed a jovial voice from the front porch, shattering the silence into unsettling shards. Everyone gasped and turned. “I’m your leader for this excursion into the beyond, and my name is Zander.” His chest swelled and he looked around at everyone with shining eyes. He paused, as if for applause, and then continued. “I’m a psychic medium and I’ve been featured several times on WINK News Channel 5,” he said, his eyes closing in self-satisfaction. Madeleine bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. He did look familiar, but that did little to lessen the flamboyant hilarity of his presence. He seemed like more of someone’s idea of a psychic medium rather than an actual psychic medium. He was heavy and dressed in a long, dark-colored tunic and linen pants. He looked like some kind of yogi or guru, and he must have been freezing. He had beads all around his neck and bangles encircling both wrists that chimed and clanked softly whenever he moved. Madeleine chanced a glance at the group, and the only pair riveted in the way Zander probably expected were the completely vanilla couple. They were watching Zander’s every move and whispering excitedly to each other. Madeleine rolled her eyes back to the parking lot. No new cars had arrived and her face grew hot as she realized she’d likely been stood up.

Zander started talking about the electronics that were neatly displayed on and the folding table he was gesturing towards. Madeleine had only been partially paying attention, so when the group formed a line, she parked herself at the end. They were allowed to use as much of the offered equipment as they’d like. It was a smaller group than anyone anticipated, apparently, and Madeleine sighed with an aching disappointment before loading up with a flashlight, a digital recorder, and an EMF reader. She signed the required waiver and was about to follow the group inside when Zander grabbed her arm with an unexpected amount of strength. “Don’t go in,” he whispered. “Honey, trust me. If you go inside, you’ll never come out.”

Madeleine tried to pull her arm free. She searched his face and found his features were set. He wasn’t looking at her, but at something in the distance, like he was watching her demise in real time. The horror and shock that widened his eyes and mouth seemed completely genuine. It was a convincing performance and Madeleine swallowed a scream. When she finally tore her arm free from Zander’s clutches, she rubbed where his fingers had probably left bruises. “Fuck you,” she yelled. The group halted in its tracks. “This isn’t a haunted attraction, man! I paid my money, signed the waiver, and I have as much right as everyone else to go in! What’s your problem?”

The air was thick with anticipation, but Zander didn’t move. He didn’t speak. The group stayed frozen and Madeleine had a strange and sudden desire to run. But then Zander blinked and came back to himself. He smoothed the front of his shirt and cleared his throat. He looked at Madeleine and said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Did I offend? Did I say something untoward?”

Madeleine looked from Zander to the group and saw identical expressions of disbelief and apprehension. She slowly turned back to Zander. Through clenched teeth, she whispered, “You just told me if I go in the house, I’ll never come back out. You predicted my death.”

Zander’s face lost its shape and color. He looked just as appalled as everyone else. He recovered as gracefully as anyone would have been able to manage given the circumstances, and pulled Madeleine close. “Just setting the mood, dear. Trying to get the heart rate going.” He was laughing, but it was a hollow and empty sound. He talked too quickly and Madeleine knew he was lying. When he pulled back from Madeleine, he shot her a meaningful look that vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Zander turned from her then, and urged the group to continue on inside with the familiar joviality of before. Madeleine didn’t know what to do.

Stupidly, she stood on the front porch, trembling. The last member of the group in line, the old man in the flannel shirt, was just stepping through the threshold and Zander was watching Madeleine with squinting eyes when a sudden rush of footsteps caused everyone to gasp and spin around. A gorgeous, breathless young man was pulling his long hair back from his face. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. The glow of the recessed porch lights danced off the shiny surface of the smiley face pin on his denim jacket, and Madeleine breathed a sigh of relief. “I got lost like four times driving up here.”

“No problem, no problem at all,” Zander said, smiling radiantly. He curtly yelled for the others to hold on, and then ushered Bryan, aka Johnny99, to the folding table. Zander was excited for another paying investigator and there was a hurried conversation of excited whispers and the sound of pen against paper. Madeleine stood still, smiling and watching Bryan situate his equipment about his person. When he finally felt her eyes upon him, he looked up, and the smile that broke across his face was like the dawn. “You must be Madeleine.” He extended his hand.

“And you must be Bryan,” she purred as they shook hands.

“I’m so glad this is happening,” Bryan blushed. “If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t think you’d show.”

“I thought the same thing,” Madeleine gushed, nervously pushing her hair back and away from her face. “I thought that even before you were late.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m so sorry.” Bryan rubbed the back of his neck and slid his eyes away from Madeleine. “I got a little turned around on the way here.”

Madeleine thought that was odd. After all, Bryan had chosen the location and gave the impression he knew the area. Shrugging it off because he was good-looking, she said, “No problem. The important thing is that you made it. I mean, it would have been nicer if you got here earlier. Then maybe the fat weirdo at the door wouldn’t have given me a hard time.”

“What happened?”

Madeleine slowed her pace so the two would fall behind the group and be out of ear shot of any nosey investigators. “He told me to my face that if I walked in this house, I’d die.”

Bryan threw his head back and laughed. “What an asshole,” he mumbled as his laughter subsided. “He’s just trying to get you good and scared before we go in there. He needs an actress, you know what I’m saying? He’s priming you to get everyone else over-amped and more susceptible to seeing things that aren’t really there.”

Madeleine stopped in her tracks, but it took Bryan a few more paces before he realized. He looked back at the bemused expression on her face. “Weird,” she began and crossed her arms over her chest, “that’s almost exactly what he told me.”

Bryan walked towards her. “What? When a supposed psychic medium puts on a show for beginning paranormal investigators right before the investigation starts, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on.” He winked and then tugged on her shirtsleeve. “Ready now? I won’t let anything bad happen to you, I promise.”

Madeleine shoved her misgivings aside for a second time and looped her arm through Bryan’s. Together, they crossed the threshold and joined the others. Zander was glaring at them, but whether it was because they were holding things up and spoiling his theatrics, or because Madeleine ignored his warning, was impossible to tell. But just as before, Zander was able to flawlessly come back to himself and retold the story of the occult origins of the home, and rehashed in gory detail the experiences witnesses claimed to have suffered while being inside. His fleshy, pink face was glistening with sweat and his eyes widened at just the right syllables to emphasize the buzzwords: apparition, demonic, physical touch. “Other investigators and historical tour guides have spoken of a dark, full-figured apparition rounding corners unexpectedly, a presence I most certainly believe to be demonic as its appearance is almost always followed by violent, physical touch.”

The tall, gaunt man pulled his lips tight in what was supposed to be a smile, but it only made Madeleine shiver and move closer to Bryan.

Zander smiled smugly and shoved his hands in his front pockets. “I thought we’d start in this room, the dining room, where it’s believed the patriarch routinely participated in ritual animal sacrifices, mainly goats. It’s said the smell became overpowering, forcing guests to inquire about what exactly was going on. And I guess Old Man Davies wasn’t seeing the kind of results he was hoping for either, so all sacrifice rituals were moved to the basement, which will be the last stop on this tour.” He winked. “Please, feel free to look around and conduct some EVPs. In about ten minutes, we’ll move on.”

The group spread out as much as it could in the small space. The huge circular table in the room’s center dominated all the space, so Madeleine was resigned to side-stepping to follow Bryan along the room. He squatted to examine the carpet for a few moments and then rose slightly so he was eye-level to the table. “What are you looking for?” Madeleine asked.

“Blood stains,” Bryan whispered back. “I don’t see the point of conducting EVPs in here. At least not until I find some real evidence of the occult.”

“Oh. Makes sense,” Madeleine said. She looked around the room like she knew what she was looking for, but she really just felt awkward and stupid. It was an unbearable couple of minutes, but eventually, Bryan shuffled back over to her.

“This room is too crowded, huh?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows. “Let’s go to another room.

Madeleine hesitated. “Can we do that? I mean, Zander said -”

“Fuck that guy,” Bryan said. “Let’s go to the basement where the real activity is.”

Madeleine’s dark eyes scanned the room. No one seemed to be paying them any attention, despite their whispering in the otherwise silent room. For the third time that night, Madeleine ignored the sudden lump in her throat and outbreak of gooseflesh on her arms. Bryan was handsome and seemed confident and sure in everything he did. He even promised not to let anything bad happen to her. She gulped to steady her voice and said, “Okay, sure. Let’s go.”

Bryan took her hand and led her to the kitchen. The sure-footed way in which he traveled about the house surprised and almost alarmed her. It was like he had been there before, which made his earlier lack of direction troubling. She was trying to think and figure it all out, but Bryan tightened his grip and quickened his pace so that before Madeleine knew it, they were standing before a solid, white door. Bryan was breathless when he said, “I think this is it.” He released her hand and stepped back. “Ladies first,” he cooed with a mischievous grin.

Madeleine had absolutely no desire whatsoever to go first. If she was being honest, she was speeding toward being scared shitless. There was still a voice within, rational though small, that advised her to get it together and go first. The bravery might even impress Bryan, and after the investigation, they could have an absurdly early breakfast at an all-night diner. Looking at him, she nodded and squared her shoulders. She gripped the doorknob tight to keep her hand from shaking, turned it and found it was unlocked, and swung the door open.

She was just about to descend the first stair when pain exploded at the back of her skull. The world went gray and she fell down the stairs.

The next thing Madeleine heard was loud, panicked voices. Her lids were heavy and she could barely open them. What she saw was blurred and indecipherable anyway. But she heard Bryan say, “You nearly blew it, you fucking idiot! You scared her so bad she didn’t want to go inside.”

Zander’s voice, high-pitched and almost hysterical, “You were late! Everything has been amiss since then!”

“Shut up,” Bryan ordered and there was scuffling and deep silence. “Make sure she can’t get up.”

It was at that precise moment Madeleine tried to move and found herself securely fastened to the floor. Ropes tied to stakes kept her hands and feet immobile. Her back was slick with some kind of liquid that soaked her shirt. Whether it was sweat or blood she couldn’t tell, but she instinctively knew the liquid belonged to her, that it was pouring from her, and that her situation was becoming more and more dire. Feet shuffled about her and she tried to scream, but fear kept the sound lodged in her throat. She thought if she opened her mouth again she might vomit.

The last thing she heard was “Hail, Satan!”

On near misses.

wakeupcall

For someone who believes in, and more often than not relies on signs from the universe, I’m constantly missing those signs. I’m frequently guilty of missing the point, as it were. It is usually only in hindsight that I am appreciative and finally realize that the Universe was trying to alert me to something.

I left Busco Beach ATV Park in Goldsboro, North Carolina around 9:30 yesterday morning. On the main highway in town, I was stuck in a line of cars waiting for the longest freight train I’ve ever seen in my life. I was patient and waited. Now I wonder if those ten minutes that felt like an hour made any difference, if those ten minutes affected my journey in a crucial way.

About 45 minutes later, I was merging onto I-95 and nearly had to swerve to avoid hitting a giant vulture and some other small bird feasting on a carcass in the middle of the interstate. I’d never seen vultures feeding in real life, only in the movies and on television, and it seemed especially stranger the birds would land and feed on such a busy road. It was a gruesome reminder of mortality, regardless if the location seemed unrealistic.

Some time later, I ran over a blown tire. The sound was loud and startling, but the collision was harmless. Another sign, perhaps, but of what?

The trip was mostly uneventful after the aforementioned incidents, aside from irritating pockets of traffic, until I reached Baltimore, Maryland. I was traveling over the bridge that ended in tunnels near the Port of Baltimore. I was being attentive, wasn’t distracted by my cell phone or iPod, but none of that positive, defensive driving seems to matter. Somehow, an orange construction cone (one of the big ones, shaped more like a tube and reminiscent of a garbage can) was left behind. There was no obvious construction, no other cones or material left behind – just the one thing. The car in front of the truck in front of me decimated the cone, smashed it all to bits. The truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I had no other choice but to do the same. I also swerved to the left, into the shoulder.

For a few terrifying moments, I was convinced I was going to crash into the concrete barrier, wedging my jeep between that median and the back end of the truck in front of me. I saw it all happen like some lame scene from one of those “Final Destination” movies. I’d slam against the steering wheel (would the air bag go off?) and there’d be blood gushing from my nose and mouth. My teeth, after thousands of dollars spent at the orthodontist, would be broken and shattered more likely than not. Would the windows bust from pressure of being squished between the concrete and the truck? I had my seat belt fastened, but what would that have really prevented?

But I’m okay. There was no crash, no sickening crunch of glass and metal, no screech of a scrape against concrete. The whole awful mess was avoided and I kept on driving, kept on going. There was no time to stop and investigate the accident that had almost happened, no time to figure out how it had been avoided. Pieces of the orange and white plastic flew by, circling end over end along the shoulder. The sound of my squealing tires reverberated in the air but only for a moment. Life kept moving.

And I was okay.

I think that’s the message from the Universe: Mandi, life changes and keeps going despite your personal dramas, and you’re okay. You’re going to be okay.

So I’m listening very seriously to my mom when she advises me to work on myself, to be happy with me. She seems convinced that once that happens, everything else will fall into place. I’m starting to agree. The ideology makes sense, but it’s also exhausting feeling guilty for absolutely everything that happens in my life. If friends hang out without me, I immediately wonder what I did wrong and try to figure out why they would launch an offensive to alienate me. If I was happy with myself, truly happy, I’d be able to realize that not everything is about me and how horrible I am. That realization makes me feel guilty, like I’m wrong for thinking badly about anyone ever when there’s so much wrong with me. Well, that’s an incredibly depressing attitude and I don’t want to be apart of it anymore.

Today, I got a manicure and a pedicure. Tomorrow, I’m trimming my hair and on Sunday, I’m coloring my hair. These may seem vain and shallow attempts at becoming okay with myself, but we all have to start somewhere, no? And truth be told, I’m happy with who I am on the inside. Sure, I’ve got some crippling insecurities and some awfully bad habits to work through, but don’t we all? I’m going to work on myself in the best way I see fit because I trust myself and I love myself.

There is a difference between narcissism and introspection.

I’m not missing any more signs.

vacation

On Hurricane Sandy and faulty internet connections.

Every time that I have tried to update this blog, I have been thwarted by an unreliable internet connection.  It is incredibly frustrating and I have been tempted to just give up and save the update for tomorrow, but I have already lost far too much time.  There are so many stories that I have neglected that need to be told.  There is no more time to waste.

Sometimes I think about purchasing a pack of cigarettes and lighting up a long, slender, cylindrical stick of tobacco encased in paper.  I would inhale smooth and deep, let the smoke and tar sufficiently coat my lungs, and then I would exhale all the anxiety, insecurity, stress, and worry – all the really ugly and cancerous toxins.  I have romanticized smoking as an inexplicably dangerous, freeing, and alluring activity.  I think there is something about both the blatant idiocy and sheer recklessness that is strangely appealing.  This notion is strange indeed, given the current socioeconomic climate which is exceptionally health-conscious, but I suppose I am strange.  That adjective used to embarrass me, but now I embrace it fully.  In fact, I think that it is wonderfully liberating.
“Where are you now?  Where are you now?  Do you ever think of me in the quiet?  In the crowd?”

 

It has been quite some time since I have posted a blog entry.  My negligence has not been a result of wanting for inspiration.  Rather, my blog has remained stagnant because of a base, weak aspect of human nature: simple laziness.  I am tired and lacking in motivation to do anything other than sit on my ever-growing ass, let alone create.  Monday through Friday I come home defeated because I am exhausted from work and having a hell of a time adjusting to the shortened schedule because there never seems to be a respite – the immersion in school and grading and paperwork is total and complete because “home” is forcibly transformed into a second office.  The high school instructional schedule runs from 7:00AM to 11:57AM, and then teachers are required to stay until 12:50PM, performing assorted and assigned duties.  We then are required to leave, unable to return to our classrooms and forced to contend with a swamped faculty room and crowded library.  I feel – and I know I am not alone – as if I am constantly moving from space to space without a moment to catch my breath and without a sense of validity or ownership.  It is incredibly draining and defeating.

And for me, when I come “home” in desperate search of sanctuary but am still laden with work and an endless list of obligations, I am still nomadic and without a space to call my own.  I have a bedroom, but it is increasingly cramped for a young woman.  It is literally the smallest room in the house but what is more heartbreaking for me is the lack of metaphorical space and of room to grow.  I am surrounded by reminders of my childhood and adolescence, and of all of the failings, regrets, and shortcomings.  I am faced with physical, tangible mementos and I have to contend with vague memories, cloudy reminisces.  I am engulfed in juvenile dramatics at work and at home, which makes it more difficult to progress and move forward.  I feel stuck and stunted, contrary to any and all reassurances that I am a nice person, doing the right things, and being responsible.  Many of these reassurances come from my parents but fall on deaf ears because the reassurances have an unpleasant ring of ingenuity to them.  If my parents really meant what they said and if they really felt proud, then it stands to reason that I would not have to fight for every single scrap of recognition and praise.  Instead, glowing admiration and heartfelt compliments would be showered upon me and rain down.  That is not the case; I beg and plead for acknowledgement and more often than not, I am sorely disappointed.

I abhor the fact that I constantly look outside of myself for approval and that I am so dependent on others for acceptance.

I am terrified that I demand too much attention from those around me.  I am terrified that my parents do give me enough praise but that it is not enough and will never be enough for me because I am selfish and awful, a bottomless pit of need that no one will ever be able to fill.  I am terrified that I am becoming an obnoxious martyr, that people are tired of me, and that really, I am nothing special or unique.

I had no intention of whining.  I promise that this impromptu pity party began with nobler intentions.  I wanted to write about my cousin Cory and how he is an inspiration.  I was going to captivate and enthrall my audience with humorous anecdotes from my trip to Salem, Massachusetts.  I was planning on most definitely announcing that my debut novel, Her Beautiful Monster, is available for purchase from the Martin Sisters Publishing website (http://www.martinsisterspublishing.com).  I had hoped to post an entry that was a close reading of a particularly spooky passage from Stephen King (or maybe just a love letter to Stephen King) in honor of Halloween, which is one of my favorite holidays.  On Halloween, I should have been watching horror movies and gorging myself on popcorn and candy, but Hurricane Sandy ruined Halloween, devastated the Jersey Shore, and has depressed many of the residents of the Garden State.

            I know that I am blessed and I am incredibly thankful that out greatest inconvenience was being without power for less than twenty-four hours.  My family members, those in Toms River, are worse off, but still have homes and their lives.  I am fully aware of how lucky we are and thank God that we are okay, and being able-bodied and possessing the means, that we can help others.  I know that I talk about getting out of Jersey.  I smile when comedians make fun of the way New Jersey smells – I even commiserate – and I smile when they make fun of the incapability of New Jersey’s citizens to pump gas.  I cringe when I think of the awful, putrid reality television shows filmed in New Jersey.  But New Jersey is my home and I am damn proud of that fact.  My heroes hail from Jersey.  I am damn proud of all those from Jersey, people who bond together through thick and thin, and are always mindful of the brotherhood of man and what that means in times like these.  Sure, I talk – and write – about getting out but Jersey is one hell of a place to come home to and I want that opportunity for me, my children, and my grandchildren.  Homes may be lost, towns may be destroyed, and businesses may be demolished, but all of that can be rebuilt.  Sandy may have knocked Jersey down, but it certainly has not and will not know Jersey out.  As a fellow Jersey native once said, “And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know when the announcer says, ‘And now in this corner, from New Jersey …’ they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we’re coming out swinging.”

           On November 1st, I planned to start anew and come out swinging.

 

I was supposed to start anew on November 1st, but there was an unforeseen complication: my dog, Bijou, was put down that day.  He was fourteen years old and the veterinarian suspected he was dying of kidney failure but without running some tests, he could not say for sure.  However, he could say with one hundred percent certainty that Bijou was dying and he more than subtly hinted that it was time to put him down.  I was okay, not sobbing, until the assistant placed a muzzle on him.  I understand it was a necessary precaution and there were legality issues to be considered, but the idea of Bijou biting anyone is laughable.  To see him so sick and obviously suffering and then muzzled like some dangerous monster was too much.  I started crying and then I could not stop.  He yelped when the painkiller was injected and I held him tighter when they brought us into the other room.  Dad and I sat with Bijou for some thirty minutes, petting him and saying goodbye and telling him he was a good boy and he was.  He did pee on Mom and he did poop in the middle of the kitchen table, but he was wicked smart and damn adorable.  I am really going to miss him.

           Dad whistled and Bijou tried to get up.  He tried to get up a couple of times and I wanted to just take him home.  I am really kind of pissed off that I was in the room when Bijou was euthanized because it was too damn sad.  It broke my silly heart to see his breath hitching and his eyes glossy and constantly slanted so that they were nearly shut.  I am furious that I saw Bijou so worn and so defeated.  It sucks, for lack of eloquence, to lose a pet.  I miss him.  I really do.

Mom cried – and she never cries.  She admits that it is weird without Bijou, but that is all it is for her – weird.  I want her to be right because I do not want to be so sad over a dog that was pain in the ass more often than not.  Every member of my family has hunted him down in the neighborhood when decided to let himself out for a walk.

But he was incredibly affectionate and very good with children.  He could do all sorts of tricks.

            I miss my dog.  I will start anew on Monday, when I do not feel so emotionally gross and when school reopens.  The return to some kind of normalcy will be good for me and for the state.

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend for a late lunch to discuss marketing possibilities for the book.  All of my dreams can be realized if this book does well; it is all I want.

On trepidations and self-imposed writer’s block.

“Nobody said it was easy.  No one ever said it would be this hard.”

– Coldplay

 

I am powerless against pasta.  Nothing makes me happier than slurping strands so that it sounds like a quick, childish kiss as sauce splashes around my lips and covers my mouth in tomato red.  Last night, Mom added sausage, chicken and shrimp to the sauce.  How could I resist?  It was unfair of me to even ask myself to say no.  If pasta is my kryptonite, then I wonder what my super power is?

I have newly discovered tea with orange honey and I absolutely love it.

Today, my friend Raina and I are going to Sleepy Hollow.  I cannot wait to hit the road and am elated to be celebrating Halloween.  As an avid horror fan, I thoroughly enjoy and become involved the October holiday festivities.  Last year, just after Halloween, I traveled with my little brother’s Boy Scout troop to where “Friday the 13th” was filmed and even stayed in the same cabin the final fight scene was shot in.  Last night, I watched the “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” with my mom.  It was not terrifying, but was unnerving and certainly creepy.  I was in awe of the dialogue and Hitchcock’s ability to turn what should be cheap and easy into something artful and masterful.  To transform a somewhat simple and clichéd plot into a piece of film that makes the audience cringe and want to turn away is a talent I admire, respect and covet.

I suspect that is why my latest writing endeavor is not capturing my interest the way Her Beautiful Monster did.  I am trying my literary (and I use that term loosely) hand at romance – a much older, married man striking up a relationship with a much younger girl to try and stave off aging and death.  To add complexity to that storyline, I made the much older man a famous musician and I made the much younger girl a fan.  I wanted to explore what it means to be an adult and the power death has over us from the very moment we take our first breaths.  I also just wanted to be romantic and passionate – imagining scenes between the two to fill some kind of loneliness and ache within me, which is a tool I most certainly employed throughout Her Beautiful Monster and if it worked once, why not use it again?

But I felt the plot was lacking in suspense, which I believe to be my forte.  I decided to develop the much older man’s wife into a fuller character and in a desperate fit of revenge, she would claim a younger lover of her own.  But this young boy toy would prove more dangerous than anything else, as I envisioned him becoming more and more obsessed and less and less emotionally stable.  For the ending, I had decided the young girl would die in an ironic twist of fate, since she was always accusing the much older man of using her to feel young and invincible.  I wanted the obsessed lover to be responsible, figuring in some kind of car crash scenario a la The Great Gatsby.  Clearly, I am still working out the mechanics and logistics in my cluttered, tired mind.

I have a few other ideas that seem promising, but I am reluctant to give up on the much older musician.  I was working on beginning to write near the end of the summer and was shocked when I pumped out twenty handwritten pages, front and back.  I am a big believer in fate, so I do not believe it is an accident that I was able to do so.  This story is within me and wants to be released, and so I will.  I think I am hesitant and unsure because I have a full-time job now and more adult responsibilities than I did when I wrote Her Beautiful Monster and for some weird reason, that scares me.  But writers write; so if I want to be a writer, I have to write.

I have to stop over analyzing every blessed thing and just do it.  Hopefully, this inspires some of you to take one last deep breath and dive in to whatever it is you wish.  And if you do, know that I am cheering from the stands and wholly and completely on your side.

On a sunrise that never comes.

Okay, so the first week of school got the better of me.  I celebrated completing the very first day with students by indulging in dinner.  Karma intervened, however, and the meal wasn’t even that good.  Usually I do cartwheels for shrimp parmesan with pasta from this local pizzeria and restaurant, but it was only okay this time around.  It serves me right, I guess, for trying to break my diet.  OH!  The Giants lost and I was devastated.  It made me cranky on Thursday, but on Thursday, I stuck to my diet.  I was not able to write or read.  I had school work to do and I had to drive my dad twenty minutes to retrieve his medication for PTSD that a coworker had brought home with him.  My dad’s foot was crushed beneath a 300 pound utility pole at work.  He might need surgery and he’s likely to be out four to six weeks … returning after the union goes on strike.  It was all terribly convenient – ha ha! – until Dad’s foreman called yesterday and announced that the strike, which seemed imminent, was now NOT going to happen.  All’s well that ends well, eh?

Friday, I relaxed after work with some colleagues at a local watering hole.  I meant to go to the freshmen football game and I meant to get some serious grading done, but I did neither.  Exhaustion got the better of me and I just crashed.  I think I was in for the night by something like 9:30PM, which is absurd.  Although, I did get exciting news – my gallery pages were done!  I was able to glimpse what my book will actually look like when its printed, and it is amazing!  My wonderful, beautiful and glorious editor, Melissa Newman, knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly what I was trying to create.  She amplified the writing and made it successful, more complex, and more entertaining.  I am still so excited!  I am so anxious to physically hold my novel in my hands.  I am more than ready and willing and able to hit the streets to get the word out, drive profits up and make a name for myself in the literary scene.  My mom worries I’m letting my imagination run wild, but so what?  I truly believe that this is the beginning of something special.  And like a close friend quoted to me on one of my darker days, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Saturday was Mikey’s birthday, and it was a really nice time.  I love him and I am proud of him.  I think it is so cool that I get to see him every day at school and be a part of his life in another integral way.  I doubt he’d say the same, but what does he know?  He just turned fourteen.

In contrast to Friday, I was SUPER productive today.  I finished reviewing my gallery pages late last night and sent them on their way first thing this morning.  I graded.  I made copies.  I sent important e-mails.  I organized.  I was, essentially, SUPER efficient.  I hope I can keep that up for more than just the first week of school though.  If I know myself like I think I do, then I will definitely have to work at it.

Hopefully tomorrow’s blog won’t be all about work.  I don’t want to be one of those people who only ever talks about work.  When I was with my colleagues Friday afternoon, the majority of the conversation was about school and blah, blah, blah.  I understand that is a commonality for us and it is logical to discuss what we all know, but I want to be so much more than that.  I don’t want to just be a teacher.  I want to be a writer.  I want to talk about both.  Does that make me pretentious?  I worry that it does.

PROMPT: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

PIECE: Big Chris and Little Chris, as father and son were respectively known, were sitting beside one another on a decidedly uncomfortable yet entirely appropriate, considering the situation, log.  It was bumpy – just as Little Chris had expected; he knew logs were bumpy because he had been called a “bump on a log” more times than he could count by more people than he cared to count, Big Chris included.  Thinking of his other nickname made Little Chris cranky, as did the bumpy log, as did the fact that Big Chris had rudely awakened him well before the crack of dawn.  Torn from his warm, cozy sleeping bag, Little Chris was now being forced to sit and stare into darkness.  It was pointless.  It was dumb.  Little Chris would rather be sleeping.  He thought this sucked.

Big Chris, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his portion of the log, nearly breathless.  He had been remarkably proud of his idea to watch the sunrise with his one and only son.  Big Chris thought it would be a real moment, the kind of moment he had never shared with his own father, the kind of moment Little Chris would recollect in the twilight of his years fondly.  Their campsite was perfect for it; they’d be able to see the whole process and the view would not be broken by trees or craggy cliffs.  It would be majestic – a word Big Chris had never had the opportunity to employ until now.  His smile was big and cheesy, and his pearly whites were the only thing Little Chris could make out in the near total darkness.

It was 6:30AM – just two more minutes until the sun began to rise.  Unable to control it, Big Chris let loose with a booming laugh and an affectionate pat upon his son’s back.  Little Chris only shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.  He was already over it.

It was 6:40AM – and it was still completely dark.  Big Chris was puzzled and did his best to rationalize the sun’s notable absence.  From beside him, Little Chris asked, “What time is it supposed to start?  I mean, shouldn’t it have started by now?”  Little Chris voiced his questions in a small whisper.  He did not know why he was whispering.

It was 7:00AM.  Both father and son sat silent and motionless, trying to control their breathing and desperately searching their minds for a cause.  If they knew why the sun was refusing to shine, then maybe they could figure out how to make it shine.

It was 9:00AM.  Little Chris had retreated back inside the tent.  He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want his father to see him cry.  He was ten years old, and that was too old to be blubbering, to be holding onto Dad around his waist, and to be wiping a snotty, stupid nose against Dad’s tee-shirt.  Also, the only plan he had for making the sun come up was to sleep.  Maybe if everyone went back to sleep and accepted that it was still nighttime, the sun would be there when they woke up, like it always had been and like it always should be.  Little Chris had known that getting up so early was a bad idea; maybe the sun was angry that him and his dad had tried to outsmart it.  Maybe the sun didn’t like anyone watching it rise over the landscape.  Little Chris knew these ideas were childish, but they gave him some comfort as he lay down and cried inside the tent.

Big Chris was on his cell phone.  He was trying to talk to his wife, to calm her down some because she had risen to find that the sun had not.  Hysterically, she was trying to relay reports and expert hypotheses but she was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, so she couldn’t really talk, and service was spotty at best.  Soon, the call was lost.  It was unnaturally dark, and father and son were alone.

It was 1:00PM.  Little Chris had woken from his “nap,” only to find that his plan had failed, as he knew it would.  He now was cradled in his father’s lap, still crying and shaking.  Big Chris was doing his best to rock his son back and forth, shushing him and trying to soothe him, trying to convince him of the impossible – that nothing was wrong.  Big Chris wanted to cry, wanted to just sit and cry, but he couldn’t do that.  He had to be strong.  He had to keep his son safe.  He was trying to come up with a plan.  Was it worth it to grab some flashlights and try to get back to the truck?  Should they bring the tent and all the gear?

Big Chris didn’t know.  He just didn’t know.

On monsters.

The name of this blog is Her Beautiful Monster, and that is also the title of my first and forthcoming novel.  Chuck Palahniuk, an incredibly and enormously talented writer, penned a novel titled Invisible Monsters.  After the tragic events at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, I am unfortunately reminded – as we all are – that monsters are not beautiful or invisible.  Monsters are all too real and what’s worse is that they walk among us without victims being any the wiser.  To escape that brutal and relentless reality, many of us turn to fiction, whether it be literary or cinematic or televised.  We are able to engage in worlds and dimensions where heroes are real and people are honest and trustworthy at all times.  Those who are not honest and trustworthy are always apprehended at the close by the beloved hero who never waivers in his or her commitment.  These imagined worlds are creative inventions, naive and childlike in their innocence and optimisim and stubborn belief in goodness and its ability to triumph and are thereby fragile.  They shatter easily when monstrous reality rears up and roars.  The people in that movie theater were simply going to the movies; they were not knowingly entering a dangerous situation.  Walking into that theater was not required for any of them as part as any kind of professional or occupational obligation.  They were fans, many of whom had been counting down to the release of the film for years, let alone days.  Some were dressed up, their excitement and passion becoming tangible.  Some were young and some were old, some were male and some were female, but all were united in what they wanted; to be entertained, to be removed from the real world for just three hours.

There will be those in the coming days who will be looking to place the blame on not only the man who wielded the weapons, but on some other failing.  Some may call into question the amount of violence in the creative media and what kind of message it sends.  Some may wonder why there wasn’t more security.  At the end of the day, I personally believe there is no one to blame but the shooter himself.  All of us are innundated with images from popular culture every single day, some of which are incredibly violent, but not all of us kill innocent people.  As for security measures, it is often times beyond our scope to imagine a human being, one of our own so to speak, doing something this depraved and cruel and senseless to other human beings.  Who could have predicted and/or prepared for something like this?  Is that really the kind of world we live in?

I want to see “The Dark Knight Rises,” but I know that as I take my seat in the darkened theater, with a bag of buttered popcorn balanced on my knees, that all I will be thinking about are the victims, the horror, the tragedy and the aftermath.  I will not be able to enjoy the movie.  I know I am not alone in this sentiment and that is truly a shame.  An innocent pleasure has forever been tainted.  A truly wonderful and artistic film franchise has been poisoned by the reality of horror.

Tragedies are devastating.  Tragedies create victims who will no longer be with us, who can no longer be held or touched.  Tragedies create victims by extension and association; the friends, family and loved ones of those who were lost, who will never be the same and who will run the gamut of emotions in trying to cope and rebuild and eventually, move on; the friends, family and loved one of the perpetrator, who may feel guilty and in some way responsible, and may also feel confused and lost and betrayed.  Then there’s the rest of us; shocked and dismayed and robbed of at least a part of our innocence.  We are hardened, made cynnical and lose what I believe is an intrinsic and painstakingly beautiful part of ourselves.

May God bless the victims, their families, their friends and their loved ones.

On supernatural distractions.

Missy and her family are visiting from Virginia.  They came up for a wedding, and will be staying through the weekend so Jimmy can celebrate his fourth birthday with us.  Missy, John and Jack will leave on Sunday, but Jimmy will stay for about a week.  I’m very excited but – as to be expected – I’ve been distracted from writing.  Simultaneously, I’ve been inspired by the film “Fright Night,” starring Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell. You’ve been given fair warning: the following probably sucks, as I’m trying something new without giving it my best effort.

Good luck.

PROMPT: “You know, they invented a word for guys like him.”

PIECE:

“You know, they invented a word for guys like him.”

Cheyenne sighed and ran her hands along her wearied face.  She was definitely too young to feel so fucking old.  Maybe Marley was right and it was all part of the territory, but Marley being right was the worst thing in the whole entire world – she’d be wildly obnoxious about it.  “I get it, Marley.  We’ve had this conversation a million and one times – you’re not telling me anything new, or anything that I don’t already know.  So essentially, you’re not being helpful and unless you’re going to help, shut up.”

Marley bit the insides of her cheeks to keep quiet and crossed her thin arms over her chest.  Cheyenne had insulted her – best friend or not – so Marley would let Cheyenne turn the whole place upside down on her own.  Why would she help a bitch on a wild goose chase?  She wasn’t dating a monster.  She raised an eyebrow and watched Cheyenne derisively as she wrenched open cabinets and pulled out drawers, letting their contents clatter to the floor.  “What are you even looking for?”

“I’ve already told you,” Cheyenne answered sharply.  “He needs a medallion about the size of an old subway token.  It has a bat on it, and he needs it tonight because the main guy is coming for it.”

Marley’s mouth dropped open.  “Are you saying there are more coming here tonight?”  Cheyenne did not answer, but she did considerably slow her frantic searching.  “Oh, fuck that!” Marley erupted.  “It could be a bloodbath!  He’s putting all of us in some serious danger!  They could kill us all!”

Cheyenne turned slowly to face Marley.  Her clenched fists and deep breathing showed that she was battling a swelling rage.  “James wouldn’t do that, Marley.  He would never –“

“What happened to Sam?” Marley asked, interrupted.  Both young women knew exactly what had happened to Sam – he had been killed – murdered – about a month ago.  There had been a severe misunderstanding about Sam’s intentions towards Cheyenne and how those intentions affected both his attitudes and actions towards James.  In essence, James was convinced that Sam was coming for him, so he struck first and even though Sam had been brave and fought long and hard to defend himself, it had all been for naught.  “Please, Cheyenne, let’s end this!  I know he’s one thing to you, but to everyone he’s not trying to fuck, he’s something else.”

Cheyenne wiped her eyes.  “It’s not just that, Marley.  You know it’s not so vulgar.  We love each other.”

“He can’t love you or anyone, Cheyenne.  He’s a monster, a literal living and breathing monster.”

“Marley –“

“There’s a word for guys like him, Cheyenne.  There’s a word for draining the life from someone and not feeling an ounce of remorse, rationalizing murder because it’s necessary for existence.  If he were human, he’d be a sociopath, but he’s not human, is he?”

“No,” Cheyenne barely whispered.

“So what’s the word I’m thinking of?  You need to hear yourself say it.  You need to come to grips with reality.”

Marley sighed.  “I know – the word is vampire.”