Slow Apocalypse

We’re a touch overdue for some fiction around here, so here you go. This was initially meant to be part of a ‘Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge’ ages ago (and if you don’t know what that is, I heartily encourage you to look it up), but I ended up submitting it to an anthology instead. Since the anthology has decided that my little story isn’t quite right for them (they sent me the nicest rejection email ever), I am now free to display it here for all you lovely people. It’s a bit weird, but I hope you enjoy it!

The world ended and nobody noticed. Cars drove chokingly by, spewing black gas down cracked highway streets. Coffee machines whirred and poured dirty coloured liquid into chipped and broken glassware. People arose from cold beds in draught filled rooms with pane-less windows and convinced themselves that cold was the new warm.

Crumbling skyscrapers reshaped skylines as they were filled with leaking water-cooler talk and flaking complaints about Mondays that resonated from the peeling walls. Phones were looked at, with their cracked screens and draining batteries, and it was wondered ‘how did we ever do without?’.

A young boy wandered the busy decayed streets, eyes wide, bewildered at the orange sky, and pointing up shouted ‘that used to be blue!’. Those who could hear him rolled their eyes, looked back down and marvelled at the ridiculousness of young children.

A young woman shared a picture of herself in her soiled floral dress, and was criticised both for the body underneath the ragged cloth and for the sexuality that body demanded.

An artist of no discernible gender grabbed their gun and wandered the streets, scrambling over ruins dubbed ‘construction’ and killed mutants, zombies and demons where they stood. Other people commented that the artist’s work was ‘important, but it’s not really very practical, is it?’ and constantly bombarded the artist with false admiration, condescending praise, genuine derision, and that never ending question ‘where do you get your ideas?’. As if the world were not crawling, scurrying, writhing with ideas begging to be made flesh.

An old woman hunched over her overworked laptop, googling her hopes, her dreams, repeating her mantra of comfort. ‘Just one more year. Just one more year. Just one more year. Things will change, if I just give myself one more year.’

A scientist found the cold dead remains of the very first microbe that held the very first spark of life. She shouted her discovery from the rusted rooftops and was sneered at for her efforts. After all how could a single cell ever become human? The metaphor of an endless tree, sprawling, branching, evolving, was invisible to those who had never seen the sky. Perhaps, it was suggested, if the scientist made an effort, did her hair well, wore something nice, put on some lip gloss, and smile sweetheart, then she would be taken more seriously.

The evening came. Burning orange to black, extinguishing the sun. The artist returned home to find their wife sobbing into her hands, soiling the pattern of her new dress with lip gloss and tears.

The young woman curled herself into a barren bed, satisfied with her fictional attention and sighed at a gush of chill wind through the empty window. ‘It’s so warm’ she mumbled to the threadbare mattress.

The old woman watched her grandson watch the night sky, and spoke a lie.

‘Things were better when I was young.’

The young boy turned to the old woman, his eyes full of stars and spoke a truth.

‘But, grandma, things have always been this way.’

Wherein I Repeatedly Kick the Rules in their Jelly-Parts

Soooooooo….. March vanished. Seriously, look at your calendar, and in the space March once occupied you will see a swirling vortex of nothingness. March is an empty wind rolling across a featureless plane. March is a barren wasteland, in which nothing moves, nothing grows, and, most importantly, nobody blogs. Yeah… sorry about that. Actually, you know what, I’m gonna pull a ‘sorry, not sorry’ on this one, cause I have been fucking busy. That’s right, I haven’t just been sat on my pretty little ass watching Supernatural (Season 10, BITCHES!!!!… *ahem*). As mentioned in my last post, I have a Bachelor of Arts starting this year, and on March second University exploded in my face like a shotgun with Bugs Bunny’s finger wedged in the end.

But this problem, my friends, is two fold. You see, I have this rebellious streak roughly the size of Russia. I’m very, very not good at doing as people say, even when that thing is something I enjoy doing, like writing this blog. And when, late in February, I promised you guys a particular post (on why villains are more interesting than heroes, as those of you with powerful memories or the ability to scroll downwards know), I did the equivalent of setting myself homework and with university Elmer Fudding all over my face (Ewwwwwwww, I sincerely apologise for that image), I had enough homework already, thank you very much. Also, aside from my own personal morals and, y’know, sanity (even if mine is a pretty unique sort of sanity), pretty much the only thing that will get me to do as I’m told is the notion that BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T DO THIS THING!!! and even then I will procrastinate until the last possible second before doing everything in a panicked whirlwind. I’m so used to this cycle by now that it doesn’t even stress me out any more, it’s just homework, my style. But because the main thing that actually gets me off my stupid (if pretty) butt is the avoiding of consequences, and not blogging when and what I said I’d blog has less bad consequences than getting an assignment in late, or not getting enough sleep, or not bathing and allowing my armpits to disintegrate into the fetid cesspool of excretion that lies at the centre of every human soul. Writing an apology post (or a sorry not sorry post, in my case) just isn’t as bad as all that stuff.

But here’s the thing, of all the twenty odd people who follow this blog, I’m probably the one who feels the worst when it sits here for four weeks straight and nothing happening. So why make a big deal of it? Well, thing is, I feel I weird kind of loyalty to you strange and wonderful people who follow the blog. You guys feel the need to clog up your probably already congested wordpress feed, just to have a glance at what I’ve got to say every month. And that is freaking touching. So honestly, thanks, to all the people who follow here, it really does mean a lot. I also have an obligation to give you guys what you signed up for, and deliver to your eye holes monthly doses of…. And there I’m stuck.

What is this blog about? Books? I guess, I mean book reviews are a thing that you can find here. Writing? Sure, but it has become far from the focus of this place. The unholy blackness that sits in the empty hollow where my heart should be? Meh. I think about all the things that people say make a successful blog. Like images, a regular posting schedule, a topic, and I find that this blog has none of those things. Maybe that’s why I’ve been doing this thing for almost a year and only twenty people have signed up for the ride. This is what I’m sure many people would call a ‘growing platform’ or even possibly a ‘failed blog’ but it doesn’t feel failed. And while it does seem to be growing (like half of you only joined up with the previous blog post), I’ve kind of stopped looking at this place like a ‘platform’. This isn’t some stage where I flog some stuff most of you probably aren’t going to buy, this is a goddamn street performance. I’m standing here, on the side of the information superhighway doing linguistic backflips, hoping that some of you will stop, toss a coin or two my way and continue with your day hopefully improved by the experience. But, even that is not all this blog is. This place is like my padded cell. This blog is the place where I can yell at the walls, talk to a crowd that mostly exists only in my hopes and dreams, where I can swing from a chandelier, where I can tear my hair out, let loose and for once in my repressed life show the world my odd, gooey insides. This place is all of those things. So this, dear reader, is my promise to you. I will tell you if I do stuff I would like you to throw money at (if you can afford it), I will dance for your amusement, I discuss the books and T.V shows and movies that I am currently obsessed with, I will call genitals ‘jelly-parts’, and brains ‘pink-squish’ and eyes ‘eye-holes’ because I can, because fuck success. Success is arbitrary, and ultimately more than a little meaningless. This will never be a ‘successful’ blog, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sponsorships and all that other jazz. People have done that, and they can keep doing it. I have twenty people hanging onto my tail as we swing from the chandelier in the middle of this padded room. As long as this place is fun, then it is successful, as long as this place is safe, then it is successful, as long as I keep posting more than a couple of times a year, this place is successful.

So, dear reader, hang on tight or get off. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Need to Do (a ramble about motivation)

So motivation has been a big struggle for me recently. Not just motivation to write, but motivation to do do anything, motivation to wash my clothes, motivation to wash myself, motivation to get up in the morning, motivation to eat. Motivation to do much of anything besides lie in bed and watch Supernatural all day (nearing the end of season 5, it’s bated breath and cold sweat good, for the most part). Of course I don’t sit around all day and watch Supernatural (most days. I am a weak willed sack of monkey meat and sometimes the siren call is too much), instead I aimlessly surf the internet looking for enough dopamine to make the hours of pointlessness worth it… but it never is.
Instead both Friday and Saturday last week I wrote a thousand words of my novel. Not only that, but I fleshed out my outline a bit and learned more about my world. I need not tell the writers out there how good that feels. It’s a flood of happy hormones injected right into your pink-squishy grey matter, by your pink-squishy grey matter. It is a call to arms against the apathy that has plagued me pretty much since the end of school last year. I have been lethargic and despondent, and I put it down to not having a set in stone plan for the coming year (a situation that had since changed, Bachelor of Arts FTW!!!) but even since I have been accepted into my Bachelor of Arts, which sorts out my next three years for me, actually doing anything still seems to not being on the agenda. Until last week.
Last week I put together two pieces of flatpack furniture, because I really needed a new desk and the poor little cane ‘bookshelf’ (that was originally intended to be a shoe rack, but it was nineteen dollars and flat enough to hold books) was all but falling apart at the workload I was putting on it. So I retired the little guy and replaced it with one of those handy dandy cube storage units cunningly turned ninety degrees sideways so it would fit under my window. That and the fact that I’ve recently been reorganising my bedroom/office had led me to a conclusion…
It feels way better to do something, ANYTHING, than it is to do nothing, BUT it’s way easier to just do nothing and watch the world go by than it is to actually take on/complete a project, and all too often being the easier option is all it takes.
Another example, I could watch Supernatural as I eat dinner tonight, or I could read the wonderfully poetic book that I picked up at a closing down sale of a local bookshop the other day (a phenomenon of book stores closing down is one that gives me mixed emotions, because on the one hand you have a book store closing down, always a tragedy, but on the other you have really, really cheap book. ARRRRGH!! THE CONFLICT THAT RAGES IN MY SOUL!!!… ahem. Moving on). This book, The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi is spectacular, but the language, while gorgeous, requires mental activity to equate the beautiful, beautiful words to the action. With Supernatural (or any other kind of TV… if you’re into that kind of thing) there is no such process. The action is right there in front of me with everything explained neatly and simply for a mass-consuming audience, and yet, reading Age of Orphans not only makes me realise that you can be poetic without straying into overdone purple prose, but presents a captivating tale of a young boy dealing with one of the most turbulent times the middle east has ever known. I can feel my understanding growing as I read it, and I know it will impact my writing in the best possible way and yet… I want to watch Supernatural.
So often we don’t do things because they’re hard. For years now, I have a avoided coming out as bisexual to one vast majority of my family who I really, really don’t think will have good reaction. It’s hard and I don’t want to do it. But one day, I will have to, just because that level of deception is just not a sustainable or healthy way to conduct any relationship. And it is the same, albiet with less potential for shouting matches around the dinner table, with writing.
It’s hard, but we all need to suck it up and just do it, because it’s important. Important to our mental and physical health (not saying writing will give you an awesome six pack or anything, but doing something that you are proud of, even just a little bit, every day must have a good impact on something physical, right? Like the old psychology adage, ‘everything mental is physical’). And if this week has taught me anything, it’s that the best motivation is momentum. I started out by rearranging my room, which let me to buy and put together new furniture, which led to finally getting a desk space I am happy with, which led to me writing more, which led me to reading more and that whole thing has led me to write this blog post. A thing that I am proud of, and that must be having a good effect on my brain because I feel way more active writing this now than I did watching that episode of Supernatural earlier today (like I said, weak-willed sack of monkey meat).
As people we must do to keep on doing, once something is set into motion it will stay in motion until something stops it, and once it is stopped it will stay stopped until something moves it (Newton’s Laws of Motion: helping to create motivational speeches and blog posts since 1642). And here’s a thought, that thing that always moves or stops this metaphorical object that is your motivation, is you. Not to get all ‘self-help: the power within’ cliché here, but the outside world can only give you the idea to push yourself away from Sam and Dean Winchester, it’s you that sets that ball rolling. Always. And that, is pretty damn amazing. But once the ball is rolling it’s just as easy (a lot of times way easier) to stop it again, but then, dying can sometimes seem easier than living, and everyday people choose the harder option. Why? Because life is important, your life is important, because no matter how lethargic you are now, you will do things in your important life, and doing things is important, and there are some important things that only you can do (like write YOUR book, for example). So go out there, and DO a THING. Because it’s important, and also because the dopamine rush is really, really good.

Tune in next time when we may or may not discuss villians vs heros and why Batman is cooler than Superman, but why Hannibal Lecter is cooler than both of them.

Till then, thing doers, I bid you good luck in all the things you end up doing (…*snicker* GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER)

Ashlee

A Real Vampire

Although my wishes are belated, I do hope the small amount of people who actually read this blog had a happy and safe New Year. It’s been a few months since there was fiction here, so I figured I’d give you guys a vampire story. Why a vampire story, you ask? Because it’s never a bad time for a vampire story! This one is an old short story that I wrote many years ago and lost. I have only just rewritten it. Remembering the old one, in comparison to this new version, it is a really good insight into how much I have developed and changed as a writer in the five or so years since this story was first written. I may do a larger blog post about this at some point, but you’ll probably have to wait until next month for that. In any case, I hope you enjoy my recycled vampire story. 

Welcome to VampLife.com.

The inner sanctum for all vampire enthusiasts!

You’re logged in as Girlluvzbats96

You have 1 new message(s).

CreatureoftheNight: Hello.

Girlluvzbats96: Hey 🙂

CreatureoftheNight: You haven’t been online much lately… Is everything alright?

Girlluvzbats96: Yeah, everything’s cool. School’s getting me down a bit, but after exams it’ll all be over.

CreatureoftheNight: I see. So, what have you been getting up to, outside of school?

Girlluvzbats96: I just finished reading Twilight again.

CreatureoftheNight: How many times have you read it now?

Girlluvzbats96: 4 or 5. I’ve lost count lol

CreatureoftheNight: I might have to read it sometime.

Girlluvzbats96: lol You always say that XD

CreatureoftheNight: And maybe one day I will… What are you wearing?

Girlluvzbats96: I’m wearing that dress you sent me, the red one with the lace on the collar and around the bottom. I’m going to sleep in it tonight and pretend you’re lying beside me.

CreatureoftheNight: And what else?

Girlluvzbats96: Nothing else. But I have on that new red lipstick I told you about and my hair is up in a messy bun.

CreatureoftheNight: Sounds absolutely delectable.

Girlluvzbats96: Hey, Jonathan… I have something to tell you…

CreatureoftheNight: Yes…

Girlluvzbats96: I kinda told my mother about you. Please don’t be mad.

CreatureoftheNight:

CreatureoftheNight: Explain.

Girlluvzbats96: Well, we were just talking over coffee, you know and then I kinda just said that I was talking to this guy online and that he was really nice and we had a lot of stuff in common.

CreatureoftheNight: And…

Girlluvzbats96: And that’s it. She said that it was good that I was making friends and to be safe if we ever met in person.

CreatureoftheNight: Did you tell her about the meetings?

Girlluvzbats96: NO! I would never! You told me not to.

CreatureoftheNight: I also told you not to tell anyone about these conversations. You disappoint me, Emma.

Girlluvzbats96: I know, I’m sorry. I won’t tell anyone ever again. Promise.

CreatureoftheNight: As it is, I know don’t know if I can trust you. You make me doubt you, Emma. You make me doubt if you are worthy to be one of us.

Girlluvzbats96: PLEASE!!! I’m so so so sorry, Jonathan! It will never happen again! I am worthy! Please, please give me another chance!!

CreatureoftheNight:

Girlluvzbats96: Please don’t leave me, Jonathan. I love you.

CreatureoftheNight: Alright. One more chance. Meet next week, when the moon is full at the usual place. I will be waiting.

Girlluvzbats96: Thank you, soooo much! I’ll be good. I’ll show you that I’m worthy! I’ll prove that I have what it takes to be a real vampire too!

CreatureoftheNight: See that you do. You had better go to bed now. I want you well rested when next we meet.

Girlluvzbats96: 😉 Ok. See you soon. Night!

CreatureoftheNight: Goodnight, my love. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Girlluvzbats96: lol what?

CreatureoftheNight: Never mind. Sleep well.

Girlluvzbats96: K. Goodnight.

***

It was the full moon. Emma snuck out of her house with practised ease. The air rippled her skin into goosebumps and set her hair on end. Dew soaked the cuffs of her jeans, even as it shone under the glaring moon, creating another world within her ordinary backyard. A better world. A darker world.

Beyond the mirror still birdbath, past the garden gnomes and carved swans with dead eyes, under the thin wire fence, lay the forest.

Within the trees, everything was still. Everything was black, speckled with brief snippets of shining silver. A small droplet of cold pattered onto the back of Emma’s neck and she shivered, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Air colder than even the crisp spring night could produce brushed against her neck, long fingers snaked around her waist. Emma gasped and jerked away from the icy grip on instinct. The hands grabbed tighter and a familiar voice entered her ear.

“Don’t run away from me now, little lamb.”

Emma relaxed into Jonathan’s embrace, still quivering from cold and fright, her heart beating a quickstep rhythm through her body.

“Jonathan!” She gave a breathy giggle. “How long have you been out here? You’re frozen!”

He sighed another chill breath against the back of her neck.

“I’ve been here a while. Waiting for you. But that is not why I am cold.”

Emma frowned into the darkness.

“Then why?”

“Because I have not fed in a week. My body has lost the warmth it would have gained from the blood. I told you Emma, I am a real vampire. And real vampires don’t give second chances.”

Her eyes widened, her breath quickened.

“You’re so warm.” He rested his lips against the bend of her shoulder into her neck, tongue just tasting the salt on her skin. He pulled her closer, desperate for the heat. She was silent now, her breath subtly irregular, he smelled the tear as it slipped from her eye. He caught it from her cheek and placed the delicate drop of water on his tongue. Her heart beat so fast, like a bird’s wing against her ribcage. It was intoxicating. She spoke through her shuddering breath.

“Are you going to kill me?”

A smile rose to his lips.

“Yes.”

“Why? Is it because I talked?”

The question provoked a soft laugh from him.

“Partly that. But also because you are human. What else would I do with you?” He raised a hand to her throat and felt her swallow her fear.

“You could turn me, make me one of you, like you promised.”

“My dear, it would take one much better than the likes of you to convince me to turn a human. No. You were my plaything, and now my meal.” His hand raised to her mouth, and gripped her jaw closed. “No noise now. It would lessen my enjoyment.” Then his teeth sank into her flesh.

Once the girl was good and dead, painted scarlet and silver by moonlight, Jonathan ran his tongue around his lips and turned his gaze towards the house that he could see through the trees. Not so far away that his senses, heightened by feeding, could not detect Emma’s parents, peaceful, asleep in their bed, their hearts pumping slow and steady. A resting rhythm. With a wicked smile, the vampire began his silent way towards the house. After all, no parent should live long enough to bury their child.

 -End-  

Einstein’s Tongue, Self-Esteem, Comparing Yourself to Others and Pink, Squishy Brain-Pulp

Sooooooo… Another month has flown by and once again there was no post here. Trying hard to feel guilty but… you know what… fuck it. From now on this blog is monthly. Somewhere between the forth and the sixth of each month there should be something new here. I may also post random stuff I come up with in the interim, but in general, if you are one of the vast minority that actually cares when these go up, then check back on those three days each month and see what’s up. Good, there, now my own niggling guilt of barely giving this blog a thought during the passed thirty days has been justified, lets get onto this post proper.

This is a blog about comparing yourself to others. Not really an original idea, I know, but it is a universal experience, thus no matter how much we talk about it someone is going to relate to it and help validate our views. And really, isn’t that what social interaction is all about? Finding people who validate how we think enough that we call them friends, finding people who REALLY validate us and who may or may not be unbelievably sexy to call ‘significant other’ or ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partner’ or, if you’re feeling romantic, ‘my better half’ (naaaaawww), the point is opinions matter a crapton to us humans. We base pretty much our entire existence on the stuff spouted by our squishy brain-pulp and the stuff spouted from the squishy brain-pulp of those we love and admire. But the trouble comes from when we decide to put those spoutings in a place where others who do not share our particular brain-pulp spoutings can see them (no, I am not going to drop that particular turn of phrase. Get your squishy brain-pulp into gear and focus on the spoutings and not the way they are spouted. Grossed out? Excellent. We can continue).

It is a time such as that, when our brain spoutings are about to be splashed all over everywhere like the gore in some torture-porn horror film, that we need validation the most. However, in the search for such validation we often look to people we admire (the ones who may or may not have helped shape out opinions via their own brave brain-spouting), and think ‘is what I’m about to say in line with what this person has already said?’ or, ‘is what I’m about to say as good as what this person has already said?’ OR ‘should I even say anything because this person has already said it all so well and I just agree with them and by saying this thing it would just be me agreeing to everything they say and what is the point of any of this?’…. Soooo, yeah. You’ve done it, I’ve done it, EVERYONE on the goddamn planet has done it, and if they say they haven’t, then they’re liars (lying liars who lie. Don’t lie lying lairs!).

So what’s to do about it? How can we eradicate this intolerable scourge of the human psyche? *Strikes dramatic pose* OH GOD, PROTECT MY INNOCENT, PINK AND SQUISHY BRAIN-PULP FROM SUCH UNNECESSARY DAMAGING SELF-FLAGELLATION!! (Quick Google break to ensure ‘self-flagellation’ means what I think it means. It does. Also, insert Princess Bride joke here). Still with us? Good. So, what’s to be done, I hear you probably not ask because I just asked it for you? Well, metaphorical person on the other side of this screen, I personally have no idea what’s to be done. None. Zip. Nada. N/ fucking A (which stands for “not fucking available” for those of you playing at home). To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that anything does need to be done. Ok, ok, clearly that is not going to be a catch all statement. I mean this is people’s self-esteem we’re talking about and no-one’s brain-pulp spoutings are any better than anyone else’s brain-pulp spoutings, no matter how pink and squishy and potentially delicious they may be (guys, we should totally start the zombie apocalypse. We don’t even need real zombies, just convince everyone that brains are delicious! No? Really? Well, that just ruins everything doesn’t it. Ok, ok, fine. Brains are not all that delicious. Happy? Good. Now enough of this tangent). But that statement before the really long bracket break isn’t necessarily true. Namely, no-one’s thoughts are not superior to anyone else’s thoughts. But see here’s the thing, Einstein developed the majority of his groundbreaking theories while he was working in a patent office during his twenties, that dude on the corner of the big city street wearing a cardboard sandwich board and shouting that gravity is a lie and you’re all mindless drones for being taken in to the ’round earth conspiracy’ may also be in his twenties, he may work in a patent office when no shouting at people, but the fullness of time will only prove one of them right. And only one of them is on some university student’s wall, forty odd years after he revolutionized physics, sticking his tongue out and just generally reminding everyone that genius’ can be fun too. It’s not the guy with the sandwich board.
Via Funny Pictures.net

 Einstein: Being awesome and ruining the paparazzi’s day since 1871

So perhaps it’s safe to say that Einstein’s brain-spoutings were at least a little bit more valuable to the history of the human race that that guy yelling about how the earth is flat. So, no, I don’t believe all brain-pulp is created equal. Nor do I believe that everyone is either a genius or someone who cannot see the evidence right in front of them (*cough, cough* global warming *cough, cough* Oh, what? Me? No, I didn’t say anything. Nope. Nah. NOTHING AT ALL. *pokes you fifteen times in succession, then scampers off to hide behind a melting iceberg*). The point is that some people have thoughts that will be more important and more influential to not just the human race and/or those individuals around them than others. Maybe that flat-earth guy will resonate with someone, but the majority of us will probably just sort of avoid eye-contact and shuffle uneasily out of his way. I am not saying that just because someone is important does that mean we should listen to what they have to say ( see: Tony Abbott, George W. Bush, most really huge celebrities, some priests), I am saying that some thoughts hold more value than others and that some people have those valuable thoughts more often than others. But we’ve strayed too far from the path. What does any of this have to do with comparing your brain-pulp spoutings to other people’s brain-pulp spoutings?

Well, the fact is, that even the most valuable mind is going to have invaluable thoughts, is going to believe wrong things, or things that hurt and marginalise others. All of us like to believe that we have a valuable mind, it’s certainly valuable to us, and for the most part, people’s thoughts are generally worth considering even if they don’t exactly align with yours, but those invaluable thoughts can sneak up on you. You don’t know if it’s coming, when it’s coming, where, why or how. But once it’s out there, it’s out and you can’t pull it back. This is why we compare ourselves to others. “Does this thought match what I believe?”, “Do I want to keep believing these things or must I reevaluate myself?”, “Does what I have to say hold any value to those who might read it?” These are the questions we are actually asking ourselves. And the way we answer them, to our own satisfaction at least, is by comparing our thoughts to others. It gives us a compass of sorts, a way gauge our worth in the world. But, and here we come to why this can be a problem, if you come to the conclusion that your brain-pulp has no worth, that it’s a little too much squish and not enough pink, then your spoutings will never be shared and any thoughts you have of value will be wasted. Any genuine, valuable thoughts you have will remain split-second flashes of electricity between synapses and will fade, buried in the dried-out neurons of your brain long after you are dead.

So I argue, compare yourself to others, question yourself, even doubt yourself a little (or a lot if you’re like most of us), realise that nothing you say is golden gospel, but very likely nothing you say will ever be utter horseshit either (exceptions probably apply to the less tolerant among us, I guess. Because seriously, fuck racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest of them right up the ass in the bad way. I’ve heard that it can be quite fun if you do it right, but let’s not make this weird). There will probably be some value in most things you say. That dude on the street corner, shouting outdated-since-the-ancient-greeks  nonsense, may spark some physicist with a mind for such things to re-evaluate our outlook on gravity and come up with something absurd but plausible like string theory and solve all our problems.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that all minds have value, perhaps not in the same amounts and certainly not in the same way, and I have yet to see a mind devoid of value, no matter who it belongs to, no matter how much filth they are spouting from their brain-pulp. So don’t let your brain-pump go to waste, compare yourself, doubt yourself, question everything about yourself and others, but don’t let anyone or anything invalidate or devalue you to you. Perhaps you need help in doing this, like someone whose job it is to analyse brain-pulp and try to fix it, or medications to smooth out the squish and add some pink, either way, both or neither may or may not work for you. Try anyway, because otherwise you’ll never know and that precious brain spouting may go unheard and that would kind of suck, for pretty much everyone. So you go out there and spout your pinkest brain-pulp, you little maybe-Einstein, you, and to be honest just the hope of that keeps me going.

Till next month, good luck with whatever it is you are trying to do. Hopefully you’ll have a pretty good new year and such. Happy soon-to-be Holidays to the people who like to be told such things and a good old “Aren’t Christmas carols just freaking annoying?” to those who don’t. Might post something new up here before 2015, but maybe I won’t. We’ll have to see.

Anyway, till then, look after yourself, and keep those precious thoughts coming. It looks like we’re going to need them.

Ashlee.

An Incoherent, Slightly Awed Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

So… I just finished reading this book. It was a small book, but that was right. It told me almost nothing I wanted to know and raised even more questions, but that too was right. This book was a right thing, a proper thing….

Hey, did I or did I not say that this review was going to be incoherent? People who have read the book should know what I was talking about. Which, now that I think on it, sort of defeats the purpose of a review. But, who am I kidding? These aren’t really reviews, they’re a convenient and potentially entertaining excuse for me to rant and rave and gush about books (it’s a full time hobby, I’ll have you know).

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten all the pedantic out, let’s talk about this bright apple seed of a book.

Now, this is a book with many covers so here’s the one all you important folks in the states, sorry, States will recognise.
Taken from Goodreads.com

But this isn’t my cover of the book, and to be perfectly honest I vastly prefer my version. Here’s the Uk version (and consequently the Australian version, hence my familiarity with it).
Also via Goodreads

I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I enjoy this book. Notice the present tense, it isn’t that I enjoyed this book. Any book can be a past experience when you turn the final page, but it takes a special kind of book to be present even after the cover has closed. The phrase “will stay with you long after the final page” is the marketing incarnation of this specialness, but it is not always accurate, due to people being the ridiculously, invariably, impossibly subjective creatures they are. So I can’t say that this book will ‘stay with you’ but all I can say is that some books are ice, they might be sharp and clear and they might pierce you to the soul, but they melt right away the instant you turn your back or snuggle up to something warmer. This book is not ice, although some might mistake it for such, no. This book is glass. Glass and copper and a subtle shine at the bottom of the Yellow Twelve (or perhaps Silver Twelve? This is a moonlit book.) This book planted shards of glass, speckles of moonlight and a few pretty pennies in my heart and they are not going anywhere soon.

Now, before you continue reading this and become as enamoured with this teardrop story as I am, I must issue a warning: THIS BOOK IS A LOCK. TWO KEYS SHALL OPEN IT. ONE IS CALLED ‘THE NAME OF THE WIND’, THE OTHER, ‘THE WISE MAN’S FEAR’. SEEK THEE OUT THESE KEYS AND THE LOCK WILL OPEN ADMITTING YOU TO THE WONDER BEYOND…. possibly. Some people out there will find it immensely boring. These people will probably also find this post to be nonsense. Eh, it’s no real skin off my back, as my main deal with people who dissagree with me is “don’t attack me for not agreeing with you and I won’t attack you for not agreeing with me, deal?” Then we shake hands and everything, mostly, remains civil (warning: disagreement deal may not apply to all issues or persons, always read the label, if symptoms persist consult your local Cthaeh… just kidding DON’T! I’m not messing with stuff that can scare Bast. Anyway…) But I digress, don’t look so surprised, the main point of this article is to tell you to read The Name of The Wind, and The Wise Man’s Fear, that’s the only way you’ll even remotely understand what these pages mean.

Oh, would you look at that, almost half way through the review and I have yet to even mention the author of all three of these fine books. You see There are some things you expect a review to do… and this one will probably not do most of them. Patrick Rothfuss is his name. Google is your bestest friend with this guy, you wont regret it. I also steal at least forty percent of my quotes, phrases and general smartness from him (well, if he doesn’t want to be quoted, then why does he speak?). Anyway, google is literally less than an inch away from your finger. Look up Name of the Wind, and Wise Man’s Fear, read both of them and then come back here. We’ll wait.

… …. … … …
Done? Awesome stuff, right? Anyway, before you are fully introduced to the sweet torture known as waiting for the dawn to rise on the third day (which we all need to calm the fuck down about, by the way. It’ll get done, just swallow a few stones worth of patience and wait!), lets talk about Auri.

Our Heroine:  Auri. Her name, which may or may not mean ‘sunny’, is perfect for her. It burns in her chest. It lifts her from the black days when she is all tangles. It is a flower in her heart. So much can be said about Auri, but not much should be said about her. She is a pretty girl who looks like the sun, and who leaves crystals in trees.

Our Hero: At first I thought it was going to be Foxen, but it wasn’t. I think it was Fulcrum, with his three threes, but it’s hard to tell.

Our Villain: Ummmmmm…. Hmmm…. I’m coming up with nothing…. Time? That seems most obvious. Time is certainly against Auri in this book. If you want to get meta (and who doesn’t?) Auri herself could be seen as the villain, in a small, broken, misunderstood and guttering kind of way. The truth is, I don’t want to even suggest a villain for this book, because it is one of the honeyed lackings. In this book, the things left out make it sweeter.

The Question: Where do I begin? So, so many questions. Just, all of the questions all of the time, and limited, hidden or just plain not there answers. Welcome to Auri’s world.

The Plot: Well, now. That would be telling, wouldn’t it?

My Honest Opinion: I have not slept with a cuddly toy in some time, and I have never cuddled a book in my sleep before. Any books on my bed are there either because I fell asleep reading them, or I was reading them in bed and the bedside table was too small or dirty and the floor was too far away. I tell you this because I’ve heard some people actually cuddle books in their sleep, and I want to make it clear that I don’t make a habit of this. The Slow Regard of Silent Things may change that.

I liked Auri a lot before I read this, she was an awesome bit of unexpected whimsy, a cool breeze against Kvothe’s fire. But, that was all she was to me. She seemed a way of tempering Kvothe, making him more human and less of a TOTAL IDIOT! (Sorry, but for a boy-genius he’s really, really stupid at times. Example: “Listen to the insane guy in the flowing black robes, HE’S TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!!” Thankfully, Wise Man’s Fear brought some reprieve from that particular frustration.)  Anyway, Auri was a lovely character with unexpected insights and she brought freshness to the books, but I was never in love with Auri the way others were, never felt that protectiveness. Now… Well, eighteen pages in and I was on the edge of the bus stop seat, praying she’s going to be ok and will get Foxen back, and this was with the entire book ahead of me. Long(ish) story short, Patrick Rothfuss made me miss my bus, and Auri is competing with Elodin for my favourite character (Why Elodin? “Stop grabbing my tits”, that’s why. Also, he ‘threw’ the main character off a roof… Kvothe’s an idiot.)

And after all this, I have one more thing to say. If you don’t like soap-making, this book may not be for you. But in Auri’s defence, it is brilliant soap.

Good night, good luck and may nothing be anything else for you,

Ashlee.

P.S. This post was finished at around four in the morning, the night before an exam. Any and all of your questions should be answered by that fact.

The Scratch

(My contribution to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Diseased Horror. It was actually easier than I expected to write, I’m normally not that good at horror but this one just flew onto the page. In any case, considering the time of year, let’s call this an early Halloween present. Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy it.) 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” The words were breathed against the mask of the isolation suit. A horrified whisper at the scene. The children lay slumped, limbs contorted in absurd ways that even in death seemed to animate them. Long red lines meandered along the arms, legs and faces of the children. Blood, piss, vomit and shit crusted the floor. The single adult in the room, the teacher, was limp in the chair, eyes rolled back in her head, story book still open on her lap. It was a picture postcard for the Scratch.

The metaphor was made all the more literal by the photographer, eagerly snapping pictures of the destruction. Pictures that would doubtless be used on the propaganda billboards, news segments and magazine articles that were now plastered everywhere, warning people of the dangers of the Scratch. Most of the general public thought the images were faked, exaggerated photoshops of an ordinary tragedy to aid in the fearmongering. The general public were wrong.

At first she had found it disgusting, perhaps even more disgusting than the mangled bodies she was forced to clean up, that the CDC would use actual photos of the victims in their public service announcements. These days, however, it was just a part of the job. Some freelance journalist or photographer would tag along to collect more nightmare fuel while Amanda and her team just got on with the job.

“Well,” she clapped her gloved hands together in a business-like fashion, ignoring her co-worker’s quiet horror. “This mess isn’t gonna clean itself.” At her words the team snapped out of their initial shock and got to work. Body bags were carried in, filled with small corpses, and carried out. All of it was surprisingly quick and efficient. None of them stopped to grieve the lost children, there simply wasn’t time. There were likely a hundred scenes like this in this school alone. A whole school, teachers, students, admin workers, all of them dead within the space of four hours. That was the horror of the Scratch.

When the room was clear of corpses, the carpet was ripped up, labelled a biohazard and removed. Then the walls were scrubbed with a disinfectant that stripped the paint off in one stroke, and whose fumes even reached inside the respirator. The team had shifts, two minutes with three layers of rubber gloves, then sit in the plastic tent outside for ten minutes, then back in.

By the end of it, Amanda was dizzy, nauseous and absolutely exhausted. The shower tent was the only way to the outside world, and she was determined to get there first.

Stripping down she placed her personal protection equipment to be burned and spent fifteen minutes vigorously scrubbing herself with the medical grade soap. Emerging into the dusk, she was as pink and clean a newborn chi- No. She must not think of children. Children were dead. She must not think of it.

Outside, the photographer was bickering with the boss of the whole operation.

“Listen, Mr Jensen, I realise the need for security, but this film is the only copy of the photographs.”

Jensen rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers, then abruptly stopped as if jerking himself out of a bad habit.

“Mr. Davis, I must insist that the camera and film alike be burned. You were given a disposable camera to use that would send the digital files directly to the CDC headquarters. I still don’t understand why you would endanger yourself and others by ignoring your clear instructions.”

Davis smiled condescendingly.

“Come come now, Mr Jensen, I think that surely everyone must agree that within the realm of art, any and all instructions can be ignored in favour of the most desirable result. Film is such a superior medium that-”

Jensen snapped.

“Not when those instructions are in place to keep both you and others alive! Do you realise just how many people you’ve put at risk by taking that camera outside the secure perimeter? Not only that, Mr Davis, but this is not art! These are photos of children who have died a frightening painful death. If it weren’t for the CDC themselves ordering that you accompany us I would not have you here at all. As it is…” The man took a breath, and unconsciously raised a hand to rub his face, but the motion was stopped almost as automatically. “As it is Mr. Davis, I am going to have to ask you to agree to be isolated until we can ascertain whether or not you have contracted the illness.”

Davis stared in shock.

“But… But I was suited up just like the rest of them! I couldn’t have-”

“I really must insist, Mr Davis. After which, if you are found to be healthy, you will be transported to a suitable detainment facility while you await trial.”

“T- trial?”

“By disobeying the orders of the CDC and the Government in this matter you have violated several health and safety regulations, which I need not tell you, are now treated as law. However, it will be the duty of the police to inform you exactly which laws you have broken. For now, Mr Davis, every second you spend outside isolation is a second during which you could infect my crew. If you do not comply I will be forced to involuntarily admit you.”

“But… But.. But I-”

“Mr Davis! I am a very busy man, and I have spent more than enough time on this matter. If you do not comply immediately I will be forced to take drastic measures.”

Davis held up his hands in surrender.

“Fine! Fine. I’ll go.” He slowly walked backwards towards the portable isolation chambers. Three already contained occupants, two women and a man. The parents who discovered the carnage inside the school. Somewhere, inside those countless too-small body bags, were their children. One of the women was screaming as she tried to beat her way through the walls of the chamber.

“LET ME OUT!! LET ME OUT, DAMMIT!! MY SON!! I NEED TO SEE MY SON!!” Soon she folded into her grief. Amanda, passing the chamber on her way to see Jensen in his temporary office, heard her mumbling to herself between rib-shaking sobs. “Charlie… Oh, my baby boy…. Charlie… Come home, baby. Please… Come home to Mummy. I can make you all better… Charlie. Please… just come home… I’ll put you in bed and read you stories and make you hot pumpkin soup… It’s your favourite, remember? Just come home, baby. Please, Charlie. Please, Mummy needs you, baby. My baby boy….”

The other woman was staring straight ahead, her eyes blank, her body limp. She looked freakishly like the dead teacher in the chair, slumped and lifeless and blank. The man was crying quietly into his hands.

Amanda knocked on the office door and entered, Jensen was collapsed onto his desk, head pillowed on his arm. For a moment, Amanda was stunned with panic.

“Neil?” She softly called, waiting with bated breath for him to respond. Thankfully, he jerked his head up and looked around. His face relaxed into a smile when he saw her.

“Sorry, Amy, nodded off there for a second. You ready to go?”

“Yeah. I better drive. Let’s get junk for dinner on the way home.”

He sighed as if the very thought of hot, salty grease soothed him.

“And people say these office romances never work out.”

“It stopped being an office romance when you married me.” She smiled at the memory.

“I suppose, but-” He looked at her. His eyes snapped to her arm. His face suddenly cautious. “Amanda, what are you doing?”

She looked down at her arm and the itch she didn’t even realise she had been scratching. Her fingernails broke the skin of their own accord, and her nightmare began.