That One Girl on the Bus

So, the other day I was on the bus. It was one of the few times when I had ventured out into the great wide world without the precious protection of my musical earbuds. Thus it was that I could hear everything on the bus, which wasn’t so bad as this particular bus was empty. That is, it was empty until The Girl got on (dun Dun DUN). I never learned her name, but if I had to guess she’d be about fourteen or fifteen. She was wearing the uniform of the local private school. She was fairly pretty in an unremarkable way, long straight blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail by a pink, fluffy scrunchie. She was tall, and not stick thin but far from overweight. Over the course of the entire bus trip we didn’t say two words to each other. All in all there was nothing remotely special about this girl at all… Apart from the fact that when she got on the bus she was holding two large milkshakes.

It is now time to discuss the bus driver. I don’t remember what he looked like, except that he was pretty young, about early to mid thirties, and very talkative. I know he was talkative because he had previously tried to engage me in conversation that same bus trip, a feat not attempted by most bus drivers (and a near impossible one to accomlish when I’m tired, stressed and just want to get home). In any case, he put up a braver front than most, mainly because he had that casual, joking way of talking that tends to put people at ease. Unless that is, you’re insecure about something.

So, the bus pulls up to the stop and the girl steps on, holding her two large milkshakes awkwardly. The first words out of her mouth are:

“These aren’t both for me!”

But the bus driver, in his jovial wisdom, either doesn’t hear her or ignores the statement and replies with:

“How are you going to get through both of those, then?” You must understand, this was said as a joke, a light tease.

At which point the girl, now obviously deeply embarrassed, says: “One of them’s for a girl at school. I’m not fat, I promise.” She then walks up the aisle between the seats, red as a tomato and sits down with her two large milkshakes. Within minutes the feeling is passed and she is intent upon her phone. But my mind lingers on that brief exchange.

“I’m not fat, I promise.” 

Personally, I find that statement appalling. Not because the girl said it, but because she felt the need to say it.

I’m not fat, I promise.

As if ‘fat’ was a personality trait, and a bad one at that. As if she must justify her perfectly reasonable actions by assuring a stranger that she does not fall into the abominable category of Fat. The way she said it put me in mind of someone defending a distasteful joke. “I’m not racist, I promise.” Except, instead of offending entire proud cultures, this young woman was simply doing a favour for a friend.

Now I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I find it disgusting and deeply, deeply sad that this girl feels the need to say something like that. What is wrong with us, that teenage girls feel the need to seek approval from strangers for every action that seems vaguely out of the ordinary. I mean, I am positive that teenage boys suffer this as well, but let’s be honest, what young man out there has ever felt so embarrassed about taking an extra bit of food or drink onto the bus that he felt the need to defend his actions to the bus driver? What bus driver would tease that young man in the same way he teased the girl? Whatever the percentage is, I’m guessing that it’s far lower than the amount of young women who encounter the same thing.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning light hazing. I think it’s a vital part of human interaction, and a very common one at that (case in point; whenever I am walking my dog by myself, and I am passed by a gentleman out for an evening stroll I almost always hear some variation of “who’s walking who?” which, aside from getting monotonous after a while, hurts neither me nor my dog. Although it could be seen as derogatory, I like to credit myself with more sense of humour than that.) So, teasing and hazing are awesome (kinda), but what is not awesome is the instant judgement that is made when anyone, particularly women, are seen with an unexpected amount of food or drink. I’m not fat, I promise. 

How dare we tell this girl that she can’t have two large milkshakes? How dare we make it so that she must justify her completely innocent actions by explaining her reasoning to a total stranger? If she had fifteen milkshakes, twelve hamburgers and a trash bag full of McDonald’s fries, it is neither mine nor anybody else’s business what she intends to do with that food.

Now, of course, she’s a teenager and all teenagers are insecure about how they look to other people, right? Well, yes and no. Of course teenagers are insecure about pretty much everything to some degree, but once again, what teenage boy is going to assure his bus driver, of all people, that he’s not fat?

I don’t care if your fifteen or fifty, actions that don’t impact upon others are not the business of others and hold no shame, no matter what. Now, if you’re torturing a cat, or breaking other people’s property, then the police and a few other people (myself included) might have something to say. But eating? Drinking? Are we really so obsessed with our own fucked up notion of beauty that we deny people, anyone, the right to eat as much as he or she likes? Because, Lord forbid, they might stray into the dreaded realm of ‘Fat’. What a calamity that would be.

Not much humour in this one guys, sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to talk about something like this for a while and this particular instance stood out to me. Words have power, the words we use can define us. We all know this and yet we fling them around like they mean nothing. Anyway, if your looking for a really awesome exploration of the ideas discussed in this month’s blog post, I heartily recommend you read Robin Hobb’s Soldier’s Son Trilogy. Politics aside it’s also got solid characters, and a compelling storyline. I may write a review of it in the future, but only if you’re good.

And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I bid you adieu.

Ashlee.

An Incoherent, Slightly Biased Review (AKA: I LOVE THIS BOOK SO FUCKING MUCH!!!)

So… hi. Look at that, exactly a month since anything new appeared in this little internet space… I feel like I should apologize… but I honestly don’t think there’s anyone hanging out to read these. *Sigh*. One day. Anyway, in case you can’t tell I’ve been feeling a little depressed these past few weeks about my future as a writer, (something to do with Fear Number 1 raising it’s ugly head again) and you know what I like to read when I’m feeling depressed about the inevitable decay of it all? Apocalypse books, because it’s really REALLY cathartic. What’s my favourite apocalypse book you ask (how kind of you to take such an interest)? Well, to be honest, it’s my only apocalypse book, but that is irrelevant because, as you saw in the title…
I LOVE THIS BOOK SO FUCKING MUCH!!!… Ok, ok, ok, I’m calm, let’s showcase this bit of wonder-fiction to the seven or so of you who will actually read this (that’s right, I see you. I see you ALL! Muahahahahahahahahahah! *Ahem*).
Ladies and gentlemen, behold…

Image Via Goodreads.com.

Yup. That’s Nod, inscribed from the mouth of Cthulhu himself, set to ancient parchment in Grimm wolf-blood (“It’s like red chamomile tea!”) by Adrian Barnes. From what I gather of my past experiences, half of you have never in your lives heard of it (treasure your innocence), a quarter of you are joining me in a good bout of evil laughter as the darkness birthed inside you by this book squirms and grins, and the other quarter of you are gnashing your teeth and shooting steam from your ears at my obvious lack of any real judgement in literature. Whelp, sit tight, because, love it or loathe it “Nod” is one mind-fuck of a ride.

Our Hero: His name is Paul. He likes words. And Tanya. People besides Tanya tend to piss him off, particularly Charles. Mainly because Charles is a prick (an opinion I share with Paul. Fuck Charles).

Our Heroine: Tanya. Beautiful, normal, intelligent. She likes Paul enough to have stayed with him for five years at the opening of the book. Looks like hell the first time we see her, but is actually heaven. Paul has it backwards.

Our Villain: The Admiral in Blue? The Awakened? That one guy with the ship and the nukes? The messed up, disheveled, beaten and bleeding world at large? Humanity? Whatever the fuck was happening on that beach (if that scene doesn’t send some sort of shiver up your spine then you might not be human)? Honestly all of these are the antagonist and all of them are not. It’s one of the things I really like about the book. There’s a bad-guy here for everyone, pick your hate!

The Question (because every book needs a question): A huge, resounding, what the fuck?! What the fuck is up with all the fatal insomnia? What the fuck are those children so calm about? And, seriously, what the fuck is that magical golden dream all about? Yes, I am aware that is more than one question… It’s a complex book.

The Plot: No-one sleeps. Well, one in a thousand people maybe do. But most people don’t sleep. Things go to pot in a major, major way. Think of an atrocity and it’s probably committed within these pages, along with a few you probably haven’t thought of yet. Look at that cover, this is not a sane book. And yet there’s an almost indistinguishable grain of hope in there, among all the madness and attempted (sometimes successful) infanticide, there’s one tiny, desperate, dim, flickering point of hope. You have to look really hard to find it, and it offers no real comfort, but it’s there and in some ways it almost makes all the bat-shit insanity worth it.  Almost.

My Honest Opinion: This is not a book for the weak of heart or mind or stomach. This is not a book for a casual summer read, relaxing on a beach. You will find no relaxation here. But you figured that out already. The truth is, I read all one hundred and ninety nine pages of this book in three hours and I was a different person because of those three hours I spent inside Adrian Barnes’ head. My outlook, my speech, my thoughts and, most obviously, my writing have all been heavily influenced by those pages. I have read it once since, over the course of two days (roughly), and it’s punch, while not increased in the re-read, was far from diminished. In my mind, this is not a book, it is a series of images, events, emotions and experiences. “Nod” occupies the same space in my head as my actual memories of real life. It’s a wonder I don’t have PTSD from this shit. I did not turn the pages of this book I watched it happen and it implanted itself deep within me, digging its claws into my hippocampus and refusing to leave. I say I love this book, only because that is the only way to describe this strange cacophony of emotions and be taken seriously. I love Nod the way the abused loves the abuser, I know that it will tear me down, make me feel hopeless and depressed, that it will slap me in the face and punch me in the throat and leave me crying into my pillow, but at the end of the day it is what it is and as long as the bruises are metaphorical, then I will endure that agony. (Side note on abuse: Anyone who is being abused by anything more substantial than a book, say, by a person, PLEASE SEEK HELP! You are not alone, and there are a thousand ways out and a hundred thousand people who are willing to help. I do not condone non-metaphorical abuse in any way, shape or form.)

With that, ladies and gentlemen… Sleep Tight.

My Greatest Fears

Trigger Warning: The following post contains references to sexual abuse and rape. If you feel the need to avoid discussion of such topics it is advised that you don’t read this pose. There’s no shame in protecting yourself, either from the outside world, or your own mind. Both can be equally vicious and harmful. Do whatever you need to do for you. 

Well… This is a bleak little blog, isn’t it? So far we’ve had a child eaten by wolves, mysterious anomalies in the night, drunk Shakespeare and an anthropomorphic genetic experiment, who also happens to be a genius and a murderer as well as dabbling in divination to pay the bills. Yup, still proud of that one. Anyway, the point is, we’re dark here. And by we I mean me, but I also mean you as well, after all, you’re reading it. So in order to embrace the darkness within today I thought I’d let you get to know me a bit as well as indulging that deep urge within us to look where we are scared to look, the same urge that makes us poke it with a stick, that makes us look behind us even though we know there’s nothing there, that makes us pick at scabs even though we know it’s super unhealthy and gross. Pick them until they bleed. Ladies and gentlemen, today, I’m going to tell you my fears. You already knew that because of the title, but whatever, I’m having fun. So follow me, let’s go pick at some scabs.

Without further ado, here are the three things I fear most in the world. 

Number 3: Rape or Sexual abuse 

Talk about starting on a touchy issue. Perhaps the least powerful of the three (or so I tell myself when walking alone at night. I’m not scared. I’m not scared. I’m not scared) it is the nastiest. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I got my first piece of advice on how to avoid rape at the age of twelve (“Don’t leave drinks unattended when you go out” Was prompted by my childish imaginings of going out to clubs and stuff when I was older), or perhaps because of all the victim-blaming that happens (don’t say it doesn’t. There’s more I could say on this, but it will have to be the subject of a future post and be more akin to a rage-frothing rant than the reasonable writings I’ve produced so far). Whatever the reason I am terrified of rape. Of getting raped. It isn’t on my mind constantly, but it will pop up every now and then, particularly when talking to strangers or people online (cyber-safety born of fear still gets the job done). I think it’s mostly because of the lack of control I have over the situation. Any interaction with other people is only half in my control and while that doesn’t scare me, it is kind of unnerving (yeah, I am a major control freak. But I’m working on it), add to that someone who doesn’t care about my feelings or thoughts, who doesn’t even see me as a person because of what’s in between my legs. Now make that person, bigger than me, stronger than me, and faster than me, and make it so that the same thing that makes me less than human in his eyes is the same thing that person wants desperately and thinks is his right (side note: female rapists do exist, but I have more of a chance of fighting off a girl and so it’s not as scary).  Yeah, that right there is the embodiment of this fear. Even if I fight he could easily pin me down, even if I run he could catch me, even if I scream there’s no guarantee anyone will hear me, or come to my aid if they do. Of course, if this ever does happen to me, I will do all of those things. I will run and fight and scream as though my life depends on it, because it very well could. On that somber note, I ask the people out there a question; ladies, are you in the same boat or are you sensible and look out for your safety without worrying too much what the consequences will be if you slip up? Gentlemen, what’s your take on the matter? I’ve never heard it from the other side before, I’m genuinely curious as to what guys think of the whole thing. 

Number 2: Brain Parasites 

They exist. I know they exist because that’s how I developed this fear. If you don’t believe me then Google ‘human bot fly’ and be prepared for nightmares. Not much needs to be said for this one, as the thought of insects crawling around your skull slowly devouring your sweet sweet brain tissues as you wander around oblivious ought to be universally terrifying. If it isn’t then it should be. I think about this pretty much every time I have a severe or lasting headache. The thought process generally goes, either I’m not drinking enough water, or I’m not getting enough sleep OR the parasites have finally invaded my cranium and are right now chowing down on my grey-matter and laying their evil demon-spawn eggs in the hollow spaces left behind. The situation is not helped by the fact that I’ve been too scared to do any actual research on these things and so not only do I have no idea what the symptoms are, but it has allowed my mind to blow them up into epic super bugs that can occur inside my head with no warning and no known way to treat them. So yeah, if you aren’t scared by this notion then perhaps you should get the doctor to check your head. Never know what could be buzzing around up there. Sleep tight. 

 

Number 1: Failure. 

It took me a few tries to word this one correctly. I want to say ‘never achieving my dreams’, but that sounds kind of wishy-washy and no where near powerful enough. I understand that everyone feels this (or so I’ve been told), but holy shit, it’s just so huge, and cold and it sits in the dead center of my chest, crouched and sullen reminding me that of all the things I fear it is without a doubt the most likely. This one has driven me to tears on long dark nights, when there’s no-one looking and all my mind can do is churn and churn and imagine all the possible ways my great plan for my life could go wrong, all the many, many ways to fail at what essentially amounts to my biggest and most important dream. This one, obviously, is so powerful because my desire is so powerful, if I didn’t care then there’d be nothing to worry about, but the thing is, I only have one dream. I only have one true ambition in life that I feel compelled to work for. Writing. Specifically, to make a living out of writing. Sure I have other things that I want, to finish uni, to buy my own place, to find someone who shares my weird, nerdy, dark tenancies that I cans stand to spend most of my time with and sometimes we kiss and rub our genitals together (well, how do YOU show affection?).  All those things are great, and I definitely want them, but they aren’t half as precious to me as my ultimate dream of finally being able to live off my writing. Well, more than that, because dreams are never that modest. No, what I ultimately want is to make a very, very decent living (enough to live in a house I want and to take a holiday every now and then) and be moderately famous (as in, famous enough to be invited to cons and do signings but not famous enough to have some stranger send me a lock of their hair. There’s a fine line there, and I wanna walk it). That’s it. But if I don’t get there, I have no fucking clue. I have no back up plan beyond misery. Even just thinking about it makes me sweat cold and want to curl up in a tiny ball. But it’s because this is such an intense and compelling fear, that I think this is the most useful of the three. Useful in that it is borne from being afraid that something won’t happen, as opposed to being afraid that something will happen. I can’t control everything that comes into my life, but I sure as hell can try and bring the stuff I want down on myself instead of stressing over the bullshit that I don’t want. In fearing the absence of an event, I can work towards making that event happen. I have control, because the job I take is a life choice and if I choose to write no matter what then it will happen. But that fear will still be there, gnawing at me, wrapping itself around my chest so I can’t breathe, whispering what if in my ear. I will never shake this fear. Even when I achieve this goal and set my sights on a new one, the fear will still be there, ensuring I never forget that failure is real, and very, very possible because of a million and one different reasons that it is more than willing to recite to me during the small hours. I hate this fear, but if forces me to keep moving better than any other motivation I’ve found.

For all that, please tell me I’m not alone in this. I ask you, the few who actually read my blog, do you feel this too? 

 

Midnight Ramblings

(It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Sorry about that, but life happened as it tends to do. Anyway, here’s a weird story-like piece partially inspired by the conversation that Erica and I had in the comments of my last post. Enjoy…)

Okay. What time is it? Eleven forty five. Yeah, I better get to sleep. Right. *The lamp clicks off.* Now, let’s get comfortable. Ah, okay, that’s not a good position… Nor that… This is close, but my arm is in a weird spot. Hmm, should I move my arm and risk being uncomfortable or just stay here? … Yeah, there’s no way this arm position is healthy. Let’s move. No. Nope. Almost, but not quite. There we go. Ahhhh.  Nice. All right. Just relax. Let yourself drift… Did I leave the outside light on? I know it was on when I got home tonight, but did I turn it off?… Yes. I did it as soon as I walked in the door, like I always do. But tonight my arms were full of groceries… I don’t remember doing it  that clearly… You know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like anythings gonna happen just beacuse I left the outside light on. Right now, back to sleep. Deep breath… Good… And again. Just relax and drift. Yeah. … … … … … … Was that a noise?… Probably not…. … .. That was definitely a noise. It’s probably nothing. Just, I don’t know, stray dishes settling over one another in the sink. Or the house ‘relaxing’ as Grandma used to say, whatever that means. It’s nothing… … … The house has never needed to ‘relax’ before… There it is again… And again. That sounds almost deliberate. Huh? How can a noise sound deliberate? It’s just a noise. We’ll see what it is in the morning… … … What if it’s a thief? Then I guess they can do their thing and I’ll replace it. Not too bad… But what if it’s a murderer? Or Freddy Krueger or something. Freddy Kreuger isn’t real. God, that movie freaked me out when I first saw it. So did Halloween. Gah. What was the name of the killer in that again, Jason Something? Jason Bourne? No, that’s the guy from Mission Impossible. No, wait, The Bourne Identity. His name is in the freaking title. So who was the guy from Halloween? Jason… Something. Wow, it’s totally gone. Jason… Jason… I have to Google it. No, if I do that then I have to get up, and I just got comfy… I’ll leave it. It isn’t that important anyway… I have to Google it. It’s gonna keep me up all night if I don’t. But I’m warm and it’s cold out there. My phone is just on the bedside table! I could grab it, Google it, and straight back to sleep… Right. *The lamp clicks on* *The phone is grabbed* There’s that noise again. Wonder what it’ll turn out to be. Right, here we go… Hang on. What the hell do you mean no connection? Refresh. Is something wrong with the internet? This is bad, if the internet’s messed up again then I can’t send those emails tomorrow. Yeah, I better check it. Just to make sure. *The covers are pulled back.* *Small muffled thumps as the bare feet make their way to the door.* *The door opens, the triangle of light across the hallway is like an eye opening.* Christ, it’s cold in here. Let’s get this done so I can get back to sleep…. It’s off. Who the hell turned the internet off? Why? What? Shit. There’s that noise again. It’s coming from the lounge room. Why is it so fucking cold in here? I know it was forecast, but still, I didn’t think it would get this cold. Noise again. That’s it, I’m finding out what this is. It definitely is not a normal noise. *Careful steps. Almost silent but not quite.*  It’s like a clicking, almost, but bigger? That makes no sense. Yeah, though, it’s like a really big, really loud clicking. There you go. Click click. It’s really weird. Just around the corner and- Oh FUCK! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?!  Where- shit- where the fuck are it’s eyes?! Shit shit shit shit shit!!! Oh God, are those… are those teeth? Fuck fuck fuck fuck. It clicks when it moves! How the fuck does it move?! This is not a thing that exists. It can’t! Goddamnit. Shit. OH FUCK! IT’S MOVING TOWARDS- Run run run run run run run run run run run. *The bedroom door slams closed* *The sheets tangle and rustle as they are disturbed and flung over a face.* Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Did it follow me? Oh my fucking God. How could it even see me? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS THING? I don’t hear anything. Look at me, cowering under the bed clothes like a little kid. It probably wasn’t even real. Just a nightmare or hallucination or something. I have been feeling kind of tired lately.  Yeah, it wasn’t real, nothing like that could ever be- *The bedroom door swings open* *A big, loud clicking noise enters the room* I’m going to die. This is finally it. I’m going to die. I’ll never know the last name from the guy from Halloween. Wait. Not Jason. Michael Myers.  Well, great. Now I can die happy. *The covers are flung back.* I didn’t mean it literally! Oh God, what the fuck are you? *The human muscles tense as a bone hard appendage is extended towards the chest, clicking like clockwork* I can’t move. Oh fuck! I can’t move. WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I MOVE!? *The sternum is touched, just briefly, and begins to grow. Pushing outwards and upwards. Bones contort, muscle hardens, organs shift or die. One last thought.* It’s the light. They need the light. I never turned off the outside light. *Then the eyes shrink, or disappear, or perhaps they were never there to begin with. The new creature rises from the bed, clicking as it does so. It knows what it is now. It’s a Rambling. The digital clock ticks over to twelve as the two Ramblings wander back into the dark, clicking like clockwork as they go.*   

Creativity, Hero Worship, Shakespeare’s Homosexuality and the First Rule of Writing Fiction

Hello everyone and welcome to the first ever non-fiction post on this blog! If I actually knew what I was doing there would be confetti or something. In any case, let’s get down to business, shall we?

I recently took a fair few risks in my recently published story “Age” (which can be bought here, if you are so inclined). The first of these was to include quite a lot of cursing in the story. I swear like a sailor in real life, but have only just realized that it can actually be okay to include unsavory language in my fiction, as long as it serves the story (Rule #1 of Fiction Writing: Everything must serve the story). The second risk was to set it in the modern era. I usually prefer medieval/high fantasy settings so this was a pretty big step outside the comfort zone, but it definitely paid off, as such steps often do. The third was submitting it to a magazine at all. Every writer knows the terror of giving their work over to be scrutinized by faceless, nameless editors in a publishing house far far away. But, at least for me, the biggest risk was to include William Shakespeare as not only a presence, but a character in the story.

Granted, he appears only briefly in a single scene, but he still appears, drunk no less. Hardly the most respectful way to portray the Bard. A man whose name is not only synonymous with literary genius, but a man to whom many credit with flat-out inventing most of the modern English we use today. Love him, hate him, or fall asleep during the third act of Romeo and Juliet in English class, if you speak English then chances are you’ve quoted him directly without even knowing it. This is the man who invented the word ‘eyeball’, for crying out loud. So, when I decided to not only portray him as drunk, but put him in a romantic relationship with my main male lead, I was intimidated to say the least.

But then, I stopped. Looked at myself sweating bullets over including a character in my story and realized that I was being ridiculous. Shakespeare was a writer. Arguably the greatest writer of all time. He was a creator and innovator and a genius, but most of all, he was a man. He was a man that lived and loved and wrote such words that he is a household name centuries after his death. But he was a man. With fears and hurts and mistakes. He had no idea that the plays he was writing would exist to bore high school students almost half a millennium after his death. He was just a guy in Elizabethan England just trying to support himself and his family back home doing something he loved. He was no different to any other writer out there. And not only that, but he’s dead. He get’s no say in the matter. Also, it isn’t actually the man himself, but a fictional character that just happens to share a name with a historical person of importance (oh and for all that ‘homosexuality’ stuff mentioned in the title, look herehere and here. They’re the first three Google results. If you’re interested, give them a glance and draw your own conclusions. I’m not here to tell you what to think).

This is what hero worship does to us. We put so much stock in one person’s abilities that we loose the person and only see their abilities. And we do this all the goddamned time. Look at Einstein, or Aristotle, or Leonardo Da Vinci. Or, for that matter, Leonardo Dicaprio. We glorify people and build them up until they become both more and less than human. It’s easier to do this with dead people, with the great minds of eras past. After all, dead people don’t make mistakes. But the outrage every time a celebrity screws up proves just how easy (and fun!) it it to build people up and tear them down in the same breath.

Now, of course, there are many complicated emotional, psychological and probably biological reasons why we do this, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point of this post is that if you do this, as a writer, not only do you shut these people off from being portrayed accurately in your writing, but you limit your perceptions when it comes to others and their experiences. As a writer, it is your job to experience the lives of others without living them yourself. You must have a mind that can step into another person’s head at will, imagine what they are thinking and have those thoughts be different from your own. 

But of course, everyone hero worships. Role models are a key part of the way humans learn and develop and through out our lives we always have role models, whether we admit it or not. And it is relatively harmless when applied to dead people. However, hero worshiping people who are alive can severely limit your creativity. A hero is something other, a person who is above all other people, and as such is totally unrelatable. If one person is unrelatable then what’s to stop that whole group of people from becoming unrelatable? From there it can be a pretty slippery slope (this could also be a pretty good description of how prejudice can build. Two sides, one coin).

If you view a person, any person as ‘other’ as ‘them’, whether positively or negatively then you are limiting the range of human experience you can access to aid your writing. Everything must serve the story, remember? If your prejudices, whether you are biased towards or against this person or group of people, interfere with your ability to write a realistic and fulfilling story then you need to re-examine your views on the world around you. On the people you look up to and look down on and understand them. No matter how different you think they are, we’re all just walking, talking monkeys who have somehow managed to take this whole ‘thinking’ business to another level. Remember that. Use it. Serve your story. All the world’s a stage.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I stopped hero worshiping Shakespeare. If you want to check out the story that sparked this whole train of thought then click the link way up there at the beginning. If that’s just too much scrolling then here it is again. And once again just because I feel like being annoying.

Hope you enjoyed this post. If it was a useless pile of rambling waffle, then feel free to shout at me in the comments.

Happy reading, writing and whatever else!

Ashlee

The Fifth Stone

(This is just a little piece of folklore I wrote to go along with the book I’m hoping to publish late 2015-16. It’s short, and hopefully sad. Any questions, feel free to comment below. Hope you enjoy!) 

There once lived a small clan near the Southern Mountains. It was so small that even the children were needed to help with the chores, pulling water from the rivers, fetching and hunting, even the felling of trees and building of huts. The children of this clan were put to every possible use they could.

One day the smallest child in the clan was carrying stones from the riverside to help repairing a hut that had been destroyed by a falling tree. The sun was setting and the child was in a hurry to return to home because it was winter and the wolves were beginning to howl. As a result she filled his bucket too full and could not lift it. And so, the child emptied out five stones and laid them neatly in a line so she could find them later and hurried back to the village.

However it turned out that they were exactly five stones short of repairing the hut. When the child learnt this and told the others of the five stones she had removed from her bucket she was sent back into the woods to find them again. The sun was just beginning to set properly and at every step the child was afraid for her life, but she found the five stones, resting just as she put them, and managed to lift all but one. Once again she hurried home, sure she could feel the hot breath of a wolf on her neck the entire way.

However, once it came to light that the fifth stone was still lying somewhere out in the forest she was ordered back out into the woods to retrieve it, as all the workers were tired and wanted the hut finished before they went to bed.

By this time it was almost completely dark in the forest and the child stepped carefully through the twigs and leaves, for she could smell the wolves circling her and knew they could smell her in return.

At long last she reached the fifth stone. Sighing with relief, she rushed to pick it up but the thing would not budge. The stone was heavy and she was weak from a day of fetching and carrying. It was now that the wolves chose to attack.

Her body was found the next day, ripped to shreds by wolves and the other life of the forest. She was almost unrecognisable, were it not for her hands. Untouched and still gripping so hard to the fifth stone that they were never able to lift.

 

 

 

 

Monkey Glands

(This is my contribution to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cocktail is Your Title. Needless to say, I got Monkey Gland, which I changed to Monkey Glands because I like the sound better. Anyway, enjoy!)

They lay in the bowl. Specks of vibrant blood shining against the stainless steel. Perfectly smooth, pink as an infants backside, they didn’t seem real, let alone something he had cut out of a fellow primate just moments before. A scalpel was raised, it’s blade a dull grey apart from the razor fine edge, so sharp that anything living would see their own blood long before they felt the pain. By then the scalpel’s work would be done. There was a clattering in the corner. His eyes snapped up, electric yellow surrounded by a ring of deep brown, pupils expanding as his gaze moved from the bright light to the gloom beyond.

“Servile? What are you doing back there?” There was a pause. “Servile?” He called again. The pause was deeper, somehow darker. Sighing at interrupted work he removed himself from the office chair and moved towards the cage. Peering through the bars he leaned closer. A vaguely human shape huddled in the far corner. Every few seconds a shudder rocked the dark form. A second, shallow, stainless steel bowl was overturned. The yellow eyes searched the cage but found nothing else out of the ordinary. He stood and sighed again, looking down at the cowering creature. “Well, are you going to pick that up?” No answer. Another shudder. Perhaps the language centres were malfunctioning. Chewing the inside of his cheek he breathed a word. “Shit.” If the language centres fucked up then he might as well scrap the entire thing. Stooping, he reached through the bars and began to right the overturned bowl. With a movement twice as quick as a shudder, the creature’s hand shot out, it’s black nails dragging bright lines of pain across the back of his hand. Hissing in pain he reflexively cradled it to his chest. “Damn you!” He kicked the cage as he turned back to the desk. The kick did little, but sent a ringing through the bars. The creature leapt to the centre of the cage, and sat there, head tilted to the side, russet hair flopping over one ear.

Still swearing he returned to work, desperately hoping that the scratches wouldn’t bleed and cause a vitium. The white envelope stopped him. Placed carefully against the edge of the bowl, it certainly hadn’t been there before. His name, Tages Haruspice, was written in unfamiliar elegant script across the front. The envelope itself he had recognised instantly. Tages tilted his head back as he looked at it, as though repulsed by the innocence of the crisp white paper. His nose instinctively wrinkled as he reached for it. Black nails shining under the harsh white light his lithe fingers opened the envelope with barely a sound. He cast a cursory look around him. The room seemed normal, concrete walls running with water and mottled with green, the doorway leading to the storage units, the cage, the railway pallet piled with mouldy blankets and pillows he used as a bed, and the desk, with it’s secondhand office chair, stainless steel bowls, scalpel and bright, bright light. There was no sign of unfamiliar life. With a shrug he turned right back to the envelope. The folded paper slid smooth as cream out of it’s confinement.

Dear Haruspice,

Terribly sorry for using your surname, but I can never remember which of you is still human. I expect my runner will observe you and rectify this once he arrives, in order to assure correct delivery. In any case, it hardly matters. As long as you are still practising, you will do this for me. Find someone. Of the same kind as you. I understand how your barbaric art works and realise what it means, but it is imperative that this specimen is found. Drastic times call for drastic measures and this is not a step I would take otherwise. You understand? Yes. Of course you do.

There was a movement from the cage and one of Tages’ russet ears flicked backwards before slowly swivelling forward again.

I, of course, am sorry for the sacrifice you will have to make. I know of your attempts to revive him, but all your efforts will fail. Trust me on this. No matter how many humans you slaughter and insert into your brother, it will not fix him.

On a related note, those ‘storage units’ as you so inadequately put it, and their contents, will continue to be permitted as long as my request is met within seven days. After which… I leave the consequences to your abundant imagination.

Your father is well. He talks of you rarely if at all and then often with a spit on the floor. I trust this news pleases you. Your brothers and sisters are developing nicely. Well enough to escape at any rate. We managed to catch all but one when it happened, which is of course why you have been sent this letter.

Much obliged for your cooperation in this pressing matter.

Yours,

Mother.

Tages sat for a long time before putting the letter aside. His eyes travelling anywhere but the now silent cage in the corner. He then pulled his phone out of his pocket and began to dial a number. The voice on the other end was short, but Tages cut them off. “I couldn’t find him… There was an interruption, several actually…. No! Of course it wasn’t my fault …. Look, I have a much more pressing matter to attend to so if there’s nothing else… Good. Pleasure doing business with-” The line was dead. Placing the phone back on the table, Tages delicately picked up one of the kidneys and took a delighted bite out of the adrenal gland. It wasn’t much, but after three days of ritual fasting it was better than nothing. He considered giving Servile the second, but decided against it. After all he had another three days without food ahead of him. Afterwards, he would have to go out and hunt again, supplies were running low. At least he would only have one mouth to feed.

Three days later, with his twin still and dripping before him, Tages felt his first flicker of emotion for a very long time. All his work for nothing. The regret was a small, hard lump, just underneath his thyroid. He swallowed, and learned that emotion could not be shifted with physical movements. Then the scalpel was put to work. Within the space of fifteen minutes it was done. Kidneys slashed to peices in the shining bowl gave Tages all he needed to know. After scrawling his reply on the back of the letter, he scrambled out through the single window and was suddenly, violently sick. Afterwards, he was hungry and so a night of hunting began. Two children, only one adult but it would be enough, a dog and a cat. Enough to feed him and give him more than enough to search out his most popular requests.

By the time he returned both the letter and the body of his brother were gone. The small concrete room had been scrubbed of blood. After storing the bodies safely away, Tages crawled into his former twin’s cage and slept.