EXIT

[Inspired by this block by Write World]

The cafe had sprung out of nowhere on Canal Street, and the bright sign that advertised its existence drew you in. All it says is CAFE. The restaurant’s interior is unremarkable, but its people spark your interest. None of them speak to each other. There are at least two dozen customers, but none of them speak to each other. None of them read, and none of them speak. They sit in silence with straight backs and forward eyes. In their claw-like hands, they clutch cups of coffee.

You have only taken a few steps inside, but the sight of these people has unnerved you. You turn to leave, and your eyes catch the exit sign. It hangs at an angle. The light in the X has gone out, and the E is only half-lit.

A small table is to the right of the door, and three black-eyed teenagers sit unmoving. You try to speak to them, and when they do not answer, you try the people near them, but no one will tell you why the exit sign is crooked. You look to it again, and you notice the flecks of rust-colored something on the white frame. You should lea

You crave coffee. You fantasize about drinking it, and the stench of freshly ground beans sets your mouth to watering. You turn around and go to order. The barista does not move from where she has been standing since you arrived. She says nothing when you approach. The only signs of life in her are her slow, measured blinks and the light trembling in her hands.

You tell her your drink order, but she ignores you. You ask her if she’s okay, but she says nothing. You think she may be injured. You try to see if there is another worker, but there is no one. She is alone here.

You turn to the room of customers, wondering if one of them has answers. All of them have turned to stare at you. You stare back, and your eyes go to the exit sign. You ask them why it is crooked, but they are as silent as they have always been. You try to remain calm as you walk to the exit. You reach out your hand to op

Your coffee is ready. You don’t know how you know this, but it is like a fact written into your DNA. You turn around and see a cup of steaming coffee at the bar. It is yours.

When you take it, the steam dissipates. It is cold now, but you drink it. It tastes like dust. You don’t want this, but you keep it held firmly in both your hands. You need to leave.

You turn around. No one looks at you anymore. Whatever interest they once held has gone. When you arrived, there had been no empty seats, but now there is one — an old, discolored armchair near the serving bar. You look at the exit sign. You want to know why it is crooked. You want to lea

You step to the right, where your seat waits you. You sit and hold your coffee, staring ahead at the wall. The door to the cafe opens.

Writing #1

We were never proud to be who we were. We scarred our bodies with knives, trying to pry off our flesh like molts we couldn’t shed. And when we discovered we were too young to shed this old skin, we hid ourselves in needle and ink, making new scars we pretended were art and never saying what they truly were: bright neon signs reading DON’T KILL YOURSELF.

You always promised me you’d leave, and I promised you the same, and when you finally got dragged away, I didn’t cried. I had cocooned myself from your kind words right at the beginning, and you always did the same for me.

I hope you don’t miss me.

In the silence of your bones and eyes, forgotten magic sits and waits for fire.

tattoo

Though I can’t remember the exact instant, I’m sure I began writing stories the moment I was able to scratch out sentences. I shared the first, graphic chapter of my horror story with my fourth grade class when I was nine, and though I was mysteriously unable to share any future chapters, my fellow students praised me and encouraged me to keep writing.

When I was twelve, writing persisted in being my number one pastime and passion. I built friendships through it — friendships that would last many years. I wrote several thousand words a day, and I obsessed over building worlds and melodrama with my friends.

But I also hated myself then. I had a deep-rooted loathing for my own existence. I wondered how I could ever be loved by another human being. I “realized” that I was a waste of space. Many times, it was writing that kept me from going that extra step and killing myself. “Just one more reply,” I would say. “Just let me write out this part.” Instead of trying to end myself, I would scratch at my arms until they felt raw. It couldn’t be too noticeable, though; I couldn’t let anyone know what I was going through.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, I decided I was going to go through with it. I went so far as to run away from home, but stopped in a cemetery to call and say I wanted to come back. I spent three days in the psych ward of a hospital, and during that time, I wrote a lot.

Depression doesn’t go away quickly, unfortunately, and often it doesn’t go away at all. I continued to write and find pleasure in it, but I also became spiteful and bitter towards the people who loved me and wanted to help me. Sometimes, my writing became a way to hurt those people. It wasn’t just an escape, but a weapon.

I began to get better. Over time, I accepted that I hated myself and that I couldn’t do anything about it. I continued to write. I wrote letters to my ex-girlfriend, pining over her and romanticizing our future. Writing slowly became a more solitary activity. It became more personal.

The first time I remember really accepting myself was when I was sixteen. I had gotten over the fear of social backlash for my sexuality and outgrew my self-hatred. I didn’t love myself, though; it was mere acceptance. I was what I was, and I had to live with it. There was no use getting upset about it. I had managed to go a year without hurting myself, and that amazed me. Though I still had my days of depression, this development signaled growth.

I went through a moment of panic when I turned eighteen. I had lived nearly two decades, and I hadn’t done the one thing I had always wanted to do: write a book. I had completed nearly a quarter of my life, yet I was nowhere close to fulfilling my life’s goal. All these years of writing, and the only things I had to show for it were the first few chapters of several dozen half-worked ideas. At this point, I began writing fanfiction in earnest. I ended up posting a story nearly 70,000 words long with a comments section filled with the praises of strangers. I never dreamed that there would be thousands of people reading this piece of fanart, yet the hit counter continued to rise.

Though it wasn’t original fiction, I still felt a swell of pride from all of this. It was exactly the kind of reinforcement I needed. 70k was nearly a book, and if I could do that with fanfiction, surely I could do that with my own work. Though I continued to write fic, I kept my own ideas in the back of my mind. Fanfiction was practice, I told myself. Once I was confident in my writing, I would go through with my own ideas.

robert montgomery

“In the silence of your
bones and eyes,
forgotten magic sits
and waits for fire.”
– Robert Montgomery

These four lines of poetry haunted me. I recited them to myself when I needed a confidence boost, a morale boost, a reason-to-live boost.

I started working on my novel in earnest between my first and second year of college. I hadn’t seen depression in over year, and after interviewing professors about nuclear warfare and spending hours of my summer days in the library, I felt confident.

Then I went to work in Disney World, nearly a thousand miles from home. Depression kicked down my door, and I spiraled. Writing forced me to get up in the morning. Though I often spent half an hour convincing myself to get out of my bed, I managed to write nearly every day. Writing eventually became more than a pastime or a hobby; it became a literal reason to live. My words are my own, and no one can write them but me. I thought this to myself often. My stories — fictitious or realistic — could only be told by me and me alone. Though the new found depths of my depression scared me, the idea of dying without having written a book scared me even more. If I died before completing my life’s goal, then why have lived to this point at all? I didn’t write because it was fun; I wrote because I had to. My life was literally write or die.

My depression terrified me, so I went home a month early to recover. Within days of returning, I finished the first draft of my first novel. Things looked up.

My moods wavered drastically when I went back to school. I kept writing, though. I had to. In Disney, I had suffered a terrifying relapse. I couldn’t go back to that. I had to do whatever necessary to avoid slipping backward.

Last month, I finished the second draft of my first novel. I’m more stable now. With my novel finished, however, I knew that it was time for something as physically permanent on my body as this achievement was on my mind: a tattoo.

That poetry I had recited to myself over and over again in my darkest moments needed to be on my body. They had to be. In the silence of your bones and eyes, forgotten magic sits and waits for fire. My words were my own, and no one could write them but me. The stories and characters I created in my mind could not affect others’ lives unless I put ink to page, ink to skin, ink to soul.

I resolved to get Roberty Montgomery’s poetry permanently on my body. The placement needed to be perfect, as well. While I thought about getting it on my ribs where it would be easy to hide, the idea didn’t sit right with me. I realized the only place these words could be was on my forearm, where I’d hurt myself since the first appearance of depression and in my bouts of relapse. Just as I wrote on my paper with my right hand, I wrote red messages of hate with it on my forearm. These words that had fueled me for so long had to be inked where I had expressed self-hatred. They needed to be somewhere as a constant reminder, always visible, a scarlet letter to warn me away from ever touching my skin in disgust again.

Writing has become my reason for living. Marking the world with my stories and characters has become the main driving force in my life. People disappear from your life, they die, and they change their minds, but stories tattoo the world with your soul. As long as there is someone in the world who has read my writing, who has been affected by it, I know I have done something with my life. I have inspired with my passion. I have kindled the fire in others’ bones. And that will always be worth living for.

Star

You were born with the union of hydrogen and helium, a violent conception of cosmic dust. You are alpha and omega, and life begins around you. Life begins because of you.

Heat forms your fingertips and you reach out as far as you can. Your touch nurtures, and your scorn kills. Your worshipers surround you and sing your praises. They think they’re running, exhibiting their skill and speed. They think they’re impressing you, but you see them only as crawling. They are not like you.

You can see ones like you. The light they give off dwindles and grows. Sometimes you see them disappear. You are never close enough to see their faces, to touch them, to experience them.

When you die, you feel as though you cannot contain yourself. You shrink into yourself. You hide. You think that perhaps you can escape the torment of solitude you have faced all these years by embracing it. It doesn’t work. Before you can stop it, your anguish boils out of your mouth. You lash out at your oblivious benefactors, destroying their life as easily as you created it. You turn them to dust, and you become cold. You devour everything that brushes you, remorseless and unfeeling.

The ones who worshiped you have been turned back to their elements. They are nothing more than clumps of molecules, attempting to escape your magnetic pull. You are dead to the ones who loved you and to yourself, but somewhere out there, there is a union of hydrogen and helium.

Saving People is a Stupid Thing to Do

This is a snippet from the first chapter of my upcoming novel, DEATH DEFIANT. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The woman crossing the street stared at her magazine, and the car speeding towards her paid no attention. Cheri froze for a brief moment, taking in the situation as Tyler tugged her arm to get her attention. If she ever dared to count the stupid things she had done in her life, it would be a very long, embarrassing list, but as she ran forward and shoved the woman out of the sports car’s path, she realized this would definitely be the number one Stupid Thing Ever Done.

The car hit Cheri’s knees. Her eyes locked with the driver’s for a split second as her tibia shattered. The driver stood on his brakes as she crashed into the windshield and rolled over top the rest of the car before hitting the pavement. A sick, wet thud cracked the air when her head took the brunt of the fall and her body crumpled around her broken neck.

Blood flecked the blacktop and the saved woman’s pant legs, her scraped palms nothing compared to the way Cheri’s limbs twisted at impossible angles. As he ran to her, Tyler’s eyes grew wide with terror. His huge hands tried to set her body up right, as if that would somehow fix her. Pedestrians on the sidewalk stopped, as did oncoming traffic, everyone staring at the broken body of the girl in the road.

The saved woman stood. Walking past her discarded issue of Vogue, she stumbled towards her savior’s body.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” Tyler said, trying to stop tears from crawling down his cheeks. He supported Cheri’s head and shook her, trying to wake her up. He looked around at the crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Many people had taken their cell phones out, but few looked to be using it to call anyone. Some focused their cameras on the two, and that only put Tyler into a rage.

He stood, entire body shaking. Just a few feet away, some teenager’s camera phone focused on Cheri’s body. Tyler stalked towards him with his fists clenched at his sides. Before he could get there, though, the driver’s side door of the sports car opened, and a man – a kid, really, who couldn’t have gotten his license more than a few months ago – stepped out.

Tyler turned on him, shouting, spit flying from his mouth as his hands balled up in the driver’s blazer, slamming him back into the car. The saved woman looked on, but then her gaze shifted to Cheri’s body. She knelt next to her and reached out…

Then she stopped, eyes transfixed as the body twitched. Limbs moved, realigning themselves. Blood splattered on the pavement dissolved into red smoke, and Cheri’s head twisted itself to a more natural position with a sick crunch.

Tyler stopped and turned to look at his friend’s body, just in time to see the worst of it: the curling, ice blue horns that grew just above her ears; the smaller ones pushing from her knees and elbows, ripping through her docent’s jacket and best pair of black slacks; the inch-long ones jutting from each of her knuckles, from discolored spots she’d always told her friends were old scars.

Bloodless and unharmed, she blinked, sat up, and the first person started screaming.

Tips on Being a Teenage Driver

Tip #109: Acquire your license.

When you’re sixteen and fresh out of driving school, you think you can do anything. You have ultimate freedom. Mom and Dad can’t weigh you down. You might even have your own car, and you can go anywhere in it. You could drive from Ohio to Wisconsin if you really wanted to, as long as your blubbering death trap kept itself together. It was self-discovery and freedom and fast food at any time of night.

I had had my license for two months, and driving was my jam. I blasted the crackling rock station from the speakers and was careful not to burn out the clutch as I pulled off of Columbia Parkway and onto Beechmont. I was on my way home, coming from who-knows-where. As I drove, I remembered a small road up ahead, a dirt path I’d always wondered about whenever my parents would drive by it. I used to watch for it from the backseat, trying to get a glimpse at where it might go. Who sees that kind of street off of a four-lane state route? It had to go somewhere cool.

 

Tip #25: Embrace your inner Magellan.

And I was the driver today, which meant I could go anywhere I liked. I pulled into the slow lane, heart-racing, waiting to see it. I knew it was before the bridge that crossed over the Little Miami River, so I slowed down as it came into sight, searching.

There it was: my wardrobe to Narnia, my Diagon Alley, my rabbit hole. A drum beat in my chest, and I couldn’t tell if it was my heart or the music.

Surely, I was about to embark on an exciting adventure, the kind written about in Young Adult novels where I’d stumble across something philosophical, meaningful, and it would change my life forever. I’d call my ex-girlfriend and we’d end up getting married, going abroad to find ourselves, and then coming back to have two point four children. I might even find inspiration for a novel down this road, leading me to get the Nobel Prize in literature.

 

Tip #3: Always remember to be safe.

I slowed down and turned onto the road. As I passed between the open metal gates, the tires crunched the dirt and gravel beneath them, and I was careful with the gearshift to make sure I didn’t stall. Suddenly, I was surrounded by woods. I idled down the road. The path was only large enough for one car, so I would need to find a safe place to turn around. To my left was the river. Remnants of old fishing gear and beer cans speckled the green earth. Coming up was a house, decrepit and spooky in a perfect way, ready to fall down at any moment. It made me shiver despite the hot, so I kept going. People must drive down here to go fish or camp, I thought, eyes searching for somewhere along the way to turn around. I saw a decent spot to the left where I might be able to turn around, but there was no guard rail to stop my tiny Saab from rolling down the hill and into the river. I figured I might as well keep going forward. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

Tip #37: Stay vigilant!

Less than a minute later, there was another metal gate and a patch of concrete leading up onto a road. It stretched before and to the right of me, no longer surrounded by trees, but by fresh turf. There were no signs or markings to tell me where to go. I had to decide my destiny.

I chose to go forward, because turning while going up a hill from a full stop meant I would definitely stall. My car heaved itself up onto the flat track and I continued onwards. In the distance, I saw something – someone. There were people, walking along the road. Hitchhikers? I wasn’t sure what area I was in or what kind of people lurked about, so I locked my door. Better to be safe than sorry.

I crawled forward, unsure of where to go and looking for any street sign that might orient me. Something else was coming up on the side of the road, something strange. Was… Was that…

A bench?

 

Tip #98: If you start to cry, be sure that you can still see before continuing driving.

Terror seized me. After several seconds of hesitation, I slammed on the brakes and stopped. Oh god. Oh god. This was a goddamn park.

The people who’d been walking alongside the road – no, it was not a road, it had never been a road – started to pass my car. They were an older couple, giving me strange looks as I reached over to roll down my window.

“Excuse me,” I said. My voice cracked and suddenly tears were blurring my vision. “I’m sorry. I made a – a wrong turn, and now I’m lost. How do I get out of here?”

The husband and wife looked at each other. I could feel them judging me, but I didn’t care. This was a portal to Hell, not Middle-Earth.

“If you just follow the path, it should take you right to the parking lot,” said the old man, pointing along the walking path I was following, which would soon curve ninety degrees to the north. I could see the parking lot in question.

“Thank you.”

 

Tip #109: Be prepared for disillusionment, but don’t take it too hard.

I rolled all my windows up, and then I blasted the air-conditioning and made sure the music was loud enough that I could barely hear my own choked sobs. Oh god. What if there were kids here? What if I ran into a kid? Why did I turn down a road that I knew nothing about? What if the cops showed up? What if I went to jail?

I was dead. I was going to die. My car was going to explode in the middle of Lunken Playfields and I’d be on the news and my mom would cry but she’d also be shaking her head because how did she raise a daughter who would drive her car through a park?

I didn’t go over five miles per hour the entire time, not until I got to the end of the path where, thankfully, there were no metal rods to stop cars from passing through. When my tires hit pavement – real pavement, road pavement – I sighed and slowly made my way down towards the road.

I wasn’t dead. I hadn’t found Narnia. I hadn’t found myself. I’m such a moron, I thought. But, hey, I guess I could say that at least I found adventure.

Unsalvageable

Once upon a time, I was a princess locked in a tower, guarded by a fearsome dragon. It was for my own protection; everyone said so. I was the key to the kingdom, with powers so great and terrible that they could be used for evil if the wrong people got a hold of me. I spent my days entertaining myself with feats of magic, but one can only take so many years of that before one grows tired.

My father visited me every week. Sometimes he would bring me new things to do, things I could help him with. It felt good to do something for my father. I enchanted his weapons and crafted creatures out of dust for his army.

One day, I asked if I could go home with him.

He refused me, but every time he came by, I would ask him again. The idea of leaving my prison of stone became an obsession. I wanted to learn more, experience more.

It wasn’t long before I attempted to escape. The dragon, always my friend, always fighting the evil beasts that came to kidnap me, snatched me up before I could make it to the bridge. I sensed its apology when it put me back into my room.

When my father found out about my attempted escape, he was furious. He shouted. He struck me. He had my windows barred and kept guards at my door to stop me if I should try to leave again.

After three days, I opened the door, and I blasted the guards with fire so hot their armor melted to their skin.

When I arrived outside, the dragon attempted to take me again, but I grabbed it by the horns. I whispered to it, pleaded with it, and filled its head with the promise of a world beyond this, of freedom and power – and he took off from my tower, and we flew to the kingdom.

Fighting my way to the throne room was easy. I destroyed those who were in my path, and the monsters that I had created to aid my father turned on the castle guards. It was slaughter, a cacophony of my rage released on the kingdom. When I found my father, he begged me not to do this. He told me to stop.  You’re my child, my princess, he told me. You don’t need to do this.

I was bored of his talk, and I watched as his limbs ripped from his body, as if quartered by invisible horses.

As I found my proper place on the throne, I watched knights scramble away, grabbing my father’s disembodied limbs as if his life might be salvageable from the wreckage. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him back together again.