I’m still alive

Hey, internet. It’s been a minute.

More accurately, it’s been about six weeks. Yikes.

I can’t speak in too much detail about how these six weeks have gone, partly owing to the fact that it’d give too much away about me and my work, and partly because I honestly don’t remember. I think we can blame COVID-induced memory fog for that one.

What I can say is I wasn’t doing too well, for a while. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, I was struggling. Work was a nightmare, and then it became less of a nightmare but just so busy that I was working 12-14 hour days trying to stay on top of it all. I wasn’t reading, wasn’t writing, wasn’t doing my very necessary physical therapy exercises. Was barely even eating, beyond a hastily-gobbled dinner after a long day practically glued to my laptop screen.

My life has consisted only of work. Then an hour or two of being too drained to do anything beyond eat, watch a bit of YouTube, and get to bed to do it all again the next day. Even my dreams were work-centric, and I’d wake up with my heart racing, adrenaline pumping, and anxiety swirling in my belly. Weekends were spent catching up on sleep and food because that’s all I had the mental and emotional energy for.

In short, all I could do was the bare minimum required to exist and stay on top of my performance at work. At first, I was extremely unhappy. Then the unhappiness gave way to resignation and pure survival instinct. No time for breakdowns, and hence no time to delve too deep into my actual emotional state. It hasn’t been great.

However, things seem to be slowly, slowly easing up a bit. Enough to where I feel I can start working my creative muscles again, and read again, and get back to this blog and the associated, barely-started (and long-abandoned) Instagram account. I also desperately need to get back to my physical therapy program.

I’m trying to be forgiving of myself and the funk I’ve been in. It’s hard not to fall into the spiral of thinking if I really wanted it, I could have pushed harder, been able to maintain this blog and my physical therapy and work all at once. Maybe I didn’t want it enough. Maybe I wasn’t disciplined enough and the tiredness was just an excuse. It’s still hard not to think that, looking back.

But I’m trying to move past it, to not overwhelm myself by jumping straight back into everything at once and burning out all over again. Baby steps. Little tweaks to the schedule. Little things like just updating ye few (and appreciated) readers with a very rough unedited ramble.

So here we go. Slow and steady.

Wish me luck.

Guardian – Part IV

This is entirely new territory for me, and I was turned into a vampire less than a fortnight ago.

Before me stands the Queen herself, her guard – Brom, she introduces him as – pointing his gun squarely at my head in case I get any ideas to either escape through the open cell doors, or maul them all for the blood in their arteries.

I would be lying if I say it isn’t tempting; the blood packs were small, carefully rationed, and nothing compared to the scent and sound of fresh blood running through three healthy humans. I push these treacherous thoughts to the back of my mind, gripping my wrist behind my back, the free hand curled into a fist.

“Are you tempted? The blood packs I had sent can’t have been fulfilling for a vampire so freshly turned,” Queen Sybil says, tone as casual as if she were asking if I’d like some tea.

So that’s where those came from. From the corner of my eye, I see Draya glance at me in surprise. Clearly she hadn’t known who had given the order. Choosing honesty, I admit, “They were not, though they did give me strength. And I am. Tempted, that is. But I meant what I said— I am not a traitor.”

“Majesty, she is not to be trusted. Who’s to say she has not been radicalized by her sire, his whispers in her mind?” Brom bursts out, his gun never wavering from its aim on my head even as he looks at the Queen, frustration clear on his face.

I stifle a snort. “My sire only visits in my nightmares, with that cursed night relived every time I close my eyes. There are no whispers. But,” I turn to Queen Sybil and Draya, “if it will prove I mean no harm, then I will not resist the chains.”

Queen Sybil is silent a moment, then nods. “I do not question your service or your loyalty, Rayborn,” she says almost apologetically. “However, you are a vampire still, a young one at that, and I am not here to take unnecessary risk. No matter what my head Queensman might think,” she adds with a reproachful glance at Brom. “Captain Anguard, restrain her. Brom has ones with the silver you need.”

Draya looks to obey without question. Only I notice the slight skip in her heartbeat, the way her eyes track over me, the split-second before she actually walks towards Brom. He hands the manacles from his pack to her, but it’s clear he was hoping to be the one to place them on me. Too bad.

I do not move as Draya approaches me carefully, her scent and the scent of her blood flooding my nose. I try not to breathe too deeply. “Your hands, Commander,” she says quietly.

Slowly, I bring my hands forward.

“How badly will it hurt?” she whispers, taking her time unlocking one of the manacles.

I smile grimly. “Bad,” I whisper back. “But I will heal after. And you trained us to endure pain.”

She sighs. “I did not train anyone to endure this.” She closes one shackle around my right wrist and the pain is immediate as my skin sizzles at the silver. I hiss. Higher concentration in these than the bars. Draya clenches her jaw and ignores everything except getting the left shackle done, then immediately steps away so as not to see the way my skin burns, returning to her place on the Queen’s left with her eyes steadfastly looking away from me.

The pain is excruciating, all my senses homing in on where the silver meets my wrists and protesting keenly at the contact. It’s evident by the way I grit my teeth, breathing sharply through my nose. I can’t look at Brom, whose lips are quirked up in a satisfied smile – sadist – or Draya, who can’t look at me at all, so I keep my gaze fixed on Queen Sybil, whose gaze flits between my burning wrists and my pained expression with part regret, part genuine interest.

“You are braver than I thought you were, if this is what it means to have you restrained,” she remarks.

“I wanted to prove my loyalty.”

“As I said, it is not your loyalty in question. It’s your self-control. But I will keep this as brief as I can. Please sit, if the pain does not allow you to stand.”

Much as I want to remain on my feet, it’s already far too difficult for me to focus, so I take the offer with thanks, almost crumpling onto my cot and holding my wrists out between my knees. The smell of burning flesh starts to permeate the cell. It takes all of my training not to scream. I also don’t want to give Brom the satisfaction he’d so clearly gain from it.

“As you know, despite nearly a century of war, we have been unable to capture a living vampire. All our intel on their weaknesses and strengths has come from what little observations we have made in the field, trying to separate fact from the legends and myths. You are an anomaly in more ways than one. To our knowledge, the first of our soldiers to ever have been turned rather than killed, as well as the first vampire to be captured.”

I nod, trying not to look impatient. If I’m burning my wrists right off the bone only to be told things I already know, it isn’t worth it.

“While many,” the Queen glances at Brom again, “think you a liability, I think you can be an invaluable asset. I’ve seen your records, Rayborn. You rose through the ranks quickly for someone your age. While you have a penchant for trouble, you still command respect of those you lead. And now, though unplanned, you have given us the opportunity to study what a vampire truly is.”

“Am I to be a lab rat, then?” I can’t help but ask. I expected as much, but it would be nice to be certain – at last – of what will happen to me.

“Yes and no. It will be good to learn more about vampires through someone actually willing to provide that information. However, I foresee a greater purpose for you.

“Between your years of training, and your newfound abilities, you are the closest we have to a super-soldier. Part of each world, and in many ways stronger than both. If you are able to gain control over your bloodthirst, remaining satisfied with the blood packs I am willing to provide, then I want you to work for me. It is, in my mind and heart, the most important role in the kingdom. I want you to protect my daughter.”


“What!?” exclaimed Brom and Draya.

In case you missed it, read the previous installments of Guardian, a short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Not Even the Rain

“(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands”

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
e.e. cummings

They were as close as strangers. Their hands were the only thing that gave it away.

That first time, colliding in the hallway on the way to class, her hands brushed over theirs in the bounce back, seeking purchase to keep from stumbling. Their hands reached, grabbed slender wrists. Grip strong enough to hold her steady, gentle enough to leave no marks.

Both let go a beat later than they needed to, dark eyes locked on blue. Both knew it, both said nothing. I know you, the touch said. I’ve known you all my lives.

Then the moment passed, and there was shy smiles and sheepish laughter as reality resumed around them. An “after you,” with a flourished bow.

Either luck or destiny decided they’d be seated together. All either could think about was the other’s hand on the table, edges oh-so-nearly brushing. A gap so small both could feel the warmth of each other’s skin, so wide neither dared to cross the edge.

A name – Sam – and a shared class; that was all Alexis had to go on, so they assumed that sweet torture twice a week was all they would get. But suddenly she was all they could see. Walking past each other in the halls, the first time with an exaggerated attempt on Sam’s part to get out of the way that earned a giggle and a shaking head.

Other times, hands would brush just the tiniest, fingertips running over palms, excusable by the crowd around them bumping them closer together. Their eyes would never meet, then, both looking firmly where they needed to go. Both questioning the intentionality of the other.

It felt like fire every time.

If all Alexis ever got was this, they would be willing to spend the rest of their life in this hellish heaven, this heavenly hell.

“Could you pass me the worksheet?”

Alexis did, their disbelief that they were actually studying together giving way to nerves and probably-too-obvious stares.

Sam’s hand ran over theirs in the attempt to grab the paper, so natural and unthinking that Alexis still wondered if they were imagining everything. Probably.

They had to stifle a choking sound when Sam reached out again, fingertips just barely touching the back of their neck as she refolded an upturned corner of their shirt collar. “There,” she said with a satisfied smile. Alexis stared, and the smile faltered. “I’m sorry, was that crossing a line? Your collar was-”

“No! Um, no, it’s fine. Thank you.”

The smile came back, and she returned to her worksheet. Somehow Alexis managed to do the same, their glances at Sam serving as rewards for every answer completed.

They sat across from each other, in a quiet corner of the library, textbooks and notes and pages strewn on the small table between them. Neither spoke, and to the outside world they were as close as strangers, just two students sharing a table.

But each, unacknowledged, had a hand loosely resting on the upper corner of whatever page they were on. And whenever they moved, the air crackled in the small space between their knuckles.

The first time they see each other in a non-academic setting, it’s at a dorm party on Alexis’ block.

Neither had told the other they were coming. Both had hoped the other would.

Like almost always, Alexis saw Sam first, a shift in the air making them glance up and spot her wandering through the crowd. Sam felt their gaze a moment later, blue eyes meeting black, and her smile softened as she approached.

They took each other in for a quiet moment, before Alexis made a show of doing a quick once-over. “You look nice.” No preamble, no flirty wink or smirk, just a fact awkwardly and forced-casually spoken before they looked away.

“Thank you. You too.”

“Thank you.”

Then Sam’s friends arrived and whisked her to their corner, barely sparing a glance at Alexis. Sam smiled apologetically over their shoulders, Alexis tipped their head.

They didn’t speak the rest of the night, remaining with their groups. But sometimes they’d catch each other’s eye, lips quirking up the slightest as if to say, “All our friends are idiots sometimes, am I right?” or, “You good over there?” or, “I wish I had the courage to ask you to dance.”

Then again, Alexis was certain that last one was just them.

When they left, they walked past the couch where Sam was perched, the tip of their index finger running softly along her pinky. They blame the little alcohol they’d drunk for making them so bold, though still not bold enough to look back.

If they had, they’d have seen Sam look up sharply, then smile, bringing her hand closer so no one else could taint the touch Alexis left behind.

The next time they had class, Sam was late, and Alexis had to force themselves not to look every time the door opened. They still felt the absence on the seat beside them like a missing limb, and they hated it. You’re an addict, and you’re an idiot.

Almost as if Sam had heard them, the next time they heard the door, they knew it was her. It was. “Sorry,” she mumbled quietly, a hand barely touching Alexis’ shoulder as she slid past their seat and into her own.

“You okay?” Alexis mumbled back, half their brain zeroed in on the ghost Sam’s touch left behind.

“Just not feeling well.”

Unthinkingly, Alexis reached out to cup the side of Sam’s neck, meaning to check for fever. They quickly realized what they’d done, especially when the people in row behind them glanced over curiously. They turned their hand backward, pressing it to Sam’s forehead and cheeks, barely leaving it on for more an a split second each time despite desperately wanting to linger.

“Hmm, you are a bit warm,” Alexis finally commented, crossing their arms on the table to keep from reaching out again. “Are you sure you don’t wanna just sleep it off?”

“Yeah, I’m going back to my dorm after this class. Just didn’t wanna miss it.”

Alexis tried not to let their crush-addled brain read more into that than they should.

They both turned back to the lecture. When class was over, Sam used Alexis’ shoulder as an aid a second time, still a barely-there touch that Alexis wished was firmer. She gave a small tired-looking smile as she headed back to her dorm, and they resisted the urge to follow and ask if she needed company, or someone to bring her soup, or a hand in marriage.

Their shoulder tingled the rest of the day, their mind constantly replaying the moments until the swooping in their belly stopped affecting them so much.

It was cold, and Alexis had stupidly forgotten their jacket in their dorm. They tried not to shiver too obviously, or let their teeth chatter, but Sam had obviously noticed.

“Here,” she said, draping an extra hoodie over Alexis’ shoulders.

Alexis was too cold to be embarrassed. “Thanks.” They smiled gratefully at her.

Sam smiled back, before a glint of something flashed in her eyes. “No problem. I mean, I’m cold too, see?” She pressed her hands into the back of Alexis’ neck, making them jump and squeak much louder than intended.

At least twelve other people turned to look at them, the rest thankfully too far down the auditorium to hear. “Sorry,” Alexis and Sam mumbled, Sam unapologetically smirking and Alexis’ face burning with embarrassment.

“Asshole,” they muttered.

Sam just grinned, and adjusted the hoodie around them a little better, by way of apology. Cold fingers brushed Alexis’ neck again, but this time their goosebumps had nothing to do with the temperature.

They tried to give the hoodie back after class, but Sam’s hand just covered theirs, pushing it back towards them. “Keep it. You can’t stay cold all day.”

Alexis didn’t get a chance to tell her this was their only class for the day. Nor did they particularly regret that fact.

Another month, another party, another hope that they’d both be there.

Sam spotted Alexis first, this time. She reached out to grasp their forearm, making Alexis turn and reveling in the way their eyes widened in surprise and pleasure at seeing her. “You look nice,” she said by way of greeting, face already flush from a drink and the warm crowd. She hadn’t let go of their arm yet.

Alexis smiled shyly, their body hyper-aware of Sam’s hand. “Thank you. You too.”

“Thank you.”

Sam removed her hand, both of them immediately missing the contact. She was trying to gather up the courage to ask Alexis to dance when someone grabbed her waist from behind, turning her around and trying to make her sway with him.

The last thing she saw before being twirled round was Alexis’ face going dangerously cold. It was Kyle who had grabbed her. She knew him from a couple of classes, had always gently rebuffed his attempts at flirtation, but it seemed he couldn’t take a hint. And he was clearly drunk.

She pushed at him, trying to get back to Alexis. “Let go, Kyle. I don’t want to dance with you.”

“Aw, come on, just one dance!” Kyle gripped her tighter, pulling her way too close to him.

“I said no!” Sam struggled. She tried to catch someone, anyone’s eye so they could help her.

“You heard her,” a voice quietly emerged, still audible over the music. It sounded angry. Alexis.

Kyle finally let Sam go. Or rather, he roughly pushed her away, shouting, “Fine, if the bitch doesn’t want me then fuck it, I’ll find someone who does!” Sam stumbled, nearly falling before strong arms caught her and held her up. Alexis. It was the closest they had ever been, the most they had ever come into contact with each other since that first collision all those months ago, and it scared Sam how good it felt.

It was over too soon, Alexis only holding her long enough to make sure she was standing before stepping forward and punching Kyle straight on the nose. “That was for grabbing her,” they growled.

They followed him as he stumbled back, landing another punch along his jaw. “That was for not letting go when she asked.” Then they were on Kyle’s chest as soon as he landed on the floor, and smacked him with the back of their hand, twice. “And those were for pushing her, and calling her a bitch.”

The crowd had gone eerily silent around them, all eyes on Alexis and Kyle, who’d barely had a chance to defend himself. Alexis got up, looking down at him with such disgust it left him speechless, his hand pinching his bleeding nose. “Learn some respect, you misogynistic piece of shit.”

“Yeah!” someone in the crowd yelled, and there was a wide cheer, the music coming back on and people thumping Alexis on the back, jeering at Kyle.

Kyle skulked off to lick his wounds, and Alexis seemed to come back to themselves. Their eyes scanned the crowd until they found Sam, features softening at the sight of her.

“Are you okay?” they asked, stepping forward to cup Sam’s cheeks and look her over.

Sam only stared, her hands running up Alexis’ wrists. She stopped when she felt blood, holding their hands out to inspect them.

“You’re hurt.” She ran her thumbs gently over the bruised and bloody knuckles. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

He shouldn’t have done that. And I’m fine. Are you okay?”

Sam nodded, still staring at Alexis’ hands. She then nodded again, to herself this time, and pulled Alexis to the nearest bathroom. “Here.” She turned on the tap, pulling their hands under the cold water.

Alexis hissed at the sting, but ran their knuckles under the stream, flexing and unflexing until the scrapes stopped bleeding as much. Before they could do anything else, Sam was ready with the tissues, helping dry their hands while Alexis watched, her fingers gentle and soft as always.

Once done, Sam still hadn’t looked up, was still holding onto Alexis’ wrists. Then her grasp slid lower, and she brought the knuckles of both hands to her lips.

She looked up, then, almost fearfully. Even through the black, she could see Alexis’ pupils were wide, and their lips were parted as they stared at her. She knew her face looked much the same. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Always,” they choked out.

Then a banging on the door made them both jump apart.

Neither felt much like a party after that. Without saying more than a sheepish goodnight, both headed to their dorms. Neither slept.

The next time they saw each other was in the halls again, the usual morning crowd bustling past. They had eyes only for each other, drawn closer as they always were.

Neither knew who reached out first, but their hands met more fully than they ever had during these encounters, palm against palm, fingers finding the slots between ever so briefly.

Alexis was the first to pull away, but then something shifted inside them. Enough was enough. They gripped Sam’s hand tighter instead, tugging her out of the busy hallway and into an empty classroom.

“Alexis, wha-” Sam’s words died in her throat as Alexis stepped close, still holding her hand.

“I love you.” No preamble, no flirty wink or smirk, just a fact, firmly spoken.

Sam breathed in sharply, heart pounding. All she could do was blink up at them, waiting to see if there was more they had to say.

There was. Alexis took her other hand, bringing both to their lips in an almost painful memory of the weekend, before continuing. “I’ve known I was going to fall for you from the moment we bumped into each other outside class. I fought it, because it was an insane thing to think. But even then I knew it was pointless to try. And then we kept seeing each other, kept… touching, kept getting to know each other in these little ways. God, there’ve been moments where I went crazy trying to figure out if you felt the same, or if it was all just in my head.

“Maybe I am crazy, and I created some elaborate fantasy that you’re about to shatter with the truth. But at least then I’ll know. Even if you don’t want me the way I want you, at least I’ll know, and then I can happily settle into being your friend. If you’ll still let me.”

They stopped to take a breath. Sam had barely moved during their speech, and her eyes were glistening with tears, but she hadn’t said anything and Alexis was starting to panic. They were two seconds away from trying to backtrack and apologize when Sam reached a hand up to slip her fingers into their hair.

Alexis froze, scared to make any sudden movements or do anything to shatter the moment. Sam’s fingertips massaged the back of their neck softly, thumb brushing over their jawline. They suddenly couldn’t breathe.

“I love you too.”

Just as suddenly, Alexis could breathe again. “Yeah?” they whispered.


Their forehead met hers, their free hand finding its way to her cheek, both their lips oh-so-barely brushing. A gap so small, neither would remember who bridged it first. Only that they were kissing, and the world was in flames, and nothing else mattered.

I know you, the kiss said. I’ve known you all my lives. Just as I will know you for the rest of this one.

The Demon Rehabilitation Program

“D-66635, step forward.”

Mari’s chains clinked and scraped against the floor as he approached the clerk, a typical raven-haired beauty. He had to suppress a snarl at the sickly sweet smell emanating from the angelic creature. Think of the steps, he reminded himself. His rehabilitation officer’s words echoed in his head. Good is not bad. Good is pure, and the scent of it only triggers this knee-jerk response because you were raised to believe wrong was right, and right was wrong. Train yourself to think otherwise.

“Mariphilus Drayadina?” the clerk asked with a smile, staring fearlessly into Mari’s coal-red eyes.

“I actually prefer Mari,” he replied, nose twitching. Good is not bad. Good is not bad. They’re treating you with respect, so respect them back.

“Mari,” the clerk nodded, making a note in his sheet. “I’m Flaurian, and I’ll be your assignment officer for as long as it takes you to reach full cleanse.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“No it isn’t,” Flaurian replied, without a hint of malice. “But I appreciate that you’re making the effort, and I respect how hard that must be.”

Mari resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He hadn’t realized how fucking patronizing the good guys could be until he’d surrendered himself. Still, beats the alternative.

“Given that your appearance is less… of a concern than some other demon breeds,” Flaurian continued, peering at his sheet, “you’ll be part of the Imaginary Friend program. This means a child will be assigned to you, and you are to provide them with companionship, protection, and guidance until they grow old enough not to need you anymore. At this point, they won’t be able to see you, and you will be re-assigned or directly transferred to Heaven if your sins are all cleared.

“Do you understand, Mari?” Flaurian looked up at him again.

Mari nodded.

“Excellent. You’re at 56 Road, Waverly Place. Sophie Bennett, 6, will be your charge. Next!”

With that, Mari was ushered off to be given a very unpleasant bath, and a fresh set of clothes: a dark suit with a white shirt. What kind of girl dresses their imaginary friend in a suit? he wondered.

And he would soon find out.

Sophie Bennet was crying in her room when Mari stepped through the portal, and Mari immediately wanted to go back. Instead, he heaved a deep breath and ran his fingers through his deep blue hair, trying to figure out how best to approach her.

To buy himself time, he looked around at her room. Pretty threadbare, with a few stuffed toys, a dollhouse, her bed where she lay face-down into a pillow, and some clothes and a school uniform hanging off a single rack. Not much time bought after all.

He cleared his throat loudly, and the crying stopped. Sophie looked up sharply, her face tear-streaked and her brown eyes glistening with more tears ready to fall.

“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice small and a little hoarse from the crying. She wiped her eyes fiercely, as if ashamed at being caught in such a vulnerable moment, and brushed back her curly mop of hair.

“I’m- I’m Mari,” he said. “Your new imaginary friend,” he added, when she just blinked at him.

“Imaginary friend?”

“Yeah, kid. I’m here to like… keep you company and help out and stuff.”

Sophie pondered this a few moments, then looked between Mari to the door. Mari thought she was calculating an escape when instead she asked, “Do you have powers? Can you unlock the door?”

Mari’s eye twitched. Something was wrong here. “Why is the door locked, Sophie?”

The girl looked close to tears again. “My mom locked me in. She said she had to go out. But I’m so hungry…”

For the first time since starting the rehab program, Mari felt unbridled rage on behalf of another being. A human at that.

“Your eyes are glowing,” Sophie said in wonder.

Mari didn’t answer, instead walking up to the door and unlocking it with a wave of his hand. He opened it wide, then held out his hand for Sophie to take.

“They do that sometimes. Come on, let’s get you some food.”

Sophie grinned and rushed off the bed, her small hand taking his big one, warm and trusting.

This story is based off of this prompt found on Instagram. Set a timer for 25 minutes and wrote it out. The drawing came after; tried to make it look like a kid’s drawing/writing, but not sure how successful that was, haha.

Guardian – Part III

It’s days before anyone else comes. I spend the time trying to ration the rest of my blood packs, experimenting with the newfound strength and abilities that come with finally being able to… drink? eat? “feed?” Whatever.

Despite the eons spent fighting vampires, no one knows quite enough to separate all the myths and old wives’ tales from actual fact. If nothing else, I figure I can use my time to change that. Give the Royal Guard an advantage, and tell them exactly how best to execute me, my mind unhelpfully adds.

I break my shackles within the first hour of Draya leaving. I knew we should have added silver.

The bars of the cell burn to the touch, so the silver there definitely works. My hands heal within seconds, the searing pain soon a phantom memory. Well that’s useful. Could have used that in the Guard.

The next day, I find I’m able to fly. Or, hover. Of course, the moment I wake up to my body floating five feet above the cot, I come crashing back down and gracelessly roll onto the floor. The rest of my time is spent trying to control it, until two days later I find I can get myself all the way up to the slit in the wall, which is just wide enough for my arm to pass through. Once day breaks, the sunlight making the gap a shining yellow portal, I experimentally reach my hand out, then my whole arm, bracing for pain.

Nothing happens. Interesting.

My hearing and eyesight continue to improve, but the walls of the prison were built thick enough that I can’t hear much beyond barely audible murmurs and the march of the guards up above. While part of me is frustrated by it, desperate to know what’s going on, another is pleased to know that much of the elements that went into building this facility actually work.

While I continue to find ways to occupy my days, the nights continue to be, in a word, utter shit. I discover I need less sleep, which just means driving myself crazy replaying the raid and Draya’s ominous visit over and over. Then it continues in my dreams, everything made ten times eerier in the way that dreams often are.

Six days after Draya came to see me, I hear footsteps approach, and the outer doors to the prison open soon after. I keep my eyes closed, trying to ignore the beating pulse of their hearts and focus instead on their gait. Draya, and two others, one male, one female, neither from the Royal Guard by the sound of it, and both heavily armed— I can smell the gunpowder, hear their weapons clink against their body armor.

“Tamara,” Draya whispers softly under her breath as they approach. “If you can hear this, please cooperate. Don’t give these guys a reason.”

So they’re not here to kill me. Yet.

Once at the door to my cell, Draya speaks. “Commander Rayborn.”

I hear the scoff from one of the men. “You still consider her worthy of her rank? Her name?”

Forcing a smile, I step out from the shadows and approach. “In the absence of anything else to call me,” I reply for her. “Though I’m sure you have plenty of suggestions.” I notice both men are a step back from Draya— out of fear of me, or because they’re controlling her, I wonder. I also note, with a measure of surprise, that they wear the face masks of the Queen’s Men, though the rest of it is pure military gear. I bow my head, as customary. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from Queen’s Men?”

The man to Draya’s left, the one who spoke earlier, is the one to again. “We’re here for you, vampire.”

“They’re here to escort you to the Queen. She wishes to speak with you,” Draya adds.

Now I’m really surprised. “The Queen? What does Her Majesty want with me?”

The two Queen’s Men exchange a glance. The man seems angry, and definitely does not want to be here, though the woman looks more curious than anything else. Aside from the look they just shared, she has yet to take her eyes off me. “It is not our place to question the Queen’s commands,” the man answers gruffly. “Will you come in peace, or do we have to chain you and drag you to the palace?”

“You’ll need to use silver if you wish to chain me.” I lift my wrists, and point to the remnants of the shackles on the floor, taking quite a bit of pleasure at the wide eyes on all three of them. “But you won’t have to. I swore an oath to this Kingdom. I have no desire to hurt anyone, least of all our ruler.”

The man scoffs again. “Oath? That still means something to you?”

I’m beginning to lose my patience with this git. I level a cold stare at him and step closer. “I was changed against my will, Queen’s Man. Changed, but not indoctrinated. I still remember who I am, or was. And so my oath stands for as long as I live. It just so happens that I will now be living a very long time.”

“Well-said, Tamara Rayborn,” the woman finally speaks. I recognize that voice.

Turning to her, I see she has removed her mask. Queen Sybil.

I immediately drop to one knee, head bowed. “Your Majesty.”

In case you missed it, read Part I and Part II of Guardian, a short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against.

On making more (“bad”) art

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with art.

I adore the sight of it. Whether rough and unfinished or a beautiful completed piece, art of any kind is gorgeous to me. I admire those able to make it, admire the amount of effort and dedication that has gone into their years of practice and their hours invested into a single artwork. Those who can create visually have felt, to me, like a different species all on their own. The Cool Kids at the table.

And that’s where the “hate” factors in, because growing up, the inferiority that brought is honestly ridiculous. I so desperately wanted to be good at art. But because I was raised not to pursue anything I wasn’t immediately good at, and because I was always comparing myself to my peers who likely had more practice in addition to natural talent under their belts, and because that made me feel so, so insecure, I tried to dismiss art entirely.

That’s not for me. I’m the writer. All I can do is words, and shabbily at that. But art? Pfft. I suck.

I even claimed that I hated making it, because for a long time, I did. Making art was stressful because I wanted to be “good,” but could obviously see I was “bad.” I’d feel frustrated when lines wouldn’t go the way I wanted them to, when clay wouldn’t mold itself the way I needed it to, when I couldn’t understand the concept of shading or how to get my pencil to press just right. Especially because it seemed like I was the only one struggling— my friends and classmates seemed to have a natural affinity that I just didn’t have.

So to protect my fragile little ego, I pretended that I sucked by choice. I pretended I just wasn’t interested, so I wasn’t trying as hard as I could. And then I stopped trying as hard as I could, because I didn’t want anyone to see how much it mattered. If I didn’t try as hard, then I could claim that my art was bad because I didn’t put in the effort to make it good, when really, I was just afraid of trying my best and it still turning out like crap. And if I did try my best, I would continually put the art down myself. “Yes, I know it sucks. I’ve actually embraced the fact that I will always suck at art. You don’t have to say it because I’m saying it first!”

The mental gymnastics makes me laugh. I still fall prey to it, especially when it involves doing things in front of people. But it also makes me sad, because it means I’ve closed off an outlet to myself for years because of being scared.

It’s not just visual art. I could claim the same for singing, for dancing, for music, for sports, for anything artistic or competitive that meant having to expose myself to failure or being bad in some way. When your whole life you’re taught that if you’re not good at something, there’s no point pursuing it, you start to shape the things you love to do around only the things you’re immediately “good at,” and really, how many such things are out there?

Everyone starts off being bad at something they’re trying for the first time. Logically, I know this. I just haven’t felt safe enough to be bad at anything in a long time.

I’m trying to change that, now. Starting small. Starting with art. Random doodles, little bits of digital art or maybe even actual drawings and paintings, who knows?

It’s been an interesting process. Trying to turn off the judgmental voice in my head. Trying to just embrace the feeling of making something, even if – perhaps especially if – that something isn’t anywhere near “good.”

This is my first big step towards vulnerability: sharing the art I make publicly and admitting that I’ve actually worked quite hard on all of them. Maybe not as hard as I could have – there’s still a lot I’m learning and I also just enjoy being “fast and loose” with some pieces – but hard enough to say yeah, it matters to me.

Here’s one from a couple of days ago:

This one was roughly following a YouTube tutorial by Calvin at DrifterStudio. The difference is stark, because I’m using a completely different app – the free version, at that – with different brushes, and because I was just trying it out. I had planned to then do another version where I put a lot more effort in, but ended up liking the rough, childish look to this. Go figure.

I’ve also now created a gallery page – appropriately named Any/Every Doodle – with some more little bits, and will add to it over time.

I still suck, but I’m okay with it. I’ll get better. Art and I are testing things out, taking things slow. So check out the silliness, but do be kind.

The Academy

“Princess? It’s time.” Alara beckons, and I take my place beside her, feeling strange yet comfortable in the crimson hooded jacket and black harem pants that make up the guards’ uniform.

“Do you think it’ll work?”

“No one will pay you any attention dressed like that. You’ll be fine. Besides,” she adds with a wink, “no one outside the castle has seen you in over a decade. I think we’re safe from anyone recognizing you, and if not…” Alara’s words trail off with a casual shrug, her long dark braid falling to her back with the motion.

“If not,” I finish for her, the plan repeated by Brenner often enough that it’s carved into my brain, “the snipers will take them down ruthlessly.”


Being heir apparent to the Griffaun kingdom is already perilous. Neighboring realms, as newly-formed as ours, are always looking for ways to gain new territory. Nothing so drastic as all-out war – we had learned enough from our ancestors – but still. No one is above a little polite assassination on a state visit.

As an orphan too young to rule yet, that particular danger was one I had lived with all my life, to where it became a regular thrum beneath my everyday routine. Playing pretend in the garden with guards posted at every entrance, snipers on every roof. Having my lessons behind a two-way mirror – bulletproof of course – with only one opening to drop off my tests or ask for help with an assignment.

Alara was always less paranoid about a possible assassination than the others on the Council, more willing to relax some of those restrictions that made my childhood even more abnormal than it already was as a royal. There haven’t actually been any attempts. The mourning of a kingdom that’s lost its rulers, and a child that’s lost its parents, were things to be respected even by whichever vengeful enemy my parents had made. And then the Council had done a skillful job of keeping me from the public eye, making any plots difficult to carry out, even if there are those willing to murder a child for power.

She’d argued for weeks that it was time for me to see at least some of my people, start learning firsthand what goes on at court rather than just through the reports they shared.

‘She’s seventeen! She is to be crowned in four years— will that really be the first time she ever steps foot in court!?’

A compromise was reached. I was to attend the following week’s session, stationed by the Council’s dais as a guard.

Brenner, Jorg, and Dia insisted that snipers also be placed in the banisters, watching every move. And Rayan remained silent, as she often does, only to slip me one of her favorite daggers after dinner that night. “Every royal should have a weapon,” she whispered. “This may not be the one you’d choose for yourself, but I hope you don’t think me too selfish in wanting to give you your first.”

The blade was Damascus steel, thin and sleek with a handle of dark, polished wood and a leather sheath. It was beautiful, and has travelled between my boot and under my pillow ever since.

Not for the first time, I marveled at how my parents had managed to find five people so trustworthy and caring, so loyal to their kingdom and so willing to do right by it.

I also wondered how – as the years pass and I see the signs of age on the Council’s faces – I was ever to find those worthy enough to replace them.

Continue reading “The Academy”

Guardian – Part II.

I’m next woken by the clanging of the prison gates, and I rise to my feet immediately.

Having tracked the days and nights through the slit high up on the cell wall – too narrow to classify as a window – I know it’s been five days since that disastrous night.

The hunger has only gotten worse since then. Sleep is no solace, when all my dreams serve only to replay my transformation, my capture. The searing pain, the taste of blood, that killer’s laugh echoing in my brain.

If I make it out of here alive, the first thing I’m gonna do is murder that bastard. …Who knew revenge would always be this cliche?

“Commander Tamara Rayborn. What a… situation you’ve found yourself in.”

I stand at attention, raising one manacled hand in a salute. “Captain.”

Despite herself, Captain Anguard chuckles. “Even like this, a prisoner of the kingdom, starved and isolated for days, you remain a soldier.” She seems almost surprised. “At ease. And speak freely. I’m the only one here and I refuse to treat you like a criminal, even if you are one of them now,” she adds sadly.

I flinch at her last words. Somehow, despite having had days to reconcile it with myself, hearing that I was no longer human – from my mentor no less – brings fresh pain. “I may be a vampire now, but I sure as hell am not going to forget where I came from. Who I a- was. Besides,” I force a breezy smile, “I’d argue this proves dedication to understanding the enemy.”

“Right. Well, you look terrible.”

“Never one to mince words, Cap,” I laugh. “Not eating or drinking or seeing another soul for days will do that.”

She raises an eyebrow. Draya never did approve of my dry humor. Or my calling her “Cap.” Though I knew she was always secretly amused by it all, even back when I was a young recruit. ‘You need to take this much more seriously,’ she used to say. ‘For as long as vampires exist, we’re at war.’ I’d always retort that finding the humor in things was the best way I had to survive a war. But right now, even though I’m trying, it’s actually a lot harder to maintain.

With a resigned sigh, she reaches into the pocket of her breeches and pulls out a sealed bag. As soon as she unseals it, I scent blood and I am immediately on edge. I let out a low growl and nearly yank at my chains in desperate desire to grab it. My skin breaks out into a sweat, my fangs emerging despite me struggling to clench my jaw shut, and I can tell my eyes are no longer the brown they once were by the way that Draya looks at me, for the first time in eight years, with fear writ plain on her face.

It’s that look that keeps me in check. I look away, shaking, fists clenched and fighting for control as I ask, “You have blood. Where did you get it?”

Draya recovers, clears her throat. “Blood bank. We’ve been granted permission to let you feed. It isn’t much, but it should sate some of the hunger.”

She approaches the cell door and I force myself to shrink further back. The scent has woken my other vampiric senses, dormant from hunger. It’s not just the blood from her package. I can hear her heartbeat, the pulse of the artery in her neck, smell her scent as much as I can the mix of donors in her hands. It’s torture, and I don’t trust myself not to lose control.

Mercifully, she does not ask to hand it to me, pushing the bag between the bars and throwing it towards me. I make no move to grab it yet.

“Aren’t you going to feed?” she asks quietly.

I grit my teeth, refusing to look her way, refusing to look at the bag, refusing to look at anything but the cuffs on my wrists. “Not in front of you, Draya.” It’s the first time I’ve ever used her first name.

“I’m sorry.” I curse my enhanced hearing for being able to hear the crack in her voice. “I’m sorry this happened to you. You were one of our best.”


“Please. I can’t control myself much longer. Please go.”

I hear her turn and walk away. And beneath the sound of the creaking door, I hear her sniff and stifle a small whimper.

If my heart was still beating, it would have broken.

Once I hear her steps recede far enough, I throw myself onto the package in front of me, grabbing the first blood bag out of the pack and tearing into it with my teeth.

The first drop on my tongue is bliss, even as another part of me shirks away from the whole thing.

Fucking disgusting. But also so, so good…

In case you missed it, read Part I of this short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against. You can find Part III here!

Anxiety Attack

It’s so soft and sad,
this quiet inner crumpling
Shaky foundations crumbling
Pent up emotion stumbling
flowing upward, outward,
heart thumping

Breaths turn into gasps
Gasps turn into sobs
Eyes burn with tears
Throat rasps
Time stops
Head pounding with dark thoughts
Stomach turning itself in knots
No room for logic when it’s fear
calling all of the shots

in the pillars holding everything up
Barely keeping things together
and it all just feels too much
Body and soul a giant bruise
that aches at the barest touch

a shame
Pain, with no foreseeable end
Falling apart over and over
struggling to mend
what little can be patched up
until it happens yet again.